RPGBOT.Podcast Episode 16 – Surviving a Long Hiatus

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss how to make sure that your game survives a long hiatus, such as those which frequently come with the winter holidays. We discuss how to keep your group engaged, the importance of “reserving” time in which you play, what you can do when the whole group can’t play, and how to handle unexpected opportunities to play.

Special thanks to Altchester for this week’s question of the week.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Okay, I gotta say what it sounds like we’re doing right now is, like, Hey folks, Tyler’s gonna tell you how to be friends. Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, and I Am the Walrus. With me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody,

Randall 

and Random Powell.

Random 

Good evening.

Randall 

All right, Tyler, what are we doing today?

Tyler 

Thanksgiving is over. And we’re looking at the December, winter holidays. So today we’re going to discuss the holidays and surviving the inevitable hiatus that comes with the holidays.

Randall 

Yeah.

Tyler 

I realize I just said “holidays” a whole bunch of times. So I’m not going to list every holiday because I… There are many of them. And chances are if you have more than one person in your party, and I’m sure you do, people are probably celebrating a whole bunch of things at a bunch of different times. And that frequently means that games will be on pause for some amount of time during December and early January. Sometimes that means dead games. So we’re going to talk about how to prevent that.

Randall 

And a little bit of behind the podcast magic. It’s actually before Thanksgiving right now in real life, because we don’t record this live. Tyler and I’s weekly game was canceled this week, because people are traveling for Thanksgiving. But actually, I think yeah, as we go through the podcast, we’ll talk about some of the techniques that we’ve used over time, that I think are pretty great.

Random 

I will say having been through several games on hiatus, ranging in duration from just a quick winter holidays. Yes, we’re going to skip a couple of weeks because people are traveling for Christmas and New Year’s and whatnot. My long-running Strahd game, we had a hiatus that went from May until November. Basically, with the right preparation with the right tools under your belt to pull people back in. And maybe depending on the length of the hiatus, with some interesting stuff to do in the in between times, you can absolutely keep a game fresh and engaging even across long pauses.

Randall 

No, I think I think that’s perfect. And so what do we want to hit tonight? I think there’s kind of a list, a short list of things that are we’re talking about as far as the hiatus goes. One is for the game that’s running, stopping at a good point. Step two is how do you make plans to play when it’s so hard to schedule? It’s harder than it normally is? And then three, how do you come back? So yeah, let’s is that a good list?

Tyler 

Yeah, I think so.

Randall 

Alright, so let’s go to the top, what’s the right way to get ready for the hiatus?

Tyler 

When preparing for a hiatus, it generally happens when you know that you’re going to be on hiatus for some amount of time. So the holidays are a really great example of this. If you know that big portions of your party, or all of them, some of them, however many. If you know people are going to be traveling or just generally unavailable through the holidays, preparing ahead of time is the best-case scenario, you know, it’s coming, you know what’s going to happen, and you can make plans for it. Setting your expectations and setting the expectations of your group can really help the hiatus not kill your game. And if you come up with some ideas for how to get through the hiatus, you can actually still have a lot of fun and stay engaged with the game, even while you’re doing, you know, normal holiday activities.

Randall 

What, and I think something implicit in what you said is like just peeking ahead when you know you’re coming to these parts, because you can’t, like, you can’t reasonably plan for it and put the game in a good spot, especially as a DM, if it’s the week before Thanksgiving, or the week before the winter holidays. And all of a sudden you’re like, oh, by the way, is everybody going to be here next week? And have the party can’t be there next week. Well, it’s too late to do anything about it. So you really need to be maybe two to three weeks out. Hey, you know, heads up! Does anybody already know they have plans? Are there any? Can we adapt anything now to get ready for it this sort of thing?

Random 

A thing that I have talked about is that it kind of the the more prep work you can do as a DM, the better. This doesn’t mean that if you are in a situation where like, Oh, hey, I definitely forgot how months work, or I’ve been American for a long time and suddenly moved to Canada, now Thanksgiving is the wrong month and I need to deal with the fact that, like, maybe we have this holiday earlier than I was planning. There is no Oh god, it’s too late. Always just when you think about it, talk to your players. You know, I I very frequently advocate for the social fix. And it really is just talk to your players. Or if you’re a player, talk to your DM and the rest of the group. And know maybe that’s like hey, I have three families I need to participate in and I am going to be heckin’ busy. I just don’t expect me at all, right, for December. If you can find a place to make it natural, you’re going to want to look for narrative breaks. These are the end of a big fight, you know, like a plot arc spanning thing. These are fabulous, interesting moments that people are going to remember, you know, think cliffhangers from any any televised series any before an intermission in a play, where you have something that is so engaging that people are going to be thinking about this, you don’t want to end on we fought some random goblins that are not at all plot relevant as a random encounter. We slept. Good time, guys, I’ll see in three months. Because then no one’s gonna remember what’s going on. Like I was just sort of alluding to, think about where your story makes sense to break. You can use other media as good inspiration for where does this make sense? If you’re playing a pre-published module, of course, it absolutely makes sense if you can make it to the end of a chapter. Maybe that’s fudging some stuff. Players are going to be very understanding of, like, maybe this was supposed to take three sessions. But in the interest of making it a more reasonable experience, we’re gonna wrap this up in like a session and a half. You have a lot of tools for figuring out how to bring the story to a narrative pause so that you can make that fit in the real world.

