Role-play for Dummies

It’s easy to say, that a lot of players don’t care about the RP of the RPG or are just a bunch of power-gaming lemmings, etc., but for some people, role-play is hard. Here 10 things you can ensure to take a first step toward the goal to become a better role-player and it might help a lot of DMs, too, when creating and/or playing NPCs.

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1.) Get a personality: Just 2-3 adjectives are more than enough to start, don’t take too similar ones like “cool, sassy and awesome”, better to take some words, which doesn’t really click together, like “skilled, careful, unconfident”, because you have to actually think how these adjectives would work together.

2.) Don’t be too original: An easy archetype (like the dumb fighter or the kind halfling) are much better than a complicated monstrosity of originality (like a half-elven, half-tiefling [stats half-elf] warlock, which got first trained to be a swordman, but…) because they’re easier to remember and easier to play.

3.) Get some quotes:  If you get a few good one-liners or otherwise powerful quotes, which can be used more often than once, you can get about half an personality. Like a cleric, which screams “UNDEAD!” whenever he sees or hear about undeads.

4.) Talk, don’t talk about: To quicken things up or to play over their insecurity, players and DMs tend to say “My character says” or “The village boy explains”, but as long as you don’t waste hours, just try it in character. This is one of the best chances to actual role-play, don’t waste it.

5.) A bit of back-story: Having the most basic form of biography is still better than none, because if you now what the character went through, it’s easier to see how he/she will react to certain things.

6.) Do not always do the best choice: This is one of the most important things: A lot of players are more about ‘What would be the most effective?’ instead of ‘What would my character do?’ Consider his/her feelings, the personal goals or just the personality. Would a barbarian with the berserker path really participate in a ambush plan, which needs too much details? Even if it might get your teammates pissed of sometimes, it’s much better than too much meta-gaming.

7.) Do the obvious: If you should not act too planned, what should you do instead? Obviously the obvious. If you were your character, what would you say, when seeing and adult dragon in front of you, breathing in just to discharge its Dragon’s Breath? Obviously something along the line of ‘Shit!’. If you’d search a dungeon, would you really jump into the lake of black water, not knowing its dangers and for no other reasons but possible but unlikely treasures? Obviously not! As long you keep the character’s personality in mind with his back-story and the experience you get from the game, you should get to the obvious quite easily.

8.) Actually try to remember things: If you can’t, take notes at the game. Try to remember names of NPCs (or make NPC-names memorable), the meta-plot, some details which are important to your character. If you do that, the game’s flow will not only improve, but you get better into your character which means, that you’ll do better to role-play him/her.

9.) Everyone make mistakes: Don’t be disheartened if something went wrong, try again. Players who laughs repeatedly at your tries are jerks, even though some results (like misspelling, situational humor or putting your foot in something) are hilarious, so just try to laugh when that time comes. If you watch closely enough, everyone will at times make some blunders.

10.) Have fun: If you role-play, you just have to see the fun in it. After getting over the first starting problems, just relax and be proud, how your game have improved.

 

Role-play is not about stats, but about effort. Even though some stats which makes some character traits more believable certainly help.

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I won’t play a cleric!

Many DMs heard that line and it will never stop. The fact, that it’s often very hard to get a cleric in your party. If you have someone who plays a cleric with pleasure, be sure to keep that player, because otherwise it’ll be hard to convince someone. But why is the cleric so important and why is there so much resistance of the players side to take a cleric-character? We’ll see…

Cleric’s Importance

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In 3e and before, clerics had the only spell-list, which contented not only the best healing of hit points for the respective levels, but the spells to cure conditions, revive the dead, most spells which are able to undo stuff, which better never happened. Even though the druid got healing, he was way outclassed by a cleric, so parties felt much better having an actual cleric in the party (even though the Favored Soul had the same spell-list and was a favored choice, too).

But it could function with alternatives, like a druid who know how to keep some spells for healing, a smart party, which avoids hits before and during combat by strategizing smartly or magic items, I had a bard who could fulfill the healer and tank part by knowing how to use his resources well. But if someone dies, this means that the revive had to wait until they’re in town or to cast it per scroll, but that was a limited option without resupplying.

