One Sentence NPCs – Part 2 + Contest
From Johnn Four
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #407
- One Sentence NPCs, Part 2 Categories of NPC Characteristics
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Part one last week mentioned that useful and interesting one sentence NPCs have three characteristics, including one that is at odds with the other two. Fortunately, there are several categories of characteristics, and you can choose from three different ones so your NPCs won’t become formulaic or so structured your players will notice.
Here are lists of traits for several key categories to help you craft your NPCs and one sentence NPC contest entries with. Hopefully they come in handy for you.
This trait was first discussed in the book GM Mastery: NPC Essentials, and is a great way to get to the heart of what makes your NPC tick, and how they are different from others. It also generates a natural power structure in your societies over time as you flesh out various NPC power bases.
What kind of power does the NPC have, where did it come from, and how do they wield it? Power base is best reserved for villains, allies, and other major NPCs, because it takes a bit of effort to fit it into your game worlds, but you can use it for any NPC if you have the time and inclination.
Power base examples:
- High natural or trained ability
- Magic use
- Loyal followers, minions, henchmen
- The law, authority, consent
- High social standing
- Exceptional defense
- Superior equipment or technology
- Fast travel or communication
Goals, Motives, Dreams
Thanks to long-time Roleplaying Tips reader Aki Halme for rounding out the NPC objectives category with the addition of dreams. What does your NPC want? What drives them to behave the way they do, take the actions they do, and add conflict or storytelling opportunities to encounters? What are your NPC’s goals, motivations, or dreams?
Goals, motives, dreams examples:
- Make a new friend
- Survive another day
- Avoid duties or responsibilities
- Do something important
- Become a landowner
- Somehow acquire the next meal
- Earn fame
- Win friends and influence people
- Save a stranger
- Establish a certain reputation
- Discover something new
- Earn wealth
- Regain sanity
- Get enough coin for another drink
- Finish a quest
- Regain health
- Help ailing friend or relative
- Fix a broken relationship
- Win freedom
- Defeat an enemy
- Find their parents
- Gain insight about something
- Solve a mystery
- Resolve a past event
- Break up a relationship
- Fix a horrible mistake
- Raise an army
- Learn how to use magic/technology
- Break a curse
- Make others laugh
- Own a mansion
- Travel to a new dimension
- Hide from the law
- Be accepted by peers
- Make family proud
- Become the best at something
- Complete a collection
- Not get noticed
- Increase their social class
- Find something lost
- Prove their worth
- Find their home
- Reduce pain caused by something
- Get more of something pleasureful
- Get a new job
- Be useful
- Become immortal
- Discover the truth
- Destroy the world
There are many lists of traits and quirks floating around.
Here is a list from Issue #40:
- Absent minded.
- Obsessive about being perfectly clean and neat.
- If what’s happening isn’t about their interests or what they need, they slowly fade out into some unknown train of thought.
- Constantly smooths out wrinkles in their clothing.
- Wrings their hands.
- Fears strangers.
- Keeps looking over their shoulder.
- Keeps shifting their weapon from hand to hand.
- Has mood swings.
- Gets angered at strange, specific things.
- Paranoid, with extremely wide eyes.
- Uses the same hand gestures in conversation as they do when casting spells.
- Actively starts pacing whenever still for a period of time.
- Obsessed with a specific weapon, item, person, place or monster, often telling long, boring stories about it.
- Rolls their eyes when talking about other people.
- Is easily cowed.
- Gossips about other people and makes things up about others.
- Cannot make decisions. Asks others what to do several times before deciding.
- Bad flatulence.
- Speaks slow and deliberately.
- Flips hair out of the way arrogantly.
- Chews lips and flip-flops over decisions.
- Snooty. Talks with their nose up and looks down on people.
- Uses a dismissive hand wave (fingers pointing down with a sweeping motion).
- Belly laughs and rocks back and forth in their seat.
- Nervous, darting eyes, wringing hands, quavering voice.