Tyler 

Yeah, those are all really great examples of doing it right. To counterpoints, ways to do it wrong, essentially. The middle of anything crunchy, anything mechanical, so a fight a dungeon crawl, dealing with traps, anything like that. Generally poor places to stop, because your players will come back from the hiatus, they’ll need to reengage with their character. Figure out like, okay, what are all my numbers again? What are all the various buttons my character can push? And trying to figure that out in the middle of a fight or in the middle of some dangerous dungeon, it’s not going to work out well, people are going to die, everyone’s going to be sad. Generally, you want to go on the on hiatus with the players somewhere safe. Ideally, like Random said, at a natural stopping point in the story. Any place that they could spend like a week or two safely resting is generally a good example. Like, they go back to their base or some town that they’re friendly with or something like that, and could just camp out for a while. That’s generally where you want to leave things.

Random 

This can lead to some really odd consequences if you don’t. Rhe hiatus that a different game I am playing and recently just went on, where we lost a player during the hiatus. And so came back in the middle of a fight to unicorn appears, yeet somebody out the window, teleports in a new player, and then we just have to keep going, like, Yes, this is fine.

Tyler 

I feel like you’ve had a lot of unicorns appearing and kidnapping people.

Random 

Well, this one. This one was continuing the running meme.

Tyler 

Oh, okay.

Random 

We are playing around with two full casters in the Underdark. And all of the wonderful Wild Magic that that entails.

Randall 

See, I feel like that’s, that’s the campaign that random needs now it’s like just go rescue all the people who have been stolen by unicorns. That’s good.

Random 

I’d play it.

Randall 

No, absolutely. But one thing I’ll ask. Do you think it makes sense, Like, let’s say, I know it was a DM, we have two weeks left before we’re probably gonna be gone for two weeks, three weeks, the entire month. I’m going to ask for an extra hour in each session and see if folks can be flexible. Do you think it makes sense to ask for extra time, if you think you can do something exciting with that extra time?

Random 

100%. So the, this, what six month hiatus that I was talking about? The session that we did before that happened we started at 10 in the morning and finished at 1 in the morning. Now I don’t necessarily recommend that, but that was that was the way that we could bring the narrative to a satisfying conclusion. Don’t expect that of your players. Don’t expect that of yourself. You know, if you can squeeze the extra time in, particularly like, man, we’re so close, I want I want to get that done. People will absolutely do this. And again, the only metric if your players are having fun in general at your table, unless they truly cannot because of their personal schedules, yhey will absolutely try and be flexible with you to make sure that you can hit the right story beat.

Randall 

No, that’s perfect. Okay, so let’s say we’ve done all these things. The dark days are upon us. We are in the hiatus.

Tyler 

This is the part where games start to die. Like, if you’ve done a good job preparing for the hiatus, things won’t be as bad, but the longer your game is on pause the harder it is to come back and even even missing like two, three sessions frequently leads to campaigns just ending. Which is unfortunate, but you know, it’s real life stuff happens. What you want to do during the hiatus, you want to keep in touch with your group as much as possible without being annoying. So if you have a group text thread if you’re on Discord or something similar, just exchange messages, check in on people. Talk about what you’re looking forward to when you get back. Post memes. Weirdly, weirdly specific memes about your campaign. All those fun things.

Randall 

I gotta say, what it sounds like we’re doing right now is like, Hey, folks, Tyler’s gonna tell you how to be friends.

Random 

I mean, on the one hand, yeah, kinda.

Randall 

We probably need this advice. Like, this is this is fantastic. This is gold that you’re giving us.

Random 

You can definitely take things in a more game-focused mechanical sense, if you want to. A couple things that I’ve done, the long-running Pathfinder game that I was running, we went into one winter holiday hiatus. And one of the running jokes in that module is that every boss after like the very first one that you encounter, has explicitly written into their text, a like if you get them to low enough health, they’ll run away. And as you start getting progressively higher level, they start just not just running away, but teleporting away. And so at some point, we ended up doing like a, a one-off session in the middle of December, like the last three bosses had all caught up to each other in an inn, and we just fought them. Just, practically zero context, like all of them had run away, the party was chasing them, the party accidentally catches up to the inn where they’re all asleep. And like, party member and boss exit their doors into the hallway, just give each other a look. Roll initiative.

Tyler  

is that the one where you tried to break line of sight by having one of the enemies hide under a sheet?

Random 

You know, we’re not gonna get into thread count blocking line of sight here. But to be fair, he was blind at the time, so.

Tyler 

I can’t blame him. And I can’t remember how we resolved that, but I think I just stopped him.

Random 

Accurate. You know, if you can do something like that, that’s great. If you also…

Randall 

Actually, let me let me ask you a question on this. Because I wanted to bring up something similar. For that mid-holidays game, is it acceptable to schedule if not the entire party can be there? And why is the answer yes?

Random 

That’s something that I would say, we can do this if there’s several people, as long as people are fine not participating. Thank you for giving me a beautiful segue into the other option that I was just about to talk about. Back in ye days before Roll20 and before ScreenMonkey,

Tyler 

Oh, god.

