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Every game has that moment – a player calls or texts and work, life, or just general malaise prevents them from making a game.  What do you do? What do you do?!

 

We’ve all been on Actual Play podcasts and those losses are felt distinctly when recording.  The first question is what to do with the character and the second whether something needs to be done with the player.  For the character, you need to have them take a step back at the least without a player there to control.

Send the character on an errand or scouting mission

Befuddle the character with a magical or pharmaceutical enfeeblement

Turn the character into an NPC for a night

Time Hops

Ignore it entirely.

Each of these options has its pluses and minuses.  The scouting mission or errands allows the character’s continuity to continue and lets the group accomplish something “offstage, but is difficult when in the middle of an encounter.  Befuddling a character is fun but works best if the rest of the players get to undertake a way to free that PC by next game. The NPC for a night is a good option when you are in the midst of a fight, but doesn’t give much in the way of role playing strengths for the other characters.  Finally – ignore it and the character. Meh.

 

For the player – is it truly a once in a blue moon event?  If so, there isn’t much to worry about. If it happens regularly, you may need to make some adjustments.  Can you change when the game is scheduled with the whole group to minimize the interruptions? Is there something about the game that the player is not enjoying any more?  This is where our repeated calls for communication with the players come in. Talk, ask. Listen.

 

Stat Blocks

Zendead-

Salcik the Great- Have you ever seen a specimen of physical perfection? Well feast your eyes on Salcik the Great. Is he well no but he is fit. Why is he out here? That is not something he is likely to ever tell you the truth about. Has his last contract ended well? Very possible but then why is he out here so far from civilization all alone.

Salcik is a man in his late 20’s standing just over 6 feet tall. He is well muscled but not without flaws. His armor is battered and dinged. His sword is the only thing that seems to not have been a hand me down. How did he get here? Does he want to be doing anything else?

 

Joules-

 

Guard-a-Manger

Hraknoth’s Fruitcake

Mmmm, it is the time of the year for fruitcake.  As the temperatures drop, that particular combination of preserved fruit, baked goods, and hard liquor has few rivals!  Hraknoth is a famous ork whose fruitcake is legendary – first because few orks actually take up baking; second because he distills his own orkish whiskey aged in charred barrels of elven wood; and most importantly because of its magical properties.  

 

We all know that fruitcakes when doused in brandy and liquor will keep their nutrition for years, but Hraknoth’s has been around for decades.  Every year or two, a new group finds it …. And eventually has to eat some of it. It is delicious – a masterwork of fruity, rich, and intoxicating flavor that will carry you through a cold and chill night.  Strangely enough, each morning it is complete no matter how much you ate, so long as one crumb is left. An eternally regenerating fruitcake.

 

The insidious part, though, is that it grows on you.  No, no. Figuratively. You crave the fruitcake. You want nothing but the fruitcake.  It is the only thing that tastes remotely right …. And you understand why the orkish tradition is to eat only a bite at a time, not a slice.  The wisdom of the orks may have come too late for you but there is a way to break this curse, this insidious drive, this compulsion.

 

Can you eat the entire fruitcake in one sitting with no crumb left behind?

 

Can you?

Lexicon

Dauphin    noun, often capitalized  dau·phin \ ˈdȯ-fən , ˈdō- ; ˌdō-ˈfaⁿ \

 

Definition of dauphin
: the eldest son of a king of France

 

Origin and Etymology of dauphin
Middle English dolphin, from Anglo-French dolphyn, from Old French dalfin, title of lords of the Dauphiné, from Dalfin, a surname

 

First Known Use: 15th century

 

Popularity: Bottom 40% of words

 

From 1350 to 1830, dauphin was the title given to the eldest son of a king of France, or the heir apparent to the French crown. The title was established by the royal house of France through the purchase of lands known as the Dauphiné in 1349 by the future Charles V. The Dauphiné was a region and former province in what is now southeastern France. It was sold to King Philip VI of France and ultimately became a grant of land to the eldest son of the French king, who assumed the title (dauphin) attached to the land. The area had a quasi-independent status until it was annexed to France in 1457.

