D&D: Why Do We Even Roll Skills?

Welcome to the second in my series about Skill Challenges (specifically in Dungeons & Dragons, but probably applicable to other systems as well). You might want to read my first post, How to Fail at Skill Challenges, before this one.

Before I write several more posts about using skills in roleplaying games (and specifically D&D), let’s ask an important philosophical question – why do we even make skill rolls?

We make combat rolls to find out what happens when the fighter tries to put a sword through an orc. A high roll means the orc is hurt. A low roll might miss. These rolls drive the story of the combat, but… really, don’t we know the outcome of most combats? Usually, the PCs win. But no one suggests we do away with the rolling – the rolling is fun!

So when we approach skill rolls and scenes where skill rolls drive the story, could we just do away with the rolls? In a social scene, can’t the players just roleplay with the NPCs and the Dungeon Master can decide how well they talk? If the PCs want to search for secret doors, can’t the DM just insist they say which squares they search and how? If there’s a puzzle to solve, can’t the DM just make the PCs solve the puzzle?

Sure. But is that fun? Doesn’t it cheat classes like Bard and Rogue out of a chance to use their stats to their full effect? And moreover, isn’t it unfair to force an introverted player roleplay their charming or extroverted character when the player just isn’t as good at talking and conniving as their character should be?

We roll because it’s fun. But, as I pointed out in the first post, if the DM lets a single die roll decide a whole scene or story, then it’s no fun. There must be a better way to use skills in the game. Here are a few ideas!

Social Combat

Adventurer’s at a social event? It doesn’t sound like a good idea for people who solve most of their problems with swords and fireballs. How do we turn this into a fun opportunity for roleplay and a chance for characters who took Persuasion and Deception to use those skills in more than a single roll?

If the PCs are carousing, or they have to convince a noble of something, or befriend a king, or surreptitiously find out the secrets of the court, why not run it like a combat? Let the players roll their Persuasion, Deception, Intimidation, Insight, History, and other skills as if they were attacks, and let them accumulate points based on their ability score bonuses, perhaps with die rolls. Instead of “damage,” you can have the NPCs make their own rolls to find out information from the PCs, or perhaps to draw favors from the PCs in exchange during the conversation.

Example: Fargin the Fighter chats up the baron’s aunt, and rolls a Persuasion check of 15. The DM decides that’s a “social hit,” and has Fargin’s player roll 1d6 plus his Charisma modifier. The DM records the total, and decides the players succeed when they accumulate a certain number of points. While socializing, though, some NPCs might find out juicy tidbits about the PCs, or corner them into promising favors to the NPCs.

Not-So-Secret Doors

Ugh. Secret doors. They’re a cool part of the lore of dungeons and the secretive treasure rooms of liches, but… without a full rendering of the dungeon walls for players to inspect, doesn’t finding a secret door come down to a lengthy description of how the PCs procedurally probe every corner of a stone room? Or, worse yet, doesn’t it come down to a single die roll? And wasn’t it me who said things like that shouldn’t come down to a single die roll? Exactly.

First, you could make it so the party finds the secret door no matter what (especially if they need to find it in order to advance the story), but allow the rolls to determine what’s waiting for them on the other side. If it’s a monster, maybe a failed roll means it has a few more hit points, or a bonus to hit. If it’s treasure, maybe a failed roll means there’s less of it.

As a default approach, this is over-simplistic. I say let the players describe how they search the dungeon if they enjoy talking about how they search the dungeon. Let them make multiple rolls if they are investigative types. But ultimately, if they find such things dull and pointless, it might be best to let them roll, describe how they find what they find, and then append consequences if their search rolls were awful.

There are better solutions for finding secret doors and things like that, but I’ll talk more about that in a future post on this topic.

Puzzling Hints

For puzzles, if the players are truly stumped, a DM might want to give hints based on skills like History, Arcana, or Nature, or possibly just a Wisdom or Intelligence check with proficiency for those with the right background. In this way, you can combine die rolls with some out-of-character puzzle-solving skills, giving the players a bonus for their skill proficiencies, but not giving away the whole ball game on a single Intelligence check.

