Thursday, September 17, 2020

Forgotten Realms Campaign - The State of the Game

I know I've been really bad about updating the blog with the story that's unfolding. To be perfectly honest it's because I'm not invested in it.

I'll also admit (here) that I'm not all that invested in the gaming group either. It's one that was assembled using MeetUp and then the holes filled with people players knew. If you've read through you know that the group has changed significantly and only two of the original group is still playing. Not that I was attached to that group either.

I kept hoping that as we played things would become more friendly in person. They didn't. And then the world changed and we moved the game online. That kept people distant even when we're playing.

I'm having a lot of trouble getting interested in each session. I used to enjoy game prep because I would work at finding things that the group would enjoy while spotlighting at least one character. Now? I dig through published adventures looking for something to last a few sessions.

One of the reasons I stopped updating this is because I'm really behind on my notes. Using the Rocketbook is great except when it's not. And right now it's not. I have the transcribed notes that I still need to review because OCR is good but it's not good enough to deal with gaming terms and my handwriting. I can see where some GMs would be really happen with it. I'm not and decided I'm going back to paper going forward.

Yes, I know I still need to update the notes that are pending. I feel better about doing it since I know there's an end. Then it's regular handwritten notes like I've done for all my other games. The concept of being able to search for terms and such is nice. I've found that when I would really need it I don't have that capability because it's in the middle of the game.

I will still take pictures of the maps since that's darn handy for setting up continuing sessions. I'm kicking myself for not doing that in previous games as well. It allows for me to redraw maps before the game actually starts.

My lack of interest in the game means I haven't bothered to draw up any original maps. There's no real point to it when there's perfectly good maps out there I can use. As I said I'm grabbing adventures and ideas from other sources so why not the maps too? That's a whole set of tools taking up room on my hard drive now. It happens.

The thought in the back of my mind is that if I'm not having fun I should end the game. I've considered it seriously. There's a couple of things that are keeping me from doing it.

One is that this is the only social interaction I have, as little as it is. If I stopped gaming I wouldn't have any conversation outside of work stuff. That's a hard thing to consider, given that I was isolated before this all happened.

Another is that they seem to be enjoying the game. No one has told me otherwise (even the guy who left didn't say anything) and I've been trying to watch for signs of disinterest. Everyone seems happy enough when we confirm we're gaming. So they're getting something out of it. I feel that sense of obligation.

Maybe if we could start gaming in person again I might feel better about things. I miss the social interplay and cues that you only get in person. I miss handing out the cards with loot and magic items. I miss using terrain bits I can't use now because they get in the way of the camera. It might just be "online fatigue" that's my problem.

Regardless I don't see myself updating the blog with the campaign story in the future. I was struggling to make it a good narrative and never felt like I succeeded to my own satisfaction. If I can't make it interesting to myself then what hope is it to make it interesting to others?

This sounds a lot like a Debbie Downer post. It isn't the most cheerful one I've done. It has some of the serious issues that have been plaguing me about the game. However since I had started doing the narrative I felt that some kind of closure was in order.

If you've been hoping for more updates this will be a disappointment. Unless something really big happens I'm not going to post again. That includes if we dissolve the game. I would consider that big enough to post about because I'll try to give an analysis of why we did. I don't expect it but it's always a possibility when you have a gaming group.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

3D Printing - Resin Prints!

I think I've made almost every user mistake that I could with this resin printer. The printer itself is a champ. I'm a chump.

The good thing that's come out of making all those mistakes is that now I know how to fix them and also how to prevent most of them. There's always something that can happen but I can minimize the chances.

So you want to know what the mistakes were? Of course you do.

The first one was not knowing how to get the best settings. There's all kinds of preferred ways. As it turned out the default settings that came with the printer were almost exactly what I needed to use. More on that in a bit.

Once I knew the settings then I had to figure out how best to support the prints. Ya see, these prints need a hella lot of supports. They print upside down so anything that sticks out needs some kind of attachment point. They also work best when parts are vertical rather than horizontal. Here's a visual. Notice the wacky angles of these things. It's a trial and error process really.


See the lattice? That's support material. It narrows to a very fine point where it attaches to the print but it has to adhere to the base. See, there's a battle going on between the resin that's cured on the film at the bottom of the vat and the resin that's cured on the print. The film is supposed to release so that the print builds. Notice those words - "supposed to".

