My Campaign Learning Experience. or: What is a new DM to do? Part 2


This thread is a continuation of » MCLEoWIaNDMtD?

Players of my campaign, please do not read...yes, I mean you!

Well, the party, having bought equipment and secured the services of 15 mercenaries (of House Deneith, bearers of the mark of Sentinel, Defenders Guild), needed some way to get back to the Isle of Fire. I planned the earl will give them enough money to charter a ship for 5 days (2 days' journey each way and 1 days' stay). But since they wanted so many mercenaries, they stretched their money by finding two ships to take a 1 day detour from their normal route: one to land them on the island, and another, a week later, to pick them up.

Now, as some of you know (and thanks for your help), I had to design a cannibal village and a Dolgrim enclave so that, on the one hand, they would be believable, and on the other hand, won't be impossibly difficult for the party to overcome.
Now, This group of 19 had to survive the alien (to them) jungle environment, destroy the cannibals' temple as the promised to the old Earl (where the PCs were nearly sacrificed last time around), recover the Sarlonan Puzzle Orb (what which does I still need to decide) and maybe get some of that pirate's treasure.

While the two groups on the island (dolgrims and cannibals) were at each other's throats, the players couldn't work out a credible way to utilize this (neither could I, for that matter), so they decided to go for the temple-wrecking first. The two spirits inhabiting the temple, revered by the cannibals as gods of blood and fire, did not make much impression over the PCs, and Elanna (1st lvl cleric of the Silver Flame) tried to convince them she should be their new high priest, promised increased sacrifices and tried to get them to hurt their "pathetic previous believers". (I docked the player some XP as the proud priestess suddenly prostrated herself, even as a ruse, in front of the spirits, claiming to worship them). She then spent a turn attempt to exorcise the spirits (as Exorcism is one of her domains), which worked (though temporarily).
The party then went on to start bashing and dismantling the two-faced statue that housed the spirits. The noise that made attracted some unwanted cannibal attention, and the fight that ensued caused me to reevaluate the difficulties of having a 19 (now 18) strong party.

The group, having bested the canniblas, withdrew from the temple and made a proper camp.
As night fell, the PCs, advised by the head mercenary (D'vaz, Hobgoblin Warrior 2) send two scouts to get intel on the cannibal village. In the middle of the night, one scout returned, bearing details of the cannibal village and also of the capture of the other scout.

The next day (tangent: it is difficult to keep the suspense up when the party can always withdraw to recuperate, more on this on another day), a group went to the temple pre-dawn in order to destroy the statue (before the 24-hour exorcism abated), and were found there by a group of Cannibals, led by their now notorious shaman-turned-croc, bearing a basket of internal human organs for sacrifice (assumed too be the missing scout's). A fight (pretty large: 9 vs. 6) ensued around and on top the temple, where most cannibals (not including the shaman) were vanquished. The party, seriously wounded and having lost another merc, retreated to their camp. On the way there, they felt eyes on them, and glimpsed shpes among the trees, so they decided to move their camp after nightfall.

The next day, while foraging, the fighter (Ricard) spoted a fight between a cannibal hunting party and a group of dolgrims on a pond shore(I wanted to show how the cannibals dealt with the damage-reduction-possessing abberations. I've decided that the poisoned blowgun darts of the savages would work on the dolgrims) as the fight moved away into the jungle, Ricard went to examine the bodies left begind. He found two dead cannibals and a prone, lying, shking, on the ground (the poison reduced his dex to 0). Without hesitation, the (psychopathic) Ricard coup-de-grace-d the dolgrim with a spear point through the neck.

Later, elanna decided to go and check why the dolgrims were at the pond (as they looked as if searching for something) and took Ricard with her. There, she spotted dozens of savages heading in the general direction of their encampment. The two quickly withdrew, and mobilized their group to move to another area. While trying to avoid this threat, they noticed thick smoke coming from the direction of the cannibal village. On the way there, they left some of their mercs in a good ambush point, to cover their back.

On the way to the village they encountered a cannibal warrior with some women and children which were running away from it. The tension was high until the party lowered their weapons and let them vanish into the jungle.

They found the village half in flames, with a major battle going on between a dolgrim attack force and the cannibals. As they spread to search for the orb (and fight some d's and c's), I decided to keep the focus on the PCs and let the remaining mercs "fade into the background" (made handling combat much easier), except for D'vaz. Combat ensued, with one of the PCs (who's player was absent from the session) searching huts for the orb, and the others defending him. While they did not find the orb, they did recover a rusty Byeshk (special ore) dagger that can bypass the d's DR and killed a few enemies. They took their wounded and ran, when the Cannibals' expeditionary force returned to defend its village.

In the massive fight, most of the mercs were lost, and the PCs retreated with some of their colleagues unconscious. When they passed through the ambush point, they found bodies littered around of some c's as well as 3 of the 6 mercs they left there, including their favorite ones.

Wounded, weakened, and some demoralized, they went to find a place to revive.

Now reduced to a company of six, with two unconscious (one pc nearly bleeding to death) and all on the run, I wanted to perk them up a bit, so I had D'vaz hand the PCs a "Darguun Prune", a magically treated plum that "looks brown and dry, and tastes like a cockroach was moving in your mouth" to get things moving again.

A few hours' rest (and a few healing spells) later, D'vaz suggested that the still burning village indicated that the d's were still there and this would be a good time to infiltrate their lair, a cave complex in the volcano.

They did (still missing a lot of their resources) and even managed to overcome the dolgrim guard at the anteroom (or "chamber of skulls").
They continued in, eventually reaching an opening to the main shaft of the volcano. There they saw a narrow stone bridge far below them, leading to to a platform where a golden statue of the Dragon Below was erected, with an alter and some chests that might contain the Orb (or Shiny Loot [TM]). Unfortunately, there were more dolgrims down there,so they sent Darkvision-enabled D'vaz to scout ahead.
They came running in when an avalanche trap nearly buried her, and had to drag her out of the complex while defending against two d's.

Que in more resting and healing, our tough bunch now much more capable re-entered the complex, had a vicious fight with the dolgrims, including their Adept leader on that stone bridge, and with amazing dice luck managed to kill any dolgrims they met, including a bull rush that send the leader off the ledge, not before cutting his sack released the orb and a frantic chase to prevent it from falling into the lava.

proud of their melee skills, the treasure-laden group left the caves just in time to avoid the return of the rest of the dolgrims.

As we speak, they're resting on the island's south beach, trying figure out how to survive the days until their pickup is due and how to finally destroy that statue.

The next session is in an hour's time, so I'll go prepare.

any thoughts?
do you feel I railed them through it (through D'vaz)?
Would you rather this be a "designer diary" sort of post or a more narrative recount of the adventures?

" is difficult to keep the suspense up when the party can always withdraw to recuperate, more on this on another day..."

This is a large party of "civilized" people in unknown territory. Imagine the first ships that discovered Hawaii. I think that they were Portugese.

Can you imagine how every single move that they strange looking invaders made was watched? If you party attacked a TEMPLE, then the natives would track them down and kill them. The party would't stand a chance.

They aren't Cortez and his troops. They do not have muskets. They are outnumbered in a strange land with strange animals and plants, pissed off cannibles, and another race of people who would probably attack them at first sight just because they look weird.

And they cannibles will want to sacrifice these strange people and eat them. Pcs are a delicacy. Tastes a bit like chicken...

Overall, it sounds like a great time – I'm jealous! Real life has intruded and I haven't been able to play in a year. Honestly, I can't pay a bigger compliment than saying reading your synopsis is making me want to play again – and I normally hate reading other people's campaign synopses.

I docked the player some XP as the proud priestess suddenly prostrated herself, even as a ruse, in front of the spirits, claiming to worship them
It's vital to talk about in-game spirituality and rituals as part of the set-up in a campaign. With a newbie cleric, I'd even recommend an NPC cleric to accompany the party for a short while to give the flavor of the campaign. It's not just to differentiate the priest from any other spellcaster – it's to make religion a factor in the game, just like treasure and alignment and other things – all the time – rather than just when you need the healing. A priestess character in the group, when played by a character in the know, is a fantastic way to channel more of those colorful tidbits from the worldbooks and from her own imagination into creating some distinct colour and context. Just as I imagine the people of any polytheistic pantheon would do, I would frequently have NPCs of all types engaged in minor oaths, prayers, donations, symbols or rituals before embarking on their various endeavors, to keep the spiritual presence active within the setting.

I've seen all sorts of twists on the faux pas you've mentioned above, which isn't always so much a character error as it is a misunderstanding of expectations in supporting a setting by enthusiastically embracing the pantheon. I've seen others arise from time to time:

- a non-priest character in a Greyhawk setting proclaimed that he "didn't believe" in deities, and frequently focused on raising that point as an attempt to create conflict or discussion with other characters. While it's not terrible, it isn't especially interesting (and it is less interesting than characters who follow one or more real and different deities), and there really isn't that far you can go with it to create any interest. Since the setting itself was obviously full of deities, which exhibited real powers and influence, the other players really struggled with how to react IC to this constantly raised topic, and not really in a good way.

