5e Character Generation pt II

Welcome back for part two of the character generation process. If you haven’t read part 1, hop back to the previous post. This series of posts are developed in conjunction with Ryndaria.com. So jump over there to see the different

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See Spot Passively Perceive

One of the things I noted when looking over materials from the shiny new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is the return of the Passive Perception box on the character sheet. I’ve always thought this was a strange character sheet inclusion for a game known for basic math skills and character information overflowing onto 2, 3, 4+ sheets of paper. It seems adding 10 to the skill bonus shouldn’t be THAT difficult to remember, freeing the space for more important information.

What struck me as interesting about D&D’s newest incarnation is the return of passive perception, but the omission of passive insight.

But really are passive checks necessary? I’ll save you some time by plainly stating no. The reverse of course being you can easily argue perception is always a passive check. Given the perception skill as we know it is an extension of the old spot check. You might argue as soon as you start looking for something you are no longer noticing a difference but actively searching for one, which could easily fall under the investigation skill.

But let’s assume we play with passive perception. Passive perception is a tool, and tools are useful so long as they have a use. So what is passive perception’s use? First let’s look at how it’s commonly applied:

Ex.

The party walks down a hallway, there are traps in the hallway, no one actively checks for traps. The DM calls for/secretly checks passive perception versus the traps’ spot DC. On a success the DM informs the players of the trap in one of those stopped just before walking into the tripwire moments. On a failure the DM stops the party once someone triggers the trap and informs them of the traps’ effects.

The use of passive perception is to protect players from their own ignorance. Is that Roll Play vs. Role Play, a situation of your character being more knowledgeable than you, the player? Maybe, but I assume the design choice was to obviate player stupidity from getting the PC killed. It’s insurance, a safety net.

But it’s more than a simple safety net in the above example. It’s go beyond insurance and into advocacy. The passive check does what the player wouldn’t do for himself. It’s the same when Google auto searches for something it believes (rightly so in my case) you misspelled.

So let’s roll it back to its original intent, the safety net. A successful passive perception is not equal to a successful active check, instead it offers the helpful hint: you should make a perception check now.

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Passive perception is spidey sense. It’s the gut feeling something isn’t right: “it’s TOO quiet,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” “there’s something but I just can’t put my finger on it.

The nice thing about doing this is the party can still screw the pooch. Let’s return to the original example this this idea in mind.

 

Ex.

The party walks down a hallway, there are traps in the hallway, no one actively checks for traps. The DM calls for/secretly checks passive perception versus the traps’ spot DC. On a success the DM informs the players they feel a sense of trepidation about the hallway. On a failure the DM stops the party once someone triggers the trap and informs them of the traps’ effects.

As any DM/GM knows, the moment you state a PC is getting a feeling or sense people will ask to make checks. Congratulations, they party will now make active perception checks against the trapped hallway! Now they can screw it up of their own accord. On a success they find the traps, on a failure you get a brand new situation rife with role playing opportunity as the party stares down a hallway no one feels comfortable walking down.

Just remember to make players tell you explicitly what they are looking for, no general use ‘can I make a perception check.‘ If they want to check the floor for pressure plates make them say so.

This idea of a safety net can transfer easily to passive insight. Passive insight is getting bad vibes from someone, active insight will be checks such as ‘do I believe he is lying about X?‘ or ‘do I feel like I can negotiate more money out of him?

Follow this simple principle and you’ll never have to worry about passive skill checks getting in the way of your game.

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Dungeons & Dragons: Free Basic Rules

Lots of people are talking about 5th Edition, D&D Next, or just simply “Dungeons & Dragons” per WoTC, which is utterly confusing for a brand that has put out different editions and variations of the same product. Anyway, if you were somehow unaware, the newest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons is live. The free basic rules are available as a PDF from Wizards of the Coast. The Starter Set is also available for purchase ($20). The perennial triumvirate of core rule books will not start their staggered release until August (PHB).

So I wanted to do the summary first and then speak about the specifics from the free basic rules.

Overall Impression

It’s vanilla ice cream. It’s a solid rules system, but that’s about it. The newest edition will allow you to play enjoyable sessions. It does nothing poorly thus far, but conversely it does nothing great either. In the end I’ll play it, but I’m always going to listen to the full list of rules system alternatives before deciding on it.

We SCREAM!

Trying to describe the new rules I would say it fits somewhere between 2nd & 3rd edition with some retooling of the mechanics with smart RPG design from the last two decades, D&D and otherwise.

