We love doing listener feedback episodes - it's like a handful (or in this case, eight) main topics in one engorged podcast member! We picked out the best top-quality emails then read through their amazing, insightful, hilarious and thought-provoking questions from our listeners. These emails represent the finest choice quality organic grass-fed cruelty free emails from our genetically-modified listenership. We then printed out and burned the other emails. They just weren't good enough!
In case you're new, our carefully-planned strategy involves releasing a podcast, making outrageous promises to future frequency, not recording as frequently as promised, having a baby, then recording a podcast. And we're glad to say that we're accomplished just that strategy before your very ears. We're catching up on several - and let's just leave it at that - months' worth of listener emails.
First we give our first pre-play takes on DND5e PHB, including another recommendation for Roll20.net, some talk about new DND5e character build and combat feel. Don't worry, we don't get too deep in to system-specific mechanics. What Chad likes the most about the new edition? A focus on non-combat mechanics and gameplay. Meanwhile, William liked the artwork but was terrified by this, even critics agree! Again, we restate that the game system mechanics shouldn't matter that much - if you're not having fun, it's probably not the game system, you're doing it wrong. Just keep rolling 20s like a '68 Impala.
Now onto the listener emails:
- First email from Joe from the UK talks about some of his own house rules dealing with action points (similar to how we use drama points), minions, escalation dice, monster level balancing.
- Hunter writes in to subtly complain that Chad moved cross-country, then provokes advice on poor roleplaying and how to - as a player - respond to it at the table. Our advice:
- Lead by exemplary example, externalize your rationale for being a good role player, without being a passive aggressive dick about it.
- Remind fellow players that "we don't really know that" or "we can't have that conversation right now". Use speed and stress to tell a fellow player to make a call. "Did you really say that out loud?" But don't be a passive aggressive dick about it.
- Refers to the other players in character name, encourage them to do the same, without being a passive aggressive dick about it.
- Blair writes in to contribute some of his buddy Jon's preposterous recurring disguises. They're like three ridiculous bonus character concepts that you'll never ever want to use, and we read them anyway!
- Michael #00-0000A1 wrote from England to tell us lies, a vignette idea, and how he used his vignette allowed him to organically and spontaneously insert an NPC into a vignette, brilliantly welding an NPC into a vignette on the spot. Pan the camera to a different area and you'll be surprised how well you might be able to tie new things together and create "ah ha!" moments. Bravo, Michael F., you most exemplary of all Michaels. Also, William continues to work through his inability to pronounce "benelovent" correctly.
- A link to Michael's map: http://dungeon-architect.tumblr.com/image/75315727444
- Here in the podcast is the second bump from new ExemplaryDM bumper band Mississippi Bones (used proudly with their permission via Twitter). And yes, you heard it right, they're singing about Dante's Inferno.
- Charles made a huge contribution with his Patriotic Delve idea, featuring PC's as U.S. Presidents (while writing us an email from Montreal):
- George Washington, the Paladin - devoted to the Goddess Freedom, Washington takes his two-handed axe (of cherry tree fame) from town to town, smiting any Redcoats who may be trying to impose the Quartering Act.
- Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter - a rogue who uses his slender build to hide in the shadows. He fights with silver blades and shurikens, better to smite the undead rising around him.
- FDR, the Robo-Cleric - supported by his personal mech in lieu of his wheelchair, FDR is able to heal anyone... except for his own polio-ridden body.
- George W. Bush, the Barbarian - He will presidenting the fuck outta this.
- Theodore Roosevelt, the Druid - Has a bull moose as his companion and wildshapes into The Teddy Bear. Of course he travels with a big stick, a quarterstaff enchanted to hit as if it were twice as large
- Harry Truman, the Radioactive Sorcerer - after years of nuclear exposure, Truman discovers he can shoot beams of acid and other mystical powers, but it's made his body frail.
- JFK, the Bard - this one, er, um, speaks for itself. The Marilyn Monroe feat alone has a 19 CHA prerequisite.
- Then Chad and William make a bunch of mostly forgettable jokes about other presidents, highlighted by Johnson's Johnson and a Strategic Defense Initiative aimed at minorities. At this point the podcast was completely off the rails, way to go Charles.
- Looking forward to hearing how this Delve went!
- Ethan (probably not from Ireland) greets us with a Top o the Morning and talks about his unofficial coronation as the DM of his group of newbies and used our podcast as a beginner's guide (perfect!).
