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About GaryMSarli

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  1. Fun read: "If it weren't for Vin Diesel's 'D&D' character, 'The Last Witch Hunter' wouldn't exist" Of course, if he started with 2nd edition, he probably knows the rules fairly well. You might need to step up your game if you ever want him on the show, guys.
  2. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 128 — Spiderhana

    You're absolutely right. If he gives me any more shit, I'll just report him and ignore it. It just caught me off-guard because everyone on this forum has been so nice and friendly, and then this asshole trolling bigot comes along out of nowhere. I mean, really, what kind of a soulless, miserable wretch of a human being would directly mock someone to their face about their disability? Just being reminded that such horrible people still exist is enough to ruin your whole day.
  3. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 128 — Spiderhana

    I open up about my mental health and how it affects reading social cues, and you reply with "don't kill anyone"? You are a worthless, wretched, despicable bigot, and you should be ashamed of yourself for saying something so horribly offensive about someone's disability.
  4. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 128 — Spiderhana

    planet chumbles: "Yo dudes, just made an account to say I think Gary is way off base. Do I wish there was WAY more story? Yes! But I play D&D and don't give a shit if they are following all the rules." (Apologies, the forum's quote function was glitching here. I suspect it doesn't like people making sock puppet accounts.) Believe it or not, *I* don't give a shit if they're following all the rules, either. DMs are expected to change rules. That's what we call "Rule Zero" -- it's the DM's game, and he can alter the rules as he sees fit. However, the DM does need to know that he's changing something, why he's doing it, how his change accomplishes that, and then communicate the changes to the players so they can plan accordingly. The most important thing for the players is consistency. When things feel random or arbitrary, the game loses verisimilitude and the players start to feel disconnected. There is a significant difference between "pedantic" and "rude." However, I struggle with several mental illnesses, and I'm aware that, for example, the OCD will make me delve into way more detail than I mean to at times. I spend a lot of time writing and re-writing posts to try to find and remove places where I really do go over the top. In other words, you're seeing my post after I've toned it down to try to make it more appropriate for public consumption. That's how much time I spend trying to avoid bothering "normal" people. Your post, meanwhile, is overtly insulting and aggressive. It might mean you're just an asshole, but your post suggests you might not be good at picking up on social cues. (I have trouble with that, too, especially during a manic episode.) As such, I want to cut you some slack because I know how hard that can be, whether it's caused by being on the autistic spectrum, social anxiety disorder, or whatever the case may be. (And if that seems insulting to you, that says more about your attitudes toward mental disorders than it does about me.) That's absolutely true -- the players have walked right by a few things that Blaine had clearly meant to be important encounters or even story lines. (The "fish in barrels" invasion is by far the biggest one.) However, when the players wander away from the adventure the DM has prepared, the DM should be able to improvise to get things back on track. One or two random encounters loaded with clues or hooks for the players is all it takes, but this is a very specific skill that DMs need time to learn. Blaine is still a relatively new DM, so he's still learning this stuff. When I or others on these message boards make suggestions, it's because we remember what it was like being a new DM and we're trying to help him get through it to the other side. He has enormous natural potential for DMing, and I think he will be absolutely awesome at it after he's been at it for a bit longer. I'm sure he did. DMing takes a fair amount of prep time, even if you're running a sandbox-style game. (If anything, sandbox games take more prep time to do right.) When I make a suggestion for Blaine, it's because I know exactly how much hard work it takes to be a DM, and I'm trying to help him find the shortcuts. True. The fact that I have time on my hands (see: mental illness, above) and they don't is why I take the time to write these posts. I'm spending my time so they won't have to spend theirs. Instead of having to look shit up or blunder their way toward developing DMing strategies through trial and error, I'm trying to point them in the right direction to help them along. Please remember that I do this stuff professionally. I have literally (no exaggeration) done thousands of dollars of pro bono work writing these posts because I want to contribute to their success. I'm close to dead broke, so I can't send in much in the way of cash donations -- but I can share my expertise to try to help them have more fun playing the game. Therefore, this is what I donate to support the podcast. Your urge to attack someone who is being altruistic, again, says a lot about you. That would be an appeal to popularity, an informal logical fallacy. I don't play that shit. The fact that you think I give a flying fuck about whether people agree is thoroughly fascinating to me. I care about being right, which I am. This is what I mean when I pointed out that you have trouble reading social cues. That's not what passive aggression is, and the fact that you're perceiving it that way indicates that you're working from some sort of deficit. (Again, I deal with the same problem.) I write my posts precisely the same way I wrote my "Jedi Counseling" rules Q&A column for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, which I did for many years. If that sort of "advice column" style comes across as "super forward," that's a problem in your perception, not my delivery. As for the cast, no, I don't know them really well. I met Blaine once many years ago, and I've met Brian twice in the past year when he did shows near where I live. I just saw him last night, actually, and I had a great time hanging out with him and chatting after the show. But that's the extent of my in-person experience with them. I think the issue here is that you expect me to treat them differently for some reason. Like I'm supposed to be in awe of people who are on TV or something. Again, I don't play that shit. They're people, and I talk to them precisely the same way I talk to other humans. This is how I talk all the time, with everyone. Look, I have fans, too. I've signed tons of autographs at game conventions, so I have some idea what it's like to be on the receiving end (albeit at a much smaller scale). Without question, the fans that are the most awesome are the ones that just talk to you like they'd talk to anyone else. So I try to do the same thing when I talk to the cast here. I don't worship them, idolize them, admire them, or look up to them. They're just people whose work I happen to enjoy, and as such I treat them as equals. (I enjoy my own work, after all.) Funny story. I mentioned that specific thing to Brian when we were chatting last night, and he said I was totally right. I even used the same phrase "wanting to punch Blaine in the face," which is obvious hyperbole but I thought conveyed the frustration I was sensing. Brian laughed when I said that because he totally got what I meant by it -- and, again, he agreed. Meanwhile, you (1) apparently didn't notice the palpable tension at those times during those episodes and (2) actually took the phrase "wanting to punch Blaine in the face" literally instead of figuratively. That's what I mean when I say you might have trouble reading social cues. You need to go get that checked, man. Yes, you personally finding the podcast changes everything. The plural of anecdote is data, right? (That's me being rude. Please note the contrast.) Here's the funny thing: I like Blaine more as a DM than I liked Sark. Sark just happens to do things better in this specific case (rules consistency), but I vastly prefer Blaine overall. When Blaine does something as a DM that I don't like, it's almost always just an issue of inexperience. I can see what he's trying to do, and I'm totally on board. When Sark does something as a DM that I don't like, it's because that's the style of game he wants to play. (You didn't think we made up the "Sark is a shitty DM" thing, did you?) Blaine is much, much closer to what I want to see at my game table, and I see in him the potential to be an absolutely amazing DM. He's just not there yet. So, your "fan service" comment is hilariously wrong. You really could not possibly have misread that any more than you did.
  5. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 128 — Spiderhana