What Once Was Will Be Again

It’s interesting to see the cyclical nature of D&D development reach arguably full circle. The development of third edition was greatly tied to the fan base wanting a more specialized, more intricate game. Enter feats, a robust skill system, and a big jump in rules minutiae. It allowed its players to cover almost any situation that came up. It was also a candy land for power gamers.

I think two major points spurred the development for 4e.

Aging fan base: New blood was absent from the hobby, video games and especially MMOs were/are stealing the young demographic

Time: People did not like how long it took to play a lot of third edition. Fans complained about how long it took to do combat, and that’s without difficult rules quandaries like grappling.

Streamlined: faster to play and lowered the barrier of entry by using mechanics more similar to video games. The classes were also similar so fighters were as interesting to play at level 10 as wizards. In addition the system was designed with DM’s in mind. Often a thankless job, 4e even with all its problems, is a breeze to run behind the screen.

Problems arose with 4e of course and a lot of valid finger pointing can be done to a lot of different responsible parties. Upper tier game play was an absolute mess most easily summed up as option and feature overload.

So 5th edition, D&D Next. Two plus years of R&D, extensive play testing from the public, and now it’s live. It’s a return to roots, a prodigal design that scours through the life of the brand to distil the quintessential when people think of D&D. Unfortunately I think this is an idea borne of the edition wars, that a rules system either can or cannot be D&D enough. But there’s no measuring board and D&D has mutated, changed subjectively for better and worse over four decades. It’s like saying Cherry Coke isn’t Coca-Cola enough. Of course this is the same thinking that upsets people when Final Fantasy games aren’t Final Fantasy enough.

But from the development history of D&D I find myself wondering if there’s not a reason to return to the D&D Basic and AD&D framework. There are two polarizing factions. One faction of the target audience wants simpler rules and fast play. The success of things like Savage Worlds, FATE, OSR, Fate, and others show that pretty clearly. On the other end of the spectrum you still have a significant audience who loves the complexity and ‘crunch’ of 3.X, Pathfinder, and other systems. So why not do that, support two separate lines? Right out of the box you almost double your supplements and thus revenue opportunities as a developer. I think it also may be able to save some of the vitriol that’s so pervasive in the hobby’s community.

But for anything like that to happen WoTC needs to make some changes. First and foremost I feel like they need to find someone with a plan to actually run the brand. Let’s look at their management history real quick:

1997 – Purchases D&D brand

2000 – Releases D&D 3rd Edition w/ OGL

2003 – Releases D&D 3.5

2005 – Begins development of 4e

2008 – Releases 4e, Drops support of all prior editions, no OGL (thanks Pathfinder)

2010 – Releases D&D Essentials

2012 – Begins D&D Next development, Re-releases prior D&D edition materials from the Disney Vault back catalog, Kills all 4e/Essentials future supplements

2014 – Releases D&D (D&D Next, and I believe no OGL)

WoTC does an about-face with the D&D Brand every 2-3 years, hard ones. Like doing a jibe when sailing and not telling your friend and laughing as the boom swings around and violently hits him in the head and knocks him out of the boat. Hard not to be a disgruntled consumer considering the treatment we’ve collectively received.

 

Particulars of Dungeons & Dragons (seriously, it needs some sort of identifier)

Things I Like:

  • Proficiencies, I like the across the board flat bonus.
  • Exploration & Social Interaction Mechanics, Finally some reference on how to run/resolve the other 2/3 of the game that’s not combat.
  • Multiclassing, I like 4e but it’s multiclassing was useless.
  • Gain a Feat OR Ability Increase, Options for how to run your games and how players can develop their characters that actually involves a tradeoff. Also +1 to 2 or +2 to 1 ability makes ability increases always useful.
  • Human Racial Benefit, Viable mechanical benefit to play a human, it even offers a variant!
  • One-Size-Fits-All Shield, Shield or no shield, there is no buckler (…yet)
  • Advantage/Disadvantage, Who doesn’t like to roll more dice?
  • Attack of Opportunity, Only provokes when moving away from an enemy

Things I Dislike:

  • Vancian Casting, It’s improved but you can only varnish a turd so much
  • Too Many Situational and Too Few General Purpose Spells, A cornerstone of Vancian casting systems so you can play the ‘guess what kind of trouble you’ll get into today’ mini game with your DM.
  • Healing Spell Preparation, I think you should always be able to default cast a heal spell without wasting a prepped spell selection on it
  • Sneak Attack, I want one devastating alpha strike, after that leave all the fighting glory to the FIGHTER
  • 3×3 Alignment, Silly vestigial trope. Alignment only matters for divine classes and even then it can be replaced by common sense
  • No Reflex Bonus From Shield!
  • No 4e Disease Framework, Hopefully shows up in the DMG
  • Inspiration, Feels tacked on. I wish it had beneficial options other than just granting advantage

So yeah, it’s good; not great, but good. I think there are better options depending on the specifics of the campaign you’re trying to evoke, but it’s a solid entry for the brand and should be pretty easy for new players and veterans alike to pick up and enjoy.

