Friday, February 28, 2014

D&D Campfire Stories: The Archers

Here’s another D&D story from my personal collection…

My friend and I decided to play elf brothers who were both archers. This was back in the 2nd Edition days when ‘Elf Archer’ was a sub-class and came with all kinds of bonuses. We were both third level and our DM was kind enough to start us off with decent +1 bows and very good ability scores. At the time, we were the only two players in the campaign but we knew that other players would be joining us after a session or two so this was our opportunity to get a head start. Naturally, we wanted to make the most out of it.

So there we were, walking through a forest, our characters barely an hour old, when the DM describes a large shadow passing overhead. We immediately take cover in the branches of a nearby tree and try to get a good vantage point as to what is flying above us. It doesn't take us long to make out the silhouette of a dragon circling in the sky about three hundred feet up. At the moment, it doesn't seem to be interested in us. Now, what we should have been asking ourselves, and what I’m sure the DM wanted us to ask was: what is that dragon looking for? But instead, we were two young elf archers with high abilities and good weapons so the first question out of our mouths was: can we take this dragon out? Needless to say, the answer was a firm maybe.

So, with as much gusto as we could summon, my friend and I walk out into a more open area, take aim with our bows and begin to let fly. The dragon, annoyed at these arrows being shot at it when it was already quite busy looking for something or someone else, decided to dive towards us with the intention of wiping us out with a single pass-over and a good breath weapon attack. My friend and I had other ideas. We asked the DM how many rounds we had before the dragon would be in range to attack us. The reply came back as three. Using the rules at the time, that meant we could each get off three shots a round which translated into eighteen shots total between us both. Not too shabby but this was a dragon we were talking about with roughly three hundred hit points and a very high AC. The odds were not good.

But, much to the surprise of our DM, we stood our ground and went for it. Our bows hummed and our dice began to roll true. On the first round we each had one natural twenty. When we rolled on the chart, both of those shots took out one of the dragon’s wings. That meant that the dragon could no longer fly, just glide. Fair enough we nodded and kept shooting. On the second round my friend rolled another natural twenty with his shots and damaged the other wing. That took out the gliding and now the dragon was no longer attacking us but just trying to safely land. On the third round we each rolled natural twenties again. That completely destroyed his second wing and he plummeted the remaining one hundred feet to the ground taking a massive amount of falling damage. By the time our arrows had finished firing in the fourth round, the dragon had met its end.

Our DM was both impressed by our display and horrified. At third level, we had taken out a boss whom he had planned to use for much of the early part of the adventure. Also, the experience from this encounter jumped us from third level to sixth. He confessed to us both that there was no way we could play at sixth level when the other players would be starting at third. Out of frustration, he put a mulligan on the whole session and we were forced to roll up new characters and start over with a new adventure. I remember feeling very ripped-off at the time but I eventually came to understand the DM’s reasoning.

I suppose the moral is: Playing D&D for personal or character gain is never more important than playing it for the story. Also: Don’t piss off the DM.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

D&D’s Dark Past (Part 1 of 2)

I want to begin this week’s article with a story from my own personal experience. This happened roughly nine months ago (summer of 2013) in the gaming store my downtown group regularly meets. In this store my group, as well as another group, play at the same time and we can take up 2/3 of the total gaming area. This was the case on the night in question when a mother and her two children, a boy of around eight or nine and a girl around six or seven, entered the store. I picked them out of the corner of my eye as soon as they entered the shop. They were timid and had that “deer in the headlights” look about them as they were obviously first-timers and were curious what the store and the players were all about. I saw the mother move up to the second group of players and look over some shoulders for a bit. Then she asked the other DM, “What game is this?” Politely and without hesitation the DM replied, “This is Dungeons and Dragons.”

What followed was something I had almost forgotten existed and something I hadn't even considered since I began playing in my teenage years. The mother’s eyes went wide and she repeated, “Dungeons and Dragons?” and then, “Oh no, that’s okay, no, no, no,” and she shuffled her two young children out the door with a good deal of haste. The other DM, myself, and our two groups of players sat dumbfounded at the display for a few seconds. It wasn't disgust, or hatred, or annoyance that had caused that reaction, it was fear. It was real fear over a game. It instantly made me flashback to my early days of learning how to play and how keeping my involvement a secret was a good idea because my mother, while quite open-minded about it, was worried about what the rest of my family might think. Where does this fear come from? Where did D&D get this bad reputation that seems to have dogged it for more than thirty years and is it justified?