- Speaks in a low, deep voice, pausing after every sentence to carefully choose their words.
- Constantly changes their gaze, making eye-contact with everyone around them again and again, in rapid succession.
- Near-sighted. Squints at whoever is talking to them.
- Is well-bred and waves their hand around in the air all the time, as though to fan away the unpleasant odor of the PCs.
- Has a nasal voice.
- Has a whiny voice.
- Has a breathy voice, like Marilyn Monroe.
- Uses a “signature phrase” (“Jinkies!” “By the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” “Tubular!” “Make it so!” “Shards and Shells!” “By your command.”).
- Uses a few words of gibberish that represents phrases from their native language. Works especially well for swear words and exclamations.
- Uses the same vocal pause repeatedly (i.e. ummmm, er, like, and so, uh).
- Speaks slowly as if they are not intelligent.
- Speaks very slowly as if it isn’t their native tongue and they are translating things in their head.
- Looks boldly at the PCs with tight lips and narrowed eyes.
Fears and jealousies are great NPC characteristics because they are easy to roleplay or communicate, can be made relevant to an encounter or adventure, and help create memorable NPCs and interactions.
According to dictionary.com, jealousy is:
- Resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage
- Mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry, unfaithfulnessVigilance in maintaining or guarding something
Create jealousy by picking a person, place, or thing, and note who or what the NPC resents, covets, fears, or guards, and also note why. Another thing you might ponder is what actions the NPC might be forced to take if their jealousy becomes strong enough.
For one sentence NPCs, a simple note about the object of their jealousy should be enough for now.
Fears can be weak or strong, and for entertainment and gameplay purposes, it’s worth noting just strong fears unless you are going for a subtle effect, perhaps as a clue.
Example fears: Fear of….
- Being alone
- The dark
- Loud noise or certain sounds
- Open spaces
- Public speaking
- Other people
- Animals, certain monsters, races, creatures
- Sharp things
- Other opinions or beliefs
- Opposite sex
- Untidiness, messiness, being dirty
- Stairs or steep slopes
- Books, scrolls, writing
- Police, the lawBattle
- Making decisions
- Dentists, shaman, priests
- Being robbed
- Failure, defeat
- A certain colour
- Being injured
- Vehicles, mounts
- The sun
- The moon
- Wealth, money
- BeardsThe sky or stars
- Undead, ghosts
How one earns money and spends most of their waking time often defines who they are, especially in the minds of players. In addition, an NPC’s job or career might become the core of their identity – they think, speak, and act accordingly.
Here is a list of example occupations, scooped from Roleplaying Tips Weekly Supplemental #7
- Beer Seller
- Buckle Maker
- Chicken Butcher
- Chimney Sweep
- Fish Merchant
- Glove Maker
- Harness Maker
- Horse Merchant
- Hay Merchant
- Juggling Troupe
- Meat Butcher
- Oil Merchant
- Old-Clothes Dealer
- Pastry cook
- Purse Maker
- Rat/Pest Catcher/Poisoner
- Scabbard Maker
- Spice Merchant
- Town Crier
- Water Bearer
- Water Carrier
- Wine Seller
- Wood Seller
Appearance is a standard and important NPC characteristic. It helps players visualize who’s interacting with their PCs, and often provides clues about who the NPC is and what they’re about. However, in the case of one sentence NPCs, appearance can be a costly waste of words.
If you use appearance as one of the three characteristics in a one sentence NPC, check out these considerations to improve your description:
- What aspect of the appearance could affect an encounter?
- What aspect of the appearance could affect the story?
- What is unique, memorable, or interesting about this NPC’s appearance? What visually separates him from all the other NPCs?
Ideas for appearance:
- Tattoos (picture is worth 1000 words, could be a clue, could be a link to a PC)Scars (could communicate NPC history, encounter with villain or certain foe, or reveal setting information)
- Special racial or regional features (world development, roleplaying hook, prophecy clue)
- Special ability clue (How would having a certain special ability affect appearance? Perhaps casting fire blast many times creates finger nicotine stains, or flying causes wind burns.)
