592 – Chorka • 01

592 - Let's hunt bear!

It’s the next installment of Dear DM! Enjoy, and don’t forget to post more questions below!

Dear DM

@Alan: Dear DM,

While I don’t play much D&D, having a stealthy character similar to a rogue is useful in a lot of systems, however, since a large part of the character concept of this kind of character is stealing stuff, there comes a point at which they will probably get caught by local authorities.

I am not too fond of having lazy guards, or prisons which are easily escapable, unless it is reasonable to do so. this kind of activity would tend to have a large impact on the party activity.

So how do you keep a rogue (With or without mascara) interested, but not imprisoned / outlawed / bounty hunted – unless this would make an interesting side quest.

Also, how would you resolve issues where a character steals from other PCs?

Also, how do you fit an evil character into a (Mostly) good campaign – for example, if a D&D rogue wanted to be an assassin?

Dear Alan,

The first part of your question is really easy. If your roguey player takes any precautions at all against getting caught, let them work. If he doesn’t, ask him if he’s sure he doesn’t want to, and then let him get caught. The next time he steals something, ask him exactly the same question, with exactly the same results. I promise this will work. Training players is pretty much the same as training dogs. Consistency counts.

As for players who steal from other players, I have only one role-play-restrictive rule in my games, and this is it. If you act against the other player characters, you are an NPC. Give me your sheet and roll up another. (You need to make sure that everyone knows this ahead of time and understands what it means, and make sure that the player knows that they are about to violate the rule before they actually do.)

Evil characters can fit fine into good campaigns if they’re handled with understanding. An evil person can have friends that he is loyal and kind towards, and good people need not inflict their morals on everyone around them. Have you ever had a friend you trusted never to let you come to harm, but you wouldn’t leave alone in your home? In my opinion, alignments can really be pretty much ignored in D&D, as long as the player can come up with their own version of the character’s basic moral compass. An evil character may be the loner or the black sheep in a good group, but he can also be the guy they rely on to take care of the things no one else wants to get their hands dirty with. Your biggest hurdle will be “good” players who think they need to oppress others with their worldview. Decide for yourself if you think that really represents the kind of “good” you want in your game.

@Joe: Dear DM, How do you encourage cooperative playing in the group? Many players don’t realize that it is partially their role to go along with the story line to keep the quest progressing and the plot developing. All too often they are focused on reaping XP and lewt rather than tracking down that villian you have set up. Truth be told, in most games I have played if I was the villain I would have taken over the world just by distracting the would be heros with shinies and damsels in distress.

Dear Joe,

You have lots of great options here. A good one is presenting the players with bad guys who work cooperatively and kick their butt. Another is actually allowing the main villains to really win, as long as you can drive home the fact that it was because they were disorganized. (Then maybe allowing the players a last-ditch second chance to pull their shit together and win.)

It is possible that you are in a two-game scenario, which is a little more difficult to deal with. That is, you and players are trying to play two different games. You are playing a deep, story-driven, emotional game with real choices and real consequences, and they are playing Whack-a-Mole. In this circumstance the easiest thing to do is give in and give ’em what they want. If you’re miserable, tell them, and if they don’t care, get a new group. Giving in however isn’t all bad, it’s really just a matter of resetting your expectations for the game.

Many DMs handle this by having “fight-nights” and “role-play nights”. Don’t give the players a chance to fight anything, instead make them deal with the annoying sister who is trying to set them up on a date with her new boyfriend’s best friend… and see what happens. Players also respond well when you give them things, so give them property and let them work up how they want to allocate resources and serfs and such. They’ll be busy all night without a fight in sight.

As far as forcing players to play your game the way you want it to be played… my experience is that this is a losing (and alienating) battle. My best advice, talk to your players about what they want in a game, and have a vote.

@Dave: Dear DM, 
is there any way to run a solo campaign in 4e without having my player or myself run extra characters? 
Any suggestions for solo campaigns to run?

Dear Dave,

Super easy. Fewer/ weenier bad guys. Use lots of minions. Allow plenty of theatric play from your player, and let him or her play with as many zany ideas as they can come up with. Put plenty of healing potions in the treasure, or a cheap alchemist next door to the character’s favorite inn. I am not aware of any pre-published solo adventures, but I imagine that making up games for one player would have to be easier than making up games for six.

On a related note…

@Fletcher: Dear DM, In your experience, at what point does the size of a gaming group max out? Six? Eight? Thirteen?

I have run thirteen people at once, (coincidentally) and while it was great fun, I wouldn’t want to do it weekly. My current group is six, but I think my favorite size is five. (Players, not including myself.) I think I would not enjoy seven or more as much, so I guess my answer is six. Of course this depends dramatically on the players in question. Sometimes one is too many, and sometimes eight is just fine.