But note that this is only really necessary if the puzzle is stopping the PCs from proceeding. If they puzzle opens the door to the treasure, then give hints. But remember, “puzzles” can also be hints about what monster lies deeper in the dungeon, or a way for them to more easily dispatch the monster or get through a hazardous room. I don’t know why dungeon keepers do this, aside from perhaps to entertain themselves as adventurers run headlong into their traps and monsters. I’m looking at you, Acererak!

Acererak, the lich
“What? What did I do? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Why Do We Roll?

Remember, rolling is fun. It’s the triumph of the 20; it’s the despair of the 1. Players expect those die rolls to have consequences, but they don’t expect those consequences to be career-ending for their character. Make sure all the rolls in your game are fun by making sure they move the story forward and carry both benefits and consequences for the PCs that are meaningful and appropriate.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide encourages you to make the game your own, but you can still feel chained to what’s between its covers. But don’t be afraid to stretch things out – if the “social encounter with rolls like combat” sounds exciting, flesh it out for your game! Adding mechanics to the game can be a lot of fun, but it’s best to use mechanics your players are already familiar with.

So get out there and roll those skill checks! Sure, we could play the game without skill rolls, but we’re playing D&D because we like rolling those d20s! And most importantly, stay tuned for more articles on Save Vs. Blog about how to do skill rolls and skill challenges more better!

D&D: How to Fail at Skill Challenges

Finally, a post about Dungeons & Dragons in a blog called Save Vs Blog. (Also, finally, any post after over a year hiatus, am I right?)

This post isn’t just about D&D, nor is about a single edition of D&D. This is really about how to handle scenes where a single skill check (of whatever variety) can make or break a whole story, adventure, or campaign.

We’ve all been there before – the PCs are racing through a dungeon, on the run from hundreds of orcs, and they come to a dangerous room where they have to make an Athletics or Acrobatics checks… or else fall to their doom. And if you’ve never been there before… maybe you’ve seen The Fellowship of the Ring?

The Bridge of Khazad-Dum
“Swords are no more use here!”

So imagine that the Dungeon Master of the Lord of the Rings campaign puts his players in this situation, and then has Gimli’s player roll an Athletics check to jump across the gap… but Gimli fails the roll. What does the DM do? Does he drop Gimli to his death from falling damage? Instant death seems like a strong consequence of a failed skill check. But if Gimli makes the jump despite failing the roll, why have the roll in the first place? There has to be meaning behind the roll, but not so much meaning that it determines whether a PC lives or dies. How does a Dungeon Master handle this?

Well, first, let’s think about it purely in terms of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons mechanics. What are the average consequences of a failed d20 roll?

  • A failed attack roll is a lost opportunity. While your PC takes no damage and suffers no effects, failed attack rolls add up to a longer and more costly combat. Still, each individual failed attack roll does not carry large, direct consequences.
  • A failed saving throw is generally pretty bad. A failed save against fireball for a 5th-level character costs costs an average of 14 hit points (28 damage average, save for half). 14 hit points is at least 25% and possibly more than 50% of a 5th-level character’s hit points. But on the other hand, the enemy that throws a fireball has expended a powerful resource at that level – a 3rd-level spell slot.
  • A low initiative roll might mean taking damage that could have been prevented, but that’s not necessarily a clear, direct consequence.

If those are our guidelines for the consequences of a failed skill or ability check, then we’re left with a pretty broad range – between indirect opportunity cost and 50% of your hit points! How does that help us?

The answer is to consider the resource cost for the opposition. It costs an enemy nothing to stand there and have an armor class, so the consequences of failing to hit them are low. But it costs an enemy a 3rd-level spell slot to cast fireball, so the consequences of failing are high.

Now if we imagine that the 5th-level PC fails a saving throw against a 1st-level spell slot (burning hands, to keep the fire theme) – they’re only losing about 5 hit points more on a failed save, which is down to less than 25% (possibly as low as 9%) of their hit points for the enemy’s 1st-level spell slot. If they’re attacked by an enemy cantrip, a save completely negates the effect.