- Clothes and mannerisms (flesh out your world with social rules for appearance and what that means about who you are and what you do within the game region, such as judges wearing wigs, or merchants wearing cravats)
Stat Or Ability Score
The best way to use your game’s statistics and ability scores to make an NPC interesting is to play the high-lo game. Take a stat and make it extremely good or poor, and then put this into words for your sentence. Use this tactic sparingly, or you’ll have a world full of mutants. 🙂
When using such an NPC in-game, try to let his reputation precede him. Have a couple of rumours and items of gossip filter through to the PCs before they meet the non-player character with the extreme stat.
Do this by talking about past deeds, what the NPC can do better or worse than anyone else, and what troubles the extreme stat has caused the NPC, rather than just talking about the stat itself. Not only does this approach encourage roleplaying, but it will get you possible world and plot development too.
What an NPC knows is often defined by his profession or hobby. Switch this up by giving NPCs unexpected types of interests or knowledge. Let the NPC become a useful contact or an (unwitting?) minion of the villain. You can also make the NPC’s knowledge become a fun roleplaying hook.
The key is to make the knowledge unexpected and surprising – considering the source – unless you are purposely going for a mundane NPC for a brief, one-shot encounter. This technique creates a natural contradiction in the NPC for you, which is one of the tips from part one, last week.
- Young boy with falconry expertise
- Warrior who writes poetry using perfect calligraphy
- Humble beggar who knows the villain’s habits
- Farmer who is an expert astrologer
- City clerk who raises champion fighting dogs
- King’s bodyguard who is an antiques fanatic
- Tavern maid who is also a beekeeper
- Drunken bully who collects ancient currencies
- Quiet wife who knows the sewer layout for the district
- Dried-animal vendor who’s a historian
An NPC’s social connections and relationships are important:
- They firmly place him in your setting. If every NPC feels like a solo, isolated encounter, the game world will seem dry, barren, or disconnected. What effect has the NPC had on the community, and within his circle of relationships?
- They identify allegiances. If faction play is important to your campaign, then the friends an NPC keeps can communicate who his enemies are, which PCs can use to their advantage.
- They can create consequences for poor PC behavior or evil actions. An NPC with connections will cause follow-up encounters or side plots after the PCs mistreat or insult him.
- They can serve as a mini-game. You’ve seen those logic puzzles where you grid out who is who after reading a series of clues? Turn that into a mini-game for your PCs to solve. Another example is the chain of-trades plot where the PCs start with something they need to have, and then must arrange deals along a chain of NPCs to finally get it.
For one sentence NPCs, use relationship types to quickly summarize and communicate who the NPC is, why they might be important, or what the PCs might face if they mess with him.
Examples of relationship types:
- Spiritual leader
- Special interest groups
- Financial backer, business partner
This is my favourite category. I’ve mentioned before that GMing an NPC with an important, relevant secret is a lot of fun. If the PCs learn the NPC is trying to hide something, the encounter takes on a new dimension and more drama. Depending on the secret, a new bond is created, for better or worse, between the PCs and NPC that’s stronger than a combat kill, quick introduction, or fly-by roleplaying moment.
For example, a throwaway NPC transforms into a recurring character the PCs come to care about and protect as the game progresses, because the NPC was hiding knowledge about his father’s undiscovered crime against the villain.
