Monday, March 28, 2011

What Am I Gonna Do With All These (Other) Skills?

Greetings! A few days ago, I realized that a good bit of what I write about has to do with the campaign that I am currently playing, so I thought it would be a cool idea if I could get the players and DM involved a bit in Do A Spot Check. So after bringing the idea to the table and rolling a 22 on my Diplomacy check, our party has agreed to join in the conversation on my blog posts in the comments section! Now for the introductions: [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]

Zedd: Our Current DM. His character is a level 20 Wizard who needs our help defeating Darken Rahl, an evil Wizard of sorts who is immune to magic.

Endos: A once True Neutral, now Lawful Evil, Human Sorcerer who specializes in summoning spells. Fiendish Centipedes are his favored summon.

Aurora: A Chaotic Good, Elvin Ranger who specializes in using her bow. She has a Pegasus as an animal companion and is working on acquiring a Hippogriff as well.
Alexander: A Chaotic Good, Human Cleric who wields the power of the Sun God.

Laurelie: A True Neutral, Gnome Bard who plays the Bassoon and specializes in Illusion magic.

Raz: Me. A Chaotic Neutral, Human Jumper with high aspirations, but a demeanor that is so random that it is hard to tell if he’ll ever succeed.

In addition to all this, you will notice that I have added a new page titled “The Campaign” that will roughly give you an idea of what is happening in our campaign as it progresses. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]

But for the moment, back to the skills! Here is Part 2 of my skill descriptions:

Knowledge: What you know about one of the following subjects: Arcana, Architecture and Engineering, Dungeoneering, Geography, History, Nature, Nobility and Royalty, Religion, The Planes. Ex: Knowing if a plant in the forest is poisonous or not.
Listen: Your ability to have ears that hear things. Ex: Hearing an enemy approaching or listening in on a conversation.
Move Silently: Your ability to act like a Ninja. Ex: Stalking a suspected assassin to his hideout.
Open Lock: Your ability to open locks. Ex: Picking a simple lock on a treasure chest. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Perform: Your ability to sing, dance, and play an instrument or similar acts of entertainment. Ex: Performing a dance routine on the streets to earn money.
Profession: What your job is other than a combatant. Ex: Cutting down a tree because you’re a lumberjack.
Ride: Your ability to ride a mount and accomplish actions while riding it. Ex: Shooting a bow while galloping or trying to ride an exotic mount like a Pegasus.
Search: Your ability to find a specific object or person. Ex: Searching for mechanical traps in a dungeon or looking for a specific book in a library.
Sense Motive: Your ability to tell if someone is lying or not. Ex: Figuring out if there really is a Nation of Nam that is at war with the Viet.
Sleight Of Hand: Your ability to steal things or hide items on your person. Ex: Stealing a small money pouch from a person on the street or concealing a dagger up your sleeve. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Speak Language: Each rank put into it gains you a new language (Bards only). Ex: Learning Draconic just in time for the big meeting with a Dragon.
Spellcraft: Your familiarity with anything magical. Ex: Determining if a particular sword is magical or not.
Spot: Your ability to use your eyes. Ex: Looking at your surroundings like if you see a shady character in the crowd coming towards you.
Survival: Your ability to track an animal/person or forage for food. Ex: Tracking down the murderer of a king who escaped into the forest.
Swim: Your ability to flail your arms in water to prevent drowning. Ex: Swimming in a whirlpool.
Tumble: Your ability to roll (or similar action) past an occupied space in combat or your ability to avoid damage from falling. Ex: Jumping off a 20 foot ledge and not taking damage. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Use Magic Device: Your ability to use a magic item you are unfamiliar with. Ex: Finding a random magic wand and trying to use it without knowing what it does.
Use Rope: Your ability to be like a boy scout. Ex: Tying a criminal up with rope or throwing some rope like a lasso or grappling hook.

That’s all folks! Tune in next week for another exciting (and educational) episode of Do A Spot Check!