Those supports are nice but they're not enough. The print lost the battle when it came to being pulled up off the film. I did two things to fix that. I added a pad below so that there was a LOT more adhesion to the bed and I slowed down how fast the bed moved up. That way it had time to release the suction. Here's what a print looks like with the pad below the supports.


Yes. Different models. And look at those supports! But that problem resolved itself nicely. From the first picture I put the middle model directly onto the print bed without those supports since she didn't need extras. And I had quite the time prying her off. When they adhere they can really adhere.

What happens when a print fails? The resin builds up on the film below. This is bad since the print bed is going to push down on it for every layer it tries to print. That's why my first film got punctured. And it's why they ship the printer with another film. I've since ordered more, just because I know I'll need them and I won't want to wait or hope they're in stock. 

Cleaning cured resin off the printer itself isn't bad. The glass screen is tempered and sealed so resin won't leak into the workings. Soften it with isopropy alcohol on a paper towel and gently scrape it off with a razor blade. Wipe it clean with the alcohol and it's done.

I've had to clean out the vat and remove the failed print a few times now. It's not any big deal once you've done it. Pour out and strain the resin. Pour some isopropyl alcohol into the vat to soften the print (and to check for leaks). Wait. Gently, oh so gently, pry up the cured resin. Check for leaks. Clean thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol. Wipe dry. Replace and refill with resin.

It's pretty much the same process as for when you change resin, except for that part about prying off cured resin.

I've also learned to check how much resin is in the vat before starting a print. While they typically don't take all that much they do need some. I had a print fail because the resin ran out and even though I thought I added more in time I did not.

The only other thing I've done wrong (that I remember) is the orientation of a print when supporting it. This is a big deal. You want the best combination of angle for printing so the details don't get support nubs but the print is going to be firmly attached. The one I messed up had a weak spot where the model itself broke off when the print lifted. Live and learn.

I also learned to check the print about thirty minutes in. Pause it, let it lift to the top, check the print on the bed to make sure that it's adhered and printing properly. Better to catch errors early than to have a big buildup of cured resin that will poke holes in the vat film. All my prints seem to include complimentary cat hair. I guess that's my hallmark now?


Here's a big batch of successful prints. Some of them are for other people and they asked that the miniatures not be attached to bases because they prefer to do that themselves. Fine. That's no problem for me because I need to use a CAD program (Meshmixer) to combine a base with a mini for printing anyway. Most of the ones in the picture were done that way. A few had their bases already in place. Let's just say I've gotten reasonably good at placing mini files on base files and combining them into a single printable file. I'm kind of proud of that.


To be honest this probably one of my least favorite prints. It's from DesktopHero3D which is a site where you can make your own minis. It's a fun site but the problem I've found is that the resulting files are too detailed. It turns out you need to exaggerate the textures and details for them to print well. On the screen that chainmail shirt has wonderful texture. Here? Not so much. But it works and I'll continue to make minis there because it's fun. I added her to a base because DesktopHero3D only has round bases and square ones work better in my games right now.


This guy is the Vampire Lord from Vae Victus (a Patreon) and I really like that swirly cloak. I'm a sucker for fabric. I think he'll be fun to paint.

Notice the difference in details between that one and the one before it. That's the difference between a file designed with detailed options and one that's designed as a unit specifically for printing. Both are good. The Vampire Lord has some thickness to that cloak that's way out of scale. But it also helps keep the mini solid. You can't see it in this picture but he's on a base that was already included with the file.


The picture is a little blurry but this is the chibi version of a couple of 1920s figures from the Gangster Bang Kickstarter. There's full size minis in there as well to match the chibis but I've been wanting to try painting them for a while and now I can print them. These came on their bases so no problems there. Well. Problem. The sculptor didn't do the chibi eye that's most commonly used here. He used a Japanese style that is meant for decals. We had to ask him to make real eyes since he just had an empty space meant for those decals. It was kind of creepy. But he found out more people wanted to paint them than use the stickers so we could choose which option we got.

In that pile above are a bunch of minis from Artisan Guild. They're a very popular company. If you look closely you'll find several of the same orc pinup girl. There's also some laying down that are theirs. The person who wanted those didn't want the bases. The one who bought the orc pinup girl did want her on the base and the way she's designed she's better on it so that her weapon is accurately placed. The ogre is also theirs. You can see him in the properly supported picture along with the other one lying down.