Why players don’t like to play clerics

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These are just a few reasons, why players might think that being a cleric sucks. It’d be impossible to list them all, but I guess I got the main-reasons:

  1. As a cleric, I’ve to play religiously: Religion is a vital part of life, even if you don’t believe in (a) god, you still have to deal with religion. Even made-up gods from a game might get under someones nerves, either because he doesn’t want to betray his ‘real’ religion or doesn’t believe in religion anyway and don’t want to participate in any fake one.
  2. I can only heal and buff: If you compare the cleric with other classes, you’ll feel subpar in most aspects of combat: You don’t hit as hard as a fighter, your combat spells feel weaker than the wizard’s and his spell-list is more flexible in most cases, while you can’t really seem to shine outside combat like the rogue. Your only way to be a vital part is being able to heal and buff your buddies… and some players are more thinking about their own characters, sadly.
  3. Too much responsibility: Being a healer means, that your party is depending on you with their life. If a character got killed, it seems to mean that you failed and will be blamed for it. It seems to be much less responsible to play a fighter (which results that the enemies get through and kill the casters) or a rogue (which get mobbed by monsters, being a burden for the rest of the party, because he thought an initial strike would be the best choice).
  4. Almost no sexiness: Some class seems to be sexier than others, especially those who are more lightly armored and can dish out a lot of damage, while having a lot of skills. Archetypical being a cleric means heavy armor, mace and a dislike for undead, while chanting religious curses. It seems like less room to customize, less options to individualize and of course less aloofness. Especially, because you might think, that your party wants to play you the healing expert (because the healing part is the reason, why they forced you to play a cleric)

Why should you play a healer

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Some players might not realized, that being a healer could be their real calling. They struggle with all kind of combinations but never got a real good character out of it, something was either missing or it was just bland without any individuality. If any of those players see these reasons, maybe they’ll consider playing a healer class.

    • In 5e it doesn’t have to be a cleric: In 4e every leader could somehow substitute a cleric (even though some were more challenging than others, like the artificer at low levels) and in 5e we have 3 classes, which got the right spell-list, to do the job: bard, cleric and druid. Everyone have enough healing, condition curing and reviving spells to get a party through the dangerous life of adventuring. As long you keep in mind to keep some spell-slots for emergencies.
    • No rolling d20 for your main-feature: Some players just sucks at throwing a d20. Really, really hard. Most of them still wants to play a d20-rolling class, thinking that it have to get better, some others get to damage casts, choosing those who don’t need a attack roll. For healing and buffing, you don’t need the d20 either and even though you can use spells like Guiding Bolt to, if you’re really keen about it…
    • Play simple: For those who simply can’t get a feeling for the battle map, the right spell to the right situation and lacks the overview of the combat situation, they can play a simple healer which does only needs to look out, how much damage each character have taken and heals them back, while supporting anywhere needed if no healing is required. As long you do your vital role well, the other players should praise you.
    • Be in charge: This is interesting for those, who don’t want to play simple: Some players don’t even realize, how much influence a healer and buffer has in combat, if he invest into it. Who to heal, which buff to use, it does make a great difference how you tribute all your spells, since characters who get buffed will take a more vital role in the battle strategy. And since you’re the lifeline, nobody should complain! Those who wants to optimize tactics and resources are far better of as supporting combat characters.
    • Backgrounds can make you otherwise useful: Since most out-of-combat parts or the game can be covered by somewhat smart ability arrangement and backgrounds, you can be a healer in combat and a… maybe trap-finder and -disarmer in dungeons. It’s possible!
    • Multiclassing: In 5e you get more and higher spell-slots even with multiclassing as long your secondary (or tertiary, etc.) class got the spell-casting feature, too. The only downside is, you can’t cast higher level spells, just use the lower spells with a higher spell-slot. Especially multiclassing into sorcerer might come handy, since this means that means full advancement in spell-slots and access to metamagic with healer spells. Or warlock, no further spell-slots, but pact magic usable with your other class’ spells, which means that you’re able to use them more often over the time. Since the most vital spells are at the lower spell levels, you can consider this option, if healing hit points and lesser conditions is your only concern.

Why should you play a cleric

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Now let’s take a look at the cleric, since I mentioned some points earlier, that might be defused.

  • Easy plot-hooks: As long you’re not playing a cleric of a almost non-existent deity, there are always a lot of ways, how the church or the god can give you epic quests, which will decide the future from a hamlet to the whole existence itself, while the DM have much less trouble to come up with viable background and twists for the story by just reading a bit of the deities which would be involved.
  • Good role-play options: Like I said, religion is a vital part of everyone’s life. It won’t hurt anyone, if you role-play a religion made-up for a game, because it’s just for fun, having put your belief in the center of your character’s life, it becomes very interesting, especially if your background is somewhat strange comparing your actual deity. A criminal cleric of Tyr? How could that happen? And even if you’re not a great role-player, the cleric can give you enough material to actually survive all levels by using 2-3 signature quotes, like: “UNDEAD!!!” or “You foul, little…” … OK, last one isn’t that clericish, more like: “By Moradin’s iron underpants!”
  • Domains: Domains are great in 5e, since they’re a great way to customize your character. Do you want to kick asses with a sword? War! Do you want to heal with the least effort, so you have more resources to attack? Life! You want to be a better caster? Light! You want to be more roguish or druidish? Trickery or Nature! You want to mix some aspects altogether? Take another! Variety is given, just choose from 7 domains, another one in the DMG (Death) and much more in further rulebooks, I bet.
  • Prayer of Healing: Just this spell.

