GM Know Thy Player


When I started role playing, the very first character I ever played was a fighter, no doubt. But the very second character I ever played was a thief. I enjoyed the idea of a character who could sneak into a rich noble's house, full of treasure, just waiting for me to plunder. Having no levels to speak of, but lost of ideas, I set out with my little thief, staking out the target house, using disguises and bribes to get any information about the security of the place I could.

When I started role playing, the very first character I ever played was a fighter, no doubt. But the very second character I ever played was a thief. I enjoyed the idea of a character who could sneak into a rich noble's house, full of treasure, just waiting for me to plunder. Having no levels to speak of, but lost of ideas, I set out with my little thief, staking out the target house, using disguises and bribes to get any information about the security of the place I could.

Finally, when I had done all of my homework, I would set out to the task. I would sneak in, get up to the top floor, get into the main study where the safe was kept, and start cracking it. Invariably that's when it would happen. Just as I would get the door open I would get hit by a lightning bolt, or a fireball, or some sort of magical screaming alarm would go off leaving me helpless to stop it.

This is when I decided that I hated magic. As a thief, I did not know too much about magic, and as a player it always seemed there were too many spells to read. Besides, if I had read all of the spells, it would lead to some serious meta gaming.

Magic, it seems, has gone from a thing of rarity and wonder, to as commonplace as an outhouse in back of a coaching inn. And just as exciting. Any time a character finds a new sword they become disappointed when it is just a +1 magic weapon.

This is when the game has to change to make things exiting again. Remember the thrill of making a character? Remember only being able to afford a common sword, and the excitement that was felt when that first orc was killed and through searching it's body you came across a short bow? The joy of now being able to shoot arrows! Your first level character was now on their way to becoming something great with their sword and orc short bow. Oh, to have those innocent days back again.

It seems to me then, that as a GM it is my responsibility to inject this type of excitement into my games. This takes a bit of preparation on my part, and is something that can take a bit of time. I say this because one of the most important tools a GM has is knowledge. The GM must know his/her players, yet have enough fresh ideas as to not become predictable to those players. Once you have achieved this, a number of things fall into place. Here's a short list:

  • The amount of "meta gaming" drops off. I have found there are two types of players: the type who goe along with everything given to him, and the type who refuses to do anything you want him to do. Neither is preferable to me because the one who does everything you want them to will follow the path you give them, but you always have to give them a path to follow. The player who follows every path other than the one you give them can provide you with some amazing ideas, but you can easily become caught off guard by this player, and in turn you can become somewhat predictable.
    For example: You have set up a meeting with a powerful lord who ends up using intimidation to try and make the characters do what she wants early in the game. But one player decides to call your bluff and stands up to the lord's bullying. Do you follow through with the lord's threats of death and mayhem, risking killing off a PC early in the game and bringing the whole tone of the game down, or do you allow the player to get away with the slight, thus making the lord look weak and ineffectual?
    Neither is a good situation, but if you know your players then you have a great advantage by being able to influence them in other ways. Find out what the player, and character, for that matter, is motivated by.
    Is this the goodly cleric who has no ambition besides her order and spreading the word of her god? Or a greedy ranger, who only wants treasure, gold, weapons? Or the blood lusting barbarian who seeks a glorious death in battle?
    Once you know them, the meta gaming based on your predictability as a GM will drop off.
  • You can provide opportunities to the characters. One of the worst things is when, as a GM, you provide an opportunity to a player and he does not think it is as exciting as you do. Giving a thief character the option of becoming a body guard to the guild master in Waterdeep may seem like a really cool thing to you as a GM, but if your player has a vision of her character being a "lone wolf" burglar, then your offer has no meaning. Conversely, if you do not know the player wants her character to join the thieves' guild then, it is going to become difficult for you to provide opportunities for her to join the guild. In D&D 3E there are a number of prestige classes that require a potential recruit to be sponsored by a member of a certain order/guild/band, etc. Most of these societies are secret, or may not even exist in your world until you know a player is interested in becoming part of it.
    Do not be afraid of asking your player what they see in store for their character once in a while.
  • You can put the players on the right track. It helps to take each player aside and ask them what they think is going on in the campaign. You may be surprised what you hear! Remember, as the GM you know what is going to happen next, but the players do not. The fact that you show them a treasure room which is really easy to get to may make them think twice. You may want to just provide them with some free weapons and armour in anticipation of an upcoming battle, but the players may think it some sort of trick. Most people are wary of anything too easily won.
    On the other hand they may clean the place out if they know that you are a "Monty Hall" GM (For those of you who don't know who Monty Hall is, he is a game show host who was famous for giving a lot of stuff to his contestants. Ironically, he also gave contestants junk sometimes also. Good lesson: sometimes the players deserve junk.)
  • You and your players go away satisfied! Most of this has been about what you can give the players, but there comes a time when you will want or need to take things away from the characters. If you know one of your players is going to hate playing without his whiz-bang helm of sword deflection then maybe it would not be a good idea to take the helm away. Some players think the GM is being spiteful, or picking on them when things are taken away. Just remember to have a touch of class and make things plausible and most players will not be able to fault you for taking stuff away from them.

