My nemesis is my species enemy and became my favored enemy, do you understand?

The internet is a trap! After regaining connection for one day, I already wasted my whole evening and did nothing for the blog… Since I’m going to a Pathfinder session soon, I have too less time to make my overview, but I just took a topic which I wanted to talk about: The ranger’s favored enemy and how it changed in the editions.

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1st Edition: The ranger didn’t have the choice of an enemy, but gained a flat +1/level damage to giants and certain humanoids like orcs. Flat but useful like most choices of the 1e.

2nd Edition: Here we got the species enemy feature, where a player chose a specific type of creatures which had to be accepted by the DM and should be tied to the ranger’s back-story. And got rewarded with a +4 to hit, while having a penalty of -4 to reaction. But in the end, those +4 were really useful and even if the choices were more open, it’d kicked asses.

3rd edition: The species enemy got renamed to favorite enemy and it’s the first time, the feature get a bonus outside combat (even though these were often disregarded). The +hit and +damage of the feature made it especially sexy to choose a favored enemy which will be either confronted often over several tiers of play or are tough to crack, like humanoids (human), undead, aberrations or constructs. And a big difference: You can select multiple favored enemies over the course. But since the 3e mechanic wouldn’t make the most iconic enemies like orcs a thread at high levels anymore, many possible choices weren’t that good.

4th edition: No favored or species enemy here, the ranger got additional damage to a target he declared (and is nearest to him at that time) and gets extra damage once a round.

5th edition: This is my favorite. The reason is simple, unless you hit 20th level, you get no benefits for combat purposes. This means that you choose your favored enemy more for the out of combat purposes, like advantage to recall lore and tracking and the possible additional language. So now having orcs as favored enemy will have much more of an impact than before, while constructs, undeads, fiends, etc. won’t suffer much that way. And since you get multiple favored enemies and when choosing humanoids you get two instead one subtypes, you can actually get a decent amount of knowledge about your foes without breaking out the bounded accuracy due to too many bonuses. And in this edition, even a 20th level ranger will be careful when facing a hundred orcs alone.

 

Why do I think, that the combat bonuses aren’t that important? Because I think this distracts you from the core of being a ranger. In my opinion a ranger fights enemies well is because he knows and understands them much better than a non-ranger could do, the advantage mechanism is a pretty neat way to ensure reliability with a certain error margin. And since the ranger’s spells are a huge benefit for his damage output and attack rolls have this sweet bounded accuracy, I don’t think the ranger especially need it.

Even though the 20th level Foe Slayer does grant combat bonuses, they’re ignorable. I think it comes a bit too late, too or shouldn’t be restricted to favored enemies. Or at least another effect.

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Why PG can be annoying and how to deal with it

Like I said already some times: I don’t particularly hate power-gamers or power-gaming (PG) in general. But sometimes they can be a very strenuous experience. Every time I read the forums, I see some hate/annoyance/arguing between ‘PGers’ and ‘PG-haters’, threads about how to optimize and posts about how power-gaming is fucking everything up.

I try to remain neutral, but honestly: If something makes me start hating PG it’d be that PG-hate. Because I actually understand both standpoints, since I’m pretty good at PGing, too, if I were to cut loose. So maybe I should just talk about it.

 

Why PG is so fun: PG is a special kind of amusement, which can’t be understood by everyone. It’s a time-consuming activity, which only kinda enhance a game, which you might play only 1-2 times a month. But PG can be pretty mood-dependent, even a down-to-earth person might just pick up a new rulebook, seeing those rules and ask herself/himself, how these rules would work together.

Here are some of the fun parts of PG:

  • Some people just enjoy to organize, strategize and see things through, those might become DMs (like me) or if the imagination is missing, becomes bookkeepers and PGers. If you don’t like those things, it’ll be hard to understand what kind of enjoyment it is, to see all the things working or to adapting them until they work
  • You feel like you’re smarter than the game-developers every time, you see a rule-hole or something like that. After trying to create a game-system by yourself, you’ll see how hard it is, to get the rule-holes down to it
  • You feel like you’re smarter than the DM, whose tendency of torturing your whole party is getting on your nerves at some point
  • You feel more prepared for said of torture
  • You either get the feeling of power compared to your party-members or are glad, that you’re more of a help for those. Or both, depending on personality
  • Since the DM will definitely challenge your build at some point, you might proof that your result is almost perfect

There are some more reasons, but these should cover the major ones. If you’re prone to the first one, it’s actually hard to really build a character without taking the ‘power’ into consideration, even I will never forfeit easily obtained power for any of my characters, as long I see it worth. Taking a feat, no prob. Multiclass… only if I really think, that it’s doable for my character concept.
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Why PG offsets the other players: In D&D you’re normally in a party with some other players. Some of them might be offset after realizing, that a PGer is in the party and even though some people may ask ‘Why?’, they’ve actually good reasons to be. Here are the main ones.