- a PC attempts to bait another PC by saying "F#%^ your god!" The offended PC then struggled to determine the appropriate response from within a game setting. Never mind that in a polytheistic setting, it wasn't just the priest's God – it was everyone's – since there are multiple deities that didn't require exclusive worship.

In the "ruse" example you cited, rather than making it a punitive guessing game for the player, I would go OOC for a sidebar, and explain the expectations to the player. I'm not familiar with the setting, but it would seem logical that if a spirit receives power from worship, that it would be able to immediately sense whether an offer to worship was real or not – since worship is the coin by which they deal. This would have to be something her character would know. I'd give the player an out OOC to reconsider the action. Rather than docking XP if she persisted, I would probably be more severe – not only would the ruse fail (they might even doublecross her by asking her to approach alone as a sign of faith, and then attacking), I would probably deny her clerical abilities for a day.

Leaps of Faith
Just a quick sidebar for a potential problem area that is inspired by the doublecross mentioned above. Eventually you will need to adjudicate an illusion. There are various guidelines for doing this, including describing subtle flaws in the illusion (depending on its quality) to prompt a player into thinking that something might be up, followed by an ability check of some kind. If I find that my players start abusing these rolls – bogging down play by "disbelieving" everything, I like to make a "leap of faith" where applicable in order to qualify for a test roll. If they want to try "disbelieving" the pit in front of them, just in case, then they need to try stepping into it. If they want to disbelieve the dragon that's attacking them, then they need to stand up and lower their weapons. That way, there is a consequence if they are wrong. What's interesting is that you can be more liberal in describing the flaws (ie. a fire that sheds no heat) offering a more lush description, confident that the PCs will still consider carefully whether they choose to disbelieve.

The noise that made attracted some unwanted cannibal attention, and the fight that ensued caused me to reevaluate the difficulties of having a 19 (now 18) strong party. [:] As night fell, the PCs, advised by the head mercenary (D'vaz, Hobgoblin Warrior 2) send two scouts to get intel on the cannibal village.

I've bumped into this one a few times too. It's natural for the party to want to succeed and to use whatever resources are made available. At the same time, it's a game designed for skirmish conflicts and not large scale tactical conflicts. If you plan to play a combat out in detail, then it's going to take a LONG time to get through a single round, even for one side. Even at four people, it's plenty long. The game tends to break down, the challenge is too easy to be fun, or it's a pain in the butt to rewrite it to accommodate the larger group. And if you do rewrite to accommodate the larger group, it's a net loss in entertainment value – because the party loses their tactical advantage, while at the same time bogging down the combat.

More importantly, you can also get into situations where a party (in the interest of self-preservation) ends up paying NPCs to do the adventuring, such as getting intel on a cannibal village. At this point, the players have successfully cheated themselves out of playing their own game, content to let the NPCs take the glory and experience. They deprotagonize themselves.

It's in everyone's best interest to introduce carrots and sticks to ensure that it remains a skirmish game – unless you are able to use a large scale conflict as a piece of the backdrop, while insulating the key plotpoints for characters. You describe that situation below, and I'll talk more about it in a moment. As for the carrots and sticks though:

For a low level party in a game where the treasure allotment is roughly following the guidelines posted in the DMG, there is no way they would be able to afford that many mercs, let alone profit from the eventual treasure split. Money obviously isn't a factor in the game, likely due to a mistake in generosity early in the game. At that level, players should still be making choices even equipping themselves, and they may need to sell magic items and precious loot simply to afford the cost of leveling up. Choices and consequences – there is strategy and consideration in resource allotment, so don't deprive the players of this tension and pleasure by being too generous (or stingy) with loot. Stick to the guide.

BTW, if the party does have too much money – having that many mercs is a good way to deplete them quickly. Are any of them thieves?

XP is divided equally among everyone who participates in an encounter, including NPCs. It's tracked, and it remains another tension factor in the game, while still keeping it a player choice. They can choose whether or not to bring an extra bruiser to the fight if they think they need it, but if they do, it will cost them elsewhere. The bigger rewards come with the bigger risks, but risk too much, and you lose it all. You'll find that the enthusiasm for hiring a private army to do one's adventuring for them wanes once they divide their experience by 24 instead of quartering it.

it is difficult to keep the suspense up when the party can always withdraw to recuperate
True. For this reason, it's often good to exert some level of external time pressure on the group, while still allowing them the choice on whether or not to proceed. The idea behind the encounters is that each one should cause them to expend a certain amount of resources. You don't always want them hitting small encounters when they are completely rested because the constant rest stops bog down play and narrative urgency, and it allows the players to get bored through consistently hitting the bad guys with their best shot. If you have a general sense of the sequence they'll choose, you'll want to keep that pressure up until they are close to depleted. It's nice to have a party go "Whew, that was a close one." There should be some uncertainty even in regular encounters.

So, again – carrots and sticks. Perhaps someone in the party realizes that the cannibals plan to eat someone known to the party as part of a special religious observance that only takes place on the full moon, which comes in three days! Or perhaps someone overhears that a scout is coming, or another village of cannibals is arriving to join them in a week and they plan to join forces to attack the party's encampment, outnumbering them (thus motivating a speedy dispatch of the first group of savages). Perhaps a larger group of mercenaries wants to take the treasure. The party still chooses what they do. There's still room for leeway in what happens if they do or don't. But at least there is a story consequence if they treat it like a holiday.

a fight between a cannibal hunting party and a group of dolgrims on a pond shore(I wanted to show how the cannibals dealt with the damage-reduction-possessing abberations.)
Nicely done. You've used clues in game to account for a possible story disconnection (ie how the cannibals survived) while also providing a tactic for the PCs.

with a major battle going on between a dolgrim attack force and the cannibals. As they spread to search for the orb (and fight some d's and c's), I decided to keep the focus on the PCs and let the remaining mercs "fade into the background" (made handling combat much easier), except for D'vaz
Again, nicely done. You managed to have the PCs take the spotlight – the key strategic objectives – while using the mercs as background setting. Jeff, a GM I once played with did this with success in a game once, where the greater battle was described, but where the PC's were tasked with holding a key objective.

I also created an encounter in much the same way in the Against the Giants rewrite, where the PCs where specialists in and among a peasant army rising up against the giants. I encountered enormous pressure from a player who just didn't get it – who constantly tried to wield the army rather than the PCs to achieve objectives, and constantly tried to invent whatever resources he needed from the army. It was a struggle to keep ahead of him, but my strategy was basically to always have the army engaged in certain objectives. The finale, as planned, would have had the peasant army meeting a weakened giant army on the ground, while the PCs engaged the leaders of the giant army in a cloud castle flying above the battlefield. The cloud castle's ability to attack the peasants from air would be the deciding factor of the battle.

So, I judged that as a way to keep the army and the massive conflict in the frame, while still keeping the PCs as protagonists, by making their participation in the castle skirmish the deciding factor in the battle.

our tough bunch now much more capable re-entered the complex, had a vicious fight with the dolgrims, including their Adept leader on that stone bridge, and with amazing dice luck managed to kill any dolgrims they met, including a bull rush that send the leader off the ledge, not before cutting his sack released the orb and a frantic chase to prevent it from falling into the lava.

Sounds like a good, cinematic conflict with multiple simultaneous objectives –offering choices and targets, each with consequences. That's how I like to build a good encounter, by layering the threat levels and dividing attention slowly. Stepping on the bridge can be winner take all if the leader chooses to Bull Rush, himself, so there is risk there. Does someone leave the fight to instead chase the orb, thus exposing the party to greater numbers? All great stuff.

Sounds like a pretty ambitious adventure for someone who is by his own admission a 'novice' referee. Looks good so far, though!

My own journals are a narrative recount as I mainly write them for the benefit of my players. In your position, as you are asking for comments from other referees, the designer diary approach is probably the way to go.

Just do whatever is most comfortable. Your enjoyment is important, too!

Grrr....I really want to get into reading this and saying something useful, but I got attacked by a homeless guy sleeping in the basement of the building I work at this morning and my hand hurts like a bitch! Needless to say, he underestimated my attack bonus and overestimated his AC. Subdual damage ensued.

I'll edit out my lame excuses for not posting something useful here tomorrow when the swelling goes down and it doesn't take so long to type. In the meantime, ignore this post. LOL

I agree 100% that it SHOULD feel threatening and suspensful. I'm just not sure that I actually achieved that with my players. Most of the time they treated it like a "walk in the park" rather than a "jaunt in the jungle".
The one time they felt they were followed increased the tension, but I think I could have done more. Ideas?

sorry to hear, man.
where do you live ?(so I'll noever go there without some kind of vorpal weapon).

