7 things D&D teaches about storytelling

This is an interesting little article about the 7 things that D&D can teach you about storytelling. Even outside of just being a storyteller, the list is very useful for understanding what makes a good game or character.

1: Characters are more interesting when they’re flawed.

Like most D&D nerds, I cheated when I started playing. I fudged rolls. I had a character with three stats at 18 (the maximum), which I later calculated had a roughly 1 in 40,000 chance of happening without the aforementioned cheating. When I bought a character generator for my computer, though, I “accidentally” made a character named Crystal.

Crystal was in most ways an unexceptional person: a bit charming and graceful in her way, but frail, less than bright, and lacking in common sense. Rather than following any traditional path, Crystal was a fighter wielding a quarterstaff—a fundamental tactical mistake, especially given that this was back in the days of 2nd-edition D&D (THAC0 for the win).

I loved playing that character. Part of it was the challenge, part of it was a protective feeling for my own frail character, but the major draw was something more significant. I came to realize: The best heroic journey is not the story of an incredible person doing incredible things. It is the story of a flawed, ordinary person who—when called upon—rises to an incredible challenge and finds within themselves something truly extraordinary.

Read the rest here.

Rules-heavy to rules-light

There’s a great little article at Gnome Stew about switching from rules-heavy games to rules-light games. Being one who likes to try a plethora of various RPGs from time to time, and in particular a lot of the new indie games, I found this article helpful, if even just to reinforce the conclusions I’d already come to.

One of the unexpected results of jumping to a rules-light system is that the GM has to answer many of the questions that come up in play. Another way to put it: Actions still have consequences; there just aren’t tons of rules explaining those consequences, so your workload may increase. In the long run, this is a good thing because of the flexibility it brings to the game, but for there is some on-the-job training.

via Gnome Stew

Unexpected directions and plotlines

Gnome Stew has a great article about how to deal with situations where players will quite often latch on to a minor detail and turn it into something greater than what you, as a GM, intended. I know I’ve run into this before, myself, and while it’s sometimes hard to really fly by the seat of your pants sometimes, it’s definitely rewarding if you can find a way to turn the players’ focus on that minor element into something rewarding, even if it’s ultimately irrelevant to the overall plot.

Check out the article on Gnome Stew

Also, check out this small article about prepping for a game that I definitely agree with. It’s about saving details as you think of them and fleshing them out later. I, personally, used this method for a sandbox-style D&D campaign I ran last year that went very well.

A GM’s Secret Weapons: Strolen’s Citadel and Rustfoot

I’ve probably already said too much, but I can’t not share these invaluable resources with you all. Sometimes you’re getting ready for a game and you sit down to begin writing out what’s going to happen next and it happens. Or rather, it doesn’t. You strain to get the ideas flowing, but you’re coming up dry. Or, like many people, you simply didn’t have time to do much planning. Well, there’s help for that, and it’s not a twelve-step program or anything like that. There are system-agnostic sites that provide jumping points and inspiration for plots and a plethora of other elements for your games. They have come in handy for myself and my games, and I’ll bet they come in handy for you as well.

Strolen’s Citadel


Pitching New Game Systems

Ars Ludi has an interesting article all about how to pitch new games to a group. It details the difference in pitching the setting vs the system itself, and the difficulties presented by how vastly different games can be from each other these days. I’m more of the first camp (mentioned in the article): advertising what’s cool about the setting to the group, and then I might, if I feel it’s necessary, advertise what’s cool and unique about the system. Sometimes, however, it’s best to just let the mechanics speak for themselves in play rather than try to explain them to the players beforehand.

But nowadays, if we’re talking about new-fangled indie / story / fringe games, all those tidy assumptions that go along with the traditional model go out the window. Maybe there’s a GM, maybe there isn’t. Maybe you have your own character, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have the ability to freely make up facts about the universe, maybe you don’t. Maybe you roll dice, maybe you flip coins, maybe there are no randomizers at all…

Read the rest at ars ludi

The Downside of Awesome

ChattyDM at Critical Hits has an article all about having too many things that might be considered “awesome” in an encounter, and what GMs can do to avoid falling into that trap. It immediately reminds me of that line from The Incredibles: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”

From the article:

I’ve recently discovered a pattern common to the gaming sessions that leave me somewhat unsatisfied.  I realized that it’s partly because encounters reach a state of complexity such that players become confused about the best way to navigate through them.  The goals becomes fuzzy or the options are either too numerous or too complex mechanically to be used in full.

It’s not just the players though, I too become lost in options and end up dropping or forgetting powers, tricks and other things that looked awesome on paper while writing such encounters.

Read the rest over at Critical Hits

The Gateway Pub

Dungeon Mastering has a very evocative article over at their site all about adding flavour to your classic bar/inn/pub meeting.

The tavern is bustling as usual, the patrons are drunken and rather outspoken, the bards are out singing and collecting a fee while women are wenching to the tunes of dwarves who are drinking and everything’s quiet merry as the barkeep approaches you, and you simply turn to ask one question…

Read the rest at Dungeon Mastering

Pandora for Background Music

The folks over at Gnome Stew have an article about using Pandora for background music in your games. Unfortunately, Pandora itself isn’t accessible from outside of the US, but the article still has a few solid music selections, to which I would add the following artists: Two Steps From Hell, Mogwai, Laura, Explosions in the Sky, and E.S. Posthumus. As you can see from the suggestions, post rock is a good genre for background music as it generally has no lyrics and can be effective for evoking particular emotions or feelings. I’d also suggest Grooveshark as an alternative to Pandora. If you register, you can have it build dynamic playlists from what you like.

Check out the article Gnome Stew

Crisscrossing Players and Plots

Over at ars ludi, there’s an article about dealing with dozens of intertwining plot points. I can’t say it’s ever been a problem (keeping everything straight) with our games, mainly because there generally aren’t THAT many characters involved in our games. That said, it’s still very interesting to read about how Ben dealt with his unique problem.

The grid was a list of every important thing I wanted to put in the game: plots, events, episodes, characters, scenes, revelations, the works.

Every single item had its own line on the grid. Every revelation, every confrontation, every snippet that I thought needed to come out had its own line (Captain Danger’s sister has powers too! Felicity is really Cathy Grant!). Every thing that needed to come back in response to something that happened in the game had its own line (Maelstrom attacked those army choppers so the Feds are going to come after him, Captain Danger doesn’t know she has that thing in her jacket pocket). Every idea for a random situation, flashy encounter, or set piece had a line (Speed Demon tries to set a record for banks robbed in a day, a sorcerer transforms part of downtown to ancient Aegypt). It all went into the big hopper.

Read the rest at ars ludi.

I Hate Magic Items

I don’t really, but I just read this really interesting article on Critical Hits all about how too many magical items makes them feel less magical, and advice on making things feel more magical in D&D 4e games. I definitely recommend checking it out!

Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: I don’t like magic items, period. Sure, they are a staple of fantasy literature. And I have a soft spot for certain classes of magical items, like the strange artifact or consumable item that has to be used at just the right time. +1 Swords? Fiery Platemail? Rings of Jumping? Never a fan.

Read the rest at Critical Hits