    (Apologies in advance if this comes off as too critical or harsh -- it's offered in the spirit of honest and constructive critique based on decades of gaming experience and intended to help newer players to better enjoy the game, and I hope it's received as such.) I can see where you're coming from, but I think this overlooks something that can make the podcast more enjoyable to many listeners but no less listenable to the rest. Hearing a bit of the game's mechanics is an inherent and natural part of playing a tabletop roleplaying game, and leaving it out actually takes something away from the experience. As an analogy, consider the different levels of detail you might have in following a game of (American) football: (1) At the lowest level of detail, it's just "Who's winning?" or "What's the score?" (2) After that, it's a basic gauge of how a given drive is going -- pretty much just field position and basic down situation: "A has the ball on B's 45 yard line, and it's 2nd and long." (3) After that, you're starting to follow individual plays, "X passes to Y for a gain of Z yards." (4) Beyond that, you've got play-by-play calls, detailing what's happening as it's happening. "Y is in motion -- defense is showing blitz, X calls a hard count to try to draw offsides -- play clock ticking down, X takes the snap, drops back to pass -- blitz coming -- X scrambles, he's out of the pocket, looking to get rid of it to avoid the sack -- he's got a man open, a QUICK SLANT to Y, he's brought down at B's 45 yard line for a gain of three, and it's 2nd and 7." (This can be particularly evocative in radio.) (5) Finally, you've got the extreme detail of analyzing each play with instant replay. You don't need the detail of #5 or even #4 to thoroughly enjoy a game of football. But if you're actually watching the game, you're going to be at #3 or above. (#1 and #2 are things you shout from the kitchen when you hear a game on in the other room.) In fact, #3 is probably the most natural level of engagement because that's what you experience when you're actually at a game. (From the stands you can't see the kind of detail you hear in the play-by-play, and only the biggest stadiums will show instant replays to the crowd.) Right now, you guys are closer to #2. We have a sense of good vs. bad outcome and a vague sense of scale ("double-plus ungood") ... but really, that's about it when it comes to following what's happening on any player's turn. Think about it: What does a d20 roll of 12 mean if Dag rolls it vs. if Winter rolls it? How about if it's an attack or a saving throw? For attacks and saves, we know low single digits are bad and we fear the natural 1, and we know the upper teens are good and we celebrate the natural 20. But we have absolutely no feel for anything in the middle, and that distances both the players and the listeners from the game. The point is that if you strip away too much detail, you might as well be flipping a coin because it feels random and arbitrary. There's no tension because you never get the sense of "Ohmigod I missed by 1 freaking point!" or "You just baaaaarely hit" and so forth. (Blaine sometimes adds this detail post hoc, but it has a distinctively arbitrary feel to it because we're so disconnected from the game mechanics.) Similarly, is 10 hit points a lot of damage? Depends on who's doing the hitting, what they're hitting with, and who's getting hit, right? It's kind of like knowing that the last play was a gain of 6 yards, but not knowing if it was a rushing or passing play, or what down it is, etc. Knowing what is normal, what is weak, and what is exceptional is what gives a sense of progress (toward getting the enemy to 0 hp) and danger (as you approach 0 hp), and therefore this is a critical aspect of providing a sense of drama to the scene (encounter). Even the basic sense of scale for the environment is virtually non-existent. Dan, how far can Nausica move in one round if she also makes an attack? Casts a spell? Uses her bow once? Twice? If she charges? If she does nothing but move? In an open field vs. in a cramped dungeon? OK, forget movement -- how about weapon range? How far away can Nausica reliably hit a man-sized target with her bow? A giant target? What if it's armored? OK, how about just a simple comparison between two ranges -- who can hit a more distant target, Winter using a magic missile or Nausica using her bow? By how much? How much accuracy do you give up with one over the other? These things provide a "mental ruler" that helps us visualize the action, and right now, they are almost entirely absent in the podcast. It would be like listening to a description of a football game that never once mentions yards. Be honest: How many of these questions could you answer immediately off the top of your head? Really, with how much time I've spent playing and DMing AD&D 2nd Edition, the fact that I've listened to every episode of the podcast more than once, and given that I'm an actual professional game designer who has worked on later editions of this same game, it really says something that I have absolutely no idea what the stats are for red giants vs. blue giants. (Sometimes they vaguely resemble fire giants and storm giants, but it's so radically inconsistent that I genuinely can't tell if that's the source Blaine is actually working from, how much he's modified and/or re-skinned them, etc.) I think #3 -- basic detail about each player's actions in the round, but not too many specifics -- is really where you should try to be. It's a more natural level of detail (closer to what you experience when playing D&D), and it gives enough information that people who'd prefer #4 or #5 can still piece together more details for themselves. Just as importantly, the level of detail isn't overwhelming to people who prefer #1 or #2. * * * The point of the podcast isn't just to hear funny people bullshit with each other for an hour -- it's to listen to them play a game of Dungeons & Dragons. The off-topic banter at a game table is usually a relatively even mix of endogenous (i.e. directly derived from the game) and exogenous (i.e. just random bullshit that someone thinks of); without the game itself actually playing out with more than the bare minimum of detail, the endogenous banter drops off. I think this is one of the places where Sark's game was different: The game mechanics themselves were more visible and consistent, so the players were more engaged in the game, and therefore much more of the conversation was about the game, directly or indirectly. Any veteran DM knows that when random, non-game-related banter starts to dominate the game table, it means the players are disengaged, frustrated, or just plain bored. And if you guys are bored when you're actually playing, how much less engaged might we be if we're just passively listening? I can't be the only listener who hears this in some of your voices (the noticeable frustration and even outright boredom) in some recent episodes, can I? I swear, there were some episodes in the mid-110s where it sounded like Brian was about ready to punch Blaine in the face. In fairness, player engagement has increased a bit in the most recent episodes, but I think it's more that the other players are engaged because they're an uncomfortable mix of perplexed, repulsed, and aroused by Nausica's more disturbing acts of religious fanaticism and/or schizophrenia. (Good roleplaying there, Dan! ) Some evidence for that theory of reduced game detail => reduced player engagement => reduced listener enjoyment: I've noticed a significant drop-off in play counts after Blaine had been DMing for a while. It was steady and high for most of Sark's tenure as DM, but it starts sliding a few episodes into Blaine's tenure (definitely by #90 or so) and I'm not sure that it's even done shedding listeners yet. (The slide seemed to be slow but steady as of a couple of months ago, but the play counts are no longer visible on the Earwolf website so I can't tell if it ever settled at a new stable equilibrium.) Again, Sark's tenure featured much more visible game mechanics than we've seen recently; at no point did it ever get so detailed as to become a plodding exercise in math, but it was enough detail to maximize engagement for both the players and the listeners. Obviously, he also had a much more organized story line and flow to the adventures, but those are very hard to pull off without having players who are more highly engaged in the game to begin with. (Keep in mind that Sark is definitely not a very crunch-heavy, rules-intensive DM -- but what was there was reasonably consistent and reliable.) * * * In my opinion, the game would be much more engaging and immersive with just a little bit more visibility and consistency in the rules. It really takes just a little bit more to make a huge difference, and it will be noticeable immediately to listeners as banter becomes more organic and endogenous to the game. Again, completely off-topic banter is absolutely normal in any tabletop RPG, but when it dominates the conversation it means your game is going off the rails. So when we bring up rules reminders to you guys, that's why.
  6. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 128 — Spiderhana