I remember someone here is a martial artist, is it you, SF?

hmmm...let's see:
1) regrding the religion part: yes, these are ideas worth exploring in greater depth. I'll think about it and have a talk with my two clerics.
In addition, FYI the gods of Eberron are distant ones, who don't manifest in the world, and "clerics" of different faiths and philosophies all get spells (from the shear strength of faith itself, it seems). If any of you have a chance to take a look at Faiths of Eberron sourcebook, do's interesting.

2) Through the old earl, I supplied the PCs with 600 GPs - I calculated 100 for replacing lost equipment, and 500 for chartering a ship for 5 days. Now, the PCs managed to get transportation for just 300 GPs, so even with extra equipment and food for 20 people, they could still easily pay the 36 GPs that hiring 15 mercs(warrior 1) and a leader (warrior 2) for 10 days costs. Of course, they got very little XP for those battles which included lots of the "help".

3) Regarding R&R, the problem with a low level (especially 1st level) characters is that there is not much room bettween "fully operational" and "depleted, near death", so if I'd kept the pressure of the returning dolgrim force, the group would have simply folded instead of trying to go in again to get that orb.

I have to say, though, that your recount of my recount of the session sounds better than it actually played out, IMO :)

Tonight's session was short and sweet. still missing one player, and having another's girlfriend play the role of D'vaz, in her second RPG session ever, continuing from last week. This is after the session prior to that was graced by another player's GF. Interesting...

To business, then.
The remaining team, having rested on the island south beach, decided to go in and try to destroy that statue again, there were three days untill their ship was due, anyway, and not much to see on the island.

So, they went back to the temple, where the spirits immediately used their only way of affecting the physical world: started the wind blowing. Having recognized the hated cleric, they created storm-strength wind, which knocked down some of the PCs. However, Elanna's saving throws were good enough to come into touching distance from the temple, were she exorcised the spirits again.
Immediately, the group climbed to the temple's ( more like a small ziggurat) top, and started chopping down the two-faced (really, it had two faces) statue. The noise attracted some company, as two Large and one Huge crocodiles came looking around. The party shot at them from the safety of the temple roof, and managed to drop a molotov-cocktail-like "oil pint with burning wick" into the huge croc's mouth. Unfortunately, it didn't break, and the singed croc went on a short impotent rampage, scaring off the two smaller lizards and cracking one of the temple's pillars with its tail.
This game Nevitash (the Psion) an idea, and he tried to tie one end of his rope around the statue, and to lasso the other one around the croc's tail.
His first attempt failed, further annoying this king croc, and while the second tail-rodeo also didn't work, the crock tried to lash out at the rope with his jaw, nearly dropping Nevitash to the floor, but he rolled a '1' on his attack roll and so the rope snagged around one of its theeth.
You can imagine how it freaked when it almost pulled its own tooth out, so it went wild, eventually pulling the top half of the stone statue off the temple roof and crashing down.

The party snuck off from the opposite side of the temple, and reached the beach by sunset only to find the ship (Queen of Galifar, which they mistook for a pirate vessel, initially) has come in early. Apparently the Dragonshards shipment was urgently needed in Sharn (biggest city on the continent) so they couldn't wait (and also wouldn't stop along the way like they should have, to drop off the remaining mercs)

After giving Hob (the old sailor who led them to the island, who came on the ship) his part of the treasure, they settled in for a few weeks' sea voyage, practicing for the level-up and doing some gambling (the cool part of which included teaching my group Three Dragon Ante - a good game).

Now the stage is set for their next adventure.

Quick question: how do you handle leveling up in your campaign? and why?

leveling up happens 'tween games, sometimes via e-mail as a postcard vignette. There must be a gap in adventuring for higher levels, and they must return to a place where the trainer is, or perhaps to some place of solitude for meditation - whatever fits the character background. These kinds of things are often decided beforehand. This gives some narrative flow. It also discourages epic length dungeon delves where pcs are lost for months on end. We like to have a taste of the downtime, what the pcs do when they aren't adventuring, even if some or most of it occurs in postgame narrative. It also gives them an excuse to travel within the world setting, further anchoring them to it as a "real" place.

Pay up dudes. The DMG has recommendations for monetary costs for levelling up. Call them dues, tithes, payoffs, penance, materials for rituals - whatever fits the character - we stick to them as closely as we stick to XP. It's a heavy cost for the PCs, which means money remains a factor in the game. The party has, at times, sold off magic items from their inventory to meet the minimum fees - which also helps trim the clutter that tends to build up.

Narrated Training:

I have the characters role-play through the rigors of training. The tests, the philosophies, and a bit of history are all included. Special level-based abilities are also added through this process. At times I am replacing the generic level based abilities with other ones - especially in the case of priests characters. They don't know these beforehand.
The trainers have a chance to espouse their politics. Within the political structure of the "class-based" organization the player characters may be promoted, honoured, expelled during these sessions.
I choose to run these sessions when others are taking a break to make food, run to the store, deal with an emergency call for work, talk to their wives, play pool, etc. It is a good opportunity for one on one play. If you run short sessions - I would have the training occur between sessions.
These sessions are useful in having players of the same class differentiate their characters from one another politically, stylistically, and even functionally. I started playing my current campaign just after the first reprint of the 1st Edition Players handbook, and without feats as a game mechanic available to me I used this method. Nowadays you may be better served to follow the book for the level mechanic of added feats, but don't forget that secret societies will have secret new feats for your players.
One of the downsides of all of the information available to players is that picking something from a list is far less dramatic than developing something through the narrative.

Nefandus is a real purist and lays out some good advice for you. I agree that there should always be a cost for training - but it isn't necessarily the monetary one. The group can be trimmed down by the price of training, but it can also be used as part of the adventure. In my world you can't just go and buy a special skill, a new level, or a magical item. You can also impose a return criteria on the character -- "do not come back and seek training from me again until you have ..."
These conditions need to be used with moderation and can be as simple as executing a technique properly in live combat. Once a players has achieved the correct amount of experience points their next natural "20" roll may prompt the narration of the perfection of a technique - signalling to the player and the character that they can return for training.
Using this method you could also have the attempt for a new level fail with a trainer -- forcing them to seek elsewhere for the skills. In the narrative section of the game a player may be given a rank within an organization without achieving the technical skill.
Those are just some ideas for training and you will need to decide what role it will play in your game. You can have fun with training -- crazy demented teachers, excellent teachers, and those just in it for the money. Teachers are a great way to shape the political and idealogical interactions of the players. You can also create tension by allowing the political views of one of their favourite instructors to fall dramatically onto the other side of an issue. Conflict with former teachers is compelling.

First, please note that the default D&D rules are that a character automatically levels up when enough XP are accumulated. The training rules are optional.

Currently, I've told my players that "numerical upgrades" such as BAB, saving throws, HP, spells per day and so on all rise automatically when enough XP are gained (representing incremental improvement gained during adventuring), while "new stuff" such as new feats, spells, skills or special abilities, require training.

I have not, however, defined this training. The current situation is that I've got a 1st level fighter and cleric that should level up, and the party is on a ship for a few weeks. Would you enable the 2nd level cleric train the first level cleric? and how about let D'vaz (warrior 2) train Ricard (fighter 1)? could she help him gain any feat, or only the one she knows?

Regarding training costs, the DMG (p. 197-198) offers a few alternatives. If you use them all, Ricard would require 5 weeks and 1200 GPs to train, which I think is a bit excessive.

Calgary Alberta's not that rough here. This guy was just crazy. Sadly, I am no martial artist. Unless being drunk and irish counts.

I myself have always kinda had issues anytime a party ends up in the jungle somewhere. I've read a few books (D&D related and otherwise) on the subject, and still can't quite get it right it seems.

I wish I could just hop a plane and go spend some time in the jungle. I took a small group of players to the depths of the woods in the mountains once just so they could get an idea for REAL wilderness. It seems that the city-folk I had been RPing with always pictured a slightly overgrown park.

One thing I am going to try the next time a group goes through a jungle is emphasising how not one single noise is familiar, the smells are all different too. Scent is a powerful sense, and the jungle has a distinct aroma. To increase the tension (though it may come across a bit campy) I'm going to try leaning on the "Lovecraft" view of the jungle. Anytime Lovecraft brings something about a jungle into his stories he always had this way of making them seem so evil and full of despair. Some of this was period-related fear mongering about black people (which I don't approve of), so I'm gonna try and lean on the other aspects of his jungle descriptions.

