Monday, April 30, 2018

Your players likely enjoy playing games other than Dungeons and Dragons, and their characters probably like games as well, games are universal.

So there really should be more gambling and game playing in D&D. There are some modules with gambling rules in them (The Secret of Bone Hill comes to mind), and the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide even has games listed at the end.

So I’ve done two things, I’ve brewed up a few games for you to use in your game, and I have some suggestions on how to incorporate existing games into your D+D.

1. Play the Game

First off, don’t simulate games with rules (e.g. “your character has a 2 in 6 chance of beating Ogwallow at cards”), actually play the game.

2. Dice Games!

They already love rolling dice, and think of a group of mercenaries, or orcs for that matter, shooting dice. It’s practically a fantasy trope.

The names are meant to be D&D themed, but you can obviously change them to fit the flavor of your campaign.

Orc Bones
- every player antes
-every player takes a d6
- every player rolls
- goal is to singly or in teams take out others
- players announce who they are teaming with (proposed teammates must consent) and declare who they are attacking, or single players announce direct attacks on single victims
- when a declared attack on a victim or victims with less combined total than their aggressors occurs the lowest roller in the victim group drops out
- if a player from outside the aggressor and victim group wants they can declare to add their roll to the victim's after the aggressor's attack is announced
- then another outsider could add to either side, etc.
- once an attack is declared, however, it cannot be changed
- once the first round is done everyone still standing antes again and play continues.
- goal is to be last roller standing

Dragon’s Foot
Dragon’s foot is generally played with 10 or more players
- All players ante with a coin (cp,sp,gp)
- All players grab d4s
- Everyone rolls
- Low rolls lose (they have been stomped by the dragon's foot)
- Top roll wins
- If more than one person ties for top result then they all ante again to buy in to the next round or exit, all those who tied for top result but do not want to continue or those who lose the roll toss in a coin and exit the hand
- The survivors roll d6
- If more than one person ties for top result then they all ante again to buy in to the next round or exit, all those who tied for top result but do not want to continue or those who lose the roll toss in a coin and exit the hand
- The survivors roll d8
- repeat, then d10, then d12, then d20.
- if tied at d20 then all players will roll off until there is one winner.
- If someone not going forward is willing to throw in the ante amount they can allow either player to re-roll a result (this can be done once for either side).
- The hand ends when there is only one player going to the next round, that player takes the pot.

3. Card Games

Bring a deck of regular cards to your D&D game. You can play an existing card game like poker, or add one of the games below to make it more exotic.

Storm Giant
- Every player gets 7 cards
- Every numbered card but face cards are added together
- If you get a jack you play it and get an extra card
- If you get a queen you can play it and steal a card from another player, at the cost of an ante
- If you get a king and you can play it and swap out one of your cards, at the cost of an ante
- If you have more than one face card you can switch all of them out, at the cost of an ante
- You can trade cards with another player after the face card switchouts, at the cost of an ante for both players
- once all swapping and trading is done, all bet on their hands having highest total score

Cavalier’s Courage
- all players ante with 1 coin (cp, sp or gp depending on the level of game).
- players are dealt 5 cards
- face cards are ranked from lowest to highest: jack, queen, king and ace (court assassin).
- doubles beat singles of the same card (two jacks beat one)
- triples beat singles and doubles of the same card (three jacks beat two)
- regular cards can be added together, and if their total adds up to exactly the value of a face card they may substitute, with the face card values being jack=11, queen=12, king=13 and ace=14 (ega 7 and a 4 equals a jack)
- each player gets one exchange of 2 cards for the cost of 1 coin
- when final cards are allocated each person decides if they want to be "in", if so they secretly put a coin in their hand, if not they don't
- on the count of three everyone reveals what is in their hands
- if no players are in each must match what is in the pot and they start a new hand with new ante, etc
- if more than 1 player is in the winner takes the pot
- player with the most face cards wins (remembering that two non-face cards may “add up” to a face card and substitute for one), if two players have the same number of face cards the player with the highest face cards wins
- if two players have the same number and type of face cards, they fold, match what is in the pot, and the play continues.
- if someone wins the pot with highest hand then everyone antes again and you keep playing