Quote of the Week

“Beware of falling asses…”
                       ~ The DM

Player Tip of the Week

Don’t split up party to go train. In the process of most campaigns, there are likely to be a few characters in a party that are a level or two higher than the rest of the party. Thus, lower leveled party members will sometimes go adventuring a short distance from camp looking for some moderate/weak encounters to gain some experience. In my experience though, just because your party is at half strength, doesn’t mean the DM will lower the difficulty of encounters. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
For instance, our Sorcerer Endos and myself wanted to gain some quick exp a short distance from a major city. After traveling for a bit we happened to stumble upon a Frankenstein looking creature and thought we should be able to handle it. So I do a charge attack and deal 30 damage and Endos casts Scorching Ray and deals another 20 damage. We we-re thinking “Yeah, we got dis!”, but then I was K.O.ed in one hit… Turns out, we were fighting a Flesh Golem, something that our party could have handled fairly enough, but not well at all with just the two of us. We did end up winning the battle due to a plethora of centipedes, but only just barely.
In the end, this bit of advice depends on what kind of DM you have. If you know your DM will adjust the difficulty, by all means separate the party to train. If this is not the case, then stay together at all costs or have your entrails spilled across the floor or your face eaten off by a lion. (See last week’s DM tip)

The Stormshatter Gauntlet Courtesy of OrdoVeritas

DM Tip of the Week

Know how many people you can manage in one campaign. With all the challenges of running a campaign it can be very difficult to organize the story along with all the individual goals of the players. If you have too few characters then you may find that the party isn’t diverse enough to handle each situation, but at the same time too many can create a situation where no one can agree on what to do.
For instance, in one of my past campaigns there were seven of us and while it worked out okay, it took us forever to get all the stuff we wanted to do was completed. At one city we were visiting, the Paladin wanted to go help out at a church, the Monk wanted to go have a good time at the local bar, the Rogue wanted to steal stuff, the Barbarian and Fighter ended up finding the equivalent of a “Fight Club", the Wizard went looking for a specific book at a library, and the Bard was out gathering information on where the party should go next.
All of these were their own mini event/side quest and it took several sessions for us to finally move on. Situations like that create a cycle between some players being excited and the others being bored. For me, the magic number is five, but if you can handle this as a DM then by all means go for it just make sure to keep the campaign as balanced as possible. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Am I Gonna Do With All These Skills?