I don't use any of the cost-of-training rules myself. Me and my players essentailly assume that as one uses abilities they get better, but the improvement is not really "noticed" until it becomes profound (re: enough XP to go up a level). From Feats through skills and on. Even something like Open Lock can be learned without a teacher. I would impose that the player in question would have to own some various locks to paractice with, but they always beat me to it before I have to tell them.

The exception to this are things like Prestige Classes...I tie Prestige Classes to the setting as I think most people do...and they represent something else entirely from the Core Classes. I enforce the prerequisites and sometimes add more, and taking a level in a Prestige Class is always a big deal. I also have a list of Prestige Classes available rather letting it be fair game on the million and six books I have with all those lame Prestige Classes in them.

As for new Feats and skills, I don't really impose that they must be taught either. It's assumed that characters are always seeking to better themselves and a good deal of time "off camera" is spent working on developing new abilities. Clerics for example understand their relationship with their god better through prayer, Fighters are most likely sparring and bettering themselves that way (hence new Feats etc.) and arcanists are going to be in study almost all the time (either book-work study like a Wizard, or experimentation in the case of Sorcerers). My fiance's Warlock character is always in conversation with the Devil that possesses her, and as she grows in power he feels she is ready to learn "the next step" as it were.

In your situation, sticking to how you want to do it, I would say that the Warrior could teach the Fighter only the Feat she fact once he becomes a 2nd level Fighter I would say that she couldn't really teach him much more after that. A Fighter far outstrips a Warrior of equal level in ability. A Warrior is also more the loosely trained variety of combatant, in that tehy get better at swinging a sword harder, but don't necessarily study combat as a science the same way a Fighter does.

Of course, there is the "spotter" arguement as well. I wouldn't necessarily need a higher strength score than you to help you raise yours (when you reach a level that allows an ability increase that is), all I really have to do is encourage you while you work out and make sure you don't drop the weights on your chest. LOL.

I would think it is perfectly reasonable for a 2nd level Cleric to train a 1st level Cleric provided they worship the same god (or maybe even if they dont...there are certain principles that a Cleric of any god could show a Cleric of any other fact learning through differences is quite effective sometimes).

I wouldn't allow a character with one level of difference to train another - especially not at lower levels. At lower levels characters know how to do certain things, but I don't expect that they would be able to teach. They will try to teach in the way that they have been taught not recognizing that they have been instructed according to their own strengths and weaknesses. Is there a Pedagogy (teaching) skill in D&D(3e) or GURPS?
1,200 pieces of gold! Wow, there sure is a lot of precious metal circulating in the standard D&D ruleset. There is a whole topic in itself.
As far as your "numbers" versus "Skills/feats" idea, I think that is a good way to do it. An expensive trainer would give them access to skills -- a poor one wouldn't. I wouldn't allow a character to be taught a feat(skill) that the trainer doesn't have.

On a side note I want to vent my frustration at the way that the D&D game is designed. GURPS is better, HARP is better, WFRP is better -- but they don't really work for me either.

/begin rant
I don't like how skills suddenly appear on a character sheet with no connection to the narrative. I tend towards systems that allow skills to evolve, improve, and cascade. Any skill or ability that does not tie to the narrative is a cop-out. A priest can learn a prayer for warding off insects from another of his/her order who lived in the swamp. The problems is that D&D characters have so many mystical skills that it is almost discouraged to connect them to the plot. Skills should not be things that people write on character sheet. Skills are an exploration in and of themselves and the furtherence of those skills is a journey. This journey is part of the physical and idealogical journey of the characters. Skills exist in a cultural, social, philosophical, and political framework. Skills should not come in generic lists for "classes". What the F%&^$%%$ is a class anyhow? Societies, knighthoods, guilds, and orders are political institutions and not skill templates. Skill sets should be based on the narrative. The narrative should be influenced by the character's profession, aptitudes, and political affiliations.
/end rant

I agree about how D&D handles this. There are better ways I suppose. We try to tie everything to the story in one way or another. For example, let's say someone pays the points to take a cross class skill...say, Wilderness Lore (which I think is Survival in 3.5). Most likely they have already expressed an interest in this a level or two ago, and it's assumed that they have been working on it ever since. Most likely they have been using the skill "untrained' already by making Wisdom rolls for those situations since they didn't have the skill. Taking ranks in the skill is an "on paper" representaion of the fact that they have developed the ability enough to actually get a bonus to those roles.

Talking of Survival (or Wilderness Lore): How do you use it in your campaign?
Even though I had a party in a JUNGLE (a place very difficult to survive if you're unfamiliar), I still only required a single skill check to see whether they can find food, and another when Nevitash (the psion) tried to build a shelter. I find it somewhat of a waste of time to question whether the heroes can find water to drink... even though ,realistically, it might a problem.

Scott Free said: We try to tie everything to the story in one way or another. [:] Most likely they have already expressed an interest in this a level or two ago, and it's assumed that they have been working on it ever since. [:]Taking ranks in the skill is an "on paper" representaion of the fact that they have developed the ability enough to actually get a bonus to those roles.

That is how I prefer to handle it. I use the on paper or game representation as a cue to rationalize it in the story. It seems to satisfy our need for a narrative throughline without causing the game balance to wobble. Best of both worlds.

Submitted by zipdrive
First, please note that the default D&D rules are that a character automatically levels up when enough XP are accumulated. The training rules are optional.

Currently, I've told my players that "numerical upgrades" such as BAB, saving throws, HP, spells per day and so on all rise automatically when enough XP are gained (representing incremental improvement gained during adventuring), while "new stuff" such as new feats, spells, skills or special abilities, require training.

I have not, however, defined this training. The current situation is that I've got a 1st level fighter and cleric that should level up, and the party is on a ship for a few weeks. Would you enable the 2nd level cleric train the first level cleric? [:]

Regarding training costs, the DMG (p. 197-198) offers a few alternatives. If you use them all, Ricard would require 5 weeks and 1200 GPs to train, which I think is a bit excessive.

Because the training rules are optional, I don't mind picking and choosing from among them to suit the story, and I'm not always consistent there. I'm not happy without some kind of story element to account for the rise though, and I have used your particular solution (HP, spells per day etc) in the few situations where the party needed the level boost to finish the adventure, but couldn't feasibly take a break from the action. By the same token, for low level characters, I've allowed slightly higher characters to train them (but not from within the same group- because I don't want the level GP tithe to remain within the party).

As for training costs, I've bent on the time taken for training in cases where a break in story hasn't been feasible. For example, some large adventures demand a rise in level. But I don't bend on the level tithe – it's intended to be difficult – to keep PCs looking for more, and it's intricately tied into the entire resource allotment structure they designed for the game – which influences the treasure allotment per encounter, and the resources available to players.

Submitted by Gilgamesh:
I have the characters role-play through the rigors of training. The tests, the philosophies, and a bit of history are all included.
We'll blue book it (ie narrate it or jointly right it via e-mail and share it with the group via email) since nothing is at stake and there are no real choices here. With finite playtime, this is easily taken offline. I also don't feel comfortable as DM taking an imperious airs over my players, using our consensual playtime to "teach them lessons" through their characters.

Submitted by Gilgamesh:
Nefandus is a real purist and lays out some good advice for you. I agree that there should always be a cost for training - but it isn't necessarily the monetary one. Sure, there can be other costs as well, but the monetary cost is necessary to thin the resource pool available to the party so that they are equipped at a level that will still make encounters challenging – especially at lower levels. Without this, it's very easy to end up with party's awash in thousands of gold pieces, where you end up hearing "fine then, I'll just buy it! Whatever!"
Submitted by Gilgamesh:
The group can be trimmed down by the price of training, but it can also be used as part of the adventure. In my world you can't just go and buy a special skill, a new level, or a magical item. You can also impose a return criteria on the character -- "do not come back and seek training from me again until you have ..."
This is good and I've used it in addition to the other things – but rarely – since we use group playtime for the group – and not for individual characters. You can run the danger of overusing this and having each character jockeying for their own little goals to the detriment of the exterior scenario, and you also need to rationalize why other characters would care.
Submitted by Gilgamesh:
You can also create tension by allowing the political views of one of their favourite instructors to fall dramatically onto the other side of an issue. Conflict with former teachers is compelling.
Yeah, I quite like having the teachers are recurring colorful characters, and it give the PCs a chance to return "home" – all to the same place. Gives them a place in the setting instead of being locked in constant strife.

In that same situation, I would have likley had a roll to find food, and one to build the shelter, just as you did. I likely wouldn't have asked for a roll to find water, but I may have asked for one to determine if the water they found was safe to drink or not. This makes the Clerics' ability (if they have it) to Purify Water mean something important to the group.

