Thoughts of a New(ish) DM

A little foreword before I launch in to this post. I will be using the terms DM and GM interchangeably. They mean Dungeon Master and Game Master. They are pretty much synonymous terms. Dungeon Master specifically comes from Dungeons and Dragons and Game Master is kind of a catch-all term for all of the TTRPG (Tabletop Roleplaying Game) systems out there.

Please join me as we dive in to my thoughts as a new and inexperienced DM!

As you could probably tell from my previous post, I’m a bit of a TTRPG enthusiast. So it stands to reason that I would eventually get around to DM/GMing a game. It started about 4 years ago, I had just discovered Fantasy Flight Games’ ruleset for Warhammer 40,000. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer longer than I’ve been a fan of TTRPGs so it was a match made in heaven.

I went to my buddy, my partner in crime, and convinced him to help me start up a game with our friends in the Warhammer universe. It wasn’t difficult, he’s as big a dork for Warhammer as I am, if not bigger.

We roped together a few friends and sat them down for essentially a Session -1 where we taught them Warhammer 101. After that we set a date for our Session 0 and my foray in to GMing began.

The very first thing I learned immediately from Session 0 is you, as a GM, are a facilitator. Of course you’re there to have fun too but much of what you’re doing is ensuring your players are having fun and that you are providing them with an interesting experience. You facilitate this by being knowledgeable in the rules and able to get them answers relatively quickly for any questions they have. That isn’t to say you need to know every rule off the top of your head, although I wouldn’t mind if I could memorize them. In my opinion, if there’s a question about a rule and it would take you out of the moment you are in in the game, hand-wave it, house-rule it, with the expectation from you and  your players that it will be revisited if it doesn’t make sense down the road.

The second thing I learned is, as a DM, you should do all that you can to make sure all of your players are included and engaged. Even with the best intentioned of groups you will probably have one person, be they more experienced with the system or TTRPGs as a whole or simply a more outgoing personality, begin to dominate the talk-time in the session. Be sure to ask the other players directly what they are doing or if they have any input on the situation. It is a very easy way to give the player an in for dialogue and encourages them to contribute more often on their own. Encourage your players to embody their characters and become immersed in their story. They don’t have to come up with a voice for their character, they don’t even have to speak in the first person as the character, but I guarantee the more a person thinks about and as their character the more engaged they will be in each session. Reward it!

Thirdly, be prepared. But not too prepared. In my opinion there is definitely over-preparation as a DM. If you’re sitting down and writing up dialogue for specific characters you may find yourself weeping in your beer later after your players completely bypassed them or, worse, killed them without a second thought. Definitely get a story outline down, maybe a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal) to work toward if that’s your thing, and get an idea of how you want to start the session. I can tell you from experience that I’ve come to a session with a thought of how it’d go in mind and come out of it having to spin locations, creatures, and NPCs out of nowhere because my players took a right when I expected them to go left. Don’t be afraid to think on your feet and slap down an NPC that didn’t exist five seconds ago. 85% of the time your players won’t know the difference. The other 15% of the time they’ll be thinking how great it is that you came up with an NPC on the spot because they went in a direction you weren’t expecting.

This leads into my next point.

Fourth, realize that this is not only your story. You are bringing it to the table but your players should have a say as well! They have a hand in how the story plays out, they even have their own stories to tell for their characters which will weave in to yours. Try to take their threads and add your own twist as well, surprise them as you immerse them in their character’s background. Everyone loves to be the star every once in a while.

Fifth , and I really hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out after all those previous points, do what feels right to you and your players. You will always be learning and improving what you do. Your players will grow with you and I guarantee that they will think you are awesome as you weave your story out to them.

Last and most important of all. Have fun.

 

~StrideTheEarth

 

 

Tabletop RPGs: A love story

The whole torrid affair started way back when I was a youngster (Okay, I’m still a youngster. Just humour me). My brother and I begged our mom to buy us what I recollect as either a module of AD&D or the starter set for it. We had next to no idea what it was, we’d heard it was a game of imagination you can play with your friends. To be honest, it was the artwork on the cover that captured us, we needed it.

We got home and cracked it open, pre-made characters and a scenario spilled out and we were enraptured. I don’t remember us ever getting beyond that, it was super complicated for young kids like us and we didn’t have anyone to guide us through it so I was content just reading the backstory of the pre-made characters. One was a half-ogre or half-giant gladiator as I recall.