Here is a list of d100 secrets from GM Mastery: NPC Essentials:
- Accidentally killed a sibling as a child
- Acts as if they are physically challenged (blind, one- legged, etc.) but really are not
- Admires a criminal for his gusto
- Deserted from the military
- Enjoys a great reputation for some martial deed in the past, but it is a fabrication and they are actually cowardly
- Fantasizes about being an adventurer
- Fought for both sides in a war
- Has a double life as both the villain and the hero helping the PCs defeat him
- Has a hatred of other subtypes of his race (i.e. a shield dwarf who hates gold dwarves)
- Has a position of authority, but all their work, plans, and ideas come from an unacknowledged underling
- Has a treasure map tattooed on their scalp concealed by their hair
- Has an illegitimate child
- Has an intelligent magic item that communicates through telepathy
- Has been slowly poisoning the food and drink of the sick relative they are looking after
- Has committed a crime and the evidence is buried in the back yard
- Has killed someone close to the PC and has befriended the PC as penance
- Has no true wealth but makes it appear that they do
- Hasn’t paid taxes or tithes in 20 years
- Is a dealer of an illicit substance or commodity
- Is a disguised enemy who is sending the PCs on a quest to defeat him, confident of victory
- Is a fallen paladin
- Is a famous hero in hiding
- Is a former evil warlord now living as a simple farmer to avoid destruction
- Is a gambling addict and is stealing money from their work to cover their debts
- Is a high level adventurer in disguise
- Is a lost member of the royal family
- Is a member of a shady or disreputable sub-culture (i.e. a biker gang)
- Is a member of the secret police
- Is a miser, socking away cash in their quarters
- Is a mole or spy for another nation’s government
- Is a PC’s child from a forgotten romantic tryst
- Is a playwright in disguise who is using the PCs’ adventures as the plots for their plays
- Is a poor noble who supports their lifestyle through crime
- Is a powerful figure, disguised to listen for rumors from the public
- Is a racist but realizes that people don’t share his views
- Is a scout looking for potential recruits for the army, police, secret service, etc.
- Is a terrorist or freedom fighter fighting against the current government
- Is an actor getting into an upcoming role by living the life of their character
- Is an agent in disguise for a good organization
- Is an agent in disguise for an evil organization
- Is an atheist who pretends to be religious to fit in
- Is an ex-slave
- Is an informant for the city watch, thieves’ guild, dark cult, or other organization
- Is an observer from another plane
- Is an upstanding citizen who also owns a seedy tavern or brothel
- Is bald and wears a wig
- Is being magically controlled by another
- Is blackmailing someone
- Is deeply in debt to a protection racket and is afraid for their life
- Is desperate for money and seeks to kill the PCs after being weakened from an adventure
- Is dying of old age but concealing the fact with illusions
- Is from a rival adventuring or mercenary group, subtly extracting information from the PCs
- Is giving the PCs a job he himself was assigned
- Is guarding an artifact of a lost culture
- Is harboring a criminal
- Is illiterate
- Is in love with a PC
- Is in love with a PC’s parent
- Is in love with their sibling
- Is looking for an honest person
- Is married to two spouses, neither of which knows about the other
- Is masquerading as a different class (i.e. a sorcerer pretending to be a thief)
- Is of one alignment but masquerades as another
- Is on the brink of bankruptcy
- Is plotting against their business rivals
- Is plotting to kill someone for revenge
- Is possessed by one of the PC’s former opponents
- Is psychotic or possessed but desperately tries to seem normal
- Is searching for the magic sword their parent was wearing when killed
- Is suffering a crisis of faith
- Is sympathetic to the heroes’ cause even though they work for the villain
- Is the eyes for a local dragon
- Is the local homeless drunkard, but the ever-present bottle in the brown paper bag actually holds water
- Is the one who unleashed the problem that he is now sending the PCs to fix
- Is the spouse, sibling, or offspring of one of PC’s victims
- Is the world authority on an obscure piece of knowledge
- Is very young but pretends to be much older
- Keeps coins in their shoes in case they ever have to run away
- Knows how to cook gourmet meals but is too lazy to bother
- Knows the best fishing hole in the area
- Likes staring fires
- Likes to torture small animals
- Moonlights as a tavern singer but is ashamed to admit it
- Once peed in the King’s soup
- Reads trashy romance novels
- Recently lost their job but is pretending to go to work to maintain appearances
- Recently won the lottery and hasn’t told anyone
- Spent many years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit
- Survived an execution and escaped to live a normal life
- Suspects a PC of being attracted to their spouse
- Their parents were brother and sister
- Two NPCs are secretly one
- Uses their middle name because they hate their given name
- Wakes up each morning with blood under their nails but no wounds
- Wants to be a musician
- Was a member of an adventuring band and treacherously left their companions to die while making off with all the loot
- Was friend of the PC’s parents, and is now keeping a protective eye on the PC from a distance
- Was once the King’s loyal advisor or guard and is holding secret state documents
- Wears a sword and talks tough, but has no idea how fight
- Writes trashy romance novels
Example One Sentence NPC Contest Entries
Here are examples of one sentence NPCs from contest entries submitted so far, and e-zine examples, you can use in your games or for inspiration:
He’s not a very funny clown, but when you consider that he worships the God of Knives and Murder, that’s to be expected.