Now that I've got the printer working I've had to learn how to post process these things. It's not like the other printers where it's ready to go once you pull it off the print bed. Sure there's supports to remove but it's not nearly the same.

The resin is caustic so nitrile gloves are a must. I cheat and reuse them a few times but this stuff will eventually degrade the nitrile. Latex is not to be considered except as a very last resort and even then only for short periods of time. Sweaty glove hands are part of the process.

The first step is nipping off all those supports. The outer layer of the mini has a coating of excess resin so it's soft. Removing the supports at this point is best since they're most easily removed.

Then it's time to take a craft knife to shave off support nubs. That means running your fingers over all the parts where they attached to feel if they were left behind. The soft resin means it's really easy to get rid of them. Care must be taken in both steps not to cut off parts of the mini. At this point you've got a smooth mini ready for the next step.

The excess resin on the surface has to be removed. I'm using Simple Green in a 1:1 mix. There's other cleaners out there (Mean Green, etc.) that work just as well if not better. The sites all say to use isopropyl alcohol but tests have shown that's actually the worst performer and if you get it wet before the alcohol evaporates it leaves a white reside. I drop the parts into a container of Simple Green when I scrape them off the bed and put them back as I work through the set.

I was using a toothbrush to clean off the resin. It can work but honestly it's a lot of work and mess for not exactly great results. The sites all talk about ultrasonic cleaners so I finally broke down and got one. Oh. My. Goodness. The difference is incredible. I put the prints into a small ziplock bag with Simple Green, seal it, put it in the cleaner, add water to fill the container, then run it for 280 seconds.

The resulting Simple Green is a sickly opaque yellow green when it's done. And yes, I pour it back into the container. Once it gets too nasty I'll put it in the sun to cure out the resin, strain it, and add fresh cleaner to keep going. I dump the cleaner, rinse the minis, and put them in a small Tupperware for curing. I cure under water for reasons that are scientific and boring.

Fun note. If the figure is multi part you assemble it now. Then when it cures it's one solid piece. It also reduces the potential shrinkage issues that come with resin printing.



The resin cures under UV light - sunlight. So I have a curing station (that's the CAD design I did up there using Tinkercad) that I've lined with tinfoil, is on a tinfoil base, and has a solar powered turntable where the turntable platform is also covered in tinfoil. The intent is to get as much light from as many directions as possible. The lamp itself sits on top in the brackets meant for it. It doesn't fit complete tight so there's space for heat to vent.

Yes. I printed my curing station on one of my other printers. I'll be posting it up for other people to download at some point. The light and turntable were a package deal on Amazon

I put the Tupperware on the turntable, the lamp on the curing station, then let it bake for about sixteen minutes. After that I can handle the prints with bare hands since they're done. Done!

As you can tell resin printing is a lot more involved than the other kind. But you get incredible detail (I'm at the coarse level of 0.05mm per layer. I'd like to get it to 0.03mm. That's as thin or thinner than a human hair.) and honestly it doesn't take as long as you might think since the entire layer is cured at the same time.

I've got a number of print beds sliced and ready to go. Once I clear the prints off the bed I clean it, replace it, check the resin level (important!), and start the next print. After that I can work on processing the previous prints or let them sit in the Simple Green for a while. It's not going to hurt them. Or I can leave the prints on the bed for a day or three until I'm ready to work on them, as long as they're not in sunlight.

Uncured resin is caustic. That means all those supports that I remove need to be properly cured before they can be thrown away. I have a large plastic bowl in the sink where I keep the majority of the mess and I've cured the supports a couple of times by putting the bowl outside in the sun. Now I have supports cured to the stupid bowl. The next time I'm at the dollar store I'm getting clear plastic cups so I can transfer the uncured slag to those, cure it, and toss the whole shebang. 

As I said, live and learn. And print!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

How I Roll - The MacGuffin

If you don't know what a MacGuffin is Wikipedia has the full explanation. Think of it as a plot device that has no other use than to advance the plot.

We're all guilty of using them. They're easy to drop into a game and then be forgotten by everyone, including the players.

In a way using these can be considered lazy. It gives the players a thrill of achieving something and then they go on to find something else. It can be unexplained as to why they're looking for it or what it does. It can be and do nothing in particular.

Sometimes that's what you want. Not every encounter has to end with a world shaking revelation or major plot twist. If they find the Amulet of Sugary Cereal then so be it. At that point it can be decided if it has significance.

