Posts tagged “campaigning

More on Alternative Campaigns

In my last post I mentioned “Alternative Campaigns” without clearly defining what I refer to as an alternative campaign.  Basically, it is one where the Dungeon Master purposefully limits the standard options available to players during character generation.  This is done, not to make things tough on the players, but to facilitate the creation of a unique gaming world created by the Dungeon Master.  These campaigns do not involve your standard adventuring party and they require players willing to constrain themselves in some ways, and challenge themselves in other ways.  Of course, making an attempt at playing in an alternative campaign will require you to say “no” to some of your players.  But first, let’s explore some ideas to fully flesh out what I mean.

I had spoken of “an all rogue campaign” that my friend has been trying to get off the ground for some time.  It has great potential to challenge his players, as they would have to overcome encounters using only the tools available to rogues.  An all rogue campaign in 4E would not have a defender to soak up damage, the absence of a controller could prove problematic and certainly, the lack of a leader character would make combat very deadly.  But, think of the new combat strategies players would have to conceive to succeed!

Of course there are other ways of limiting players in their character choices. Perhaps the story you are interested in telling takes place deep within a primordial forest where the human nations have yet to explore or invade?  Disallowing humans would make sense, especially if they are going to be used as enemies in encounters.  In fact, limiting players to only Eladrin, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Wilden and Shifters would not be outside the realm of the rational.

Alternative campaigns not only add new challenges to the players, but they add a unique flavor and a variety to the numerous campaigns your gaming group will be playing.  In one of my earlier campaigns, (a 2nd Edition game) one of the main themes was faith and religion.  Many of the players willingly continued to make characters that would be defined in 4E terms as “Divine Power” classes.  The stories told during that campaign had a particular flavor that a standard retinue of characters could not duplicate.  And, if I you will permit me to indulge myself, it is a campaign that is still talked about when we old timers get together for a few mugs of honey-mead and swap lies with each other.

But, there are so many options available to players and, if they are like my gaming group, they can only play a few hours a week.  Limiting a gaming group like this could aggravate the players, especially if their Dungeon Master is constantly coming up with unique worlds and stories to tell, with very few standard campaign story lines.  On the other hand, younger players aren’t going to care about the nuances of your unique game world and will be focused on exploring their creative potential (and “get mad loot”).  Indeed, a standard dungeon crawl or game module can incorporate any kind of character which is perfect for these players.  If a player wants to play a spell-scarred minotaur psion, there are rules available to make this desire a reality.  If you are attempting an alternative campaign and wish to limit your players, make sure you know their sensibilities. 

Chapter 10 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide One, as I have stated earlier, is so important, it should be memorized by Dungeon Masters.  Specifically, the use of “House Rules” can be used to justify the limitations a DM may impose on players during character generation.  Put it simply, the House Rule does not need to be narrowed or limited to “fixing gaps” in 4E mechanics.  However, all House Rules must be supported by a clear rationale as to why they are being used in this way.  In other words, the Dungeon Master must ask the question: why am I imposing such a limitation on the players?  If such a limitation can be supported by a creative explanation that goes toward the world you are creating and the story you are trying to tell, then the players are more apt to accept it. In fact, they may embrace it.  If you are excluding the psionic power source just because you don’t like psionics, then it will simply feel arbitrary and players will lose faith in the Dungeon Master’s ability to be judicious.

Judiciousness is what every DM must strive for when making gaming decisions.  If you can prove your judiciousness, the players will be apt to trust you when the time comes to tell them “no”.

Alternative Skill Training for the Alternative Campaign

A friend of mine (who has a penchant for rogue-ish campaigns) lamented that the 4E rogue skill list doesn’t allow you to make rogue characters that have specialties within the “career” of a rogue.  The main problem, as he saw it, is that when a rogue trains in Thievery, he has a +5 bonus to every subset of skills that fall under the “thievery” category.  Ergo, in a thief campaign, everyone can do everything.  I can’t help but agree.

However, before I inadvertantly indict 4E (yet again) for an issue with mechanics, I think it wise to reflect on why skills operate the way they operate in 4E.  Skills are purposefully broad so as to allow a player great latitude in determining their character’s next course of action in a given situation.  Its simplicity actually facilitates role-playing and allows the players to participate in the story-telling.  The writers at have been doing some great work with exploring the concept of the skill challenge and other ways of looking at a character’s skill set.

With that said, if an enterprising DM desires to write a campaign with a specific campaign theme, such as a “Thief’s Campaign”, these generalized skill categories aren’t going to help engender the atmosphere and flavor of such a theme.  Considering that I have an idea to run a Forgotten Realms Harper’s Campaign (limiting PCs to Bards, Rogues and Rangers) sometime in the future, I thought it would be a good idea to come up with an alternative system. 