Playing a cleric? Might be worth it!

We don’t like humans! Be different and play variant!

Since my weekend is full, I’m just posting small posts for those days, even though I’m writing about a big theme behind the scenes, which analyses the strength and weakness of a certain class compared to another. And a second one, which I accidentally posted, since I missed the Draft button, so sorry for the trouble, my few followers… it’s still not time to conquer the world! We need more!!! 😉

For now, we make it simple and talk about a single little thing: How the normal human is endangered by the human variant!

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Most players will choose the variant, since +1 on all ability scores are less impressive than +1 to two abilities, an additional skill proficiency and a feat (which could get you another +1 bonus to an ability). And they’re mostly right to do so, since most classes needs only some ability points, it reminds more of the human in 3e and 4e, the fact that, since humans are considered as the standard, other races seems to be under the line more dumb/weak/ugly than normal, etc.

 

The normal human is the result of wanting to have the option of a simple game for those who wants and especially for starters. Most of the new 5e players are already used to at least one edition of the game, more complicity doesn’t matter.
But it doesn’t have to mean, that the normal human is less good. In D&D 5e more acceptable abilities have more weight, since you won’t be hopelessly outclassed by another character in these regards and anything could become a save and then you want to use every modifier you have.
Sadly the modifier is the most important thing about a score, so to get more bonuses, so we need as much odd values as possible, so we either roll or point-buy to make a normal human strong. Since rolling is too variant, let’s go point-buy, in this case I’d use this basic: 15, 13, 13, 12, 11, 9. The reason: Every class should be good at one ability and a 13 can be more useful than an 11 (if you upgrade the 9 to 10). So you have one good ability score, 2 secondary, two acceptable and one moderate.

As a fighter it could be: 16, 14, 14, 13, 10, 12 and that statline could be a 1st level Roy Greenhilt of Order of the Stick, a not all brute fighter, who knows a bit of tactics, but tends to do some rash decisions, when things becomes chaotic and sometimes not for the better.
Serious good artwork!

Will this be better as the variant? It’s about point of view, because it won’t make you better at your class at all. To be a better fighter (or wizard or anything else), specialization always beats generalization. But these aren’t the only things important, because maybe you want to have your fighter be the leader of the party or have a more believable hero/person, etc.
And of course you’re less depended on other characters outside combat and have above average chances in most saves, since proficiency often goes to saves which are you main and secondary abilities.

Would I play a normal human myself? Fighter: Definitely, 7 ability score improvements means that I can actually get more than enough feats during the game and that’d be a knight, so I’ll need some more ability scores in everything! Other classes? As long they benefit with multiple abilities, like the Ranger or the Monk.

The normal human is less customizable and the strength of feats is the real deal, so it shouldn’t be that strange that most gaming-groups will dismiss the normal human. But remember, that sometimes an unusual choice will bring unlikely happiness.

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How to make a character back-story

For now no pictures, since I’m on the clock, but won’t be back until late in my timezone, maybe I’ll edit some later.

Sometimes you have a DM, who actually wants a character back-story and often only one player in the gaming group will be delighted. You might think, that you only write some lines out of cheesy, classic stuff and your DM will be delighted, but then you notice that he reads it, frowned and just says: ‘It’s OK.’

Since I’m about to start my first 5e campaign and I’m one of the DMs which want a back-story, I’ll tell the world how to do it. Here a some simple advices toward that goal:

1.) Start with the back-story, not the personality

In most cases, human’s personality is derived from their background, even if it works the other way around, too, the personality can change while the back-story can’t. It’s easier to focus on the actual back-story instead of bringing an well-shaped personality in the game, which will warp a natural storyline into a unnatural one. A cynic character wasn’t necessarily cynic as a child, most likely he was even naive.

2.) Choose your background from your back-story, not otherwise

If possible, don’t let your back-story be bounded and especially the background-rule will do it greatly. In most cases, reading backgrounds will grand you inspiration, but maybe the journey on writing a back-story will take you to another background before you realize.

