Playing pretend allowed us to be a cop or robber or doctor or superhero when were kids. Now we play role-playing games and sometimes forget we’re taking on a role. Lets go back and play pretend!

Random Encounter

Voicemail from DM Cojo

Voicemail from Chris Shorb

Email from James Caruthers

Hi Brett & Sean,

Thanks for the holiday good wishes. Same to you and all the best to you, your families and your game groups for 2021!

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote in. Although life’s been busy, I want you to know I never miss an episode of your BS! Your heart and hard work shine through every week. Thank you!

Now, on to the meat of the matter: I’m calling BS! (in a manner of speaking)

Well, actually, I’m offering more of a challenge and real-world experiment…

In several past episodes, including a few recent ones, the pouting and pontificating about the shortcomings of HP as an abstraction; the whining and wondering about the speed and ease of healing; and the fretting and philosophizing on the  absence of lasting wounds and scars arises for rehashing time and again — specifically pertaining to D&D 5e.

So, why not take what 5e actually has to offer and test it? Rather than scream this at my podcast player yet again, I finally found time to sit down and write you about it.

Recently, you floated the idea that you would each concurrently run Rime of the Frost Maiden and compare notes. I love this idea! I really hope you do it because I also plan to run that module (yes, I still call them modules) and I hope to benefit from your findings and musings.

So, here’s the challenge: take all the 5e rules for gritty wounds and slow healing and tell your game group that these rules will apply RAW (yes, RAW — even you, Brett — let’s be scientific about this) for the first three levels of Rime of the Frost Maiden. When the PCs reach 4th level have a look back and see how it went. Was it (more) fun? What worked and what didn’t? …and why?

Many, many episodes ago you both publicly committed to reading the rule books. However, since I’m still not sure if you guys have read the DMG’s 5e rules for this stuff, I’ll itemize them here:

Healer’s Kit Dependency, p. 266

Slow Natural Healing, p. 267

Gritty Realism, p. 267

Hitting Cover (friendly fire), p. 272

Lingering Injuries, p. 272

Massive Damage System Shock, p. 273

At 4th level in Rime of the Frost Maiden feel free to tweak and tune to suit your tastes and needs, after having given the actual rules of the game a fair shake.

I hope you take up the challenge! I plan on doing this too and I look forward to comparing notes…

In considering this topic, I began to wonder why? Why do we want to do this? I’m pretty sure that the idea to add these rules into our games originates solely from the DM 99% of the time. Our players certainly don’t come up with this, nor do they ask for it. Is it more fun for the DM at the expense of the players’ fun? Or is it truly more fun for everyone? (or not…?) I’m curious to see what else comes up during the course of the experiment, but this question will be top of mind for me.

And now for a few spin-off tangents…

That question led me to wondering: Do I feel that my players too often over-power the challenges I give them? For me, actually, no, but I hear about other DMs who do worry about this. (Sean, is this you maybe?) In podcasts where Mike Shea appears, for example, I hear him talk about how his players routinely curb-stomp encounters that are of a CR far, far higher than should be possible. Conversely, I hear that Jeremy Crawford scoffs at the idea that monsters are too easily overcome by players and his case in point is that in all the games he has ever run in 5e, none of his groups have ever killed a vampire, no matter how high level and powerful they were. Vampires are just too cunning and too powerful. They always escape. (Mike, on the other hand, wrote and published a booklet of seven new vampires, just to make them stronger.) 

Personally, I think I’m somewhere between the two in my DM style. For example, I find it hard to imagine a vampire that doesn’t kill everyone and/or escape to fight another day, but not impossible! However, I would pit a sphinx against anyone, anytime, any level, and I’m sure it would never, ever lose. Conversely, I’m a notoriously poor tactician when it comes to running dragons, but I don’t care. There’s always some other terrifying creature around the next corner (or ready to Plane Shift in from hell) to make the players crap their pants!

I think some DMs’ fear of players overpowering their encounters might be one reason for the scarcity of magic items in 5e — especially weapons. That, and the fact that character classes progressively add so many cool bells and whistles already. But I say, Fear not! I give awesome magic items as treasure. I grew up with AD&D and learned to love magic items at an early age. For example, I let the rogue find a shortsword of Sharpness in our Princes of the Apocalypse game. I was unafraid to let him have it. Sure, he made mincemeat out of a few monsters. But I’m the DM! There’s always another, bigger monster around the next corner. His sword came with a nasty backstory too, of course. It had been hidden away for gods-know-how-long in an Illithid temple because it was the “little sister” Silver Sword companion to a Githyanki captain’s larger, main two-handed Silver Sword. Once the rogue removed it from its hidden location it triggered the hunt from the Githyanki! The party was plagued by Githyanki hunting parties at the most in-opportune times for the rest of the campaign. The whole party had awesome stuff like that. Fun for them and fun for me too!

A caveat: I do find that the +X of magic weapons in 5e can steal some fun, due to the cleverly designed bounded accuracy of the game. If a PC hits 90+% of the time then I believe it does, actually, lessen the fun for everyone, including the ever-hitting PC. Solution: the +X only works for 1 minute/day when activated on a bonus action. Of course the weapon is always magical, regardless of whether or not the +X is “on”, which is important for overcoming monster resistances at higher levels of play. Plus, I usually embellish its other powers if it has any — and it always does! There’s no such thing as a vanilla +1 or +2 weapon in my games!

All the best for a better 2021!!!

James Carruthers

Sunshine Coast, BC

PS ~ Forgive my flippant, irreverent, snarky tone. It’s tongue-in-cheek and all in good fun. You guys are awesome!

PPS ~ Brett, don’t stop telling us stories from your AD&D game. More, more! I absolutely LOVE hearing about it.

Craig from third floor wars emails us

If you want a trip through the time machine or to open a time capsule, go re-listen to your episode 285 “Ideal Game Group”.  The first 20 minutes is when Sean and Brett start to realize that COVID is a thing and will impact their hobby.  I listened today and it was interesting to hear the initial reactions to the lockdowns.  I’d love an episode where you two talk about the lasting impact.  Will there be a lockdown hangover on the RPG industry?  Will post-lockdown RPG world look like pre-lockdown RPG world?

The entire episode is worth a second listen but it was the opening discussion that took me back in time.

Craig from Third Floor Wars

Die Roll

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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.