Random 

Those were dark days.

Tyler 

Yes.

Random 

Play by post. Back on your Gaya forum, your IRC chat, you had people playing basically in text message threads. And you can still do that. And in fact, if you have like a Discord server that makes it fairly easy to do. And in that way you can have asynchronous play. Particularly if you are going to have a longer break where we are gone for two months, six months, having something asynchronous going where people can just drop in and say, oh, yeah, you want to do this, I want to do this is a really cool way to keep that going without making any one person feel like you know, even if though I can only check my my Discord once every few days, I’m still actively contributing. And in fact, if you’re gonna do that, you could do something like what are the characters doing in the several months downtime? Segue!

Tyler 

Between your own adventures as a player between your own sessions of the game, that’s a great time to explore downtime activities. A lot of our RPGs these days have rules for downtime activities. D&D Fifth Edition, Pathfinder, I’m pretty sure Forbidden Lands has a pretty extensive downtime system. There are some other great examples that I can’t think of right now. But during that time, those kinds of simulationy things that you can do mostly by yourself, and then check back in with the group. Those are great things to do during downtime. So maybe your character is off somewhere crafting magic items and you check in say, like, yeah, I rolled some dice. I got these results. My character has made 50% progress on my wand of blowing stuff up. There’s lifestyle rules you can explore, and spoiler, we’re going to talk about a whole bunch of those things in upcoming episodes. But those those asynchronous things that you can frequently do by yourself are great to do during downtime activities because you can frequently do those things to stay engaged with the game, checking with your friends see what everybody else is doing. Like maybe the Barbarian is just off with the barbarian tribes carousing for months at a time and come comes back in when the session or when the hiatus ends and says, Hey, what did everybody do? And like, oh, the Wizard made a magic item. The Fighter has a castle now. The Cleric started occult. All those fun things that your characters might do between adventures are great things to do between sessions when you’ve got a long hiatus.

Randall 

Except it’s really awkward when the player comes back and the player started a culy.

Random 

I mean, you know, that’s just good roleplay.

Randall 

Either way, it’s fine.

Tyler 

LARP a cult.

Randall 

Like nobody else is LARPing. They’re just in. Yeah, so one of the one of the techniques that we, we being Tyler and I, in our game have used. We have five folks who show up every week, a DM, four players. Everybody is married with children and full time jobs. And so one thing we already play short short sessions. We play every week for two hours. The other thing we tried to do is it if folks can’t make it, we’ll try to pick a different day of the week. And usually we can make that work. When that doesn’t work, we still try to get together as a subgroup. Not to play D&D, but like we’ll get together and we’ll do StarCraft, or more recently, we started doing like, the Tabletop Simulator. And the main thing that we’re trying to do, bluntly, is basically hold the time. And I think during the hiatus, you know, except for like the quarter weeks that we’re of course, folks are going to be out, if may be only just one person can’t be there. Because there can be traffic or something like this, holding the time slot, I think will do amazing things for the group and getting everybody to stay together, versus giving the time slot up week after week. Because I think at some point, you kind of get numb to it, you just get used to the idea. It’s like, oh, we just don’t get together. Versus if you’re trying to put that effort in to hold it together. Nobody, you know, nobody’s family gets accustomed to like, okay, you know, I thought that was available sometimes. It generally isn’t, unless we’re the reason that that we’re not actually gonna play that week.

Random 

One thing, if you do have one player who is consistently reason why, like, main game can’t happen. A if it’s a problem, discuss that, you know, take the social way out. But if it’s so much a problem, but just a thing to be aware of, if you want to have another game going that is a different game with those players, that can actually be a fun way for somebody who maybe wants to try DMing but is too afraid of, like, oh, I don’t want to try running this whole big game. Let people like run a three shot arc. And maybe that three shot arc takes place over eight months, because that’s the number of that’s how long you need to get those sessions in, give something people kind of like popcorn that they’re not going to really want to get super story involved in. But that can be a really good way to give people an introduction to that sort of thing.

Randall 

And I think that’s that’s great advice. And, again, like hitting on the social effects, right? Know your group and talk to your group. I think for our folks, like, something is non committal just get on and play Starcraft for 20 minutes. Because then what happens is we play for 40 minutes, we play for an hour, we don’t wind up taking up the whole two hours, but we held this session. Vice versa. I would love it. Because we had these fairly often. It seems like once a month we’ll miss one. I would love it. If we said like, Hey, I bought the Shadowrun books. We’re gonna play some Shadowrun.

Tyler 

Having a backup game would be a lot of fun. If having those occasional games to explore other systems can be really fun. Shadowrun’s a great example. Randall and I had been waiting to try Shadowrun for a little while and eventually that happened. Our weeknight group, we’ve discussed doing a backup game of Pathfinder second edition, but we just haven’t made that happen yet. But there are a lot of great RPGs that you can run in one shot. One-page RPGs are really popular right now. So maybe some time you come to the table and say hey, we don’t have the entire group but I’ve got this one-page RPG that takes two minutes to learn we’re gonna play something silly. Like, Honey Heist is a very very popular and very famous one shot RPG or one-page RPG that you can play in one shot basically you play bear bandits, and your job is to steal honey from a thing. It’s very silly it’s very light hearted you can do it in one session have a great time and then get right back to your game.

