Pimp My Beholder
November 5, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Alright, nerds: Help me mod my upcoming D&D campaign.

It appears that I will in the near future be running a D&D 4th Edition campaign for a group of my friends. We've been playing the system since its release, and while we're pleased with the core mechanic, we feel that the system in place for roleplaying and character development leaves a bit to be desired. With that in mind, I'm looking to integrate rules from various other systems in order to make the campaign a more satisfying one for us.

In the past, we've had a great deal of success cherrypicking rules from roleplaying-heavy indie systems and shoehorning them into our campaigns. Aspects from Spirit of the Century worked very well in Star Wars: Saga Edition, Beliefs and Instincts from Burning Wheel worked well in a previous D&D campaign, and Drama Dice from 7th Sea gave our Vampire story a little extra bite.

What other lesser-known rules could be used to make my upcoming campaign a more memorable and enjoyable one, and how best to integrate them?
posted by Parasite Unseen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it's a rule or such per se, but as a DM I have been known, on occassion, to forget the result of the roll of my die behind the screen if a different result would encourage a more memorable moment, or better role playing. You still need to role the die to make them think they beat the odds though, otherwise they'll get complacent.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:04 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is world creation an issue? GURPS space has an awesome random world generator and a random race generator.
posted by ian1977 at 3:10 PM on November 5, 2008

After actually reading your question I realize I came nowhere near answering it. Oh well, GURPS Space is still cool. :-P
posted by ian1977 at 3:17 PM on November 5, 2008

Stunt Dice a la Exalted, Scion? Except that in D20 you'd need to apply it as a modifier to the roll. Stunt dice basically means that if you come up with a really awesome action, or describe your action in a really awesome way, you get a bonus to the action. How much is at the GM's discretion, obviously. (i.e. "Merric head-fakes left, jukes right, and with a kick-off from the tree-trunk, leaps up to stab the bugbear in the neck!" as opposed to "I'm gonna roll sly flourish, and use my sneak attack.")
posted by agentofselection at 3:28 PM on November 5, 2008

It isn't exactly a rules-port, but give your players some items that require roleplaying to use properly. Like a sentient weapon that is better than average but demanding of personal attention. If they don't interact sufficiently with it, it gives them a penalty, or refuses to be drawn from its scabbard, or something similar.

Or try giving them something truly bizarre and see what they come up with. My current GM gave us a magical box that can almost instantly transform into a rowboat. We're playing a naval-oriented campaign, so he thought this might come in handy. He didn't expect our bard to chuck the box at a mage and convert it mid-flight. It didn't kill him, but it did knock him over and land on top of him.

You can also probably make the new class features of the 4th edition work to your advantage. Race is a much bigger deal in the game mechanic, which should have your players thinking about it more frequently. Put them in situations where one race gets preferable treatment, or another one is feared/despised and see what happens. Being on the wrong end of racial discrimination does interesting things to people. Even if you aren't writing your own campaign, tweak the attitudes of the NPCs and see what happens. Religion plays a bigger role too, so you can maybe have fun with that.
posted by valkyryn at 3:59 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Take a page from good ole Ravenloft get yourself a deck of playing cards or tarot cards. Before each session, a player draws a card and gets a minor boon or curse that last through the session. You can use the meanings of tarot/playing cards to figure out what does what. Major Arcana/face cards have more of an effect than minor/numbered cards. Re-rolls and once-per day abilities for the former, skill/ability modifiers for the latter.

With each card comes some roleplaying notes. So if someone draws the Six of Pentacles (Generosity), they pay an extra 10% for all their goods and should RP an unusually generous nature. If they draw Death (Change) then they can swap a daily power with another class (ala half elves) or something and should RP that someone's off, different about them.

