633 – White Smoke Mountain • 02

Dear DM

@Christina: Dear DM, if a bunch of cocky, evil player characters decide to go on a killing spree in town, what can you recommend as the most amusing (or amusingly cruel) tool in your cabinet of DM tricks for some “attitude adjustment” while still allowing them to continue breathing? Having the elite city guard beat them up like the punks they are might get old quickly. (Unless some stay in jail is part of the scenario, of course.)

Dear Christina,

My experience has been that the best way to pull players back in line with this kind of behavior is not with jail, (that just turns the authorities into bad guys and gives them someone else to fight) but instead with a perfectly reasonable response by everyone around them of fear and avoidance. A D&D character is likely going to be tougher than the average guard, and like you say, even if they aren’t, that kind of game gets old fast. But… if the townsfolk all see the party as monsters and run away any time one of them comes around, pretty soon your party will be desperate to have someone, anyone, treat them like a normal person. The best part of this treatment is that while it becomes increasingly discomforting to the players the longer it goes on, it is endlessly entertaining to the DM.

@TSED: Dear DM, what is your favourite kind of cereal? Why?

Dear TSED,

Always with the truly insightful questions!

Currently my favorite cereal is the Kirkland’s brand of “raisin bran”. The flakes are big and crunchy, and stay that way for a long time in my soy milk, and the cereal is sweetened with molasses, which is delicious.

@Alan: Dear DM, I feel that the great unwashed aren’t paying us roleplayers enough respect. How can we take over the world and institute brainwashing programs to ensure compliance in roleplaying related activity.

Dear Alan,

Um, apparently you haven’t been reading the newsletter. We’ve had this planet zipped up for the better part of a decade. I kinda thought you already knew. That’s why all very short people have been required for years to carry a pouch of gold coins and gemstones on them as treasure in case they get killed. Really Alan, where have you been?

@ Layne: Dear DM, where can I find an infinite supply of money so that I can spend all of my time roleplaying and still have all of my needs (and wants) fulfilled. I used to say that my back-up retirement plan was to commit some crime that had a long stay in minimum security prison (free room and board!!) and didn’t curtail my internet rights (gotta keep up with my webcomics), but now that role-playing is banned in prison, that plan is starting to fall apart. I need to come up with another plan because it doesn’t look like my 401k will be bouncing back any time soon.

Dear Layne,

Gamer retirement communities. Get in on the ground floor, this is a fantastic idea and investors are gonna really be competing to give me their money! You have to be able to prove that you’re a real gamer to get in, (there’s a quiz… what do hit points represent, what’s the best brand of cheese flavored snack… etc…) and there will be separate wings of the facility to reduce friction amongst players of different games. We’re still trying to solve the “sword-armed guests vs. clipboard-armed nurses,” but we have a high degree of confidence in a workable answer.

I’m keeping the investor packages low at a mere $100,000.00 per share to accommodate the high rate of interest, but you better move soon. Just think, you’re one check away from a lifelong dream of limitless gaming, macaroni castles, and pudding every Tuesday!

@Moginheden: Dear DM, I have a D&D group I participate in… but we don’t meet very often, and when we do, it’s common for half our people to be too busy so they can’t make it. Given that I’m neither the DM, (I’m still too new to D&D to take that on) nor the owner of the house we meet at, (and my place has no parking so we can’t meet here) what is the protocol to get the group together more often?

My city has a disturbing lack of stores that stock polyhedral dice. How can I remedy this? What are some good online sources of dice, and can I get any that won’t cost me an insane amount in shipping to send to Alberta, Canada?

Dear Moginheden,

The easiest solution to the attendance problem is minions. Have each player make up a minion for their character that only shows up when another player is out. To specifically address your issue though, if you want to meet more often than everyone else you out of luck, unless you want to belong to more than one gaming group. (Also a perfectly acceptable solution.) If the only problem is venue either ask if anyone is willing to offer up their place to meet at or suggest an outside place like a game store or gaming club.

If you’re looking for a way to push better participation on the current players… your abilities are limited. By all means talk to them and (reasonably) explain how their fickle attendance affects everyone else’s enjoyment, but acknowledge that gaming is just entertainment, and has to come second in most folks’ lives. It might be better for the sake of the game to replace these people with others who can make a more consistent commitment.

