Rutskarn’s GMinars: Introduction

By Rutskarn
on Apr 9, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

When I got the chance to design and run my first Dungeons and Dragons adventure, I spent more time on it than I did any twenty of my grade-school assignments that year.  The document I eventually completed was a rambling ill-stapled mess, an exhaustively plotted town and desert fort and disjointed prophecy cobbled from equal parts book materials and doodles and random numbers. I’m not sure which I understood less about going in–my own setting, the principles of storytelling, or absolutely any of the game’s rules.

Things didn’t get any smoother when I ran it. As my uncle obligingly delved the dungeon I’d made, I stammered through area descriptions, second-guessed the bizarre layout, and struggled to figure out who hit (and how hard) every single time we touched the dice. Eventually the game rattled and rambled to its abrupt conclusion and boss battle–a skeleton giant (probably based on King Leoric) inexplicably standing guard outside the goblin fort. Waiting, apparently, for my uncle to come out and duel it.

Well, my uncle didn’t. He saw the massive skeleton, shut the door, and barred it. Which puzzled me–what the hell was I supposed to do about him not engaging the boss battle? That didn’t happen in Diablo. Why hadn’t I planned for this?

I wish I could say that was my genius moment of inspiration. Nope. My narration was that by the time he did open the door, much later, a sandstorm had blown the skeleton boss apart and scattered his bones. And so concluded my first-ever session.

You can do better than that.

I’ve said, and will keep saying, that more people ought to try tabletop roleplaying games. It’s something gamers especially can enjoy. Not only are they amusing, they provide a fresh perspective on game design and they’re one of the best ways imaginable to scratch creative and social itches at the same time. And when I tell people all this, they believe me…they just don’t believe me when I say you can play them too. For some reason there exists a persistent myth that you can’t play or run or understand D&D unless you’re part of a secret club that had tryouts, years ago, which you missed forever. I understand programmers have a similar problem. You write code and make little games? Oh, that’s cool! That’s really interesting. But of course, I couldn’t do that.

And that’s a more or less asocial activity; part of the trouble with RPGs is that somebody has to step up and run games. Somebody has to design adventurers, administrate rules, and generally perform a task not many people have ever even seen performed. And if you’re the one trying to get your friends to play roleplaying games, guess what? That person’s probably going to end up being you. Which theoretically hinges a lot on your ability to do a good job, which, understandably, is scary to a lot of people.

It’s perfectly well for me to say you’ll figure it out pretty quickly and have a great time doing it, even if that’s true.  My default approach to new things is to go off half-cocked at eighty miles an hour and figure out what I did wrong from the emergency room, but it’s not hard for me to grasp that not everyone’s comfortable doing that. Some would prefer to have some idea of what they’re doing before trying something as social and technical as running a tabletop game can be.

That’s where this series will come in. As we go along I’ll break down the theory, practice, and effect of running your very own bespoke tabletop campaign. I’ll talk about understanding and applying rules, designing adventures, and dealing with your players so that if and when you do run your own game you’ll have concrete models to draw from. What’s more, I’ll provide plenty of homework questions and example problems to be answered in the comments, meaning you’ll get a peek at other GMing styles and perspectives along the way.

Let me just say this clearly: reading this series, or another like it, is by no means a mandatory perquisite for running a game. Let’s say you’re not anxious about going out and grabbing a free tabletop system (like the D&D5 basic rules set), then puzzling it out from the instructions and some on-the-fly experience. Maybe you’re asking yourself if you should wait for more of these posts to come out before trying to run a game from scratch. My answer, without hesitation, is absolutely not. This series is not about qualifying you to run a game; GMing isn’t like driving a truck or administering vaccines, it’s a strictly general-purpose civilian activity that actual children can and do perform. No, this series is about overqualification. It’s about building confidence through understanding underlying principles. It’s about going in mentally prepared and knowing that you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an above-average first session.

One quick note: I’m folding my previous series on which tabletop games should new players try? into this one–so if you’re waiting for my take on the FATE system, for example, stick around. For everybody else, I leave you with this question:

What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?

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  1. “What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?”
    Well as the player(s) are/is the designated Hero(es) I would (as the GM) have the giant skeleton stray to a nearby village. Thus the inaction of the Hero(es) has a consequence as well.

    (The Village guards manages to deal with it eventually but many civilians died, homes and stores damaged, and maybe some citizens may blame the Hero(es) for not doing anything?)

    Edit: As you stated “in the middle of the desert” then a village may not be nearby, so if that is the case then it’s a caravan passing by or some other group of (NPC) heroes, which end up killed by the skeleton.

    • LCF says:

      Tea.
      If you are a giant undead in the middle of nowhere, might as well make some tea.

      Now, since this campaign was designed with a hack-and-slash approach, it’s normal Rutskarn expected the Boss to be confronted.
      But if the player feels like the best story is the one where running away from the huge scary monster is the best idea, why deprive them from avoiding a disaster?
      What comes after depends on the rest of the world and the scenario. Were they merely hunting treasures? You can always taunt them with promises of gold and artifact, lying in tombs untouched… for now. Were they Saving the World? They better get back to undead-kicking, then. Chasing a prophecy and ancient mysteries? You can always dangle some vague clue over their head, see where they run to and go along, with or without Boss to defeat.

      Really, as a GM, it’s up to you.

  2. Primogenitor says:

    The skeleton is actually formed from malevolent semi-sentient sand. So it piles against the door and gradually pours through any cracks to get at the PCs.

