The Inquisition: Fleshing Out Characters

Help your players by adding some layers. Thanks to flickr user shandchem. CC BY-ND 2.0

This will be a short post, but something that I think is important to every game: making characters deeper. And I’m talking about PC’s here. (Maybe next week I’ll talk about making deeper NPCs)

No matter how hard we try, our back-stories are not going to be perfectly comprehensive. Often, as a GM, we also run into players who have little to no interest in coming up with some depth to their character as well.

One of the best ways I’ve found is to ask questions of your players.

Where did your character grow up?

Does he have any scars?

What did she do for a living before the game started?

What was family life like?

Such questions can unlock a surprising amount of depth, mostly because I think the process that we use to come up with characters is based off a single concept. For example, I recently had the idea that my next DnD character would be a disillusioned war veteran. While this gave me a lot of ideas, most of them were related to his past as a soldier. While some led to tangents that were relevant to his non-soldiering life (How did he come to join the military in the first place?), most were within the same tunnel. Having a second or third party ask questions opens up new avenues of character exploration they didn’t even think to explore. (By the way, I love asking my fellow players questions about their backstories, I think it really helps get into character, cement inter-party relationships, and generally make the world more interesting. Next time you’re a PC, really get into it with the other players.)

Anyway, I wanted to link you a small questionnaire I put together for my most recent game. Steal it if you want, modify it, and use it in your game!



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The Inquisition: Splitting the Party

A split! Thanks to flickr user Composite Character. CC BY-NC 2.0

Sometimes I can tell when I begin writing a post whether it’s going to be long and ponderous or a markedly quick burst of text. (Ok, let’s be honest, it’s almost always the former, despite my best intentions for the latter.) While I generally attempt to be succinct, from time to time there comes a topic such as today’s, which promises to be divisive. Yes, it’s the age old question: should we split the party?

Last weeks’ article, still possessing the oven-fresh smell, dealt with the idea of the Trouble Player, and one particular behavior that frequently led to a player being Trouble was the isolation or fragmenting of the party. One might be led to believe, then, that the author generally does not favor splitting the group. I say thee nay, and point out that the selfish behavior of the Trouble Player is the root of the side-quests or solo adventures in this situation. For today, we’ll deal solely with legitimate reasons to split the party, the natural (or unnatural) ways they arise, whether dividing the players is a good idea, and how to do it if you do decide to go that route.

A good deal of ink has been spilled regarding this well-worn topic, and with good measure; it’s something that has plagued GMs and players alike since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. Just Google the phrase “split the party” and you’ll undoubtedly find dozens of gamer blogs dealing with this exact topic. I read through a bunch of them, hoping to both hone my own arguments and thoughts concerning this behavior, but also to survey whether my thoughts were just the same re-hashing of what everyone already thinks (the prevailing opinion, as with most things, is: don’t overdo it, it can work in the right situation, with the right group of players, yada yada yada). I hope you find my advice more specifically useful.

Continue reading “The Inquisition: Splitting the Party”

The Inquisition: Trouble Characters

Some characters can be trouble, just like this guy.
Thanks to flickr user martin_heigan. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is the first of a two-part article about trouble at your gaming table. I’ve divided my thoughts into two sections: dealing with trouble characters, and dealing with trouble players. I’ll start with trouble characters, since they seem to be so much easier to deal with.

The idea here is that all the players involved (including the GM) are interested in having a good time and can work out their differences amicably. It’s hard to isolate when a character is creating a problem and when a player is creating a problem; usually, the character stems directly from the player, and thus its easy to associate lots of these kinds of issues to stubborn, annoying, or otherwise jerky players.

However, even the best players can inadvertently go wrong and make a character that ends up being too much trouble for a smooth game. I think there are definitely a few archetypes that are troubling, so I’ll talk about how to effectively deal with them. With good, conscientious players, it’s easy to just pull them aside and talk it over and fix any problems that might exist. But we know that not every situation is black and white, not every good player is open to criticism, not every GM is the best communicator in the world, and so on. So let’s dive right in.

What makes a problem character?

This is a difficult question to answer. I want to say something like “doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group” but that’s not really fair to all of the characters out there who are clearly alien and make it work. It’s not about culture, it’s about mindset.