The issue seems to have sprung out of two separate incidents, the first in 1979 and the second in 1982. The first incident was the case of a Michigan State student by the name of James Dallas Egbert III (See here). He and his friends were avid players of D&D and decided to take the game to a new level. They agreed to actively play out their characters in a kind of “live” version down in the Michigan State steam tunnels (today we call this LARPing). Shortly following one of these sessions, Egbert went missing and foul play was suspected by the local authorities. Questions were asked and D&D came into the spotlight as something that could be exploited and blamed. However, Egbert turned up a few weeks later in Louisiana. When he was asked about his disappearance, he admitted that he had tried to run away because of depression and suicidal tendencies he was having while at school. He emphatically denied that it had anything to do with Dungeons and Dragons. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. The news media had been quick to put D&D on display as something dangerous and played by weird people. The story even inspired a made for TV movie called Mazes and Monsters (More info.). The movie, starring a young Tom Hanks, was a social commentary on how these sorts of groups and games will only make the loners and geeks of the world feel worse about themselves. 

The second incident was much more damaging. On June 9, 1982, a young man by the name of Irving Lee Pulling committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a handgun. His mother, Patricia Pulling, went on record as blaming Dungeons and Dragons for her son’s death. She said that a “D&D curse was placed on him during a game conducted at his local high school” (NCTV press release, January 17, 1985). Patricia would go on to organize an anti-D&D group known as Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons or B.A.D.D. as well as author a book, “The Devil's Web: Who Is Stalking Your Children For Satan?”. B.A.D.D. would go on record as describing D&D as "a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings." (See here)  While I don't disagree with many of those items listed above, context is everything, I could easily say the same thing about every library in the world and yet we still send our children there.

During the rest of the early to mid 80's, Dungeons and Dragons quickly became an easy target for religious, educational, and conservative groups looking for a scapegoat. It was blamed for corrupting youth, people turning away from more “productive social outlets”, and even more suicides. Personally, I believe that none of the accusations blaming D&D for suicides hold any water at all. The people pointing the fingers just wanted something easy to blame so they wouldn't have to do any real digging in to the matters. D&D quickly fell into the same category of 'blame-alls' as heavy metal music and Wicca culture. Fairly harmless things that other people refused to try and understand. And don’t ignore the real reason why some people in authoritative positions might be wary of a game like Dungeons and Dragons. After all, here was a game that millions of people were playing for hours every week that none of these groups or people of power could influence. I believe that the imagination, individuality, and creativity required to play a game like D&D was a threat to them. After all, aren't the less creative and the uninspired the easiest people to control?

Regardless of the reasons, D&D quickly gained this nasty reputation for being satanic, a game for fringe dwellers, and something for ‘decent people’ to avoid. There was even a 60 Minutes episode that aired in 1985 underlining the dangers that existed for young people (See it here). Was any of this truly justified? Was there any real proof for any of these claims against D&D? The short answer is no. Just like the Grand Theft Auto games of this generation, D&D was something new at that time to exploit. I’m sure that there were a few people, Ms. Patricia Pulling in particular, who truly believed that D&D was dangerous. However, none of what they said, claimed, or accused had any solid foundation in fact. And what did they ultimately accomplish? From 1979 to 1985 Dungeons and Dragons grew in net worth and in popularity several times over. The player base exploded, the game library expanded, and eventually the bad press faded away. Regretfully, I believe that the only thing that was accomplished was scaring people; people like that poor misinformed mother who forced her kids out of the store that day. I truly hope that those children remember that experience and someday have the courage to find out the truth for themselves.  

(Next week, in part 2 of D&D’s Dark Past, I’ll examine the counter arguments that began to spring up against people like Patricia Pulling and how D&D has actually and factually benefited society. Cheers!)


Friday, February 21, 2014

D&D Campfire Stories: Young, proud, and full of ourselves.

