Puzzles and Dragons (puzzles in Role Playing Games).


One of the fun aspects of any Dungeons and Dragons adventure can be the puzzle. It gives the Dungeon master a chance to test his players mentally, and creates a good (typically) non combat encounter for the players to interact with. Sadly however most Games Masters do not understand how and when to use puzzles, and struggle with the concept of balance. So here are some tips and criteria to consider when adding a puzzle to your adventure.

What kind of puzzle?

Firstly there are many types of puzzles. We have Riddles, room puzzles, physical puzzles, mental puzzles and more. A puzzle can be anything that challenges the players to “figure it out”. While puzzles can be fun and exciting they also have the potential to become overly frustrating or even derail an adventure. When choosing what kind of puzzle you need to make sure that it is one that fits with the types of player and characters that you are going to present it too. Having a puzzle where they have to move 300 pound boulders into place is not going to be well suited for a party with rogue and a low level cleric and wizard. In the same way presenting a difficult mental puzzle to a low intelligence Barbarian is going to be a poor fit. By the same light, if one of your players has an IQ of 140 (which would be like having an eighteen for a character) you can expect them to solve a Moderate math puzzle  with ease but if the other three players only have an average IQ the same puzzle may be difficult for them.

Be descriptive.

Dungeons and Dragons relies on theater of the mind. You should not assume that the players are imagining the same thing you are. Especially When it comes to a puzzle that is more than a verbal or written riddle. Due to this you must be descriptive when explaining what your players are encountering. Use handouts and drawings if possible so that they can look and see what their characters are seeing. Telling them that you see ten numbers  a two, a four, a nine, a seventeen etc etc is going to be hard for them to keep track of and force them to write things down or ask you to repeat what they see multiple times. If you give them a handout showing those numbers it is much easier and clearer for them to understand. Also you must describe every needed detail. If you fail to mention to the players that the strange mosaic on the wall has tiles of red, green and blue, do not be surprised when they do not draw a parallel to the red, green and blue tapestries they passed in the hall way. Your descriptions of the puzzle should be detailed and accurate.

How challenging should it be?

Just because you may think a puzzle is easy, does not mean your players will find it so. Remember you have the answer staring you in the face, they do not. It is hard to determine how difficult the players will find a puzzle so you have to use a certain amount of judgment. Where ever possible it is a good idea to have puzzles that can be figured out by trail and error. or make sure that there are some achievable clues that can help them if they seem to get stumped. On the whole it is better if the puzzle ends up being a little easier than you would have liked than being to difficult. Remember the players are not your adversaries. You are not here to BEAT the players, hell you can do that on a whim anytime you wish, You are the Dungeon Master! You are here to provide a great story and a fun experience. Its way more fun for a player to solve a puzzle in thirty seconds than be stuck pondering it for over thirty minutes. Remember that frustrated players are not having fun. Until you get a good grasp of what kinds of puzzles your players deal with best (and worst), air on the side of caution and assume it will be harder for them than you think.

When and where to use a puzzle.

One thing to think about is what will the reward for solving a puzzle be and what is the consequence for failing. If the puzzle is a room puzzle and the only way for the players to progress is by solving it, what happens if they don’t? If you make it essential for a puzzle to be solved in order for the adventure to succeed, you are gambling a hell of a lot on the players ability to solve your puzzle. I like to make puzzles optional. In other words there is no direct consequence for failing to solve it, however if they do they get a bonus reward. As an example, perhaps they see a side room that has a nice hoard of shiny things on the other side of it. To get their greedy little hands on the loot, they must solve a puzzle. If they do they are rewarded with the extra treasure, but if they fail or become frustrated, they can proceed without it directly impacting the story. On this note it is not a good idea to make acquiring a NEEDED item dependent on the solving of a puzzle, as once again you set up a scenario to possibly derail the adventure. Treat puzzles like extra content, but for the most part do not make it essential. Now If yo do decide to place a puzzle and make solving it essential, then it should be one that can be solved by trail and error or you should be prepared to afford them clues in some fashion as we mentioned earlier. At the very least the answer should be within their grasp and not totally dependent on what the players know or can fathom.

Characters ability vs player ability.