I remember a campaign I GMed where a few of the players were playing two characters. At one point one of the characters slipped off a very slippery log dam, landed on his head, and fell into the river which all brought his hit points below 0. As he proceeded to float down stream another player's character jumped in after him. They finally pulled him out of the river and started to perform heal checks on him. But by then it was too late, and the character died. Ask that player now and he says that was one of the most memorable role playing events he has, because even though his character died he felt it was justified and plausible. He did not feel like I killed him just as a weak plot device. To have the evil NPC escape at the last minute, even though he has rolled a critical, is something that nobody likes. When players feel anything they do is thwarted, they get discouraged.

Know your players and you will know what you can give them and what you can take away. Just remember to have fun and play safe.

I know what you mean; you want a low-magic campaign. (This is why Forgotten Realms always annoyed me--everybody and his sister is a wizard.)
I've often thought of doing just that; I'm not sure how you would allow powerful Merlin-style wizards without having hedgewizards running around all over the place, though Wheel of Time is one idea--Aes Sedai are universally feared and reviled, as is anyone who is known to be able to touch the One True Source. It's a bit like Whitewolf's Mage, really, in that you want to keep your Paradox low--you want to minimize what power you use, and conceal any that you DO.

Call of Cthulhu is another option, ignoring sanity: Spells cost ability damage to cast, which naturally limits your ability to cast. Star Wars is similar, costing your vitality to use the Force as well as providing a very limited pool of Force Points. A Jedi has to take particular feats to even use the Force properly, and even having the ability trained makes him detectable by other Force users.

We played one game where we LIMITED the magic domain. In this game the ability to do magic was rare, and it was a natural ability. We used a derivative of zodiacs to determine what type of magic they possessed.

We also decided it would be primarily attack/defense magic. None of that "mind control , illusion stuff" which I find to be the most annoying.

It sounds wierd, but it kept the game fast-paced and the combat physical...which is also faster.

Plus there was a great battle that included a duel between a fire wizard and an frost mage.

When examining low-magic paradigms, don't forget GURPS. The GURPS magic system, brilliant in so many ways, offers a simple method for controlling the use of magic: lower the ambient mana level. This makes spells harder to learn and cast, and also severely restricts the amount of power available for big, overpowered spells. Best of all, from the point of view of a GM who wants to limit magic, it makes functional magic items very, very rare.

Yeah, if you want low magic, you're probably going to have to tweak existing D&D, although it's not inconceivable. If you're using an official setting, you'll almost certainly have to alter it. A lot of CR stuff takes magic into account, but that a lot of that just means you can handle a lot less.