Randall 

I feel like that ruins our next one-shot idea for 5e, then.

Tyler 

Are we stealing honey in the next one-shot?

Randall 

Absolutely it was gonna be like five bugbears. Bugbear Grylls, going for the honey.

Tyler 

Shoot! Spoilers! I can see random cringing. So there are some other systems that you might actually be able to tie into your regular game during a holiday hiatus. Since the largest holidays generally happen in the winter months, so assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, I realize that there’s an entire other half of the globe. So the December, January, February holidays, those are a great time to explore kind of meta systems, like, kind of simulationy systems that tell a slightly different story that you can tell in parallel to what you’re actively playing. So there’s an RPG that came out recently, I’m probably going to get the name wrong, but it’s something like don’t let us starve in this cold dark winter. I probably got the name wrong, because the name is long.

Randall 

It tells a story though,.I can imagine what this is about.

Tyler 

Exactly. It’s a simulationy RPG, where you have to keep a town from starving through a long winter. And that seems like an interesting way to get through the holidays, like, your game is about to survive a long winter, hopefully. So maybe you just make that part of the game. And just whoever’s there can play. Whoever’s not maybe that’s just part of the game. And exploring other options like that, and maybe tying them into your main story. Maybe not. Those are great ways to fill time, especially when you may have people unavailable.

Randall 

Yeah, 100%. And so maybe to put a bow on that, I think year round, the advice of just hold the time if one person can’t be there is, I think, it’s going to raise the likelihood that you’re going to be able to keep your game together. The holidays make that a little bit harder. But but things like this make a lot of sense. And one thing we haven’t explicitly said, although I think random, you were kind of hinting at it, is have a holiday special. Andm again, if everybody can show for the holiday special, like, you know, it’s it’s not serious, you know, we’ll pretend it was a dream afterwards. Don’t worry about how you got from here to there. But, like, have some fun, right? You know, climb the tower in diehard. It’s gonna be a great time. You’re gonna love it. No, everybody wear shoes,

Random 

You can absolutely have a lot of fun with that. And if that is something like, we are going to go hard Futurama on this. Santa’s an evil robot, we gotta defeat him and steal his stuff. Then great. That can actually be a really fun way to, if you just keep something like that in your back pocket. If you do suddenly have like, Ah, I was going to have Christmas with my family but all of a sudden, I don’t have a family. And I would appreciate some cheering up or something like that.

Randall 

Wow, that got dark.

Tyler 

I wouldn’t have gone with like, Hey, I missed I missed my flight across the country or something. But, jeese.

Random 

Outside is dark. The conversations is dark. Just how winter works.

Randall 

Brighter story than this.

Random 

Right. So if you just have something prepared for in the, you know, scenario, alright, it’s December 23rd and for whatever reason everyone can actually play this week when we weren’t really expecting it to, that can definitely happen. And just having something prepared as a reminder that that could be a thing. It’s definitely a good idea. And again, totally fine. Keep it light, keep it fun. But just, you know, be aware that that could very well be a reason why everyone is all together when you weren’t necessarily expecting it. And you don’t want to get caught with nothing at all ready to go.

Randall 

So don’t let a good opportunity for tabletop gaming go by.

Random 

Exactly

Randall 

One thing we didn’t say a second ago. And depending on how you DM or how you are as a player character, maybe this goes without saying. But if you, if you didn’t think that hiatus was upon you, and then you realize two weeks in that it is, especially if you’re the DM, like, write down what was happening, you know, as soon as you realize it’s too late, get those notes down and like try to be tight, so that when you come back, at least one person remembers the details of where you’re at. I say this to say like some, you know, I’ve had busy DM’s where it’s been a couple of weeks. And I know that person was scrambling week to eat to get the game ready as it is. And then we get together and, like, what were we doing? What was happening previously? And it’s uh, you know, you want to be able to get back into the game as quickly as possible. One of the things I want to call out explicitly, is, depending on how you play the game, maybe be prepared to play the game a little bit differently. If you’re a group with the good fortune of actually getting together physically week to week, it may be the case that if somebody’s out of town, maybe you need to take it to Roll20, or just use like Discord voice chat, because a subset of the group can’t be there for a particular week. Vice versa, if everybody actually, you know, everybody plays from home, but you actually live together. Maybe it’s a great time to say like, okay, let’s have a holiday party, let’s get all the families together. And maybe we could squeeze an hour or two in face to face. Like, that’d be a lot of fun. And it’s probably out of the normal for what you’re normally doing if everybody’s just playing late at night, you know, from their own homes. So there’s a lot of different ways to play, even the async that Random was bringing up earlier. Don’t be afraid of taking the format somewhere that it normally isn’t if it enables you to keep the game going.