    Unless you already had a pouring-sand trap somewhere else in the dungeon.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      Along the same lines, the skeleton absorbs the nearby sand to begin creating a pit in the desert – this is assuming the skeleton’s spotted the heroes, and can’t fit into the door -, becoming larger, and eventually cutting down at the roots of the mountain they are in.

      Yeah, a mountain *shouldn’t* have load bearing roots, but this is fantasy.

      In fact, as I was writing this, I was originally planning on having the skeleton cause this to get the mountain to start tipping over, but…nothing says this mountain with the goblin lair couldn’t secretly be a giant colossi (Presumably Gaia or something – one of the Gods of Earth. I check my notes.) that springs to life as that happens while they’re inside of it or falling out of it, and proceeds to defeat the Skeleton King in a fight of increasing proportions.

      Having found a way to defeat the Skeleton King with a larger, clearly more useful for most tasks creature, I then have it explain to them that it was guarding the Skeleton King’s phylactery, either inside the mountain creature’s stomach, or in a dungeon below itself, and asks the players to go find it and destroy it before the Skeleton King can reform.

      Since the players probably want to loot the Skeleton King and sell his loot, it would turn out there’s ancient Dwarven and/or Drow villages in the passageways below the mountain’s main entrance, who will gladly sell them some great enough equipment to make them feel suitable to take on the challenge of whatever Necromancer or whatever is guarding the phylactery itself.

      If they’re still trying to leave, then I look for whatever quest hook this was supposed to lead into for a later dungeon, and roll with that. Though probably after a session break.

  3. Ester says:

    I’d have the skeleton smash the door to pieces. Or at least try to. You’re supposed to roll dice for the NPCs too, right?

    • Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      I would do this too

    • Mistwraithe says:

      Yeah. It doesn’t have to happen straight away, the player can hear the booming crashes as the skeleton bashes away at the door, after a while cracks start appearing, etc. By the time the door finally comes down the player has gained a decent amount of time to prepare for the fight, and hence has gained an advantage from their clever thinking of closing the gates.

    • Felblood says:

      That would be my knee jerk response. “Skeleton” and “giant” are both words that describe character who can reasonably be expected to solve his problems by smashing them, rather than thinking about them.

      If, for some reason, I have the inkling that this particular skeletal giant is smarter or lazier than the title would lead one to assume, he can also just siege them. One assumes that a skeleton, whatever his size, doesn’t mind standing in the desert sun for months on end, while most adventurers are going to worry about pesky things like food and water.

      Whenever your player’s threaten you with inaction, you can force a stalemate by also doing nothing. Because most players are here for the action, you can often call their bluff this way.

      For advanced DMs, with a small amount of luck, you can avoid this confrontation altogether by encouraging more of more players to be what I lovingly call the “Black Hearted Reaver.”

      I stole this idea from the Weapons of the Gods, fan RPG, and it basically says that every band of heroes needs at least one anti-hero. It’s easy, and quite fun, to play a character who solves all his problems by hitting them (or shooting them, or throwing magic at them) until they stop being problems, so you can usually steer at least one party member in that direction, during character creation.

      This character is is basically here to get bored and start trouble, any time the other players are getting too complacent, but he isn’t supposed to get to steal all the limelight and ruin the fun of playing a more methodical character. A broad mix of personality types and approaches is the key to having a party that goes to varied places and does various things. Having a party made entirely of Wolverine, Brock Sampson, Conan the Barbarian, Light Yagami and Naruto Uzumaki, would be too much of a good thing.

    • Cybron says:

      Provided the skeleton was large/strong enough and the door weak enough for it to make sense, I wouldn’t even roll for it. I’d just have him do it. I like to keep things moving.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      +1 for smashing the door.
      If either the door was too small or the players made a reasonable case that it’d be too strong or magically protected or what have you, there’s always the back door which the players didn’t know about :)

      Barring that, it’d assault the door and then give indication that it’s about to attack something very important outside the castle.

  4. SpaceSjut says:

    What would I do with a locked out skeleton in the middle of the desert…
    If I really want that encounter to happen and the skeleton actually fits through the door: kick down the door. Which might take enough time for the players to get away, but if that’s what the players want, let them have it.
    In any case: I’d take a note. Either my players come into a situation where this guy might reasonably show up again, or maybe one day the meet Ser George, Smasher Of Skeletons, Protector Of The Sandy Planes, Fiancee of Princess Whatever, who in this very same desert ventured through a deserted (hehe) dungeon, found that skeleton, smacked it to bits and took all the fame and fancy as it was actually the cursed great-grandfather of the king and yadda yadda reward yadda yadda.

  5. Dovius says:

    Depends on how the PCs try to avoid it.

    If they made themselves visible while spotting the skeleton, it might’ve seen them. If it did, I’d imagine that a mostly mindless undead is gonna go for the shortest path to them and starts trying to break down the door, which shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Of course, once inside, it’d have to contend with spaces smaller than what it’s accustomed to depending on the size and design of the fort (If it’s a Goblin fort as said here, it’d have to crouch around and shit while the party might still be able to move normally) which could actually make the encounter easier with the downside of clearly creating even more noise than the normal fight would’ve, absolutely ruining any chance at stealth.

