Monday, March 16, 2015

Answering Other People's Questions...

So I fell down some forum rabbit holes lately, which is not something I often let myself do as I usually find the discussions to be rather inane. But hey, I did, so I thought to myself, "why not wrap up my lame responses to lame questions and share?" Maybe there will be some tidbit of thing that I said that I will find useful or desire to remember later. Maybe there will even be something that you who read this may find useful as well...if only to say to yourself "wow this Brandon guy sounds like a douche, I don't want to play in a game he's running..."

[Redacted writes] In the early 2nd edition books at least, experience points are awarded for magic items. How are people administering this? Are xps awarded for owning a magic item? Using a magic item? Each time an item is used? Never? If you've gotten xps for using a +2 axe, would you get xps for using a +1 axe? What if you got another +2 axe? I've worked out my own "rules", but I'd like to know what others are doing. Has this been eliminated in later versions?

I award experience according to tables 33 & 34 in the AD&D 2nd edition DMG. So experience is earned for a spellcaster going through the process of making a magic item, but not for anything else related to items.
Likewise combat only earns you XP if you are a warrior (or if you beat a creature one-on-one). Gold/Treasure only earns you XP if you are a rogue (and then only if you actively steal it -- not find it in a treasure hoard).
Most XP in my games comes from good role-playing, creative thinking, and story awards. Or I just do away with it entirely.

[Redacted writes]  Why do magic items become "cursed"? How can mages look at an item and make a guess about its properties (at least until an Identify spell is cast to be sure)?
Because some Wizard A hates Wizard B and knows that Wizard B likes shiny rings with rubies in them. So he lays a trap for Wizard B by making a shiny ruby ring that is cursed. Curse works. Wizard B dies. PCs find the cursed ring on the body of Wizard B while exploring the dungeon...
Or Wizard C sells magic items for a living. He realizes that he can mass produce them cheaply if he takes a lot of short-cuts in the manufacturing process...he calls them Amulets of Protection, but really they are Amulets of Vulnerability (for example). All of his customers (adventurers) go out and die because of his shody craftsmanship, but know one ever learns that because all the people who would leave bad reviews are dead. Since Identify does not reveal whether or not an item is cursed, he is able to sell lots of them and become very rich.
Wizard C takes his giant pile of money and builds a nice tower, grows old, fat, and dies. 
Centuries pass. PCs come, defeat his traps and loot his tower, and probably find some leftover inventory. Meanwhile adventurers everywhere find other dead adventurers in dungeons all over the world wearing his cheap, crappy, knock-off magic items and take them home...
90% of the cursed items in the world bare the same makers mark thanks to Wizard C's market dominance.

[Redacted writes] Making magic items, how are is it to make a cloak of the bat, a frost brand , a ring of elemental command? What must be done? What hoops do you make your players jump through?
Creating magic items should not be an "everyday" situation.
I've always gone with any given magic item needs 8 ingredients (this was pre-Dresden Files, but since those novels came out the ingredients now have to correspond to the 5 senses, mind, spirit, and a base -- ala Dresden's potion creation, because that feel's cool to me). 
First they have to have learned the 'Enchant an Item' spell. Then they have to research the necessary components (which can take several weeks of in-game downtime in itself) -- the exact list is always DM/Player collaboration. Then they have to collect them (usually requiring a couple of game sessions worth of killing rare monsters and looking for exactly the right meteorite). Then it takes ~1 to 4 months of actual crafting time (which requires at least one participant to havethe NWPs to make items of the specific type).
I generally do not require any "Rolls" or "Checks". If they go through the hoops of adventuring to find all the necessary components and then taking half a year of in-game downtime, then I'm not going to penalize them by have a random chance of failure.

[Redacted writes] Hey guys, I've finally gotten round to making my own world for D&D filled with all sorts of crazy and awesome stuff. I'm excited to get started but it will be my first campaign as DM so if any of you have any helpful advice on how to keep things more or less under my control whilst still giving the players the illusion of choosing their own paths that would be great :)
If you have a world filled with "crazy and awesome stuff" just let them explore that world. Don't worry about "appropriate challenges" or any such nonsense, the freedom for the PCs to get in over their heads is the only true freedom.
(1) Know your party's travel options. 
(2) Between sessions try to anticipate what they could reasonably reach within the next session (1-2 days walk/ride in any direction). Have some plot hook or interesting thing in any given direction (since anything to look at/interact with will slow them down and keep them from traveling to far afield).
(3) Random Encounter tables are your friend. Make sure they have adventure seeds as well as encounters (just little things to prod your creativity -- like random corpse with some treasure in the woods. Why is that corpse there?)
(4) Have a few prepared modules that you've read ahead of time ready to grab if they go completely off the map (I keep a spreadsheet or notecard with them sorted by terrain/main humanoid opponents/rough level/etc. to make grabbing encounters/descriptions from them easier).
(5) Remember that since it's your own world, you can make things appear anywhere. Also monsters have to move around too. If you really want them to meet a dragon this session, then the dragon appears in whatever direction they head in. Don't constrain yourself with keyed encounter locations.

[Redacted writes] Can evil aligned characters have true friends? Don't they just make friends out of necessity or for gain?
Even sociopaths (people incapable of empathy), which is one of the closest real-world parallels to "evil" as defined by D&D, can and do still have friends. Just because if your are completely (chemically/physically) incapable of empathizing with people and are ostensibly entirely selfish, does not mean that you cannot form lasting relationships of one kind or another.
The best "Evil party" game I ever had the pleasure of being a part of (played by a bunch of lawyers, theologians, and psychologists) basically centered around the need/desire of a group of "friends" to mutually support each other at the expense of the entire world around them. It ended around level 28 with the party magically fusing into a single being, destroying the world, and remaking it in their own twisted image (good times).
Of course, this also depends on how you define "evil" in your campaign. If evil is some kind of supernatural malignant force, then maybe not, but that would also probably preclude most mortal characters from being "evil" (maybe everyone who is not a god/demon is really just Neutral).
A very relativistic/nuanced/utilitarian idea of good and evil is baked into the game as written, in that RAW PCs are allowed to be defined as "good" rather than as "antisocial homicidal murder-hobos". 
If you go with a sense of absolute alignment defined by the actions, rather than the motivation, of the character, then ALL PCs are evil by default. Since they go around killing people and robbing them for a living...
For me, one of the coolest things about role-playing is that it encourages me to try to get into the mindset of other people (even horrible people). Even an assassin or anti-paladin still has a life outside of their job. They also both probably have some internal justification for their "evil" acts (even if that justification is simply "my god told me to" or "the pay is good").
If you were to go with a real-world example, the members of the group ISIS would likely be defined by most westerners as "Evil", and yet you can be almost certain that they all get together after a beheading and laugh and joke and have a good time together. Evil people who commit mass murder, torture, or other things that from the outside would be considered heinous crimes are still human. They still form bonds (otherwise you could not have a cohesive organization). They still have down time and need to relax. They still like to show off and enjoy the spoils of their conquests. They still form societies and operate within the bounds of some set of rules.