Dragon Magazine: Player Advice Collection (Part 1 of 6)
These are my reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.
What good PCs are made of: Play characters with more substance than statistics
Author: Katharine Kerr Issue: Dragon Magazine #96 Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Player Characters (PCs) are players' way to contribute and shape the Judge's world. Most players fail to create “true” PCs, i.e. characters that are different than themselves. At least that is what Katharine presents as the core challenge.
She offers solid advice on how to create characters by thinking about social class (random table), family life and background (random table), motivation, way of talking, opinion of the world, and polytheism.
The article is well written and well argued—I especially appreciated brief discussion of medieval upbringing and polytheism—but ultimately doesn't really match neither my play- nor judging-style.
For better or worse, the main campaign I'm running has had quite high death toll. To follow Katharine's advice to the letter would be frustrating, for it does take more effort than rolling six attribute scores and picking your class.
On the other hand, I could see myself using her guidance to create name-level and other NPCs of importance. I could also see it used after PC hits level 4 or above. You know, when they don't die from a single slap anymore.
Notes From a Semi-Successful D&D Player
Author: James Ward Issue: Dragon Magazine #13 Rating: ★★★★★
Ten tips in ten paragraphs! In order, they are:
- Make Continual Light wand light-sticks as soon as possible.
- Carry around a small potted rose plant, Growth/Plant Spell, and Potion of Plant Control.
- Get a ten foot pole and a five foot steel rod.
- Invest in steel potion bottles.
- Carry freshly squeezed garlic juice in small vials (kept in steel pouches, of course).
- Polymorph cockatrice into a snail, throw the snail at adversaries and cast Dispel Magic on it.
- Get all Magic-User poison for the dagger, no matter the price.
- All Magic-Users should start creating new spells as soon as possible; trade and sell them.
- A set of extra spellbooks for Magic-Users is a must.
- Get Permanent spell as soon as possible, for it is as good as Wish. Make Fly permanent on fragile characters, Infravision and Protection from Evil on Fighters, and Charm on foes.
I think I understand why Gary got to increasingly dislike Magic-Users.
And now I know what I'll start spending money on in The Keep on Yeoldelands campaign.
Be aware and take care: Basic principles of successful adventuring
Author: Lew Pulsipher Issue: Dragon Magazine #79 Rating: ★★★★★
Absolutely amazing article, should be mandatory reading for players trying to get into OSR play-style as well!
“The qualities that characters, and the players of those characters, must exhibit to succeed in a fantasy adventure are founded on the ideas of common sense and cooperation...”
The article is well written and very practical. The advice is broken down into following buckets:
- Generic: elementary precautions, whom do you trust, know your objective and stick to it, gather information, keep a monster chronicle, provide for rescue/escape, equipment, security in camps.
- Behaviour during the adventure: avoid mental passivity in battle, coordinate efforts, keep reserves in reserve, don't take separate routes, concentration of attacks, you can't beat everything, get out while you have some “bottom,” never flee into unknown areas, don't back yourself into a corner, guard your spell casters, make lists, other precautions.
- Staying alive after the adventure: search for enemies, search for hidden treasure, examination of items.
- Using magic wisely and well: deception in place of magic, phantasmal forces and illusions, imaginative use of spells.
- Adventuring and referees: know thy referee.
The only controversial advice might be the last section, which in essence encourages players to understand the Judges' behaviour and then exploit it. For example, if your Judge is willing to fudge the dice in your favour, you should leverage that.
I can understand that advice in a more adversarial Player-Judge relationship, which was perhaps more common back in the day. Today I'd say that collaborative play-style is more prevalent.
Either way, this is a truly evergreen article, which I'll definitely include in the final Dragon Magazine Collection.
Assessing, not guessing: How PCs can make their own value judgements
Author: Lionel D. Smith Issue: Dragon Magazine #104 Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Lionel offers a simple procedure for PCs to randomly determine value of treasure items. It takes into account class, race, and level to determine base probability for successful estimation, and then uses d20 and a control die to determine the result.
Although the procedure and advice are solid, I see them more fitting for a Sage or NPC than PCs. The closing sentence is an important reminder to those who struggle with traditional gold-for-XP systems:
“The business of buying and selling can and should be an adventure in itself.”
Just because the players returned with a large haul of jewellery, gems, and who-knows-what doesn't mean they are rich. Give them XP, and then let them figure our how to liquidate all that wealth in a world where most don't earn a single gold coin in a single year.
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