And there’s the rub with a skill check. If the source of the skill check costs the opposition nothing, then failing the skill check should be like failing an attack roll or a save against a cantrip – a low, indirect opportunity cost or a small number of hit points. That’s why high-stakes skill checks that involve jumping a chasm or finding a secret door that hides the major treasure feel so cheap – the chasm is just a chasm, not an opponent flinging high-level spells at you.

For instance, let’s get back to Gimli. If the Dungeon Master in Gimli’s game has already established that one-off skill checks aren’t going to decide life-or-death consequences, then Gimli can fail the check without falling to his death. Perhaps instead, Gimli still crosses the gap, but only barely, resulting in the loss of some hit points (which we always need to remember are an abstract concept, not a count of how many pints of blood the character has left).

In the movie, Gimli almost doesn’t make the jump, and he has to be grabbed by the beard by Legolas to be saved from falling. This is a pretty good way for Gimli’s DM to allow him to fail the roll without the consequence being a fall to his death. The drama and action of  the scene remain (when we watch the movie, we know Gimli isn’t going to die on the bridge of Khazad-Dum, but it’s exciting tension nonetheless) without giving the PC a cheap shot of 20d6 falling damage.

This isn’t the only way to handle jumping a chasm – the solutions to the Singular-But-Calamitous skill check problem are many-fold, and I plan to explore them through a series of posts about skill checks, but there are a few principles I think we can take away from this examination of d20 rolls and their outcomes.

  • Never make any failed skill check more costly than a failed saving throw.
  • Most failed skill checks should be as costly as a failed attack roll.
  • Never let a single skill check be the difference between success and failure for the encounter, the adventure, or the campaign. A single skill check might occur at the climax of the story, but it should be a set of choices and strategies that make the difference between success and failure for the characters.

There’s much more to come on this topic, so stay tuned!

Update: The next essay, Why Do We Even Roll Skills?, has been posted.

The Magic Set Editor and You

The last two posts have used the Magic Set Editor for “visual enhancement.” Now, let’s talk about what that is…

The Magic Set Editor is software aimed originally at creating custom cards for the Magic: The Gathering card game. The site also has templates for Yu-Gi-Oh!, VS, L5R, Innovation, and many other games. Another fellow, “Ander00”, created a nice template for 4e features and powers (check out the thread on enworld.org).

But, even without downloading and installing the Anders set, the MSE can do some great things for you. I had used the Anders template before the Character Builder duplicated its functionality, but until recently, I hadn’t thought of what else the MSE could do for me.

One thing I always feel is lacking in most D&D games (and which leads to players being more easily distracted) is the lack of visual stimulus. While players might have an idea of what their own character looks like, in their mind’s eye, the other characters in the party don’t have faces, and are probably just tied to the player who plays them.

Drow vs. Bruce

But it doesn’t stop with what other PCs look like. You’re swinging around that +6 holy avenger, an artifact in its own right – what does it look like? What style is your armor? What physical qualities does that key NPC have? Certainly, D&D is a game centered on imagination, but grown-ups have to work all day and take care of adult stuff  – by the time we get to the D&D table, we’re a little too tired to play pretend sometimes.

Well, MSE can’t fix all your problems, but it can certainly provide you with some visual stimulus. Let’s start where I started – key NPC cards! For those recurring NPCs – good or evil – it’s not a bad idea at all to give the players a visual reference. And, instead of turning your laptop around to show them the picture every time, why not make a little “Magic” card of the NPC?

Now This Gets Image-Heavy… Continue reading The Magic Set Editor and You

Behold the Blessing of Anyanna!

In my previous article, I talked about Convocations as a magic item idea for 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons games. In this post, I’m just going to talk about the Blessing of Anyanna Convocation I just introduced to my Dark Sun campaign. For more information about my Dark Sun campaign, check out the blog The Light of a Dark Sun, which has been discussed on this site earlier.

So, in the Light of a Dark Sun campaign, the characters have been introduced to the idea of a divine god existing and wishing to heal the world. All the characters are members of the Veiled Alliance, so they’ve heard stories of Dark Sun’s green past. But not all the characters are convinced this goddess, Anyanna, is real (and rightfully so). One of them, however, is a devout follower.

