When to Use a Battle Grid

When to Use a Battle Grid

Many would argue that modern day table-top roleplaying games have their roots in miniature games and war games. These people are correct, but it’s quite obvious that the genre has deviated substantially since then, with a heavier emphasis on the roleplaying aspect with every rotation of games that are published. Even D&D has changed over the course of its five editions. One thing left over from the miniature gaming days that I still see consistently popping up is the use of a battle grid. I’ve heard them called by many names, but I’ll be using battle grid, as that is what my group took to calling it, when I first started playing.

I started the roleplaying game hobby in D&D 3.5, and have played plenty of systems since then. Some of these games all but required the use of a battle grid, like D&D. It’s very difficult to play without the grid, as many of the rules specify things like line of sight, cover, and specific distance. Other games, like Mutants and Masterminds for example, are made infinitely harder by using the grid. This is because the system wasn’t meant to be played that way. If you don’t believe me, try running a combat encounter between two speedsters on a 50×50 grid. Wouldn’t you believe that’s exactly what my group did the first time we played… We had a player in our group who was unwilling to play any game that didn’t make use of the battle grid, because he felt it would be impossible to keep track of tactics any other way. When one person in the party can move thousands of miles per round, then the battle grid is just in the way.

Many games don’t specify in the rules, and aren’t made more difficult with or without it. One example of this would be (You guessed it) Legend of the Five Rings. While the game doesn’t say anything about a grid, it would be quite easy to house rule its use into the game with the standard “1 square inch = 5 feet” that many are used to from D&D. When you’re dealing with this, it’s just a matter of preference. Now I know you might be thinking “You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be”, but I assure you, there are players out there who are very opinionated about this. Like I mentioned before, I had a player for a while that would NOT play unless there was a battle grid involved, because he wanted to be able to see every tactical advantage possible (Although, ironically, he never used any of them). Similarly, I now have a player that won’t play if there IS a battle grid involved. He thinks it takes up too much time, and makes the game more about tactical combat as opposed to roleplaying (Irony again, he happens to be a terrible roleplayer). The point is, there are people who have a very strong opinion one way or the other, so strong that some of them refuse to play any other way. Now, it’s worth mentioning that these players simply aren’t invited when we play a game that doesn’t fit their preferred combat style, so it’s not an issue of keeping players.

Ultimately, I prefer to not have it, if it is in fact not necessary to gameplay. Even combats that don’t have obstacles, such as an open field, I don’t use a grid for in systems that call for it, because I just genuinely don’t enjoy using them, especially as a GM. Now, if there’s eight enemies on the ground, seven on a balcony to the east, four on a balcony to the west, and three guys hiding behind the bar counter, then I’ll probably whip out the grid, because that’s just a pain. So do you prefer using a battle grid, or just using your imagination? Tell me in the comments!

 

-Goluptious Geek

 

Physical Books or PDFs? Which to Use at the Gaming Table

Physical Books or PDFs? Which to Use at the Gaming Table

Many people who play pen and paper rpgs these days are noticing that physical copies of books are slowly disappearing from gaming tables. Many chose to use pdfs of the books instead. With many pdfs being cheaper, and easier to get a hold of, they’re making their way into our games, and our wallets. There are those who choose to acquire these pdfs in…other ways. I’m not going to comment on this practice, as you all know what I’m talking about anyway. My group has almost always used pdfs, in place of actual books. I do like to own at least the core rulebook for any system that I’m going to play a lot of.

Pdfs aren’t a perfect solution to hardcover books however. While they do provide a fix for the “this game has 300 books that we have to have to play” problem, It still can’t seem to satisfy so many people. Even though pdfs are cheaper, easier to get, easier to carry around, and easier to search, many people still prefer physical books. I can say that I’m certainly one of these people. Yes, I know I just said pdfs were better, and that I use them almost exclusively, but I really do prefer having an actual book in front of me. The biggest reason for that is probably that it’s just easier to read. I can’t really explain why, but it’s just more enjoyable, and easier to focus on a physical book.

There is however, one huge reason that I use pdfs over actual books. Many of the books that I have, and one in particular, are quite expensive. Seeing as how you’re reading this bog, and are probably a gamer yourself, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some books are out of print, special editions, or any other situation in which they’re hard to get a hold of. Now, maybe the people you play with treat your books like gold, but that certainly isn’t my group. The binding of my pdf can’t split because the bard put pencil in my book before he closed it, and then proceeded to stack other books on top of it (true story bro). Having a tablet at the table with all my pdfs on it is a much better alternative for our group.