While the Wilderness Lore (or Survival) skill does not specify terrain type, I have often thought of having it be terrain specific. Hence Surival (Jungle), Survival (Forest), and Survival (Desert) just to name a few of the permutations. The reason I haven't bothered yet is that there are certain learnings that overlap within the skillset "Survival" making it somewhat universal, and the fact that my last few campaigns haven't really involved travelling to different types of terrain than anyone was familiar with anyways. Leaving Survival as is, a particularily knowledgable character can always enhance his roll through the use of synergy bonuses between applicable Knowledge or Profession skills.

What I normally do instead is adjust the DC for the roll to accomodate for greater or lesser familiarity with any given terrain type.

Speaking on things monetary made me think about my own use of money in a campaign. I tend to not worry overmuch about it, but the last few campaigns I have run have involved characters that are financially well off. I think that paradigm developed out of me and my groups general distaste for keeping track of cash in the first place, and our desire to make sure money wasn't a motivating factor most of the time.

So, while the characters are about town (their "home" town as it were...not just any old town), they can get their hands on quite a bit of stuff. Rather than how much money they can get through family, savings, whatever at any given moment, we have an established gold piece limit, just like a town or village has in it's description. Essentially, if a character has access to their support structure (whatever that may be) they can get up to a certain amount of "stuff" all in one shot. Depending on the nature of that support structure, they either wait till they make more money (taxes, investments, profits, whatever) or wait till the next day to do it again...etc. This would be a problem in many campaigns I would think, with everyone cashing in bonds to buy magic swords or what have you. Luckily, in my setting you can't actually go and just purchase a magic item. You'd have to get it commisioned especially for you, and not many people know where to go about doing that. It's a niche market you could say, and a carefully gaurded one at that. Moreover, the cost of any such item would be beyond even a wealthy PCs resources.

If they leave their support structure however (like when going out of the city or town where they can access it) they have to tell me exactly how much money they take, and it can't obviously exceed their gold piece limit for purchases. Sometimes this means that tehy try to leave town with thousands in gold on a pack horse...but with a gold piece in my setting weighing roughly an ounce or's foolish to carry that much with them. The bounds of "reality" keep them in check from taking all their available resources with them.

Recently I did run a campaign for someone with a very dirt poor character though, and it still made little difference. It was a generally "poor" area of the world where most people bartered anyways, and the character was a skald (like a bard sorta)...skald's get almost everything free anyways as they are the only way that news travels and people tend to want to help out a skald whenever they meet one.

Nefandus is right about preseving an intended balance for the implied setting of the rules. Change one aspect and you need to overhaul everything. I typically have chosen to rework the whole thing and have made a few mistakes along the way towards equilibrium. Is this a worthwhile process to play with? Only if certain elements of the implied D&D setting rankle you enough to decide that they are incompatible with the setting.

As for experience points -- they are based on voodoo blood magic. Murder and money equals power in the D&D world. It is an awful truth that most GM's will work around in some way to preserve the narrative.

Just a note - I am using "setting" to refer to the GM's world prepatation and "narrative" to describe the shared events that unfold within the setting. The GM owns the setting but not the narrative.

Nefandus warns against imperious didactic characters being placed in authority over the players. Yes, moderation is required. A trainer or teacher can give players the sense that you are trying to step above them. However, a teacher is just another role for the GM and the events that ensue -- which I believe should change the outcome of the game -- are the natural outcome of choices and alliances. We play kings and queens, beggars and merchants, priests and prophets. So long as they are all played as fallible personae there is no "lording over" the players. They may have a belief and a test, and may wish to espouse their viewpoint - but is this any different than a sphinx with a riddle. The answer is still subjective. So long as you don't tell the player that they are wrong for disagreeing with your NPC, I don't think you will create any problems.

Players will sometimes take what they are taught and do something else. Show the players that your high priests are sometimes wrong on a point of doctrine and you introduce enough doubt to absolve yourself of unattainable perfection. Once the priests fall from grace the warriors, wizards, and rogues come too.

P.S. Has anyone found it odd that a Paladin is held to a higher moral standard than a Priest? That is just dumb.

I used to play a little more open with money as you suggest SF, but found that I needed to reintroduce it as a campaign tension. Without the detail the tension is not preserved as players can get comfortable in the grey areas. It was hard to tighten back up after letting things go slack. I am still struggling with it.

I'm not saying that more money detail is better. I just wanted to re-create that tension and found it difficult.

P.S. You a Flames fan?

I've never cared for the Paladin class myself. I tried playing one in a solo campaign once, just to see if I could remove my bias against the class, and it was only fun for about three sessions. Maybe they work better in a group, maybe not.

I use the Book of the Righteous for the pantheon in my world as I don't really have enough interest in real-world religion to design a believable pantheon on my own. They have a version of the Paladin for each god, and the moral standards are set differently for each one. I like the way that's handled there...but I've still never had a player choose to be even remotely paladin-esque.

I wouldn't suggest handleing money the way I do to're right in that there's a certain tension that is lost. Since it was a tension no one really had fun with, I slowly did away with it. I tried at one point to re-introduce that tension and found it just as hard as it sounds like it is for you.

At least they have that tension when they go off travelling somewhere...I tend to reward low on the treasure end of the scale. Just as they don't care to have no money and have to worry about it, my players seem equally uninterested in amassing wealth. They've left behind treasure more times than I can count.

Say I did want to reintroduce that tension at some point...any tips from one who is going through the same thing?

ps...not really a sports fan at all. Our fans our freakin crazy though. I work near the infamous "Red Mile" and it gets sooo nuts down there on game days.

It's easy enough to track money and experience on a spreadsheet these days, same with XP. It's handy for other things too - you can put down where you got it, or write a description. The DM can put room notations beside each item, as well as beside the XP notations. This is cool in those few cases where there is an extreme screw up that has to be rewound (ie a player dies due to a GM goof), as well as in cases where a character sheet is lost, or where XP "levels" are lost.

In addition to the tension that having just enough money introduces, it allows equipping and levelling to be a more strategic "game" in itself. Choices have to be made.

At higher levels, when money flows a little more freely, I like to encourage adventurers to sink their money into "town" or other investments, just like real people do if they have a lot of capital. We don't really play those things much (they become silent partners), it's just something the players can touch or taste a bit better than all those thousands of gold pieces. For instance, they might buy the inn, or a boat, or something like that - a place to hang their hat. Treasure can take all kinds of forms as well - say, a nice vintage Icewine, or other forms of decor. Rather than constantly drawing in the dark, I find that if the PCs experience or build delightful things, it is a nice foil for the really nasty stuff they have to do, and it keeps the setting grounded in a finite space. You can really get all pie in the sky with this game, and when that happens, it isn't so fun anymore. Players like to play off a little tension - it gives them a sense of accomplishment. They can sell these things off if need be as well.

As for selling off or buying magic items (I've noticed it mentioned a couple times), this is really only a factor with low level items, and only through certain shops. You likely wouldn't get that in a small hamlet. It comes into play less often than you'd think. It's not so hard to get a continual light rock, for example. They are easily and relatively cheaply made (though mages and adventurers to make them might be hard to find), but a +1 sword is going to be hard to find - and almost certainly prohibitively expensive for any group that is selling these items just to level up. Scrolls though - easy to make if you have the feat - good for healing, especially for a low level groups that need a boost to stay alive. Less relevant as you rise in level. They are the perfect low level buff if you've got a Mage or Cleric in the group though. I'll sometimes make them available for purchase, in limited quantities, especially for adventures where they'll be on-site for a while with little chance for rest and recovery.

Just a quick note on economic flavor:
Do you do something with economics in your game? imports/coinage/trade routes (other than the cliche of "protect the caravan")?

Regarding coinage, I'd like to insert some flavor (or flavour, for english people) into the money used, but without complicating matters too much, so I thought I'd make different coins for each realm, but have them fit the standard D&D values (GP, SP and so on), and to make it easy to remember, I'll make the coin names start with the same letter as their value (without cluing in the player, initailly).

So, for example, I might have Brelish Gildens, Karranthi Gekkos, Aereni Glythies (gold pieces) as well as Aundairian Cents, Thranish Pentalons and Zil Sovreigns.


I use a table of conversions that lists the different coinage and fair buy/sell price for that item in native currency and indicates the exchange. I shifted the base currency to silver and have names that aren't easy to remember. I have a 200-page book that is just tables of items and their sell-buy prices. This creates the "economy" of the world as items that are more accessible in one location are less valuable and make a good export. In medieval law you could be arrested for selling something for more that you bought it for without adding value (ie - shipping it or using it as a component). I use these laws in my campaign as well to force players out of the modern economic mindset.

I like your way better though Zip. I haven't really improved the roleplaying experience for my group by creating a more realistic economy -- other than show off the fact that I could. I work with computerized Accounting Software in my day job. The time I put into building the economy may have been better used in other parts of the setting.

I give the players a sourebook that details common information. Here is an excerpt about Gnomes and money. I hope to get a slight smile from it.

