Obligatory opening: it’s my twice-weekly advice column. Want to ask for my advice? Send a BRIEF question to TheAngryGameMaster@gmail.com and put Ask Angry in the title. Don’t forget to tell me how to credit you. Also, if you’ve got a blog, Twitter feed, or other gaming-related thing, I will make your name a hyperlink to your thing just to say thanks for sending me the question.
Mattias: follower of The Great Angry One asks:
Oh great and wise Angry, purveyor of supreme wisdom, I beseech thee to answer me! I’m running my first campaign, and I want the last fight to be against a dragon. I was thinking the campaign would probably end around level 14ish. A red dragon makes sense for where they would be (rivers of lava? yes please). I don’t want it to be anticlimactic, and I also don’t want to murder my whole party (although some is totally fine). I was looking at making it a paragon monster, but I would have to use the stats of a young dragon or so, which doesn’t feel nearly as awesome, and also doesn’t get access to legendary/lair actions. Bless me with your wisdom! How is the best way to handle this?
I want to be clear about something right now: I ask people how they want to be credited. I think I’ve mentioned that. And, whatever they tell me, that’s how I credit them. That “Mattias: follower of The Great Angry One” thing? Mattias specifically asked to be credited that way. Now, I am not sure if Mattias follows some of Krom-like deity or Cthulhuian horror, but I get the sense that I am “The Great Angry One” mentioned. While my ego is as big as any other two people’s, I really have no desire to go the Dianetics route and become a punchline to joke where the setup is “what’s the difference between The Angry GM and L.R. Hubbard?” So, maybe we could cool it.
Also, it’d be really helpful if you’re mentioning specific levels and monsters if you told me what system and edition we were talking about here. But I am going to assume you mean D&D 5E.
I also assume that, Mattias, follower of etc., you are talking about MY system for Paragon Monsters (Part 1, Part 2, more to come). And, you’re right, the Paragon Monster system replaces the Legendary and Lair Action system, so you’d have to dump those. And you’d also be right in thinking you’d need to drop back to a Young Dragon or overwhelm your party. Remember, the point of the Paragon Monster is you’re cramming two or three monsters into one. So the party would be fighting two or three red dragons in succession.
The thing is, the Paragon System is really good if you want to recreate s$&%. If you WERE going to restat the Young Red Dragon as a Paragon, I’d say “rebuild it from scratch and make it have two forms.” For example, when I was f$&%ing with this stuff in 4E, I assumed that dragons were raw elemental fury wrapped in a mortal body. So, as you started to kill a dragon, it became more and more elemental. Like, it would start to have an aura, to burn hotter, to have elemental effects, s$&% like that. I’d build a sort of volcano dragon, maybe. It would start off rocky and blackened with red magma veins between its rocky scales. And it would function basically like a big beast with lava breath and a tough hide. It’d probably fly around, spraying lava, and letting arrows bounce off it’s rocky hide. And then, as you fought it, it would get hotter and hotter until it “erupted” and it’s second form would take over. Wreathed in a pyroclastic cloud, it’s body would glow red hot. As you slashed at it, magma would burst forth, endangering people in melee. Maybe, at that point, it would lose its ability to fly as its wings literally burned away by its own volcanic fury. I don’t know, something like this…
Yeah, seriously, I statted one up. Have at it.
But to just double up on a creature, the Paragon System is kind of bland. It’s an advanced tool for GMs who like to build their own custom monsters.
And, for your first campaign? Honestly, stick with the book. Give the party an Adult Red Dragon and that will be an awesome enough fight.
I am running a not-necessarily-PvP campaign after seeing too many “normal” campaigns peter out due to players struggling to justify their characters’ commitment to stick with the other PCs. Everyone’s first session has been solo, but they will begin to encounter each other soon, with no restrictions or expectations regarding partying up, killing each other, etc. Without being too broad with my question, how should I manage things like Bluff checks, attitude, and other social mechanics between my flesh-and-blood game components?
(PS I LOVE YOU)
Okay, what the f$&%? Seriously. Are you hitting on me?! No one loves me! Trust me, everyone who has ever tried to love me has ended up crying, embittered, or gravely injured. I’m like that woman in Carmen. You know, the woman? What’s her name? The gypsy. She sings “if you love me; I don’t love you; if I love you; beware.” Is this because of that whole bisexuality/gay marriage thing? I mean, I’m only technically bisexual because of past relationships before I realized I hate people. Now, I’m pretty much don’t-touch-me-exual.
