When the Real World Intrudes…

We, as DMs, have limitless control over the worlds we create with our players, but the real world is a completely different story. Sometimes it can be hard to get a group of people with different schedules together to play, but every now and then the really world will really hit someone in your group hard. Hard enough that it’s going to change how your group has to play. As DMs, not only do we have to be great storytellers and gamers, we also have to have skill with people management. When a players issue changes your game, here are some things you can do.

Talk to them. Make sure they understand these changes aren’t their fault. Let them know they aren’t a pariah or anything stupid like that. These changes are for the betterment of the group, not to make someone feel alienated.

Get their input. Get them to talk about the solution they’d come up with. Letting them help will make them feel less like it’s their fault. Their solution will both make the group see their helping and make them feel like their helping, and at this time, it’s all about helping.

Don’t stop your game. Maybe you need to take a quick break or something, but DO NOT stop playing. This is probably the worst thing you can do. Do what it takes to keep your game going. The game might be just as important to your player who’s having the problem as it is to you. Who knows, you game might even help them feel better.

How to Beat Writer’s Block for DMs

It’s a common problem every DM has. If you let it get too out of control it can turn into a full blown case of DM burnout. I’m talking about writer’s block. Being an aspiring writer myself, I know a few ways to beat this scourge. Here are some tips to keep writing that game:

Look over old material: Looking through your old notes, players’ backstories, and campaign notes can help get you back in the mindset you had before writer’s block attacked. And while you’re there, maybe you’ll notice a plot hook you dropped that never came up or you’ll see something a player wrote in their backstory that you sink your teeth into. Sometimes, when I’m looking over my old notes, I notice important NPCs or campaign themes that haven’t come up for the players. Figuring out how to incorporate these into the next game session can help get the creative juices flowing.

Look at monsters: Nothing gets me excited about an encounter quite like exciting monster art. Go online or crack open your books and look at some sweet van style, fantasy art. Some artists that always help me are Michael Komarck and Wayne Reynolds. Their vibrant and active styles always get my writing muscles ready to flex. A great exercise, when you’re having trouble writing encounters, you should try to recreate the fights depicted in the art.

Write the adventure you’ve always wanted to write: I have this dream encounter I’ve always wanted to run. After sneaking on to an airship, the players find themselves on the open air observation deck, facing down a major antagonist. This is when the fireworks start. I’m willing to bet every DM has these dream situations to put their players into. If you’re like me, you always say ‘someday’. Why not make someday today?

Recycle: Don’t be afraid to reuse old stuff. Hey, you wrote it. I have a reoccurring minor villain called The Lizard King and I have no idea how many things I’ve run him into players. If you’re worried that your players will be upset that you’re using things over, don’t be. It goes one of two ways: they either get nostalgic or don’t really notice the difference. Hey, this stuff inspired you before for a reason.

So next time you get hit with writer’s block, try some of these tips. They work for me. I’m also interested to know what works for others. What’s worked for you?

To New Beginnings!

I think my favorite session in a campaign has to be the first one. I always introducing the world to my group and forcing them together. This one was especially sweet because we’d spent so much time making characters and the world.

I’ll admit that I had been a bit worried as to how my new group would take to the game. They were all new players. They had played with me once before and that was the extent of their experience. I’d met them through a theater group I’d recently joined and they’d asked me to DM for them when they found out I could. We used my worldbuilding method to create a world and I wrote a nice little first session for them. It went far better than I could have imagined.

First a little background on the world. The country this campaign happens in is called Illycera. It was once an empire, but it’s been torn apart by a civil war. It’s isolated from the rest of the continent and is experiencing supply shortages.  The empire worships Bahamut, while the rebels are worshipers of Tiamet. All of the players have been touched by this war somehow. At the start of the campaign, the players have found themselves on the Bahamutan side in what could be the final battle of the war. The Bahamut government has decided to throw as many resources as they can at this fight. To that end, they’ve hired the Wyrmbreaker Knights who are lead by Ordon Bloodmoon.

