When Anton Met Pepper

Players love messing with NPCs. That’s kind of their thing, perhaps even more than petty crime and distributing loot. Whether the DM presents a haughty nobleman or a vicious warlord or even a curmudgeonly shopkeeper, the players feel it’s their opportunity—nay, their obligation to bring him down a peg. I’ve spent a lot of time coming up with NPCs the players actually care about. Given how affable some of my villains are, I sometimes go too far. But once in a blue moon the players find an NPC they actually like, one they want to see grow through multiple appearances, and they become invested in this random person’s life. When it happens, it’s not just rewarding. It’s beautiful.

Let me tell you about when Anton met “Pepper”. Continue reading

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The Vampire Ambush

I’m something like a recovering simulationist. I’m happiest with a campaign when it makes sense, when causes leads naturally to effects, and when I don’t have to leverage my willing suspension of disbelief too much. I do understand that we game to have fun, and sometimes hard realism has to give way to an interesting narrative, but every once in a while my meta-sense triggers and tells me something is happening as it would in a story but not as it would in real life. On a bad day it takes me out of the game. On a good day it forces me to look at what I’m doing from another perspective and improve my campaign world. And on a great day it lets me see what my players are doing, recognize that things don’t work the way they assume they do, and punish them for it.

Let me tell you about the vampire ambush. Continue reading

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A few actual, non-hyperbolic years ago, I said this:

Yes, having an odd ability score as an ability damage buffer is a type of metagaming. But it’s also a way of defining a character. As in, “Rock Hardslab is so strong! He can even take a hit from a wraith and barrel on, unharmed, where lesser action heroes might falter!” I could have a whole other post someday on how selling something the right way can be the difference between rejection and applause.

This is that post. Continue reading

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The Principle of Explosion

DMs are wary of giving power to players, partially because few DMs can prepare for or react to players with too much freedom and partially because players are guaranteed to abuse it. This is why wishes are granted so rarely, why campaigns tend to end when PCs ascend to godhood or gain their own kingdoms, and (in part) why low-level campaigns are so much more common than high-level campaigns. I’m a little less concerned about this than most, I think, and a lot of that is the social contract we have; my players want to play in the game, so anything that dramatically disrupts the game violates their own interests. But it’s also because I like seeing what players do with power. Per the above, I’ve granted wishes, I’ve made PCs into gods, and I’ve only spent more time on low-level campaigns because my players haven’t requested high-level ones. But my capstone is probably the time I game my party immeasurable, universe-rending power, but didn’t tell them they had it, just to see how long it would take them to figure it out and what they would do once they did.

Let me tell you about the principle of explosion. Continue reading

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Slyghen the Unfortunate

Sometimes I forget just how much DMing I’ve done. I have loose numbers in mind, like the number of campaigns I’ve run, but the weight of all the time and effort I’ve spent usually escapes my notice. I only think about it when something—a conversation, a feature in a new book that works with an old character, or even just flipping though my notes looking for something else—reminds me of something. My DMing history includes a massive amount of things I’ve forgotten, including some great plotlines, characters, fights, and the stories and advice that come from them. Even among the things I do remember there’s plenty I haven’t talked about on this blog. And it occurred to me: why not?

So let me tell you about Slyghen the Unfortunate. Continue reading

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