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Howling Tower: A Need for Speed

Idylls of the King“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.”

―Napoléon Bonaparte

A combat turn in most RPGs represents 5 to 10 seconds. If you spend much more time than that deciding what to do on your turn, you’re wasting time.

That doesn’t mean your turn can’t take more than 10 seconds. It means you should answer the basic question, “what am I going to do this turn?,” in 10 seconds or less. Figuring out specifically how your character performs the chosen action within the allowances and restrictions of the rules can take substantially longer than that, especially if a fancy maneuver, an unusual weapon, or a complex magic spell is involved. But the basic question—”What am I going to do this turn?”—should be made quickly.

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Howling Tower: It’s All About Teamwork

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, 1868.A group of RPG characters is like a U. S. Army Green Beret team or a Navy SEAL team. Every member of the squad has a specialty, and for the group to succeed, everyone needs to be on the job. That means cooperating with teammates and sticking to the plan when the world, in the guise of the GM, throws its full weight against the heroes and tries to cast them down in defeat.

The story (the adventure) has a villain, and he wants to win. His goal is not to provide the heroes with a heady challenge that fills their lives with excitement before they inevitably triumph over the villain’s ambition. That outcome is the exact opposite of the villain’s goal (unless your GM adheres to the idea that villains should have fatal personality flaws like those outlined in this i09 article on the 12 biggest blunders evil wizards make. A worthy villain will do everything in his power to prevent that outcome.

This doesn’t mean the GM is out to screw the players, but it does mean the challenges characters face won’t be easy. No one should expect to be allowed to skate through “for the sake of fun.” Before it’s all done, you should expect to be in a no-holds-barred fight to the death—meaning that if you lose, you die. In a situation like that, what could possibly be your motivation for working at cross-purposes to the team?

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Howling Tower: So You’re a Noob

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, 1868.Welcome to the end of the Howling Tower hiatus—thanks for coming! The Tower has been silent for too long. During the past year, I’ve been so occupied with huge writing projects that no time or energy was left over for small ones. Lots of good things came out of the past year — Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat for Kobold Press, and a trio of Fifth Edition books published by Necromancer Games: Fifth Edition Foes, Lost Spells, and Quests of Doom. But now that those massive projects are wrapped up, the light is flickering again atop the creepy tower at the dismal end of the valley, and eerie wailing can be heard wafting through the pre-dawn mist again.

This six-part series of columns will be aimed squarely at RPG players instead of GMs. Gamemasters have reams of material to peruse when they want advice on how to do their jobs better, but the pickings can be slim where players are concerned. The goal is to help readers develop better roleplaying habits and attitudes so they can get the most enjoyment from their time around the game table.

Just because the advice is aimed at the players’ side of the screen doesn’t mean GMs should look away. They’re sure to find some useful tidbits here, too. You can’t be a good GM without understanding where your players are coming from.

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Howling Tower: Paying Dues

Medieval Fairs
Guilds were a notable feature of urban life in medieval cities. If you were a craftsman of any type in Europe during the Middle Ages, you almost certainly belonged to a guild.

Guilds show up in fantasy RPGs and campaign settings, too; every city has a thieves’ guild and a wizards’ guild. It’s mostly lip service, though, because those guilds seldom do anything other than issue vague threats (thieves’ guild) or accidentally blast their guildhalls through dimensional portals (wizards’ guild).

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Howling Tower: Saying No

A Connecticut yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Daniel Carter BeardIn recent years, the philosophy of “yes, but” has become a hot ticket for GMs. Let me assure you, this was not always the case. I’m reminded a bit of the way philosophies come into and out of fashion in business management (are you a one-minute manager in search of excellence?).

If that sounds dismissive, it’s not meant to be. There’s a lot to be said in favor of “yes, but.” As GM philosophies go, it’s better than most.

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