Closing remarks

Zendead- The Orville on Fox

 

Joules- The Nonary Games

 

Guard-a-Manger- Carmina Burana by Carl Orff

 

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

 

Find us

Show- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Zendead- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

 

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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Pre-mades are very different to playing a character you’ve made yourself.  There are a number of reasons to play  premade characters, and a couple different types of premade characters that you can encounter.

The first type of premade is the one that the game themself provides.  Many games have sample characters that a starting player can play, in campaign packs, starter packs, or even core rule books sometimes.  (another variation of this is the premade characters available at official games at convention).  They tend to be very basic, have a standard array of skills, and follow set patterns of character creation.

The other type of premade is a character someone you are playing with, or your DM, has made for you.  These characters tend to be a bit more interesting than their game provided counter parts.  For one thing, if your friend/Dm is making you a character, it’s usually more personalized, whether you’re involved in the process to the point of them checking in with you for small details, or it’s just them working off of your initial text reading “Goblin bard high seduction”.  Even if they’re just a character that the DM cooked up as an extra, they’re probably more interesting and better optimized than a game standard Pre-made.

Pre-mades are useful: they’re good for a very beginner player, (especially if it’s a group of all beginners), they’re good for one shots where you don’t want to spend time making a character, and they’re useful for people who (like me, one memorable saturday afternoon) arrive 9 hours late to the first session and miss character creation, or just don’t have time to create one pre-session.

Pre-mades present a couple different challenges.  Not having made the character means you dont know the character’s abilities, skills, or equipment, and, from an rp standpoint, you have to jump into a character that you haven’t been able to think about before.  You don’t get to customize the character, so they may not feel like yours, and you probably don’t have as much invested in them.

When you pick up a premade character, take the time to read through it, even if you are new to the system.  Make notes or highlight important things such as initiative bonus, attacks/abilities you think you want to use, number of spells, and Armor bonuses. If you are new the system, ask someone with experience what will be most important or most commonly used, and make sure you know that stat.   If the DM has provided the character, ask them if there is anything important you should know.

It can be easy for a premade character to get boring: they may have one optimized attack that you find yourself doing over and over again, or they may not work well in the situation you find yourself in (for example, a LG Paladin in temple robbing expedition). If this happens in a campaign longer than a one shot, ask the DM if you can tweak the character!  Changing a simple thing like alignment or one feat to better enhance your experience as a player is usually no big deal, and can make the difference between staying in a campaign or quitting.  For a longer campaign, you might be able to change something more drastic such as a cleric domain, if you dont want to just create a completely new character.  I’ve been in at least one game where someone was attached to the personality of their character, but re wrote the build from scratch to better suit their needs and playing style.

 

Role playing a pre-made:

If you want to focus on the role play aspect of a pre-made, it can be harder.  For a quick character: a guest, or a one shot, or a two fer, you don’t have to write them a 5 page backstory (but if you do, good for you).  Especially if you are picking the character up at the session itself, ready to play, sight unseen.  Pick one or two aspects of their personality you think are important to play, based on the data of the character sheet.  Unusually high or low stat?  Turn it into part of their personality.  Do they have a god?  Make the character pious (or atheistic, if they don’t!).  Is there an unusual skill they have?  Make up a reason why they have it, and sew hints of that in your RP.  If they’re and unusual race/class combo, come up with a quick history as to why!  If any other other detail of their race, alignment, equipment, or skills strikes a spark of inspiration, use it.  Maybe your elven wizard had prestidigitation, so you decide they’re a germaphobe.  Or your goliath barbarian has an unusual number of light casting items, so you decide she’s afraid of the dark.  Pick a couple details of their persona, and play based on them.  You don’t need to put a lot of thought into it, and the character should evolve from there.  Even if the details you’ve picked never come up, they help give you a sense of who that character is.