Enjoy it now, you may only have 2-3 years before WoTC completely ruins it.

Transitioning from Action Points to Augmented Fate Points

Excellent For Counting Points During Play!

Excellent For Counting Points During Play!

For a reminder, if you didn’t read the last blog I suggest you read the previous post as this is a continuation.

Last time I spent a little bit talking about Fate Points and how they operate as a mechanical boon by offering up some specific leeway to the GM for one’s PC. Slacken the reigns a bit on your PC and you get yourself a point to be traded in later to make a challenge a little easier. So first let’s a take a more in-depth look at Action Points, Fate Points, and how they function.

Action Points

If you’re not familiar with Fourth Edition you can probably gloss over this section as it doesn’t pertain to you. Alternatively I suggest picking up a 4e PHB and reading up on Action Points. If you’re looking for just a little extra something to add to a different system’s game action points are a good place to start. Back on point, what’s the deal with Action Points? Action Points in the most basic of terms gives a creature the ability on its turn to take an additional standard action. In most circumstances it’s the opportunity to make two attacks in one round, which is pretty nice by itself; couple the idea with a PC that can utilize two Daily Attack Powers in a round and it is a super powerful boon. While not the only example you can probably see some hints as to why Solo monsters can be difficult to run in 4e. Each PC in the first round with APs can drop 5[W] or more damage on a creature with serious persistent effects. This is a problem is you’re running a Solo Artillery or Controller type with low HP. Get caught in the open early in the fight and a set piece finale battle can turn into 1-2 rounds of very ugly evisceration. The second big bonus to APs is it allows you to do multiple actions when you otherwise would not be able. The Dazed condition is a little more manageable, and an AP can give a PC 3 chances to escape a grab in one turn. The latter is crucial when fighting a creature that gets big bonuses on attack and damage against grabbed creatures or does automatic damage to them.

Action Points do come with limitations. Assuming general adventuring wear and tear most PCs will only have use of 2-4 Action Points per adventuring day. There is also no active way to gain APs. Outside of simply continuing to adventure and thus gain milestones there is no In-Character action a player can take to gain more. Additionally, taking an extended rest resets action points to one so there is a serious problem with wasting APs. This problem can be compounded as players can only use one AP per encounter and APs are practically useless as written for use in any situation other than combat.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty for Action Points comes for the DM/GM. The use is exactly the same for those behind the screen as those in front of it. Only two types of monsters have AP for the DM to play with, Elites and Solos. With the latter these AP are almost always used when the monster is under the Dazed condition defensively rather than offensively.

In Summary, Action Points are powerful but they’re limited in quantity and relegated only to use in combat situations. As written they are not particularly useful for a DM.

Fate Points

Fate Points operate in a different manner than the traditional Action Point. The first difference is FPs are more abundant. As characters advance they have a higher refresh rate. The refresh rate tells the player how many FP a character will start a play session with at a minimum. And, unlike APs, Fate Points are carried over to the next session. A PC with Refresh 3 ends the session with 4 FPs, he begins the next session of play with 4 FPs. If the PC ends the session with 1 FP he would begin the next session with 3 FP, i.e. his Refresh Rate.

Fate Points have different mechanics. While APs provide additional actions, FPs improve the chance for success or failure for actions. Fate Points can be used to gain a flat +2 bonus to rolls, give a player the opportunity to reroll an attempt, give enemies a -2 on their attempts, and in some cases they can be used to auto succeed at attempts.

In my opinion, the most novel idea about FPs is the way they are bargained back and forth between the GM and the players. Each PC is an amalgam of stats and aspects. Aspects are short, descriptive phrases that explain who the character is. Fate Points are used to engage aspects, for PCs this is usually to be better at something. For the GM, he can use these same aspects against the PC. Tapping the aspect costs a FP. PCs tapping an aspect hand over a FP to the GM. A GM only hands over a FP when he taps a PC’s aspect. If a GM taps one of his bad guy’s aspects the FP goes back to the FP bank/pool. Players can also tap detrimental aspects of their PCs to gain FP from the bank/pool. I’ll give an example of how this works.

In a recent game session I played a half-orc touched by the fire element, which he worships as a zealot (this serves no mechanical benefit). The party has been engaged with a boat trip across a massive lake, all the while being harried by an ice witch. Upon meeting the ice witch in combat my PC launches himself from the boat to charge down the ice witch, howling hateful, fury all the way. This is the sort of action that really reflects the concept of my character and is likely to earn me a Fate Point from the bank.