This week we look at a group that considers themselves the bees knees. They forget one of the fundamental rules of D&D: There is always something out there better than you! Special thanks to M. Reid for posting this one. 

"We had been hired to clear a castle for a Lord and his Lady. The fee per-person was fifty gold. This did not alert us to the danger as we were young, proud, and full of ourselves. Needless to say, after several weeks of journey over land and water, we finally arrived at our destination. We almost turned around and started back for home. The place was a wreck, half burnt, falling down, covered in the reclaiming by Mother Nature, not a good start. But we were there to do a job, and by the gods we were going to do it.
After several weeks of hacking and slashing mostly under growth with the odd denizen of the dark thrown in for good measure, we finally managed to find the castle chapel. After a day of clearing underbrush, there before us stood the double doors of the last room. Another day and we managed to open them. The clue that they had not suffered from the effects of Mother Nature was lost on us. The inside was not so unaffected, it was in ruins. The alter was leaning to one side and no longer held any of its past glory.
After looking carefully about us we approached the Alter. Much to our surprise a young damsel walked around the standing edge of the Alter and smiled at us. The very first thought was: Ah ha! A damsel to rescue! Our Cleric pointed out, much to our dismay, that bat wings and a tail were not normal parts of a damsel. Nor were the fangs that were visible when she smiled.
Well we rallied to fight, believing ourselves unable to loose, while the damsel laughed at us. We awoke a couple of hours later, finding ourselves hanging from various rafters that were about the room. The damsel then began to ask us questions. Try as we might, she wormed the truth of us then said," You have given me my freedom, for that I will spare you the torments of Hell" and as she left us hanging. Walking to the door she laughed and said "That was the best he could come up with? He shall pay dearly for his folly!"
Never again did we agree so easily on a job of high pay, never again did we count ourselves untouchable. Because we were a group of seven, being 2 clerics, 3 fighters, 1 mage, and 1 rogue. Adventure after adventure we had walked through without too much of a problem. Now we had gotten sloppy in our attitudes of play. Because we had begun to believe ourselves, nigh onto invincible. A trap some players fall into.

In the end, the Succubus could quite easily have killed the entire group. But she had such an easy time of it she felt more insulted by our employer than anything else. Thus she left us hanging to figure a way out of our troubles. Oh there was allot of whining, but in the end we were the ones at fault."

Do you have a D&D story to share? drop me a line at:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

D&D vs. Bullying

As some of us are all too painfully aware, bullying is a big problem in our society today. As I write this in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ripples from the Rehtaeh Parsons case (See here) still conjures strong feelings in the community. As well there was a recent case of an eleven year old boy attempting suicide after he was ridiculed at school for being a fan of My Little Pony (See here). I’m sure that no matter who you are or where you live, you have seen, heard, or even experienced bullying on some level.

I know that some people will point out that bullying existed in the past, perhaps even worse than today, but young children, teens, and even adults didn't try to kill themselves over it. But what those folks don’t understand is the depth and relentless nature of the bullying that is made possible by today’s technology. As little as twenty years ago we did not have Facebook, Youtube, Google, Instagram, blogs, or even text messaging (unless you want to count pagers!). Back then, the internet was a strange and awkward place still trying to find its sea-legs within society. If you were bullied at school or work, even if it was so bad as to last for weeks, you could still go home at the end of the day and on weekends and have a break from your torment. These days, there is nowhere to hide.

24-7 the majority of the masses are immersed in social media. When someone is bullied today, it spreads like a fire and the fuels are texts, posts, messages, pictures, and videos created and uploaded in mere seconds. In less than an hour, an entire school or work place can be in on the “joke”. In less than a day, the whole world can be involved. And going home, or on vacation, or calling in sick, or even transferring to another school/workplace, can make little difference. It’s out there and it will follow you. In some cases, it may not be the bullying itself that is the most damaging. It might be the shame, embarrassment, and constant fear of who might be reading/watching after the fact that drives some to extreme actions. I believe this to be one of the major social problems for our time and I know that solving it, or at least curbing it, is very much on the minds of our governments and educators.