Who decides? Good question.

If the item miraculously meshes with a character's motivations and/or backstory then hey, it's no longer a MacGuffin! If they decide they must know why the Rock of Shiny Crystals was so well guarded then they're off to the sages. Maybe the name sparks something in that overworked GM brain and it connects with something else that was in the overpacked filing cabinet of ideas.

Or maybe it's just a goal that they'll sell in the next town.

One thing it can do is break the players of the habit of expecting the results of every encounter to have long term ramifications. Finding the Cloak of the Sloth Prince when there's no empire they know of that has a Sloth royal family is an achievement that makes them feel good for finding it but is kind of a sorbet to the plotline palette. It's refreshing, it's welcome, it's not important.

Something that's far too easy to do is to use them too often. If you make most of the things at the end of encounters MacGuffins then you're stringing together random encounters and it's an extended dungeon crawl. You know your group. That may be all they want. Fight their way through to get the treasure then move on to do it again. Or they could be looking for meaning and a longer, deeper story arc.

I use them. I admit it. When I can't come up with a reason for why they're doing what they do I toss a random (probably) valuable reward at the end so they feel they've accomplished something. It also gives them something to RP about when it comes to what it is and how it got there. Sometimes they keep it, sometimes they leave it behind, sometimes they take it along, sometimes they sell it. The significance of the thing can change based on how the players perceive it.

Example time!

I love my random item generators. A rogue was very successful in his pickpocketing adventures and one of the things he got was a preying mantis in black glass. That's what got rolled up and I picked it out of a stack. The way the story was running I decided that this was what a thief from that guild would have with them when they were going to carry out an assassination, as a sign that they should receive all possible aid from others in the local guilds. Of course the rogue who stole it had no idea about that so now he's terrified that not only is he's pretending to be a member of the guild he's also got 'proof' that he's going to assassinate someone. So that one worked out.

Another time they got some minor magic items for their troubles. Minor enough that they sold about half of them since they didn't see a use for them in the future. So those are gone in all respects.

I'm not giving an opinion one way or another on these. I rarely given opinions in these posts. I show examples of what I've done or not done and let you - the reader - decide how useful the information is.

So this is kind of but not quite a MacGuffin itself. Go figure.

Friday, July 17, 2020

3D Printing - The Resin Printer

I've been struggling with my resin printer this week, trying to get it so it prints as well as it should.

In case you're interested (of course you are, you're reading this) I picked the Epax X1 instead of the more common, less expensive printers. I wanted the functionality that's built into this one and has to be tweaked into the others.

Pretty, ain't it? This one is solid metal construction except for that UV resistant orange plastic window. It's a heavy little beast.

The main reason I hadn't started on this when I bought it was that I didn't have the space set up for it. This involved A Process since I was replacing an existing plastic shelf set with a new shelf set for this. That meant emptying the old shelves, finding a place to put them, setting up the new shelves, making sure that one of the spaces was large enough to hold the printer, then putting stuff back on the shelves. Oh. I also had to mount the battery backup/UPS on the wall once I knew where things were going to be.

I finally bit the bullet and did all the reorganization. The new shelves weren't as tall as I had hoped and I'm very short on space so I - ahem - acquired the pieces to make it one level higher and all was well there. These are nice sturdy metal wire shelves and I put a piece of fiberboard (ok - it's a dollar store clipboard but same difference) under the printer for stability and also put it in a tinfoil pan in case of leaks. These printers don't move as much as the other kind since it the print bed goes up and down, slowly. There's no lateral movement. Cool.

There's a bit of a process in getting files ready for printing but I won't go into that. These printers don't allow me to throw on a print server so I have to keep shuffling the USB stick from the computer and back. Someone in the Epax Facebook group brought up the good point of how USB ports can wear out with use so I ordered a short extension cable so I don't have to fumble around for the port.

Oh yes. Gloves. Now is not a good time to be looking for nitrile gloves. Everyone wants them, no one has them. Harbor Freight's price has doubled due to supplier price increases, when you can get them. Nitrile gloves are required because the resin is pretty nasty stuff until it's cured. So when you're working with the printer you're wearing gloves. They have to be nitrile because the resin will very quickly eat latex gloves.