As for the dice, Amazon carries Chessex dice, and has a very good rate on their “pound o’ dice” deal. I’d really recommend it as an excellent way to stock your house for gaming. (The pound o’ dice is about 100 dice, sells for just under $20.00, and standard shipping is around $4.00.) All my dice are Chessex, and I would always look to them first for new dice.

48 Responses to 633 – White Smoke Mountain • 02

  1. Dear DM,

    Shooting the breeze with my friends, we came up with the following scenario: a character is tossed into a lion pit or similar where some rapacious creatures devour her. The animals are hungry enough to devour all of the character, leaving maybe some scraps of clothing behind only.

    Now, what you would think could happen if someone casts a Resurrection spell on the devoured character? The body is all there in the pit, just inside the beasties.

    For the full EWW factor, what if the spell is cast over the pile of crap the beasts leave the next day?

    • Unless the monsters are able to completely digest hair and bones, which few carnivores can do [1], there will always be some remains (I’m trying hard to avoid the words “left-overs”), which is sufficient for a Resurrection spell. Even some splattered blood on the ground should suffice. (Hey, Resurrection is a 7th level spell after all, for that I expect better performance than your standard Raise Dead.)

      To quote from RAW: The condition of the remains is not a factor. So long as some small portion of the creature’s body still exists, it can be resurrected, but the portion receiving the spell must have been part of the creature’s body at the time of death. (The remains of a creature hit by a Disintegrate spell count as a small portion of its body.) The creature can have been dead no longer than 10 years per caster level.

      So the only low-magic way to really destroy a dead body in D&D so that is becomes un-rezzable is to throw it into an acidic ooze-type monster which will dissolve all of it eventually. The alternative might be to feed it to an otyugh, because otyughs eat refuse, organic garbage and excrements, but they don’t seem to excrete anything themselves. Very efficient cleaners. (Otherwise keeping an otyugh in a pit would fill up the pit over time… and what’s the point of a crap-eating monster if it craps itself?)

      Or if you have access to Disintegrate spells, disintegrate the body to dust and then throw the dust into a furnace. Or the sea. Or off a cliff. Or feed it to your pet lions. And pray your enemy doesn’t have a clone prepared (as per the Wiz8 spell) or has friends in high places who can cast True Resurrection.

      [1] Both the hyena [2] and the Komodo dragon lizard are famous for having digestive enzymes that are able to break down a carcass completely, even the bones, hair, skin, teeth, horns, hooves… though probably not metal and plastic implants. But then, Cyberpunk games rarely feature magical Resurrection spells. Not even Shadowrun. 😉 And cloning is a poor substitute.

      Most carnivores and omnivores, however, either leave the bones behind and only eat the meat and marrow, or they hurk the non-digestible stuff back up later in one neat little package, see i.e. snakes, or owl pellets.

      [2] Not to mention hyenas have one of the strongest jaws among mammalian predators and than bite clean through even the toughest bones, as long as she can fit them into her mouth. (I used the female pronoun because packs of the Spotted Hyena are matriarchic, and female Spotted Hyenas are larger, stronger and more dominant than the males, although this has only come to light in recent times because there is not much sexual dimorphism between the sexes. The females look very much like the males outwardly, they develop fake male genitalia, a pseudo-penis. Which is why natural philosophers of the Ancient Greeks though the Spotted Hyena consisted of hermaphrodites or that hyenas were able to change their gender.
      Not to mention that there’s a whole mythology of shapechanging were-hyenas in Africa, and the hyena was a shape of choice for witches.

      But apparently TSR and WotC thought that the idea of matriarchic she-male gnolls would alienate teenage male gamers 🙄 , so despite D&D artists drawing gnolls resembling spotted hyenas, there’s not much similarity otherwise. Pity.
      http://www.iwozhere.com/SRD/images/MM35_PG130.jpg d20 D&D 3.5 Gnoll

    • “For the full EWW factor, what if the spell is cast over the pile of crap the beasts leave the next day?”

      You better make sure beforehand you’re resurrecting the correct pile of crap. If the DM is feeling devious, following the dragon or purple worm to its little toilet cave and afterwards casting Rez on the mixed-up mass 😯 made up of the remains of one player characters, several dead henchmen, a devoured pack mule, various goblins and semi-digested monsters could yield…. interesting results. Ever seen David Cronenberg’s movie The Fly? 😈

      Now, if several monsters or animals ripped the characters to shreds and ate him all up, I guess only the first resurrection works. After all, there’s only one soul out there to be re-united with the reconstituted body. You cannot clone a character by cutting him in half and casting Rez twice.