Records of great gnomish achievements can be found on many of their pieces of jewelry, monuments, or commemorated in a coin. Gnomish coins tend to be a source of great bewilderment to most other races. Gnomes do not believe in a standard value for a single kind of currency. They inspect the quality of the metal, its luster, the depth or relief, the quality of the artwork, and their own opinion of the subject matter of the coin before arriving at their perceived value of the coin. They have, from time to time,been forcibly thrown out of human Taverns, Inns, and Bars, all over a slight "problem" with making change. Gnomes, being clever and inventive, quickly learn to carry a pouch of ugly, poorly minted, coins, of non-pure gold alloy, that they can easily pass off as valuable at undiscriminating human establishments.

Because the economy is not "playable" as an element of swashbuckling adventure, I will call attention to it through sparing detail - but I don't really get much into big tables or other such bean counting. The economy, for me, is an aspect of setting or context.

So, I will use a limited range of names for coins - ie a gold "crown" - I like your idea of using names that abbreviate to their relative value. I'd shy away from using too many though - it needs to be simple for players to grasp and appreciate, without being a distraction.

Also, different towns, or different quarters in a city will exhibit different lifestyles depending on how rich they are.

As for buy/sell values, I often take the keep it simple route - sell for half the value that you buy it at. This is often never role-played - again - it's not swashbucklign adventure. Also, at least in DnD, aren't there some allotted skill levels that impact this directly? I wouldn't want to punish those players by giving a free ride to people who don't spend the points there. We do, however "blue book" notable haggles and fencing for example, between games on e-mail, to account for the selling and buying of loot. Again, this gives us the benefit of retaining that bit of regular life colour, including NPC relationships, without using live game time to do these things. I'm always pleased that those NPCs quickly become referenced in game, as part of the larger community that surrounds the PCs, and I frequently tie them in to actual game hooks wherever possible.

The overall idea behind a lot of my style of GMing is to put the majority of effort into things that will be played - that will actually make it into the game via some sort of interaction or experience. [edited for clarity]

I do think that "sell for half the buying price" is reasonable, but I'll only use it for normal equipment and mundane items, and keep the full value for "treasure" type stuff, such as gems, works of art and maybe magical items (my party still has had no magical items, excluding poitions and scrolls), and keeping within the wealth guidelines.

The in game logic for the "all gold coins from different places have the same value" is that up to 100 years prior, the continent was largely dominated by the Kingdom of Galifar. The last century has been one of succession and indipendance wars, with countries wanting to differentiate themselves from one another creating their own coinage. However, for economical and tradition reasons, they kept the general values.

By the way, this looks to like a way to put in some flavor into the world. For example, the villagers and rangers of the Eldeen Reaches won't accept money from Aundair, with which they still have border clashes, following their struggle for independence from it.

I agree that XP is too dependent on the act of killing monsters. Then players suffer from an Everquest syndrome where they kill monsters not to complete a quest, but because they carry high XP. I solve this by eliminating XP for killing monsters altogether. I set out a goal or quest and an XP value for successfully completing the quest. Extra XP is awarded for original or novel ways to solve problems.

Say you have an evil Duke who is oppressing a village of poor peasants. The players could... a) storm the Duke's castle and kill all his underlings... b) infiltrate the castle and incite his underlings against him. They kill the duke and appoint a more humane leader... c) infiltrate the castle and poison the knight's food thereby killing only the knight.

In all three cases the problem is solved. In only one of the cases do the players kill to get XP. In all three cases I would give the same xp.

I guess it depends on what game you are playing. In DnD for instance, I do believe the guidelines are quite specific on giving XP for winning encounters - not necessarily for killing monsters. I've seen "official" game modules offering XP for killing monsters, but also figuring out other ways to resolve a challenge in the same scenario.

For example, I've given a the full XP value to players for successfully negotiating a working treaty with some kobolds for free passage to a lower dungeon level. When the treaty blew up later, due to a blunder, they killed the kobolds, but didn't get any more experience. In effect, they had to work to get the same XP back again -it all happened in the same session, so it wasn't an issue, but that's why I like to track XP on a spreadsheet, detailing the encounter, in case there are occasional rollbacks or bonuses.

I'd be careful about nerfing the XP value for monsters though, if in your game that is a reasonable way to resolve a challenge. In doing so, you end up invalidating the choice of the fighter types, while favoring others. I'll give a story bonus (as recommended), but also an encounter value (as recommended).

I see at the end of your statement though, that you net out at the same XP level though. This is pretty much what the DMG suggests.

As I'm currently using pre-made adventures (+tweaks), I have not problems with awarding XP: the encounters all have an EL, and I award appropriate XP for overcoming the encounter, by any means.

However, I think it will be more difficult for me to set ELs for encounters myself. For example: If the characters need to get into someplace, and there's a high CR guard, but with low intelligence (relatively easy, low DC, to manipulate or con) How much XP to award for beating him in combat (difficult) versus bluffing him (easy) versus sneaking past (moderate). Should there be any difference?

Last night's session:

Well, for starters, we had a new player candidate play with us last night, using a missing player's character (Ricard). We'll see if he joins us.

In any case, the party made their two week voyage to Sharn, using the time to level up. Upon reaching the city docks, they parted ways with D'vaz and Donn (the NPC mercs), giving them some of the treasure (namely, the beatifull but dented silver longsword and a tray with untested bottles). Arathan (the LG cleric) also gave a box of gems to Hobb, the old sailor looking at retiring who pointed the pirate's treasure to the group.

As they entered the huge city, they literally bumped into a former employer of Nevitash, who was on the run, and beseeched them to help her. She asked them to meet her later at an inn and then continued running, apparently chased by two figures. As they tried to find their way around the city, the group was then set upon by a band of street urchins, all offering guide services and running errands, and all proclaiming how poor they were once Elanna gave some silver to one of them.

A brisk walk up, an elevator ride, a few arching walkways and a short bath later, the party found the inn, and were about to discuss the persuers and the job offer, when they were suddenly attacked by a warforged and his kobold underlings. The warforged, called Sabre, was known to Nevitash, as he almost wiped out a previous party he was in (in this campaign's first session) and took the Schema they were after in return for not killing them.

A fight! in which the PCs (4 lvl 2's) trounced their enemies (CR3 sabre + 4 CR 1/2 kobolds). While ricard had total bad luck (0 hits in 7 rounds, tried to turn over a table with a kicj and failed and even went on all four behind Saber's back so he could be tripped, only to have the menace crash on him as it was killed by Elanna), Nevitash proved his mind powers could kick ass as he first impeded the powerful Sabre (Entangling Ectoplasm) and them went on to liquify the brains of two kobolds (Mind Thrust).

While searching the bodies did not uncover the Schema, it did uncover a nice looking sword (shhh... don't tell the players, but it's a +1 sword!). In addition, Lady Elaydrin (their employer), hurrying to get out of there for fear of more enemies, handed them a backpack, told them there's instructions and equimpent inside, and left.
Browsing through the pack showed it contained much more than it should have (Heward's Handy Haversack), with some potions, ammo, food, gold and other stuff inside.
It also included a letter explaining the mission (go to X to recover a second Schema) and another letter, which the characters did not open.
Since time was of the essence, they wanted to find the quickest way to get to their first destination: Rukhaan Draal, capital of the goblinoid nation of Darguun. Their options included taking a train + caraven (slowest/cheapest) ,taking a ship (faster/more expensive) or taking an elemental galleon (even faster and more expensive). sadly no airships travel to Draguun (which they couldn't afford any way).

They chose to board the elemental galleon (a modified sailing ship which has a water elemental bound to it) and had to spend almost all of their treasue AND money they got from Elaydrin to pay for it (around 600GP per person, to cover the distance in 4+ days instead of 2+ weeks). The thing is, after they bought the tickets, they found out that the secon letter was a letter of credit from lady Elaydrin D'Cannith whcih covers any means of transport to Rhukhaan Draal. Much anguish all around as the man in charge of the shipping refused to refund their tickets (for a ship leaving within the hour) for the letter of credit, instead telling them to get their money back from D'Cannith.

Thus, my fear of too-rich PCs was replaced by a concern of too-poor PCs. Oh well...
The trip went by without much interest until the last night, after entering Kraken Bay, Arathan (on the deck, away from the other memebers of the party) heard strange scratching noises from the side of the ship. As fog started covering the black water, eight skeletons climbed the side of the ship and drew weapons, as they stood dripping on the deck. An alarm call was shouted...

...And there the session ended.

"Quick question: how do you handle leveling up in your campaign? and why?"

Fast and loose here. I'll give out for any solution to a challenge and even bonuses for guessing answers to the mysteries I've laid out, etc. "Epiphany! You gain 150 experience"

I don't like the D&D leveling system in general so my stance is a hostile one.