If you are working with a longer session, you should have time to create as intricate a backstory or personality as you feel you need.  If you are coming blind into the first session, you can still do a quick assessment of personality and build from there, adding onto their backstory as you go, or writing it when you have time.

As a DM, I think it’s crucial that players in a long term campaign have a well thought out backstory.  Backstories are important: they give a player a sense of where they come from, and how they will react to future events. They give them things to care about, or fear, or hate.  They establish relationships with people, living or dead, and can provide motivation.  When you are running a campaign, it’s your job to help your players come up with a backstory, and to incorporate the details of that backstory into your campaign.

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is! Some players effortlessly come up with 10 pages of highly detailed backstory, giving you the names of everything from the country they came from to the name of the midwife that first wiped their bottom.  Most people won’t be that detailed though.  Odds are they have a sketchy idea of what they want their past to be, with varying levels of detail and names.  Without creating a backstory for them, you want to work with them to expand that backstory, and help connect to the world you will be running.

I think the easiest way to help someone create a backstory is to give them a list of questions about relationships and past that they have to fill out.  Mine looks like this:

 

Where were you born? (specific or generic)

How did you grow up?  (poor, homeless, noble, convent,etc)

Are you parents still alive?

Do you have any friends/lovers/mentors still living?

If so, where/what are they doing?

How old are you now?

How long have you been traveling from your birthplace?

Where do you consider “home”?

Has anything significant happened to you in your travels?

Is there any major event, meeting, or trauma that has shaped who you are?

Is there a specific story behind the acquisition of a skill or item?  (i.e. my father gave me this sword, i had an affair with a royal courtesan who taught me to pick locks, i saved the life of an elf who taught me elvish, etc.)

How and why did you come to [the start of the campaign]?

 

They’re basic questions, and can be answered as specifically or as vaguely as the player desires (or has energy for).  For some people, this might spark their creativity and they’ll be able to create detailed responses to the questions.  Other people might still struggle with really coming up with a story.

 

It’s between the DM and the Player how much help the DM wants to give the player in creating their story.  I personally think it’s very important to incorporate as much of a character’s backstory into your world as you can, so I want my players to have details I can use: places, people, events, items.  Part of my passion as a DM is world building, so If a player is struggling and wants the help, I will extrapolate their vague answers into specific people, locations, and detailed stories.  This dynamic does not work for everyone though, and you should base how you handle backstory on your own inclinations and the dynamic between you and your players individually.

 

One Shots:

If you are running a one shot, you obviously don’t need to have that level of attention to backstory.  If a player does have a backstory to go with their character, great!  It will help them as a role player, and it might give you a detail you can throw into the game.  But it’s also fine if the players haven’t put any thought into the history of their newly made persona: after all, they’re only going to be playing them for one game.

What I think you SHOULD do for a one shot is establish a relationship between the players.  The timing of a one shot game is tricky, and you don’t want to waste the first third of your game having them meet each other in an inn.  Have them be an existing party, and give them a vague hint of their last successful (or failed) job.  If you do want the rp of meeting to occur, have a couple people establish relationships based on their background, similar skills, or player ideas.  Some examples would be:

  • Two people took the Soldier background (5e), so have them have served together

  • One of the players is bard, so have one or two of the other players be a fan

  • A player decided for humor that they have 3 skill points in craft macaroni art.  Have another player be a collector of macaroni art.

Another good way to draw people into the world of a one shot is to give each player a piece of crucial information or helpful connection within the world.  Maybe it’s the combination to a magical lock, of a brother in the guard who can look the other way, or a map of the pertinent area; just something they can use to advance the game and incorporate as part of their character.

 

If it seems unfair to burden yourself as DM with the work of helping people with their backstories, consider this.  It’s your job as DM to make sure the players are engaged, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to bring in details from their pasts.  The more you put into your game, the more they, and you, will get out of it. After all, if you think that being a DM is something you can do while avoiding a lot of work…you might be on the wrong side of the gaming table.