So, as I’m sure you are aware, this blog is about D&D. You might be asking: what does bullying have in common with dragons, swords, magic, and fantasy worlds? Well, in my personal experience, D&D is a haven for those who seek refuge from the real world. It is full of boys and girls, men and women who have, for as many reasons as you can imagine and more, found something comforting within its pages and dice. At the same time, it is a truly interactive social game that can forge bonds and create lifelong friendships. Sort of sounds like the opposite of bullying, doesn’t it? Although disagreements can arise and people can have differences of opinion, it is fundamentally a team building game. And, even better, it is a game where people who have often experienced negative social interactions in the past can now experience positive ones in a mostly accepting and open-minded theatre.

I see D&D as almost the opposite of bullying. Bullying is primarily about putting others down and making fun of them in an effort make yourself or others look/feel good. In Dungeons and Dragons, we strive to lift others up and have fun with them in order to make ourselves and the group look good. And, one of the first thoughts that snapped into my head after making that statement was: Why can’t we act that way in real life? I know that there is no simple answer but I suppose it has something to do with our combative human nature. For hundreds of years we have ingrained into our thinking the idea that we must be better, smarter, quicker, stronger, and more innovative than others to be considered “great”.
Part of the reason why I love D&D, and roleplaying in general, is the underlying foundation that everyone needs everyone else to succeed. In a game like that, the thinking has to change from “I need to be the best to survive” into something like “I need to do what I can to help my group succeed”. Imagine if we had that kind of mentality in general society! What a shift it would be to see towns and cities filled with people striving towards a common goal with common purpose. I know that that sounds slightly Communist but the Buddhists call it Sangha or the harmonious community. Even if we were to make this subtle shift in our daily thinking, I believe that it would make a difference. The future is coming where the “greatest” people in our society won’t be those who are the smartest, or the strongest; it will be those who can collaborate, negotiate, and interact with the group in the best way possible. And that is exactly the same qualities that make a good D&D player.

Essentially, I believe that bullying is a by-product of ignorance. People bully others because they don’t understand them. It could be about racism, or sexism, or classism, or even about the high that comes from asserting their dominance. The reason why matters little, what does matter is the how. How do we prevent it?  

I may not be naïve enough to imagine that Dungeons and Dragons and other games like it can cure the bullying issue. However, I do believe that teaching the principals that make it a great game would benefit our younger generation, and people of all walks of life for that matter. Where do our children go to learn teamwork? Where do adults go to learn about collaboration and compromise? Where do our teens go to learn compassion and empathy? Where do we all go to learn imagination? These are the lessons that eliminate ignorance and they are rapidly being ignored. The institutions that used to lead the way in these areas, (schools, workplaces, religious groups, and communities) are able to provide these services less and less for a variety of reasons and the results are beginning to show.  

Can D&D save all of that? Sadly, I doubt it. But I do feel that it is a good place to start.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

D&D Campfire Stories: The Patron

This week I thought I would share one of my own stories from back in the “day”:

So I was playing a Halfling wizard in 2nd Edition D&D. We were a group of mercenaries looking for work with anyone who would have us. A high level wizard came along eventually and picked up our contract. He was quite a likable fellow and I remember the group enjoying his company quite a bit, except for me. I hated him. I hated him because he was another wizard stealing my arcane thunder. And the fact that I was only 2nd or 3rd level and he was like 12th made things much worse. Every time he would show off for the PCs some spell that I couldn't possibly cast yet my loathing increased. It didn't take long for the other PCs to pick up on this and soon I was being ridiculed for not being as “cool” or as “useful” a wizard as our great and glorious patron. Cue sad music.

After a brief time going on a few wilderness adventures supposedly gathering items and components for a massive spell, our group landed in a city and we rented out an entire inn for our company. It was here that strange things started to happen and some of the locals began to disappear. My party immediately wanted to investigate. They had their suspicions about a local thieves’ guild and were getting prepped to raid their guild house to get some answers. On the other hand, I was convinced that the thieves had nothing to do with these missing people. I was convinced that it was our beloved patron experimenting on unsuspecting souls in his spare time. When I presented my theory to the group, they laughed at me and said I was being a poor loser.