Continue reading “The Inquisition: Trouble Characters”

The Dice Are Trying to Kill Me! Dealing with Character Death

Brained by Ashe Rhyder

It happens to the very best of us. From first level Bard to 18th level wizard, sometimes that monster just rolls a crit and you’re doomed. It’s not fair: you get a DM who just gets off on killing PCs, there is nothing you can do and the dice rolls are against you, or sometimes you’re just an idiot and don’t check for traps. Now you wouldn’t think that having a pretend person die in a pretend way would be difficult, but it can be. I recently had my first brush with character death and it scared the pants off of me. It was my absolute favorite PC and I would’ve honestly been sad had she died. Now, chances are we’re all grown ups here and the death of a fictional character shouldn’t cause us to hide under the covers for days on end; but just in case you’re a little heart sore, here are some ideas on how to ease the suffering.

Laugh It Off: The first time I witnessed a PC death the player just laughed. Now it /was/ a rather hilarious death, being dragged away by giant spiders while my character failed a shooting roll and killed him with an arrow. But the nonchalance and acceptance I saw inspired me to do the same. Most of the time people laugh hysterically at their poor character dying. This is a good reminder that it’s a game and should be treated as such. It’s not the end of the world.

It’s Okay to Cry: Had my poor Penelope died I probably would’ve put on a stiff upper lip, not made a fuss, and had a good cry in a bubble bath afterwards. You get into these characters, and the longer you spend time with them  chances are the more attached you’ll be. You’re not a sissy for actually being upset, you’re human.


Don’t Be a Jerk: All that said it’s not okay to pout, get angry, throw things, blame other PCs, storm off and generally be a grump. Death happens. Be a good sport about it and make other players admire you for your fortitude.


Save Them: Some DMs will try and help you. My Penelope got a direct Crit 20 hit by the monster they were fighting and had her skulls smashed in. She was -14 hit points. My DM knew how much I loved her and he was upset that the dice had rolled such a way. He allows for other characters to try and save dying PCs (Via potion, a healer, or something else), or he’ll allow us to sacrifice something (such as an NPC, a really special piece of equipment, or a limb). In Penelope’s case we took a chance and another player made her drink a random potion we had picked up. Our DM pulled out the random potion table, the player trying to save me rolled…and lo and behold it was a potion of restoration. She gained back all her HP and gained +2 to her INT. HALLELUIAH!!!! I nearly started crying of relief right then and there. Her bright violet, Jack Kirby inspired Helmet-of-Reading-all-Languages was destroyed (see the “smashed into skull” above). But I (being a resourceful player) turned the lenses it came with into a pair of bright purple glasses that still gave her the same abilities.

Run With It: Deliberately kill your character. Slayer/Death dungeons are a blast as long as you go into it expecting death; that way it’s a treat if they do survive! I know one player who killed his character in order to murder the groups most hated NPC villain. Rumor has it was spectacular, over the top, and grand. If you’re going to die, make it fantastic!

Acceptance: Chances are you’re PC didn’t get as lucky as mine and you’re in mourning. Best piece of advice I can give is KEEP PLAYING! Roll up a new character that will join the party. Take over a NPC and make him/her/it your own! It’s a game and should be treated as such. The goal is to have fun.

In Memorandum: Keep track of your dead characters. I know of a guy who runs games that only dead characters are allowed into. Someone suggested to a local game store that they have a wall where customers can pin their dead characters sheets and how they died. Years later you’ll find this sheet, remember how they died, and hopefully have a good laugh.Yeah it’s silly to cause such a fuss over a dead character, but some people would argue it’s silly to cause a fuss over table top games. It’s only as serious as you make it. We’re all human and all have emotions. No one will fault you if you are honestly upset. Just keep it mature and in good sportsmanlike conduct. Enjoy playing the game and growing as a person while you mow down PC after PC. KEEP PLAYING!!!

Full Frontal Gaming


Before you start rolling your eyes, this isn’t a post about sexuality in games or how women should or shouldn’t be portrayed. This is simply about the plain old fact that most women have boobs. And, any size, shape or flavor, there are things to consider in game regarding these modifiers. They are actually very mobile, sensitive and malleable organs that will affect how your female acts or reacts in any given situation. And, being a female who owns a pair, I have considered the repercussions of having a character that also sports girls.

Now I’ll be brief and to the point with the sticking point. Breasts have weight. They swing, the bounce, when you lie down they take a little nap in your armpits. Running actually physically hurts if they aren’t supported.  Sitting a trot on a horse has the same result. Ouch.

