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September 2020

Lean Into It

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News
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden was released and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything announced. TCE contains more character options including subclasses, group patrons, spells, artifacts and magic tattoos. It also has more optional rules and a section devoted to puzzles. I’m a sucker for options so I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately there have been no new UA articles since last month.

Lean Into It
Let’s talk about owning a roll. Of course, there is owning the roll in the moment. Allowing it to happen without feeling anxious or being annoyed with it. It’s not always easy, but definitely a skill to strive for. Things won’t always go your way, that’s the nature of a dice driven game as well as life.

What I’m more referring to is owning a roll for the long term. Being invested in the outcome of a specific role to define your character. I think the best way to explain is to give an example.

The DM describes a chamber in which there is a mural depicting a multi-headed dragon subjugating humanoids. You know this is likely Tiamat, however you aren’t quite sure about your character. You ask the DM of your characters possible knowledge and they ask you to roll a history check. You roll a natural 20 and do an obligatory fist pump before revealing the final score on the roll to be a 24. After all, a 20 on a skill check doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. The DM gives you a quick narrative regarding Tiamat and her role in the world at large.

Now, you can take this for what it is, a piece of knowledge known at, seemingly, random. Perhaps it was something they heard about during a passing conversation with a bard or scholar. Reasonable, but not altogether interesting. On the other hand, maybe your character has had a lifelong obsession with dragons. At a young age they saw a drawing of a dragon or heard a story that triggered this love, forever fascinating them.

Now you have another quirk to your character. The party is now aware of the obsession with dragons. Naturally this adds a hook for the DM and provides some insight about the character for your party. Now there is an itch in the back of the collective minds of your companions. Maybe one of them manages to buy them a dragon egg as a present. Maybe your character starts collecting dragon related objects, finding it hard to resist keeping coin in their pocket when a magnificent dragon tapestry is found at the local merchant.

As a DM, if a player brought this to me I would be thrilled. I would definitely give them advantage on most dragon rolls from then on in, but also disadvantage when their obsession might creep into their minds. Evil laughter ensues.

Now, what about the reverse? A natural 1 can have implications as well, just as shallow or as deep. Let’s look at another example.

The DM describes the scene of a massacre. The scene is clearly ritualistic in nature with melted candles, skulls and a lectern to one side of the, now disarrayed, chairs. There are some strange fetishes that depict a lizard head with a spiked fringe, one found on each corpse. You ask to roll to see if your character has ever seen these fetishes or find anything familiar about the scene. The DM asks you to roll a religion check. A natural 1 with a bonus of nothing, your character hasn’t the slightest clue.

Now lean in… Your character knows this work. It must be Bahamut, the deceiver! The evil dragon who thwarts Tiamat at every corner. Now your companions may know that Bahamut is a just and good-aligned god, but you will hear none of it. Your aunt and uncle taught you the truth and there isn’t much that will shake this belief. They were devotees to Tiamat and quickly taught your character to understand the nature of Tiamat and Bahamut. Slowly their lies took root like a seed warping your mind into believing in such things. Your character knows that Bahamut’s greatest strength is his ability to make others think he is just and forgiving.

This example requires some investment on the side of your DM, but can work out great. See, now your character has this strangeness to them. No matter what anyone else says, Bahamut is evil. Who knows how this might play out, it will likely generates conflict between NPCs, other players and even your aunt and uncle.

Doing things like this can make a single roll spiral into something great. Obviously not every roll is a great story. It’s also not always easy to do so either, but, if you can, it can be wonderful thing.

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