Critical Hit: A Major Spoilers D and D podcast
Four Against The Void

This episode: You asked for it, and we’re delivering – a series of episodes walking those who want to become a Game Master through the process. This time out: The Hook, the Story, and the Characters.


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  1. Assuming that you’ve already got Stephen’s game in the can, I hope it went well. I ‘really’ hope you had the group meet in a tavern and go and fight goblins.

    Having gone through ‘Coping with Loss,’ ‘The 411 on rituals,’ and ‘The Adventurer’s Vault’ episodes, my expectations for these transitional pieces were not all that high. However, I find myself excited about Stephen’s attempt at DMing. This episode reminded me that Critical Hit is not just about the story, but also serves as a learning tool.

    Again, Rodrigo wins my respect. “Being a Dungeon Master is being more akin to an improv commedian than a scientist.” “Oh, then I’m going to suck at this.” “Yeah, you probably are.”

  2. I think it’s kind of a bad idea to restrict character options to “only from the Player’s Handbook”, even with a new DM. The thing about different character types in 4E is that the DM doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in how all the different character classes and races work. That can be up to the player to track, as long as the DM checks periodically to make sure they’re playing by the rules. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether the class comes from the PH1, PH2, PH3, or some other book. Even a class from the Player’s Handbook can be abused.

    Rodrigo also made an argument about how allowing really weird creatures as player characters, even those designed to be used that way, like the shardmind. He said something to the effect that having weird creatures in the party could make things less special. It’s a good point, but I tend to disagree. My take on it is that the party will only ever consist of three to five distinct characters. Thus, it doesn’t really matter what they create: the thing that will determine how different and special they are, will be the kinds of creatures they encounter in the course of their adventures.

    What I’m trying to say is, if you have a party that has a shardmind, a gnoll, a shifter, and a wilden (plant-man) in it, you’re probably going to use at least one of those races’ civilizations as a place to explore at some time. Even if they start in purely human lands, eventually, a DM is going to be tempted to bring them to the shardmind home caves ruled over by giant sentient inanimate crystal-rock formations. or whatever. And at that point, that location is not an alien and weird location for the player characters, but it takes on the character of just another refuge for them to rest, regain spells, gather rumors and scuttlebutt, and learn magical rituals. The Shardmind Caves of Weirdness become an alternate version of the Human Thorp of Fallcrest.

    Of course, maybe you’re the kind of DM who has everything already all planned out, and there is no way you’re ever going to let the players go to the Sharded Caves. You might even refuse to acknowledge their existence. In which case the player of the shardmind is out of place no matter what else happens, and to some extent, loses out on the immersive aspect of the game in which the characters have stories with backgrounds that affect the events of the campaign.

    I suppose that’s a reasonable style, but it’s not mine. I prefer for the players to be able to come up with a major portion of what’s cool about the campaign and even the game world itself. If they come up with a shardmind character, then I see it as my responsibility to do a little research (if you don’t have access to the books, that’s another legitimate objection, but I’ll ignore it for now) on how the shardmind can be worked into the campaign. And really, I don’t see it as any more effort than what I would do if a player chose to play an elf or a dwarf, or a halfling. Especially for a new DM where the powers and abilities are all new, it shouldn’t really matter what races are picked, from the traditional to the bizarre, you’re going to have to do some reading and adapting either way. So you might as well allow anything the players can come to the table with.

    All that said, the campaign is still in a lot of ways “the DM’s”. For me, I like to think of myself as the fifth player. When creating the world, I keep in mind the backstories of all the players, because I presume that they wrote those details because they find them interesting. But I also want to include elements that are cool to me. It’s a mix, really, and I feel like I would be doing us all a disservice if I disallowed any concepts simply because they were new to me.

  3. Rodrigo: Something I’m wondering, do you choose monsters/enemies after getting a copy of the character sheets or does the first few combat encounters always oppose neutral(element whise) critters? And do you force elemental diversity or not (making sure not every player has fire powers, etc.)? Elemental weakness/resistance could change the actual difficulty of a fight.