      • I think a combination of the reincarnation and the resurrection rules would apply here. Roll 4d6 to see what you brought back, (roll a 1 for an elf part, 2 for a goblin part, etc. each die is assigned to a section of the resurrected monstrosity so you might end up with a half-elf, quarter troll, quarter wolf character depending on die rolls.) The percent of the resulting thing that is capable of your original class is the percent of your levels you get to keep, but you maintain full memory of your life, (and will of course be mentally scarred for life along with your new patchwork form.)

        Oh and a -5 or more charisma penalty wouldn’t be too out there either… but on the up side you might end up like Morty with troll regen!

        • You know now that I’ve written that, I think it might be an awesome campaign idea…

          Start new characters at level 4 or so, have the DM throw some level 10 monsters them, when the players get eaten and complain that the campaign is too hard tell them that was just the intro and have their patron resurrect them like this.

  2. @Moginheden: Seriously, though, there’s tons of gaming stores in Calgary. I can name 4 places to get gaming dice off the top of my head in RED DEER! RED DEER! Calgary, being, you know, the fifth(?) largest city in CANADA will indubitably have many more than that. It’s likely merely a case of you not being aware of their locations.

    Dear DM,

    I have noticed that when I play video games, no matter what the system, I tend to default to a “gronk” kind of character. Not as in dumb, but as in “hit things until they die” (fighters, warriors, soldiers, whatever). Since I normally am quite enthusiastic about tactics, number-crunching, and strategy, I find this surprising.

    Anyways, this question is two-fold. 1) What do you normally default to, and 2) What do our default class-choices in games say about our psychology?

    • “What do our default class-choices in games say about our psychology?”

      Uh oh. Whole sociological essays have been written about that part of Gamer Psychology….

      But those were dry, dusty old essays that can in no way compete with the dazzling wit and insight of the great Dear DM, praised be his name! :mrgreen:

    • It’s believable that there are few to no gaming stores in Calgary actually; the rising wages, rents and general prices could have murdered most or even all of the small game stores in the area. Surely you’ve heard about this oilsands extraction thing having raised wages, rents and general prices so high that even McDonalds workers get paid more than minimum wage?

      And I await the DM’s answer to your #2 question with an anticipatory snicker.

    • My personal preference is the jack-of-all-trade types (classical thiefs, rangers, bards). Most any type of character that sits back and lets the tanks do the pounding and I can make tactical strikes (either via range or targeted attacks). I don’t like true support roles, but I’m not a risk taker (hence the leaning towards stealth). I like the ability to dabble in any area (melee, ranged attack, spellcraft, stealth) so that no matter the situation, I’m useful.

      This style of gaming also matches my internal view of myself. I think I am very good at a lot of things and more athletic than people expect but by no means a jock. I can be relied on no matter what the situation is. Skill wise, I think I line up slightly better with the thief, but I’d line up better alignment wise with a ranger. Bards are there for those instances when I want “something different”.

      • @Layne: I second that. I want a character that can not only hit stuff if it is required, but also has a whole load of other skills that can come in useful in a whole range of situations.

        Depending on the game system we are playing, I tend to allocate a few points to ‘odd’ skills that may never come into use, but will floor the GM if they do come up with a situation where it is used.

        Also @TSED, have you set up that livejournal for your RPG programming? I would like to tag along.


          And, you know, english homework on top of THAT.

          I am the worst. 🙁

      • Pffft. A melee specialist with too many hp and defenses is ALWAYS handy. A lawnmower is similarly always handy. In RPGs, the two are generally combined.

        The above does not apply to diablo clones, which don’t count as RPGs and thus I don’t default to fighters in them anyways.

    • Generally I like the magic/occulty types. But when it comes to actually playing, especially computer based ones – I prefer a jack-of-all-trades multi of some form instead. Because even though the major portion of the rules/gaming books are given over to the interesting fun spells and systems of magic, it’s cool to have a character that doesn’t have to sit out 80% of the game.
      AD&D, 1 paragraph armour types. 2 pages of weapons lists. Over 100 pages of different spells.
      Maskerade, 40 pages of character stuff, 40 pages of magics usable by one clan.
      or A friend’s first character (half elven thief magic user) spent the entire first 3 game sessions just waiting to use his magic missle (he was pretending to be a fighter, but he could only have leather armour and short sword. duh)

  3. Dear DM,

    do you have an evil laugh and if so, do you practice it daily?
    Do you prefer the Mad Scientist(tm) devious laugh, or do you try to lull your victi, er I mean players into a false sense of security by affecting a pleasant, soothing laughter right before their characters stumble into a death trap?