The way this kind of printer works is with UV light. There's a panel under the vat that shines light in the pattern for that layer to cure the resin. The printer moves the plate up so resin can flow back in, then down for the next layer. And so on and so on. This makes print times the same no matter how many objects you have on the print bed, unlike the other kind of printer. Nifty. Even if the print bed is much smaller.

Technically you can cure prints in sunlight. It's got all the right wavelengths. But that's a dicey process and difficult to control. So of course it's back to Amazon for the pieces for a cure station. You can buy fancy ones but I stuck with getting the lamp and a small solar powered turntable. A little work in a CAD program, some time on the other 3D printer, some tinfoil, and I had a curing station. Everything is covered in tinfoil - the foamcore I'm using for a base, the table on the turntable, and the interior of the curing station. I dug out a plastic container that fits inside for curing parts underwater. Trust me, it's just better to do that than cure them in open air. Something about oxygen saturation on the surface.

So. Ready to go. Right? No.

Resin printing involves post processing. In nitrile gloves. That means removing the excess resin off the print surface before curing it. It also means removing supports that you put on it so it would print. The resin print is pretty soft prior to curing which makes support removal easy - nip those suckers off and use a craft knife to scrape off the support point nubs. So prints get dunked into solution, supports removed, cleaned, then cured.

I'm using Simple Green to clean my prints rather than isopropyl alcohol. Turns out it works well, based on the anecdotes in the group and some videos on YouTube. I have two (dollar store) containers - one for the first soak then a second with clean solution for the scrub. That first one gets nasty FAST. Most people have an ultrasonic cleaner but for now I'm using a toothbrush. I'm debating about getting an ultrasonic cleaner.

Dunk, remove supports, scrub, rinse, scrub, rinse, into the curing pot. Then and only then do you have a finished print. Yay!

Except that you need to fiddle with the software settings in the program that converts the file to something the printer can understand. There's only two settings of note - layer thickness and how long to expose each layer to UV light. That's where calibration comes in. It's different for each brand of resin too so you don't get to just do calibration once.

I've been calibrating. And calibrating. And calibrating. The default settings that come with the printer configuration file are for 0.05mm layers. I wanted to push that sucker down to the limits of 0.02mm layers. Yes. The thickness of a human hair or slightly less. So I carefully read up on how to calibrate and got started.

These are all calibration prints. They're all failures. There's three kinds here.

Left - The AmeriLabs Town print. This has all kinds of different things to show how well your printer as a whole is working as well as if your layers are under or over exposed. Or just right.
Center-ish - The Resin-XP-Finder is something that prints quickly and has again a lot of little bits to show if your print is under or over exposed. Print, check, change setting, slice, print, check, etc.
Right - Another part of that Resin-XP-Finder is this seemingly flat piece that shows what happens with different exposure times. It's a boring piece to see but it helps you see how many seconds will give you the best starting point for calibrating.

I've also got piles of not-good prints that I thought would turn out better than they did. They're nice but they're not the detail that I bought the thing for. I would think I had it tuned. I would print. I would be disappointed. I would go back to calibration.

I'm back at the default of 0.05mm layers since at that level of detail there's no difference from 0.02mm unless you're looking at jewelry masters or dental pieces (yes, they have an adapter so it can print dental stuff). Some of the calibration pieces to the far left are at that level. And I was getting close!

I decided to print some small items since they don't use much resin and I could see how the detail turned out in the real world. I chose the familiars from Mia Kay and got them all prepped for printing. That's when it started. The print failed and I had stuff stuck to the film in the bottom of the resin vat. Did I not mention that the bottom of the resin vat has a film for the light to penetrate and 'hold' the layer while it cures? Well. That can backfire and pieces stay stuck to the film rather than the print bed.

Long story short (too late!) I ended up putting holes in my film. I'm cleaning off cured resin from the LCD screen and the printer comes with a replacement film. They're considered consumables and I ordered more so that I could have them on hand when I need to replace one. Tonight I emptied the vat and am getting the cured resin off the LCD. Tomorrow I'll put in a new film and see if I can print something to check out the detail.

Honestly I'm frustrated that it's taking me this long to get the exposure time right so I can print stuff. I see the prints everyone else is getting on their resin printers and I see mine. I'm not happy. The holes in the film are something I may or may not have been able to avoid until later. It's part of resin printers to have to replace those films and now I'll have done it so it won't be upsetting to me to do it again. Annoying, but not upsetting.