    I'd meant to point this out before, but (1) I kept getting distracted by other rules misreadings and (2) I'm trying really hard not to be overwhelming with too much advice.
  7. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 127 — The Magic Word is Bitchass

    Wait ... so you're saying Blaine has a narrative? :: rimshot :: Thank you, thank you. I'm here all week. p.s. Just messing with you, Blaine.
  8. GaryMSarli

    EPISODE 127 — The Magic Word is Bitchass

    You guys remember how many times you tried to summon the roc to get a ride off this shitty continent? Well, you have your own ride now. Among the other functions of the rug of welcome, it functions as a 6-foot-by-9-foot carpet of flying (DMG p.163): It can carry up to four people (i.e. the entire party). It has a flying speed of 24. (As a comparison, a human's walking speed is 12, and it's almost as good as a roc's flying speed of 30.) That means it moves up to 240 yards every round (1 minute), 1.36 miles every turn (10 minutes), and 8.18 miles per hour. Unlike a roc, it doesn't get tired. Most creatures can move up to twice their speed in miles per day without exerting themselves too much (PHB p.120). If you're willing to push your mount (DMG p.123), you can double this distance but it has to make a save vs. death or it must rest for one full day. You can even triple this distance, but it takes a -3 penalty to its save and it dies on a failure. Thus, a roc can easily fly 60 miles per day, 120 miles if you risk exhausting it, or 180 miles if you risk killing it. In comparison, your rug of welcome can fly continuously for 24 hours if you want, potentially covering 196 miles every day. You don't even necessarily have to stop to camp every night because you could sleep on it. Of course, 6-foot-by-9-foot isn't very big, so you'd definitely have to take turns sleeping unless you want to sleep sitting up. In other words, you guys can go where ever the fuck you want from now on. Oh, and Nausica's wings of flying (DMG p.181) are a good for tactical use, but they don't last long enough to use for overland flight. In fact, you can only use them once per day, so save them for when you really need them. When you use the command word to start flying, you get to pick the speed you want, and this determines the maximum time they can be used: 2 turns (i.e. 20 minutes = 20 combat rounds) at speed 32 (320 yards per round outdoors, 320 feet per round indoors) 3 turns at speed 25 4 turns at speed 18 6 turns at speed 15 8 turns at speed 12 (i.e. the same as your normal walking speed) Now, be careful -- using wings of flying can wear you out and leave you exhausted: If you fly up to 1 turn (10 minutes = 10 combat rounds), you suffer no ill effects upon landing. If you fly more than 1 turn but less than the maximum time for your speed (see above), you can't do anything more strenuous than ordinary walking for the next hour. If you fly the maximum time allowed, you must stop and rest (sitting, sleeping, etc.) for one full hour. So use them wisely.
  9. GaryMSarli

    12 Famous People Who Play D&D

    http://tribality.com...people-play-dd/ Vin Diesel is #1. He's busy, so how about you check in with #2 - #12? And, to close this out on a random note, here's Vin Diesel breakdancing, many decades ago:
  10. I came to a realization today. Starting recently (maybe a dozen episodes), the casting times of spells changed drastically. Instead of casting times being most often +(level) to initiative (i.e. it goes off in the same round), virtually all spells have had their casting times increased to 1 round per level (i.e. goes off one or more rounds later). This appears to affect spells with a casting time measured in action segments (e.g. "Casting Time 2" = +2 initiative modifier, so your spell goes off 2 action segments later), but the few spells with a longer casting time (1 round or more) appear not to have changed. Look it up in the Player's Handbook, page 87, under "Casting Time." Most spells are supposed to be much faster to use. Now, I'd pointed this out a couple of times to the Nerd Poker guys, but they never corrected it. My first thought was that it was simple forgetfulness, but something really critical occurred to me: The longer casting times only started when you got near the Blue City. With all the "electricity" (of whatever form) they're using, it does make you wonder where that power is coming from. Is it directly siphoning magic from the universe itself, making most spells much harder to cast? So, seriously -- ask Blaine about this. He can be really sneaky when it comes to not mentioning things and waiting to see how long it takes for you to notice. Even if the whole thing was just a rules mistake and not a big plan, this would at least provide