Some Awesomeness Courtesy of Belibr
Greetings!  Today I am very excited because I will be adding something slightly new to Do A Spot Check, which is featured D&D artwork.   Every week I will post a new piece of featured art in between my Player and DM tips sections.  My reasoning for this is twofold.  First off, I felt like my Player and DM tips sections needed some color and I couldn’t think of a better way to do this than to incorporate some cool D&D artwork.  The second reason is that art can be a very inspiring force when playing D&D.  Perhaps, as a DM, you see an interesting looking monster that you want to incorporate into your campaign or, as a player, you see a character that you want to play as in your next campaign.  Hope you enjoy all the artistic awesomeness!
But in the mean time, this week I thought would be good to do another layman’s rundown of the skills list.  While some skills are self explanatory, others can have multiple purposes that might not be immediately apparent.  Like last time, this will be split into two parts for your (and my) convenience.  Here’s part 1: [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Appraise: Your ability to determine value or identity of an item or person.  Ex: Identify a mysterious (non-magical) dagger or determine the profession of an individual. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Balance: You ability to maintain balance.  Ex: walking along the top of a narrow wall.
Bluff: Your ability to lie.  Ex: Telling a shop owner that you are from the mythical kingdom of Nam, which is currently at war with the Viet, and are on an urgent quest to purchase his wares at a reduced price.
Climb: How much like Spiderman you are.  Ex: Climbing a tree to get a better view of the scenery.
Concentration: Your ability to cast spells while under adverse conditions.  Ex: Trying to cast Magic Missile while there are two fighters right in front of you and a Halfling taunting you in the background.
Craft: Your ability to build items.  Ex: Crafting a suit of armor, sword, alchemical mixture, or a spoon.
Decipher Script: Your ability to roughly understand and write in an unfamiliar text.  Ex: Trying to write a message in Draconic when you have only heard it spoken a few times. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Diplomacy: Your ability to negotiate (truthfully).  Ex: Establishing peace between two opposing areas.
Disable Device: Your ability to deactivate traps.  Ex: Disabling a mechanical trap that drops a donkey on top of you if you step on a pressure plate.
Disguise: Your ability to appear or act like somebody else.  Ex: Disguising yourself to look like a guard to gain access to a fortress.
Escape Artist: Your ability to free yourself from constraint.  Ex: Escaping from shackles, rope, or a grapple.
Forgery: Your ability to create fake items or documentation.  Ex: Writing a fake digger's license that allows individuals to dig for artifacts buried in the area.
Gather Information: Your ability to find desired information.  Ex: Finding out where a secret monastery is located.
Handle Animal: Your ability to work with, calm, tame, and domesticate an animal.  Ex: Calming a wild Pegasus and then calming it so it won’t attack and then coaxing it to follow you.
Heal: Your ability to stabilize a dying character or cure them of a simple ailment.  Ex: Stabilizing an ally with -7 hp, -4 to Dexterity, is poisoned, and is suffering from a mild cold. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Hide: Your ability to conceal yourself.  Ex: Hiding in a barrel from an angry mob.
Intimidate: Your ability to instill fear into another.  Ex: Scaring an opponent before battle by eating a bowl nails…without any milk.
Jump: Your ability to move your legs in a manner that projects you upward.  Ex: Jumping from rooftop to rooftop to escape from ensuing guardsmen.

To be continued…



Player Tip of the Week

Don’t over complicate things.  While there certainly can be some very challenging puzzles in D&D sometimes players can over-complicate the issue at hand.  Often times there are moderately simple solutions to any normal puzzle that you happen to stumble upon.  Sometimes even, a clever DM can make a puzzle intentionally simple, expecting you to overthink it. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
For instance, I was going through a personal trial where I entered a large room where, above the door, was the clue “get out”.  On the ceiling there were several bricks that were jutting out of it.  My first impulse was that I should try and fix the ceiling so I teleported up and down until the entire ceiling was smooth and I had a pile of bricks on lying on the ground.  So because that didn’t work, I decided to build an archway out of the bricks on the opposite side of the room.  Nothing.  So then I drew a doorway inside the archway. Nothing.  So then I decided that perhaps the clue meant that I need to “get out” of my mind and I promptly used my magic sword to make me go into berserk mode.  Nothing.  Finally, in rage, I went out the door that I came in at and I beat the challenge…  
More Awesomeness Courtesy of Django-Red

DM Tip of the Week

Use common sense when giving random monster encounters.  In an attempt to make life easier, it is perfectly acceptable to come up with a formula to randomly select a monster to fight in random encounters while traveling.  However, when you do this, you still have to access if the encounter is a) feasible to appear in the current terrain and b) not too difficult for the current party members to handle.  If you find that the randomly selected monster is too strong regardless of how much you reduce its stats, don’t hesitate to simply randomly select a different encounter.
For instance, in our current campaign our Cleric and I were traveling a short distance away from the city we were at in an attempt to train a little bit since we were the two lowest leveled characters in our party.  So after a short distance we heard a rustling in the tall grass and prepared for battle.  Unfortunately though, it was a Dire Lion that made a pounce attack against me from its concealed location.  Normally this would not be such a big deal except that Dire Lions have a +17 to grapple; I have a +7.
What happened from here on out was me futilely trying to escape while our Cleric healed me until eventually I used my magic sword’s ability that puts me into berserk mode.  I then proceeded to throw the Dire Lion off of me and kill it in one strike.  However in my berserker frenzy I continued on to attack my partner and myself.  Luckily our NPC Wizard friend was able to snap me out of the frenzy by turning me into a rat and then back into a human (only now I have a rat tail).  Admittedly it can be hard to figure out what random encounter to use, but just reducing HP alone is not always enough to make it a fair challenge.  
Otherwise your players may end up in a situation where they are in a constant cycle of getting their face eaten off by a large feline while your buddy gives you a new face… over and over again.  I never felt so much like Prometheus. [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why So Serious?