Fate Points are far more useful for a GM than AP are for DMs. Fate Points can be used to boost bad guys, hamper good guys, entice players to play up their PC’s drawbacks in exchange for FPs, or compel the detrimental effects of their aspects if they have no FPs.

New Points

So what about new points for 4e D&D or any d20 system? Drafting Fate Points directly over to d20 is ill-advised given Fate is a system that uses Fudge dice. But I’ve put together a pretty simple system for new points.

–        Each Player and GM/DM resets to 1 point per day session

–        +1d6 to Attack, Skill, Save Attempt

–        Reroll Attack, Skill, Save Attempt

–        Gain Points by going above and beyond by playing PC’s personality (GM discretion)

–        Gain Points by accepting GM advisement over PC’s personality

There are two major differences to implementing these points over the standard AP. First, there are some abilities and powers which function off of APs. Warlords especially give out bonuses to PCs when they use an AP. In such a case you may find it necessary to limit each PC to gaining these boons once per encounter. The other is that Elite and Solo monsters should still gain their built-in points. While this hinders solo monsters in their reduced ability to function under the Dazed condition it is offset by allowing them a greater bonus when attempting to save from conditions and a better chance of hitting with the limited, more powerful, attacks.

One point of clarification is using points to boost or reroll attacks. This is done for one attack roll. Therefore a monster using a close burst power that misses four PCs cannot spend a point to reroll all the attacks included in the power, but only a singular attack roll.

And that’s it. So read it over, try it out and let me know if you think it’s a better option than standard action points in 4e or a nice addition to 3.X or other favorite d20 system.

Chasing the Dragon

If you were expecting a post about opiates you’re out of luck, sorry? What it is about is chase scenes. Now if you’ve been hanging around tabletop RPGs for any amount of time you probably haven’t played in a lot of action movie style chase scenes. Well why is that? Play out a chase scene at the table and you will figure it out. Or better yet, try to design one.

One of the underlying problems that quickly arises is most games are designed from a mechanical aspect to deal with combat and tactics on a stationary set of scenery. The difficulty of hitting a moving target while moving compounded by strange situations creeping up into the cover rules make things a bit convoluted. Start opening up that dusty section of your favorite rules system book to look at the vehicle handling rules and you may as well stop the game. At this point no one is having fun.

I stole this from the Muddy Colors Blog. You should go there and tell them how despicable I am.

I stole this from the Muddy Colors Blog. You should go there and tell them how despicable I am.

There are more practical problems like the map. If you play on a tactical surface of any sort you’re going to run out of room and soon. Depending on system specifics an average can straight run off the table surface in about 3 rounds. All that meticulous work you put into making a grimy slum street turns to naught if the PCs only spend 18 seconds of play time in the scene. On top of that, let’s hope the bad guys are able to keep up or at least have a reliable way to slow the PCs down. You can throw the escort quest slow NPC in with the PCs but it’s pretty cheap tactic. It only works once so you’ll have to figure out something different if you want to do another chase in the next… ever. You really don’t want to be harangued by your players for this sort of thing until you die so I say just avoid it if possible.

So then what’s a DM/GM to do? We all would love to do chase scenes. Chase scenes done right are a great way to break up the monotony of see enemies, kill enemies. They also are moving scenes so they can actually provide a way to move your group from one plot point to another. Heck, you can even end your chase scenes with a standoff fight. Imagine you could very smoothly transition from a dialogue-filled plot building scene, broken up by… let’s say ninjas (because ninjas are always busting in and breaking up a good conversation). You transition to being chased by ninjas through a slums district. They’re hopping over buildings, diving over vendor carts, running across suspended laundry lines while chasing the party. Eventually the PCs get corralled into a dead-end alley with warriors of shadow closing in like a silent black hand gripping their throat. Now you can either seamlessly transfer this into a ‘roll initiative’ scene or use it to set up an NPC ally busting through the wall to save them just in time. Transition to another plot building dialogue scene at the new safe house. Do you want that? I want that, it sounds awesome.

First we need a very clear goal and criteria for success and failure of that goal so we can measure it. Using the example above the clear goal for the party in the chase scene is ‘OMG Ninjas, RUN!’, don’t get caught/killed by ninjas.
Success: Make a Clean Getaway
Failure: Get Killed/Caught

So one thing to keep in mind during this endeavor, especially if the usual M.O. for your group is kill everything that moves is make it clear the goal is not to kill the ninjas. Nothing will ruin a chase scene quicker than a group of PCs turning around and digging in their heels. You know how to best make your group aware of this. It might be having extra ninjas show up out of the blue at the edge of the scene each round to reinforce the idea they’re a never-ending supply. Or you could just tell the group they’re certain trying to have it out in a pitched battle is going to end with them dead.