a nice retcon to explain it away, right? OK, a few other bits for you: Blaine: I think the guys are seriously overdue for leveling up. (They last did so in Episode 109.) Nausica should almost certainly not gain a level this time because she's multiclassed, so she's splitting her XP between two classes. Even with tons of roleplaying, I doubt she's earned twice as much as everyone else. (She also just got here less than 10 episodes ago.) On every level after this (for the foreseeable future), Nausica will gain levels at the same time as everyone else -- she'll just be one level down in both classes compared to the rest of the group. So, right now: Everyone but Nausica goes to 6th level. Next time: Everyone but Nausica goes to 7th level, and Nausica goes to 6th level as both fighter and priest. Winter: Stop using the rapier -- you're not proficient, so you'll take a -5 penalty to attacks with it (see Player's Handbook page 51). Your magical quarterstaff does much more damage, anyway: It's probably a +3 magic weapon, so you'd add +3 to attack rolls and damage rolls (i.e. you're much more likely to hit and you do much more damage). If you don't have the exact bonus written down, ask Blaine to use the table for it from the Dungeon Master's Guide page 184. For your convenience, I'm reprinting it below -- just roll a d20 to find out the bonus: 1-5: +16-9: +210-13: +314-17: +418-20: +5 Houg: You found some really nice stuff in the ettercap's cave (Episode 125), if my intuition is correct. The ring with the three mysterious equidistant marks is probably a ring of three wishes (DMG p.151). You can use this to do almost anything -- at the very least, you can produce the effect of any spell, so you use plane shift, resurrection, or anything else you can imagine. The ring could obviously be used to get the hell away from this shitty continent, but that's not necessary because of two other items of note: The rug is most likely a flying carpet (DMG p.163) or a rug of welcome (DMG p.179), which works like a flying carpet that can also attack and suffocate an opponent. However, it could also be a rug of smothering (DMG p.179), which is cursed and will try to suffocate you when you sit on it. You'll need animate object, hold plant, or wish to save the victim in that case. (Use the ring of three wishes for this, if it comes to that.) The helm of teleportation (DMG p.171) is definitely your ticket off of this continent because it lets you cast teleport (Player's Handbook p.172) once a day. When Houg or Winter get to 9th level, they can learn teleport and then get even more use out of the helm, allowing them to cast teleport up to six times before actually expending the one they have memorized. I believe miscellaneous magic items have a caster level of 12th (just like rings), so you'd be able to carry 550 lbs. with you. (Teleport allows 250 lbs. plus 150 lbs. per level above 10th.) This should be enough to carry the other three party members in a single trip, and that means you can go anywhere you want. (Even if you need two trips, you can do it over 48 hours: teleport 1st half at hour 0, teleport back at hour 24, teleport 2nd half at hour 48.) However, teleport is risky unless you're going somewhere very familiar. (Look at the table in the spell description -- it's scary.) I'd recommend that you teleport to your childhood home or some other place you would know like the back of your hand; even then, if you roll a "00" on a d100, you all die instantly by being teleported underground. (If you roll a 01 or 02, you instead materialize in mid-air and take falling damage: 2d6 if you rolled a "01" and 1d6 if you rolled an "02." Also, don't forget the other items you inherited from Lyra: Ring of Telekinesis: This can be used to deal up to 12 damage every single round by throwing rocks and debris. (Blaine might have you roll 1d12 to randomly determine how good an object you are able to find to throw.) Horn of Blasting: You're carrying this, too. Don't forget that after using it once, you can mimic it with an illusion spell. (Unlike the real horn, an illusionary one has no chance to explode if you use it more than once a day.) Finally, one spell I recommend you get at 6th level: rope trick (Player's Handbook p.145). It creates a completely safe extradimensional pocket for 2 hours (2 turns = 20 minutes per level, so 120 minutes at 6th level). Wandering monsters can't get in, and they can't even see the opening if you pull the rope in after climbing up. In two hours, you'd have plenty of time to re-memorize spells (including rope trick, if you want to cast it again), so you could use this several times over the night if you need to stay out of sight long enough to rest. OK, I think that's it for now. Have fun!
  11. GaryMSarli