It was years from when we first discovered it until I played my first tabletop game.

In 2007 my best friend was working at a book store called Borders. I’d visit him pretty often to hang out while he was working and it was during one of these visits that we stumbled on D&D 4th Edition.

Immediately we were excited.

Both of us were humongous nerds but neither of us really had much experience with the game. We split the cost of the DM Guide and decided we needed to get a group together. Unfortunately it took a couple months or so to wrangle up people for a group but we got there. We had our session zero and everyone made their characters. Making your character is something magical, and Wizards certainly knows that. In 4th edition they were slightly more clinical about it but in the 5th edition guide they show you how to go about making your character and even give you an example of another character as you move along, a well-known and beloved character of the Forgotten Realms setting.

They know that a character you craft is one that will leave a mark. On both you and those at your table.

I love all of D&D so when I say that Session 0 is my favorite session I need you to know it’s not that I love it more than the rest necessarily, it’s that the uniqueness of the session is what draws me to it.

Everyone is learning together, some are new players who are delving in to this for the very first time with the help of the more veteran players. Everyone is learning what the DM has envisioned for the group, usually with some basic details about the campaign world and how your party may have met. The players are learning about each other’s characters, and learning about their own!

I love the feeling of open-eyed excitement that comes with embarking on a new campaign. The possibilities for your character and your party are before you. It’s the wide-view that you begin to lose as you dive in to the game.

As you get in to the campaign your vision narrows to the immediate. Your character, your party, the battle at hand, the drink at the tavern at the crossroads. It’s a different kind of feeling as the DM lays his story out before you and you add your own flair to it.

As you get deeper in to the campaign, you learn more about your character. Traits and backstory you’d never even thought of in session 0 begin to emerge and immerse you further. You learn more about your party and their stories and flaws as well.

You become attached.

You may have unexpected emotional sessions where your character has a heart-to-heart with another player’s. Or you’ll have to say goodbye as the campaign comes to a close.

Last weekend I spent my Saturday evening tuned in to a stream of a D&D game for a group called the “For Science Crew”. It was the swan song for their campaign. I’m not quite sure how long it had been going on but this was their last session and it was obvious how invested they were in their characters. As a group they wrapped up a few loose ends but the masterstroke was what happened after. The DM had epilogues prepared for each character. It sounded like the players each gave the DM an idea of what they wanted their character’s ride in to the sunset to look like and then she made it in to a loving farewell. Even though this was my first time catching their stream I was rapt. It was a four hour stream of emotion.

These are the things that draw me to D&D over everything else. I love killing the bad guy and getting loot, experience, and gold as much as everyone else but.. there is something about seeing the story unfold in front of you and watching your character take steps in to a wide world of possibility and become the hero (or villain if that’s your thing!) that is just unmatched by any other medium.

Nothing else out there allows you to completely live in the skin of a character of your own making like this.

Or to craft a story for others to romp through and delight you with their attachments, or infuriate you with their peccadillos.

D&D is pretty great.

 

-StrideTheEarth

Nintendo Switch: Please be the current gen console we need you to be.

About a year and a half ago a YouTube link went up in the group chat I have with my friends.

Nintendo was giving us our first look at the Switch. After watching the video we had a brief discussion. One friend was pretty enthusiastic about it. I was not. All I saw was another gimmick.

“Oh, you can pick it up and play it on the move? Thanks, I already have a 3DS.”

I reduced the newly announced console to a footnote in the back of my mind with a couple of sentences.

I didn’t think about it again until almost exactly a year later. While on a trip to the UK, one of my friends over there pulled out her Switch and showed us Breath of the Wild. It blew me away with how vibrant the game looked. The graphical fidelity wasn’t going to blow PS4 or XBox One out of the water, but that wasn’t its intention. As Nintendo has shown in the past, they aren’t here to go toe-to-toe with the other juggernauts in the console space, they want to bring something unique to the game.

With the Switch they managed it. I found myself watching over my friend’s shoulder as she played Mario Kart while we were on our way to Hadrian’s Wall. It was slick and you didn’t feel like you were missing a whole lot going from the television to the handheld.

The Switch has the typical Nintendo line-up, bringing you back to your childhood of racing against your friends, or collecting coins and stars, or exploring the expanse of Hyrule. They also brought some new blood in to the game with titles like Snipperclips and Arms. Snipperclips being a bit of a cutesy co-op puzzle game and Arms feeling like a rock’em sock’em robots arena fighter.