Would I recommend a resin printer? Sure. If you're looking for very fine detail and no layer lines then you need a resin printer. Would I recommend this resin printer? Sure. If you want something that comes calibrated out of the box and is a sturdy, supported printer and you can afford it buy this one. And lots of nitrile gloves.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How I Roll - The Lonely GM

A post on Twitter got me thinking about sitting behind the screen. That post talked about how lonely it is to be a/the GM.

It's true. It can be incredibly lonely. There's a party on one side of the screen and on the other side the GM is watching it. Sure we get to be everyone in the world but those aren't the same as being invested in one very specific role.

In my opinion this is why some GMs introduce essential NPCs. That way they get to play and be at least on the fringes of the group. But it's never quite the same. It's always us against them even when it's not adversarial.

The GM holds a lot of the cards. The players know this. They work together to figure out what's going on and how to overcome it. The GM is reactive to that and also proactive in keeping the story moving in some direction or another.

Moving online has made that worse, at least from what I've been hearing and experiencing. They're still a party. The GM is still this nebulous person off to the side, telling them what's going on. With all the problems of a conference call the party is still a group, even if it takes longer to get them all on the same page.

The GM? Sitting there listening and waiting for their chance to say something.

For some in person games there's consideration for the work the GM does. They don't have to pay their share for the pizza. Someone brings the snack they like. There's a time after the game when they're thanked. Or not. It depends on the group. But the option is there.

In my opinion one of the worst things a group can do is treat the GM like a component of the game - rulebook, dice, GM. We're people too and we work darn hard to make sure that there's something for those hours when everyone gets together.

Online I've found that the break between the party and the GM is even more pronounced. People get excited and start talking over each other and the GM until some kind of order is restored. Then they do it again. There's no good way to use body language and manners seem to be different when they're not sitting across from another player. The GM gets even more marginalized when the players don't have to see them sitting there, behind the screen, running the game.

The point of this one is more for me to express the intrinsic loneliness that comes from running a game. Sure the players can be friendly but once the game starts there's a screen between the players and the GM, even if they don't play a game with a screen. It's a power dynamic that can't change.

And it is all about power. The GM decides what encounters the party will face and what happens when they finish it. They decide when the party levels. They have the power over that aspect of the game. The players have power over the social aspect of the game. The GM can't mandate that the players are nice to them, even if they should be.

I've been feeling removed from my game and I think this is why. I think that distance between me and my players has grown as we moved online and given that I don't know when we'll be back in one location I don't know how well the game will progress. I honestly don't know. It may not survive the transition from in person to online. Right now I don't know how I feel about that, which is not a good place to be for creative work.

If you're a GM I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on if you feel lonely. If you're a player I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on how much the GM is integrated into the game. Either way I think it's a topic that doesn't get enough attention in the world of gaming.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

How I Roll - I Got Nothin'

One of the most frustrating moments when being a GM is when you draw a total and utter blank when trying to do something.

Right now that means me building the story arc with encounters for the group I'm running. It's not really a cohesive group. But that's more specific than these posts are meant to me.

If you can't come up with the name of a town, an inn, and/or an NPC you can pretty much always wing that one. If you know that's a weakness of yours there's plenty of online generators where you can either make a list in advance or bring them up to save your bacon. 

It starts getting more difficult as you try to plan more elaborate things. Encounters are currently my stumbling block. I know I need to progress the story and I also need to make sure the encounters are balanced, appropriate, and enjoyable. That's a difficult set of requirements.

I'll probably go into these in more detail in separate blog posts but here's kind of an overview.

Balance isn't too bad given the CR system to use as a base. That and winging it based on how well the encounter is progressing. The intent is to make the characters work towards the end goal and not stroll through to it. At least it is for me. The characters should feel like they've accomplished something at the end of it.

Appropriate starts getting into more murky waters. That means you should have some idea of a goal in mind. Simply doing a dungeon crawl that ends with a big monster doesn't really advance the story much. Being appropriate can be a dungeon crawl to line their pockets if the loot has been less than what they should have at that point. They're good for that. But a random "hey - dungeon!" can be distracting and feel gratuitous. At least to me.

Enjoyable is another one of those nebulous and difficult things. Enjoyable for who? Do you want to showcase a character's abilities in this encounter? Do you want them to use their skills to the best of their ability? If your players like solving problems do you put the right kind in their path? Do you have players who sulk when they can't be the bestest and how does that come out in their play style?