    Gary's Tips

    Glad you guys like it! I write these posts to be helpful (obviously), but a big part of my motivation is that they help me, as someone who makes games professionally, think through these things and figure out how to make a better game. Taking the time to write things down helps me to crystallize my thoughts, reflect on what games are and why we play them, and so forth. Nerd Poker has been so much fun for me because it lets me think about these things from the perspective of an observer, and that's something I rarely get to do. Most of the time, I'm running the game or (rarely) playing the game, and being inside the game inherently limits your view of the big picture. Listening to someone else playing has helped me think about games in a much deeper way, and it really helped me get past some serious writer's block on my own game design work. Ultimately, a lot of this is stuff I'll need to cover in the Gamemastering chapter, so I'd eventually need to write it down, anyway. Might as well share these thoughts now and see if they help.
  12. GaryMSarli

    Gary's Tips

    Hi, Brian Posehn and Friends! If you guys were sitting at my game table, these are the things I'd tell you as a player or DM to help you get the most out of the game (i.e. maximum fun, minimum headache). In no way do any of my suggestions mean you're doing something "wrong" (i.e. it's your game, and you can alter rules as you see fit). They're all just tips, tricks, and advice that have worked well in my experience as a player, DM, and gaming professional -- take them or leave them as you see fit. PLAYER TIPS Casting Times This is one you guys had been doing correctly for the longest time (since about halfway through Sark's time, shortly after you switched back to 2nd edition), but in the past few episodes you've been misreading the "casting time" entry on spells. Here's what the entry under Casting Time means: (number): This means you add this number to your initiative (if you're using individual initiative, which you haven't been). It's just like weapon speed, and it only matters if each of you roll separately for initiative. If using group initiative, a casting time this short can be ignored. (number) rounds: This means the spell does not go off until the end of the indicated round. For example, "Casting Time 1 round" means it goes off at the end of the current round (the 1st round since you started casting), and "Casting Time 2 rounds" means it goes off at the end of the next round. (number) (turns/hours/etc.): This spell takes a long time to go off -- they are rituals that take 10 minutes or more to complete, so they are essentially worthless in combat. (Remember that 1 turn = 10 rounds = 10 minutes.) It's important to keep casting times handy so you can reference them during the game, so let's go to the next tip ... Spell Lists If you are a spellcaster, you have to keep a copy of all your spells easily accessible at all times. You don't want to be thumbing through the Player's Handbook in the middle of a fight. To help you with this, I found a spell list generator that let me print up a basic spell list that includes all the basic statistics (casting time, duration, saving throw, etc.). It doesn't include the actual spell descriptions, so it's really important for you to add notes to all your regular spells so you remember the effect. For example, for burning hands, you'll want to note "120 degree arc, 5 ft long, 1d3 + 2xlevel damage" over in the margin. (It's like a miniature wide-mouthed flamethrower.) Similarly, for shocking grasp, you might write "touch attack, 1d8 + level damage" in the margin. (It's like a handheld Taser.) You don't have to do this all at once because most of the important spell information is already in the lists. Instead, any time you cast a spell and you don't know its effect off the top of your head, look it up and write it down right then. That way, you never have to look it up again, and it makes it where you're never spending more than a minute or so adding notes at any one time. (Trust me, this works wonders.) Here are the individual spell lists, which currently go up to 4th-level spells (i.e. you won't need to expand them until you become 9th-level characters). Each is a separate PDF for you to download and print. Winter's spell list -- You will want to mark each spell that you have in your spellbook with an asterisk. Whenever you gain a new spell (1 free every time you gain a level, or any you find in captured spellbooks or on scrolls), be sure to mark it on your sheet so you know you can cast it. Houg's spell list -- Note that it omits spells that illusionists can't cast, such as magic missile. (You can cast an illusionary magic missile or any other spell of a level you can cast by using improved phantasmal force, but the target normally gets an extra saving throw to disbelieve the illusion on top of any save the spell normally allows.) As with Winter, you'll want to put an asterisk next to each spell you actually know. A New Friend's spell list -- Playing a hunch that Dan's new character might be a cleric, since you guys desperately need healing. Unlike wizards, clerics and other priests automatically have access to every spell in their list (i.e. no need to mark any of them with asterisks). These lists include spells from books other than the Player's Handbook (e.g. Tome of Magic). The source for each spell is listed with its details, and there's a key at the bottom of the page. If you don't have a particular book, obviously, you can ignore spells from that book. After you've marked which spells you know (if applicable), you'll want to mark how many copies of each spell you actually have memorized. See those little check boxes over on the left? What I do is put a single slash (/) in a check box for each copy I memorize, and then I cross out the slash (turning it into an X) every time I cast a spell. Whenever I have time to re-memorize spells, I erase the X and replace it with a / to show that I have it available again. You can memorize multiple copies! This is critically important, and that's why this spell sheet includes three check boxes for each spell (but you can memorize even more than that, if you want). Winter, for example, really doesn't need spook very often -- but he sure as hell could use a 2nd or 3rd magic missile. Roll High or Roll Low? This is one that throws you guys off from time to time, so just a short reminder: Attacks and Saving Throws: Roll