Random 

That’s just a good habit to be in every session. Particularly if you’re a group that plays every other week, having two weeks between sessions, you’re going to forget stuff. And in the hilarious, perfect fairy world that doesn’t exist, every player is taking their own notes and reminding themselves what’s going on before getting back to the table. But that doesn’t ever happen. Literally. Definitely, you’re gonna want to both as a DM, make sure you know what’s going on. But as a player, try and at least, you know, take something to let you know, like, what should I be trying to repeat as where we’ve been for the last 2, 3, 4 sessions. And if you are a DM, try and make sure that it’s not just one person who is running these retellings. I will call myself out here. I enjoy summarizing and I have now made a point to do that less frequently when DM’s ask Hey, so what happened last time? Because summarizing a D&D session is one of the single best opportunities for comedic summarization in existence as far as I’m concerned.

Randall 

Boy, a laughable paraphrase coming.

Random 

Laughable paraphrase from a D&D thing. Wonder where people who have taken my class would recognize that from. That’s a good habit to be in, and also try and break it up. In particular, if you are a DM, this can maybe be a good way to try and encourage participation is if you get somebody who, like, is typically very quiet. Try and ask them specifically, you know, hey, Melf, what did we do last week? One interesting thing that you will get from that is, as a DM, don’t ever correct people when they’re retelling this, because they’re going to say what they remember. And if that’s not what happened, then now you have interesting stuff to build off of that, like, ah, the players remember this differently than it happened. I can use this to my advantage.

Randall 

Until you get that one player who’s like, oh, yeah, we found three +1 weapons in the Dragon’s hoard after we slayed.

Tyler 

Three +2 weapons? What are we going to do with three +3e weapons?

Random 

Implicits are tripled? Oh, wait wrong game.

Randall 

Nice. Nice. Good. Alright, so the dark days have passed. It has finally come to the point where everybody gathers together. We do the recap the way that Random just described. And now we rush into the BBEG’s layer, right? Is that the…?

Tyler 

I mean, if that’s what you’re building up to. Drawing an example from real world fiction is a really good idea. Like, real world TV especially, the episodic format kind of… the lessons translate very well to playing D&D and broken up sessions. Think of, like your hiatus is the beginning of like your mid-season break or the end of the season. You might end the season and not know if you’re coming back, so like, you ended a very logical conclusion, say like this is the end of a chapter of the story. The story might or might not continue after the hiatus. Hopefully it does. If you know for sure that you want to come back after the hiatus, like, mid-season break for a show. So, like, they hit the hit the resolution of some plot arc but there’s an overarching of like there’s a larger arc that is still ongoing that remains to be resolved and you pick up where you left off. Starting right before you go into a fight might be dangerous. Like I said earlier, interrupting something crunchy like a fight or a dungeon crawl can be hard because it might take your players time to re-acclimate to their characters and remind themselves how they play their character mechanically. It can be very easy to transition back into like your characters voice and roleplaying them. But you might forget like, Oh yes, I know these three spells and this one’s my favorite. And when I combine it with like this doohicky and wave my magic wand a specific a specific way. If you’ve forgotten that mechanical minutiae of your character, going straight into a major fight is probably going to get you killed. Like a show that may have been on hiatus for some amount of time, doing kind of a recap episode can be very helpful. Maybe the players go and they meet up with some NPCs who are a part of the story and they discuss things and that gives them a bunch of reminders. Maybe they spend time, like, they’re in a library. They’re researching the ancient dracolich, who’s neen around for tens of thousands of years to figure out like, Oh, yes, here’s all these plot points that we remember. And you kind of spoon feed them plot information until they’re back up to speed. Going straight into something like, again, like a boss fight. Dangerous, but if you warm them up to it, and then throw them into the bossfight, either like halfway through the session or at the beginning of session two, that can work really well. I also want to touch on one other thing that’s a little bit off topic. So you’re on your long hiatus, you have some amount of time between regular sessions of regular games. And this has happened to me a couple of times. Other people want to play. Like you have family in town, you have some family member who sees you open a new D&D book around the Christmas tree, and they’re like, what is this? Teach me!

Randall 

Everybody watched the most recent season of Stranger Things.

Tyler 

Or any of any of the seasons of Stranger Things. Maybe you have somebody who’s curious about tabletop games. Maybe you have someone who specifically asks you like, Hey, I’m in town for two weeks teach me to play D&D. Something like that. Being prepared to run a game unexpectedly during a long hiatus can be very helpful for situations like this. D&D is probably a great example just because it has so much name recognition, that’s frequently what new people will ask for.

Randall 

Yeah, I’m imagining this funny scenario, you know, it’s like ah, it’s like a, I heard you know, you know, something about Dungeons and Dragons. And I think I’m interested in this. I’d like to try this. And you’re like, oh, no, no, I couldn’t, you know, it’d be hard to put it all there. What do you know, we got these six character sheets right here. Why don’t you pick one? We’ll see what happens.

Tyler 

Yes, absolutely. Pregen characters and a short module to run are a great idea. There’s a really popular module on DMsGuild called Wild Sheep Chase that I frequently recommend both to first time DMs and to people who just need something to have on a fly. It’s short, it’s comical, it, it hits the mechanics pretty well. And it’s not like some deep story that you’re going to worry about. There’s some cool magic items, you get to talk to some interesting NPCs. I don’t want to spoil it too much in case you end up playing it. We’ll have a link in the show notes. It’s a great adventure if you’re going to run a one shot.

