The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

The Devil’s Initiative

Grey over at Pen and Sword has a post about “The Trouble With Initiative” (which itself references a post at Destination Unknown).

I will admit that I feel a little bit like a devil’s advocate defending initiative, seeing as more often than not I don’t use the rules as written (though I am going by the book right now), but I don’t throw the rule out because its broken, but rather because I find I can make the game flow faster by just going around the table clockwise.

I wonder if d20 is too random for initiative...

Winning Initiative Barely Affects the Numbers

Although he has a lot of interesting points through out the post, I am going to specifically respond to Grey’s thesis, that “the person who is ‘first’ is often the loser”. Its hard to argue with this point, I’ve seen evidence of it across many years, systems and editions. PCs often get themselves into more trouble when they win initiative then when they lose.

But is this indicative of a problem with the rules or the players?

I haven’t had time to try this test, but I suspect that if you took two identical fighters, parked them in front of each other and had them fight to the death, and then repeated the test a hundred times, that the background noise created by the random elements of attack and damage rolls would be so great that any statistical advantage held by the initiative winner would be lost in the noise. That is to say, I don’t think winning initiative gives any significant bonus in a straight up fight.

The Advantage of Initiative is Tactical

But that isn’t to say that winning initiative can’t be an advantage. Very often, in any game, there are opportunities that PCs and NPCs have (or can create) to give themselves tactical advantages. What those opportunities are vary widely based on the party and the situation, and because they are so diverse many players miss them. But who gets those advantages can make a massive difference in the results of a battle; it can turn a cakewalk into a close fight or a close fight into a cakewalk.

Now which side gets the situational advantage can largely be a product of initiative. For a tactically aware group, it is never a good thing to lose initiative because going first gives them the opportunity to seize the advantages; be they environmental, positional, based on match ups or anything else.

On the other hand, for a group that is not tactically aware, going first can be a huge detriment. Players whose default strategy when they win initiative is to charge the masses of enemies can get themselves into a world of hurt. After all they are running into a group of bad guys so they can get that one first attack off. In most cases the enemy they attack and several of his friends respond in kind. Before long the party is down one member and the whole fight takes on a different tone.

If You Can’t Teach ’em Join ’em

I don’t know how to teach tactics to players who don’t know them; I have been trying for years to teach my current group with only modest success. But I think a big part of it comes down to how one defines fun. I find tactically analyzing a situation fun, while some of my players find it more fun to charge headlong into battle. So I suppose at least in that one regard I must agree with the linked articles; for some groups winning initiative will frequently work against them, and for those groups it might be better if the matter were resolved differently.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.


November 30, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 7 Comments

Trouble Scheduling Around the Holidays? Take a Break.

This past weekend my group came to a realization – there isn’t a single week in December of this year that we can get together. My schedule is full in the first half of the month, and others have events in the latter half. We briefly considering scheduling an alternate game day for the week of Christmas, but the fact that we won’t be getting together between now and then to discuss it made that idea seem foolish.

Does a holiday need gaming to be happy?

So here we are, a whole month without gaming. And as much as I will miss the game, I am laughing at the irony of December edging us out. You see, years ago, when I first formed the group, I had the clever idea that we should take a month off twice per year – December and June. It seemed to me at the time that such a break would prevent burnout, and give everyone a window in which they could schedule events that might otherwise conflict with the game.

The first December we were playing together we took the break from our campaign, but I threw out to everyone “We aren’t going to be playing but you can still come here and hang out if you want.” So everyone came as usual, we just didn’t game. The same thing happened in June.

After our June break I had trouble getting motivated to run our game; I was really burned out from doing way to much prep work. So the back half of that year was largely wasted playing a several different short lived campaigns. One of those short lived games died in November, and so while we didn’t actually play a game in December (though everyone continued to come) it wasn’t so much a break as just a continuation of our struggles.

That second December was the last time we took a purposeful break – in 2004.

Since then we have tried to play as much as our lives will let us; if players are available we play (unless we are having some sort of trouble related to getting a game started). But I am left to wonder if keeping the foot on the pedal is the right choice.

mmmmm . . . breaks.

Taking a break brings a semblance of balance to the lives of the group members; it gives everyone a chance to recharge and can make the game a fresher feeling when it is restarted. Even though its tempting to group a month off in the same basket as a month where attendance problems plague the group, they aren’t the same thing and have very different impacts on the mood of the table.