high! Ability Checks and Thief Skill Checks: Roll low! You have recently been doing saving throws backward, which would make your saving throws get worse as you gain levels. Obviously, that's not how it's meant to work. Making Attack Rolls One thing I've noticed is that you guys really don't have a good feel for the underlying mechanics of the game. You know a natural 20 is good, but you don't know what to make of a 5, a 10, or a 15. Here's a method that will help you get a much better idea of what your character can do; more importantly, it will help you know when you're in over your head and you're fighting something way too tough for your level. Roll a d20. Don't announce the roll unless it's a natural 20 or a natural 1. Instead, you need to ... Add your attack modifier. This comes from a high Strength (for melee attacks), high Dexterity (for ranged attacks), weapon specialization (for fighters), and your weapon's magic bonus (if any). This is your attack roll. Announce this number out loud. But you're still not done, because you still need to ... Subtract your attack roll from your THAC0 to determine what Armor Class you would hit. Announce this along with your attack roll, so everyone know how good an attack you actually made. For example, let's say Dag (THAC0 16) makes an attack with his frostbrand (+4 to attack normally, +7 vs. fire-using creatures) against a blue giant (not fire-using). Brian rolls a 9 on the d20; he adds +4 to determine his attack roll (9 + 4 = 13); he then subtracts that from his THAC0 to see what Armor Class he hits (16 - 13 = 3). Brian announces, "Attack roll 13, hits AC 3." In other words, this is actually a pretty good attack -- good enough to hit a normal human wearing plate mail -- but you'd never know that if you don't announce what AC you would hit. (Keep in mind that this was a roll of only 9 on a d20.) This might seem pointless, but you'll have to trust me on this -- players start to internalize the rules really quickly when they do this, and it really makes things easier for the DM because he hears what AC you hit. (If the target's AC is the same or higher, you hit; otherwise, you miss.) More importantly, you will have a good idea how tough an opponent is just by looking at your attack roll. In this case, if Brian misses when he would have hit AC 3, you know this target is harder to hit than a guy wearing plate mail. That might mean this target is tougher than you thought, and maybe you guys should retreat (yeah, right!) or more likely change tactics (e.g. use spells that don't require an attack roll). DUNGEON MASTER TIPS Blaine, first off, you're doing fine. It takes around a decade to really learn how to DM, and you're way ahead of the curve for where you started. I just want to offer a few suggestions that really helped me when I was learning to DM, and I hope they'll give you ideas that help you make the game even more fun than it already is. Alignment and Attitude are Two Different Things Evil does not mean "hostile," and good does not mean "friendly." When dealing with intelligent creatures (humanoids, giants, dragons, etc.), have them act like a real person would act in that situation -- real people don't attack on sight unless they're guarding something and the players are clear intruders. When in doubt, use Table 59: Encounter Reactions (DMG p.103) to determine how they react to the players' actions. (This table should be on your DM Screen, so you won't even have to look it up.) Just roll 2d10 and add them together, add the Charisma modifier for whatever character is doing the talking (if applicable), and apply morale modifiers from Table 50: Situational Modifiers (DMG p.70) if the monsters are outnumbered, if the players have used magic, and so forth. If the PCs look impressive, numerous, or powerful (or use illusions to that effect), potential opponents are much more likely to try to find a peaceful way to interact (or to flee if the PCs attack). This might not seem like much, but applying this will dramatically change the quality of even random encounters by turning them into memorable roleplaying opportunities. Speaking of random encounters ... Random Encounters are Speedbumps -- They SLOW DOWN the Game Random encounters are an important part of D&D and they really help to establish the setting for the players, but they generally should be used no more than planned (i.e. story-driven) encounters that advance the plot of the adventure. A single random encounter can eat up the whole hour for the episode, but it won't advance the plot. Players begin to forget what their objectives are, and eventually they get frustrated by the endless revolving door of hostile random monsters. Speaking of plot and objectives ... Review Long-Term, Medium-Term, and Short-Term Objectives at the Start of the Game This helps immeasurably. The players do a LOT of things between game sessions, so they're likely to forget what they're doing in the short, medium, and long term. Go over their current objectives as you understand them, and give the players a chance to chime in with questions, to discuss options, and even change objectives (if they decide their current goal isn't important anymore). For example, right now you might say something like this: Long Term: Find the Golden City. (Why? What's there? What are they hoping to accomplish? What will they need?) Medium Term: Avoid the nearby blue city inhabited by electric giant assholes. (Which roads lead away? Is it safer on the path, near the path, or away from the path? Why?) Short Term: Find a new friend! (There's no reason normal-sized humans, dwarves, elves, etc. couldn't live in isolated enclaves in the giant lands, for the same reason goblins and orcs live on the outskirts of human lands -- so, where do you look for them?) Something like this will help to refocus the game on achievable goals and give the players direction. In fact, whenever the players seem genuinely confused about what to do next, the single best things the DM can do is go over these goals again, and don't be afraid to suggest a couple of options for each goal if they're really out of ideas. Don't want to give away ideas without a fight? Don't worry, I came prepared ... Use Ability Checks to Their Full Potential Ability checks are, hands down, your most valuable and flexible ad hoc tool for adjudicating the game. Want to see if anyone remembers a detail from a few episodes ago? Have everyone make an Intelligence check. Does a player suggest