Personally, I think that this is one approach of many, and certainly not a panacea for any game that has too many magic items. Drastically reducing the number of magic items in a game can be just as bad as putting too many in.

What it all boils down to is how it's run. High magic can be as cool an approach as low magic, but both require careful consideration. A low magic game runs the risk of being unsatisfying or too hard. For instance, in D&D, where hit points continuously scale up and recover quite slowly, it's just not feasible to go without magic of any sort, since access to healing spells is a key assumption. A high magic game runs the risk of making magic commonplace and dull.

Without changing the rules _too_ much, I think it's possible to run a low magic D&D game. One relatively simple approach to running a low magic campaign would be to limit the number of adventurers and high level characters in the world. That would cut down on the number of magic items and spells in circulation, which would force the players to have to rely more on themselves for healing and other services.

The advantage of this approach is that you need to make few alterations to the system itself; it's primarily a question of setting and treasure model. Conveniently, the treasure generation model in 3.5 offers discrete "levels" of treasure that you can easily adjust. If you think the chances of encountering a magic item at level 5 are too high, go with the probabilities from a lower level. If that's not enough treasure, turn up the level of goods or money.

Myself, I would be very reluctant to cut down the level of magic. Anything that necessitates such vast system alterations entails a lot more work for everyone, while also being somewhat risky as far as balance is concerned. Still, if everyone's down with it, then there's no reason not to do it! :)

I think the mention of Mage is spot-on; Mage manages to straddle the gap between high magic and low magic, and there's a lot of leeway there. The fact that health is clamped to seven or so levels makes life a lot more dangerous, and limited access to healing magic reinforces that. It's also easier to relate to, in that getting shot or stabbed really is something you want to avoid as much as possible. :)

I find that magic is MOST annoying for the GM in Shadowrun. You plan these wonderful technological traps, security stations, etc, just to find that your mage with improved invisibility can walk through them all without a scratch. And, if that wasn't bad enough, mana attacks can be incredibly deadly to a large amount of people. Without the noise and havoc associated with explosions. Ick. I vowed never to allow magic in the Shadowrun world again. I don't think it needs it, the vast amount of technology creates enough opportunities for the GM and players to use their respective wits.

Another good low-magic setting to consider is Midnight, published by Fantasy Flight. It's a low magic, very dark and Tolkeinesque world. Essentially, a "what if Sauron won" type of setting. All the gods have lost their contact with the world, except for the Dark God who seeks to destroy all in his way. Magic users and creatures are systematically hunted by the forces of the Shadow and killed. Magic items are extremely rare and will definitely attract unwanted attention. The economy has been brought down to a barter level (ie. no one cares how much gold you have if you don't have anything to eat). And, it's been 8000 years since anyone had contact with the other gods.

Anyway, I highly recommend if you're tired of the usual magic-glutted settings. I found it refreshing to be afraid of dying and challenged again.

My friends and I have been using the Grim 'n Gritty rules for DnD. It works really well, but isn't recommended for high magic games. Which is perfect.
So I just made my own world and took magic and fantastical creatures out. I can introduce them anytime I want to, and magic as well, for that matter. When the players do encounter something that is fantastical (like last week when I put them up against some very powerful mummys, which they had to run away from) then they become rightfully scared and awe struck.
It's very rewarding for everyone.

So I went looking for GrimNGritty, and lo and behold: I found it. I really like it--it's like GURPS combat rules adapted to d20. Thanks for the tip, Chillax.

Another low magic setting to consider is Ravenloft's alternate 'Gothic Earth/Mask of the Red Death' world. In that setting every time a person casts any spell, even something as innocuous as healing magic, they risk being jacked into the great evil (the Red Death).

Cocytus already mentioned using mana-rules of GURPS to control magic. I have to mention that very good way to control magic in GURPS is to use very high mana world and making magic illegal. That makes being mage very dangerous and allows some very powerfull magicians. Although then I suggest disallowing disadvantage Magic Susceptibility.