The problem created by pdfs, that I’ve seen, is that they require the use of an electronic device. Now, electronic devices aren’t all bad, they provide great utility at the gaming table. I’ve already commented on this in a past post that you can read here. The problem I get with pdfs though, is that while people might claim to be looking at a page in the book, that may be an….alternative fact, if you will. Rather than taking it upon myself to police this distracting behavior, I usually just don’t have players looking through books during the game. I know quite a few GM’s do this. There are legitimate reasons to look something up during a game, and it can often be done in a way that’s not very distracting, but then you have to let everyone do it, and that doesn’t work quite as well I’ve found. Do you use pdfs or physical books? Or maybe a bit of both? Tell me about how your group does it in the comments!

4 Tips For Creating A Homebrew Campaign Setting

4 Tips For Creating A Homebrew Campaign Setting

I love running games in published settings and worlds, filled with endless amounts of characters, cultures, and rich histories. Well, the good one’s do at least. The settings for games like Legend of the Five Rings, Warhammer Fantasy, and of course Forgotten Realms (How could I forget). These settings provide and already established world to write, and roleplay all kinds of exciting stories. However, many GMs, myself included, like to make our very own original systems, either from scratch, or inspired from movies, tv, or literature that we’re familiar with.

I have a long running homebrew setting that I’ve use for both D&D 3.5, pathfinder, and soon to be adapted upon request to Traveller, for a science fiction version of the setting. My world consists of npcs, maps, countries, cultures, laws, and other cultural details that vary from one location to another. I absolutely love running, as well as playing in homebrew settings. Unfortunately… not every homebrew setting is made with the same love and care as the one’s we enjoy playing. With that thought, I present to you four tips for making your homebrew setting one of the better, more enjoyable one’s for your players.

  1. Don’t make that novel you’ve been working on into a game setting. I know, you’re probably going to stop reading right about here. Look, we’ve all tried it. We want to write a story that seems like it would make a great setting. The backdrop for a book might make a good homebrew setting, but the plot won’t. In a novel, the author gets to decide the desires and motivations for all of his characters. In an RPG, you’re players should be the main characters. The GM’s job is not to railroad the players through the narrow plot of a book, no matter how well written the story might be. If you’ve played a roleplaying game before, you know that the second your players get ahold of your plot, it’s gone. I’m not talking about the story arc, I’m talking about the plot of a novel, which requires the author have full control over every character. Most experienced role players cringe when they hear “Yea, this setting is based on a book I’m writing”.
  2. You don’t have to build the literally the ENITRE WORLD. Making new worlds is very fun, albeit time consuming. We want to create every person, building, and mushroom within five hundred miles of where our players are going to be. It really isn’t necessary. Once you have the basics down, just prepare like you would for a normal game. You don’t need to know who the blacksmith’s nephew is. If he’s important, you’ll figure it out. When we prepare too much content, that will end up being irrelevant to our players anyway, we run the risk of making our selves too inflexible to change. If we know anything about our players, it’s that they’re going to change the world that we’ve built.
  3. Good artists create, great artists steal. Seriously, it’s just an RPG setting, you’re college English professor isn’t going to make sure you cited your sources properly. Many of the most rewarding parts of my homebrew setting are inspired, or shamelessly stolen from other works. I only use these settings with my friends, when running them through the game, and they’re all very aware that many of the themes, and character concepts in my stories are not original (how many are these days anyway). You don’t have to be a literary genius to write a good campaign setting.
  4. Have fun. I know, it seems like a cliché thing to say, but it really is important. There’s no reason that you should have to put in copious amounts of extra work, if you’re not enjoying it. Remember that it’s not only the players that are supposed to have fun, but the GM as well. I’ve run into situations where I’ve had immature players who didn’t understand the work that wen t into world building, and therefore didn’t appreciate the amount of work I would put into it. Rather than sulking about it, I simply stopped running the game, and moved onto something that was less labor intensive on my part, since the players couldn’t tell the difference at the time anyway. Now, the mistake I made here was giving up. I clearly was playing with a bad group, as I would later come to realize (perhaps another blog post in the future will tell the mighty tale?). What I did do that was smart, was I stopped wasting my time with something that wasn’t fun for me. If you’re group doesn’t appreciate you, then ditch them, don’t just quite. However, always make sure that you’re coming to the gaming table every week to have a good time.

I hope you find these tips helpful. I’ve learned this from mostly trial and error, as well as seeing other people make mistakes, and do things well. Do you have a homebrew setting that’s going really well? I think we both know you do. I’d love to hear about it, and any other tips you have for creating campaign settings in the comments!