@Gary: Dear DM, what is the difference between a “GM” and a “DM”?

Dear Gary,


In case anyone out there doesn’t actually know this already, “DM” stand for “Dungeon Master”, is a copy written title, and can only be used with D&D and related materials. “GM” stands for “Game Master” and is used by everyone else.)

@Orald: Dear DM, I’ve been trying to convince my DM that in a medieval society no one (including the authorities) would really care investigate the murder of poor, powerless individuals and that their souls would usually rather go to the afterlife than haunt the killers (or else ghosts would be as common as there are dead in all the battles and murders), and that I should be allowed to kill the occasional whore, begger or farmer in secret without the authorities, relatives or ghosts trying to track me down.
 After all, bandits kill dozens of people, and they’re never haunted by their spirits, and the authorities only care because they do so openly and damage the commerce. 
So what do you think?

I think that “real” medieval life is more or less completely irrelevant to whatever your DM says, as is the behavior of “real” ghosts vis-a-vis mass-murdering bandits. However, in point of fact murder was taken as seriously as was practical in medieval Europe. Police science was pretty mush nonexistent, but most any noble had a seriously vested interest in pursuing major crimes on his lands. After all, the basic contract between lord and serf was that the serf obeyed the lord in exchange for food and SAFETY. The penalty for non-noble on non-noble terminal violence was still death, and nobles could be fined, have bits chopped off, or even have their lands stripped away.

Plus, bandits are TOTALLY haunted by the ghosts of their murdered victims.

23 Responses to 592 – Chorka • 01

  1. Huh, if that is her winter wear, I wonder what her summer wear is? Mind you, she is wearing a hat, and as we all know, most body heat is lost through the head.

    Also, a more specific idea for @Joe, how about early on in the game, you give the players an awesome item that they can use to cause havoc (Say is really, really powerful against undead), put them against a load of undead early on so that they get attached to the item. Then put a mix of undead / non-undead (So the item only works part of the time), with the non-undead being minions of a secondary villain.

    Then have the villain take the item away, by stealth or some equally cowardly way, and send them taunting notes.

    The main villain who is Undead, and could be the reason why they have the item in the first place – such as given to them by an NPC for the specific purpose of beating the main villain.

    As a variation, the ‘main’ villain could be a really easy quest if they have said item, but murderously hard if not, but the ‘secondary’ villain could be the one that you actually want them to track down and beat, using this item as bait.

    Hmm, given the amount of thought I put into that, I don’t think that is too bad, although this is more of a campaign idea than general advice.


    Dear DM, I have been playing a LOT of Neverwinter Nights by Bioware. This is a game that I recommend to anyone, but I have found that I am finding it difficult to write adventures because ideas from these games keep creeping in. This is a bit of an issue no matter what I am reading / playing – not so much with the plots which I am fairly original with (Even if they do have a bias towards having overarching conspiracies), but more in the way that individual encounters are run.

    Where do you get inspiration on how to do nasty / nice things things to your characters?


    • “and as we all know, most body heat is lost through the head.”

      It’s not. That’s an urban myth that should be laid to rest. It’s based on a stupid, decades-old study by the US Army where they put some soldiers in winter clothes but with a bare head into a below-zero room and used a thermo-camera to check where the most heat was lost. And guess what, most heat was lost via the bare head. If you put on a warm hat, but no shoes and socks, most heat will be lost through your feet. In fact, the human head contains a complex network of blood vessels for the specific purpose to keep the brain cooled, because otherwise the brain would generate too much heat. After all, the brain consumes a large part of the body’s daily metabolic energy.

      But now I need to get some sleep.

      • I did actually know that.

        But then saying “Freya obviously subscribes to the urban myth that most heat is lost through the head, as observed in her choice of garb for investigating the creature in snowy conditions. However as we all know, this is in actual fact a myth which was started by…… etc. ” is less funny than what I actually said.

        But thanks for pointing out that interesting myth buster.

  2. Oh goodie, I love asking questions!

    1) As a DM of a bunch of doodz, how can one properly role-play the “sexy encounter with bar-maid” without it starting to sound really gay?

    2) Does having an intelligent mount (riding creature) make it an NPC under the DM’s control?

    3) How do you deal with a player who has “too many characters” and tosses them into fights like cannon fodder? Conversely, what do you do with the player who has only one treasured character and will play nothing else?

    4) Which is better- straight paper and book table-top gaming, or the new computer-assisted RPG’s?

    5) Is it ever a good idea to have female players play male characters? (And yes, the recent strips have prompted me to ask your professional opinion on the suggestability of this.)