In my supreme frustration, I waited one night until the rest of my group had gone to sleep, sneaked out of my inn room, and slipped into my patron’s room. He was nowhere to be found even though I had witnessed him enter into the same room roughly an hour before! Knowing that I had very poor tracking skills, as well as very few hit points, I decided not to go out into the big, bad city alone at night. Instead, I would wait for him to return and confront him about his nightly activities. He did return just before dawn and the first thing he saw when he climbed in the window was my accusing little face.

At first he tried to give excuses and even tried to convince me by requesting I go with him the next night as a “witness”. I was having none of it. I laid it all out on the table and called him a kidnapper and a murderer to his face. His change from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde was as sudden as it was violent. He threw a fireball at me, point blank. My only hope was a saving throw for half damage, which I promptly failed with flying colors. That was it, I was crispy critter. To add to my finality and any hope of resurrection, the inn burned down with my remains inside.

After that, my only consolation, other than a brand new character, was that it didn't take my group long to figure out what had really happened to me and denounce their patron. To my supreme delight they spent the rest of the campaign avenging my character’s death and bringing the pompous wizard to justice. The lesson that I learned: having a character die for the purposes of the game can be just as rewarding as any other deed. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Case for an Evil Campaign

This week I want to explore the issue of running campaigns with “evil” characters. I have run a handful of these in the past but I know many DMs who won’t touch it with a ten (or eleven) foot pole. Even some players seem to be a bit wary of them. “What would be the point?” I was asked once upon a time. What follows is my response to that question and a few others:

What is an “evil” campaign?
 “Evil”, for the purposes of D&D campaigns, should not be purely Chaotic Evil. This would make every character a psychopath and the majority of the PCs and NPCs would be dead by the third session. Instead, ask your players to take either Lawful Evil or Neutral Evil alignment and think of themselves as greedy, opportunists who are willing to work with the other PCs as long as it benefits them. In essence, they are playing a similar character with similar goals as they would in a “good” campaign but are willing to do things and say things that a good character would not do, morally speaking. In many ways, I find it freeing for the players to explore and play out their darker side. If you want some examples on what this should look like, I draw inspiration from places like “The Sopranos”, “The Godfather”, “Young Guns”, the works of Shakespeare, and a few comic book/anime anti-heroes. Many of these stories have “evil” main characters who are willing to work with partners/groups and willing to do anything to get ahead. Those are the kinds of characters I want to see. 

How do you keep an “evil” group together?
The easy answer is to put them in a situation where they all need each other to survive. A few options are to make them all part of the same family, guild, secret society, or other organization that makes harming each other very detrimental to their own cause. Despite how you set it up, the DM should make it plain from the beginning that major backstabbing of any kind will be just as harsh on the perpetrator as it is on the victim. This being said, a few backhanded deeds and making other PCs look bad for the good of another is actually encouraged, albeit in moderation. The unifying factor however, should be the need to accomplish something that requires the skills of everyone. Here are two examples of what I have done in the past:

1) The PCs were recruited into a thieves’ guild bent on gaining complete covert control over a minor city. This was done via assassinations, bribes, theft, intimidation, and countless skirmishes with the other underworld organizations in the city including a rival thieves’ guild run by Wererats.

2) A Menzoberranzan setting where all of the PCs were nobles in a low-level house. The goal here was to work together, with some minor backstabbing here and there, to improve the standing of the house and eventually make it to the “top five”. This became one of the most intricate and complex campaigns I ever ran and, despite the headaches, I enjoyed it immensely.    

What is the point?
Some folks would say that an evil campaign has no real point because it is impossible to have an uplifting heroic ending. Well sorry to burst your bubble but not every story has a happy ending and neither should every campaign. Sometimes a disturbing or horrific ending is in order. Other times, I challenge myself to end on a cliffhanger or on the edge of something too huge for the PCs to continue. While this may not be as satisfying as a traditional ending, it will certainly be memorable and keep your players talking about the “what ifs” for weeks. Another option that I like is a linked ending. What’s that you ask? A linked ending is where the ending of one campaign kicks off the next. So, in this context, you finish off the evil campaign with the “evil” PCs in complete control over their surroundings and immediately jump into the next campaign with the players as “the heroes” that must bring their previous characters down. It may seem like a huge set-up but the pay-off will be well worth it.