Randall 

I think you have ran that for me and a few other folks. And I feel like it went well.

Tyler 

Like I said, it’s one of my favorites.

Randall 

Yeah, I think this is good. We’ve talked about in the past, like one of the I think I suppose we take for granted how easy it is to, like, make characters and get set up. But for new players, I think making characters is one of the most intimidating things. And so instead of, like, getting into the minutiae, it’s like, okay, well, we have to roll this, but we’re gonna hold a dice out, or you need to, you know, rank this based on blah, blah, blah, or please go read this entire RPGBOT.net website. I think having like, a handful of pregen characters. It’s like, what do you want to do? Can it kind of look like this? Okay, here. And then if we need to adjust something, we’ll adjust something. I think is super powerful. It’s kind of a bad experience. Like I’m, you know, I’m a salty teenager, or I’m, I’m a young adult, getting ready to engage in something fun. And I’m like, Hey, I kind of want to try this. And it’s okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna spend four hours looking at the Internet

Random 

and doing math.

Randall 

Exactly. Like, that’s the experience where it’s like, yeah, I tried D&D once and I didn’t really get it, like at the end. Like I had an NFT that was a character sheet, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Tyler 

Yeah, gosh. So this, this is a really dumb segue. But I am trying to teach myself how to play the guitar, which, story for a different day, guys. I’m watching this online tutorial. And this guy says, Yeah, normally when you go to learn to play the guitar, the first thing you’re going to learn learn to do is tune your guitar. And if that’s the only lesson for guitar you ever get, you probably won’t want to play guitar because you didn’t learn anything fun. So for people’s first time, if it’s over the holidays, you want to keep it light, you know, you might never get to play with this person again. Or maybe you do. Whatever. Get them right into the game as fast as possible. Like, hand them pregen characters, just run the one shot with the pregens. It’s totally fine. They’re going to have a great time. Building a character the first time can be super intimidating. And when they’re ready to build a character, send them to RPGBOT.net.

Randall 

No, perfect. And then yeah, like don’t… what’s the right way to put it don’t bury them in the rules like listen, listen to Random. Listen to Random. Listen to Random. Let them have fun. You know, these are folks who are moody you get them into a regular game, especially if you’re in the mood like you’re you’re trying to create a game at the moment. Like this could be opportunity to really get them excited about it where like later on you, it’s like, hey, there’s a little bit more detail. There’s another layer of depth. You know, it’s, it’s meant to be fun. Let it be fun.

Random 

if the first time you even, like, as you’re introducing someone to the game, don’t also feel the need to stick to the rules as much. If this is somebody who’s gonna play a tabletop game with you once for several hours over, like, Christmas weekend, and then may well never play the game again. They don’t need to know how tumble works. Now, if they specifically ask you like, oh, man, I wish there was some way that I could like juke past this guy, great! There’s a thing for that. Tyler said it really well, you want to get these people playing as fast as possible. Give people dice. Because, you know, math clack rocks make the brain happy. Give them a character sheet so that they can have something to identify with. And this is actually just good advice for teaching anyone any, like, game at all. Any tabletop game. Give people things to fiddle with, give people things to engage with and that’s going to make them participating a lot more fun for them and really just don’t feel the need to beat these people up with the authentic experience, TM.

Randall 

I’m imagining like the scene from Glengarry Glen Ross has, you know, always be closing always be closing. They’re trying to just get people to commit to playing the game. I mean, it is it is a little funny, like the way that we’re talking about this as if it’s like a sales job that we we need to get people into the game. But the reality of it is, like, we love this hobby. We want the hobby to grow. And, you know, I guess this goes back to the, you know, doing social good with tabletop gaming that I think more people in my life should take a shot at playing tabletop because I think that they will grow as people and they’ll learn a little bit something about themselves. How to communicate. How to put themselves out there in a way that is fun and maybe a little uncomfortable at first, but ultimately is going to pay off for them.

Tyler 

Producer Dan, can we plug the thing? I’m getting a thumbs up. So by the time you hear this episode, this is probably already in your podcast feed. But we recently put together a How to Play Dungeons and Dragons Podcast Series. It’s three episodes and postmortem episode.

Randall 

So four episodes.

Tyler 

Four episodes. I can count. I promise I’m good enough at math to play this game. Three plus one. Geez. Anyway. So we put together a How To Play series. It’s very light. It’s very quick. It is intended for people who know how to play to hand off to their friends and say here if you want to learn D&D, if you don’t know anything about it, anything at all. Just listen to these four episodes, I think they run, what, two and a half hours total, something like that. So by by podcast standards, very short, the length of one long movie. By the end, they will have learned the basics of the game, learned how to build a character, listened to an example of the game being played that will go over, like, here’s how this game works in a practical sense, and then a q&a at the end for anything that we didn’t cover. It’s very light. It’s very easy to pass off to your friends. And hopefully after they listen to that they’ll come back ready to play more.

Randall 

Alright. Well, I think we did it. I think that was a whole episode. Yeah. So we have a question of the week. And we have a question on the week that came via email. I think that’s great. We’re not going to tell you the email address. We’re just gonna read you the question.