That said, I have to say I feel like Nintendo made a rather large misstep.

Just like their previous generation of consoles, the Wii and the Wii U, Nintendo almost completely forsook the social and online aspect. Sure, you can ask your buddy for their friend code and pop that in to your Switch menu, you can then see what games they’ve played and what they’re currently playing but beyond that you get next to no interaction.

You can’t message your friend, let alone voice chat. You can’t send them a screenshot of something cool you did in game, let alone stream for them. You cannot natively party up with friends, let alone jump in games with them.

Nintendo released an app for Android and iOS called ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ as the toe-in-the-water of their native social-hub-in-the-making of the same name. The Washington Post’s review of the mobile app was less than stellar. The app currently sits at a 3.3 rating on the Android store and 3.1 on iOS. Far from being the worst thing to ever grace the storefronts but reviews on each call out the app for doing something that should be native to the console itself.

From the Nintendo Switch Online app you can start a voice chat with friends. You can also initiate the process for playing online multiplayer with them. In Splatoon 2. Currently the only game supported by the app.

The full release of Nintendo Switch Online to the console itself is scheduled for September 2018, a release that was originally slated for 2017.

I know that Nintendo maneuvered itself in to a on-the-move, play with your friends out in the world type of console but that doesn’t excuse them from making this kind of blunder. If you aren’t out on the roof playing Mario Kart with your friends, if you’re on your couch alone, optionally covered in Dorito dust and surrounded by empty cans of Mountain Dew, you are completely alone.

Nintendo may blow us away with their new social experience in September and I would be the happiest person in the room to see that. But the fact of the matter is they released a console without the tools that the competition had at launch last generation and actively worked on the generation before.

Nintendo, I want you to do better. Playing Breath of the Wild has put a smile on my face like no other, bringing me back to my early years sitting on the floor in front of our CRT television and beating up chickens until a swarm of them came to hand me my butt. But we’re not back in 1991. We’re in 2018 where you’re not competing with Microsoft and Sony to provide an experience that I can share and enjoy with others unless they’re sat right beside me.

 

Multiplayer is the new Single-player

Sometimes in the gaming world today I hear people lamenting the demise of the single-player game. When MMOs were rocketing toward their peak, many gamers were crying out that they wanted things to go back to the way they were, to the single-player games they knew and loved.

I feel like I’m crazy since I don’t remember it the way they do.

Gaming has always been a social activity for me and those I know, the new age just brought the circle to a digital space. I remember playing Final Fantasy 7 in my basement when I was a teenager, it was a single-player game but I was never alone. My friends were there watching and cheering me on. My brother was looking up the guide on how to keep Aeris from getting (spoiler) shishkabob’d. Spoiler again, the internet lied and no, you couldn’t save Aeris with an intricate button sequence while simultaneously hopping on one leg and reciting the alphabet backward.

I remember sitting in the dark at a sleepover, watching a friend play through Resident Evil, screaming as those god damned zombie dogs jump through the window in the hallway.

Gaming has always been social. I may not have always had a controller in my hands but I’ve been a part of many ‘single-player’ games. I think that’s why playing a single-player game these days makes me feel so restless. As you get older you don’t have sleepovers anymore, you don’t hang out with your friends a couple nights a week, working on homework together and sneaking in some Turok. You’re sitting at your desk or on your couch alone, exploring a world and story by yourself.

Witcher 3 and Skyrim both came out in my adult life and I know they’re fantastic games. I know they’re extremely engaging. Hell, I’ve put a hundred hours in to each, minimum. But there’s an element missing. There’s no social aspect anymore. I can’t turn to my friend and say “Did you see that?!”

Now it truly is a single-player game, and it’s no fun.

I believe that’s why MMOs became so popular. Every player is playing their own single-player game with their friends again. Sharing those cool moments all over again. They may not be on the couch with you, sitting in the dark as zombies try to eat your face, but they are there for you and you’re there for them.

Your friends now take a much more active role as you play through your hero’s story. They’re no longer reading the strategy guide out to you as Kratos takes his righteous vengeance out on the gods. They’re there beside you in-game, a mutually single-player experience.

With MMOs and, to a lesser extent, the social hubs of XBox Live and Playstation Network the social aspect made a roaring comeback. You get to re-live the glory days of single-player gaming with your friends.