In my latest campaign I limited magic by restricting spell levels. The world pretty much came apart at the seams about six centuries before the PCs arrival as a result of some kind of powerful spell gone wrong, and after the dust settled and civilization began to re-establish itself the mages found that magic would have to be re-discovered almost from the ground up. As it is, the spellbooks are really only filled out up to 5th level. There are some kingdoms that have a good command of some 6th and 7th level magic, but that's spotty and there's nothing higher. Figuring on the distribution recommended by the PH, there aren't that many people who could even USE those spells, since it's still a recovering civilization with small gatherings.

Sorcerers, of course, bring other difficulties to this kind of setup. The innate power and lack of research required can throw a monkey wrench, but I figure that's alright. A PC sorcerer should have some powerful abilities, and the lack of widespread talent especially in the higher levels restricts them from causing more than local havoc.

In a way, the world is transitioning from high to low magic and then back again. Sorcery is becoming more common, with more and more people being born as sorcerers in every generation. Wizardry is stable where it is, but will probably never expand in size very much as more people have minor sorcerous powers.

Personally, I like to keep magical gear restricted by keeping the players relatively poor. The treasures in the DMG are nice, but sometimes I think they're a bit TOO nice. It seems like every encounter is designed to hand the PCs a half ton of cash, and I've found that modifying them early on is a good way to keep the party from getting magicked up. My current PCs recieved their first magical weapons as part of a quest because their backer knew that they would need them. They didn't have a chance to upgrade them until 9th level, at which point they nearly bankrupted themselves and only managed a few modest upgrades. At this point they each had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 gold pieces, which if you go by the list prices in the DMG isn't going to take you very far...especially when you have multiple weapon types to consider as well as multiple pieces of armor, and the ever handy wondrous item or two. The thing I consider here is that going by the list prices most of the common folk couldn't dream of affording magical items. It would take a year or two's saved pay to buy even a minor healing potion, and items are even worse. The only ones who have convenient access to them are the nobility and adventuring classes.

No problem Cocytus. I like those rules because they also knock the HPs down. I've had PCs actually run away from combat!! Yes it's true.
I like your ideas as well TOT Dave. I had an idea similar to that a little while ago where the gods of the Forgotten Realms end up having a giagantic battle and almost completely destroy the Weave.
Foating cities crash to earth, wizards towers are looted as the mages are powerless to stop people. They are dragged into the streets and beaten to death.
Whole undead armies crumble to dust, while "super" heros are rendered "common" as their magical items are now almost useless.
The whole [magical] economey collapses as magical items are rendered impotent.
Only certain areas which have small pieces of the weave still have (very weak) magic.
And the gods are all almost wiped out, the rest too weaked to do anything for tens of thousands of years.
Hmmm... could that mean that Psions start to make an upsergence? I don't know if that is a word, but it sounds good.

I think that in order to lower the MQ (magic quotient) of a world significantly you have to impact the gods, either by weakening, removing, or distancing them from the players. Being able to freely draw on the power of Gods can give parties with a cleric a powerful fallback, and there's an entire power center there that shapes the society.

In my campaign, I removed the Gods entirely. If there are Gods on this world, they aren't exactly talking to anybody. The magic that transformed the place and created the elves, dwarves, orcs, and a few other races also thinned the barriers of reality in a few places, allowing select creatures of the Good and Evil subtype to come through...although the Good type don't like to act directly, and prefer to aid mortals in fighting on their own. What I did was gave the wizards and sorcerers access to the healing spheres...a double edged sword at best. I think it balances out, however, as the wizard's need to prepare his spells ahead of time forces him into either preparing as a healer or preparing for other things. A sorcerer could get nasty with their spells per day, but the opportunity cost in giving up those precious, precious spell slots for healing spells is enough to balance that out pretty well.