3.) Start with some cornerstones

Typically your back-story should have an answer to following questions, if you can answer them, you’re already half done, if any one of these is answered in 1-4 sentences:

  1. Where and how grew your character up?
  2. How did he learn to be his class?
  3. Was he happy with his life?
  4. When and how did he decided to be an adventurer/mercenary/whatever your campaign says?
  5. What is he looking for in that occupation?
  6. If he gets a lot of money, how will he spend it?
  7. When do he actually plan to retire?

In Question 4 you lay the most important aspect, which is why it got italic. This is a great turning point and you shouldn’t stop at 2 sentences, just throw in any twist you like and this is the part, were you can easily shape your final personality, just using all those things, you learned from the media.

These cornerstones will explain the how and ensure that the character is not finished, a character with no goals, bonds and other things that have great influence on his future, is pretty boring after all. Because he’s just lacking something which drives him.

Here I just write an example, how it could look for a half-elven wild magic sorcerer:

Theron was always an outsider, he and his human mother lived about at the village’s edge, his father was an adventurer, but Theron couldn’t care less about it, since he had his own problems. For the other kids he always seemed otherworldly from appearance, but every time he got emotional, he let cows fly and burned trees, his mother always told him, that it was his magical blood. He tried to suppress it, but after a village boy got hurt by a wave of thunder, the villagers went into a frenzy and burned his house down, banning him and his mother.
To survive long enough to reach the next form of civilization, Theron had to use his magic, so he and his mother wouldn’t be eaten by ankhegs or murdered by orcs. After a long journey, he and his mother got to Baldur’s Gate and to survive there, his mother had to get into debts, while working at a tavern for a living. Theron looked for work himself, but since his magic wasn’t still stable, he would do more harm than good. But he was scouted as an adventurer, an occupation where his talents are useful.
The one who scouted him is also an half-elf, a fighter called Benning. Benning was like a big brother for Theron and taught him everything from the start. But after Theron’s mother found out about Theron’s adventurer’s life (he lied to her, that he found work as a laborer), she made him an ultimatum to either stop that dangerous career or to be on his own for now. He decided for the latter, partly because his friendship with Benning, partly because of his further goals.
He dreams about getting enough treasures in one adventure to pay the debts back and ensure his mother a lifetime worth of money. And maybe for himself, too, but being an adventurer is the only time he felt accepted, so maybe he might spend some more time in that occupation than planned.

Theron has to have a lack of confidence, a strong feeling of responsibility and the feeling to be an outsider everywhere he goes. Benning would be a great friend, villain or even drive, depending how to use him. Maybe Benning could be a PC-party-member himself, then you’d actually had to adapt a thing or two, but this works out as well.

4.) Get friends and enemies

Most people have friends, so your character should at least have one person he can trust, even though it don’t need to be fully. Enemies, rivals or siblings (a bit of both) are great assesses for a DM.

In Theron’s case, he trusts his mother and Benning most and have a whole village against him. Maybe the word spread and some mage hunters will come after him or maybe the boy he hurt will get a career outside the village, even may want to learn the way of the magic himself, since he felt too overpowered. Or the debt collectors might collect his mother at some point, trying to squeeze more money from her now adventuring son. Or maybe Benning will turn out to be a real bad deal, since he needed Theron for some schemes. These little details may be made up by you or your DM, as long as (s)he understand his work.

5.) Consider family bonds

Often further details of the family are obscured in shadows, but they’re a vital part of the character, since they’re still family.

6.) Don’t be afraid to play an archetype

First of all: A lot of psychologists believed that the human brain is incapable of creating new stuff and can only adapt, combine and carry on memories, perceptions and other things it already knows. That’s one of the reasons, why many scientifically theories are only approaches, not actually the real deal. So you aren’t able to create a whole new story.

Being the sole survivor of a village, being chosen by prophecy, needing money for the sick sister, which can only be cured by greater magic, all of it are pretty common back-stories in the media and pretty popular. An archetype is easier to play, since everyone knows what to expect, you won’t need 3 game sessions to realize what a brawny, stupid barbarian would do, you just need the courage to actually do it. The same with back-stories, since they’re well known, everyone knows what to expect.

But don’t copy blindly stuff everyone already knows. Copying a mainstream media in your gaming-group will most often provokes a snarl or a snicker, just adapt some major parts or combine it with another, so it becomes a bit more original.

7.) Leave room, embrace the conflict

A DM will hate you, if your back-story is long, too detailed and with no room to wriggle, Don’t expect, that your flawless back-story won’t get flawed, you have to be prepared that your whole character story might be like the hangman’s rope around your neck and just enjoy it.