What I did first was to break down each of the 4E skills into their sub-skills.  If a 4E character class had the option to train in the category of skill, they could elect to train in the sub-skill. For example, Thievery encompasses Disable Trap, Open Lock, Pick Pocket, and Sleight of Hand.  Therefore, a rogue character can opt to train in any of those sub-skills. He could not opt to train in any of the sub-skills that are encompassed by the Arcana skill (Detect magic, Monster Knowledge, Arcane Knowledge).  Some of these skill categories do not have clearly defined sub-skills. These skills, such as diplomacy and intimidate, I have left as is. These categories are indeed broad and cannot be narrowed down to a manageable number of sub-skills.

Next, I totaled the number of skill bonuses available to a character class when they train in a standard campaign.  This is, essentially, five times the number of skills available for training. Therefore, a rogue has an initial 30 points worth of bonuses, i.e. the rogue trains in a total of 6 skill-categories.  The player then adds the modifier of the character class’ primary attribute.  So, a 1st level rogue with a dexterity score of 18 would have a total of 34 points.

The player then selects the number of skill-categories to train in according to the character class description.  For a rogue, that means they must train in Stealth and Thievery, plus any four.  After that, the player then distributes the bonus points to any of sub-skills located in the skill-categories selected to a maximum bonus of five.  After doing this, the player then adds all attribute modifiers associated with the sub-skill’s category, along with any racial or feat bonuses.

For example, if I wanted to make a halfling rogue that is a smart-alecky and nimble pick-pocket, I would pick the following skills to train: Stealth, Thievery, Acrobatics, Bluff, Streetwise and Perception.  A 1st level halfling rogue with the following attributes could have a skill spread such as this:

Attributes (using the standard array found in the player’s handbook): Str: 10 (+0)          Dex: 18 (+4)        Con: 13 (+1)        Int: 11 (+0)          Wis: 12 (+1)        Cha: 16 (+3)

Acrobatics: (Dexterity)  

Acrobatic stunt: +1 (skill bonus)+4(Dex bonus)+2(halfling bonus)  = +7  (total); Balance: +1 (skill bonus)+4(Dex bonus)+2(halfling bonus)  = +7  (total); Escape Grab: +2(skill bonus)+4(Dex bonus)+2(halfling bonus)  =+8 (total); Escape Restraints: +2(skill bonus)+4(Dex bonus)+2(halfling bonus)  = +8(total); Reduce falling: +1(skill bonus)+4(Dex bonus)+2(halfling bonus) =+7 (total).

Bluff (Charisma)

Con-artist: +3 (Skill bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus)  = +6 (total); Disguise: +0 (Skill bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus)  = +3(total); Forgery: +0(Skill bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus) =+3 (total); Gamble: +1 (Skill bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus)  = +4(total); Gain combat advantage:  +1(Skill bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus)  = +4(total); Create a diversion: +3(Skill bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus) = +6(total).

Perception: (Wisdom)

Listen: +2 (skill bonus) +1 (Wisdom bonus) = +3 (total); Spot/search: +2  (skill bonus) +1 (Wisdom bonus) = +3(total); Tracking: +0 (skill bonus) +1 (Wisdom bonus) =+1(total)

Stealth: (Dexterity)

Move Silently/Hide in Shadows: +5 (Skill Bonus) +4 (Dex bonus) =+9 (total)

Streetwise: (Charisma)

Word on the street:   +3 (Skill Bonus) +3 (Charisma bonus) = +6 (total)

Thievery: (Dexterity)

Disable Trap: +0 (Skill bonus) +4(Dex bonus) +2 (halfling bonus) = +6 (total); Open Locks: +0(Skill bonus) +4(Dex bonus) +2 (halfling bonus) = +6(total); Sleight of Hand: +3 (Skill bonus) +4(Dex bonus) +2 (halfling bonus) = +9(total); Pick Pocket: +4 (Skill bonus) +4(Dex bonus) +2 (halfling bonus) = +10(total).

 As you can see my halfling rogue’s focus is on escaping grabs, picking pockets, and being a con-artist.  He will not be the locksmith of the group. 

The pros of this alternative approach are (1) it will allow players playing in a campaign that narrows their choices in character generation to differentiate themselves from the other characters with the same character class and (2) the skill point spread isn’t that far removed from what a standard array would look like. Therefore, this alternative skill selection will not make skill checks that much more difficult to hit the DCs the Dungeon Master will present during in-game challenges.

However, the negatives are (1) there will be things a character trained in a skill-category can’t do well, such as disable traps in the example above; (2) the players may be constrained in using their skills in more creative ways as they have compartmentalized their training in sub-skills; and (3) this will not work as well in a standard adventuring party, i.e. if there is one thief in the group and he can’t open locks, the party is going to be hamstrung when dealing with a trap-based encounter.

I hope this helps to add some flavor to your home-brew alternative campaigns.