    If it didn’t, have it wander off at some point. This would, especially if the area contains pre-established villages and stuff, give the party an incentive to go after it anyway to make sure no one else gets hurt (Because standard heroism) and maybe to get ahold of anything fancy it might’ve had on it (Could add in shit about jewels and fancy weaponry while describing the skeleton. Let the party figure out how to wield a saber sized for a 15 foot tall skeleton after they loot it.)

    And honestly, I don’t mind the idea of a sandstorm showing up and affecting the situation. It just could be used in a different manner. Maybe it doesn’t destroy it, it merely chases it away. Maybe it starts looking for bare shelter and decides to break into the fort to get it. Maybe it’s resistant to it since it’s apparently fine with living in the desert so the party doesn’t see anything only to get jumped by a buried skeleton when they try and pass the now-empty desert.

    Lots of ways to go about this even without considering anything the players themselves might plan and try to do.

  6. NoneCallMeTim says:

    Wooo!

    Good idea for a series. I started playing RPGs about 14 years ago, with me and my friends coming from a tabletop wargaming background. Because of that, our sessions were light on roleplay, heavy on rules, and tactical simulations.

    I took a break from playing for a while, and have got back into it recently. Hearing your tales from the tabletop made me switch to a more cinematic GMing style. This goes down better with people who aren’t so hardcore gamers, and seems to result in more fun gaming sessions, with a lot less bickering over rules.

    As to what I would do with the Skeleton?

    A lot depends on what the rest of the adventure is, or what the endgame is. Having the skeleton knock on the door with a challenge, hearing no response, starts breaking down the door, and hunting down the player predator-style, allowing them to set up traps, or find some advantage.

    I quite like Primogenitor’s idea, but would give the player some kind of advantage at attacking the skeleton in sand form to reward them for changing the situation.

    Or maybe change it altogether, have the skeleton on the inside as a bodyguard to some goblin, and a hint (such as matching necklaces) that killing to goblin and removing an item such as a necklace will take over control of the skeleton, or destroy it.

  7. Nidokoenig says:

    Have the skeleton start piling up sand to access higher windows, doors or thin roofs he can smash in. If the player has any perception skill at all, I might mention he doesn’t look unbeatable to the player character. If they insist on running, assume they enjoy it and force them to fight lesser threats and deal with rivers n’at while trying to remain ahead of the skeleton. If they reach a village or something, let them have a little help from the villagers, or have the village hate their guts and send warriors to chase down the arsehole who kited a boss monster to their home and kept on running.

  8. James says:

    I would have the skeleton demand the hero unbar the door and face him, going through the five stages of depression.

    Denial

    “Fine then! Lock the door! I didn’t want to fight you anyway. Your beneath my notice!”

    Anger

    “Open the door you wretched meat sack! I will kill you and everyone you love if you do not fight me now!”

    Bargaining

    “You know, there’s actually some treasure in here. Magic items from a forgotten empire…. But you’ll have to unbar the door and fight me to get them… It’s… Look, open the door and I’ll show you some of the treasure, then we can fight?”

    Depression

    “I’m just… I’m so lonely. I’ve been waiting here a thousand years to fight an intruder. That’s the whole reason I was raised you know? To fight. But without that, what am I? Whats even the point?”

    Acceptance

    “No, I’ve… You know what? I’ve done my job. I don’t need to fight you, I just have to stop you from getting past here. And by the old gods and the new I have done it! You have no power here mortal! I win”

    *Giant skeleton gains 200xp*

    • Ivellius says:

      For a particular tone, this is really beautiful.

      I am in general agreement that I’d probably have it wander off to destroy something. Otherwise, it becomes an obstacle that the players are going to need to work around–as their food and water tick down over the next few days, how are they going to deal with the creature blocking their means of escape? I think I would try to ad-lib some strange behaviors for it, too, as if it’s calling for reinforcements / communicating with some outside force / has some inscrutable motivation for staying. Upping the creep factor would be fun.

  9. Rack says:

    I’d throw in a magical do hickey somewhere else the players go that puts the skeleton to rest. I wouldn’t add a replacement combat so as to get a feeler for whether the players would rather fight enemies or puzzle around them.

  10. DeathbyDysentery says:

    From what I can tell, a PC just cleared a dungeon of goblins and then a giant skeleton came up to the fortress gates and got locked out. Of course, if it came to the fortress that means someone sent it there (because mindless undead generally don’t just wander around in the wilderness on their own), which means someone either hates the goblins or the player and wants them dead. In either case, the skeleton giant would just start trying to hammer down the door. Since it was sent for this job specifically, it’s also safe to assume it was given the right tools for the job and was magically protected from any dangerous environmental hazards like sandstorms which could have destroyed it en-route.

    The player’s options now depend on the layout of the fort and whether they were spotted by the monster. If it is just an open air walled compound, they could probably find a way out at some other part of the wall. If it’s a walled up cave, they may be trapped and be forced to fight. In either case, the skeleton (being mindless) is just going to keep bashing until it gets inside, and even in the case that the wall is simply too strong to be broken down, it won’t wear out or fall apart before the PC starves to death in there, which means he needs to either escape or come up with a plan to fight.

    The really interesting material here is in whoever sent the skeleton. If they sent it after the PC, then that is a quest hook that he just can’t ignore. If they sent it after the goblins, that’s still a curious mystery that a heroic PC would want to investigate. Who’s powerful enough to create undead skeletons, and why do they hate goblins so much? Are they just clearing the competition out of the neighborhood? What’s their next plan? Where did they get giant bones?