When we were making the world, I added a circle for a character of my own, Ordon Bloodmoon. The players knew he was going to be their enemy going into the campaign and they know eventually they’re going to have to stop him. I was worried they might act when he was the bad guy when their characters first met him. They didn’t. They’re all naturals and it’s awesome. They not only took to the game quickly, but they started roleplaying at a level I hadn’t seen at a table in years. I had to cut two fights from what I’d prepared because they were so into it.

The battle is taking place at the Temple of Tiamet; it’s believed that if the Bahamutans take the temple, the war is over. The players and Ordon have been tasked with infiltrating the temple. They enter and the players find that Ordon has his own agenda and no real interest in winning the battle. The players witness as Ordon blatantly murders the high priestess of Tiamet and destroys the temple with the help of his pet necromancer, Vinalia. She summoned an undead dragon that went on to destroy the temple as the might of the Wyrmbreakers slaughtered what was left of both armies.

Overall, the new group really took to this beginning. They freaked when they realized there was a dragon buried under the temple. They really enjoy the roleplaying aspect; they loved talking to every NPC they met. And while the group does have some speed bumps, they can be fixed. And I’ll be sure to tell you how I do that soon.

Dragon Snacks 3

It’s the last Tuesday of the month, and that means it’s time for more of those mental morsels, Dragon Snacks! This month, I’m talking about roleplaying. What follows are tips and tricks to make the roleplaying in your game smoother, better, and more consistent.

Why should you portray every NPC? Here’s the situation: two characters are talking to each other, neither are players, and you’re not the best at voices. So, these two similar sounding people are talking to each other, neither of them are using names, and you look like a crazy person. And this entire time, a group of people are idly watching you. Why not put one of them to work? Give the lines for one of those NPCs to one of your players. Let them portray the NPC. They’re going to hear this stuff anyway, why not get them more involved?

Your villain is wishy-washy and has a vague plan. This is a common problem (one I’ve had at least). Sometimes things just start to lose focus. The campaign is being changed by the actions of your players and you’re desperate for them to keep encountering your villain.  You start changing things and putting your villain in situations that just don’t fit his goals. A great exercise to avoid this is to write your villains goal down. Write down his goal, his plan, and how he’s going to get there. This will keep you on course when you’re in the game and your group starts throwing curveballs at you.

How do you make it obvious that players are dealing with members of a certain group? There’s an easy way to solve this problem. Take three adjectives that describe a typical member of your group, write them down, and whenever they meet a nameless member of the group, keep those three adjectives in mind while portraying. For example, in my current campaign, there are a group of warriors dedicated to Bane (evil god of war) called the Wyrmbreaker Knights. If I was to describe them in three words, I’d say “driven, loyal, and cocksure.” Whenever they encounter a member of this group, he’ll act accordingly, and hopefully the players will be able to tell him over an NPC that isn’t a member of the Wyrmbreaker Knights.

There you have it. Some hints to help your roleplaying. Next week, I’ll write about the start of my new campaign. You know how I love beginnings.

The DtK Method for Collaborative Worldbuilding

Our map in progress.

Our map in progress.

Last week I talked about how I was doing some collaborative worldbuilding with my new group. I spoke about how involving your players in the worldbuilding process is a rich and rewarding experience and how I had come up with a method to do it that was working great. Well, here it is. I’m calling it the Dragon’s Kingdom. It’s based on the entanglements system for building a game. You need a poster map and a marker. It consists of 3 steps:

Step 1 – Dictates

For the first step your players (and you, if you choose) each write an overarching rule for your setting. They can be anything like ‘magic is dangerous and feared’, ‘dragons are extinct’ or ‘the spirits have abandoned the world, primal power does not exist’. The idea is to not make them to specific. Aim for between 8-12. Make sure your group knows these aren’t set in stone. More on that later.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Step 2 – World

For this step, the players (and you if you choose) will place people, places, and groups on the map. People are represented by circles. Places are squares. Groups are triangles. Each item placed should be named. The first part is everyone puts a circle in front of themselves for their character. You can also place one for the antagonist if you so choose. Then, on the first round of step one, each person will place two items on the map. Every round after, each person will place one item. Aim for 4 or 5 rounds, depending on the size of your group.

