Oct 27, 2011

DM Tools: DDM RPG Cards and the DDMdb

Recently, while prepping for an upcoming D&D session, I was re-reading the module (I always review the 3 or 4 encounters I think the party will get through during an upcoming session) and I noticed two things: the seemingly underpowered opponents the module was calling for, and the repetitiveness of the encounters.

The previous session, my players ended up having 2 of the three battles that evening against stirges, which I don't think are interesting enough to take up 67% of the combat. It just so happened that the party went from encountering them in a room, to the main lair where the rest of these fantasy-mosquitoes hung out. In retrospect I should have gone "off script" and changed up the encounter, running something else in that second room, and had the stirges menace both groups, or moved the stirges' lair to another room, or dropped them all together. That's sometimes one of the downsides to running pre-made modules, and I'll talk about in another post later.

But let's finish this post first. So, I was unhappy with the repetitive nature of some of last session's combats and looking ahead at this week's session, I was seeing the same thing. Thankfully it wasn't stirges, but still looking over the several troglodyte encounters the party could logically run into one after the other, I kept seeing mostly the same thing: 2 troglodytes with low hit points (they are CR1 creatures after all) and the same tactics -- throw two javelins and then close for combat.

In my game this doesn't work for two reasons: my players have some pretty effective characters and most of those trogs would go down in one or two rounds. Secondly, none of my players have any ranged weapons, except for the mage, so everyone would be running up to engage the trogs in melee as soon as possible.

So in order to vary things up, I knew I wanted to beef up and customize the trogs. I could have manually added class levels to give them extra power and diversity, but rather than spend the time to do all that work myself, time which I obviously don't have if I'm running pre-made modules, I called on a great, FREE, resource.

I've been a big fan and collector of the D&D plastic pre-painted miniatures since the original Harbinger set was released in 2003 (collector as much as my budget would allow). With each miniature there is a corresponding game card. On one side it features stats applicable to the skirmish game, and on the other side, stats for the then-current version of the roleplaying game (D&D 3.5). Note: The last few sets did away with the RPG stats.

The RPG stats were great because they could be used at the game table with the corresponding miniature. Since I didn't have a complete collection of any set, there were gaps in the cards I had access to, not the mention having to go through the cards by hand for what I wanted.

Then Wizards of the Coast did something very useful for all 3.5 DMs. They made all the cards available as PDFs for free. Now, you didn't even need to have the figure to have access to stats, treasure and equipment for a variety of monsters, NPCs, or instant PCs if needed. If you haven't checked these out, here's the link for the files: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/mi/20070315c

While having the PDFs is great, searching through them is still a chore. That's where my second recommendation comes in: the DDMdb. The DDMdb is a fan run project that contains basic information on all the miniatures released so far with an easy to search database and plenty of category tags for further searching.

For instance, I was looking for troglodytes, and I knew that in addition to the standard trog, the miniatures sets also put out several variations (monsters with class levels). By simply searching for "troglodyte" in the tag search (as opposed to the name search) I got a bunch of results, including the Troglodyte Barbarian (trog with a level of barbarian), Troglodyte Captain (trog with a few fighter levels), and Cleric of Laogzed (trog cleric). Note: a "name search" would only return results where Troglodyte appeared in the name, so the Cleric of Laogzed would have been omitted.

The results include not just the name of the miniature, but also an image, what set it came from, it's monster type and CR, along with some other details. Clicking on the mini name brings up further details, including, in many cases, scans of the skirmish as well as the RPG stat cards. While not all stat cards are readable (this is where having those PDF files can come in handy!), it can be a great starting point for narrowing down the next new threat for your players. If you click on some of the other data points, like CR or monster type, you can see results matching that criteria, such as all barbarian minis or all CR4 minis.

The variations this search returned quickly allowed me to tweak the upcoming combats by giving me a few options to throw at the PCs. Instead of the same two "standard" creatures, I was now able to throw a few Barbarians and a Captain at the group, and instead of the same javelin, javelin, melee attack, these guys now had spiked gauntlets, great clubs, and enough hit points to last more than 2 rounds.

Note: For all you 4e DMs out there, it seems there were a few sets of cards with 4e RPG stats available online here. Since these go back to the beginning of 4e, and with all the rules changes since their release, I'm not sure how accurate they may be.

If your like me, and you don't have as much time to plan your games as you would like, or you're pulling something together at the last minute, resources like the RPG stat cards and the DDMdb can be a game saver. I hope you get as much use out of them in your games as I do in mine.