Another thing to consider is your players are probably not socially, physically and mentally the same as the characters they play. Robert himself may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but his wizard may have an intelligence of seventeen. Robert is confronted with a riddle and he sits there for fifteen minutes trying to figure it out but he just isn’t getting it. the odds are at this point Robert is stumped and is not going to figure it out. Now his wizard character on the other hand, who has seventeen intelligence, is considered to have superior mental ability. A person with average human intelligence (being around nine or ten or 100 IQ) may struggle a little with the riddle but would the wizard character? My usual method for dealing with this is to allow the player to roll on a stat if they wish, but if they do and fail I consider that final and do not allow them to continue to solve the puzzle themselves (unless some new circumstance should change the difficulty or provide a clue). Also I do not reward any experience points for solving it by resorting to a dice roll. If the player himself solves the riddle I always reward experience points for doing so. Sometimes I will start at a base value for the puzzle (say five hundred experience points) and then make some clues available to them. For each clue they use I deduct one hundred experience points of their potential reward so if they solve it but use three clues they only get two hundred of the possible five hundred experience points. using this method I give the players an out should they begin to get frustrated or simply can not solve the puzzle.

Puzzles can be fun but if used incorrectly they can be a pain in the ass and suck the life out of any adventure. Follow these tips and you will be incorporating new and enjoyable encounters into your game in no time. Happy Gaming………


How to encourage your players to Role Play.

roleplaying_group_by_justablink-d60fpzjYou sit around the table. You, the Dungeon Master are safe behind your Dungeon Master screen like a child in his cardboard box fort. Your players sit at the table to you left and right and before them, are character sheets, pencils, some dice and a hoard of snacks. The game starts and you get ready to set the scene for the first encounter “After many days of travel on the open road, you finally crest a hill and look down on a small Hamlet. It is dusk, and the light from the windows of each building beckon you. YOU and your companions descend into the town, and find that the most prominent building is a large inn. A young stable boy approaches you and offers to take care of  your horses while you enjoy the hospitality of the inn. You open the door and are immediately hit with the warmth from the fire, and your nostrils are assailed with the smells of several culinary delights. The sound of a minstrel playing in the far right corner hits your ears. You find an empty table and take a seat. Shortly thereafter a serving wench catches your glance and she approaches the table.  What can I get for you this evening gentlemen?” one player  says “I would like a pint of your finest ale please m’lady, and pray tell what is that delightful smell that caught my nostrils as I entered this fine establishment? the other characters follow suit and the scene is alive and being brought to life by the mutual role play. Then John Smith pipes up and says “My warrior orders a drink and some food and I guess I need a room to rest as i am down ten hit points.” Suddenly the mood crashes and Burns.  While this is by far not the worst example of a player not embracing the role playing aspect it would still be a mood killer. SO how do you help John Smith get into the fold and drink the cool aid of Role Play?

Firstly you have to accept not everyone will take to the art of role playing naturally. This could be for a variety of reasons. They may feel awkward or silly acting out a role in front of others, or they may just literally not have any real clue on how to go about it. Part of your job as the Dungeon Master is to teach. Not just the rules of the game but how to be part of the game itself. Everyone has to learn, including the Dungeon Master. It baffles me how so many people think they can be a good Dungeon Master just because they pick up the rules and decide to run a game. Dungeon Mastering isn’t an easy thing to do well, yet it blows me away how so many people think because they have run a few games over the course of a year or two that they are accomplished Dungeon Masters. Much like many other skills or professions, it takes time to hone the skills required. I know way more piss poor Dungeon Masters than I do good ones.  On top of that a certain natural skill set is required (Which I will cover in another topic).

If we acknowledge that you have to learn to be a Dungeon Master then it stands to reason you need to learn to be a player. Fortunately for the players, they have you to teach them. Even if you are a new Dungeon Master, it is still your job to read the books, learn the rules and develop the parameters for your game. When it comes to the skill of role playing (yes it is a skill) you first must lead by example. How you choose to speak and act will ultimately dictate how your players will reciprocate.

Firstly are you going to speak in the first or third person? Whichever it is you need to decide upon your style and stick to it. Its confusing for players if they do not know which side of the pronouns you fall on.

First person is typical used in an autobiographical form of writing or when discussing the self. In role playing terms it is when you refer to the players or Non Player Characters as yourself, and thus you become the character. For example. When you present the players with a group of bandits upon the road and the lead bandit wishes to speak to the players you would say something like “That’s far enough travelers. Me and my friends here plan to relieve you of your coin purses before continuing, and if you put up a struggle we may relieve you of your lives as well!”

