Surprise, it’s an ambush!


Ambushes seem to be a ubiquitous part of RPG’s. The 5E starter module The Lost Mines of Phandelver begins with the party being ambushed by a group of goblins while ambush monsters have been a part of the game from its inception. These ranged from Invisible Stalkers to Purple Worms, there was always something crawling in the dark waiting to kill and or swallow you whole.  Yet I’ve found the implementation of ambushes to be trickier than just yelling surprise, players just don’t seem to enjoy being ambushed and often feel cheated by them, while this isn’t surprising itself it does speak to a wider issue about ambushes within the game. I’m going to discuss why I think this is the case and some ways to improve ambushing in your game.

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Stop Telling Stories.


Every RPG rule book seems to have a chapter at the start that describes what a roleplaying game is and a huge number of them miss the point entirely by calling it in one way or another a ‘story telling game.’

Let’s look at some examples.

The 5E Players Guide;

“The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery. “

Pathfinder’s Core Rulebook;

“Think of it as a cooperative storytelling game, where the players play the protagonists and the Game Master acts as the narrator, controlling the rest of the world.”

4e Player’s Handbook;

“A roleplaying game is a storytelling game that has elements of the games of make-believe that many of us played as children.”

It’s only when we go as far back as the AD&D 2nd Edition Rulebook that we get a definition of a roleplaying game I can actually get behind.

“This is the heart of role-playing. The player adopts the role of a character and then guides that character through an adventure. The player makes decisions, interacts with other characters and players, and, essentially, “pretends” to be his character during the course of the game. “

While I understand why the term ‘storytelling game‘ has been used and can agree that it’s not entirely inaccurate, you are sitting around with your friends and narrating out actions that when linked together will form some kind of narrative,  it is  not what playing a roleplaying game is about to me and I’m going to tell you why.

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Everything you cherish will perish-Acceptance of death within Tabletop RPG’s.


I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and I can see the gaping maws of oblivion inexorably closing in on me as my optimistic shell of youth fades away, the aching inevitability of that final moment creeping closer and closer as the dusts of time flake through my fingers. Or perhaps it’s because one of my players characters died and I’m struggling to cope with the latent guilt.  Honestly though, fate willed it, she got knocked down to 0 by a bugbear, none of her allies came to her aid and she failed 3 death saving throws in a row. There was nothing anybody could do.

Death is an incredibly difficult thing for humans to process in real life and equally within the realms of our table top games with many groups struggling on how to deal with player death and many games master lamenting the death of one of his critical NPC’s.  The reaper claims us all eventually and the only way to escape the suffering that contemplating our finite mortality brings, that everything we have ever known, touched and loved will one day cease to be, is acceptance that we will die. ‘Memento Mori’ ( Remember that you have to die.) As the Romans would say. In the same way dealing with death in your games comes from acceptance of death , but how does this apply within that context?

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Against Milestone Leveling.


megablok-dragons-1536396Milestone leveling rubs me the wrong way. There’s something strange about the GM just deciding my character just levels up.  Sometimes a better a GM will at least create a series of paced plot links that, other GM’s seem to just do so on a whim which entirely screws up any sense of pacing or immersion. Although either method seems flawed.

It comes down to rewarding players.  The four main rewards I’ve seen players interested  roughly in order are.

  • Magic Items
  • Gold
  • Experience
  • Achievement of personal character goals and group goals.

Note this doesn’t include the reward of playing your epic story. Most players don’t actually seem to care much about that at all. The item of that list explicitly means goals that the players have come up with for themselves not one the GM has crafted for them.

Milestone leveling removes one of these reward centers and cuts into another if the GM is only using milestone leveling when players reach certain points in his plot then the goals they set for themselves don’t matter. This trickles down and affects large portion of the game as a result as players are only going to be completing tasks they have incentive to do.

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10 Foot Pits.

sky-ditch-eye-holeGoogling around in regards to 5E D&D rules I found a thread where a Dungeon Master was actually complaining that since in 5E players can by RAW jump their strength in feet that that meant all 10 foot pits were now not a challenge to the party.  Somebody else chimed in and cleverly said ‘well, in a world where you can easily jump 10 feet all pits would be 20 feet long.’

I’m sitting there in my underwear thinking why the hell does anybody think that a ten foot pit is an interesting or exciting challenge for a party ?

What group of players after a game go, ‘Holy shit Dave when we came to that ten foot pit in the tunnel we were stoked , then when Jim rolled a 9 and fell in we all shit our collective pants as he took 1d6 damage. Then we had to watch him roll 3 more times to try to climb out. That was intense.’

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