After the only priestess of Anyanna cured them of a zombie disease, the player characters gained access to a power called “The Blessing of Anyanna.” They can only use this power if they are Good-aligned and their character has faith in Anyanna, which (as of last game) only one of them claims. Here’s the power card for Blessing of Anyanna:

I know what you’re saying – “A deck of cards? How gimmicky.” Or maybe you’re not saying that. But most of my players are folks who love card and board games, so I think it fits their pre-existing interests.

The deck of cards also gives me a chance to add some more flavor and visual appeal to the game. I whipped out the “Magic Set Editor” software (which I’ll explore in yet another post) and slapped together some cards for the Blessing of Anyanna deck. I’m super-pleased with them:

Continue reading Behold the Blessing of Anyanna!

D&D: The “Convocation” Magic Item

In my constant quest to make D&D even better, I am always looking for unique ways to reward players. With my Dark Sun campaign, I want to really capture a feel of desperation and rare magic, so I am not giving out a lot of magic items at all. In fact, it’s a very dry well. Of course, I’m using the inherent enhancement bonuses rule, so my players will get statistically better without items (albeit slowly). But my players still need the options and fun that magic items bring to the game.

As a side note, I really like the “Boons” added to 4th edition in later supplements. These are magic item effects that aren’t based on items, making them perfect for games in which the player characters aren’t going to be bristling with shiny, glowing armor and weapons.

Enter the “Convocation”. A “Convocation” is like a Boon, but it’s meant for the whole group to share in. This could be as easy as giving all the PCs access to a specific magic item’s Property or Power… or it could be as complex as the “Blessing of Anyanna” that I’ll describe below. My basic theory is that the character can use the Convocation as if it were a magic item, using a Property or Power from that Convocation. (Note to those who don’t read the D&D 4e rules updates – the whole concept of “daily magic item uses” has been removed, so this is a lot simpler than before.)

What’s the point of a Convocation? Basically, it serves as the kind of reward a group might get as a whole instead of as an individual reward. If they save the wizard Gamblagog from the clutches of the ice dragon Wienzerberber, then Gamblagog might cast an enchantment to give the whole party the Property of Veteran’s Armor (which is useful for most classes). In that case, it’s not much different from handing out the same Boon to each character.

Now Let’s Spice It Up a Bit…

A Convocation can get a lot more interesting than that, though. If the Convocation has “charges”, then using it becomes a resource drain on the party. If the Convocation gets weaker or stronger the more it’s used, then strategy enters the calculation. Perhaps the Convocation changes completely after it’s used, or morphs through several permutations as it’s used. This adds a group dynamic that most other D&D mechanics don’t have.

Here Are Some Convocation Ideas…

Continue reading D&D: The “Convocation” Magic Item

As Your Lawyer, I Advise You to Get WordPress

In a previous post from last year, I advised you (as a Dungeon or Game Master) to get a wiki. I still advise that if you’re making a homemade game world or otherwise need to pump a ton of information to your players in a searchable, easily linkable format. Wikis rule.

But recently, I started a Dark Sun campaign and I wanted it to be very deeply character and story-driven, with good roleplay elements and opportunities. I wanted players to really connect with their characters, and for their characters to develop actual personalities over time – not just “I like to kill evil and drink booze” type of things.

So my course of action was different this time. I decided, “Why not blog the game?” In fact, why not blog the game as an engaging narrative story?

For this, WordPress was perfect. It’s easy to set up (and in fact, I didn’t do the backend customization as I have for SaveVsBlog, just to show how easy it is). It has the capacity (now) for both blog entries and static pages (for PC and NPC descriptions). I’m hoping (time will tell) that the players will eventually want to write entries from their character’s perspective, or otherwise contribute – and WordPress lets me set that up with just a few clicks.

So, follow us now at The Light of a Dark Sun as five “renegades” in the Veiled Alliance attempt to rid Athas of defilers and usher in a new Green Age. As always, comments and questions are welcomed below!