I think having had this break forced upon us, I am going to bring the month long break back to our group. Both for our sanity and for the refreshing nature of it.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | RPGs | , , | Leave a comment

Chaotic Acronyms

On occasion I have heard people complain about various idiosyncrasies of the English language. One comment I have heard a number of times is that if we reinvented the language today we could get rid of all these problems; no more silent letters, no more words spelled counter-intuitively, and no more words with multiple meanings.

Of course this is all ridiculous. Even if we could reinvent the language we are no more responsible than those persons who gave us these strange rules. One needs look no further than one of the great language inventions of the twentieth century – the acronym – to see how crazy we are.


It seems these days there is an acronym for everything. Unfortunately as our culture has rushed to find a way to abbreviate everything, there has been little care taken to make sure that there is both rhyme and reason to how it is done. Worst of all is that so many acronyms have multiple uses.

As a gamer I always expect game acronyms to be used in their game context, but of course they’re not. Below I have listed a number of common gaming acronyms and some other common applications of them.

Acronym: RPG
Game meaning: Role Playing Game
Selected non-game meanings: Rocket Propelled Grenade, Rebounds Per Game
Number of non-game uses found: 20

Acronym: PC
Game meaning: Player Character
Selected non-game meanings: Personal Computer, Politically Correct, Professional Corporation
Number of non-game uses found: 188

Acronym: NPC
Game meaning: Non-Player Character
Selected non-game meanings: Non Proliferation Council, National Parks of Canada
Number of non-game uses found: 37

Acronym: XP
Game meaning: eXperience Points
Selected non-game meanings: windows eXPerience, eXtra Performance (AMD processors), eXpansion Pack
Number of non-game uses found: 17

Acronym: HP
Game meaning: Hit Points (also Health Points and Heart Points)
Selected non-game meanings: Hewlett Packard, Horse Power, Harry Potter
Number of non-game uses found: 58

Acronym: HD
Game meaning: Hit Dice
Selected non-game meanings: Hard Drive, Harley-Davidson, High Definition
Number of non-game uses found: 50

Acronym: STR
Game meaning: STRength
Selected non-game meanings: STRings (programming), Software Trouble Report, Sustained Transfer Rate
Number of non-game uses found: 39

Acronym: DEX
Game meaning: DEXterity
Selected non-game meanings: Delta Epsilon chi
Number of non-game uses found: 3

Acronym: WIS
Game meaning: WISdom
Selected non-game meanings: Wan Interface Sublayer, WISconsin, World Institute of Science
Number of non-game uses found: 14

Acronym: INT
Game meaning: INTelligence
Selected non-game meanings: INTeger, INTerest, INTernational
Number of non-game uses found: 22

Acronym: CON
Game meaning: CONstitution
Selected non-game meanings: CONfidence, CONtrast, CONvict
Number of non-game uses found: 28

Acronym: CHA
Game meaning: CHArisma
Selected non-game meanings: Centrally Heated Air, Capital Health Authority, Chicago Housing Authority
Number of non-game uses found: 34

That’s it for right now, though I may revisit this topic again someday. Special thanks to which I used in researching this topic.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | RPGs | | Leave a comment

My Life in Polyhedrons – The 66 Ave Characters

There were a lot of characters in the 66 ave campaign – probably at least twenty that were played enough I should remember them. But unfortunately, having put this off for as many years as I have, many have slipped from my memory. (I will update this post should any more come to mind in the future)

The simplest way to divide up the massive number of characters is by the original group and the second wave of characters. The main members of the original group were:

Eric – A human fighter played by Warren, named for a character in Willow; for much of the campaign he was the most powerful character. During our out of session role playing it was implied that he had a romantic relationship with Sorcha.

Flint – A dwarven thief played by Warren, named for a character in Dragon Lance; he was the best thief in the game till near the very end. His death, along with Athena and Picknose, was the cause of the second wave of characters; Flint and Picknose were eventually raised from the dead via wishes.

Crusher – A half-orc fighter played by Brian. At the start of the campaign he was the toughest fighter – Brian had maxed out strength and constitution at huge expense to his other stats. But due to Crusher being the unlucky one that found out you could only raise one stat once eating some magic fruit we had found (and eating more than one piece had a huge negative impact on your stats) his character actually got weaker as everyone else got stronger; after that his role was always secondary.