" ... so I thought I'd make different coins for each realm, but have them fit the standard D&D values (GP, SP and so on), and to make it easy to remember, I'll make the coin names start with the same letter as their value ... "

Brilliant idea. Add that to the Gamegrene Tome of GM Ideas ... if such a thing exists, heh.

"Thus, my fear of too-rich PCs was replaced by a concern of too-poor PCs. Oh well..."

Hungry PCs are are active PCs. They'll appreciate the next payoff all the more. Unless you give them mountains of gold and nothing to eat as a moral lesson.

Ok, with most levelling up issues behind me (still thinking on whether the psion needs a trainer for getting new powers or can self-teach/meditate), let's see what happened last session:

[note: I'm now running the premade module Shadows of the Last War)

As the eight skeletons rose from the water all around the boat, Arathan (the only character on deck, cleric 2) evoked the power of the silver flame to turn them. As he rolled well, and these were simple skeletons, our cleric managed to simply destroy all the undead in his range- decimating 6 of the 8; The remaing two were farthest from him. One was tackled by the four crew members on deck and was brought down after killing one sailor, while the last one was quickly dispatched after the rest of the PCs made their way from below.

The next morning saw the ship entering Rhukaan Draal, capital of Darguun, the goblinoid nation. While this city is huge, it's made up mostly of tents, huts and single storey stone buildings. The exception is the impressive red stone tower Khaar Mbar'ost, court of the Lhesh Haruuc, the hobgoblin king.

The party wandered, looking for the Bloody Market (where haggling can get violent) and Nevitash (psion) manifested a Suggestion to make a goblin show them the way and help them find their contact Failin. It almost went smoothly until Elanna and Ricard decided to have a brawl in the middle of the muddy street.
A few punches and an armed patrol later, they found failin to be a human ex-member of House Orien, sitting in The Clenched Fist, a local watering hall with a mummified ogre hand as its sign.

While they did not have what he required as pay (see last session for why), they managed to convince him to take their letter of credit as pay. When they got up to leave, they had to defend Failin from a couple of bugbears who felt they were cheated by the man. A few bloody rounds outside the tavern (and a healing spell cast on failin) later, they were on their way to the man mode of transport: a magical wagon called a Land Cart (essentially a cart with an earth elemental bound in it) which proved a mode of travel both quick and comfortable.

They traveled north, towards the border of the Mournland, and at dusk, arrived at their destination: a former marble mining village called Rose Quarry. The place looked as if it were burnt to the ground, with few of the its buildings standing. In addition, it seemed covered in ice... which later turned out to be glass. The whole place was covered n it. Moreover, they weren't alone: among the ruins and glassy, broken walls was a camp of some sort, with armored figures moving between the tents.

Here I must admit that I had a problem conveying the fact that the party should not just go and say "hi" to these guys (they are the Bad Guys here), but luckily, that suggestion was delayed until some scraping noises would be checked out. When investigating that, the party noticed bodies entombed within the glass, bodies of dwarves burned alive. The scraping and clinking sounds were found to be what looked like glass-coated dwarf zombies cutting and breaking glass at some ruined building. When those noticed the PCs, they attacked.

Normally, a couple of zombies wouldn't be a problem to 4 PCs (two of which were clerics), but the fact that these were covered in glass (damage reduction vs. non-bludgeoning) coupled with the uneven glass floor (balance checks to move or attack, for PCs only) and bad turning checks made for an exciting moonlit battle.

Next session will see the party explore the still standing buildings of the village while (hopefully) not confronting the whole camp of Emerald Claw soldiers.

latest session

Well, thrusday's session went well, with Arathan going up to level 3 (gaining more spells per day and better attack bonus, but no feats or 2nd level spells).

It started with the party going in for a closer look at the camp inside the burnt village. While they glimpsed some armored figures (among them a couple of armored skeletons) in the camp, they were spotted by a glass zombie lurking nearby and they lured him away from the camp so they can re-kill it in relative peace. When snooping around, they also saw two zombies digging up graves behind the church (one of only two buildings left with 4 walls standing).

When a quick look inside the church did not reveal much, it did allow them a glimpse of the other standing building: a marble refinery. It was lit inside and a glass zombie was seen carring stones and rubble and throwing them outside. The party entered, to find to soldiers of the Emerald Claw (to which the ouside camp belonged), which is a hostile military sect, inside.

An enemy female fighter took offense to the Silver Flame clerics and was determined to eliminate them, but the party was too much for the three (2 fighters and zombie) and even managed to dispatch 2 late-arriving zombies, which were outside. The psion was reduced to unconciousness, though.
That left the PCs in a room with a silent map engraved on the floor (cleared of the molten glass by the other guys), three hearths of different colored marble, each surrounded by two statues of creatures from the same stone. It took quite a while for them (searching for hidden things in the fireplaces, trying to move the statues and memorizing the map) to notice that each statue had a small inscription on the back of its head, of clues on how to find a place on the map. The place they wanted to find, a secret workshop, was described on the back of a white marble wolf. Taking the requisite 9 steps north-east, they found a mark on the map that pointed them at the facility.

Happy to have figured it out, they crept out of the building, only to met someone waiting for them outside. A pale, emaciated man with red eyes and elongated teeth called out to the soldiers in the camp and called up a fog bank around him (or turned to fog?).
The players argued whether to take on the overwhelming odds out in the open or back into the building. I call this the "this is a game" syndrome, where the players expect to be able to survive anything presented by the DM and I had to really urge them (using the missing player's character) to think about running away.

They did run away, and managed to get back to the land cart and away. Little did they know that the vampiric-looking guy has them followed and, in fact, let them get away.
After a night's rest, they entered The Mournland, the remains of the kingdom of Cyre, which was annihilated in a magical catastrophe some 4 years earlier.
In the Mournland healing doesn't work (natural or otherwise), nothing rots and living spells and twisted monsters roam the blasted land.

They made their way, using the land cart (after daring Failin to do it) to an abandoned mine, where their destination lay. As they were about to enter, they were attacked by an undead vulture. When the bird flew in to attack, Nevitash manifested his Entangling Ectoplasm on it, which brought it plummeting down. They made short work of it after that.

Going into the deep, dark mine, they found a steel hatch with a strange mechanism on it. Trying to pull the hatch open resulted in Ricard being badly electrocuted.

Wounded, in a strange mine in a hostile land where no healing is possible, the party awaits the next session.

(frankly, while Ricard also achieved 3rd level now, I don't think they'll make it)

Small digression:

(frankly, while Ricard also achieved 3rd level now, I don't think they'll make it)

Do you mean "not make the level" or something else?

I mean "not make it out of the place alive....muhahaha" sort of thing... just without the muhahaha part.


"Brilliant idea. Add that to the Gamegrene Tome of GM Ideas ... if such a thing exists, heh."

... just without the muhahaha part.

Now that caused a real *lol* with the hahaha part.

My pleasure :)

In any case, tonight's session looks to be canceled, as a second player has canceled. Regardless, I'm not sure what to do when the next session WILL take place: even though all the characters will be 3rd level by the end of it, they:
A) do not have access to new Feats/ 2nd lvl spells/powers because they had no time to train
B) do not have any magical weapons
C) do not have a rogue
D) cannot heal, because it's the mournland.

now, consider this when they're entering a former magical workshop that has been through a catastrophe: traps, magical monsters (DR, immunities) and locked things...

Any thoughts on making it difficult, but possible, for them to survive and complete? (

(for those who have access, it the Shadows of the Last War adventure)

Any thoughts on making it difficult, but possible, for them to survive and complete?

If there is a possibility of other parties having come before / after them then a random helpful NPC solution is possible without seeming out of place.

* discovering a corpse still laden with equipment / supplies / journal (with hints, info)
* injured / lost / trapped party member from another party

Well, we didn't have a session last night, so there's still time :)

Aozora, I like your idea very much... I'm thinking a sole survivor of a raiding party looking for loot in the mournland...probably a rogue (to handle some of the traps). His dead compatriots can also supply some needed equipment (but maybe not a lot as they abandoned most of their gear while fleeing something).

I'd like your (and avereyone's) inputs on background (maybe give them a more interesting reason to be there than that).

Rogues are good in that they are very flexible about why they may be in a particular place with or without their hand in the cookie jar. But no matter the class I like layered stories.

Cover story:
He or she was there (hired) for the loot. Simple enough to make players suspicious. It could last a session or two.

He / she is the sibling to one of the former party members and only really came along to protect said sibling. Now the rogue is tormented by the failure and determined to exact revenge. Slips out at an opportune time to a kind party member.

Both rogue and sibling were sorcerer (or wizard, paladin, cleric) apprentices following in their parents' footsteps but the rogue was the "bad twin" and flopped out of training. The torment is partly from a lifetime of disappointment and selfish acts.