  11. Benjamin Hilton says:

    This is kind of a perfectly timed post for me. I’ve recently convinced a group of friends to get into an RPG with me, with experience levels ranging from minor to none, (I’m in the category of none) and I had the exact moment Rutskarn describes when I suddenly realized I was going to have to run it.
    To make matters more interesting it’s going to be Clockworks, the game being developed by Shamus’ old comic companion Shawn Gaston. The interesting part is that while Shawn has the RPG doc up for anyone to read for free, it’s not actually done yet, meaning there will necessarily be allot of fudging and interpretation on my part. I’m honestly not sure if that will make it easier or harder.

    • One of the funnest RPG sessions I ever had was playing a rules system (which I still haven’t managed to find again, curses) that fit completely onto one of those tri-fold pamphlets.
      I’d say go for it, and additionally that fudging stuff isn’t necessarily easier or harder than following explicit rules, especially if you’re playing with people who aren’t familiar with said rules. And it can be a lot more (consistently) fun – playing the rules is good for when you want an arbitrary system to generate results that will potentially surprise the whole table, yourself included; fudging stuff means things will happen because people want them to.

  12. MrGuy says:

    Regarding failing to engage the boss…

    Actually, I’d embrace that option. I don’t think you should run a campaign on such rails that your characters can’t elect to miss something that you’d prefer them to experience. It’s not about the single campaign – it’s about building agency and experience, hopefully, for use in the next campaign.

    What I’d do (making up the rest of the story, obviously) – the lone heroes went to engage the goblin fort themselves after (presumably) failing to convince the nearby townsfolks/authorities to help them. Heroes go clean out the fort, then realize the boss outside is too tough, and slam the door (hiding in the fort).

    Eventually, the players hear the sounds of battle coming from outside the door. If they open the door at this point, they find that the captain of the town guard had a change of heart, and a detachment of soldiers was dispatched to aid the party. The guards missed the fort battles, but arrive just in time to engage the boss. The soldiers have just killed the boss when the party opens the door. We see the corpses of two dead soldiers (validating that this would have been a tough fight, and maybe the players were right to avoid it), but the captain of the guard is showing off his shiny new +1 sword, and two other soldiers are currently hoisting a small but heavy-looking wooden chest onto a packhorse. No treasure, no XP for the party – just the knowledge that they might have used good sense and avoided being killed, but lost the reward.

    A variant on this – the party arrives just in time to take a few hacks at the very weakened boss, and get a small XP and gold reward. You helped, but not much.

    If the players elect to wait for the battle to die down before going out (not even risking the chance of hitting the tail end of the battle), they find the skeleton’s corpse, two fresh burial mounds, and the broken remains of a treasure chest. Again, “here’s what you missed out on.”

    There are tons of options I could think of on how to force the players to engage the boss, I just think railroading them into it isn’t always the RIGHT option.

  13. Nick says:

    Answering the skeleton giant question blind:

    1) Change the scene so that the giant starts bashing down the walls, giving a sense of urgency without immediately railroading the PCs into a combat they’ve just tried to escape
    2) React to how they react – if they start looking for the siege engines in the keep, have a desperate race against time, if they try and sneak out have them sneak past some skeleton minions that the king obviously brought with him to sneak around and attack later; if they try and hide have a tense scene as the king breaks through and starts hunting around, followed by an escape/chase scene depending on how well that goes

  14. tmtvl says:

    Depends on which group I’m playing with. My veteran players will have thought up a dozen plans by the time I finish saying that the skeleton starts bashing against the door. The other group will only need a hint to start setting up traps or looking for an alternate way out of the mess.

  15. Steve C says:

    What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?

    Nothing.

    Just because there is a monster it doesn’t mean the PCs have to vanquish it. If the players want to avoid it, go right ahead. I love players who think like that.

    “PLAYERS: We cast ‘invisibility to undead’ and leave.”
    “ME: M’kay. Where to?”

    • Trent B says:

      this. having a giant skeleton outside is a challenge for the players. let them have their agency, let them deal with the challenge.

      would add: gm only needs to consider a) what specific instructions the skeleton has been given, b) what it therefore does, c) what town/travelling folk do in response.

      If PCs stay around long enough, explain the consequences of their decision to hide, whatever they are, good or bad. Maybe the goblins worship it? maybe it kills things, stopping travelers, and functionally sieging the town? maybe it follows pcs forever, inexorably, at walking pace, day and night?

      (phone post; please forgive)

      • Joshua says:

        Yep.

        1. Don’t railroad the PCs into a fight like this if you can avoid it. The PCs have obviously indicated that they don’t want to fight it.
        2. If there are consequences for not fighting it, they should seem natural, not forced. Having the skeleton immediately wander into the nearest town or nearest caravan and slaughter all of the innocents just so you can rub it into the PCs’ faces “see what you did?”may not go over well.

        Now, if there was a town previously described as being right outside the keep or was on a busy trade road that would be another story, but the impression I got from above was that this keep was isolated. Of course, having the skeleton trying to bash down the door could work too. Whatever you do, it’s best if the PCs have the reaction “told you that was going to happen”.

  16. Syal says:

    What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?

    Trick question. Skeleton giants have skeleton keys, you can’t lock them out of anything.

  17. acronix says:

    I’d have the skeleton knock the barred door and try to speak with the players, suddenly retcon-ing him into being a simple dapper gentleman (skeleton) who devolves into a senseless murdering machine only when he directly sees fleshy mortals.