So let’s nuts and bolts this. You know that super detailed map of the slums you made? Keep that around we’re going to use that. Take some time over the weekend and make yourself a really fancy map, don’t be afraid of making it too cluttered either as that may actually be beneficial.

Feel free to put some large features on the map, difficult, and impassable terrain. Get some height as well. This exercise is a great way to work on multiple level battles. Get some roofs on those buildings and make some larger than one story. Add a few balconies, have fun with it.

Grid out your mat/map. My Paizo Flip-Mat is a 30″ x 24″ grid. That’s 720 squares which can be broken down into 5 x 4 surface of 6″ x 6″ tiles. Why did I choose these dimensions? Well, a 36″ square has plenty of room for your PCs to be positioned. Also that divides my map into 20 distinct sectors. Now if only I had some sort of device for randomizing results of 1 – 20…

At this point we have a fun looking map divided into smaller block sectors. Well, it’s not a chase scene without some chasers. We’re using ninjas so pull out some baddies of appropriate difficulty with sneaky, ninja type attributes. Now this can be as deadly and complicated as you like. Feel like spicing it up, add some other groups that will be inserted at different types.

Group A: 1d4 Ninjas
Group B: 1 Master Ninja + 1d4-1 Ninjas
Group C: 1d4 Slum Thugs

You can weight the results and roll for them randomly or set some other criteria like ‘I always want ninjas and one other type of baddie on the board at any time.’ In the above groups I assume my ninjas will be the bread and butter, quick enemies with some ranged attacks and good acrobatics/athletics to be masters of the environment. A ninja master is a beefed up version of the average ninja. Maybe he’s a little faster and has a debilitating melee attack that immobilize or knocks prone. For fun I added some slum thugs, these guys are 1 HP cannon fodder. They’re basically around to be in the way and for the PCs to waste attacks killing.

Each round I add a few more guys to the board to reinforce the enemy. Now, if this is a long chase you may end up with a lot of bad guys. Remember to give the PCs plenty of advantage with cover and the like to keep them from getting killed outright. This helps to reinforce the havoc of chase scenes with death flying through the air in haphazard directions.

Armed with map, grid system, bad guys, and PCs you just need to do the deal. So how long do you make it? I took a page out of the D&D 4e DMG on skill challenges. Specifically I took a look at the successes needed. We have our own ability to gauge failure but we need some way to measure when the PCs ‘escape’ their pursuers. A short chase feels like reaching 4 sectors would be appropriate. An average chase choose somewhere between 6-8 sectors, and for marathons 10-12 sectors. Move to the next sector when the last PC has entered the current goal sector. You can either roll at the table for the sectors or roll them beforehand. I might look to roll them beforehand. The reasoning is I want to make sure there aren’t too many short, long, or same routes.

***Pro Tip: Feeling extra fancy/diabolical? Throw in a rotating black out sector or two. A simple run from sector 12 – sector 15 gets a little more complicated when sector 13 is blocked off.***

That’s it. The most difficult part of chase scenes using this method is the maps. Some of us love drawing maps and some hate it. If you hate drawing maps let an art-inclined PC go at it or use it as a game warm up. Remember that dialogue section at the beginning of our ninja game? Well give the group something to do while talking about it. You can have a really awesome, collaborated slums map with half a dozen people cobbling together random bits. Once they’re done with the dialogue scene it’s chase time. This is a great way to keep your players engaged with the game and save yourself some work. Or take a map off the internet, there are some really great ones out there you can use. So take this and run your own chase scenes and see how it works for your group.

Did I miss something or do you have an idea for something you’d like me to write about? Leave it in the comments or get in touch with me through social media!

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, and some Adventure

The past two weeks have been busier than I expected and unfortunately this blog took a back seat. I am however working back to a point of equilibrium so hopefully next week’s entry won’t be sliding in just under the gun.

Spurred by Jason’s comment about taverns on the previous article I thought I would take a crack at the idea. To paraphrase he wants to know if we can do a better job of creating taverns from behind the screen. He feels taverns are not described very well and in that way end up feeling very similar and at the same time nondescript. Thanks for the thought. You guys can find out more about Jason at his blog, Ryndaria.com. He does fantasy fiction writing, world building, and independent book reviews.