Armor.  Now I could go long and hard into practical vs awesome looking armor but we’re all hoping to get on with the day at some time. So just a few things to consider: To protect properly, they have to be big enough to cover dem boobies. If they don’t, that’s cool. Just something extra to consider just like you have to consider fighting in a 4 foot high corridor is gonna be hard. While not quite as bad as a kick to the nuts, getting a direct blunt blow to the nipple causes the same doubled over, moaning pain.

Consider your weapon. If your character’s chest is large, swinging an ax is going to be tricky. Swords are great, but two handed weapons may limit your range/strength. If a female archer who rolls a NAT 1 should be required to have the bow string hits her in the boob. While not quite on the same level as a nutshot, a direct hit to the chest results in a similar doubled over, moaning position. It hurts. A LOT!

Consider other stats. If they’re tiny, chances are your CHA checks may be affected. A female with small breasts pads them to look bigger. She can survive one direct hit to the chest due to all the padding but loses one charisma point due to her secret being found out. A character with ridiculously large girls may not be taken seriously either by sexiest men or women who are self-conscious about themselves.

The alignment of the female character can almost always be exclusively advertised by her cup size. A
Lawful Good misses will have modest, unobtrusive AAs. True Neutrals usually sport a classic B. Chaotic Evils throw all common sense into the wind and can swing some DDs and up with the best of them. When dreaming up the design of your PC to think hard about how this factors into the moral fiber of your character.

Consider modifiers for neckwear. Consider cleavage and the repercussions of showing it. Please remember cleavage is not a natural phenomenon and actually requires support to happen. If you flaunt it, be prepared to face the consequences.

They are a fact of female life and should be enjoyed as a fascinating aspect of the game. With these (hopefully) helpful suggestions you should be well on your way to facing a brave new world of female enlightenment.


Evil: A Do-It-Yourself Guide

Thanks to flickr user elycefeliz! CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A few days ago a friend mentioned that, in the campaign he’s planning on running this upcoming summer, he was thinking of encouraging the players to take the reins of evil characters (D&D 3.5). Wheeee! Having played a few campaigns with evil parties, I was immediately called back to those old days of 2nd editi0n sword and sorcery, where my high-school friends and I barely made it through a few sessions without devolving into a free-for-all murder-fest. Our evil campaigns never lasted long.

As we grew up, and the group evolved, the idea of an evil campaign soon came calling again, this time in college. We were more mature, valued the fun of working together to solve common goals, so we did not ruthlessly murder each-other, but instead work together to murder hundreds of others.

One of the other players in this upcoming game expressed her reservations about playing an evil character. Primarily, she said that she might have a difficult time doing the things required of an evil character: the oppression and killing of innocents and children, heinous acts of savagery, taking advantage of the weak, the poor, the indigent, and the helpless.

In light of my recent post on alignment, I thought I would revisit the concept of evil: how to define it, how to understand and manipulate it, and ultimately, how to be it, or how to confront it. I’ll try not to get too philosophical; after all, I don’t think you came here to discover the answer to the questions of the universe, nor am I really able to answer them.

I will say that having a campaign that features evil PCs, evil deeds, and evil plots is certainly possible. Playing an evil character doesn’t mean that you are personally evil, though I do admit that often our characters are reflections of ourselves. I feel like I’m dancing on some Chickian line here, but I feel confident saying playing an evil character doesn’t make you evil no more than playing a good character makes you good. It’s the opportunity to explore something different, which is what role-playing games are all about.

Continue reading “Evil: A Do-It-Yourself Guide”

Stars Maligned

Borrowed from Flickr user satosphere under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. Thanks!

The following is a lengthy screed about Alignment, as it pertains to Dungeons and Dragons. If that doesn’t interest you, why don’t you try some bunnies instead?

Where to begin? I’ll start by saying that alignment is and has been one of the core concepts of Dungeons and Dragons, around since the first edition to the current incarnation (no word yet on whether it will be included in future editions). I recognize that alignment is, amusingly, a very polarizing concept to gamers. Many, many people believe that it should not be tied to the fundamental game mechanics, and that it should be fluff only. Others view it as an essential pillar of the D&D experience. How can we reconcile the two?

First, I’d recommend browsing this quick wikipedia article on the history of alignment of D&D. I was going to go through it myself, but others have already done a fine job, so I credit them. Just don’t get lost in the wiki labyrinth.