  18. Ramsus says:

    Well, you could play it for laughs and it could have a skeleton key. Or it could just climb the walls. Or it could slowly break down the doors little by little each day with continuous pounding that is loud enough that it’s nearly impossible for the residents to get any sleep. Or declare it was an illusion and/or distraction for some other threat that snuck in while the player was occupied with it.

    But if I couldn’t in that moment think of any of such things… I’d just let the player go past it and congratulate them on successfully dealing with the problem. Then ask them where they’re going next and try and not make the same error again.

  19. BitFever says:

    For the giant skeleton I personally would have the party hear a quiet sobbing from the other side of the door after baring it. Should they re open it and look inside they see the skeleton crying. Talking to the skeleton will reveal that this had once been it’s home but He and the rest of his family had been turned into skeletons and put into other dungeons to guard them. Only by bringing these skeletons scattered across the world and burring them at there home will they find peace.
    This is both surprising to the players and allows me as the GM to insert skeleton NPC’s into dungeons that would otherwise just be monster closets to churn through and helps set up a long term goal for my players.

  20. Wray says:

    I’ve never been a GM. But I would have it try and fail to break down the door (even if I roll a 20). Then it would back off and start patrolling around the fort. The players would be safe from the skeleton inside, but there’d be some other problems with staying. Maybe you find that the goblins poisoned the fort’s water supply to get back at you. I like the idea of a giant sandstorm on the horizon that will bury the fort completely–it’s very cool, but it might feel unfair/railroady to the players. Maybe if one of them took a wound clearing the dungeon, it was a poisoned blade and now they need to get him to a healer. Even if the players sneak out and escape from the skeleton (which is what I expect), they’ll remember it and it can be a recurring monster chasing them wherever they go.

  21. ‘What would you do with a locked-out giant skeleton in the middle of the desert?’

    Hmm. Answering this as myself now, having played tabletop RPGs on and off for years, or myself years ago in the hypothetical situation that I am reading this before ever playing through a whole session?

    Well, I am not a super experienced GM so both answers are probably worth something for interest’s sake. Also I love roleplaying games and talking.

    Nowadays, well, a skeleton is already dead so it’s got no pressing reason to go anywhere or do anything else. If there are other ways out of the dungeon then your player could try to make a break for it that way, and since they’ve not engaged with the encounter it’s probably time to find another resolution anyway. I like the suggestion further up about having the skeleton try to reason with the party through the door, though if I were running it the lines would probably be more obviously a ploy to get the party to walk into their own demise, ‘Please let me kill you? Uh. On second thoughts, let’s make truce. I have decided to bring you the gift of… not… death. Let’s be friends! I’m not trying to kill you’. And maybe it could try to sneak body parts under the door for added effect.

    When I first started playing? Hehe, easy answer. Something’s stuck and not going to plan? The skeleton would have exploded for no good reason. Maybe ‘he got too mad at you’ or something along similar lines. Which works too – if you’ve convinced your friends to play a game like this with you they’ve got to have some idea of your sense of humour. Or at least you hope they do.
    And if it’s getting late and I’m with good friends, I might revert to that kind of resolution now anyway, although I think these days I’d probably also involve fruit and veg in some capacity. Maybe the skeleton starts hiccuping up an endless stream of potatoes and the party needs to find a way to stop it.

  22. Mr. Son says:

    Oh my god thank you for starting this series now.
    I’ve got a group who we’ve been trying to start a D&D 5e game for weeks now, and a combination of technical issues and bad timing have stopped us every week but two. Once a player was missing and we didn’t want to start the game one player down, and the other time the GM had an attack of the nerves.

    And I’ve been considering that I might run a game someday, and if our current GM can’t get himself into a headspace to run his campaign, then mine might have to come sooner than I’d hoped.

    And I’m definitely the sort who’s going to require “overqualification” to have the confidence to be the one in charge of improv storytime. Especially since improv is one of my major weak points, and I freeze up when I get nervous. But I love the idea of roleplaying so much. I’m just terrified that I’ll be so bad at running a game that no one will be having fun. I can take being a fuck up as long as it’s fun but I don’t want to be boring and frustrating to game with. And I am entirely sympathetic to our GM’s earlier case of the nerves because I keep getting them too and I’m not even up to bat yet!

    So again, thank you so much for starting this series.

    ETA: Oh right. The skeleton. Hm… It’s on the outside of the fort… Well, either it’s got a someone/thing commanding it, or it’s just a wandering skeleton.
    If it’s commanded, it could be magically bound to guard the door. It wasn’t there when he went in? It could have been spelled to stand guard over the door if the creator/summoner died but… that seems a weird contingency for goblins, unless these are atypical for fantasy goblins.
    Wandering skeleton make more sense to me at least. So. If it didn’t see him… (roll to go unnoticed) then it might wander off. Or start poking at things on the edge of the fort. Skeletons are mindless in D&D, yes? It could start randomly smashing things outside the fort (there are things outside the fort, yes? silly to have nothing…). If he waits it out until it wanders away, then there could be tracks he could choose to follow. Leading in the direction of a nearby town? Or in the way he’d been planning to go originally. If he’s still gonna avoid it at that point, I’d probably just accept that he doesn’t want to fight the skeleton, and nix the entire encounter. He might come across a ruined town later… Survivors begging someone to defeat the skeleton that’s been wandering around nearby and might return and kill the rest of them…

    • OK, so I am not Rutskarn but I have already responded to a similar post above so why not keep going.