    • This GM knows that it is gauche and often counterproductive to laugh before the trap has sprung. The general-purpose GM-advice on this topic is to use dry wit instead of more robust humour at times that one has a trap or joke that has not yet sprung in order to limit one’s accidental tendencies to let out laughter (menacing or otherwise) prematurely. Naturally this advice should be tailored to individual attributes and specific nefarious (or not-so-nefarious) schemes.

      • It’s also handy to have some false triggers that you laugh at so that the players begin to worry about what they just did. Mind games can be quite fun.

        • “Naturally this advice should be tailored to individual attributes and specific nefarious (or not-so-nefarious) schemes.”
          Sorry, was that too condensed? I could expand it into a few paragraphs or even an article or twenty if you really want, but not this week.

  4. Dear DM,

    If you have a specific idea for a campaign in mind, or using pre-written scenarios, is it a good idea to write and allocate characters to players so that they will have the necessary skills to complete the adventure, or leave it as it is and let them find a way?

    Also, what is the best way to allocate characters – player choice, luck, gladiatorial combat etc?

    Yours concerned,


  5. Dear DM

    As a War Hammer wielding character it is with great principle that I be allowed to Smash things. It is after all the most effective tool for any situation and given the large radius of the head not smashing things would seem uncharacteristic. Smashing is simply a way of life for one such as I but now people are telling my character that smashing is bad, that it has no value, and it impedes on other characters abilities, such as slicing. It is not that I want to take away from other characters but the lack of utter and complete destruction from these ‘other’ forms seems innefficient.

    I believe it would in fact be wrong to Smash my comrades because then there would be no one to see me Smash, which is very important, but group is getting mad at my character for always smashing and talking of no wanting my smashing anymore, what do I do?

    • Hell with them. Smash away! But then I always liked Warhammers. I even had a barbarian named Bundi Shatterskull who only ever fought with Warhammers. Ah, skull shattering. Yeah.

    • Heh, one GM that I played with said that he was going to bring in weapon / armour degredation rules so that if you hit things which didn’t break, your weapon would become blunt, and do less damage.

      As a group, we all switched to maces / hammers – after all, they can’t get any MORE blunt…

      Those rules were retired fairly soon after that.

  6. dear DM

    have you ever seen this website? encyclopediadramatica
    what do you think of the entries on Failin (Palin) and republicans?

    warning this website can have shock images

    • Dear DM is going to answer this now.

      I like making fun of folks more than most, and I’m not known for my subtlety or tact. Still, somewhere I have a line, and this certainly prances well past it. I like clever humor, even if it’s crude. Crude humor that isn’t even clever also isn’t really humorous. Thank you VERY much for participating and trying to find something we all might enjoy… I just don’t think this is it.

  7. Dear DM,

    What are your thoughts on high powered, but cursed player characters, (for example a mage who has access to spells 4 levels higher than his level, but has a chance to go insane for a few rounds every time he casts anything?) I’ve been toying with the idea because I think it would be fun/funny but I’m worried about how to balance it and not piss off the other players when the player’s curse kicks in.

    • My general advice: Stat balance isn’t the most important thing in the world, but player activity, interest and relevance balance is. If you make the other players feel superfluous to what’s going on by having everything be defined by if one character remembered their pills in the morning then they will probably be annoyed by that unless they’re drunk enough to just be sitting back and watching the important player and GM telling how the story goes like it’s TV.

      • Stat balance isn’t the most important thing in the world, but player activity, interest and relevance balance is.

        True, and very important. Unfortunately, it’s a point that many game developers and a lot of players still do not seem to have grasped, or we wouldn’t have so many arguments about “power balance” and endless attempts to fiddle with and fine-tune character classes (in games that use classes) to make them more “fairly balanced”. It’s all about the question, Do all players have the chance to participate meaningfully and get screen time? Not necessarily equal screentime, but as much as they wish (some players are more laid-back and don’t actually want so much screen time), unless, in the case of attention-whores, this unfairly cuts into everyone else’s screen time. And then there are the players who just aren’t motivated to do anything, anyway; trying to force roleplaying screen time on them is a useless endeavor. They just want to hack orcs 24/7 or sit back and be passively entertained .