And don’t write too much, it’s pretty annoying to read ten pages, when you as an DM awaits only one.

8.) Ask your DM

Since a DM will know more or less what’s going to happen, you can simply ask him, if he have something useful. If he says: Actually I’ve an ongoing antagonist, ask him if your character might be bonded by that antagonist already. Then you can work around that and the story will be even greater.

After those pointers, maybe you’ll have less trouble in making a back-story. If you’re still not sure, maybe it helps when I’m telling you, what I as a DM am looking for:

  • Something in the past which follows a character
  • Something he actually has his hands ful
  • A goal he tries to achieve

And if this all don’t work: Play Theron, he already got plenty of those. 😉

Gold – Too much gained, too less to spend it on?

(This post is pre-DMG)

One of the concerns in the 5e is how to spend your gold. Since magic items aren’t for sale for now, dozens of adventurers are now sitting on enough gold to live their whole life in luxury, never needing to go out to adventure again. How could it happen, if one of the main reasons to become an adventurer is to get a lot of money in a short amount of time?!

LOOT!

Isn’t it much more natural to spend all the money in magic items, to get into even more dangerous dungeons to get even more valuable goods and sell them for even more money, so you can spend more lifetimes in luxury, even though you only have one… OK, I’ll stop being sarcastic, but everyone should consider, if the first thing a character would do with a lot of money would be buying magic weapons or other stuff.

Yes, after some adventuring your character may be lucky enough to call some treasures his/her own (especially after backstabbing his/her party members) and after life expenses, replenishment and one or two nights in a tavern (or more adult place) you (as the player) might wonder, what you can actually do with all this gold.

But after getting a hundred healing potions, enough material components to revive a whole village and other expenses, which are kinda useful or preventing, options will run dry. Even with downtime activities like Training, you won’t spend enough in time to balance out your incoming treasures.

So what to do?

Normally most characters would just retire, get a more safe job as a hobby (like pub owner for a tavern targeting adventurers) and start a new life. But that can’t work, since then the campaign would be over… or is that so? As a DM I wouldn’t generally make a campaign stop, just because the PCs got a new life, let the party reassemble again to fight a new evil, this time because they have a life to protect.

Other adventurers could seek nobility/titles or an own property, this will cost a lot of gold and these could be great adventure hooks, some adventures in the past would make the PCs to landowners, just to bring their land and people in danger.

A third way would be setting a goal, which will take humongous amount of money and other resources. Like building and support an orphanage in every town in your home country. Or to build a big organization which should be able to act over a whole continent. Or maybe you just want to support an organization you already belong to (like the Harpers), so they can expand their influence or at least break even.

The last way would be a very obvious choice: Have fun! Buy a house/villa, instead selling these art objects, shelve them or set them on display, hire some guardians and take the rest to taverns, partying every night, spend it on (wo)men, gamble and see how fast the bailiff will take your art objects and house away, while you still have debts to pay and need a fast way to get money again. Well, time to use the rest of your adventure gear, hoping that you could hide your vital items in time.

And if your character is just an adventure-junkie, seeking the excitement? He won’t need magic items, since they make dungeons less exciting (obviously!) and spend their money for information about the next adventure and the new episode may begin after spending a bit of time and a lot of money for it.
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But even those who are adamant about buying those magic swords, armors and other stuff: Don’t worry, this state of not being able to spend money on items won’t be permanent. The Dungeon Master Guide will come out and there will be advanced rules for magic items, those who played the playtest already know some of them. There were rules to sell items, so even if in the DMG won’t be any to buy them, you can still make your own basing on selling.

And I think the Eberron Campaign Setting will be the latest end, since Eberron is a world, where a lot of magic items exists and in the big cities magic is about everywhere you look.
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Personally, I like the fact, that magic items in normal campaigns are rare again. Somehow it just felt wrong to have a great among of those and a real market system, which considers those. Of course a magic sword could be on sell, but would a non-expert on magic items even know its value? Or just tag a price which seems higher than reasonable and smooth-talk adventurers into buying this Longsword +1 for 10.000gp, selling it for the most powerful weapon in existence?

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So for players: There are more ways to spend money but to gain more power. And DMs, just let your players see ways to spend their money on. Some players won’t be as happy with a character, who gets an actual life and want just the power of personal gear, instead military might, politic connections and other ways to get real power. Those player’s characters are sad people, which are small-minded, short-sighted and without a real drive.

But for now, you get a lot of money and only a few magic items, which means:
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Like good old times.