something that their character would know is a stupid idea? Have them make a Wisdom check. (Great example of this is when Rick was playing Winter and he had no fucking idea how bad an idea it was to confront the blue giants because he wasn't there to see how tough they are.) Trying to talk someone into something? Make a Charisma check, and then roleplay the result (using the initial encounter reaction and NPC attitude, above, as a starting point). Need to keep moving without normal rest, or need to concentrate despite environmental distractions? Make a Constitution check. You already know plenty of places to use Strength and Dexterity checks, so keep it up! Intelligence and Wisdom checks are by far the most important to keep the game moving (and not flying off the rails) but still basing it on each character's abilities. Use them early and use them often so the game doesn't get bogged down. Speaking of getting bogged down ... Players Need Regular Reinforcement to Keep Things Interesting I know you've been doing free-form XP so far, but you might want to consider changing that. Little things like actually getting XP after each encounter help the players to see that they're actually accomplishing something even if they didn't find any cool magic items or complete some huge goal. By my calculations, everyone should have at least 20,000 but less than 32,000 XP. Pick a number -- say, 25,000 or 30,000 -- and start tracking XP individually from now on. Every time they finish an encounter, figure out the XP and divide it up. If a player shows ingenuity, creativity, or good roleplaying (as Ken did when he thought to wrap up the weapon hilts to avoid the shock damage), give them a little bit extra. Don't forget to let the PCs find magic items and other treasure regularly. Each monster has a treasure listing for a reason. Try using this random treasure generator to speed things up. (There are lots of other good random generators on that page ... poke around, you won't be sorry you did.) Encounter Building The goal with building each encounter is to make the PCs feel challenged but confident. Go in too hard, and they'll feel helpless and overwhelmed; go too soft, and they'll feel bored and disengaged. The bad news is that earlier editions of D&D weren't very helpful at giving guidance for balanced encounters. The good news is, I can give you a rough ballpark to aim for and it will work more often than not. Assuming you want to level up every 4 to 8 sessions, and given that you rarely have more than 1-2 encounters per session, you'll want each player to earn around 1/10th their XP needs for the next level in each encounter. (Some will be higher and lower, of course -- this is just an average ballpark.) So, looking at Winter and Houg (their class has the highest XP requirements), they need 20,000 XP to go from 5th to 6th level, so they you want each character to get about 2,000 XP per encounter right now. This means an XP total of 6,000 (three players) to 8,000 (four players) -- equivalent to a single fire giant (8,000 XP) or frost giant (7,000 XP), or 2-3 hill giants (3,000 XP each). Each time they gain a level (6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th), the approximate XP requirements double, so aim for 16,000 XP at 6th, 32,000 XP at 7th, 64,000 XP at 8th, and 128,000 XP at 9th or above. (The XP charts level out above 9th to 10th level, depending on class.) As I said, this method of balancing encounters is very rough, so it's always best to start small with encounters and escalate with reinforcements if necessary (or just make future encounters a little tougher). And what do you do when the players really shouldn't engage with an encounter? Don't Be Afraid to Be Blunt You're the players' only link to the game world. There are countless intangible details you can't provide to a player but that the character would easily pick up on. ("Shit, that giant looks really fucking big ...") So, don't be coy. If the woods look dangerous (and keep in mind, these are seasoned adventurers), just say it. "These woods are crawling will all sorts of fucked-up electrical blue monsters. Shit, just this electric tree octopus alone looks like a handful." You don't have to let them blunder into random encounter after random encounter to give them the hint. If they will avoid most encounters (or have the best chance of "finding new friends") by sticking to the road, just say it. Basically, if there is any reasonable logic that the characters could use to come to a given conclusion, just say it. The only time you should be deliberately subtle is when the characters genuinely have no idea what they're getting into, and none of their preparations will help them sort it out. This should happen sparingly, because the characters are constantly on guard for threats and trying to size up potential enemies. If you do it too much, the players get frustrated, feel lost and directionless, and they stop having fun. (Again, when in doubt, you can always fall back on an Intelligence or Wisdom check before giving them the information so they'll feel like they earned it.) The Story is Where the PCs Are PCs should never wander around directionless, unsure where to go, and bumbling repeatedly into random monsters. That shit gets old. Instead of tossing them yet another random encounter, put the next plot element right in their path. But what if the next plot element is in the windmill, but they went down to the river? Then you fucking move the plot element down to the river. Just because you know you moved it doesn't mean the players ever will, so don't worry about breaking verisimilitude. In my experience, you can change shit left and right and they'll never catch on -- just don't change anything once it's "on screen," so to speak. The goal is to have fun, and part of having fun is by being a part of a compelling story. Random encounters are like traffic accidents -- they're real problems, you do occasionally have to deal with one in person, but if you're spending most of your time in them then something has gone horribly wrong. CONCLUSION OK, that's it. Remember, these suggestions are just tips and ideas I would give to anyone sitting at my game table -- they're offered on the off chance that they might help you out, not to tell you you're doing it "wrong" or anything like that. You're doing great, and I just want to help you guys have more fun playing because it makes all of us have more fun listening.
  13. GaryMSarli