 

The Problem with Solos

If you play 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, you’ve probably noticed a problem with a lot of the solo monsters in the game. Solos are supposed to be a challenge equal to multiple monsters, but they often fall short of that challenge. There are several reasons for this:

– Solos can be hamstrung by defenders’ marks. This can easily prevent them from being a threat to anyone else in the party, and it’s important that an encounter give all party members something to worry about.

– Solos can be dismantled by stun effects, or even slow effects that reduce their ability to move around. Stun or daze can ruin a solo’s day. Slowing or restraining might mean the solo remains a danger to melee characters, but ranged characters will yawn and fire away.

– Solos can sometimes stake their game on a single attack roll, and don’t do squat when they miss.

In fact, the only times I’ve ever seen a solo really challenge a party – both as a player and a DM – is when the solo is at least a few levels higher than the party.

How do I think this problem can be addressed? It’s a tough thing to make solos appropriately threatening without making them too powerful. Let’s consider the following points about solos versus a four monster encounter.

– The monsters can attack four times, or attack three times and buff once, et cetera. The solo probably doesn’t get to attack four times, or if it does, it’s on recharge or once per encounter.

– One or two of the monsters might be marked, but the others are free to harass healers, ranged attackers and flank the defender. The solo can’t flank with himself, he can’t be everywhere at once and, if he’s marked, he only screws himself by attacking anyone who isn’t the defender.

– The monsters can be spread throughout the initiative track, giving the characters something to think about when their turn comes up. Most solos only get one initiative, so players can really put them in the worst positions before their turn.

With each of these disadvantages, there are some abilities solos get to counter them, but usually it’s not enough. I do have some ideas to make things a little more effective.

For instance, solos’ attacks could be modified slightly. They could be mostly bursts and blasts, with the occasional attack power that lets them hit attack multiple people. Most importantly, if an attack is only going to hit a single target, it should do damage on a miss or have an effect.

However, while that might make the solo more effective, it doesn’t go far to make the fight more interesting.

Perhaps a solo fight could involve a big monster who can generate or empower minions. The minions could basically be an extension of the solo, representing the attacks and actions he should otherwise be getting. The minions don’t have to be zombies or guards – they could be mirror images or shadow doubles. Perhaps the wizard has mastered time and space and can appear in multiple places at once.

To make a solo much more interesting, though, I suggest a more active solo. The Dragon of Tyr has a nifty ability – he acts on four initiatives each turn. I think this is a really good way to make solos interesting. A big, brutish solo can act on multiple initiatives, perhaps only getting a standard on each of his initiatives. A quick assassin can have an opportunity action (triggered by being attacked, or an enemy moving adjacent) that gives her a chance to counterattack, or dodge an attack and shift away. In this way, the solo replicates the multiple attacks, multiple initiatives and multiple threats of the four monsters it replaced. It can also avoid stuns and dazes by losing only one of its multiple turns instead of all of them. I’m not sure whether or not it gets a save at the end of each of these turns, as that might make things too powerful. Honestly, I am currently in favor of getting multiple saves, just like multiple monsters get multiple saves, but remove the +5 bonus that solos normally get.

I think another piece of the puzzle for the “multiple action” solo is an ability that removes marks. It should not be automatic, as that is a sure way to frustrate the Hell out of the defender’s player. But, for instance, if the solo hits a target, the solo removes any mark from the target. Or, the solo gets a save at the beginning of its turn to remove any mark. In this way, the defender does not feel that marking is useless, but rather it’s just occasionally ineffective.

Solos can offer such an awesome encounter for the heroes to face down a villain, for the Big Bad to finally be confronted, and for the big dragon to be slain. However, the solos that exist, especially in the early books, make it a little too easy for that villain to be skunked by the player-characters. But with a little work, they can make for truly epic encounters.

Alternate Rewards: Scars

After a long unintentional hiatus, Save vs. Blog is back!