To start off… yes. Taverns do feel the same and that’s because they are the same. Essentially taverns are a large room with tables, a bar counter, and usually a hearth. All grocery stores, gas stations, clothing stores, and restaurants are essentially the same on the inside. They sell equivalent goods/services and their layouts reflect that. Separated kitchen in the back, fresh produce around the perimeter, soda fountain up against the wall. Use this commonality as a strength rather than a failing. It’s nice that when running a game I can say things like ‘market’, ‘inn’, ‘tavern’, ‘blacksmith’*, etc. and have everyone at the table know my intent without having to rattle off a block of description fluff.

post-11116-Go-to-the-Winchester-have-a-pi-eRZHWhy are they all very samey? Well, there are two main reasons I can think of immediately. The first, money. Tavern keeps aren’t exactly Scrooge McDuck swimming in a vault of currency. Their local patrons are poor, again paying more likely with barter than printed coins. More than likely each regular has a running tab and at the end of the month it is settled in food and goods. There’s not a lot of surplus funds for ornamentation. In addition, if we assume a generic Western Europe Medieval culture, architecture and structural engineering was still simplistic when it came to common buildings.

The second reason being monopoly. In this modern time we are saturated with choices, exponentially thanks to the internet and fast, efficient parcel delivery. People can’t hop in the sedan and drive 15 minutes to the next town over. Going to the next village would be an overnight affair by foot. No competition, no need to be individual or draw in customers. Even in larger city centers people will go to the corner tavern rather than an hour walk each way to visit a different tavern.

Think of one of fantasy fiction’s most iconic taverns, The Prancing Pony. Can you think of one thing that separates it as being unique? I cannot. We remember it because of the events and people that happen within The Prancing Pony, not the establishment itself. There is nothing special about most taverns, barring their moniker. The name is everything. Want to get extra special, jot down a few lines of back story for the tavern and how it got its name.

If it helps think of taverns like bookshelves. We all know what a bookshelf generally looks like and its function. Where bookshelves have life is in their contents. The tavern as a building is not the focus, it is the catalyst to put interesting people and events together.

How do we utilize taverns better? I think that’s the real question extrapolated from Jason’s comment. For most games I have played, and run, taverns are not used very well. Usually it’s nothing more than the party gets a drink, meal, or room. A simple transaction. That’s not a wrong use of it but it is a poor use, even a disservice to a very powerful weapon in the DM/GM arsenal. But first we need to know how to use the weapon. So what are the unique and special uses for a tavern. First let’s look at the reason taverns even exist. Taverns often had the ability to offer lodgings making them an inn, or ‘tavern & inn’. In addition they served food and a space to consume the food. The idea of the modern restaurant as we know it is actually a much later development. It is also of note this food is expensive, dined on almost exclusively by travelers unable to cook their own food at home. Really this is no different than the hotel minibar, hotel bar & restaurant, and room service of today. Necessary means of hedging public drunkenness. Stuff all the drunk people in one room rather than having them all over town doing the sort of idiotic things people do in that situation. A tavern is the center of entertainment and commerce. No television, radio, movies, theatre, sporting events, concerts, bowling, or even books. You want entertainment you had to go down to the pub or sit in your hovel staring at the wall. Captains of industry also brokered deals and agreements in the tavern. There are no corporate offices, or even offices for that matter. The tavern also serves as the place where mail is delivered and notices posted. This is also the spot you would hear all the gossip and news. For some quick fun add this angle to any gather rumors attempt. The check made should determine how long the person had to hang around before picking up the crucial information.

Basically the tavern is the pulse of the community and its rumor mill. This is a good place to introduce interesting NPCs, determine how the community feels about the adventuring party, and find out the issues affecting the community.

This goes both ways. If you want to engage the players remember that travelers are the locals’ best source of information and what’s going on in the world beyond their patch of ground. Have them list rumors, regale locals with their stories. This is one of the few opportunities to break the rule of thumb and ask people about their characters. People love to blather on about themselves so this is a way to actually use that constructively. Being this is a hotbed of rumor anything the PCs tell the people will be known by just about everyone in town and will be blown up and misunderstood to stupid proportions. Use it and abuse it to make the party’s public appearance a bizarre caricature of fact.

This is also a good place to introduce other, wandering, and recurring NPCs. Give the PCs a rival adventuring party, make sure they’re sitting in the tavern and immediately begin badmouthing the PCs in hushed tones. Nothing like learning your PC suffers from a strange venereal disease or enjoys running down kids in the street on horseback.