Third person is used more in fictional or academic writing. In respect to the game it is when you refer to the Non Player Characters as He and She etc. If we take the same example as above it would come over this way. “The bandit steps forward and tells you that that is far enough. He tells you he means to relieve you of your coin purse, and that if you struggle he will relieve you of your lives as well.

I have seen groups play both ways. I personally only play using the first person approach, and this lends far better to role playing as it forces the players to BE the character. If you train your players to use first person they will learn to role play much quicker, and the more they do it the more natural and less forced it will become.

Third person allows you to hide from role playing. It is a good choice for a Dungeon Master and players that mutually do not want to bother with the role playing side of things and would rather treat Dungeons and Dragons more like a conventional game. To this I say A POX on anyone that uses this method. Its a role playing game and embracing the role play is over half the fun.

So if you want stronger role play and are not currently using first person, I say you the Dungeon Master are partly to blame for your players lack of role playing so bloody well change to first person!

Next I always insist that each player write a lengthy back story for his or her character. Give the players some guidance in doing this, and let them know what you wish to know. I encourage them to decide if their characters have any prior relationships with each other and if so to detail them. I want to know where they grew up, about their family, friends and life before becoming a first level character. If we are starting at a higher level I also insist on details about the previous years as a cleric, rogue, warrior etc. Then I ask them to imagine how their character feels about their previous years, and what state of mind has it left them in. This exercise not only give you the Dungeon Master some great ammunition to draw from for future adventures but it helps the player bring his character to life. It is easier to role play a character when you know who they are and understand them. Its a basic form of method acting. You may have heard Television or movie actors saying things like “What is my characters motivation?” well there is a reason for that. They need to understand it to be able to give any emotion to the character. So do your players. If in their back story they were wrongfully imprisoned for three years by the city guard. It would stand to reason they may have a distrust for the law. If they watched their parents murdered by goblins, well maybe they have a hatred for all of goblin kind. If they had a lot of tragedy in their past, maybe they have a dour demeanor. All of these things should be considered when creating a character, and it will all help your players role play.

Next I encourage you as the Dungeon Master to reward good role playing with Experience points. Don’t just shell out Experience as a reward for killing monsters or defeating an encounter, but expand it to reward good role play. Also be vocal in rewarding it. For example “Great job role playing that intimidation check. I actually felt scared. I am awarding you a bonus 100 EXP!” If a player who is not really role playing sees his piers getting rewarded for their efforts, he or she is given an additional incentive to follow suit.

Finally you can give them pointers before or after any game session and offer encouragement. If you noticed a player really trying to role play, especially if it is a player who typically struggles to do so, let them know you noticed their efforts. “I loved it when you acted drunk after your character downed that entire bottle of mead. The slurred speech was great.” If they feel like their efforts are noticed and appreciated they will not only want to role play more but they will also start to realize that no one is looking at them and thinking “you dumb ass“, but instead are impressed by their efforts.

Above all I can not stress enough that as the Dungeon Master you must lead by example. In my games (as i mentioned earlier) I use first person. I jot down a few personality traits for even the most minor Non Playing Characters so as to give them some personality. I voice act every Non Player Character and while I know many do not have the desire or talent to do that, It gives my Non Player Characters a life of their own. Players in my games learn how to role play fast, because I don’t give them any other choice but to do so.

Follow my advice and I guarantee that you will have your players role playing their asses of in three short game sessions or your money back!

Well actually the advice was free so you wont get jack in the way of reimbursement, but you get the point…..

Saying YES to your players and rewarding good ideas.


So you have spent hours writing content for your next adventure. You have created maps, encounters, NPCs and have all the trappings of a great adventure. You are getting excited at the prospect of your players working their way through your scenario and you have imagined in your head how each encounter will go. Play starts and after a few hours the players approach the huge steel reinforced door to the inner sanctum. Now you know the party thief has a decent lock picking skill so if he rolls a Nine of Higher on a Twenty sided dice (better than average chance), he will succeed in picking the lock and the party will be set for the final confrontation with lord Yarnspinner (or whatever the hell your NPCs name is). He rolls and …..its a THREE!!! well now what? “We try to break down the door!” says the Barbarian. Well in your description of the STEEL reinforced door, you told them it looks like it was built to withstand the mightiest of battering rams so you tell them “You can try but you feel like it may be a futile effort.” They roll any way… a Nineteen. With the barbarians strength and miscellaneous modifiers that’s a twenty five. Sadly you already knew there was no chance of succeed. Maybe on a natural twenty they may have put a dent in it. So now here the party sits pondering how to get through the door. Their IS no other way in, you made sure of that, so now what?