      Your take on the whole skeleton thing is thoughtful and interesting, and in terms of a roleplaying game that’s pretty much as close as you can get to ‘fun’ without other players involved. So I wouldn’t worry too much, were I you.
      I mean, it’s a game that you are playing with friends. That’d be the number one thing I’d keep in mind. Yeah, it’s complicated and difficult to organise and can get really involved in various ways – but it is still a game, which you are playing with friends. For fun. So – try not to get too worried about it.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Dirt little secret No.1:
      The first rule of DM club is as long as everyone is having fun (And for the love of Ruts this includes YOU) then you’ve done your job well.
      That’s it. It doesn’t matter if everything goes pear shaped or you mess up half the rules.

      Dirty little secret No. 1.1:
      Don’t worry about the rules. It’s better if the game keeps moving rather than spending half an hour looking anything up. Describe something awesome and move on.

      Dirty little secret No. 1.1.a:
      If a rule is dumb ignore it, Dave and Gary won’t come to your house to break your knees. It’s your game. Enjoy it.

    • Sean Conner says:

      My advice? Just create scenarios and some very interesting, high level non-player characters (both good, bad and ambiguous) with their own goals and don’t try to enforce a path for your players. Yes, there is a path (the scenario) but once the players are going down that route, don’t try to steer too much. Remember—you still control the game and if the players are going in the opposite direction avoid encountering the dragon? Move the dragon.

      The best session of a game I ran started with the players entering a village. As flavor text (you know, just setting the scene) I happened to mention a carnival in town, not expecting the players to think twice about it. Of course, they wanted to go and I had to create an adventure on the fly. It ended up with the paladin and cleric getting arrested … and everybody had a great time. It helped that I listened to my players and was able to play off what they were thinking …

      As for the skeleton … its orders—kill everything living except for goblins. It’s got time. It can wait for the players to come into its view, or other living non-goblin beings. Meanwhile, the players’ supplies are running out …

    • Mr. Son says:

      Thank you to everyone giving me advice. I don’t have the focus right now to reply to each of you separately, but I appreciate you trying to help.

      Sadly, I just got a message today that the GM and his wife are going to have to bow out of gaming, due to real life issues. And another player was their friend but didn’t really know me, so that’s 3 of 5 down. :(

      Everything’s going to have to wait now until either I can either dredge up more fun people, or the real life issues clear up and they have the capacity to game again.

      *picks up his 1st level kobold wizard* C’mon little buddy. You get to go on the shelf for now…

  23. Falling says:

    I approve of this new series. I am quite excited.

  24. Decius says:

    Assuming that destroying the giant skeleton is a goal that the PCs actually have, I’d probably have it just hang out and try to kill the PCs with old age.

    If it’s just there to be an enemy, give the PCs XP for overcoming the challenge by noncombat means.

    If it’s guarding something that they don’t get, it continues to hang out guarding the treasure successfully.

    If the skeleton is trying to kill the PCs as an intelligent foe, it uses its knowledge of the situation to do so, which might involve breaking down the door, barring the door from its side, and/or using other methods to force a melee and/or other ways of harming them.

    If the PCs were leaving a goblin fort, barring all the doors and setting the fort on fire could work well.

  25. Disc says:

    “What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?”

    The skeleton has mystic powers over its “realm” and summons and controls a sandstorm to pile enough sand to get over the door.

  26. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Looking forward to your take on FATE. Weirdly enough it’s one of the only systems I consider easier to “get” for beginners than for seasoned roleplayers.

  27. Tam O'Connor says:

    It depends on the player reaction to the giant locked-out skellington.

    If it was ‘Noooooooope.’, then it comes after them, trying to break down the walls, howling and ripping servitor skeletons from the sands. Maybe the PCs and goblins band together to fight it off. Maybe the goblins are used to it, and keep fighting the PCs. There might be some siege engines the PCs can turn on the skeleton.

    If it was more ‘Yeah, that thing doesn’t have any loot, so why bother?’, then I offer some details about some sort of crest on the skeleton’s weaponry/armor, which prompts knowledge checks. This leads to, oh, I don’t know, info about a lost city of half-angel giants, stuffed to the proverbial gills with magical artifacts and treasure. Killing it will probably be one way to get info, but the goblin shaman who brought it here may also have info.

  28. “What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?”

    I’d swing it from a spider web, and since he didn’t fall and then he’d call a second skeleton, two skeletons swing from a spider web and they didn’t fall, they called a third skeleton, three skeletons… and so on.
    Probably that only makes sense for another Spanish speaker?

    He’d be a piece of legend about the desert. The player would’ve picked rumours about it, its evil deeds or something magical of great power to animate it. One would include slowly sucking away the life force of creatures within X distance bigger than the diameter of the castle where the player hides.

  29. Content Consumer says:

    What would you do with a locked-out skeleton giant in the middle of the desert?

    Well, there are some good ones here… James and BitFever are my favorites.
    I guess I’d just have him politely knock on the door. I’ve found that players very rarely do what I expect, so I try not to plan too far ahead. Have the skeleton knock on the door, and just wing it from there… because sure enough if I came up with a Stage Two of this plan, possibly involving an attempt on the part of the skeleton to, I dunno, encourage them to join his Living&Dead Adventuring Party, they’d turn around and straight-up murder the bony guy.