Remember that the tavern is a meeting place for all sorts. Many fledgling governments, rebellions, clandestine rendezvous, plain criminal activities, and public outcries happen in the tavern. This can be an opportunity to either join or discredit such ideas and ventures by the PCs. Or they can take the information and sit on it. Direct action by the PCs will be public, so remember that. If one of the PCs jumps on a table and begins counter-arguing a local rabble rouser intent on striking a bread riot he may squash this incident but may also be known as opposing the plight of the peasantry, or the lackey of the nobility. Conversely this sort of action may be heard by said nobility and someone in the upper echelons of society might see the adventurers as people who can get things (probably of dubious intent) done.

So if you want a tavern to really pop in a game consider giving it an awesome name with an actual back story. Have things going on and people doing these things. This means knowing current events. If you’re world building and can’t point to any location and come up with 2-3 current events I think that identifies your main problem. Everybody has something to bitch about. It’s just how people work. Everyone’s unhappy about something. Whether that’s the price of grain, bad weather, the bridge over the nearby river getting washed out, rat problem, missing livestock, overbearing taxes, local guards are getting too rough/handsy, etc. These are adventure seeds ready to happen. So maybe you have a grand narrative, but even the most epic of plots needs some downtime, some side quests to cleanse the adventuring palate. A great tactic when you need more time to plan/write. Redecorate a short, published adventure and run it or create something plain enough you won’t have to spend much time on planning it. Recharge your battery for a few sessions and the get back to pumping out the Grade A adventures. Feel free to sprinkle relevant tidbits or NPCs into the quest as well. You really want to homogenize the adventure so it doesn’t feel distinctly different from what you are already run. A little flair in this fashion goes a long way. Unless you have Keep on the Borderlands out reading directly from the block text your players probably won’t know the difference anyways.

So get in there and get your hands dirty, not on making taverns unique but creating unique situations for your taverns. Some fancy chairs and the mounted head of a displacer beast over the hearth are flashy but of little consequence to the game. Take the tavern for what it is and find how it fits into your game and utilize it. If an important event happened there or it’s the favored haunt of a specific NPC your players are going to remember it without a thought of the tavern’s floor plan and aesthetics.

Hopefully that helps Jason and anyone else who draws a blank when it comes to taverns. Great topic suggestions. If you have a topic suggestion drop it in the comments below.

*Blacksmiths being the exception. In the RPG sense we mean someone who forges arms and armor, which is two actual jobs; armorsmith and weaponsmith. A blacksmith is just someone who works iron, usually in the fashion of a farrier or by making simple tools such as kettles, pots, and farming implements. We push this to the side for the sake of enjoying the game as quality smiths forging arms and armor would be rare and highly monopolized by powerful people. Though to be fair you could run this scenario as a good adventure and have the reward be a masterwork item for everyone in the party. Get a real Daedalus vibe going.

Skill Conundrum: Finale

So we have had our look through the skills of a few different systems and I have whittled down what skills I think are integral to most table top RPGs with an emphasis on fantasy elements. Before getting to the list I realized I made an egregious error in the last segment. For some reason any notion of thievery was left out (accidentally deleted it from the list?). It has been accounted for in the final list. So without further ado I submit my personal recommendation as a skill list.

  • Avoid

  • Hand-to-Hand

  • Heal

  • Intrude

  • Navigate

  • Perception

  • Ranged

  • Survival

  • Tinker

Honorable Mentions

  • Persuade

  • Spellcraft

Avoid: The first of four combat skills. This skill is pretty much what you would imagine, something is trying to harm you and so you attempt to keep away from such things. While at first I wanted to dismiss Avoid as a basic Dexterity/Agility check I realized I was unable to do so. Assuming your character has combat training he probably knows a lot more about the correct ways to avoid getting hit. Avoiding is not only being nimble but also knowing how to forecast an opponent’s moves and preemptively move rather than waiting to react. Notice I used Avoid rather than Dodge. Each of the skills outlined in the above list have specializations within them, smaller facets. Dodge is one of such facets as is Parry. Now Parry is not the same as Block. Parry is not about stopping an attack outright but by diverting a strike from its intended destination to avoid it. Of course depending on the sort of game you are playing and a grain of common sense there will likely be attacks that cannot be dodged and others which cannot be parried. For example you may not be able to parry a fireball spell but you can attempt to dodge it.

Hand-to-Hand: The second of the combat skills. Hand-to-Hand covers all aspects of close fighting. It is used for weapons, martial arts, grappling and magic touch attacks. Specializations under Hand-to-Hand would consist of training a specific weapon, unarmed attacks/grappling, improvised weapons, and magic. An average fighter character would be good at all Hand-to-Hand arts by purview of his training in close combat but he likely has a favored weapon he is better with than most. Incidentally a wizard trained in Hand-to-Hand with a specialization in touch attacks would generally be able to land a blow on his opponent in a tavern brawl. But assuming the usual tropes that a wizard gives up physical might for a superior intellect he is unlikely to lay his opponent out cold and himself suffers from a glass jaw.