This is where YOU the Dungeon Master are at fault. You wrote in a single method for the adventure to continue and made it reliant on a single dice roll. Firstly don’t do that. You should always have a back up plan. Remember its no fun for anyone if the adventure fails due to a single skill roll or missed subtle clue. Unfortunately you DID make it dependent on that pick lock test (shame on you) so how can we resolve it. Lets put ourselves in the players shoes for a minute. A player says “I scout around the side of the building and search for any hidden entrance or exits.” He rolls the dice and gets an eighteen. With his search skill its a total of twenty eight. The Dungeon Master says “No sorry there are no secret doors.” He didn’t put one on the map or write it into the adventure so their is not one to be found.  Well this is where The Dungeon Master needs to consider saying YES. While you may not have written a secret door into your adventure, the players just gave you a way to allow the flow of the game to continue and avoid twenty plus minutes of futile attempts and player frustration. In this case it would be smart to decide perhaps their IS a secret door, and as the players rolled so well allow them to find it. The players will be happy and excited, and will think that (being the great Dungeon Master that you are) you were smart enough to include that hidden entrance in your encounter (they need not know of your failure). This is one example of saying YES to your players.

Often your players will ask to do things that you did not plan for or have even considered the outcome of. You can not possibly determine every single eventuality ahead of time so you (like all great Dungeon Masters) will have to rely of your ability to improvise. If a players asks to do something you should ask yourself a few questions.

  1. If I say yes will it alter the adventure in a negative way?
  2. If I say yes will the action give the player an unfair advantage?
  3. If I say yes will it have significant consequences later?

If you answered No to all three of these questions then let the player do what he wanted to do, or grant him success in his action.

Players are happy when things they do go well. Decent players of course expect failure and embrace them, but when an idea they had is rewarded with a positive outcome it will encourage more creative thinking in the future. Even If a good idea fails due to a bad dice roll, (on Howreroll this happens all the time), allowing some margin of  minor success is a good way to encourage that kind of play from your players.

I will give you an example of how to reward a good idea even when the dice roll goes bad.

In our Marks of Intrigue campaign our hero’s were traveling along a narrow road with hills on either side. As they came around a bend they see a cart upturned blocking the road, and crates and barrels strewn all about the place. There is also a dead body. On closer inspection they see he has arrows protruding out of his back and they are aware of movement behind the bushes on both sides of the road. The sorceress casts Invisibility on the rogue and they prepare for an ambush. Well to cut a long story short, the cleric is on the road engaged by several bandits, and the sorceress is offering fire support. The rogue on the other had has moved stealthily  up the hill to where she can see one bandit who appears to have a young girl hostage. He also is guarding several crates and barrels that they obviously were in the process of collecting. She sneaks behind him and pulls of an amazing back stab “Peekaboo Bitch!‘ after that she is looking down the hill and sees the cleric is slowly being overwhelmed so she has an idea! “I want to line up and roll one of the heavy barrels down the hill and into the group of bandits!” she proclaims. So to me this was a decent improvised idea and I like to reward out of the box thinking. So I tell her to make an unskilled ranged attack roll. She rolls very Poorly. Instead of the Barrel smashing into the bandits at a great speed its going to miss, and her idea will be rewarded with total failure. Well not necessarily. I want to encourage that kind of thinking so I decide upon the outcome and say the following. “You line up and push the barrel down the hill towards the bandits. It starts collecting speed and looks like it would make a real impact. Half way down however it hits a rock in the hill side causing it to veer to the left and instead of it hitting the bandits it smashes into the cart with a loud crash instead. Several of the bandits are startled by the noise and glance behind them to see what was responsible. Cleric seeing this, you have a brief moment of opportunity and may make an attack while they are distracted if you wish.”

So even though the dice roll dictated the action was a failure, I allowed some level of success to come from it to reward the good idea. The cleric gained an attack of opportunity, and as such the rouge didn’t feel robbed by the bad dice roll.

In general it is never a bad idea for the Dungeon Master to allow players to have success in their actions. Even if it is minor. Of course you also get to enjoy the great failures too, but I tend to reserve those for more standard moments or even IF I am going to make an action fail hard, sometimes I still sneak in a little margin of success.