A loser who’s lost it all was moments away from suicide, but that angel came down, and trading living on the streets for being a paladin was a heckuva deal.
Humble beggar who knows the villain’s habits keeps looking over his shoulder.
Farmer who is an expert astrologer fears scholars and priests.
The brave, valiant, heroic knight everyone loves…on the run for treason against the royal court.
Dried-animal vendor who’s a historian bears a slave tattoo he keeps hidden.
An inquisitive travelling scholar who can’t handle a sword, but never backs down from a fight.
Drunken bully who collects ancient currencies dreams about exploring ruins to discover old coins.
Barfight-loving monk improvises his weapons, speaks only haikus.
A belligerent, violent shopkeep sells exquisite glass crafts.
An amicable and friendly thief who distrusts anyone taller than she.
Warrior who writes poetry using perfect calligraphy quests for enough coin to buy another drink.
A shifty farmer who deeply cares for his herd of pigs must slowly sell them to keep his large family fed.
An honest but sometimes sarcastic paladin has been cursed so all who hear her speak believe she is lying.
A harsh and alcoholic professor at the wizard college is very good at identifying cheaters, although when he was in school he cheated on everything.
A mean looking, old merchant has a soft spot for clerics because they saved her husband.
A lazy but skilled brewmaster is actually a vampire with a very strong addiction to drunken dwarves.
A short heckler with a quick wit who becomes deeply offended if anyone teases him back.
Young boy with falconry expertise has a reputation of being cruel to animals.
City clerk who raises champion fighting dogs wants to raise enough funds to open a school.
King’s bodyguard who is an antiques fanatic bears the scars of imperial punishment
Tavern maid who is also a beekeeper is having an affair with the brewer.
Quiet wife who knows the sewer system layout for the block habitually flips her paring knife when she talks.
This wizard-scholar’s overly-manicured appearance makes his sympathetic nature a surprise – he’s a natural teacher.
The riverboat captain drives his crew hard all day long to get down the river as rapidly as possible, but when he pulls ashore at night, he loves to lie on the deck and watch the slowly-turning stars. An escaped gladiator from afar, permanently blinded during a fight, swings his weapon recklessly to determine if something is in the way.
A Brief Word From Johnn
One Sentence NPCs Contest Adds More Prizes
The folks over at menwithpens.ca have added to the already large prize list with 1 copy of White Wolf’s World of Darkness, 1 copy of their ebook, “How to Get what you Want Out of RolePlaying”, and 1 copy of their ebook, “How to Create a Believable Character.” Sweet!
I’m not sure if it’s due to holidays or because it’s too hot to write, but not many entries have hit my inbox, which means entrants have a great chance of winning a prize.
Winners will be drawn at random, so don’t worry about writing skills. One NPC = one entry and one chance to win.
++ Contest Entry ++
E-mail me [[email protected]] one sentence NPCs that generally use the tips outlined in this issue: three traits, one conflict or contradiction, interesting. Any and all one sentence NPCs are eligible however, so don’t let writer’s block or my formula stop you from entering.