Players that play their card-drawn influence well can get XP bonuses, the option to draw extra cards next time around, or the ability to redraw cards should they get something they don't like down the road.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:17 PM on November 5, 2008

Okay I'll be the first to pull the "snooty-old-guy-gamer" hat out. Why are you bothering to find more rules for you to follow? You mentioned the lack of role-playing, so why dont you, I dunno, ROLEPLAY, instead of relying on more game mechanics? Back in the days of yore (Advanced DnD) I used a melange of rules and diceless systems (particularly Amber Diceless but Nobilis is supreme for inspiration - mind you, these came later but still..) for a more organic feel to the game. It also has the bonus of "forcing" your players to roleplay, as opposed to roll-play (sorry for the pun). Maybe it's just me, but if any player ever says something like "I roll to see if I get drunk in the tavern," you've all failed.

Okay off the soap-box. As was suggested up a bit, why not try cards? TORG was a great game and used these nifty deck of "action" cards that did everything from give "buffs" to introduce RP scenarios like "Romance" or "Nemesis" plots, and gave bonuses (called possibilities in the game, but XP is just as good) if you participated.
posted by elendil71 at 4:24 PM on November 5, 2008

My group has made some modifications to the rules - maybe they might help you.

* Every four levels you can add 2 points to one attribrute and 1 point to another, of your choice in lieu of the standard attribute improvement system.

* If you take a multi-class feat you don't have to take another one - you're considered already multiclassed (doesn't "waste" feats.)

* For magic items, you have a number of "magic item use" points equal to your level. If the item is a weapon, then it costs 1 point for the first use, 2 for the second, and so on. If it is not a weapon it is a "utility" item by default (armor, bracers, helms, etc.) and is free for the first use, 1 point for the second, and so on.

* If you kill a minion with a daily or encounter power, you get it back and it is as if you used a basic or at-will power.

* For primeshot, as long as you have line of sight you can use it.

* Adjacency/range for powers is a number of squares equal to your primary class attribute (for example, I play a warlord and my charisma determines who my powers affect, not just whoever is directly adjacent to me.)

* Powers apply to ranged as well as melee attacks (if it says just "melee" in the text.)

I'm sure we have more, but those are the ones that my husband and I could think of off the top of our heads.
posted by nekton at 6:23 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Isn't the setting more important than the rules? So new player races, new monsters, odd words, etc. are all beneficial. I'd avoid gimping the existing combat rules too much.

How about some Lovecraftian Dreamlands style world where you can reach the outer planes by foot/boat, but spells are faster? You could even have all the players be dreaming. :) Why not check out the old Call of Cthulhu rules for the Dreamlands?

You could also make various new player races that are slightly more powerful than normal ones but make the players roll their race. You should let players reroll, or even pick a standard race, if their rolled race's penalties harm their desired class, but otherwise let the dice fall where they may.

I'd consider taking item creation feats away, requiring instead expensive laboratories whose access is governed by roleplay, in-game connections, etc. So caster needn't choose between combat & item feats, while you claim more control over the time allowed for item creation. For example, your cleric's local church has ample facilities for potion brewing, but the local weapons forge is often reserved by higher level mages.

p.s. A cute magic trap is a rogue stuck permanently in a magic jar, able to roam about the dungeon & try to take control over he players. :P
posted by jeffburdges at 6:46 PM on November 5, 2008

I've always loved the Merits and Flaws found in the old World of Darkness games. Merits were fun, but Flaws were my favourite part of character creation. It's easy enough to roleplay an ugly character, but to have "ugly" as a character stat really keeps you on target. Buy an old WoD book and hand out a photocopy of the Flaws page. Everyone picks two.
posted by Newbornstranger at 8:57 PM on November 5, 2008

Actually, using mixed-mechanics in games always helped me keep the munchkins at bay: you can't min/max everything if you're moving from point-number to dice pool and back every five minutes. As to the efficacy of mixing various types of mechanic... well, try it and find out - it's worked well for me, not so well for others.