Isn't this style of play more difficult?
The short answer is, yes. I do not recommend that an inexperienced DM attempt this type of campaign. I also do not feel that this type of campaign is suitable for inexperienced players. More so than usual, this type of setting can go sideways quickly. Plans can go wrong, PCs can blame each other for failures, and without the safety net of character morals the long knives can come out easily and frequently. And while the killing of a PC by other PCs is not the end of the world, it can lead to big trouble. The last thing you want is the campaign to become a bloodbath and evil turning in on itself is such a cliché! An experienced DM will be able to blunt the worst of these issues and experienced players will realize that they are stronger with more allies around than enemies (most of the time). 

Doesn't this type of play strain player relations?  
While it’s true that player co-operation is one of the backbones of D&D, if everyone realizes what they are about to delve into and are upfront that “this is just a game”, I think it is possible to avoid major heartache. On the contrary, I think putting PCs in a more confrontational setting will up their game and could bring to the surface some new found respect for players who can outwit them. In the rare event that another player takes a loss or even a death personally, an experienced DM will find a way to satisfy that player’s need for revenge, preferably without another casualty. After all, there are many fates far worse than death. (maniacal laugh)

In retrospect, the few “evil” campaigns I have waded into were simultaneously challenging and rewarding and I intend to run more in the future. But, if you are considering a journey to the dark side with your group, just be aware that they are very high maintenance and require a firm hand to keep from degenerating into a Kill Bill version of Survivor. Treat them well and they will open up a whole new aspect to the game.

Have you ever experienced an “evil” campaign? What happened? Leave a comment.        

Friday, February 7, 2014

D&D Campfire Stories: BURN IT!

This week I have a story from one of my old PCs in a campaign that I was running. Enjoy!

“Player 1 and I are half-brothers. He's a thief and I'm an assassin. I am a half orc and he's a half elf (our mom got around). We are also traveling around with a wizard (Player 2). We arrive in a town, from where I don't remember. We find an inn and go looking for some supplies we neglected to purchase earlier. While buying some supplies, Player 1 and I case the joint and decide what to come back and steal. After checking into the inn, we sit down and decide what to do next as it becomes evening. Player 2 decides that, as a wizard, he needs to go over his spells, study, and rest up. Player 1 and I decide that we need to explore and steal things as we are wicked awesome.

We leave the inn and saunter around looking for houses with “rich people stuff” in them. Deciding on a few, we head back over to the supply shop to see if breaking in will indeed be possible. It looks like it may be but we leave it for later. We wait until dark and head back over to the rich side of town. Trying the doors we manage to pick a lock and rob a place. We don't get much, maybe a golden arrow or some such thing. Unsatisfied with our meager haul, we continue on to another house. Something happens and the guards are alerted. I want to say we get busted in a house by the owner and I kill him and we throw his body out the window and that alerts the guards but I'm not sure. What I do remember is that as the guards are coming in downstairs we are heading out the window and onto the roof. From there we hop over to another roof and throw flasks of oil onto the house and shoot it with flaming arrows. Then we high tail it in the opposite direction throwing oil on some other houses for good measure and lighting them on fire (either by arrow or turning flasks into Molotov’s).

Feeling confident that we have not been seen by the guards, we attempted to break into the supply shop to replenish our depleted oil stocks. I think we set off an alarm here. Guards arrive and we are made. We scramble onto the roof and set this store on fire and hop across to another roof. A guard clambers up and is firing a cross bow at us. I get hit (critically) and fall mid jump breaking an arm. Player 1, in an act of true brotherly love, continues to escape but doesn’t get very far. We end up in jail.

Player 2 shows up and tries to bail us out but the guards say he doesn’t have enough coin as we burned down a lot of the town. Eventually we are bailed out by the captain of a ship who makes us his slaves with a magically binding contract. On the ship we meet Squee. He’s a goblin, the first mate, and a real prick. We try to kill him and fail miserably and thus endeth the adventure for the evening.”