I'm probably doing this campaign as a 4-5 parter...the first part, which the PCs are nearing the final quarter of now, introduces the world and sets up a few things. In the next portion, some 25 years later, I'm going to make them all roll new PCs and they'll have to deal with one of the old PCs leading an invading horde to take over the world as they know it. The odds are stacked against them, so I don't expect them to succeed...for one thing, I'm pulling a trick from this site and having the player who's old PC is running the show play a spy on the inside of this group. When the time comes, he'll stab them in the back.

The power behind the Horde is going to be an NPC wizard of mine that in a way I'm modeling after the Dominator of Glen Cook's stories, or the villain in Micheal Stackpole's Dragon Crown enchanter of fearsome power who bends others to his will and uses them to accomplish his aims. They will probably manage to strip him of his powers, but that opens up another can of worms...

I mentioned before that in this world the non-human racers were unnaturally created. I decided when I did this that the first generation of Elves were changed into immortals. Combine human drive and immortal lifespans, and within around 7-8 centuries you might very well have individuals with delusions of Godhood and the power to make the delusion stick until it pretty much worked. The next part would be focused on forcing them out of the world and letting mankind have a destiny.

After that, it should all end up with a world where low level magic is quite common (almost all commoners having access to some cantrips) but where the high level stuff is relegated to serious practictioners, and any contact with beings who are close to Gods requires powerful divination spells. I don't know what will happen in that world, but it could be interesting.

OK, all these posts are talking about Magic Proliferation. I will talk about another key point that was made but has been overlooked ..... Character Mortality.

The question was asked above, a meeting with a powerful NPC who intimidates the PCs. Yet what to do if the players "Call the GMs Bluff"? In my humble opinion you only have 1 choice. If the players want to put themselves up against an obviously more powerful NPC, probably with an oganization of army behind him/her then you play it out and if some players are about to die you DO NOT HOLD BACK. Kill a character if the situation calls for it. If the GM intervenes with some obvious lame circumstance where the player(s) avoid death then the GM will lose the respect of the players.

I am not advocating outright GM-murder of a character, but if it comes up where the players blindly walk into some ambush or situation where they are terribly out-gunned then play it out, and if characters die, let it happen. Although it can be depressing to the players and a setback to a scenario it is necessary. Otherwise the players will lose respect for the world and for their accomplishments.

Whenever a character that dies, there are other things that happen as well. Other characters may feel a real need for revenge thus adding more motivation to their quest. Maybe you can have the player roll up as the dead character's sibling or child seeking vengence. Also, you can tell the players how much a specific NPC may be hated or feared but when they experince it themselves then you may see true motivation on their part.

The mere fact that some characters survive when others die makes the survivors more appreciative of their survival.

I recently ran an encounter where a single Troll killed 4 characters out of 7, with 2 PCs and 2 NPCs killed. Those that survived knew they had been in a real battle and appreciated their survival. Those that died knew they had faced a tough enemy and had made the ultimate sacrifice. They will now roll-up new characters and I will fit them into the ongoing story, with the survivors being able to brag about their survival ... until the next big battle.

When players and the GM share mutual respect and trust the game is better. If the players don't treat their 'world' with the same respect as it's creator (their GM) then it's adventures become more like saturday morning cartoons instead of the epic adventures we wish them to be.

Just a thought folks.


My problem for a while was like yours, but the opposite end of the spectrum. I _hate_ spell lists. Where's the magic in doing the same thing over and over?

I tweaked with some D6 rules and made a Mage-like fantasy system. Kinda the reverse of your problem, but hey, I like to hawk it ;)

I think that spell lists can only be done away with with a mature group of gamers, though. I've seen the nightmares that come with people who lack understanding trying to work with powerful wouldn't BELIEVE some of the things that one person tried to invent in a high-tech campaign I participated in, and some of the bizzare twistings of scientific law they used to justify it. Imagining that kind of person in a mage like system makes my blood run cold...although Paradox would probably make them explode. I think, as a matter of fact, I'd save up the paradox until they did. :)

I have a different approach to this. I, as well, don't like a gamne where magic saturates the world, unless it's Mage but that the point of the game. This approach is very simple and I use it with any fantasy game, like D&D and Shadowrun.