I’ll also quote the OGL version of alignment for us to use as a frame of reference:

“A creature’s general moral and personal attitudes are represented by its alignment: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral, neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil.

Alignment is a tool for developing your character’s identity. It is not a straitjacket for restricting your character. Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies, so two characters of the same alignment can still be quite different from each other. In addition, few people are completely consistent.”

That being said, does anyone really like alignment?

Continue reading “Stars Maligned”

Where I Learned to Stop Doubting Myself and Just Hit Things.


I’m shy. Was home-schooled all the way from kindergarten through high school, quiet, meek, good little Christian girl. Having spent most of my life being told Dungeons and Dragons was demonic and a gateway to hell, I simply avoided it. One day while on a first date I asked how one actually played it. Instead of black magic, robes and ritual candles I learned about coke zero, dirty jokes and goofy fun. I decided to take a crack at it with the mind set of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

I was launched into a game of Homicidal Transients. The other players were brilliant. It was a mixture of dice rolling; improve theater, and lots of laughter. I struggled to fight against my shyness and breathe life into Godfrey. I doubted myself on whether it was ok, cool, weird, or awkward. My first few games of Maid and Burning Wheel were like this.

In Maid my character, Charlotte, had a trait of “Easy Going.” Not much fazed her. She wasn’t the most cunning or imaginative of the maids but she was athletic and determined. Until she grew a third eyeball in the middle of her forehead. She suddenly wigged out a bit and declared additional body parts were not part of her contract.

This reaction bugged me afterwards. She was supposed to be unflappable and, while understandingly upset, I was mad at myself for breaking character. I was reacting at the time like myself (or any normal person) but not like Charlotte.

Again it happened our first session of Burning Wheel. Penelope is a farrier who came from a small village and has a vast hunger for knowledge and the world. One of her beliefs is “never be apathetic.” But when we found ourselves facing combat and delicate negotiations, she just stood there. She has no combat training at all and I could see nothing she could contribute to the scene. So Penelope, the tallest and strongest of the group, waited patiently and gave little tidbits of advice. Very boring to play.

I thought about it and realized it was so boring for me because I was playing like myself, mostly my old self. I had to learn to assert myself, speak up and stop being such a pushover. Penelope and my current me were nothing like this and it galled me. I decided right then and there to hell with it and regardless of how silly the outcome to let Penelope have at it.

The next sessions brought us up against a dark elf. And we walloped him! Completely untrained Penelope saw her friends in danger and snagged her farrier hammer. Throwing herself at him she managed to score a direct hit to his shoulder. He dropped his spear which we then snatched up and ran for the hills! Penelope received a small scratch on her midsection for this action but was introduced to the world of combat. From here she started practicing with a hammer and learning how to defend herself. She was given a gift of a small war hammer to battle with.

Starting to learn from my mistakes I kept playing other games. In Dungeons and Dragons after mentally flailing and getting frustrated with my lack of gusto I decided to hell with it. In for a penny in for a pound! I started letting my character just start hitting things, interrupting conversations, getting into scrapes, and running like a coward. Suddenly this was awesome! It turns out Penelope is falling for the dark elf we battled. He was captured and held for trial but Penelope managed to convince the king to give him to our party as a guild. Imagine quiet Penelope from that first session standing up to a king!

In a solo game of Old School Hack my cleric, Miles, was as plain and ignorant as they come. He went up against a dream weaver spider. After the DM described a sinister, evil creature Miles simply took off his shoe and smooshed it. He found a magic stone that he could only communicate with via humming. It let him from the dungeon through a bizarre game of hot and cold.

Probably my most infamous act of “in for a penny…” was Gisette in a session of D&D. We turned a corner and there was a large frog in the middle of the corridor. Without pausing she shot him with a bow and arrow. Perfect kill. Well, it turns out it was a wisdom frog and was supposed to tell us everything we needed to know about the world we had been dropped into. But since I killed him, no wisdom for us. My party member wore his intact skin as a hat and gained amphibian powers.

I’m impatient. I tend to bolt down hallways, shoot first, and get wiggly during diplomatic talks. I just want to hit things. My shyness has started disappearing as I become more comfortable playing with new people. I use it less as an escape and more as a way to explore different lifestyles and ideals. Regardless of what I’ve playing I remember it’s a game and to have fun.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing!


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