Learning when to allow your players to succeed and learning how to say yes to their ideas is a great way to reward them and encourage better game play, deeper Role Play and creative thinking……

The story should come first.


Anyone that has seen me Dungeon Mastering live on Howreroll will know that I am often saying “If the Dungeon Master and the players always put the story first, it will be a successful and enjoyable game.” I want to examine that statement and go into detail about why it is important.

Firstly the entire reason we really play Dungeons and Dragons, or any Role Playing Game is to have fun right? I understand that we do not all have the same exact criteria for experiencing fun, but for the most part if you have chosen to spend hours of your time playing a Role Playing Game, you probably have similar criteria as to what “fun” is as the other players AND the Dungeon Master that are at the table with you. To me the fun of running a Dungeons and Dragons game has never been pouring over rules, drawing maps,  or creating interesting and complex encounters for my players, it has always been in telling the story, and watching my players embrace and interact with it. As the Dungeon Master your primary job is not to be an adjudicator or walking rules set, it is to tell the story.

When we tell our story we do so in a different way than a typical author. We set the scene and describe it to our players in a way which sparks their imagination and allows them to visualize the world around them. With this mental picture painted we proceed to lead our players through a series of encounters that make up an adventure, and a series of adventures that make up a campaign. weeks, months or even years later, when the campaign has come to an end how do you look back on it?

To me when I look back on my campaign and ask myself “Was that a great campaign?” I recall all the sessions we had while playing the campaign and all the key moments. The great encounters, fun role playing opportunities, epic dice rolls, player reactions etc but in the end I can really answer my question by asking myself another. “Did I and everyone else enjoy the story and would it have made a great book or movie?

When we decide to run a game we as the Dungeon Master do a lot of prep work. We may write out our adventures (or read them if running a published adventure), create our encounters, draw our maps etc and then we sit down for our gaming session with our group of players. Yes this all has to be done but before doing any of these things begin by asking yourself “what is the story about?” define the tale you want to tell and depict the story first. Each adventure is like a chapter in a book, and the campaign is like the novel itself. You do not have to know the details of every single chapter when you first begin creating your story but you should know the general plot.

When I create my campaigns I begin by creating my story. Before I go further I should point out I have two distinctive types of campaign that I run based on player experience and the type of game we want to play. I call these pre structured and non structured campaigns. My pre structured campaigns are the typical campaigns that most Dungeon Masters will run. They consist of an organized chain of events that have an ultimate goal or come to a specific climax. The other is where I allow the players total freedom and they decide on what they want to do at any given time. I offer no obvious adventure path but instead just allow them to explore a vast world and choose what to do. This method is very organic and requires a much higher degree of skill as a Dungeon Master. It is also ESSENTIAL that you have a well developed world at your disposal to even make this successful (see my world building series).  I will cover campaign creation in depth in other topics but for now lets talk about it from a story aspect.

I begin by writing the general plot synopsis for my campaign. for example. “Their is a vial cult that is working towards gathering the necessary items to conduct a powerful ritual that will allow a lost and dead chaos goddess to be reawakened and re enter the world.” It does not have to be too in depth at this point, its just the synopsis. Next I ask myself “how will the cult achieve this and where do the players fit in.” Well I decide that the cult will need to gather nine difficult and hard to acquire items and they do not wish to put themselves at risk of exposure or danger so they are going to find some lackeys to do it for them. This is where the players can come in.

Now I have to look at the players motivations. Assuming they are not evil and happy to help bring the existence of a destructive goddess into the world, they are going to have to have a reason to do such a terrible thing. Promise of wealth is probably not going to do it, at least not if they find out what the items are for, so I want something more compelling. So lets have the players each get ambushed and marked with a powerful arcane mark that they can not remove by any means they try, and lets allow them to believe that if they do not find a way to remove the mark it will ultimately kill them.  Now we have one of the evil cult members play the part of a helpful local herbalist who can set them on a path to possibly removing the arcane mark.