All I do is keep a close eye on what I give to the characters for magic items and what they can purchase and ask to limit the number of magic users to one in the party. In Shadowrun there are numerous non magical security devices that will stop any magic in it's tracks. The 3rd Ed book Magic In The Shadows discusses them, one is a vine, much like ivy, that is inpenetrable to magic and the other is a microbe that alot of corps will pint their walls with to alert security systems to magical presence and spells.

As an example of this high fantasy, low magic game is my current D&D game. I know I've been going off about this alot lately. The characters are all 16th level now, they started at 10th, and have very little magic amongst them. The elven ranger has a magical bow, the halfling sorcerer has a Ring Of Sustenence and the elven thief has 2 +2 Rapiers and a set of magical lockpicks that give a +10 bonus to lockpick rolls, she stole those from an assassin lord who is now hunting the party down to get them back. The game even takes place in an isolated corner of the Forgotten Realms. I thinbk it still allowes for the cool high fantasy without putting a mage on every street corner. the big threat of the campaign is a red dragon that has an army of humanoids. The army has no magic, not even clerical and they're still romping across the countryside due to a higher tech level and superior numbers.

My point, which I think I kind of got away from, is that you needn't alter the rules, which does work, in order to alter the magic level of a game.

I agree with you Turandir, but I actually missed the point of that rant (oops!) when I was writing it. The point was to know what your players are motivated by inorder to avoid situations like that (yeah right! In a perfect world...)
I know that is easier said than done, and if I was put in that situation (and I have been, and had PCs die left right and centre) then I would do what you had suggested. But sometimes it is more fun to let the players think that a situation is worse than it really is.
Of course you can get into a situation where when the odds are too overwhelming the players will either give up, or just charge in head long.
Ever read "The Art of War"? Good stuff when trying to understand how [most] people will act in certain situations.
You bring up a great point though: the GM can not be like a parent who makes false threats. The children... I MEAN PLAYERS (hehehe oops!) will ignore the threats, so I would always recommend following through with most of the threat at the very least.

Heh, I have played a low level / low magic campaign for years. I find it by far the most enjoyable kind of D&D.

Of course, if you have low level characters you have to ensure that they don't die too easily, so I tweak it to give them hagher than average hit points for the first 3 levels.

I took part in a high level high magic campaign once, and it was ok, fun, but I couldn't take it seriously. Nothing was too tough to kill in the end. We gated into hell once and slaughtered Asmodeus and his demon hordes. The higher level you go the more insignificant the campaign becomes.

I am a great believer in campaign integrity. You must respect the campaign, which means you must fear the campaign to some extent.

I agree that their should be some fear in a campaign. Although I personally like mid-magic campaigns. I've tried Grimm-n-Gritty once and found that you can't play with an inexperienced group. Our ranger was a newer player(not really but new to rangers) and left the party to scoult ahead during his watch. Needless to say, we were attacked by a bunch of orcs and were killed.

I was awake and was still killed before I could act becuase of a critical hit.

It's much the same in a normal campaign. For instance, in my last session with a 10th level(magic heavy) party, 3 of the 6 characters were killed. They all are afraid of my campaign. It all depends on how you GM.

To the unidentified person who made the last post above,

Yeah I agree with you that mid level is best. Thats what I meant really. My players typically spend around 5 to six sessions getting to third level, they spend the majority of their careers at 4th to say 9th level, and If they ever get to 10th level or higher, then they are among the highest level pcs or npcs in the campaign. With the exception of some legendary figures.