Picknose – A halforc fighter/thief played by Joel. Picknose was a backup fighter and backup thief, though neither role seemed to bother Joel. Unlike Brian he seemed to relish the role playing opportunities of a dimwitted character. Along with Flint, Picknose was dead for a time, sparking the creation of the second wave.

Loten Ofen – An Elvin fighter/magic user played by Joel. He was the only real source of offensive magic in the original group, and with the abundance of fighters, magic user was his primary role.

Athena – A human cleric played by me, named for the Greek goddess. She was the original cleric for the group, but died during the Slave Lord series when Joel (who was controlling her) forgot to have her heal herself, then the group got hit by a trap. The dispute over her death is one I am not proud of – and is a big part of why this was the last campaign I DMed that I also owned characters in.

Sorcha – A human ranger played by me, named for a character in Willow (though intentionally misspelled). During the first year of the campaign Sorcha was very much a backup fighter for the group. However, when the deaths caused us to form the second wave of characters, Sorcha dual-classed into thief and joined the second wave. By the end of the campaign Sorcha ‘s thief levels had finally surpassed her ranger levels, giving her some insanely powerful options (like backstabbing with her two handed sword).

Michael Angelo – A human cleric played by me, named for the artist (though I broke it into two names on purpose). Created to replace Athena, he was way behind the rest of the original group in levels and so along with Sorcha joined the second wave, where he was so far ahead that the second wave never wanted for healing. (Joel was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so frequently when Michael Angelo’s name was mentioned Joel would added the line from their theme song “is a party dude”)

When the group was about level 5 or 6 Athena died and was replaced by Michael Angelo, who naturally started at level 1 (I say naturally because this is how we always did things back then). When the group was level 9 or 10, Flint and Picknose died at the same time.

Suddenly the group had no thief, no way to raise the dead (Michael Angelo was only about level 6) and the group was far too advanced for a new level 1 thief; a level 1 thief would not only be in constant mortal danger, but his thief abilities would be useless to the party.

I suggested having Sorcha dual class into thief, but that only removed the mortal danger element; Sorcha as a level 1 thief still couldn’t cut the mustard.

So in the end we formed a break away party for the purpose of getting a thief up to a level he was useful to us. My two characters joined said party, Sorcha because she was now effectively a level 1 character who just happen to have 88 hit points (oh first edition, you were so quirky), and Michael Angelo because this was a good chance for him to make up the gap between him and the main party.

I gave everyone a lot of rope when creating characters for the second wave, and so they became a very odd bunch. Unfortunately other than my own characters, the only two that come to mind right now are Warren’s two.

Dork – A half ogre fighter played by Warren. I think Brian was happiest of all to see Dork, because Dork became the new butt of all jokes about stupidity, though Dork’s crazy high strength just pushed Crusher even further down the fighter totem pole.

Quinby – A kendar thief played by Warren. Warren played the typical kendar to a tee, a kleptomaniac whose antics were both amusing, and occasionally frustrating, to everyone.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | Leave a comment

Turning Clichés on Their Head – Part 2

For the most part, using clichés is looked down upon in DMing almost as much as it is in writing; we have all heard groans when we’ve gone used one a few too many times. But there can be times that using clichés can be a great bonus. One of those times, which I am going to be exploring in this series, is to elicit a particular expectation from your players, with the intention of breaking that expectation; make the players think you are going the cliché route, only to take a different path entirely. (In case you missed part 1)

The Racial Cliché

There are more clichés associated with the long standing races in D&D than I could ever hope to list; many of these clichés come from the fantasy genre as a whole, not just D&D. In particular dwarves, elves and halflings, because they are so ubiquitous in fantasy all have scores of clichés associated with them. But in many cases the same sort of techniques can be used to turn over any or all of a races cliché.

Don't bother with D&D movie drinking games; you probably can't swallow fast enough.

The Part Player

This is a character who for one reason or another grew up away from his native culture, and so is very different than the typical member of his race. However, he has a strong desire to be a part of the culture of his people. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really understand what the culture of his people is; he only knows his people through the same lens that other races view them. As a result, he plays out his desire to be a part of his races culture by acting out various stereotypes.