  30. mewse says:

    Situation: Giant skeleton outside a fort the players have just finished ransacking. Players have closed and barred the only entrance to the fort.

    GM Goal: That skeleton was supposed to be an awesome epic boss fight to complete the adventure.

    Drama-first solution: Frustrated, eldritch magics course around the skeleton. Evil chanting can be heard. The skeleton begins to grow even larger than it already was, expanding to gargantuan proportions (and probably gaining an extra laser eye in the process, according to Mass Effect 2 precedent). The now-absurdly-huge skeleton towers over the walls of the fort, which don’t even reach up to its rib cage, at its new height. So now we can do the boss fight God of War style, with the skeleton using its arms (and laser eye) to attack into the fort while still standing outside. We can invent an explanation for the growing skeleton later, or in supplementary materials (again, according to the Mass Effect 2 precedent). The important thing is that we’ve achieved the GM goal of having an awesome epic boss fight.

  31. MadTinkerer says:

    “I’ve said, and will keep saying, that more people ought to try tabletop roleplaying games. It’s something gamers especially can enjoy.”

    Especially considering the term gamer comes from tabletop gaming in the first place. It’s a condensed version of “wargamer”, dropping the “war” to indicate the idea that the games the gamer is interested in might not necessarily specifically be about recreating / simulating historically accurate battles.

  32. Cuthalion says:

    So, I haven’t finished the article yet, but I wanted to say that I love your new avatar. It’s a pretty hilarious expression and fits your writing/spoiler-warning-ing/diecasting persona. I noticed it on Twitter, and I guess now I know what prompted the change!

    (Or maybe it has nothing to do with this series. I got a chuckle out of it either way.)

  33. Scimitar says:

    Dunno if anyone has mentioned it yet but, as a side note, if you all need some more examples of DMing there’s a series on this very site dedicated to that: Shamus’s old D&D Campaign.

  34. Kavonde says:

    If I really needed to railroad my player(s) forward, I’d have the dungeon start collapsing behind them–thus, the only way forward is to go through the door and chat with the giant skeleton. However, I generally like my players to have a bit of freedom, and to let the consequences of their actions (or inactions) play out. So why was the skeleton there? Why did a bunch of goblins have a giant skeleton sentinel? If the goblins have some sort of sinister plan, will access to a giant skeleton make their plan more likely to succeed, or at least to cause additional damage? ‘Cause if yes, then awesome. The PCs can deal the fallout of leaving a goblin army and their oversized, cadaverous pet unchecked.

    However, if the only point of the goblins and their buddy are to be monsters in a dungeon, then the maybe situation calls for comedy. Perhaps, after an awkward silence, the skeleton knocks diffidently at the door. Asks if the party is all right. Assured them that he’s in no rush, and he’ll be waiting to fight them as soon as they’re ready.

    Alternatively, if you prefer to maintain gravitas, the skeleton reports the PCs’ arrival and subsequent departure to the goblins, and the next time the door is opened, there’s a small horde of little green maniacs with readied actions and a surprise round.

    • Syal says:

      I’m disproportionately amused at the idea of the skeleton knocking on the door, then knocking again in a different pattern, then again in a different pattern, as it tries to remember the goblin fort secret knock that tells the sentry it’s alright to let it in.

  35. Zaxares says:

    That would depend… Is the Giant Skeleton possessed of any intelligence? Or controlled by another entity (like a Necromancer or a ghost)? If the answer to either is “Yes”, then the Giant Skeleton starts doing things like bashing against the door/windows, and generally making it clear that if the party doesn’t come out and fight, it’s going to find a weakness and get inside anyway, or it’ll tear down the entire tower stone by stone to fight them.

    If it’s not intelligent, then it continues to sit there waiting patiently. Eternally. The Giant Skeleton does not tire, does not sleep. Every time you peek outside, you find its empty sockets staring right back at you. Hours pass, then days. Your supplies dwindle, and still your foe waits outside for you. You realize that you have a choice; you can go out there and face the skeleton with courage and honor, or you can starve to death like a trapped rat inside your cage.

  36. Pyradox says:

    It’s giant so I’d have it climb the wall. Jump straight down on them while they’re patting each other on the back for avoiding it. (Surprise them)

    Or I’d have it talk to them, and try to coax them out so it can fight them, or achieve whatever its other goal is. (Intrigue them)

    Or I’d let them know that the fort’s stores have been sabotaged and they’re going to starve without fresh supplies soon. The Skeleton was there to stop them leaving because it can easily win the war of attrition against them. (Challenge them)

  37. Inscrutibob says:

    I didn’t notice the magic words anywhere, so I’ll put them here: Critical Role on the Geek & Sundry site. The players do weird, unexpected thing, the GM tap dances and figures out what to do, a good time is had by all.

  38. Confanity says:

    (You’ve got a bit of a mix-up between perquisites and prerequisites in the last long paragraph there.)

    I feel like the reaction a giant skeleton gave would depend on the rules my skeletons were operating under. Without a target in sight, it might just stand down and wait again. It might pursue, including trying to bash down the door and get inside. It might try climbing the tower. Hell, little bundles of bones might slough off of it and come rattling through the cracks in pursuit.

  39. Supah Ewok says:

    If we’re playing standard D&D, then the skeleton is mindless and isn’t going to be able to come up with anything clever. The best it could do would be bashing down the gates, and only that if it had been commanded to chase its targets down.