Greetings!  As I have been reading more and more about the actual D&D universe and all the nuances that are involved in buildings and cultures, I feel like the next campaign I run  should be a very constructive one rather than one oriented around having to kill something.  Perhaps this is just me, but I find just as much gratification from turning a small keep, (which we acquired through the Deck of Many Things), into an upscale tavern, as I get from achieving a critical hit on (and then promptly getting KOed by) a Flesh Golem.   [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Page 3 of Order of the Stick
Anyways, today I wanted to take a break from the serious (haha) stuff to introduce to you a web comic that I stumbled upon called “The Order of the Stick” on the site Giant in the Playground.  This is an absolutely hilarious web comic centered around a silly group of D&D characters that are on a quest to slay a proverbial bad guy.  The comic, while meant to be funny, actually does give some good insight on how inter-party relationships can go in D&D (sometimes).  Take it as a learning experience or just enjoy the humor.  I personally have been too busy laughing to focus on potential learning value.    [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]

Until next week!



Player Tip of the Week

Have a plan for your character.  When you create your character at the beginning of a campaign it is wise to know what direction you want to develop it.  What I mean by this is that you should have a general idea of where you want to invest your Ability Points, Feats, Skills, equipment, and money in.  While this does require a greater overall knowledge of the game, this will not only save you time in the long run, but also will make your character a more effective combatant and ally throughout. 
For example, for our current campaign I am a Jumper (as you know) and I wanted to make sure that by the time I hit level 8 I would be as powerful as I’d ever be.  So I promptly went digging through the internet and books to find what could make me as powerful as possible.  Knowing that a Jumper requires high Dexterity I decided to invest all my future ability points into it.  Keeping this in mind, I also deemed that my Feats should reflect this as well so I picked those that would make me more mobile and give me greater AC.  Then I promptly decided that nothing would complete my array of mobile assets with some Mithril armor.  However, sadly I can’t get any because there is an evil, Mithril-obsessed wizard had taken over the Mithril mines…   [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]

DM Tip of the Week

Know what you’re good at. As a DM, you get to decide what type of campaign you want to run, but with this said, you have to know what elements of a campaign you are best at so that you can adequately plan for the events to come.  Whether it’s Role Playing, Puzzles, or Combat, if you know which of these elements you are best at, you will be a more effective DM and the campaign will be more fun overall.  This is not to say you should only incorporate one of these elements, it’s just you should focus on the one you are best at.    [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
For instance, I am a primarily Role Play oriented DM that focuses on elaborate characterization and plot driven combat as opposed to complex battles that require battle tactics to resolve.  Another DM friend of mine focuses much more on puzzles and battles that require critical thought to find the key to victory but strays away from straight combat that is a dice rolling exercise.  Yet another DM I know focuses entirely on combat, setting up elaborate battles such as practically reenacting the battle of Helms Deep…  it was a pyrrhic victory.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stronghold Building and the Threat of Death

