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.