 

-Goluptious Geek

4 Tips for Designing an Epic Boss Fight

4 Tips for Designing an Epic Boss Fight

One of the most fundamental parts of any dungeon, is the boss fight. The epic encounter that wraps up the entire dungeon with a nice bow of blood and violence. Whether it’s an Ancient Black Dragon or Bathgahl the Broken, the evil wizard that’s been experimenting on local peasants, the encounter of a boss fight should be epic and memorable. My goal for most boss fights, regardless of whether or not they’re in a dungeon, is to make sure that it is enjoyable for the players, and that the players remember the fight because of its originality, in context with the rest of the story. After having DM’d for just over 5 years, I’ve developed 4 key things that I always keep in mind when preparing my boss fights. I don’t feel that these are necessary, but they certainly make my boss encounters the envy of my gaming group.

  1. Always keep your encounter changing. I always make sure that at least one factor of the fight changes every round. This could be anything from combat phases, like you might find in an MMO like World of Warcraft, or it could be something as simple as using different attacks being used by your npcs. Whatever you choose, never have the boss just attack the same person every round. I find this as a player to be horribly boring, and as a DM, I know my players don’t enjoy it either. A great example of this would be the blood wizard my group fought a few weeks ago. He slung spells out at the party until the fighter tried to get into range, at which time the wizard summoned a sword made from his own blood, to go head to head with the fighter. Not only was this unexpected, but it wasn’t the same thing the wizard was doing the round before, giving the fight a bit of very simple, but effective variety.
  2. The boss only goes down when you want it to. I know, there are many DMs, as well as players, that see this as cheating. To that I say, THE DM CAN’T CHEAT YOU CRETIN! The DM can do whatever the hell he wants, it’s his world. Now, I would agree that this can be abused, especially in a situation where the players are not having fun as a result. The way this works in a boss fight is by altering the boss’ stats as needed during a fight. I’m NOT talking about changing the armor class, or attack bonus just because you’re terrible at prepping a game. I’m talking about things like waiting to declare a boss dead until something happens that makes the death memorable. An example of this would be the same wizard I had mentioned earlier. He had been reduced to zero hp about 3 turns before he died. He was technically killed when a player dealt several minor blows to him with a relatively weak weapon. The moment in the fight where he reached zero hit points was not very exciting, so I neglected to have the wizard stop fighting. Three turns later, the same player successfully jumped off the back of one of his party members, came down on the wizard with his sword, performing a called shot to his neck, successfully decapitating the wizard. It was just epic. The wizard was now headless, and very dead. My players never knew that the wizard had been dead for three turns, and I don’t think they’d want to know. I’ve learned that giving your players the opportunity to do something really cool is a lot more important that making all of the numbers follow every rule to the letter.
  3. Make sure the boss the party is fighting matches your dungeon. As a player, it’s more than a little irritating to get to the end of a dungeon that’s been filled with spiders, only to end the dungeon fighting a fire elemental, simply because the book didn’t have a scary enough spider in it. I would actually suggest you develop your boss, before the dungeon. In most cases, the idea is that the big bad hiding in the cave is somehow in charge of the rest of the obstacles you’ll face before you get to him. Therefore, the dungeon should really reflect the person, or psychotic demon overlord who built it. If you’ve decided to make your dungeon a wizard’s tower…but has a bandit leader as a boss…maybe that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Now, let’s say bandit took over the tower. The tower should still have obstacles of some kind that represent the wizards influence in the creation of the dungeon.
  4. Never use a generic enemy as a boss. I never pull my bosses out of the monster manual. A boss should have a level of originality that is noticeable by the people fighting it. My bosses are either built from scratch as player characters, or creatures that have been altered to fit my twisted desires. My favorite way pf doing this is adding class levels. Why yes, I can give a Glabrezu monk levels, and you can’t stop me! Another important part of this is naming the boss. Even if the player’s never learn the name, your boss should have one, so that if it DOES come up, you have a unique label for them, that’s unique to that boss. One of my favorite boss fights that I’ve run was Drogg the Demolisher. An Ogre with added barbarian levels that wields a large flaming club, which formerly served as a support beam for a prison that was on fire. When the players entered the burning prison, Drogg procured the support beam to defend himself. Drogg was certainly not a standard Ogre, making the fight much more interesting for my players (one of whom died from a brutal hit from the flaming club).

Overall, I think these tips make my boss fights significantly more enjoyable for not only my players, but me as well. There are exceptions to using all of these of course, when the particular point of a boss fight does not make sense for one of these four. For example, if the “boss fight” of a dungeon involves the party surviving the onslaught of a horde of zombies, then I would certainly use standard zombies, as it would be ridiculous to spend the time preparing 300 named zombies with personal backstories and family relationships. I find designing boss fights to be a ton of fun, and to be critical to the design of a dungeon, and a campaign. Do you have any interesting methods for designing boss fights? Tell me in the comments!

 

-Goluptious Geek