Tyler 

I’m very excited about this. This is the first question of the week that we’ve gotten via email. Usually people for Twitter, but I’m very excited about this. So this comes from Altchester. Hey, all. Big fan. I was wondering what your recommendation would be for a specific scenario. I’m in a West March server, so I play with a different group of characters in each game. What build would be the best for the tier two part of the game to maximize damage? We talking full min/max baby. Thank you, Alcester. So there’s some there’s some background context that I should explain real quick. So, west march os short for West Marches, which is a specific style of play where you essentially have a stable of players and characters in any given session is just whoever shows up. So you might for one session like Player A, B, C, and D, go crawl a dungeon. Next session player C and D aren’t there. Players E and F are. They go do something else and you play essentially a series of one shots in the same setting with the same… not even same characters necessarily, but with usually within a specific locale within the game world.

Randall 

Does the DM even flip sometimes?

Tyler 

Oh, you absolutely can.

Randall 

Okay.

Tyler 

I’ve never personally experienced it done that way, but I really want to. If the DM’s are comfortable sharing a game world, yeah, absolutely. You can change DM’s between sessions. Yeah, just whoever’s available on whatever night altchester mentioned being in a server. Probably means that they’re in some kind of chat server like a Discord server where it just whoever’s available says, Hey, I’m free tonight who wants to play. Yyou throw a game together, you do one you do one session, you everyone know what happened. And then maybe you play the next night. Maybe you play the next week. You just play however, however and whenever you like, West Marches is a lot of fun. Min-maxing, I’m I’m sure people who listen to this already know what this is.

Randall 

Okay, so the one that I wasn’t clear on: Tier two part of the game.

Random 

Yeah, this is written into the D&D source books that, like, the core rule books, Wizards of the Coast defines tier one as character levels one through four. Tier two is character levels five through 10. Tier three is character levels 11 through 16. And tier four is character levels 17 through 20. You will also notice that this is weirdly where cantrips break, when cantrips get an extra level is each of these tiers. Just that’s that’s a convenient way to think about that. So tier two is characters starting to come into their own. By level five, every class has guaranteed gotten their subclass, you’re starting to get things like extra attack, you’re starting to get 3rd-level spells, the Wizard has suddenly filled up on fireball for the whole day. This is where you can start getting into like, where am I not just a dude running around with a sword, trying to be a hero? Where am I an actual like strong player character with some interesting customization and optimization.

Tyler 

Tier two is really where characters start getting strong. And there is a big difficulty spike in fifth edition right at level five because players get so much at level five. Fireball and extra attack are great examples because that’s just a huge increase in how much damage the players can do. So monsters get stronger to compensate. Tier Two is a really great place to play D&D. You haven’t gotten high enough level that you’ve got teleportation and the ability to travel to different planes of existence unless the DM wants you to do that, but you’re still powerful enough that getting stabbed by one goblin probably won’t kill you. So this is also a good tier where character optimization can really flourish because you’ve had enough levels that you’ve got your central features. You have your subclass, like Random said, you probably have enough space to multiclass if you want to. So there’s enough room that you can build a really interesting mechanical character, and you’re not still waiting, like okay, I’ve got to get two more levels before my character actually comes online and gets to do something mechanically interesting.

Randall 

Alright, so that’s, that’s the backstory.

Tyler 

Yes.

Randall 

Now, what is the answer to the question?

Tyler 

Well, there’s a lot of great answers. So it sounds like altchester here wants to play something with high damage output. So there’s a lot of really great options. Random, Randall, I’m sure you both have great options, but my first thought here, hexadin is a solid choice, tons of damage output. Built around charisma. Nice and durable. Fits into any party, which is great in a West  Marches game. Honestly, it’s just a really fun multiclass build to play.

Randall 

And what is it? The hexadin is what you say?

Tyler 

Hexadin. The hexblade warlock and paladin multiclass you can go either mostly hexblade, mostly Paladin depending on your tastes, but you get heavy armor, you can smite with your Warlock spell slots, and you get to attack using Charisma instead of Strength or something, which is really nice.

Random 

Personally, I am going to plug Rogue. I’ve talked about this in the past. In 3.x as a, in case you missed this episode, as a homebrew balancing scale. There were four levels of balance and the the relevant part here is the the top two. Wizard balance is I win without doing damage because spells are strong. The Rogue balance was what does this thing do? It does a boatload of damage. I want to pick up this brick of d6’s and throw it at the table and hope that I accidentally hurt my DM. This is, rogues still do that. If you can find ways to sneak attack, which there are a lot. The optional rule Take Aim that was added in Tasha’s is really really good. For what flavor of Rogue you want to do damage with. You can kind of pick any of them. All of them get access to sneak attack. Now different ones get better and worse access. If you want to be doing a lot of damage in a way that’s going to be very hard to resist. Mind thief is really good If you take aim, throw mind blade, you’ll have advantage, which means that you get to do sneak attack on a 60 foot ranged attack of psychic damage, which means that it’s not going to get resisted. It’s going to be very hard to deal with. So that’s a very easy way to do a lot of damage with very little investment.

Tyler 

I think you mean Soulknife.

Random 

That’s the one, yes.

Tyler 

Mind thief was something from 3.x, right?

Random 

No, mind thief is a gloomhaven class and, oh.

