Campaign Crunch #7: About Town!

Most of our last session was consumed with party members going their own ways to take care of business around town. Some DMs flourish in Metropolitan environments, others struggle. Sometimes it can be a struggle for those of us who sit behind the DM screen here at TotmRPG. Here’s how we handled things this week:

So the gang did what most parties do when they get back to civilization: they split up and went their separate ways! In this past this has been a source for some anxiety when running the game. It’s easy to loose attention as players are left virtually queuing for their turn at their mini-scene or to take care of miscellaneous business.

Strategies we employ to keep player boredom in check:
1) Go around the table and remain conscious of the amount of time each player is getting: We just start on one end of the table and work our way around. Sometimes players will (Thankfully!) want to do something together. We just roll those two together and work through their business together.
2) Do you best to preserve players “Turns”: We’re not talking combat turns here, were referring to the player’s turn at taking care of their city-business. Inevitably you’ll have a player who had their moment 2 people ago blurt out in the middle of someone else’s scene, “Wait! i needed to find a tailor to make me a green cloak,” or something along those lines. We try to be patient but also find a way to communicate that it’s someone else’s time in the spotlight right now. If you need a “mechanical” application to this moment you could explain that just like we often get home in the real world to remember that we din’t pick up milk; their character got back to home base and realized they didn’t get their cloak made that day.
3) Handwave stuff: If your players are shopping for regular common items don’t be afraid to handwave it. If your characters are in a large town or city there are things that are just readily available. We don’t spend much time at all shopping for rope, or even basic weapons and armor. As long as your players are honest with their resource management just let them ask about/announce what they want and have them purchase it for the base price listed in the PHB. Some people may enjoy building an NPC who’s a fletcher and playing out the purchase of every arrow, or a shop-keep who sells rope and cloth goods… we don’t. Handwave it, let the player deduct the appropriate amount of coinage, and move on with the game. There are exceptions to this (aren’t there always) IF you’re in a small village OR something isn’t available in your area for some reason you’ll need to devote a little more time to that. If there’s a plot point tucked into the life of the local black-smith: make that black-smith a reoccurring character and pray your players like them.
4) Spitball pricing of unusual items: Your players are going to want to purchase things or services that are downright odd. Guaranteed. Here’s how we spitball prices for 5e. In 5e a skilled laborer makes 2GP/day (that’s RAW, it’s in the PHB or the DMG somewhere). Since we here at TotmRPG live in the good ole U.S.A. we convert 1 GP to $50. A skilled worker in the U.S. makes about $100 a day, that’s where we get the number from. Then we keep in mind that paper products are expensive in D&D (just look at the equipment list in the PHB, you’ll see what we mean), also things with a mechanical effect are often expensive, like poisons (this is to balance out players “crafting in downtime”). So paper, poisons, things with “points” as in they do points of damage, or add points to a roll, they heal, etc… are costly. For other “regular” goods and services we just spitball it off the cuff.
“My character wants to buy a leather chair” 4GP
“I need a pimp-cane” 1GP
“My Gnome is really craving some nice pastries” 2 for a SP
“i’d like some ribbon to braid into my horses main” 5CP
Just spit-ball it, if you price something too expensive or too cheap just chat with the player and change it next time.
5) Read the Table: This one takes experience, which you only get by practice. But learn to read your table. If somebody is looking bored maybe you jump to them or at least give them a cue that it’s almost their turn. Sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a single players solo-scene and the whole table is locked in, if that’s the case you can take a little more time with that scene. The goal is for everyone at the table to have fun, if they’re enjoying themselves its all good. #5 ties right into #6 here:
6) Story still matters: If someone is spending lots of time trying to haggle on the price for a new sheath for their dagger… just have them succeed or fail (preferably determined by a roll of some sort) and move on. If someone is doing something that propels the story along, take a little more time. Most of us these days play D&D because we enjoy the story-telling aspect of it. Story matters, story gets more time. Giving more time to story elements also rewards players who display buy-in on the story-line.

Here are two examples from our session this week that illustrate points 5 & 6. (If you missed the Campaign Diary this week you can read it here: )
Example 1: When Gax decided he needed to chat with the Dire Wolves we were reading the table. People were moderately engaged in Gax’s progress to see the Dire Wolves. Descriptions of the Sled being prepped conveyed that this race is a big deal and their client was taking it seriously. Then Gax began to Speak with Animals and at first everyone was engaged because it was funny. Gax was asking the wolf questions and only getting a sinister “come down here” in response. THEN Gax started cutting a deal with the Dire Wolf. A deal that included freeing the Dire Wolf AND providing it with “Thinking ones”- by whom the wolf means sentient humanoids! Gax is normally this giant lovable happy force in our world… So his deal caught EVERYONE’s attention. It was a solo-scene that had the whole table engaged and we all enjoyed it very much.
Example 2: Magnus’ efforts to get rid of the Githyanki sword. At first interest was low. Most of the players didn’t know about Magnus’ experiences when he attuned to the sword so they were sort of hum-drum. Magnus’ player did an absolutely bang-up job role playing his awkwardness in his solo-scenes. It was delightfully painful! When the dwarvish smith refused the sword and let him know that it shouldn’t even be in the city everyone’s attention was locked in. Then Magnus’ introduction to the criminal underworld of NorthWood was entertaining for the whole table.

Both of these examples held the table’s interest and both should prove to be drivers of the story-line.

Crunchy stuff from the city ramblings: We worked out some complex mechanics to manage Gax’s excavation project (we’ll post them below if you’re interested in them, there was a lot of math done by both the DM and Gax’s player to come up with them but we’ll leave that part out for now.
There were the standard persuasion checks when bartering and bargaining.
When Magnus was searching for someone to take the sword he went to the district in the north of the city where there are lot’s of smiths at work. He cast detect magic and started searching for a likely shop to chat with. Since he was using the spell we granted him advantage on an investigation check, which he crushed and found a blacksmith who clearly had the ability to handle magic items.

The Race: We’ll get into that more next week. We have some mechanics for determining the outcome of the race. This week it was the mass-start so it was mostly animal handling checks and attack rolls. We applied some modifiers to sleds based on the effects they experienced, Gax’s move earth slowed them down for example. Again, we’ll drop our overall race mechanics in the campaign crunch next week.

Gax’s underground expansion rules:
Marast will be supportive but not comfortable with Gax just digging under her property willy-nilly. She’ll require that Gax work with contractors. She’s found some brothers wintering in NorthWood who are willing to contract and help out with the work.

They will rotate as “supervisors” when Gax is moving the dirt for a rate of 4GP/Day- normally only one of them is on site but when it’s time to shore things up other brothers will come and assist.

Material Costs for the project come to: 80GP

Completion time is: 400 skilled man hours. (Gax using magic moves dirt at an exponentially higher rate so every day Gax is working on the project counts as 4 days of labor)

Avultrede brothers work for 2 GP/Day as laborers with one of them getting at least 4GP as “Supervisor” which they rotate.

Cost for the brothers to complete the project: 125GP + Materials

Cost varies based on how many days Gax works on the project.

Other non-skilled laborers can assist. If the Avultrede brothers are supervising their labor is as efficient as skilled labor.

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