Heal: It’s the Heal skill, if you have played any sort of RPG you have a general understanding of what the skill covers. It’s basically a First Aid skill, the character is not a walking hospital unless your packing magical healing as well. In addition to mundane first aid skills specializations would also include foraging for useful herbs and preparing poultices/salves/tonics etc.

Intrude: The third of the combat skills. We referenced parry earlier in the Avoid skill. Intrude is all about blocking. Intrude is placing something between yourself and an incoming attack. It covers blocking and also countering attacks. A shield can be useful addition for most any character in someone with a good Intrude skill specializing in Block they will be able to intercept a hail of blows. Countering is a bit more free form it can either be clashing weapon against weapon in a contest of sheer strength or played as holding up an opponent’s elbow as he winds up for a downward chop with an ax. As with any good tabletop RPG is about the narration and the flavor you describe actions.

Navigate: This is the not getting lost skill. Navigation covers everything from remembering how to get back to a sprawling city’s inn to accurately mapping cave tunnels, and telling direction by the stars. A character well-versed in navigation should be able to keep a party from getting lost in the wilderness so long as some point of reference can be found. Specializations may include map making, astronomy, symbology, and recognizing landmarks.

Perception: This skill handles being able to pick something peculiar out and what the difference signifies. A person with a generally good perception is better at noticing false backs in wardrobes, a physical tell when someone is lying, and when treasure chests have eyes and knife-like teeth. Specializations in Perception would include knowing the likely location of hidden compartments/doors, detecting untruths, following tracks, and spotting traps. Remember Perception is not about being able to see something but recognizing what you see. It is the difference in telling a raised floor tile is a pressure plate and not just shoddy workmanship. When I run a game and a player wants to roll a perception check I always make sure to ask him what he is looking to find. Someone with their mind fixated on the floor looking for traps is not looking for the bandits with crossbows hidden in ambush on the opposing balcony.

Ranged: The fourth and final combat skill. Ranged is the obvious complement to Hand-to-Hand, it covers all forms of ranged weapons, spells, improvised thrown, and magic devices. For example a ranger is an expert marksman with a bow. While he does not know any magic he probably has the best hand eye coordination for aiming and is probably the best person to carry and use that wand of fireballs the party found. Specializations include specific weapons, magic devices, and ranged spells.

Survival: This is the not dying skill. It is easy to forget with traps, dragons, and giants lying in wait the most dangerous threats are often the simplest. Exposure is the number one enemy of any traveling band of merry adventurers. Being able to camp well in the wilderness does not only keep a party healthy it also keeps them happy. Morale is an often overlooked facet of role playing games. Illness, poor attitude, and being generally uncomfortable is probably something you have experienced while playing an RPG, such things are compounded by characters actually breathing and living the dangers. Survival is a catch-all for all camping and traveling basics. Specializations include foraging for food & water, cooking, packing gear efficiently. This skill can be as important or unimportant as you like. It can help PCs determine if food/water is bad or poisoned. Remember that most long rests require PCs to get uninterrupted rest, which is unlikely if they are cold and hungry or set their bedrolls out on a bed of broken rocks.

Tinker: This is the thievery skill. I chose tinker as the name for the skill as tinkering means to mettle with something unskillfully or experimentally. I think it fits well as a definition for a skill that encompasses lock picking, disabling/setting traps, and repair. This skill covers working with any sort of mechanical device. Specializations include lock picking, disarm traps, repair specific item type.

Honorable Mentions

Persuade: Previously I went over why I do not think Persuade should be considered a skill. That being said there are just so many subjects under the umbrella of persuasion: persuade, bribe, intimidate, appraise, haggle, and more that makes it seem like a glaring omission. I suggest if you cannot live without it to add it to the skill list or otherwise add individual specialties to characters as need. A PC whose background includes being a merchant’s son makes sense to be trained in appraising and haggling.

Spellcraft: If you have a game with a magic system that makes use of elaborate, out of combat rituals I suggest adding this skill into the mix. You could also add it if you have dedicated magic user classes and use it to determine a character’s total ability to cast spells. If your system allows for anyone to play with magic or makes use of magic enchanted items rather than actively casting spells I say stick with using the Hand-to-Hand and Ranged skills above. Spellcraft could however be used for creating new enchanted items by way of the aforementioned elaborate rituals.

So that’s it. The finale of the four part series on tinkering (I see what I did there) with RPG skills. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Is there something missing that should definitely have been added? If you want to see me look at a topic drop a comment or drop in to my twitter @RedRaggedFiend.