Alternatively, you can post your NPCs at Chatty’s blog:
Each NPC counts as one entry, and you are welcome to submit as many one sentence NPCs as you like to increase your odds of winning, or, just because they’re fun to write. 🙂
Contest is open now. Contest ends July 13. Winners will be drawn soon after contest close.
Note that I reserve the right to void entries judged inappropriate/nonsensical for the contest.
++ Prizes ++
Each NPC entry gives you a chance to win any of the following:
From Wolfgang Baur: KoboldQuarterly
- 3 x Kobold Quarterly #4 issues (print or PDF – your choice)
- 1 Standard Patron Open Design account (value $30)
- 1 Senior Patron Open Design account (value $100)
From Hero Lab: Lone Wolf Development
- 4 x Hero Lab 2.0 licenses (character creation software for multiple game systems)
Expeditious Retreat Press: XRP Central
1 print or PDF version (your choice) of the following:
- 1 on 1 Adventures #9: Legacy of Darkness
- 1 on 1 Adventures #10: Vengeance of Olindor
- 1 on 1 Adventures #11: Unbound Adventures
- Advanced Adventures #4: Prison of Meneptah
- Advanced Adventures #5: Flaming Footprints of Jilanth
Goodman Games http://www.goodman-games.com/4371preview.html
- 3 x GM Gems book (print or PDF – your choice)
Paizo (care of Chatty DM) Softcover copies of:
- Pathfinder #7: Edge of Anarchy
- Pathfinder #8: Seven Days to the Grave
- Pathfinder #9: Escape from Old Korvosa
- 1 x White Wolf’s World of Darkness
- 1 ebook: How to Get what you Want Out of RolePlaying
- 1 ebook: How to Create a Believable Character
Thanks very much to the generous prize sponsors.
Entries will be edited and then given back to everyone in the e-zine. What GM couldn’t use a list of one sentence NPCs for instant game and planning use?
New D&D Campaign Started Last Week
A new edition means a new campaign. We’re still in assessment mode, so I haven’t invested much planning time until I’m sure the group will stick with the 4th Edition. I’m starting off with running Keep on the Shadowfell, and we’ll see how it goes.
The game started in the city of Ptolus in a world setting that’s to be determined. The PCs stumbled out of the bar, optionally impaired, and rushed to the rescue of a young woman being mugged. It turned out the muggers were members of the Pale Dogs gang, and they seemed intent on capturing the woman, not robbing her.
The PCs narrowly won the encounter with the help of a drunk priest and other bar patrons who were summoned by the PC wizard’s pyrotechnics. However, the crowd was quick to rob the defeated gang members, leaving the PCs with little loot, and an unconscious victim to tend to. Further tarnishing their victory, one of the gang members escaped, but not before swearing an oath of blood vengeance on one of the PCs.
Hard-coded into the campaign is the requirement all PCs are employed by Lord Falroth, who owns a posh, Victorian-style house in the slums. The players were ok with this, and it created a great reason why the PCs would be drinking together that night, despite their differences. It also allows PC substitutions and additions, as needed.
The woman was brought back to Falroth’s mansion, but the PCs failed to convince her of their sincerity to help, so she quickly left (i.e. fled) when she was able to walk. A PC followed her home, only to discover she had fled to the Pale Dogs HQ. Strange!
The next morning the PCs were summoned by a minion of Falroth’s who gave them orders to head to the village of Winterhaven about a day’s walk from Ptolus to find a missing explorer. “All the competent employees are on other business, so the task must fall to you.”
Just as the PCs exited the gates of their city, a group of Pale Dogs ambushed them while city guards atop the walls laughed and cheered – the PCs could not determine if the guards were betting on them or their foes. The gang members were defeated again, the PCs reached Winterhaven safely after defeating another ambush – by kobolds – and we ended the session after roleplaying a bit with various interesting villagers.
Have a great week.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Tracking Conditions in D&D 4E
Here’s a nifty tip for D&D 4e for keeping track of who’s marked, cursed, or under any number of other conditions.