By going through the thought process above I now have created the start to my story and also my campaign. Now I would write an adventure around the opening chapter of the story. I then continue with my story creating process and decide that the cult will literally dupe the players into gathering each item, and while the players believe they are doing it to rid themselves of the mark, they are in fact gathering all the needed items for the main protagonists of the story. Each adventure will deal with them gaining one of the items, and throughout the story I will drop very subtle little hints (that I know they wont pick up on at the time) about the true nature of what they are doing all the while knowing that when they get to the climactic end of the story/campaign the penny will drop and they will have a serious WTF moment. As I write each adventure I already know where it fits in the story. To bring the story to life I make sure to introduce several fun and memorable NPCs (Non Player Characters) for the players to interact with. Some interesting locations, villages, swamps, forests etc for them to explore and ultimately flesh out the details of the story. Finally I will put a lot of thought into the Final encounter of the campaign and by now I have a start and a finish and the details needed to create each adventure to fill in the middle. It is not necessary for me to create all the adventures of the campaign ahead of time, I can do so as play progresses. In fact I suggest you DON’T write to much initially as the players will most likely do things that will spawn ideas in your head that may be far better than what you came up with ahead of time.

In the end you have created the basis for a great story, and now all you need is the main characters (the players) to help fill in the details as you go. Between you and your players you should end up with a story that you can look back on and say “Wow that would have made a great movie or novel.” These are the campaigns that will stick in your memory for years to come.

Incidentally, you just read how I came up with the Marks of Intrigue Campaign. The first campaign I ran on Howreroll. If you would like to see how it played out you can check it out on our youtube channel.

You see the story is way more important than how strong or intelligent or charismatic a character is. It is way more crucial than using fun unique monsters or giving out magical items to your players. As the Dungeon Master you should consider the story in everything you do and ask yourself if what you are thinking of doing fits the story. A player should ask themselves the same question and consider it in the character they create and how they allow it to develop. This means that you may have to make choices that don’t make the most powerful character you could make. You may have to choose to act in a way that may not yield the best rewards for your character, but in the end one thing is for sure, if the Dungeon Master and the players put the story first and foremost, then all will have a greater enjoyment of the game and look back with pride and say “We told a great story!

The one with the two brothers.


This is a tale of sibling rivalry and one that demonstrates several techniques a GM can use to deal with common and potentially disruptive issues such as Party conflict, party splits and otherwise disruptive game play.

When I was in college I met two brothers. One who was my age and his older sibling who was I believe a couple of years older. The younger brother expressed an interest in the game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay we were running during breaks and at lunch time, and soon he joined our group of five players. It was not long before we were running the game at his home almost every evening after class (he lived close to the campus) and by doing so piqued the interest of his older brother. Now to say that they had very different personalities would be an understatement. The younger was volatile, mischievous and emotional. The older was calm, thoughtful and clear minded. Both were very intelligent. The younger brother clearly suffering from a case of sibling rivalry was always trying to get “one up” on his elder sibling, and in doing so would often try to either humbug his plans or go out of his way to KILL his character at any opportunity. This often lead to a party split and many times would derail the current game session and take it off an a tangent that had less to do with the current adventure, and more to do with the younger brothers agenda. This course of action caused the younger brother to lose several characters to party in fighting and yet he still did not refrain from his chosen course of play, and each death only seemed to spur his vindictive streak further. I would point out that their were nine players in the group by now.

So how did I handle this situation? What course of action did I pursue to resolve the game disrupting behavior? well to start with I took the rational approach of trying to appeal to the younger brothers sense of reason and explained to him how this continued course of action was just not fun for anyone but him, and it was disruptive. This of course fell on deaf ears, and at this time quite honestly if it had not been for us needing to play at his home for convenience I would have probably asked him to leave the group. However instead this is what I decided to do.

The next time Claus Rasic (the younger brothers character name) decided to break away from the party for no good reason and demand to “speak to me in private” wherein he then detailed his chosen plan of action that would result in his brothers characters death, I went along with it. Upon returning to the table I proclaimed that each player deserved an equal amount of playtime and as such I was going to devote five minutes to each player in turn but those that were together would get their time cumulative, so the eight players that were together had 40 minutes and then Claus Rasic got his five minutes of limelight . This achieved two things. Firstly it prevented the majority of players from sitting around with their thumbs up their ass while Claus hogged a good chunk of the play time, and secondly it caused Claus to endure that inconvenience instead.