That being said, perhaps what you want is a bit of meta-game magic. Some fun people over at the the forge are heavily into the theory of role-playing, and even if you don't want to delve that deeply into it, it should spark some ideas. Look about halfway down that page to the 'archive' section, and read some of the threads on rpg theory and GNS theory. Some ideas I've had 'sparked':

*Players touch odd magical item, everybody switches character sheets and, in game, bodies. This is a fully-automatic hoot if you have characters with secrets or thieves in the party (with other people's loot).

*You thought your dungeon was well-balanced. Oops, everybody died. Well, now we get to see what goes on after death: bingo - new game, now played on the astral plane. For bonus awesomicity, have the characters reincarnate at the end of a grueling campaign in the afterlife into ... new characters, with the attendant (you don't know {previous foe X}, but you have a bad, bad feeling about him) hilarity ensuing.

*One of my favorite games was billed as a run-of-the-mill whodunit, but as the game wore on, it became more and more clear that some of the rolls I was having them make influenced the world around them more and more. Eventually they figure out that they're all personalities in one body, and from that point on the players had to contest each other to gain control of the body. This was stolen shamelessly from Everyone is John, a rpg about a schizophrenic man. Also at the same site is The Framework, a methodology of collaborative GMing that uses much of the language and interpretive framework discussed at the Forge, above.

*Trust the dice, or, just throw it all and see what sticks: I like to make sure that 'something else' is going on in my games. Unless the action is furious and thick, it's always nice to have a sideline going: a missing item, a love interest, a character battling a disease, something else besides the action. Coming up with ideas is easy with S.John Ross' Big List of Plots and all the narrative goodness to be found over at TVTropes.org, a site that catalogs tv tropes and idioms. Let the dice pick a plot from the Big List, throw in a couple of tropes for your heroes, and you have instant fun, just add players.

These are really just storytelling techniques more than game mechanics, but they will get your creative juices flowing like you wouldn't believe. I was always one of those GM's that preferred the ole' dungeon crawl/monty haul with at least one good barracks-lawyering session over anything else until I started playing around with narrative and meta-game elements, after a few simply mind-blowingly fun games. Now, I prefer the mechanics-light systems, just for the flexibility it gives the GM and players.
posted by eclectist at 11:12 PM on November 5, 2008

I've always thought that the pattern item mechanic from Earthdawn is a great story facilitator. The basic idea is that an item that is used by someone significant during significant periods of their life becomes altered by those experiences. The longer they keep it, the more powerful it might become. When the party comes across one of these items, they have to find someone to "identify" the item for them, and then they can weave threads to the item if they've fulfilled the requirements for the specific thread. (Threadweaving is a big part of Earthdawn, I'm sure you could come up with something else to fit if you like).

The big story part comes in that often threads require tracing the steps of the person who originally used the item. Just for example, lets say that Gandalf's sword is a pattern item. Your party finds it in a buried tomb somewhere, someone realizes it's magical, and they take it to be identified. The first thread probably requires knowing the Name of the sword (Names are a big deal in Earthdawn), Glamdring. The second thread might be to know who the original wielder of the sword was, which we know is Gandalf. The third thread might require being in the location where Gandalf found the sword in order to weave the thread. One of the threads might require defeating a Balrog, or travelling to Moria, or visiting the forest where Gandalf revealed himself as Gandalf the White. And so on and so forth. Each thread unlocks additional powers of the item while revealing more about the item's history.

The fun part is that this can satisfy your powergamers, because there's a definitive reward, but if you can weave a story or adventure into the unlocking of these powers, then your gamers who are more focused on those aspects will be happy too. Many of my most memorable adventures from my Earthdawn days involved traveling around to fulfill the thread requirements, and my GM using those hooks to introduce other elements of plot. It might just have been that my GM (now my husband, so I'm biased~) was really good at linking everything together, but I always enjoyed learning more about the items that I was using and learning their histories. No few of my characters ended up completely changing directions thanks to their brush with heroes from long ago.
posted by ashirys at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2008

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