Thursday, March 15, 2018

Episode 7: Humor, Mass Combat, Foreshadowing - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 7 of Running Storm King's Thunder, I discuss humor at the table, the good and the bad, and what can be done if it is getting out of hand. Also, how to involve PCs in a mass combat (or run it "off screen"). Lastly, I talk a bit about my player's progress to Grud Haug and how it has given me some challenges in game.

(2:20) Humor vs. Disruptive Humor at the table
(4:00) Setting expectations with Session 0
(6:15) Talking to disruptive players about the tone
(8:00) Does the DM want a heavy tone and the players wants something lighter?
(12:00) Stop passive-aggressive bullying “humor” 
(16:35) Using DM humor to set a different tone for a scene
(16:55) Meta Humor in Storm King’s Thunder
(18:30) Heartbreak Old Tower
(21:00) Mass Combat options
(23:45) Building a PC encounter while running the mass combat “off stage”
(25:00) Focusing on the character actions in a “narrative” mass combat
(27:45) Setting up a set-piece encounter as a part of a mass battle
(31:10) Creating tension in a mass combat by ratcheting up the encounter challenge
(35:00) Using NPCs as a buffer against a TPK in a dangerous battle
(38:00) Foreshadowing important NPCs (redux)
(43:00) Player Motivation prior to the Eye
(43:45) Assault on Grudd Haug
(49:31) Giving the players “the objective”
(56:00) Sewer pieces I’m 3D printing for an upcoming session

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Episode 6: Metagaming and Memorable NPCs - Running Storm King's Thunder

In episode 6, I briefly recap recent blog posts. I go into a little more detail on my recent DMing failure related to meta-gaming. Give advice on ways to set up important NPCs in Storm King's Thunder in advance of their appearance in the book as written, and tips to make NPCs stand out in the players' minds.

(02:45) GM 101 Blog Series 
(04:28) Giving Love To Other Small Publishers
(09:52) Don’t Make My Metagame Mistake
(11:05) As a good player, don’t spoil it for others!
(12:45) Players shouldn’t need to metagame to succeed in the game.
(14:45) Mistake 1: Scouting Grudd Haug
     (19:03) Mistake 2: Sneaking into Grudd Haug
     (19:30) What I should have done.
(27:42) Making NPCs memorable
(27:42) Challenges making NPC memorable in SKT
(29:30) Better utilizing major NPCs like Zephyros and Harshnag
(31:32) Improve the hooks by introducing or foreshadowing the NPCs earlier
(42:35) Use NPC letters of introduction
(44:25) NPCs On the Fly
     (44:25) Have a list of game world or culturally appropriate names ready.
(50:20) Make short notes on accent and personality
(54:10) Pick a couple quirks or affectations to make the NPCs stick in the player’s minds
(56:30) Go against type, subvert expectations
(59:35) Transitioning from Starter Set (Lost Mines)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Don't Forget the Little People

Goodman Games, Troll Lord Games, Kobold Press
Trolls, Kobolds, and Good Men are worthy of your attention.
♫ YouTube streams killed the RPG star... ♫

Matt Colville has made over $1 Million on his Kickstarter and well on his way to $1.5 M… That’s great. I’m not jealous. Really, I’m not… (ok, maybe just a bit).

I’ve been lucky enough to have a moderately successful blog that nets me just about enough advertising to buy 1 hardback book every 6 months or so. I’m reasonably pleased with my mild “success”, but I’m not trying to make a living in RPGs. Many others are (or at least supplementing their income).

This is a little reminder that there are a lot of creators out there working hard for the love of the game. Some have Patreons, some have Kickstarters, and some are full time game designers who really deserve your attention as well because they have amazing products. I’d like to highlight a few of them who have helped my game out.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

GM 101: Don't Sweat the Meta (too much)

Artist: Jim Holloway (Dragon #88)
So even after 40 years in gaming, I made a huge mistake in DMing last week’s session.

You see, I have this blind spot when it comes to metagaming.

I like the world to be mysterious. I want the characters (and therefore the players) to know only what they should know in the game. I want the mechanics to fade into the background as much as possible, so the “reality” of the situation is pure from a story perspective.