    Stephen: How do you feel about nat 1 penalties? Self injury/friendly fire or just a miss? I can’t wait to see Stephen “home rules” ;-)

  4. It was very cool to see Stephen learn the ropes in the first arc of CH. The idea of now see you taking on the GM chair is awesome!!!

  5. I have to admit I was somewhat dreading another deviation from the continuing adventures of the party, but I really enjoyed this episode. I love that you’re working the GM podcasts around Stephen running his first game. It should make for a much more interesting experience for the listener than a series of lectures/discussions, as imformative as those would probably be.

    And kudos to Stephen for the guts to be willing to have your first GM experience broadcast to the world. Your willingness to be a “noob” in front of the entire interwebs really is part of what makes CH so awesome. And a large part of why it stands out among all the other D&D play-casts out there – that and your guy’s high quality recording standards.

    • Thank you, Mark. Hopefully you’ll enjoy all the episodes we have recorded. Our goal when we first started over a year was to not only have some fun (which I think all of us are), but also to educate those about the game and maybe, just maybe, get new people to think about playing the game. I think the group we’ve assembled is a good one with a broad range of experience. When this little deviation is over, I hope everyone is just as happy, and then we can get on to the main story. As you probably have figured out, I have no problem taking on the role of the butt of the joke as long as it is good natured fun, and gets someone to laugh.

  6. I enjoyed the podcast and think that it would be great advice for beginners however I do think you should mention the differences between planning for a 1 shot and planning for a long campaign. And the differences of working with experienced players and completely new players (although you touched on this a bit).

    The whole process is a lot more group orientated when your playing with people who know how to play and intend to be playing for a long period of time. Sometimes the character & world building can be just as fun to do with your group as an actual game session. It also gives them more ownership of the world and their characters.

    Great job though.

  7. I’m actually excited for this series of podcast because I might have to do my first DMing since my college friends and I have a bet and if I win they are all going to try out 4e with me as the DM so I really need these podcasts!!!

    PS I think Matthew would make the most excellent Bard!

  8. FYI — back in the “old” editions of D&D we did not sit there rolling on random charts for random encounters for our games… we planned them out just like you do :)

    • of course you didn’t. Because you probably looked at the rules and thought, “Wow, random encounters are dumb.” So after 30 years of the game trying to convince us that they’re not, and every game master ignoring them for it, they’ve finally given up on that and given us an easy system to plan out encounters.

      • Err. I don’t mean to argue, but as a AD&D 1E gamer, still to this day, I can assure you none of the books, ever promoted using random charts for encounters. There WAS charts for the “Lazy” DM incase he didn’t want to bother planning. I do AGREE that 4E has given a nice solid system for making encounters.

        • I don’t know what 1E was like, but I can tell you that about a fourth of the 3rd edition DMG was charts to roll on. And the book didn’t say, “If you’re too lazy to plan, here are 10,000 charts.” It was more like “Here are the charts to figure this out, if you’d rather pick things out, that’s cool too.”

          • I don’t know what 1E was like, but I can tell you that about a fourth of the 3rd edition DMG was charts to roll on. And the book didn’t say, “If you’re too lazy to plan, here are 10,000 charts.” It was more like “Here are the charts to figure this out, if you’d rather pick things out, that’s cool too.”

            I do remember what 1E was like, and I can tell you that the precise chart formation that you describe is the root of my hatred for Third Edition. Well, that and the “attack of opportunity” rules seemed completely broken as enforced by the DM I had in 3E.

            Random encounter tables, however, are old-school awesome when used correctly… Let’s say you’re doing a classic dungeon crawl and want to annoy your players. KABLAM! 1/d 12 says carrion crawler on the ceiling… No muss, no fuss, and fighty-fighty ensues. Secret door? Wow, we better check for traps! Of course, even if there’s no trap, the bulette on the other side is going to be an issue, sez the table. As with most everything in D&D, the fun comes in how the tools are used.

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