I was in the hardware store buying nuts and bolts when the fender washers caught my eye as being perfect tokens to place under miniatures so it is clear who is under what effect.
I bought some that were 1″ in diameter and some that were 2″. When I got home I sprayed a bit of primer on them, then painted them. Now I’ve got the perfect thing to keep track of the enemies that the warlock in my group has cursed: I look for the one sitting on the purple coaster!
These are very inexpensive. The 1″ ones were about a dime each and the 2″ ones were a little more than a quarter each. All told, I spent a little more than $4 for 20 washers.
The 2″ ones are *perfect* for the large D&D miniatures, because the miniature is just a little smaller than the washer. I might have to go back and get some slightly bigger washers for my medium miniatures, because it doesn’t stand out quite enough from the base of the miniature.
Game Scheduling Tool
From Yael Goraly @ ScheduleOnce
I’d like to introduce you to http://www.scheduleonce.com – an easy way to schedule a game or any type of event. The service is designed for hard to schedule meetings with many invitees. ScheduleOnce is a web 2.0 service that helps you find a time for your meeting with accuracy across all time zones and daylight saving changes.
Lessons Learned From DMing 4th Edition D&D
From Brent P. Newhall
A week ago, I sat down with a few friends and DMed one session using the new D&D 4th Edition rule set. The players either had never roleplayed at all, or had only played D&D a handful of times.
First, I love the new edition. The designers streamlined and standardized many of the more complicated aspects of the system. Each race and class has distinctive, powerful advantages, and no serious disadvantages.
And I love the new powers. Instead of each class having different spells and effects, that each work differently, every class has “powers.” A power is an ability, spell, or effect you can use at some interval; some can only be used once per day, some once per battle, and every single round, if you choose. Powers range from a martial arts strike, to an offensive spell, to a shielding spell, to a sneaky blow, to a healing balm. The books describe each power in a standard template, so if you know how rangers work, you can jump to wizard much more easily. This keeps players from sticking with the same class over and over.
Also, skills have been simplified to 18 generic skills, such as acrobatics and history. There are still plenty of specific feats you can use to buff up your character in particular ways. Dice rolls are now more standardized, as you always roll a d20, add modifiers, and compare it to some value (a character’s AC, or Dexterity score, or a Difficulty Class, or some such).
Overall, character creation now takes significantly less time than with 3rd Edition. Our first-time player needed only an hour and a half to create her character, an Eladrin cleric. It’s still slower than in other systems, but at least it’s an improvement.
Before we began, I typed up and printed off the information for each race and class, one class or race per page. Since we only had two Player’s Handbooks for three players and the DM, folks used the printouts a lot.
We then ran through a short adventure that I designed based off the “Revenge of the Urn Beast” 5 Room Dungeon. The adventure mixed some role-playing, some dungeon crawling, some environment exploration, and some combat. This proved a good balance for the players, as they each enjoyed different aspects of the adventure.
Combat’s different in 4th Edition. The players used their powers in about half of their combat rounds. This kept the battle fresh and interesting, at the expense of more things to keep track of (a power may require rolling against, say, the target’s Will or Reflex score instead of its Armor Class). This went faster as the session wore on, but I learned to have each player write down the power template for each of his or her character’s powers on a piece of paper, so we weren’t looking things up in the Player’s Handbook a lot.
Also, the battle map is now indispensable. Many powers have specific effects on those around you in a specific range. There’s just no way to keep track of things without a battle map.
We finished in plenty of time, and the players rated the session a 7.5 out of 10. Most of the frustration was directed at the sluggishness of combat, which would be much better as folks get used to their powers.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the new D&D. There are other systems out there that are better for certain kinds of roleplaying, but the folks at Wizards have turned D&D into a much more enjoyable game.
- Print out information on each race and class.
- Make each player write out their powers on a separate sheet.
- Expect to spend some time understanding powers, and checking against different stats.
- Use a battle map.