For example, you might have a dwarf who was raised by halflings, and carries a very halfling like attitude towards life. But it an attempt to be more like what he feels a real dwarf should act like he makes constant mining analogies, complains about elves, and seeks out strong dwarven ales.

The Family Heritage

Something you can observe in some real life immigrant families is that their image of their homeland becomes frozen in time at the moment the family left. As the years and even generations pass the family does their best to carry on the traditions of their homeland. Meanwhile the homeland is not frozen in time and has continued to grow and progress in its own way.

This can be used in a game setting if you apply the assumption that the clichés of the various fantasy races were once true in your world, but they are not any more. However, even though the homelands of the elves, dwarves and halflings have moved on from the clichés that were true in the past, members of those races who have been living in human lands still carry on those clichés because that is their heritage and their connection to the past.

Have any other ideas on how to use racial clichés in an original way? Let me know.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 26, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , | Leave a comment

Turning Clichés on Their Head – Part 1

For the most part, using clichés is looked down upon in DMing almost as much as it is in writing; we have all heard groans when we’ve gone used one a few too many times. But there can be times that using clichés can be a great bonus. One of those times, which I am going to be exploring in this series, is to elicit a particular expectation from your players, with the intention of breaking that expectation; make the players think you are going the cliché route, only to take a different path entirely.

“So you’re In an Inn\Tavern\Bar…”

Perhaps the best known, most over used and most despised cliché in all of role playing is starting an adventure in an inn, tavern or bar. But it’s not just the location itself that is the cliché, but also the type of adventure start that comes with a story beginning in a social setting. Understood by all when you start an adventure this way is that either someone will approach the party with the adventure hook, or someone will let in slip out. So in order to break the expectation and take the players by surprise keep the tavern, but introduce the adventure in an unexpected way.

The local tavern is about as cliche as you get.

The Uneventful Night

One really easy way to break the expectations is don’t plan to offer the hook in the bar, but still start the session there. Allow the players to role play to their hearts content. Then, when the evening is over, the bartender will tell the characters to go home or to their rooms, and the players will be left wondering if they missed something. I know some players that the angst from this would kill them.

The Tavern is the Adventure

Another manner which a tavern could throw players for a loop is if the adventure is actually set in the tavern. One manner this could occur is if the basement has some sort of nasty connections and after a few minutes of frolicking, the players are drawn down by noises or screams or whatever. Another way this could play out is if the players already know who they need to contact at the bar for the hook, making them the ones searching for the right guy instead of the NPC searching for them. For example:

“So you’re sitting in a bar, the Red Dragon Inn. You came here tonight because you heard that someone called the Red DM has been quietly offering a small fortune to various parties to help him with his ‘goblin problems’. You don’t know if he has had any takers yet, but you have heard that he often frequents this establishment….”

The Hijacked Adventure

If you really wanted to start your adventure with a bang, you could begin with the typical “in a bar” beginning, complete with an NPC needing help. Then just as he is telling his problem to the players the tavern explodes, hooking players into the real adventure. (the NPC needing help was a red herring)

Have any other ideas on how to use the “So you’re In an Inn\Tavern\Bar…” in an original way? Let me know.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , | 2 Comments

Need a Quick Pre-Game Warm-Up?

I used to spend about an hour watching fantasy movies before every game session; it was a way of putting me in the mood before each game.

This came to an end in recent years because of my son; he is both omnipresent and terrified of pretty much everything onscreen. And when I say he is scared of everything I don’t mean that he is scared by the sorts of things that typical 5 year olds are scared of (which might leave me some options); I mean pretty much anytime you might suggest scares him (he’s scared of the movie Cars for gosh sakes).

Anyways, this week I stumbled onto a video on youtube that might be a usable replacement till my boy learns to enjoy good movies. (or at least can allow me to enjoy them) Its fan made video of LotR.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | RPGs | Leave a comment

My Life In Polyhedrons – The 66ave Campaign

The longest, most memorable, and most fun D&D game I have ever been a part of was the one that started in the fall of 1987 and ran for almost two years.

By that time I had made friends with Brian and Joel, who lived on the same street as my new house. Warren continued to brave the elements and come over almost every day, while Jamie was an occasional guest as was Joel’s younger brother Dave. As with the previous campaign, I was the DM, though I did still have characters in the game, and there were a very small number of adventures run by the other players.

