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DMing advice

DMing advice
DMing advice | simony

Part 5 - Simple Epic

Part 4 - Low level gods

Part 3 - What matters?

Part 2 - Brevity

Part 1 - Humanity


GMing for Deities

In this column I, Simon (S'mon on ENWorld), "most experienced Immortals GM on the Planet" (ha ha) will offer some ancedotes from my time GMing for Craig's deity PC Thrin in our long running AD&D campaign, and hopefully offer some thoughts on what worked for me and could be useful in your own campaigns.

Part 1: The Human Dimension

On an interplanar quest to retrieve the Sword of Kas before the bad guys can get it, PC demigod Thrin plane shifts to a new plane - and is promptly struck down… by a station wagon driven by tough-guy cop Detective Sledge Hammer.

I think that in all my years of running deity games with my players Bob (Mirv Sheelon), Craig (Thrin), Fergus (Mortis Deathlord, ne Storrax Brightside) and others, that's the moment I remember most fondly. It was hard to say who was most annoyed - Thrin, who'd been flung thirty feet through the air and lost scads of hit points; Sledge - who'd spilt his cup of coffee; or Sledge's comely sidekick Dorie Dureaux, whose blouse had sadly received some of that coffee. It was pure GM fiat of course - the scenario was set in New York in the cyberpunkish year 2020 AD, having Thrin appear in the middle of a busy highway in front of a speeding automobile driven by a character ripped screaming from an '80s spoof cop show was the perfect 'bang' to get things moving and immediately involve the deity PC with highly characterful NPCs who could help or hinder his quest for the Sword of Kas. It turned out to be Dorie who did most of the helping - and if you've seen "Sledge Hammer" you'll know why. At the time, Thrin was maybe 80th level with perhaps 350 hp. Sledge & Dorie were I think 4th level, with hit points in the low double figures. Against the cybernetically enhanced street gangs and Arasaka Corporation security forces of 21st century New York two unenhanced cops with handguns and oddly retro fashion sense were almost comically ineffective. Yet throughout the adventure, these NPCs were major forces in the game, people with whom Thrin dealt as equals - he needed them, and they could help him, or not. Their stats really didn't matter.

To me, this is the key to successful Immortals gaming - every interaction should be meaningful,
whether it's with a 1st-level Commoner or Odin himself. It goes against a lot of 3e's core assumptions, but I probably put more time and effort into Thrin's interactions with mortals umpteen Challenge Ratings below him than I did to his relation to his divine superiors in Asgard, Tyr and Odin. And likewise, Thrin's battles with mortals like the shotgun-toting Russian Solo Oleg Gadinsky or Orlok the Vorpal Battleaxe-wielding Scarlet Brotherhood assassin (Thrin had a wardpact against swords) were at least as exciting - and scary - as his encounters with the Devil-God Druaga or Wotan the Hanged God.

This kind of idea - that the hero will face challenges on all kinds of levels, emotional as well as physical - can be seen in many super-hero comics, where the protagonist commonly wrestles with a 'cover identity' and the opportunities and challenges of human interaction it provides - Superman may have near-infinite power, but that doesn't necessarily mean he can sort out his love life satisfactorily.

D&D (and perhaps the 3e rules in particular), by contrast, often seem to carry the assumption that the only meaningful dealings are those with characters and situations of comparable power - in 3e, that means roughly a -7-+7 level spread - and while 15 levels is a lot in the standard game, deity-level gaming inevitably concerns vast power levels and hence potentially vast disparities in power. I would advocate taking a hint from the comics writers, and looking at ways in which you can personalise the PCs by giving them not just mortal NPCs to interact with, but reasons why they _need_ to do so. In the Thrin example above, he was a fish out of water who badly needed a guide to the strange new world he found himself in.

Plane-hopping adventures give a lot of opportunity for such characters - on another occasion Thrin entered a new world, Werskara, through a 'Stargate' (a standing stone gateway - this was well before that movie & TV show!) and found himself accosted by a trio of mortal heroes who had quested to that same spot in search of the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy - the Star Warrior who would help save their world. Thrin eventually helped Reesha, a barbarian warrior-princess who was the trio's last survivor, save her world from the savage Wolfen, recovering a bunch of lost artifacts (the Crown, Armour & Shield of Varran) from sundry locations throughout Werskara (the tower of the Ice Sorceress, the Hag of the Twisted Tower on the Falling Marshes at the edge of the world, the volcanic dungeons of Sunderhold) and using them to beat the Wolfen in a titanic battle. Thrin and Reesha got along rather well - so well that in the aftermath of their victory they fell in love, eventually got married, settled down in Asgard and had children together. Okay, Reesha was a high- level Barbarian, and she now had enough artifacts to sink a battleship, but still, she was definitely a mortal.

It was rather sweet.

Next: Part 2 - What do you give the PC who has everything?

Unless stated otherwise, all content © 2001-2004 Craig Cochrane. All rights reserved.