I slightly disagree with you on how dangerous the game should be. Fear and respect of the campaign are necessary, but I would consider it harsh indeed to wipe out half a party unless they had done something very stupid. Similarly I avoid devices such as critical hits and assassination rolls, because they work against what I consider the fundamental principles that characters are exceptional heroes, and hard to kill. I'm talking D&D now. Other games like TRAVELLER, are designed with more realistic rules, and the character can be blown away with one shot, but thats a different kind of game.

In fact, because low to mid level characters are so vulnerable, I give them enhanced hit points for the first three levels.

One thing that a DM of mine did a while back to limit magic was to make anyone with the ability to cast magic spontaneously, and without preparation outcasts,(which included sorcerers and bards). They were hunted by other magic users, especially wizards. By doing this the only arcane class that a player could play without constant fear was a wizard, which has forbidden schools, limiting spells to choose from. And to top it all off he would roll randomly the schools that a wizard is forbidden to use.
Yes it was limiting, but we all liked it. It provided great story motivation either in the form of a sorcerer trying to escape death, or a wizard trying to bring it.
I'm not saying it's perfect, but it worked for limiting the amount of fireball-flingers in the party.

When I spoke of respect and a little fear, I don't mean to the point of continually wiping out groups. The level of my game is very similiar to Mohammed's. Getting to 3rd or 4th level takes 3 - 5 sessions and gives some survivability in a difficult encounter. 5th - 7th level are veteran characters, 8th+ heroes and 10th+ are rare and epic.

My intention is not to constantly have the characters running for their lives, but just enough mortality that they respect the world and dangerous situations so that they NEVER think, 'oh he won't kill my character at this time'. Characters have died to

::: bad judgement (jumping of a ledge, not realizing it's a 100' drop),

::: very bad luck (enough '1's so the character knocks himself unconscious against a tree and gets eaten by ogres),

::: other players incompetance (Archer shoots his own warrior/friend in the back while trying to hit enemy - happened a few times).

So what does this accomplish? I mean, every character rolled up takes times and effort which is wasted when the character dies. Also it can discourage the player. Also disrupt a storyline. Why not keep him alive, even if it means 'fudging' a few rolls?

So what is accomplished by a character getting killed, especially in a sometimes tragic, comic way? Well, players take creature encounters more seriously. Nobody justs laughs off a small group of ogres or even orcs. Surviving a difficult encounter means more to the players, giving them a sense of accomplishment, having seen others die in a similiar situation. When the GM is trying to generate a serious encounter and someone starts screwing around (distracted, bored, kabitizing) the other players enforce discipline because they've seen disaster occur previously.

I (like most GMs) put alot of work into my game. Creating the world and cast of characters, current storyline and background history. I want players that play it and appreciate it the way I run it. So far it's worked out very well.

By the way, in my previous post (7 posts above) I mentioned 2 characters killed in a troll encounter. The players were playing new characters within 15 minutes (I either carry generics or they use a blank sheet) and will flesh out the character before the next game, and they are already enthusiastic about their new characters. They know characters die and accept they died in a great battle, and everyone else acknowledges their sacrifice, because it has happened to them to.

Characters may live and die but the story continues.

Once again, way to go Chillax. Thanks all for listening.


I take your points. We are pretty much agreed.

heh .. I remember many many moons ago, I was playing a game of Runequest ( which is a game system heavily into critical hits and critical fumbles ) . My character was fighting in a line with my friends character who was an overmuscled dwarf with a pole axe. First he rolled a critical fumble to hit me instead of the enemy, then he rolled that the blow landed on my head, and to top it off, the blow was rolled as a critical hit ignoring all helmet protection. A series of unfortunate events indeed.

I believe that I was very restrained at the time. He said ' err ... I've smashed your fighters brains in ..' I replied 'I told you this was a bad fight to get into'.

You've already pretty muched your real problem - you're using D20 and D&D. There are plenty of GOOD systems when it comes to handling magic out there, why settle for the crap of mass marketing schlock that Hasbro is publishing?

Get Ars Magica (not the d20 version) or GURPS or Hero v5 or RQ3 or Unknown Armies, if you want interesting and magical feeling magic instead of "Fireball X".