As you can see there's a lot of questions. I've used pre-build adventure modules as either a base or a launching point for my encounters. I drop in what is suitable for the party and remove what isn't. I change things on the fly if I can sense it's not clicking with the group or if it's going off the rails. I've painted myself into a corner more times than I can count and have to work to pull it out of my hat. 

What I've found works best for me personally is to have a few opponent types available, some kind of reward that they need or want to get further along in the story, and try to make it so at least half of the party can show off their skills. That's my outline. Then from there I can work around it to make a more fully fleshed out encounter.

But I still keep names and other necessary things in physical lists so that I don't have to come up with the name of the goblin in the corner of the inn when they're back from whatever they were doing.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

How I Roll - The Monty Hall GM

In a way this relates to last week's post about how fast PCs level. It's about the GM who hands out a heck of a lot of toys and treasures during the game. Suddenly the PCs have access to all kinds of toys.

Mind you, I'm going to talk about 3.5 type games. I'm looking at 5e and there's less of a chance of this happening due to the restriction on magic items but it can still be done. Any game where there's loot given out it can be done. And it's far too easy to slide into that problem.

I consider it a problem. Having been on the receiving end I've got the perspective of seeing what happens in the game when PCs have access to really powerful stuff. And I've seen what happens when the GM simply can't keep track of what they've given out.

I'll give examples.

My PC acquired a sentient weapon that also had several magical abilities. We were of a high enough level that it wasn't completely inappropriate. But the weapon didn't have what I consider to be necessary limits on it. That meant every morning everyone in the party could use it to get four different magical effects for the day and we did. By getting those effects (I can't find the card with all of them) we got the benefits of a lot of higher level spells being cast on us in a way that we couldn't have done if we didn't have that shiny toy. It might not seem game breaking but when you have +10 resistance to something and +2 to an attribute and so on and so on it's going to make it so the PCs are more overconfident of their abilities. And it means taking options away from the GM.

My PC also had masterwork armor and enough money was given to us that I could have multiple magic effects put on it. That armor almost didn't need my PC to function at the end. It was impossible to catch me unarmored as my PC had the ability to summon it and be fully armed as a fast action if my PC was within some distance of it. It turned spells. It did all kinds of things. My PC was not just a tank but also some other kinds of offensive and defensive weapon.

Finally I'll get to one of my best stories. It has to do with careful bookkeeping, judicious GM management, excellent dice rolling, and good players. As the party accountant my PC was very careful (that meant I was as the player) to note what we got, how we got it, where we got it, and when we got it. The GM had one of her pet NPCs (who was like 35th level or something) give the party 3 bags of dispelling dust she made so we could accomplish a quest for her. I noted that down. We used 2 of them in the quest. I noted their usage. We never gave back the last one.

In a different encounter a couple of years later we were up against a wizard who polymorphed himself into an adult dragon. This is where it gets fun. I had that dispelling dust and threw it at him. Since it was created by her pet NPC it easily defeated his save and he went back to being a squishy wizard. The warlock turned him into a greasy smear. What was supposed to be a huge boss fight was over in one round.

The GM was upset and asked where we got that. When I pulled out the paperwork and told her exactly what happened she had to accept it. She gave it to us, she didn't remember to ask for it back, we used it in an appropriate situation. It was really her own fault since without that magic item it would have been the big boss fight she prepped.

Side note - she later tried using Mordenkainen's Disjunction on us in another encounter that wasn't going her way. If you're not familiar with this spell it's a nasty one to cast on your players. The short version is that any magic item you're not carrying has to make a saving throw or lose its magical ability. It's kind of the equivalent of trying to take away all the magical loot the PCs have acquired.

The group rebelled and said if she was going to do that then we all quit. We were at pretty high levels so we had a lot of high level magic we'd found or bought. This was seen as the cheap trick it was and we called her on it. She backed down in the face of unanimous group opinion and realized that she couldn't give out stuff and take it back because she got played.

Anyway. To summarize the point of this. Be careful about how much loot you hand out. It's fun to give the PCs stuff they can use. It's fun to give them treasure. But it's also a way to unbalance your game and set expectations that every treasure pile is going to have magic items and piles of gold. Judge it carefully so the loot is appropriate to the encounter. Just don't go the other way and make the players perpetually poor. That's another blog post too.