Every gamer has been there; you’ve been conscripted for a new campaign, and you have no idea who you want to play.  Maybe you know what role in the party you’re going to fill, or maybe you have full freedom to choose, but you sit there staring at a blank character sheet at a loss.

 

My method for building a character has always been to come up with the backstory first.  This may seem counterintuitive, but as a storyteller, I’ve always preferred to make the character to fit the backstory, rather than write the story for the stats.  I usually start by flipping idly through the races pages, reading the bits about their culture (this is especially a good method for 5th ed, as they’ve made a determined effort to include more culture for us to build on).  As I read the page, i start thinking “what would make someone from this culture become a bard?  Or a fighter?  What about a sorcerer?” I keep a blank sheet of paper next to me, and jot down ideas as they occur.

 

The sheet might read something like this:

“Dragonborn fighter–was a slave in a gladiator pit, made enough money to buy their freedom, therefore disdains slaves who stay enslaved.  Cocky, Naive, wandering in search of work

Half elven bard–father a disgraced human noble who drew the wrath of his family after a distinctively non-human baby arrived on the doorstep with his name on it.  Dresses as a man to avoid the family that still hunts her

Gnomic ranger–grew up in a remote village on the edge of a mountain.  Fell in love with and married one of the humans that guided people up the mountains and through the pass.  When she died of old age, he decided to leave the place reminded him of her and explore, using the skills she taught him to keep her legacy alive”

 

After I get 5 or so, I stop.  (more than that is just too many to choose from).  Although they’re just a couple rough sentences, details about them have begun to form, even personality traits.  I know if I want to play someone with a chip on their shoulder, I’ll play the dragonborn, and if I want to play someone older and wiser with some sadness in their past, I’ll play the gnome.  If I want to play someone with a tragic backstory that could come back to haunt them, I’ll play the half elf.  Sketching out the story can give you an excellent sense of who you want to play, and you begin to get invested in them and have a sense of who you are before you start the game, which gives you a huge edge in role playing.

 

Odds are you’ll be drawn to one character sketch in particular, and it’ll be a pretty easy choice.  (sometimes you’re stuck between two. I recommend making both, and then hey!  You’ve got a back-up).  You can also choose the character based on the campaign: if my DM was starting the campaign at a hiring fair or with a mercenary contract, the dragonborn would be my choice, but a chance meeting in an inn would suit the half-elf or gnome better.  Or maybe the DM will have a specific detail that helps you, like that the campaign will involve a slave rebellion or intruige with nobility.

 

Once you’ve made your choice, you can use that backstory to build the character in game terms.  Say I’ve chosen the Gnome.  I know he’s a ranger, so a lot of my choices are going to be basic, logical ranger choices.  But he’s also older: he’s already had a lifetime with someone, so im going to put a higher value in wisdom that I would normally.   He comes from the mountains, so Im going to outfit him with gear that makes sense for mountain trekking.  I’ve decided that his wife had an animal companion and, so his animal companion is going to be descended from hers, and mountain native: probably a mountain lion or goat.  When it comes to picking spells, im going to choose ones that would make sense in a mountain environment, such as endure elements or jump.

 

Backstory is especially helpful when choosing skills.  If you are playing a system that gives you a ton of skill points to dump into things(i.e. Pathfinder or 3.5), it gives you a place to put extra points.  My gnome lived a quiet life at home for years while his wife was off adventuring, so I would give him a profession; maybe as a tanner.  He also lived on the mountain and was used to search and rescue operations, so I’ll put a few points in use rope and heal.  (If you’re playing a 5e, where your skills are determined by your race, class, and background, ask your DM if you can customize your background skills to fit your backstory).  You can use your backstory to justify some really unusual and out there skills choices as well; there really is nothing like whipping out an unexpected skill in front of your party and being able to launch into the story of how you learned it.

 

Obviously, creating a character in this manner isn’t going to work for everyone.  But if you want to get into a character and enjoy the game regardless of your skills and abilities, it’s a great way to engage your creativity and make a truly unique character.