But sometimes I let that desire to have a metagame-free session get in the way of the what's best at the table.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Episode 5: Chapter 3 and Side Treks - Running Storm King's Thunder

In episode 5, I recap the blog posts on Sandboxes, Railroads, and Social Contracts. I also dive a little deeper on Chapter 3 and side treks to give your players options during the more sandbox portion of the adventure. Spoilers start after minute 30.

(3:24) Sandboxes and Railroads
(10:30) Adding player agency to published adventures like Storm King’s Thunder
(18:00) Adjusting published material to the actions of the players
(21:00) The Social Contract and what it means for your table
(26:45) How Session 0 defines the Social Contract
(30:10) SKT - How to get the most out of Chapter 3
(31:00) Strategies to tease plot threads and side quests
    (33:25) Grouping encounters by their regional locations or their quests trees
    (35:00) Example - tying together regional plot hooks around the Evermoors
    (41:45) Grouping Chapter 3 encounters by their quest trees
    (43:00) Grouping Chapter 3 encounters make them the “best” with rumors
(44:55) Using rumors to get the PCs onto a plot thread
(48:05) Using shelved “random” encounters or side treks to improv as needed
(51:30) Random encounters don’t have to be about combat
(54:00) Examples of encounters to drop in
    (54:20) Womford Bat and Death in the Cornfields (
    (55:50) Dungeon #144 and the Evermoors
    (56:25) Fire Giant Dig Site
    (57:40) Pick out Barbarians to highlight
    (59:12) Drow encounter in the Dwarf fortress
    (1:01:30) Adventurer's League "Bad Fruul" adventures
    (1:02:45) Blagthokus the Cloud Giant (HotDQ)
    (1:03:45) Cloud Giant's Bargain
    (1:05:35) Frost Giants raiding the coastal towns

Thursday, February 8, 2018

GM 101: What is the social contract?

D&D characters arguing
So in my recent posts about “Railroading” and “Session 0”, I’ve talked a lot about expectations at the table, and how it is important for everyone to want the same (or at least similar) things out of the game to make sure everyone is having fun.  Implied in that statement is an idea that has gone around gaming circles for many years -- the “social contract”.

What is the social contract?

The idea of the social contract is that there is an unspoken agreement at the table that everyone is there to have fun and no one player or GM should act in such a way as to harm the fun of another player.

Basically, as Wil Wheaton put it, “Don’t be a d!ck.”

That’s the summary version, but there is a little more elaboration related to RPGs. We all play D&D (and similar games) as an escape from the day to day stresses. We have enough problems and personal conflict in the real world to have to come to a game only to face the same personal conflicts or stresses we’d like to put aside on a Friday or Saturday night. If it’s not fun, people will quit the game.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

GM 101: Railroads and Sandboxes and Agency, Oh My!

A lot (and I mean a LOT) of digital ink has been spilled over the topics of railroading, sandbox play, and player agency in games like Dungeons & Dragons… but often a new GM comes into these conversations not fully understanding what that actually means for their own game.  Well, I’m going to try to break it down for someone who is newer the the GM chair.

First, we need to define terms in the conversation, because depending upon your point of view, the terms themselves may already loaded with bias.

Player Agency - This is the ability for a player to have meaning choices in the game world. This is portrayed as freedom from pre-destination. Freedom from an "illusion of choice" where a particular path is forced upon the players by will of the game master. In other words, if the player selects path A, it will be different than if they had selected path B. The two paths can end up in the same place, but they must be meaningfully different (I’ll try to explain that more in a bit).

Railroad - This term is generally used for when the GM is guiding the players along a path upon which the players cannot diverge (i.e. - you can’t turn a train off its tracks. The players lose the ability to affect the plot (and therefore, player agency) , because a pre-defined course or story has already been set. This is usually used as a pejorative. However, there are times where rails are useful as a GM tool (I’ll also get to that in a minute), as long at the players understand and agree why they are there.

Sandbox - This term is used when the GM presents a “open world” scenario where the players have the most freedom to move in any direction, follow any adventure hook presented, or abandon said hooks at any time for something else that captures their interest. There are few constraints to the players actions. Sandbox games supposedly offer the most player agency, but even a sandbox game can turn into a railroad, or can suffer from other issues that remove player agency.

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