- Everyone antes
- All cards in play
- Each player given five cards
- Numbered Cards valued at face number (e.g. a 7 is worth 7)
- Face cards valued 1 for jack, 2 for queen, 3 for king, 4 for ace.
- Each player adds top two numbered cards + highest face card together=score
- All players bet on basis of getting the highest score or fold
- Each player gets a discard and draw of two cards
- All players bet again or fold
- Each player gets a discard and draw of 1 card
- All players bet again or fold
- Cards are shown, high score (top two cards plus highest face card) wins
- The Jack of diamonds is a natural "fireball", if you get it you automatically take the hand

Dueling Warlocks
- You must have at 4 players for this game.
- Deal out all the cards face down to each player
- All players show their top card, highest card “wins” and collects all other cards and sets them in a separate pile.
- everyone who “lost” has to give one coin to the winner.
- next card is turned, highest card “wins” and collects all other cards and sets them in a separate pile.
- if the cards are equal, all of those tied leave that card up, “burn” another card face down, and flip the next card, those who did not have “equal” cards (e.g. the losers) have to give one coin to each winner as they exit the hand.
- if there is another tie you burn another card and flip again.
- Continue until you get a high card rather than a tie, and the high card takes all of the opponents cards (even the “burned” ones).
- The game continues until someone has all the cards.

- All face cards are worth “10”
- the goal of the game is to total your cards to 15
- each player antes
- each player is dealt 7 cards
- the dealer burns one card to establish trump
- the first player must follow suit, if that card produces a 15 (say the first card was a 7 of spades, and the first player played a 8 of spades) then the player takes the two cards away for 1 point, everyone else drops a coin worth the ante in the pot, and the next player in sequence must play a card of whatever suit they like
- the next player must follow suit, if this produces a 15 they can take both cards and get a point, everyone else dropping in a coin, etc.
- if the cards total more than 15 another card must be played until the total is 30 or more, at which point the next player can play whatever suit they want and the totaling restarts.
- The player with the most points at the end gets the pot.
- variations on the game go for different totals other than 15 (e.g. the hydra in the standard game is 15 heads…)

4. Other Games

Don’t be afraid to import other games or game props whole cloth into your D&D.

I often bring a pack of Tarot cards to the game if the players are going to be in a marketplace or city. If they pass by the fortune teller I can actually lay out cards for them and improvise a reading, dropping in hints relevant to their quest or otherwise (a great distraction). It also gives you good role playing opportunities. Tarot cards pack small, so that’s a bonus, and you can get many variations on the standard Tarot, so go nuts.

And it’s also cool to just bring in a game like chess to D&D. Yes, a chess game can take a long time, so you can’t necessarily run a whole game. But you can use the game as part of the environment.

Another thing I’ve done is to bring new games that I find in real life into D&D. We live in a time of rich board gaming culture, so mine it. I’ve brought this to the D&D table before:

The premise of the game is that you have a “king” and a “throne”, taking the opponent’s king or throne (the king gets to move around) wins the game. Each player has a king and four playing pieces. Each player is dealt two “move” cards, in regular chess terms a player could be given a “knights” move and a “bishops” move, but in this game the moves are named after animals and are variations on chess moves. One card allows you to move one square to the front, right or left for example.

The neat thing is that any piece can move using the move indicated on one of the player’s two cards. However, when they make the move they take that card and put it in a discard pile, taking the card that was in the discard pile already. That way the cards are constantly cycling through both players, and part of the strategy is to know you are getting card “X” when you next lay down a card.

Games take about 10-15 minutes to play. Most games these days have a time indicator that’s relatively accurate on the outside of the box, so just pick games that are in a reasonable time window and you are good to go.

5.  General Rules for Cheating at Cards and Dice

Just for fun.

To represent the ability to distract, move quickly, cut cards, count cards, swap dice, etc., the following stats can be used (but NOT stacked). Note that a re-roll or re-draw doesn't mean that the character actually re-draws the card, but the player gets to, so the original result never happened (this emulates their skill at cards).

A. Charisma - players who get a bad roll or draw can re-roll (for dice) or re-draw (for cards), % chance of success is equal to their charisma score + level. If they fail the attempt to cheat is not caught.

B. Dexterity - players who roll unfavorably can re-roll (for dice) or re-draw (for cards), % chance of success is equal to their dexterity score + level. If they fail the attempt to cheat is caught.

C. Intelligence - players who roll unfavorably can re-roll (for dice) or re-draw (for cards), chance of success is equal to their intelligence + level. If they fail the attempt they will not be caught.