        Unfortunately, in games like Shadowrun and D&D the rules talk mostly about team combat and reaching quest goals, not about storytelling, and consequently adventures are often played in a way that punishes “weaker” characters who cannot keep up because they do not have enough experience/skill points or the wrong kind of skill set. But if the character cannot contribute to the team goal, the player starts to feel superfluous and frustrated.

        Other games, like Ars Magica, GURPS Discworld, GURPS Celtic Myth and Call of Cthulhu demonstrate that you can make a group made up of character of different power levels work, and make the game enjoyable.

        Of course, this depends on having a game master who does not play favorites, and having players who do not use their more powerful characters to metaphorically or literally push the “weaker” characters out of the story. “You’re useless, so we make you stay in this locked room until we come back. It’s for your own best.”

        If the gamemaster plays favorites, skill and power level or story relevance doesn’t matter anymore anyway, as the favored character becomes a Mary Sue that can accomplish anything anyway… the universe reshapes itself to suit her/him.

        I was once a great proponent of “game fairness” which meant (if i.e. you are playing GURPS or similar point-based systems) making sure that everyone gets the same number of starting points. But then I met a gamemaster who used this “point fairness doctrine” like a straight jacket, instead of a rough guideline to make sure different character concepts do not get totally out of hand. She’s rather kill a character concept dead than grant a few more points on credit. (In a Changeling: the Dreaming game!)

        She’d punish a more active character, i.e. an aging knight geared towards melee combat and diplomacy, claiming he was “dominating” the story, at the same time ignoring all attempts by the player to integrate the more physically powerful greyhaired character with the group of fresh-faced young adventurers, for example by making the knight the self-appointed bodyguard of the witch child character. Mind you, this was the old World of Darkness 1.0 Changeling, where starting characters needed to pick an age bracket (child, teenager or adult) but had the same starting points… in fact, child characters got more points in the magic mystic changeling powers while older characters had on the whole more disadvantages, and everyone got the same number of skill points and attribute points. When ‘ported into GURPS rules, this imbalance became a lot more visible. But instead of solving it via storytelling, the group tried to solve it via rules mechanics. Which blew up the game.

    • In Shadowrun there is a real problem with ‘disposable characters’. Because a lot of Shadowruns are based on a random team of people coming together to do a run, there isn’t the same continuity for people to get together and stay together.

      There is an edges and flaws system, where one of the flaws which is worth quite a few points is called “Borrowed time”, and literally means that your character is only going to live for a few months for whatever reason.

      In my opinion, flawed but brillliant characters only really work if you are building scenarios of a campaign around the idea. – also, make sure that the other players are aware that the character isn’t all brilliant, and that the player playing the cursed character is able to handle it.


    • Allow everyone to play an eccentric character if they feel like it (and if they decline, you have to agree not to whine about it later). Otherwise, the player with the insane mage gets the spotlight all the time and becomes a diva.

  8. Dear DM,

    how can I, as a DM/Storyteller, encourage more women to participate in roleplaying, when all the female roleplayers in the vicinity are either ex-girlfriends, or women my girlfriend would like to strangle bare-handedly, or both?

  9. Muahahahha…. nice to get the last word in. IMHO, if your players want to wreck the town… LET THEM. Truly there is nothing worse than seeing the results of your actions in all their horrible, detailed glory. But more importantly, it sounds like your players want to see the dark side. LET THEM. Sometimes it’s fun: “You have slain the entire city guard and taken a nap. It seems orcs have taken over the town and are eating the humans. Fried human is the new iron ration. A lich named Snickersnap has declared himself emperor. He’s running a stand that sells semi-magic items made from reanimated bits of people (severed hand that holds stuff, anyone?). The bar is now run by a demon and it’s full of dark elves. A kobold is out front selling +3 daggers with serated edges that glow in the presence of good aligned characters – for 100 gp! Tom Waits is playing!!! Some guy is selling a map to a town full of PALADINS!!!!!!!!” In summary, if you have all evil characters, let ’em play an evil campaign. It’s LOADS of fun, and a nice break from routine. As Kevin says – give your players what they want.