- Art "The Chaos Engine" James

Monday, February 3, 2014

Al’s XP System for Roleplaying

So last week I mentioned that a more in-depth system of giving XP to roleplaying situations needs to be put into place. I find that the current systems are a bit lacking and it’s not very difficult to understand why. How do you quantify something that can be so varied and unpredictable? How to you put a number on talking to someone, or a performance, or a negotiation/intimidation? Not an easy thing. So here is the short version of a system I’ve been tinkering with and it is by no means a finished product:

Any roleplaying system is dependent on two things: the DM presenting good roleplaying opportunities and the PCs willing to run them. This can be harder than it sounds for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the players don’t see the value or the opportunity to roleplay until it is too late. Other times the DM might be so focused on the next big event or battle coming up that they miss the perfectly good opportunity in front of them. My experience tells me that most good roleplaying situations grow out of one or more of the following: 1) A character want or need; 2) Provocation from either another PC or the DM; and 3) A required situation for the story to progress. With these three things in mind, let’s look at each one in depth.

1) All characters want something, whether it comes out of their backstory, their need to improve themselves, their need for revenge, or what-have-you. The reason why really doesn’t matter. What does matter is how the DM handles it. Roleplaying can play a huge part in making the characters work for what they want. Urge them to ask questions, talk to NPCs, and spend some time searching for clues. While they do this, roleplaying opportunities should abound. Just keep it simple and balance it out so they have to work for it without dragging it out unnecessarily.

2) Provocation can also be a great motivator for roleplaying. Sometimes this is done via the DM such as introducing a new NPC to the group, having a few monsters or enemies surrender, or throwing a riddle/trap in the PCs path. All of these events practically force the PCs to discuss, debate, solve, or even argue. However, provocation can also happen, quite often in some groups, between PCs. One player challenges another, or questions their morals, or disagrees with their thinking and the roleplaying explodes. Maybe two PCs are fighting over the same magical item, or there is a disagreement about money, or maybe one PCs decides to do something behind the backs of the other PCs. These are the situations that I, as a DM, love. When these happen I try not to spoil it by jumping in the middle. Instead, I let them run their course and standby as more of a referee than a DM.

3) Finally, there are points where the overall story itself demands a roleplaying opportunity. The antagonist shows him/herself, a rough looking NPC needs to be convinced to “guide” the PCs to a dungeon or secret location, a negotiation needs to take place for a crucial item, etc. I always try to give these situations their due weight and telegraph their importance to the PCs. That way there is no doubt how important they are. Similarly, these are the turning points of the campaign and they deserve the highest attention.

So then the questions must be asked: How do you give out XP for this? How do you take these situations and give them a hard number value?

In the system I’m working on, all roleplaying situations are divided into three categories: A) Low Stakes; B) Medium Stakes; and C) High Stakes. The “stakes” in these categories refers to the overall importance of the current roleplaying situation as it relates to the main story. Each category is then subdivided into good, very good, and excellent. These sub-categories refer to the effort of the person roleplaying as determined by the DM. With all of this in mind, you get a table that looks like this:

Very Good
Low Stakes
Medium Stakes
High Stakes
The numbers inside of the boxes would apply to a first level character and could be adjusted as the characters gain experience if desired. Say a 10% to 20% increase per level. Also, these numbers would reflect a per-character award and not a total award to be divided up by two or more PCs.

This system seems reasonable to me as, on average, I engage in three roleplaying situations per game session. Usually one of high stakes and the rest vary between medium and low. Of course, not all players are involved in every roleplaying situation, so the amounts per-person can be quite different.  The real trick comes in when you have to keep track of which PCs were involved in what situation. Is there a way to simplify this? I suppose you could do a group average and give everyone the same RP XP at the end of the day, but that seems a bit too accommodating. Remember, the whole point of offering roleplaying XP in the first place is an incentive to get the players to roleplay. Why should the player who does nothing get the same XP as the player that actively engages and tries to get the most out of the game? Still, there are times when a unified group roleplaying XP amount is justified when everyone truly engages in the moment. Use your own judgment and be tough but fair.

Essentially, when you look at this system as a whole, it is simple yet effective. There are only three things a DM has to do in order for everything to work: 1) Present frequent and tangible roleplaying situations to your PCs; 2) When roleplaying happens mark down who is involved; and 3) At the end of the session determine the “stakes” and the “quality” of the roleplaying to calculate the amount of XP as per the table above. Tahdah!

I encourage all the DMs out there to try the system out for yourselves and get back to me with the results. Or, if you think another system is even better, drop me a line or a comment below.