D. Pick Pockets - thieves who roll unfavorably can re-roll (for dice) or re-draw (for cards) if they make a successful PP roll. If they fail the attempt to cheat is caught.

The intelligence based chance to “cheat” involves guessing based on probabilities and past play experience with the game and the charisma based chance to cheat is based on successful bluffing, distraction, etc. Neither are based on physical tampering with the results, so you are generally not going to be caught if you fail.

Now go play a game.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Moving it Along

I thought I would dedicate the first content post of the blog to something useful to budding game masters out there. 

I recently heard about Burning Wheel’s “Let it ride” mechanic (apologies if I get this wrong, I’m just reporting what I saw). In that system, you get one shot to apply a skill to some task, if that fails, you are done, you don’t get to keep trying over and over. So say you were playing a thief picking a lock on a door, or a fighter trying to break in a door, you would get one chance and if you failed it would be beyond your ability.

For lack of a better term I will call this a negative game mechanic, it restricts the players in some way to achieve an end, in this case to keep them from essentially gaming the system by trying something over and over again. D+D is a game after all, and sometimes you have to move it along or it becomes dull for the players.

Negative game mechanics are legitimate and useful, and are folded into the game everywhere. For example, in early edition D+D you get one opportunity per round to damage an opponent, rather than multiple attempts. That’s a negative mechanic as it prevents a player from doing something multiple times.

However, negative mechanics work best when they don’t curtail player agency. Agency is the ability of players to do things, try things, to act in the game. For the most part you don’t want mechanics that limit player agency too much, as agency is what makes the game enjoyable, being able to act and do things, even if they fail, is part of the visceral thrill of D+D.

And that’s why I don’t like negative mechanics for things like skill checks.

Rather than simply saying, “you can’t do that”, I prefer to let the players try the skill check multiple times if desired. When this is done, time passes. Time in D+D is a useful tool for the game master. In D+D when time passes in a dangerous environment, you roll for a “wandering monster check”. The game’s baseline assumption is that the adventuring environment is dangerous most of the time, the world is filled with monsters, so when you spend an extended period of time doing something, your chances of encountering something dangerous increases.

I like this solution for a few reasons:

1)      It encourages the players to move it along, wandering monster checks are a drain of resources needed for other objectives.

2)      It adds excitement to the skill check, rolling for success is exciting, rolling for success while waiting for an ogre to eat you is even more exciting.

3)      It gives the rest of the party something to do, specifically keep on the lookout, as surprise in D+D is deadly. Ff you are all huddled around the door while the thief picks a lock…

4)      It allows players to have more agency.

You are still within your purview as a DM to simply say, “that’s impossible”, or if you prefer, let them try over and over again and fail, but I find the game opens up more if you allow the players to try things, even crazy things. Giving more agency to players makes them feel more capable and that their desires can be channeled into in game actions.  

There is a “knock on” effect to this. If players get used to you saying, “that’s impossible” rather than “sure, it’s hard, but give it a try if you want”, they stop trying things, why bother if the DM always says “no”? Or even worse, they only do things described on their character sheet, they think “inside the box” as they feel their crazy ideas will be nerfed. 

The more game actions you can allow the players to try, the bigger the scope of their game, and the more they get to “inhabit” their characters.

Combat should be fast and furious, but skill checks need not be. Using wandering monster rolls to keep the players on their toes is a great way to build tension in the game, I know my players always look terrified when they see me picking up that wandering monster die and smiling while they perform some task.

Player: “Can I try to open the door again?”

DM: “Sure you can...”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

This is the first post of Black Dragon Games Blog, Dweller of the Forbidden City.
A few words about the name.

My favorite early edition module is Dwellers of the Forbidden City, it was based off a Conan story called “Red Nails”, and it has a ton of atmosphere. The last time I ran the module the evil wizard that runs the Forbidden City of mutated snake men escaped the party and became a memorable recurring villain.

This module taught me the value of alliances, my group formed an alliance with a pan lung dragon in the module in order to have the chops to win. It was a classic early edition move, when you are outmatched, find some help!

I will be using this blog to give gaming tips, suggestions for how to DM games successfully, some world building advice, inspiration for gaming and whatever else comes to mind.

The background art for this blog is a Roger Dean piece, “Dragon’s Garden”, which I think nicely captures the atmosphere I want.

Here it is in full:



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