The siblings were on a mission of higher importance or sacrifice...

... anyway, it would need to be tailored to your campaign.

Well, my thoughts are: a warforged rogue, inert, at 0 HP, surrounded by his dead comrades. They all died (or went inert) when trying to open the magically trapped hatch leading deeper into the facility.
They were there because they were searching for loot in the remains of cyre, under orders. (I still need background for whoever sent them)
They happened upon this seemingly abandoned mine and tried to get inside. When encountering the sealed hatches, they tried to break in and got baked by the eletro-traps.

I can now give the party whatever equipment I want through these dead raiders, and a helping hand through the rogue. My intention is for them to bring it to funcioning condition using the Mending spell. (the neat thing is that mending doesn't work on creature, and while a warforged can be considered an object when inert, further mendings won't repair it, err...her). Now A rogue within an inch of her life won't be running into any battles. Especially when she was created as an infiltrator-type soldier.
This also opens up further hooks nicely...

Ok, this thread isn't generating (enough) responses, so here's a question I'm fielding to everyone:

The characters will return soon to Sharn, a major city (and they've visited briefly Rukhaan Draal, another, very different city). How do you manage flow of information in such a place?
What I mean is that a city is huge, full of people, places and events. I think I'll crack if I try and create it in entirety and, unlike the "entire world" problem, I can't easily limit where the players can go. They rightfully expect to be able to go to the market, theater, city hall or university with relative ease...but I don't have anything READY for the university, or the slums, for that matter. (coming up with things on the fly has its limits AND makes things hard to remember later).

How do you handle this issue?

The way I've done it is as follows.
At the start of the day, determine each characters first activities (research, shop, woo, whatever) then determine how long each activity will take, Then resolve things in the order of completion and take the next activity. I assume 15 minutes between tasks, 30 if cleaning up is required.

Armando wishes to purchase clothing and a fancy new sword and also have luch at an upscale club. Brianna needs to research some new spells, and then if there is time, gather common spell components. Calvin must get his armor repaired, train, and attend mass. Dieter chooses to case some houses for a side adventure he is planning.
Armando's tasks will each take d3+1 (2 and 4) hours, plus an hour for lunch. He decides to shop for the sword, waste time until a proper hour for lunch (may not be needed), lunch, then clothes shopping. Brianna's tasks will take all day or very close to it. Calvin will spend 4 hours training, then attend mass, then off to armor repair. Dieter will spend 1 hour per prospective house, then 1d3 more for a proper casing.
Dieter's first house will be done first, so (assuming 8 a.m. start) at 9, the GM and/or player will determine the suitability of the first house. At 10 Armando resolves his sword purchase, and commences to wasting 2 or 3 hours. At 10:15 Dieter finishes house number 2 and determines it is worth further casing (3 more hours). At 12, Calvin finishes his training and cleans up before heading to mass.
End Example. You get the point.

If any "action" occurs, it should be relatively easy to know who could get involved, based on who is where. If Dieter's house is near the church, Calvin might be nearby when Dieter is picked up for trespassing.

Also remember that when the PC finishes a task, they should determine their next one, not be stuck to some schedule and a task of "I look for Soandso" could take quite awhile if their intent is not known.


You're not exactly answering my question. You're talking about time management, while I was talking about creative effort and information management.

To use your example, assuming the players want to play out their business instead of doing it "in a montage", in order to let them do their thing, I need to make up on the spot (or creat beforehand) the weaponsmithy, the upscale club, at least one break-in target, a clothing stall and possibly a trainer and training ground.

Now, I can only prepare these things if I know what the characters want ahead of time, and there's only so much I can whip-up on the fly (that will be interesting, anyway). So, what would you do if Armando decided to shop around for the cheapest place to get a flaming sword? or Dieter suddenly decides to take the opportunity and break into the house he's casing?

More genrally, do you have an entire city ready and detailed for your players to explore? a certain quarter? a neighbourhood?

Running each errand-encounter in detail is a tall order.

I generally treat anything I haven't prepared specifically very conceptually. The players pick up on the "there's nothing here" hint depending on how detailed the encounter gets. Recouping and resupplying is generally downtime for the players.

If the players have something in mind, like running a scam on a shopkeeper, flirting in the upscale club, whatever, you could make them do the work for you. Get them to describe what situation they are looking for (gullible shopkeeper, lonely bar fly, fanatic trainer) and you tell them if such a thing exists.

You could also borrow scenarios from commercial modules if you have them available to you. I've never handled anything as detailed as "The City State of the Invincible Overlord" and played it only one session, but it seemed endless. Kingdoms of Kalamar modules also had some interesting market encounters if I recall correctly.

So, what would you do if Armando decided to shop around for the cheapest place to get a flaming sword? or Dieter suddenly decides to take the opportunity and break into the house he's casing?
I would make flaming swords heavily regulated to promote safety and simplify encounters. If I didn't want to deal with the break-in I'd make up a reason he doesn't think it would be a good idea to break in (rabid wardog with spiked collar) while he was casing the place or let him go crazy and find nothing but rags and dirty dishes. If there is a good search roll I'd say he/she found the one clean spoon in the house.

An important part, I think, is to remember that sometimes, there is no adventure. Armando's tailor needs no stats and no map, unless Armando decide to mug him, and then only the sketchiest of details must be worked out. Same with Brianna's Library, Calvin's trainer and church. Deiter is another story.

Unless he is robbing the "first residence he comes to", assume it's not a hovel, but a more affluent house. I love floor plan books. Open to a page and theres a house ready for the robbing. They are a few bucks, but you get like 150 houses for that.

If you are a stickler for maps, draw up a couple generic shops and bars. Use post-its for furniture so the tables won't always be in the same place.

Prepare a few short adventures (outside the campaign story arc) and assign them to a few specific stores. Players may or may not stumble across them. Save them for the next city. If nothing else, when a player insists of finding adventure where there is none (planned) he can darn well sit and wait while one is created. And the other players waiting for his stupid heiney to finish with the adventurette will ensure this doesn't have many repeat performances.


session update

well, I can safely say the last session has been interesting from both my perspective, and the players'.

I've decided to help the players survive by giving them access to
1) A magic weapon (to help combat two Living Spells)
2) An adamantine weapon (to help combat a stone wolf half golem)
3) a rogue (to help deal with the traps)
4) Goodberry Wine - the only thing that can cure in the Mournland

I've done this, as noted in previous posts, by having them happen upon a decimated party of raiders. They did Mend the Warforged rogue (Pin, who's secretly a servant of the Lord of Blades, in addition to a raider) and loot his companions' bodies (electrocuted, but otherwise perfectly preserved) That gave them points 1 through 3.

As they went into the magical workshop (not before triggering another trap) they found a place that had gone through hell 4 years earlier, but was preserved perfectly since. Dead, un-decomposing bodies strewn around. While exploring they found a magical laundry where clothes eternally cleaned themselves, storerooms, a dining hall full of dead people and some offices.
They also came into a room which a Living Burning Hands spell inhabited. While it took them a few rounds to discern it was not affected by their weapons, they also managed to avoid being engulfed and burnt. Unfortunately, when they turned to run, Nevitash was held up to manifest a force screen power, and failed his reflex save when the fire engulfed him. Wounded from the electrical trap, he got burned bad enough to fall unconcious. Two characters ran in to retrieve his body before it was consumed, and while they managed to drag him a ways, another failed save caused Elanna to get burnt and Nevitash to be immolated. the surviving party could only watch as the living fire consumed their friend, as they moved to safety.

(side note: my players have a big deficiency in utilizing information and resources, evident by their failure to note and use the letter of credit, the magical weapon or the scroll of fire resistance they found and I had to REALLY hand-feed them into using the little blue wand they were given to try and open the blue socket locks)

After a few moments of stunned silence, they were ready to give up and go home, but Pin convinced them to "explore a little bit more" and they found an Awakened wolf and her pack, who gave them a needed keycharm in return for getting rid of a stone wolf creature, which guarded more locked wolves. (they'd all been living of the regenerating bodies of the dead occupants of the workshop for four years!).

I thought more PCs will be lost to the wolf golem, as it had DR/adamantine (see 2, above), a slowing breath and a nasty bite, but a lucky critical hit with a greatsword made short work of it.

Although I wished for them to finish the module last session, as I'm leaving for an extended trip this week, we had to stop there, with the diminished party stuck deep in that underground complex, in a foreign land.


I hope this has been mildly interesting to you all so far. I'll be off on thursday for a tour of Argentina and Chile, and will be back here in the 'grene around February 22nd. If you're really bored you can check out my travelogue-in-the-making at

Although I'm completely ignorant of the campaign setting it is interesting.

It sounds like you're on the right track to training the players well. After a few crispy incidents they should start cluing in to your style. Heh.