Stop handing out magic items left right and center. Leave magic something the mages have, not every flunky that comes aong.

Use your imagination a bit. As a thief, one has a lot of options for sneakiness, deception and misdirection (as do some mages) rather then frontal assaults and artillary barrages. Ever rob a dragon with just a herd of sheep and a bag of holding as your tools?

For that matter, encourage Mages to be more effective with less. Give out experience awards for the most clever or interesting use a of low level/low power spell. Who needs Lightning Strikes and Fireballs when you can be effective with a Grease Spell, a Simple Invisibility on a stretched rope or an unusual application of darkness spells in combination with pits or hidden snares?

ANCIENT SAGE. I like some of what you say, but I also disagree with quite a bit of what you say.

1) your criticism of D20 is irrelevant. D20 is is a good flexible system of generating random chances. You can use it as a D10, D20 blocks of 5%, or as a D100 % generator. Anyway D&D has always mxed and matched dice to produce whatever chance was required.

2) D&D is a balanced, comprehensive, and above all a simple magic system. It gives a whole range of powers from the hedge mage to the legendary arch mage.
Now, I agree that the magic system may not match every mileau that you might come across, but thats very easy to remedy by customising the magic allowed. For example, in Andre Nortons famous 'Witch World' cycle, All persons with spell ability have certain inherent abilities 'detect magic, detect good/evil etc' so you can give it to them. The Witches of Estcarp use Nature type spells, as well as some general spells, so customize that. The problem is not with the system but with the DMs and their cardboard cutout campaigns. If you play with all parts of the system, and no clear idea of what kind of power balance you want in your campaign (ie no restrictions on magic), you will get a bland, generalised campaign with too much magic.

3) I agree with you about handing out magic items with care. If only because it makes the character less important than the items. But remember to maintain the balance of the system. If you have few damage bonuses because you have few magic weapons, then you have to increase the damage that the party can do with normal weapons. I do this in my campaign, giving fighters a damage bonus with every weapon of +1 damage for every two levels.

4) you're right about imagination, but this depends a little on the quality of your players, and also on the character they are playing.

5) I disagree STRONGLY about giving extra ep bonuses for doing something in a clever way. It smacks of player control and player manipulation. I feel that ep's should be given according to task, not according to the method of achieving the task. This leaves the methods up to the player. If he can do it by Hack & Slash or Fireball, then good for him. If he wants to use subtlety, then thats fine also. Don't try to force your players too much, give them the freedom to develop their own style.

Thats what I think. I think your remarks show good insight, and you've found a style and system that suits yourself, but think about what I've said.


err... that last post was from me . somehow I left the name out

Not to worry, Mo. It's not the first time. I think from now on I will just assume that all unidentified posts are from you. The way I see it that will save you the trouble of coming in and identifying yourself later on. =P

Magic in a campaign is usually not a problem, provided that it is kept as magic and not as technology. Mages (with the exception of PC mages) should be fairly rare, and very expensive. The average or even wealthy merchant cannot hire the services of a mage to regularly booby-trap his domicile or protect his caravans. Discourage dime-a-dozen spell casters.

I also do not, ever, have magical items for sale in the markets. If you reduce magic to a commodity, rather than an element of fantasy, your players will quickly forget just how 'cool' it is in the context of a campaign. I really dislike the idea of going down to the market to pick up a warhorse, some new armour, a dozen strength spells on a scroll and a flametongue.

Clerical magic is not quite as wrought with difficulty in 2nd edition, as it is mostly after-the-action support, rather than the pre-buying that crops up with mage magic.

However, that is what works in my current campaign, and may or may not work for yours.

Best Wishes,
The Reverend Shayne Dark

I do not agree very much on the Jedi thing: indeed, Jedis seem to use their powers without any phisical effort, but just with some concentration. And they definitely don't lose any attribute or anything when doing it!