    Episode 111 — Fudge Son

    You have no idea how close this is to reality. I just have shorter hair. I am a HUGE fan of Henchman 21/Gary on the Venture Bros. Yes, this has been my other go-to Gary reference for the past quarter century or so. "Who's this 'Gary' character?"
  14. GaryMSarli

    Episode 111 — Fudge Son

    I was going to point out the same thing. Up through 2nd edition, D&D could be a little confusing because sometimes you want to roll high and sometimes you want to roll low. Here's the breakdown: Attacks and Saves: roll target number or above Ability checks and thief skill checks: roll target number or below There isn't really an easy trick to memorizing it, but if it helps, you might think of attacks and saves as overcoming your foes.
  15. GaryMSarli

    Hit Points and Leveling Up

    Wow, guys. Didn't expect to make quite that big an impression in Ep. 111. I saw the episode posted late last night, so I downloaded it, got a little baked (Nerd Poker is really fun with medicinal enhancement), and then suddenly THE PODCAST IS TALKING TO ME. It was a total trip. You're doing fine. A wizard is by far the hardest class to play, especially if you're a new player. The trick with spells is to think creatively with them. A web, for example, fills a volume equal to eight 10-ft cubes (8,000 cubic feet) -- that's enough to completely fill a medium-sized room (40 x 20 x 10), such as the main room of a tavern, but it can also block most intersections (28 x 28 x 10) given how narrow roads are in medieval towns, fill a long hallway or alley (80 x 10 x 10, even bending around corners if needed), or make a staircase completely impassable for eight floors (a good-sized tower or keep). The only requirements are that it needs two opposite points to anchor it (floor/ceiling, opposing walls, a bunch of trees) and that it has to be at least 10 feet thick in each dimension. Even giants can only push their way through 10 feet of web per round, and smaller/weaker creatures can only move one or two feet per round. (And don't forget that web is highly flammable -- 2d4 fire damage to anything inside if you ignite it, but it will burn away in a single round.) Similarly, something like feather fall is like having parachutes for the whole team (it affects up to 1200 lbs in a 10-ft cube at your level), but it can also be used to disarm archers, catapults, or the like by targeting their missiles (at your level, 50 yard range and 5 round duration, and 1200 lbs will affect a LOT of arrows) -- they'll just float harmlessly to the ground when fired. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but you can MacGyver your way through a lot of situations when you think creatively with your spells. I like what you did with the thief skills -- my personal preference is always to max out hide in shadows and move silently (my thief characters all act like ninjas), and it lets you get away with some really awesome stuff. I only went with a more even approach (with a little extra for pick pockets) because I was trying to avoid just making Lyra's skills exactly like my characters'. BTW, backstab doesn't require you to use a dagger; it will work with any weapon. (The Complete Thief's Handbook even has special rules for using blunt weapons for "mugging" a target, knocking them out with a backstab instead of killing them.) In fact, the rules don't even say it has to be a melee weapon (and later editions of D&D explicitly allow ranged weapons to be used for this purpose), but I'd require you to be within 30 feet because you need to be close enough to be really accurate. Personally, if I were DMing, I would even allow you to backstab with your ring of telekinesis because it requires an attack roll. (I'd probably make the damage a variable 1d12 with most projectiles, just to keep it from being too terribly badass.)