Step 3 – Relationships

This is the fun step. Your players (and again, you if you choose) will map how the people, places, and things in your setting relate to each other. To do this, those participating draw lines from the items on the map to other items on the map. Then, the relationship between those items is defined by who drew the line. During the first round, each person draws 2 relationships. The next round is what I call a ‘meta-round’. In a meta-round, the person whose turn it is has the choice of drawing a new relationship or altering something. They can draw a line through a relationship and define how that relationship ended or they can alter a dictate by adding to it. Yes, a person can redraw the altered relationship, representing a further change to it. Also, a dictate cannot be removed and it can only be altered once. For example, with the ‘dragons are extinct’ example I changed it by writing ‘assumed, because they haven’t been seen in a long time.’ After this each person draws a relationship.  Then you do another meta-round. Go on like this until you feel there are enough relationships on your map.

So there you have it, the Dragon’s Kingdom. You have my full permission to use it. Let me know if it works for you too!

Three Ways to Worldbuild with Your Group

So I’m on the cusp of starting a new campaign with a new group and I’ve decided to try something different. Instead of simply making a new world on my own or running a published setting, I thought it would be fun for my new group (it’s the first campaign for all of them) to make a world with me. I’ll go deeper into the process, which has been working splendidly, after we’ve finished, but first some other ideas for worldbuilding as a group:

The first idea is pretty simple. You start with an essentially blank slate. Then, each player adds one element to the world that ties to their characters backstory. For example, the dwarf is from a mountain stronghold that was once lost to his people (yeah, I recently saw the Hobbit…) or the druid is a member of a powerful secret order. The major idea here is that each player will give you something juicy to work with and then you, as the DM, incorporate that element deeply into your campaign.

The next idea is for a group that wants to return a former campaign world years later. Worlds change and evolve over time, not just in the ways your old characters affected it, but in completely organic, natural, and sometimes surprising ways. Instead of coming up with all this on your own, write a bunch of generic world changes on sheets of paper like “This group has come to power because of…” or “This city is now under a different rule.” Then have the players pick these sheets of paper out of a hat and describe the changes they pick. This will give them an active say in how the world grows while they’re away from it.

The final one here might be cheating. You have the players design their own vessel. It could be an airship, traditional ship, submersible, or even a spelljammer (magic spaceship for those who don’t know) and the campaign centers on their travels in that vessel. While you are still designing the various exotic locales they’ll visit, they’ve decided with their vessel the types of adventures they want to have. The places they’ll visit in a spelljammer are very different from where they’ll go in a sailing ship.  They still have a say in the kinds of places being visited. And you can always have them make up the places too.

Letting your players in on the world building process doesn’t only take some of the work out of your hands, it also makes a world your players are much more invested in. As someone who is currently on both sides of this (playing and running), I would suggest group worldbuilding to every group. At least once.

Happy Holidays!

Hey everyone, sorry I missed last week’s post. Between starting a new D&D group, rehearsing for my new improv group, and getting ready for Christmas, it sort of fell by the wayside. From now on, when I’m going to miss a week, I’ll make it known here. Speaking of, I will not be posting next week or the week after. I want to wish everyone the best possible holiday, no matter what holiday you celebrate.

Making characters with my new group recently, I realized that new players don’t always have the easiest time with their first character. I guess I hadn’t before because I’d always either been on the same level as them or had another person who knew the game as well as I did to help. It got me wondering: how could I make this easier?

I think the way to make creation easier for any system is to segment it. What I mean is break it up into parts for your players. Using D&D as an example, that would mean you do stats, skills, gear, everything separately. I also mean that you should keep the extraneous or unneeded choices away. So if one of your players is a Rogue, show them only the best feats for a rogue. This process takes more work on your part, but it pays off during the creation process.

So, with the proper prep, you can make the process of creation much easier on your first time players. It’s all about asking the right questions, knowing your stuff, and making decisive choices (believe me, they will waffle a lot). Also, never hurts to have multiple copies of your core book.

So, when next I write, it’ll be 2013 (unless the Mayans are right) and I’m going to start with a story about my new group and a brand new campaign building system made by yours truly. Hope to see you all next year!