Tyler 

We are not ready to character optimize Gloomhaven.

Random 

Maybe you aren’t.

Tyler 

Okay.

Randall 

Fair point. Fair point.

Tyler 

Let’s see. Other good builds. Yeah, going on Rogue I would go arcane trickster. In in tier 2, they really, really shine. You can use booming blade as an arcane trickster, pair that with uncanny dodge and just walk up, booming blade, walk away, they take extra damage if they follow you. It’s great. Super easy. Straight Wizard. Yeah, awesome. Every time. Always my favorite character, just single class Wizard. If, if you have one spell slot, prepare fireball. If you have two spell slots, prepare fireball twice.

Random 

It’s really hard to make it pass the straight pile of d6’s that you’re going to get from casting fireball. One thing if you do try, if you do go Rogue, be aware that a common oversight in fifth edition is that sneak attack is something you can activate once per turn, not once per round. So you can very effectively double your damage if you can get your party to give you some way to perform an opportunity attack on somebody. Look for that, that’s that’s a huge thing there. A another thing that I will say can be some really fantastic damage is if you find ways to… so, fighters. I realize this is a weird thing to say. Action Surge is so good that a test you have to hold every single class’s capstone to is Ii this better than instead of taking the last two levels of my class to get the Capstone, I take two levels of Fighter for Action Surge, because Action Surge is that good. Whether that’s I’m going to have a spike turn where I swing my greatsword four times. And hey, look, that’s a fireballs worth of damage that also has modifiers on it. If you’re going to do that, then great weapon master. The feat that lets you take a penalty for extra stuff. And particularly if you can combine that with being an elf to get elven accuracy. I just get a lot of I am rolling three dice to hit, which nicely compensates for the penalty that I’ve taken, you’re going to end up doing if you do take this theoretical Action Surge turn. That’s one turn where you’re doing 8d6 plus 50.

Tyler 

It’s really hard to do a two-handed weapon with elven accuracy because you have to attack using dexterity or I’m pretty sure it’s like dexterity, intelligence, or charisma.

Random 

Yeah.

Tyler 

But you can do it with a bow with sharpshooter just the same and yeah, doing a turn where you have a flat modifier of like plus 50 to damage. Pretty good turn.

Random 

Pretty good turn.

Tyler 

But yeah, there’s a ton of builds here, check out the site RPGBOT.net. The multiclassing guide is really helpful here because you have enough room to multiclass and definitely talk to the other people in your party. Even in a West Marches game, knowing who you’ll synergize with really well can help you optimize what you want to build. Just being a support class is honestly, frequently the best thing you can do. If you know nothing else about the game you’re walking into, coming in as a Bard or a Cleric built to support a party is an easy way to make yourself popular.

Randall 

Nice, good. Good notes, good notes. So yeah, we’ll make sure we have links in the show notes to the multiclassing guide. Do you have a specific guide for the Hexadin?

Tyler 

Not specifically for the hexadin. I do explore some of the minutiae in the multiclassing handbook, but I, we don’t have a full guide for it yet.

Random 

The guide that I wrote for the Oath of Conquest Paladin, which touches on undead Warlock, one of the big things that affects how that character plays is your spells. So even if you don’t want to take the guide as-is, which does personally hurt me a little bit, but I’ll get over it. At the very least, I’d recommend checking out the spells because a lot of problems you may run into once you understand that a lot of the Paladin spell list is concentration. And that that can mess with a lot of the buffs that you’re trying to cast. So definitely read up on that. Even if you don’t decide to go that character whole hog. It’s got some good stuff to find there.

Randall 

Cool. And we’ll make sure we link these in the show notes. All right. Well, thanks, folks. So next episode we’re going to talk about lifestyle rules. I’m Randall James. You can find me at amateurjack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @JackAmateur.

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net. Facebook and Twitter RPGBOTDOTNET and patreon.com/rpgbot.

Random 

And I’m Random. I don’t generally participate in social media very much, but you may find me here on RPGBOT.net writing articles and contributing to this podcast. And in places where people play games you will often find me as Hartlequin or Hartlequint.

Randall 

Alright, this episode was made with a producer Dan. All hail the Leisure Illuminati.

All 

*horn sounds*

Randall 

You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes. Following these links helps us to make the show happen every week. You can find our podcast whereever fine podcasts are distributed. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate review and subscribe and share it with your friends. We are going to have this new arc coming out on how to play D&D 5e. The holidays are a perfect time to find somebody that you love that doesn’t know the game yet. Introduce them so that they can come on board. By the time this comes out, that’s going to be live in your feed. Definitely share it and we’ll have links on the site as well as you can also share a link to the site so that somebody can actually just pop on and listen if it’s somebody in your life who doesn’t have their favorite podcast app already. If your question should be the question of the week next week, please email podcast@RPGBOT.net or message us on Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNET. Thanks folks. Enjoy the holidays. We did it!

Random 

We dod.

Tyler 

I had something witty I was gonna say, and immediately forgot it.

Randall 

That’s how that goes.

Random 

Nailed it.

Randall 

The story of life. I’m sorry about your party, bro. You’re gonna have to kiss that goodbye. Maybe find some new friends.

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