  3. Dear DM: What’s your take on magical items? In some D&D I’ve played, magic items were plentiful and we seemed to amass them wherever we went. This made the game a bit easier when it came time for action, but it seemed to take some of the fun out of it too for all that we were nigh unstoppable. When I GM though (yes, GM, I use the generic since we don’t always play D&D) I rarely throw magic items at my players. Not even health potions. My reasoning is that a sword is a sword, and a knife will kill you just the same as a magic sword, if you know how to use it. What makes a magic sword have a plus 1 anyway? Is it lighter, thus easier to wield in battle? When I go for magic items they always have to have a reason behind why they do what they do and they are always hard to come by. My players may spend three or four sessions just getting to the place where said magic item is stored, much less get their hands on it. So what is your take? More items? Less? And should a GM just hand them out or should they be worked for so that the player knows he has something special. Also, what about subtle magic? Have you ever given a player a copper apple paperweight, that unbeknownst to said player created a magical aura that made finding money easier (ie: 60% chance that all search checks will reveal a bag of 2d6 silver pieces or some such)?

    • Nice question! I’ve got a related one:

      Dear DM,

      In my last gaming session I received “ogre strength gauntlets of insecurity”. We found “gauntlets” as loot from our battle against disembodied hands and weren’t told what they were. When we brought them to a high level mage NPC we had recently rescued she told us “they aren’t cursed, put them on. Now try to lift that rock over there. Interesting, I think those are ogre strength, but there’s something off about them.” We then tried to trade the gauntlets to another player and were told they wouldn’t come off. When we confronted the NPC about them being cursed she told us “well they do make you stronger, try taking off all of your other clothes and see if they come off” when the character that was wearing them did so they came off. We traded them to our ranger giving him epic strength and once he had put them on the NPC offhandedly told us “oh they might talk to you at some point.” This is as far as a characters know about them.

      Afterward the GM told the players, (but not the characters) that the gauntlets have an intelligence of 18 and will talk to anyone who has a charisma of 9 or less, (all of our characters have more than this.) Also they negate any other magic items the character is wearing, (but allow for + armour or + weapons, just not special abilities like waterwalk rings.)

      Is this the normal way loot is handed out? Or do you tell your characters right off what the items will do? How should players find out that an item has weird properties like the “this can be the only magic item active”? When a battle is over do you tell your players that one of the weapons is a +3 sword or do you just say each of the 3 drow you just killed had a sword and let your players ignore them since they already have +1 swords?

      • The gauntlets of insecurity remind me of a sword I once put into a campaign. It was intelligent, but had an inferiority complex and a defeatist attitude (all of its previous wielders died violently). Since it only communicated via telepathy, the rest of the party thought the fighter who wielded it was crazy (they had other reasons for this, to be fair).

        The mental image I took away from that game was of the fighter sitting near the campfire giving a pep-talk to his new sword (while the other characters sat as far away as possible sharing worried glances). “No, you’re a really good sword! I mean that!”

        • That’s actually pretty damn funny. I like that idea, a defeatist talking sword. “I’m a terrible weapon. I’m always letting everyone down. Why do all my owners have to die?”

  4. Dear DM,

    As you know I had a problem with our GM who insisted on rail-roading us on truely awful and / or stupid plots. I am afraid our laws do not allow me to use your first suggestion (with the shock collars) but I did set up a system of “secondary” game sessions where we do other games with other players as GMs.

    First a remark about our rail-roading GM: he changed his tactics and now most of our actions do not matter. Whatever we say, whatever we do, the plot will move on. We have the freedom to do stuff that will be unimportant. It is like he replaced the landmines surrounding the railroad with an endless desert and I am not sure if it is a step up…

    Now the question: I find that many universes in other media (video games, television etc) could make great universes for RPGs (with… many background fixes). I designed several systems and I did adapt several of these universes usually to test out these systems with a couple scenarios. Now I am finishing my latest system which I am quite happy with and was thinking of putting it online, along some chosen universes and corresponding scenarios. While I have a couple of original universes working with it, I was wondering if I should concentrate on polishing these original universes or rather prepare the adapted, “popular” ones ? It is a balance between “being able to claim full credit for something that may stay obscure” and “luring fan bases, eventually having interest spreading to original products”… What do you think ?

    • “It is a balance between “being able to claim full credit for something that may stay obscure” and “luring fan bases, eventually having interest spreading to original products”… What do you think ?”

      You say, asking the creator of a D&D-based webcomic. 😛

      You could always publish a really polished, well done adaption of an established universe, and then mention, “hey, I if you like this, I also made INSERT PET PROJECT HERE.” There’s nothing wrong with exploring someone else’s vision yourself, but don’t be afraid to let your ideas stand by themselves once in a while.