    If the game has a comedic tone, where everybody knows the rules of the game can be bent some if it leads to fun, then I’d probably have the skeleton try to talk to them. Maybe say that its having a bake sale.

    What this has really got me thinking of, though, is an alternate approach to this whole scenario. If I had a wizard in the keep, and they’re supposed to be a recurring enemy (or maybe just a dick), I’d have them cast a mystery spell at whichever party member is usually the scout or is at the head of the party’s formation. Roll to save, but when they fail just say “you feel queasy,” but don’t ever tell them about any penalty to their roll. If you want to screw with their heads, maybe make some “hmm” noises on near misses, or if you’re playing 5e, have them roll a 2nd d20 to make it look like they’re rolling disadvantage while not actually using it.

    Then when the party tries to leave, have them roll Perception checks, and tell those affected by the spell that they see the giant skeleton in the distance. Add some fire to it, make it look like it shoots Fireballs from its eyes or something. Let them cower for however long they wish to in the fort. After 8 hours, the illusion wears off, if they bother to check.

    The illusionary skeleton shows up anyplace they attempt to exit, in order to “trap” them in the fort.

    I’d also have added some detail, like a separate force somewhere is going to attack a village within those 8 hours, so if they wait until the illusion is gone the town is attacked without warning or preparation, which they return to and find smoky ruin. Nothing helps keep the game moving like a time pressure.

  40. Bertilak de Hautdesert says:

    As noted above, you have perquisite when you need prerequisite in the tenth paragraph. Also, mandatory is redundant.

    The blessing and curse of tabletop RPGs is that there are effectively infinite options for how to resolve this situation. I’d probably default to the suggestion in Zaxares’s second paragraph and force the PCs to deal with the fact that not-Leoric has all the world and needs none of it while the PCs have only what is inside the dungeon/goblin fort and plenty of needs.

    Probably the most important factor here is your fellow players. My friends surprise me constantly, but there are some things I can reasonably expect them to do (and not to do), and knowing these patterns directs my response. Finding myself in this situation with players I do not know very well, I’d try to think back on the dungeon experience just past and consider what parts of it they liked best (and worst, if that comes more readily to mind). Then, I’d try to match the best or at least avoid the worst.

    If they like combat, then the giant skeleton tries to break in or the inhabitants of the dungeon try to force them out (rising from death to do so if the PCs killed everything before encountering the giant skeleton).

    If, on they other hand, they prefer puzzles or other non-combat mechanics, then I follow the train of conversation they have working out a solution and offer some way to accomplish their goal. For example, they may decide that the skeleton has some sort of magical remote control inside the dungeon/fort. Presumably I have told them something about the skeleton, dungeon, and/or the dungeon/fort’s builders or inhabitants which has led them to this assumption. If this seems to jive with the setting/campaign/ruleset/&c we’re using, then I’ll let them search. Whether they find a functioning device or a clue leading to a re-delve of the whole dungeon (likely including some new secret doors, hidden passageways, traps, combat encounters less hazardous than a giant skeleton, &c) will probably depend on how much time we have left in the current game session.

    Should a magical remote for not-Leoric seem dissonant with the setting &c, then I invent some more details or clarify previous points hoping to direct them to another train of thought. In this example I might gently remind my fellow players that none of the goblins they slaughtered in this fortress seemed magically sophisticated enough to control a giant skeleton and that they seemed instead like a sneaky, craven bunch (assuming some stereotypical goblins here). Hopefully, pointing to these details would lead them to pursue an escape route or search for some sort of low-level invisibility magic item (a scroll of hide from undead, perhaps) or something more in keeping with their experiences throughout the adventure thus far.

    I look forward to further installments in this series!

  41. Bubble181 says:

    Plenty of good answers already, can’t really think of anything original. Drat. I mostly have to agree with the one who said “it depends on the tone of the campaign”, though. Going off to kill some NPCs, waiting around forever, sneaking in elsewhere, having them meet a Giant-Skeleton-Slayer with great magical artifacts later on, all sound like decent ways of dealing with it, but not all of them would fit every session.

  42. RTBones says:

    For me, it would depend on the history of the goblin fort:

    1) If the goblin fort had been abandoned and the PCs explored it, I would have the PCs emerge to see a giant skeleton engaged with a tribe of goblins, who had come to reclaim the fort as their own again. Skeleton sees PCs about to depart and can either disengage the goblins to chase the PCs and thereby opening itself up to being overwhelmed by said goblins giving the PCs a chance to escape, or continue to engage the goblins, thereby givng the PCs the chance to escape. It is then up to the PCs whether to enter the fray in some fashion or run like hell while they have an opening.

    2) If the goblin fort had been occupied and the PCs essentially conquered it, I would have the PCs emerge to see a giant skeleton engaged with a tribe of goblins, who have arrived due to an escaped goblin messenger’s call for help. The goblins show up and mistakenly assume defeat of the skeleton is their objective only to see the PCs as they make their exit. Skeleton is near to overwhelmed by goblins, but not quite finished. Now, if the PCs engage, they face a nearly delpleted skeleton and a diminished yet angry and determined tribe of goblins. If the PCs run for it, they would likely get away, but risk the possibility that they are tracked by an element of the goblin tribe.

  43. Justin Nelson says:

    “Somebody has to design adventurers”

    While this is true, you probably meant “design adventures”. :)

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