Also I began having the game world at large and NPCs throw bugbears (not literally) into Claus’s plans from time to time that would cause his efforts to often become detrimental. As an example, one time while he was carefully positioning himself across the street from his brothers Inn room window, and awaiting night fall so he could climb up into his brothers room and slit his throat (the evil little bastard), I had a young lad notice him. Now of course the young lad didn’t know what he was up too but he did find the strange black clad figure who had been watching the Inn for hours suspicious, so he went into the Inn and made mention of it to the patrons he found therein. Well of course the players feeling apprehensive about the situation decided to take measures to secure their safety and as such when Claus made his move that night, he met with unfortunate consequence. Now bear in mind I had already expressed to the youngest member of this sibling war that his actions were not conducive to the game and the enjoyment of others, I felt justified in my my choice of behavioral deterrent. The end result is that the younger brother refrained from such behavior in the future, and in fact came to realize how much fun the game could be if you worked with your fellow players as opposed to against them.

The key points here are to realize sometimes the DM has to take inventive measures to correct a players behavior. Yes kicking them from your group is always an option but I feel as a DM it is part of our job to train the players and teach them when they are not acting in a way conducive to the game at large.

The one thing I can tell you is that too this day I can not remember any of the other eight character names, but Claus Rasic will forever be infamous…………..

Are they rules or guidelines?


One of the many questions I get asked frequently is “What edition of D and D do you prefer, and what rules set do you like the most?” In truth I do not have a favorite edition, although most of my best memories came from AD&D and 2nd edition.

To answer this question, the first thing I want to point out and remind every Dungeon Master and player alike is that while the Dungeon Masters guide and Players handbook are full of “rules”, they shouldn’t be taken as being set in stone, or adhered too regardless of circumstance. One of the first things a Dungeon Master needs to understand is when to break or modify any rule he or she is presented with in one of the daunting manuals that our beloved game presents us with. I don’t know any “good” DM that has not converted, created their own Home brew variants or darn right ignored many of the “rules” that come with each and every edition. One of the things I am quoted as saying is “these are not a set of rules, more a set of game mechanics that you use to tell the story you want to tell and play the game you want to play“. I learned long ago that the enjoyment of playing for both DM and players alike is derived by a good flowing game and a great story, and not by arguing over rule semantics. In fact just about all of my bad gaming memories are a result of players stressing over or arguing about rules.

I tend to take certain types of mechanics as I find them, such as spell durations, weapon damage etc etc but tend to attack and modify any rule that I feel either offers a high chance of being abused, or feels just plain wrong. Due to this, which edition I tend to run or choose is dependent on the story I want to tell in my campaign.  I make my choices based on a few factors.

  1. Are my players familiar with it or are they new players?
  2. What style of campaign is it? (fast paced action, intrigue, political etc).
  3. Which editions rules set do I need to modify the least to fit the campaign story?
  4. Do I own the materials I need or will I need to purchase something new?

For example. Currently on Howreroll we are playing 3.5ed Home Brewed. When we started the players were all fairly new to D and D so I wanted a system that was fairly easy to learn quickly, and get to grips with, so that rules out AD&D and 2nd edition in my mind (#THAC0). I wanted to run an intriguing and tension rich campaign and not a hack and slash, so while 5th would be easier for them to pick up, I would have been modifying the rules a fair bit, especially the healing and rest mechanics, so I passed on 5th. 4th edition was just not well received by me (not getting into the reasons whys here) so that left 3rd or 3.5 edition. Now without starting the debate of well you could still run that type of game with 5th etc etc, and I agree I could, I didn’t want too as 3.5 was easier for me to modify for my campaign.

I have so many house rules or home brew variants for each edition its scary, and I have some that I alter based on the campaign world or story. I take the well written manuals that come with each edition and read them cover to cover, and then I tend to ponder individual rules and ask myself how I see that playing out in my campaigns. I look at aspects such as the magic system and decide if it fits and if not, I justify to myself, why not?

One campaign I ran was set in a world where magic was rare and difficult to obtain and to use. In this campaign I was stringent on material components being used for every spell cast, and I imposed a rule that linked spell casting directly to constitution, to demonstrate the drain on the casters physical state. Each time a spell was cast your constitution was drained a number of points equal to half the spell level rounded up. A constitution point was regained per hour naturally or for every fifteen minutes of meditation. This lead to a totally different use of magic in the campaign by the players and the NPCs, and a very healthy respect for spell use and timing. I also modified several of the spells to better fit this type of system.

To me any “rule” has always been nothing more than a game mechanic to use or modify as you see fit.

The simple answer to the originally posed question is “I have no favorite edition and to me there are no rules, only guidelines.