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.

Collaborative or Individual Character Creation?

Another brilliant article was posted at Gnome Stew about the different methods of character creation for campaigns. Personally, our games lean more toward the one outlined as GM Directed Development, which is better than the madness of letting players just come up with whatever they like without regard for the campaign or the rest of the group, but I’ve always found the idea of collaborative character creation to be a lot more interesting.

In this case the group builds the characters together, having input into every aspect of every character. They review what races and classes people are going to play, and as a group select the optimal mix so that the party has everything represented. They then review skill choices together, to make sure that there is someone in the party who has every critical skill (Joe has lock picking, Brian has healing, Carl has arcana…). The process moves on to make sure that feats/powers/spells are coordinated, and in the most extreme case, that equipment selections are done so that there is no duplication, and that everyone is carrying something for the party.

The concerns of sapping creativity are well-founded, and I personally find the concept is better applied to character stories and backgrounds and how the group interacts over raw statistics and abilities. What do you think?

Read the rest at Gnome Stew

The Digital Tabletop Gamer’s Toolbox

Dungeon Mastering has an article on tools to make your life easier when running or playing RPGs online. It’s very useful, though I feel it only briefly touches upon some of the tools that are out there. The nod to Skype is definitely one I agree with, as our group uses it for our weekly games (Trail of Cthulhu at the moment).

In particular, the Battlemat section is very thin. Maptool and Gametable are solid mentions that I can definitely agree with, but if you’re willing to spend a few dollars, then I would highly recommend Fantasy Grounds 2, which is what our group uses. It’s a bit more directed at particular systems (D&D 3e, Savage Worlds, BRP Cthulhu), but with a bit of digging, you can find some useful fan-made system plugins. In particular, being so focused, it requires a bit less effort to handle maps (with obfuscation layers to boot!) and miniatures.

In any case, check out the article at Dungeon Mastering.

Duets #1: The Basics – RPGnet

Over at RPGnet, they have a new entry in a column called Duets that gives advice on running 1-on-1 RPGs (ie: just a player and a GM). Having done this on several occasions in the past, it can definitely be a rewarding experience, though I prefer at least 2 or 3 players, generally.

The obvious advantage to duets is that they are easier to schedule, especially, as most duets involve couples, siblings, roommates, and the like who can game as much as they want with little hassle over scheduling because they live together. I have run a lot of group campaigns over the years, but duets with my wife have allowed us to log an insane amount of time roleplaying over the last 15 years. This is simply because duets give us the chance to roleplay most evenings. Another advantage is that duets are more intense due to their quicker pace, greater immersion, and increased roleplaying. Duets also allow you to more thoroughly explore a theme or story arc as everything is focused on one player and there is no need to compromise the story for the group. Once you get the hang of duets they really are a wonderful experience, and for some players infinitely preferable to groups.

Duets #1: The Basics

Duets #2: Tipping the Scales