Dungeons & Dragons is a game about treasure. Once the big dragon is slain, there ought to be a big pile of treasure underneath him. Right? However, settings like Dark Sun call for treasure to be rare, and for magical items to be rarer still. In the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, the idea of alternate rewards is presented, especially Divine Boons and the like. These are essentially magic items that don’t take the form of items, and they’re a great alternative to the traditional magic sword.

Boons are generally described as gifts from the gods, or blessings from powerful entities, or special training from a legendary warmaster. But I have another idea for when your character’s aren’t in good with anyone like that.

As the psurlon dies, it lashes out with a final psychic strike. You feel the hatred of the beast burn across your brain, leaving a potent psychic scar on your mind.

Psychic Scar of Bloodthirst
Level: 5
Price:1,000 gp
Wondrous Item

Property: When an enemy bloodies you, you gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls against that enemy until the end of your next turn.

The idea of a “scar” as a magic item can really emphasize the importance of a defeated villain. It can serve as a reminder of an epic battle. As a bonus, it’s a way to give a character a personalized reward. Not all Dungeon Master’s will like my next idea, but try it on for size:

Psychic Scar of Vengeance
Level: 9
Price:1,000 gp
Wondrous Item

Property: If you are targeted by an attack that would deal psychic damage on a hit or miss, you are -2 on all defenses against that attack.

The first time you are bloodied during an encounter, you may use one of your at-will attack powers as an immediate interrupt. If the attack hits, you gain 5 temporary hit points.

What if the scar leaves a penalty behind too? This isn’t following the typical magic item rules, but it gives the scar a bit more flavor. If you find your players complaining, though, they may not fit with your group. If you do choose to apply penalties alongside scars, the really hard part is balancing the penalties and benefits – the existence of a penalty, after all, should make the benefit of the reward even greater.

In essence, a scar is just a reward given as the result of an epic battle. You could easily give a scar a slot – for instance, the final slash of a werewolf along someone’s arm might leave a scar that is the equivalent Skull Bracers and takes up the Arms slot. Otherwise, a scar can be a wondrous item, not unlike a Boon. As shown above, a scar need not be physical – a psychic scar can be just as cool.

The scar is just one of my many ideas for alternative rewards for D&D. Stay tuned for more!

As Your Lawyer, I Advise You to Get a Wiki

I just wanted to make a quick recommendation to all Dungeon Masters out there, especially those who run games in home-brewed worlds. Get Yourself a wiki!

Personally, I recommend Mediawiki, the wiki engine used for Wikipedia. It’s robust and has a huge community for support and plug-ins, as well as an extensive set of help pages.

For the basic user, simply being able to write up descriptions of nations, NPCs and new monsters in a place where your players can access it is priceless. You can store documents related to your campaign there as well, from letters the players receive to treaties or puzzles they might have to peruse.

For the advanced user, a place for players to add their own notes and character descriptions is really helpful for enhancing their memories of things they’ve done and places they’ve been. Even I haven’t implemented anything like that yet, but I think my game would be much much better if I had players write short “journal” entries at the end of every game, which they could then read at the beginning of the next game. It is such a good idea, I might have to sit down and work on it in the next few weeks.

If you’re like me, you have a pet setting where you intend to run D&D games for the forseeable future. Using Namespaces to separate pages relating to a specific campaign makes organizing campaign-sized NPCs versus adventure-sized NPCs a snap! And if you need to hide some details from players but ensure you can see them, there are plug-ins that allow a degree of security – basically invisibility – for certain namespaces.

Even if you don’t need to store a whole campaign worth of data somewhere, a wiki can help you out. If you don’t need a whole wiki, Google Docs can work just as well.

Here’re just a few notes on using MediaWiki for this purpose:

  • I highly recommend you restrict editing to users and don’t allow anyone to register on your wiki. Spamming wikis is a popular sport. Putting the following in your LocalSettings.php file should work:
    $wgGroupPermissions[‘*’][‘createaccount’] = false;
    $wgGroupPermissions[‘*’][‘edit’] = false;
  • Register your users manually, since they’re likely to be just you and your players.
  • You can easily hide the whole wiki from the public by making it viewable only to logged-in users and giving logins to your players, if you’re into that kind of thing.

