Easy wins are not about killing the big bad. But we do spend a lot of time talking about “The Big Bad” in our games, helping to make those encounters/fights/etc the best they can be.  But, how much value do we put on those easy or quick wins in our games? Those times the party quickly dispatches the 5 goblin guards, or when they easily evade the Stormtroopers, or get an important clue without too much fuss?


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Random Encounter

Stephen Dragonspawn emails us on descriptions on demand

Hello again sexy BSers

It’s been a while since I’ve written in, but I’ve been listening to all your shows. You all do a great job and are both fun to listen to. 

On the “Description on Demand” topic. It’s something I’ve come across as well on both sides of the GM screen. As a player I enjoy and try to add something interesting to the scene, the story or the action.

As a GM, I have also come across some players that struggle a little when I place the spotlight on them. If I can I simply go to another player, thus giving the first PC some time to think about what they may want to add. Not everyone is good at improv and even the best of us can be caught flat-footed once in a while. Just give that person some time if they do want to contribute something.

When I ran a Savage World – Shaintar nasty my one shot many years ago, during a virtual Con, I had the pleasure to GM for players that were new to the system, the setting and VTT. During that game I went around the “table” and often asked “Describe to me how your lethal blow takes the ghoul down” or “What does your spell look like when you cast it.

A few of them had never been asked to do this but they all had fun adding in their two silver pieces. One of the players even wrote me a glowing review in his blog about the experience. That was a great and appreciated surprise.

Keep up the amazing work, and Sean, please, please try to stay upright on the One Wheel, don’t bruise that pretty face (even though I don’t see it when I listen in the car). Brett, take care of yourself. 

Ciao my handsome studs. 

Tom on the forums comments on descriptions on demand

Personally, I’m not a fan. Especially for more detailed questions. Part of what I enjoy when playing in a campaign is the feeling that the world is known by the GM. That I’m (as a character) interacting with a fully realized world. Now, it doesn’t matter if the GM is making things up on the fly because it’s still their creation and will have the same feel. If I ask a question about the setting and the GM says, “Why don’t you tell me about that organization?” or something similar, it totally breaks the immersion for me. It tells me that the GM doesn’t know about that organization, that it would probably not have existed in detail if I hadn’t asked about it. It makes the world feel shallow or patch-together. I certainly don’t say it’s a wrong approach…for those that like it, more power to them. Just not something I like myself.

There is an exception to this. Before the game starts, if a player comes up with a backstory regarding elements of the setting important to their character, then I’ll encourage them to detail it as much as they want. It’s before the game and the player is contributing. So, before the game starts, if people want the setting to include people, organizations, etc…then I’m all for it. I’ll either allow, disallow, or modify it to work.

Actually, let me expand my exception above. If, at any time, a player wants to voluntarily provide additional information for the setting that they would like to see…an organization, NPC, etc…I have no problem with that. It’s a player telling me what they’d like to see. I’ll make it fit and try to work it into the campaign. To me, that’s very different than asking the players to detail things that you as GM haven’t.

Old School DM on making thieves interesting

Great episode. I especially liked the discussion of establishing difficulty through narrative description (and questions from the players.) This method encourages group participation in overcoming obstacles, instead of just picking-the-pc-with-the-best-plus.

I think this is all role playing at it’s best (not just thieving).

Preparation and good box-text can accomplish this. This is one of the reasons I don’t often “riff” instead of reading high-quality (aka well tested) box text.

Context is everything – OldSchoolDM

Kyle hit us up on making thieves interesting

So, just listened to your Thieves episode. Rogues and thieves are my favorite classes, and rogue-slanted adventures are my fave to create.

Your show really exhibited one of 5e’s weaknesses: niche protection. However, there is one tool in the 5e kit to really help: Passive checks.

Take something like climbing. I like to allow rogues passive acrobatics or athletics to climb relatively simple surfaces: the uneven rock walls of a ramshackle stone building, the cracked facade of a cliff, etc… other classes will be required to make a check. Even if the DC Is low there is still a chance of failure. Doing this grants thieves automatic success in climbing up to a certain level, while there is a chance for failure for other classes, reflecting their skills.

Same rules apply to picking pockets. If the person getting picked is not being watchful and the victim’s passive perception is lower than the thief’s passive sleight of hand, it is an automatic success, whereas another class would have to rely on a roll vs. passive perception, introducing a chance of failure to reflect their lack of training.

There was a lot of talk about situations where bad die rolls meant the wizard picks more locks than the thief. Frankly, I don’t think there is any justification for even allowing a pick locks roll for a character who does not have Thieves’ tool proficiency. Think about it this way: in the real world you could take the most nimble-fingered master of close-up stage magic, put him in front of a standard household key lock, and, no matter how staggering his manual dexterity is, if he hasn’t trained himself to pick locks, his chances of opening that door are still zero, no matter how clever his/her fingers are. In my games proficiency means more than just a few extra points to your bonus. It also represents actual training and experience that determine if the dice will even come out of the bag.

Love the show. Thanks for all of your work.

Tom on easy wins

I think that if easy wins happen too often, then the GM is misjudging the difficulty level of the encounters. If it happens occasionally, that’s good and provides an ego-boost to the group.

I think that even if an easy win happens against the Big Bad, it can be a good thing if it’s due to excellent planning on the part of the group, an exceptionally good roll, or a fortuitous combination of attacks on the part of the group. A spell is cast that works particularly well in combination with another attack, for instance.

That being said…if this was the actual end of the campaign and meant to be the real capstone fight of the whole game…then such an easy win shouldn’t be possible. But it’s up to the GM to make sure the Big Bad can’t be taken down easily, even by good rolls and strategy. It’s the GMs job to design the Big Bad to be the Big Bad, which means he won’t be easy to take down. Exactly how the GM does this will vary from system to system. If they take him down easily…then the GM messed up. I don’t have a good answer for what to do if this happens. You have to give the group something here…as long as you don’t pull what I describe in my next paragraph.

What I’ve hated with a passion as a player is when we hit the Big Bad with a really effective combination of attacks with excellent rolls…only to have the GM says that he escapes anyway. We immediately followed, only to be told, “No, he’s gone.” When we pressed for how the only answer was “It’s a genre thing. He escapes.” Oh, how I hate that excuse.

Die Roll

  • How to create your own kingdom’s history, article on Role-playing Tips
  • Kobold Fight Club, online tool for building monster encounters
  • Curse of Strahd on Reddit

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About the Author
The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.