The sheer number of characters we had in that campaign was insane. We had a good sized party that made it all the way up to name level, but then both the thieves died. So we made a whole new group and played them all the way up to name level (plus during the interim the two dead thieves were raised), giving us an absolutely crazy number of characters to choose from.

We played a lot of adventures during those two years (we were at times playing every day, meaning we would go through a full sized adventure every week). Most memorably, we played through the Slave Lord series, we hijacked the Dragon Lance series (ie inserted our characters), and we cleaned out Castle Greyhawk. For the most part the adventures we played were all for AD&D 1st Edition.

One thing we did differently that made a huge difference was that we started using Lego for miniatures. While this was a nice addition from a tactical standpoint (didn’t use any minis before that), the surprising thing was how much it added to role playing. Joel and Brian being three years younger than Warren and I were still very much into action figure type playing. As a result it was very common for us to be using the Lego figures to pretend to be the characters even when the game wasn’t going on. There were even important character development moments that happened in the absence of the player whose character it was (we weren’t picky about who owned what character when we were goofing around with the Lego figures)

Perhaps even more surprisingly, considering our young age (and being all boys), was that this game had romantic subplots, though they only surfaced during the aforementioned Lego sessions, not when actually gaming.

Despite being the longest game I have ever been part of, it may have gone on even longer but for a very strange happenning in September 1989. After school started that fall it seemed everytime I called Joel or Brian’s house I would be told they were not available. After more than two weeks of being unable to reach either one of them Warren and I went over to Joel’s to find out what was going on. Joel’s mother finally let us in on what had happenned – Joel and Brian’s parents had decided that since Warren and I were now in high school it was inappropriate for Joel and Brian to be around us. I’ve never been able to figure out why it was OK for us to hang out went it was two junior high students and two elementary students, but not OK when it would have been two high school students and two junior high students. But whatever twisted logic gave rise to this sudden parting of ways, it was made very clear to us that we were never to speak to Joel and Brian again – so without any warning two of my best friends were ripped from my life; I never saw or spoke to either of them again (I don’t even know if they know what we were told). Thus ended a game where they were 2 of the 3 regular players.

November 20, 2010 Posted by | My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

Picking a Room to Game In

Since forming my current D&D group back in 2003, one thing that has remained consistant is that I have always been the host. The circumstances of my hosting have frequently been in flux – in that time I have lived in four different homes, had an addition to the family, and watched my wife wax and wane between gaming with us or being annoyed by us.

In our current abode there are three rooms that are practical for gaming in – the family room, the dining room and the basement. They break down as follows:

The Family Room

When my family first moved into this house almost 2 years ago this is where the weekly game session was held. It was really good for having lots of comfortable seating, lots of space and easy access to electronics.

The lack of tables was an ongoing problem that we never solved as well as we would have liked (I am still kicking myself for getting rid of the 4′ x 6′ table I used to have for gaming in a previous family room), but that was really a minor issue compared to the one huge glaring problem with using this room…

The family room contains most of the things my son likes doing on Saturday evenings. Keeping him from disrupting the game is hard enough without him being bored because he has no access to his toys, his games, the television or the Wii. This problem (combined with a desire on my part to capture the feel of an old school game) drove us from the family room to dining room.

The Dining Room

The dining room is well set up for gaming in so far as it has a good sized table and readily available chairs. The chairs aren’t as comfortable as couches and there aren’t enough of them (meaning some need to be imported), but they are there.

One notable problem with the dining room is the lack of space. There isn’t enough space around the table, and there isn’t enough space on the table. We could add the leaf to the table, but this would just make the other problem worse. Still we all suffered the crowdedness for more than a year till the combination of another body at the table with a problem in my family started to flare up…

You see, the dining room is located directly underneath my son’s bedroom. Although all my friends are well intentioned, and will make an effort to lower their volumes when my wife informs us we are keeping the boy from sleeping its just impossible to stay quiet when playing a role playing game. So we fled from the dining room to the basement.

The Basement

When we first moved into this house I had envisioned the basement as being a playroom for my son. We covered the floor in foam tiles, put his artwork up on the walls and put some of his favorite toys down there. He hated the place and rarely went down. I could hardly blame him – its cold, dark, quiet and lonely.