If a wiki isn’t for you, there are plenty of other web solutions that can be a huge boon to DMs. Log all the events that occur during a game in a WordPress blog and post them for your players to remind themselves. Use Google Docs to make a spreadsheet to track what magical items the players have to ensure you’re filling their slots and distributing things fairly. The internet is one big DM tool, especially if your players bring their laptops.

As an example, here is my poorly maintained campaign setting wiki. It’s likely full of contradictions and outdated information, so don’t bother trying to proofread it. It is, on the other hand, a great example of what you can do with a wiki while expending very little effort to keep things straight.

If you’re doing online roleplay in a MMO or something similar, a wiki can be handy for the same sort of things, like write-ups of characters and events.

The Personal Lives of Adventurers

The personal lives of Adventurers are an interesting case of sociology. In my experience, the vast majority of adventurers in fantasy worlds are unmarried, childless and homeless. They are philosophically aligned with “ends justify means” and use violence as a means to an end. They are constantly armed, often paranoid and generally incredibly rich compared to the peasantry, although their wealth is invested heavily in arms. They are generally vigilantes who make their own rules, although some are religious or political zealots who follow someone else’s rules.

Now, I don’t particularly think that’s bad or wrong. I think it’s usually a necessity of their situation. Fantasy worlds are usually unforgiving wastelands of a sort. It’s hard to follow a path of peace when you’re the target of random violence from the local savage beasts or evil cults. Adventurers are usually called to a life of fighting for wealth, power or – hopefully – the defense of the innocent people of the world, and that leaves little time for having a family and raising children.

I’m writing this article for a simple reason – are there alternatives to the paranoid, heavily armored lone wolves that make up so much of our D&D characters and such? Sure! In fact, it’s possible to have those characters without giving up any of the action, and I think most experienced DMs and players have seen it done.

Let’s talk about families and children. Defending your family is a fine way for an adventurer to start out. But why would you leave them once the immediate kobold threat is eliminated? Perhaps it’s the same reasons people volunteer to join the armed forces. Maybe the threat is obviously greater than a few kobolds, and the local militia doesn’t look like they’re solving the problem. Striking out with a few other skilled folks might allow you to strike directly at the evil wizard controlling the kobolds.

But a family is difficult – getting back to visit them can be difficult, and it really hinges on the Dungeon Master properly roleplaying your spouse and kids. Plus, they will inevitably be kidnapped by the evil wizard and used against you. That’s a given.

What about pacifism? There are rules about this kind of thing, but let’s ignore those for a moment. True pacifism isn’t really going to make for a great fantasy story. Action is a part of the genre, and action often means violence. Sure, an entire dungeon could contain only traps, but it doesn’t lend itself to the game for various reasons. However, a set of rules of engagement is easily accomplished. Whether it’s always challenging your foes and giving them a chance to surrender or simply never opting to kill them, I think most of us have encountered a character like that.

Homelessness? It seems like adventurers are transients until someone will give them a castle or stronghold or something. It seems odd to me, but I suppose it’s a part of the fantasy genre. Personally, I think a nice house or a shack somewhere can nicely tie a character or adventuring party to a place and given them direction when they might not otherwise have one.

As for wealth, most games are set such that characters get very wealthy but have a lot of that wealth tied up in magical items.  There is nothing really wrong with this, but once he’s filthy rich, the “selfish treasure hunter” archetype starts to wonder why he’s still risking his neck if it’s just for a better sword and not the earthly pleasures of an opulent lifestyle.

In the end, I think it’s perhaps best to think of adventurers as the fantasy equivalent of an extreme sports fanatic. You might not even need to go that far – maybe a professional sports athlete is a good enough analogy. There aren’t many of them in our society, but some people live to do crazy things for whatever sponsors or money they can acquire. Similarly, there aren’t many adventurers in a fantasy setting, and maybe everyone else from the king to the peasant sees them as nutcases, but basically like what they do.

The funny thing to me is that if I met a guy carrying four guns and insisting he was about to go fight evil, I would not think that was a good thing. But to be fair, kobolds have never attacked my village.