            Greetings!  Today I would like to make a brief comment on the magic Artifact, the Deck of Many Things (a deck of cards that when you draw a card can either yield huge rewards or the death of your character).  This magic item has been in my last two campaigns and while it is a very exciting endeavor to draw from it to see if you die or not, it can be a real game killer if the wrong cards are drawn.  On the one hand you can earn a super cool Keep of your own with all the furnishings, but on the other you can end up in a perpetual coma.    [this post is property of Do A Spot Check]
            But on another note, I felt like today would be a good day for another book review, (considering that I just bought it last week) being the D&D Accessory book Stronghold Builder’s Guide.   This book is essential a how-to guide for building structures of any sort in D&D whether that is a simple tavern or a “floating castle at the center of a hurricane” (4).  The book does a good job of clearly demonstrating the process without making it too difficult by breaking the process down into easily defined “stronghold spaces” (ss).  In addition, the guide focuses on keeping micro-management to a minimum while letting the reader be as imaginative as possible in the creation of their stronghold. [This post is property of Do A Spot Check]
            However, all of this does come with an extremely high price.  At its absolute minimum cost, one simple stronghold space costs roughly 500gp, but most ss cost several thousand gp.  A complete small fortress could easily cost 50,000 gp (more money than typically found in a D&D campaign).   Then to further add to the cost is magic furnishings for your stronghold.  These magic components are basically fortress specific magic items that, like regular magic items, cost a fortune on their own.  Long story short, the process is freaking expensive.
            Overall the Stronghold Builder’s Guide is a worthwhile buy because it is a wellspring of good ideas and plot-device invoking items.  It opens the door to a new mode of playing D&D where your goal isn’t killing things or solving puzzles, but instead about building a fortress, town, or city of your own.  With this said though, the book is more oriented to DMs rather than players simply because normal players, under normal circumstances, will never raise enough money to build such wondrous places.  Because of this I give the book 4 out of 5 Stars. [This post is property of Do A Spot Check]
And now on a personal note from our latest D&D session, I am very excited to announce that I tumbled through a tornado.

Until next week,



Quote of the Week

DM:     You see a Giant Ant in the distance.
Druid:  Alright I wanna shoot it with my bow.
DM:     Wait… What??? Why would you shoot it with your bow?
Druid:  Alright fine! Then I’ll hit it with my scimitar…
DM:     *face palm*

Player Tip of the Week

Make your own decisions.  In a party of diverse alignments and classes, everyone is going to have a different approach to a situation, regardless of how mundane.  When presented with a locked door in a dungeon, a Chaotic Neutral Barbarian might want to just kick the door in, while the Neutral Evil Rogue might want to check it for traps first, and the True Neutral Druid might want to ignore the door completely.  However, as an individual, you must make YOUR decision.  This is not to say completely ignore advice, but in the end it is your call whether to open the door or not. [This post is property of Do A Spot Check]
            For instance, one time in our current campaign, we stumbled upon a magic blue feathered chicken.  Upon inspection we found that the feathers, when used on arrows, made them Seeking arrows.  After I caught the chicken, it was up to our Ranger how many feathers to pull at one time.  Me being the very chaotic character that I am, suggested pulling out the feathers in fistfuls, while our other characters clamored for a more conservative approach.
I would like to point out that my approach was the wrong way to handle this and she, as a Ranger, should have known this.  However, because of her inability to make a decision on the subject, she chose to violently yank two fistfuls of feathers out, killing the chicken and making it (with all the feathers) disappear.  I was disappointed because I had wanted to find out what blue chicken meat tasted like.  For whatever reason, the Ranger was horrified by my disappointment. 

DM Tip of the Week

Have a backup plan.  As a DM, you have to account for the fact that you may have given characters a challenge that is too difficult for them to complete or the gods of dice rolling just weren’t on the players’ side that day.  In these situations, you need to have a backup plan of some sort whether that is a NPC who is more powerful than you who travels with your party as a guide, or some conveniently placed lightning bolts to strike an enemy down you were about to die from. 
For instance, we were traveling from one town to another when we were hit by a normal random encounter with four young Dire Weasels.  Shouldn’t be too bad right? Wrong.  On this particular day the gods of dice rolling were apparently not in our favor in that I critically missed about five times throughout the battle and was critically hit three times, almost in succession.  Seeing this ridiculousness, our NPC guide/Wizard Zed froze time for us for 4 rounds so that we could finish off the weasels (I still critically misses twice more). [This post is property of Do A Spot Check]
Players should always fear death, but they shouldn’t fear death from mundane enemies like Dire Weasel pups…