Also, all you people know that your flattery doesn’t make me give you questions preferential treatment right? I just answer whatever the f$%& seems interesting. I’ve got a backlog, which is why I’m doing two questions at a time right now. Hell, I practically pick this s$&% at random.
Okay… look, this is one of those highly personal opinion things that everyone has an answer to. So, I’m just giving you my answer. My opinion. Of course, mine is the right opinion. But other people might have opinions too. Those will be different and wrong. But that’s okay. You can run your game any wrong way you want.
Generally speaking, PCs should not use Interaction skills against other PCs. The trouble with Interaction skills like Diplomacy and Bluff and whatever is that the outcome of the die roll determines how an NPC behaves or what choices they make. If you succeed at Diplomacy, for example, the NPC is forced to adopt a new attitude toward you. That’s fine for NPCs who don’t have free will. But players play RPGs precisely because of free will. And that f$&%s with it. On top of that, skills like Bluff give away the answer purely by being rolled. If a PC rolls a Charisma (Bluff) check, that says they are lying. And the other player is going to know that. Well, now you’re asking the player NOT to act on that knowledge based on the die roll. So what? “Players shouldn’t metagame anyway,” right? But that’s unreasonable. First of all, NO ONE can not metagame completely. It’s inhuman. Knowledge influences your decision even if you try to ignore it. And beyond that, it leads to trouble later. For instance, imagine PC A rolls a successful Bluff check and convinces PC B that he’s a soldier from the Darnascan Military. Later on, he slips and misstates something that a soldier might or might not know. It could be a slip of the tongue or it could create suspicion. The player SHOULD be free to decide whether they believe it was a mistake or whether they are suspicious, specifically when other clues start to show up. But the moment you that “don’t metagame” rule in place, you’re f$&%ing with that possibility. The player may be afraid to “figure out” the truth because he’s afraid of being accused of metagaming. Or the player may conclude that the other PC is lying and then be accused of metagaming by the other player. It’s ugly however you slice it.
Ultimately, any skill that f$&%s with free will and interpretation of information between PCs is dangerous. And should be avoided.
But you have a problem. You have created a scenario in which you have five PCs (or whatever) who probably all have their own agendas and they may very well be expecting to use such skills against each other. I can imagine a rogue fully intending to lie constantly to the party. And he probably took the deception skills purposely to facilitate that. So, you may be kind of stuck there since you full admit you’re half-expecting the party to end up at each others’ throats.
In that case, you’re going to have to allow PC-on-PC skill rolls. And that means, you’re going to have to intercede on all interactions and you are going to be called upon to resolve metagame disputes. And one thing I would suggest to cover the “figuring things out later” scenario, call for a rerolled Bluff vs. Intelligence check whenever a player claims to have figured out another player is lying based on skills. So, when the player catches the clues that PC B is not in the Darnascan Army after all, let the dice resolve whether the PC really figures out or the player has to pretend to be in the dark.
Whatever you decide, you have to be really upfront about it. Tell the players flat out this is how you are running things and, to some extent, they are going to be slaves of the die rolls and skill checks. And they HAVE TO be okay with that. Mature role-players will handle it. They will probably enjoy the opportunity. It could be very interesting. But if you’ve got an anarchic party to begin with, you may have a recipe for disaster.
Now… I’ve answered your question as best I could. But I want to address something else. I want to address the REAL problem in your e-mail. You were lead to this sort of game because the players keep ending up with PCs that have no real reason to stick together, with no common goal, and then the campaign peters out. And I think that problem comes from how you are building your campaigns.
May I suggest starting your campaigns with a strong premise and a statement of a goal that ties the PCs together. One that you all agree upon before character generation happens. And one that you all agree you will generate characters to play.
For example, you could decide all the PCs are new recruits of the Rebel Alliance, fighting the evil Darnascan Empire that is occupying their homeland. Or, the PCs could all be hunting for the same criminal villain. Or, they were all childhood friends who came back together after years of training to adventure together and get rich and famous, each for their own reasons, and their emotional bonds keep them together. It doesn’t matter what the story is as long as there’s a strong premise and all of the players know they are expected to play to that premise. The premise becomes the reason for the campaign AND it also gives a goal to work toward so the campaign doesn’t become directionless and peter out. It also makes your life, as a GM, a hell of a lot easier.
Some groups just need that. And that’s fine. Honestly, any game that DOESN’T have a strong-premise or a long-term goal is eventually going to end up wandering in circles or circling the drain until it finds that premise or goal.
(PS Don’t touch me)