Knowing that we were going to be leaving the kitchen I did my best to improve the lighting down there, and build a make shift table that dwarfed the dining room table. Not surprisingly, the room is great at isolating us from my son – be he awake or asleep. A bonus I discovered after we started playing was that because the room isn’t used the whole rest of the week, I could leave things set up on the table and just return to them the next week; a huge convience.

But whatever time is saved not getting out my stuff is lost hauling chairs, and all manner of other things up and down the stairs every Saturday. Moreover its still too dark, and lonely.

But what is going to kill the room for us is the cold. If we had been playing down there in the summer, we may have actually appreciated the cold, but now winter is upon us and its getting cold fast.

For myself I could always just keep adding layers till I feel comfortable, but what kind of a host would I be to expect that of my guests?

Now What?

I don’t for sure where we will be playing this weekend, much less a month or two from now. It certainly looks like circumstance may force us back to the family room, no matter what that means in term of unwanted attention from the boy.

How about you, do you have any location related issue for your group?

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | RPGs | 2 Comments

Can Dying Be a Good Thing?

Until 18 months ago, I had never given much thought to how fast player characters were dying off in my games. I would design adventures that seemed to me to be the right level of difficulty and then just let them play out how they played out. That’s not to say I never had any regrets about results (there’s a TPK from 5 years ago that I still feel bad about; I ruined a great campaign with poor planning), but I had never stopped to think “what is a good number of PCs to kill off”.

Killer DM.

Then, as my second 4E game was winding down, I came to the realization that in a year of playing 4E we had never seen a character die, and in fact had only three times seen characters close to death. The whole year we had been playing low level characters – aka the kindling of the D&D world – and yet the players were winning every fight without a death.

To be sure, they weren’t running away with fights, and there were many battles that had been huge struggles, but no one was dead and this wasn’t because of a good streak of luck or a lot of well timed healing, this was because the game itself was much protective of PCs.

Since I didn’t have a blog at the time, I recorded my thought for my friends privately (though I later added them to this blog). Of particular note I wrote:

In the early days of RPGs death was a common and some times unavoidable experience. But over the years more and more protections have been put in place to keep characters alive. In my first campaign we went through characters faster than snacks; I have never seen a character die in 4E.

Like the growing amount of story, this might seem good, but the consequences of it are huge. If PCs don’t ever die then there is no fear of death – no exhilaration as they try to dodge danger. And no fear of death means that the players get less of a high from in-game success. And finally no fear of death means that the players play the game much like they would read a book, just going from one encounter to the next to see how it will end.

As you can see, at that time I was feeling that death was a very important element for the danger it represents; I didn’t even touch on how a slow turnover of characters can keep a game fresh and new.

Boromir's death was great for the story.

So with a desire for death in my heart I pulled out the Red Box set, and there was much death to be had. In the first few weeks of play almost every session ended with a total party kill. After a break from the game I realized a lack of characters was definitely contributing to the killing spree- but even after fixing that issue death continue to happen regularly.

This steady stream of death had an interesting, though quite predictable, result. Players stopped caring about their characters; how could they get attached when characters were lasting only a couple of sessions at most. Because the players didn’t care, they didn’t invest any time in the characters, making them that much more anonymous. Our game degraded into what might best be described as a board-less board game. Everyone moved their pieces around and had a gay old time, but the characters had no more personality than the shoe in Monopoly.

In an effort to bring back some semblance of role playing to our games, I decided to return to 4E. Sure we could have gone for any other edition in between, but I liked 4E in many ways, I just felt it needed some tweaks. Hopefully the tweaks I have in mind will keep death at present, but sane levels. Certainly from the two sessions we have tried with these rules danger has been very present, but not in the Basic insta-death sort of way.

Still, I am left wonder. What is a good amount of death for D&D or any other RPG for that matter? Obviously the amount of death will go a long ways to setting the tone of the game. In Paranoia the constant death reinforced the danger, the frustration, the backstabbing and the humor. On the other hand Toon’s lack of death (or any real consequence) was a big part of why it was so light hearted. Too much death removes caring about the characters, while too little death removes worrying about them.

So to answer the titular question of this article. Yes, dying is a good thing. It can rejuvenate a group , but more importantly it can reinforce the reality that failure is an option. But it is only a good thing in small doses.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.

November 18, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , | 7 Comments