  • P&P is a hobby for most people. And when enjoying your hobby, you want to have your part of the cake, have the times to shine and get some screen-time. PGers are actually stealing a lot of spot-light, depending on the build, since the easiest and for most people most fun is a combat orientated PG, that player will definitely get his show stolen, especially if the PGer kinda compete with said character (like paladin and fighter as melee combatants) or even worse: If the PGer shouldn’t be able to compete (like a sorcerer, dishing out more melee damage than the fighter)
  • Most often combat-orientated PGers are pretty useless outside of combat. Especially if they don’t get spell-slots or only use them to enhance themselves or damaging enemies, which means that for all the planning and sometimes really annoying and slow stuff, more work falls to the non-PGers
  • Even non-combatant orientated PG will make a character falls behind in some serious basic issues and even though there are some things like ‘each character should be a specialist in what he do’, most challenges address more than one field of expertise and if a character is too focused or unwilling to carry on with its weaknesses, it’s another burden for the others
  • To be able to compete with PGers, some feel the need to PG themselves and not many like it, if they didn’t do so in the first place. And often aren’t that good at that

You should never think about these non-PG players less and especially less able to play P&P. Because a role-play isn’t about the system generally, the ability to abuse a system is no requirement or measure in how good you can role-play.
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Why PG annoys the DM: Argh, after thinking about some cases, I actually grumbled in bitter rage, grinding my teeth, while writing these points. PG is a curse for most DMs, because it makes simple issues much harder than needed and are always hot spots of conflicts.

  • Ever had a player with a perception score of +40 in the mid-levels? Even though it wasn’t 5e, those players deem to noticing every tiny detail, which would make an ambush obvious, a secret compartment detectable and those little things which should either surprise your players or should actually require a bit of care
  • Or a +40 Stealth character at the end-beginner levels? I think you can see that point, even if the character remains hidden
  • In combat department it can be even more annoying, like having a Rogue in 4e, who seems just unhittable with anything but Fort-attacks (using really any power, item and combination to reach that goal); when adding more accurate monsters, the other characters suffers, if using special means the player will get pissed. Or a build with a myriads of attacks, which can kill a supposedly powerful foe in one turn, before said foe could even blink. And many, many more.
  • PGer get pissed, when the DM is using the easy way out to decrease their power, while the other players aren’t thinking highly, that you use extra resources to downgrade that specific character
  • Often, PG characters are shallow and don’t provide anything useful when creating or adapting an adventure. If the PGer is lacking imagination, the character is just a bunch of stats
  • Some PG options are ridiculous if you’re looking at them from a more pedestrian point of view. It’s understandable, that someone wants to be the ultimate skill-monkey, but at the first glance, the combination of Rogue(start), Ranger, Cleric with Knowledge Domain and Bard seems to use some explanation. Or monk/druids. Or paladin/rogues. To just call a few. OK, paladin/rogues with the Oath of Vengeance would be the Avengers in 4e, I guess.
  • If the other players aren’t as satisfied as the PGer, it’ll definitely make your whole game days suffer

*grumble, grinding, grumble*
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How to deal with PG as the PGer: On the other players side, there is not too much to say. The other players aren’t able to deal with a PGer other than by talking and trying to understand it. I believe there are some ways, to actually deal with some issues as the PGer himself/herself, here I’ll address the PGers directly:

  • Don’t leave out of combat capabilities unaddressed. In 5e it’s much easier to do so without losing power, since the Backgrounds in the PHB won’t actually enhance the combat prowess. So pick up some things outside your primary field
  • Choose a character-concept which fits your playstyle: If you’re trying to maximize your sword-skill, play a character who wants to be the best swordman and begin challenging other swordmen to duels. If there is some character-depth to your stats, it’s much easier to accept the PG in that
  • Don’t enter a player competition if not called. If you meet a fellow PGer, compete if you want, but if you don’t, take simply a part nobody else fulfill. Much easier that way, because it’ll become less offensive
  • Remember, that PG isn’t always about the highest stats possible. A fighter as a Defender/Tank with an AC too high and no ways to force the enemies to direct their intention to him/her, won’t fulfill the role, because even monsters get annoyed when trying to hit an unhittable target. If you can’t hold them on you, you’re simply not doing your job!
  • Be a team-player. If you’re actually helps other characters to shine or are able to not address everything in a way, that your build will come in handy, people actually will mind much less. If you want to shine every time yourself without rubbing your fellow players the wrong way, you can still play a Leader-role character, since they seem to PG as much as they want, since it’s a benefit for the party-members instead the character itself, they most likely even really notice all that PG. Or the other way around, make a character build which can only shine when being supported by others (even if PGers are avoiding those builds usually)
  • Talk to your DM beforehand. After playing a bit, your DM will definitely see your tendencies in that department. See a compromise, like deciding in which departments you can PG without calling up his wrath (like with undetectable, all-seeing builds) and if you come up with some strange combinations, have a good character-story at hand and tell it before talking about your build

The most important thing is, to redirect your desires in a way, that won’t offense the other players as much or even make them think, that it’s OK that way. Being a melee-PG-character is much more acceptable, if there are no other main-melees in your party, since there is less competition and if you’re the only one, you’d better be good.

And a important no-go: Don’t suggest or help other players to PG unasked. Some will simply hate that idea by itself, others will actually try it and might lose sight on the parts of P&P, which said player actually enjoyed. If a player asks by himself/herself, be sure to take it slowly, before overwhelming your padawan. 😉
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How to deal with PG as DM: It’s much harder to actually deal with PG as a DM, especially after getting duped multiple times. Remain calm, it’s not the end and you shouldn’t seek revenge, since it’s just a game and at least one player were happy that day. But there are some ways to deal with it.

  • House-rule rule holes. If you get the feeling, that a specific combination doesn’t seem to be intentional, talk to your players about it. Be honest, provide some suggestion how to deal with it, don’t just decide it by yourself, if possible. If you just close anything up (especially after being fooled) you’ll seem upset and petty.
  • If you know that a PGer is in your gaming group, be sure to explain the no-gos, like ‘no over-optimized perception and/or stealth’ or ‘no single levels when multiclassing’ beforehand
  • Remember the players, that most characters which are only build around being the best in a single thing which isn’t that useful in real-life are much less believable. A PG fighter might be a guard for a merchant, but without a moderate INT, WIS and CHA it’s most likely, that he’s buffooned at every opportunity without even realizing it
  • Don’t ignore the PGers forte, that will only invite problems. Address them regularly and sometimes for important stuff, if you’re ready to ‘lose’ some times, you’ll keep the player satisfied enough so he won’t complain as much. Just let be strengths be strengths sometimes. Makes it much funnier, when using a shenanigan to undermine it
  • Don’t take PG as a challenge, trust me: If you do, the PGer won’t suffer, the other players will instead
  • More variation: As long you don’t get a skill-monkey, just open up the game, make more variant adventures like beginning in Sharn (Eberron) with a murder case, which will require investigation, than coming up with a bit of combat, which will lead the party to a specific noble house, which will have a party in a few days, so the players have to prepare and get an invitation (planning and socializing) and being at the party themselves is yet another challenge, investigating further, opening some traps and summoned beasts, finally getting the boss, who will only… I guess you already got the gist
  • If you got a skill-monkey or skill-specialist, don’t roll for some scenes, just let play it by words. If the ability (skill) checks are too good to fail, be fair most of the time, not all the time
  • If nothing work, talk to the PGer after seeing how it worked out. Somehow there is always a compromise
  • If common sense is not heard by the PGer, be as strict as necessary. In the end the player most likely still wants to play with you, but is pretty disappointed, that his build is attacked/ignored/undermined by you. Try to be fair, but honest and if you can’t deal with it anymore, you don’t have to. If you’ve no fun being a DM, than your personal goal is not met and that would be pretty counter-productive

There are many more, but mainly these are standard forms of interacting with other people and less about being a DM than being a person who can confront conflicts cleverly.
null Now that I was able to talk about it, I’m kinda relieved. Personally I’m more of a story-made-by-players-driven DM, the reason why I want to have back-stories and characters which makes sense, instead of those, who only have their stats as personality. As long that holds, I can deal with PG myself most of the times, but I do have players which can’t do it as good. And there is a limit to everything and sometimes even I get pretty pissed off at specific players. Like getting collywobbles if the first thing I hear about something is ‘If I can combine it with this and that, then…’ or actually downgrading options, just because their lack of measurable ‘power.

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.

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. 😉