- Ethan's knight concept for an NPC is both an adversary and ally at times for the PCs, with a dramatic plan for the end of the campaign where the knight's master - the main villain - forces this tragic knight to fight the PCs.
- Watch out that this Knight NPC doesn't become too central a figure or too dominant to the action of the game. A DM's pivotal NPC shouldn't be the show.
- The PC's need to be the stars of the show, and shouldn't feel powerless compared to an NPC . Don't show off with how cool and powerful an NPC is. Don't make them feel they have to go along for the ride because they're hopelessly outclassed, that robs them of free will.
- David writes in to comment more on his incorrect opinion about long-o "go-lem" vs the objective correct "gawl-lem" and Firefly.
- Then a cautionary tale about a PBPRPG game that went awry when players went too far off the rails. It caused a lot of plot damage to be undone, players to have their feelings hurt, and soon enough, the game to die on the vine. Continuity was restored after a bad weekend of unmoderated player PBP moves, but at the cost of the game. The moral of Dave's story is that "yes, and" should sometimes give way to "yes, but".
- Cliffhanging is an art, Dave says, and adds that he has always tried to give the PC's a non-trivial decision to make, and mentions author Greg Keyes.
- In-game games like Wasteland's Club Acapulco are classic especially between William and his brothers, though the game-breaking loot bag hack actually took away from the experience.
- Finally, Josh sends us an audacious intrusion in royal tone from California, and with the appropriate amount of existential terror in reaching out to us via email. Pro.
- His group attracts a lot of players who are new to tabletop RPG's and stuck in a video game mindset. How to work with those players?
- Which of course was a perfect time for William to interrupt with a video game story and praise for Dragon Age (2009).
- Back on topic, this is a situation where again, you need your veteran players to be your allies at the table. Ask your veterans to externalize their processes when making decisions for their characters. Ask your veterans to justify out loud, just like on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Obviously, not every veteran player is exemplary in this way.
- Make sure you know the video game folks in your party aren't thinking mechanically - in terms of min/maxing, rules exploitation, optimal combination. Ask them to think and act non-numerically. There are no arbitrary guidelines about movement here, ask them to view the characters as people rather than avatars.
- But you do want to punish ridiculous, alignment-breaking behavior. A video game doesn't enforce inconsistent morality and won't object to acts of noble heroism followed by wanton acts of destruction or murder, but a tabletop will.
- Try to remind them that environments are way more interactive than they're used to. Put items in the environment and richly describe it, giving them the opportunity to think with them and be creative.
- Lastly, they're not going to succeed at everything that they try - make sure they understand that there will be consequences for their actions. They're welcome to dive into the lava pool, but they shouldn't be mad when they can't hit LOAD GAME. They can't be expected to walk into an NPC's home and take stuff, or maybe they shouldn't even be walking in there while people are present.
Tee shirt: World’s Best DM, for the DM who isn't already full of him/herself.
Adventure Hook: Encounter a geographically isolated town who residents are slowly being killed off by mysterious ghosts. Come to find out, the ghosts are souls of those who were murdered by the town’s founders hundreds of years ago. Lots you can do with this - why are the ghosts coming back now? Who is related (or is pretending to be related) to the wealthy but now cursed lineage of the founders? Are any of the PCs related to the founders, is it the arrival of the party that has triggered the attacks? This is basically the plot of the terrible 1980 horror film The Fog, recently remade even terriblyier.
Magical Item of the Podcast: The Paired Coin of Teleportation. How many of them do the PCs find? If just one, where is the other? If both, how could the PCs use them? How do the PCs figure out how they work?
Player Tip: Don’t be a dick by… Realizing that party unity, character development, cross-character plot intermingling, and common purpose-building is everyone’s job in the party, not just DM's. Players who intentionally buck this by playing the silent loner, the antisocial outsider or the anarchist character could be a problem.
DM Tip: We use another email from Andy, subject line “large-scale combat with your party.” Recaps the idea of mass group combat without rolling tons of attacks. Here's also an opportunity for leader classes perhaps to assist to move mass combat die rolls, have the players (or maybe just the leaders?) roll the dice to determine the random outcomes of the other scrums, in order to enable them to feel in control and have some transparency and honesty (and therefore real danger). What if the battle goes badly for the good guys? And be prepared as DM for either outcome.
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