Usually when I talk about tabletop gaming, I explore the intellectual and social elements of it. We level up our creativity, our rapport, collaboration, and teamwork. Not often do we get to talk about the physical side of things.
"Physical side?" you say, a quizzical expression leeching onto your face.
Why yes, young grasshopper! Our physical fitness is most important, and is often overlooked when one prepares for a gaming experience...
But really, it shouldn't. A sound body augments the mind, which helps us play better, faster, kinder, and more creatively. So why don't we exercise more?
Well, for many at least, the excuse is time management...and that's a can of worms we won't get into quite yet.
Instead let me share with you something quite quick. You might even say it is hasted.
HIIT workouts...did I just misspell something?
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training.
Short workouts, usually done in circuits of a few exercises for a number of rounds. 15-20 minutes of work, tops.
Now most people know I'm a push-up fiend, but the rest of my body needs help too, so first thing in the morning on Saturdays I rock this workout. Takes me a little over 15 minutes and keeps me fired up all day. Anybody can make time for that, and it helps kick the brain into high gear while burning calories before breakfast.
Workout A - 5 Exercises, 4 Rounds
10 Staggered Pushups
10 Leg Lifts
10 Raised I Pushups
10 Close Ski Squats
--15-30 second rest between rounds
Okay, so what's what? Squats are squats. Ski Squats are squats with feet close together, like you're skiing and about to hit slaloms. Leg Lifts are on your back, lifting your straight legs up and engaging your lower abs. Staggered Pushups alternate between one hand high, the other low; next round you switch. My Raised levels correlate directly to a step; Raised I is literally me putting my feet on the first step of a staircase and putting my hands on the floor at the incline, then pushup from there.
Hit (ha) this one for 4 rounds and you're good. If that was easy, then tack on Workout B below too.
Workout B - 5 Exercises, 6 Rounds
10 Raised II Pushups
10 Diamond or Inward Pushups
20 Scissors or Spreads
10 Burpees w/Neutral Pullup
--15 Second rest between rounds
Raised II is the second step on a staircase. Crunches are...crunches. Diamond pushups make a Diamond with your hands and kill your triceps - if you can't touch them together yet, just as close as you can and turn your palms inward at an angle. Scissors are achieved by lying on your back with your legs straight and elevated some inches off the floor - then you "kick" them up and down. Spreads are this, except you spread your legs in and out, all while keeping them elevated.
See? Who said gamers can't work out!?
Now get working so you can do at least A FEW of the things your character can do!
We've all been there.
The dragon just bellowed its war cry and lifted into the air after our initial surprise attack (where we must have done, what, over a hundred points of damage!?) We scatter, trying to spread out and away from its impending breath...only to be hit anyway by one its frustrating Legendary Actions. Plans now cast aside in favor of stopping the cleric from being melted, I rush over and force feed them a healing potion...only to be stepped on by the dragon on its actual turn, and it proceeds to crit me to death.
Now at zero hit points and bleeding out, the blasted ancient creature decides to get one more strike in on my broken body, and there goes a death save. With the dragon on top of me, my allies only really have one more player turn to get to me before this ancient and intelligent being decides to step on me again with their now replenished Legendary Actions. "But I'm down!" I say, desperate to hold onto this character just a little longer. The DM shrugs, with a slight grin, and I try to hang onto hope.
The healing word comes in the nick of time and I'm conscious again...only to be rended in half by the green dragon. Curse words follow...but I'm cool with it.
Should I be? Or was that DM being a jerk?
The Separation of GM and Character
Behind the screen, the GM or DM is responsible for every creature the party interacts with, whether that be through combat, exploration, social situations, or a mixture of these. A good GM will do their best to embody the voice, the physicality, and mental acuity of each creature; the latter here informs their tactics best in combat. And combat, from the enemy's perspective, is NOT fun for them. They are in a life or death scenario; they aren't just going to lay down and die, just as you wouldn't.
Now, smarter creatures utilize better tactics. Creatures in better control of themselves won't be goaded into a trap. Creatures of average intelligence can tell when things aren't going well, and might try to run. This is why beasts get hunted; they often don't know when to flee or fight, and those that do, often live to another day.
Why do I bring all this up? Because none of these creatures are me.
I have to personify them; get inside their head, judge their level of tactics, their emotions, their level of courage, and many, many other factors in order to represent them properly. Every good DM needs to do this, and nasty creatures are nasty; evil creatures are evil; they don't care that you're the hero of this story - they want to eat your face, or your heart, or your soul. And that should be a dangerous encounter.
Now, if the creature behaves outside of their type or their intelligence, then maybe the DM is being a jerk, but I argue that is rarely the case, unless it's becoming a habit. Remember, asinine creatures can make intelligent decisions. I, for example, will use an Intelligence check to see if the creature notices a possible tactic (they often fail, as is their way), but at least it's possible.
Conversely, the same is true. Intelligent enemies can make poor decisions due to a number of factors. Perhaps they are emotionally compromised - like when they see a character murder one of their wyrm children; maybe they are filled with vengeance toward the Ranger/Rogue that just sneak attacked them for 57 HP, so they ignore the high possibility of their own demise in favor of attacking the one who has hurt them so deeply; or maybe their life is already forfeit, and they serve a greater purpose.
It came up in the first year of play on Thursday D&D (Group B). They were fighting a set of Legionnaires, led by a nasty Cleric of Air and Darkness. She was pretty cool; she had an adapted mace of sundering and a shield that could swallow spells, then reflect them back to enemies at twice the strength. She was also full of pride in her own abilities, having already had much success in laying waste to previous adventuring parties. It was this pride that killed her. She waited literally 6 seconds too long to make her escape...and the party wrecked her.
Now, note that I say that "she waited too long," not me. It was the character's pride and perception (literally a failed Wisdom save) that got her killed. I, the DM, saw the tide turning, but SHE did not. Me, Adamus, is NOT the character of Lady Vesheen of the Legion of the Rage. And that separation has to be true with every enemy they fight, every character they interact with, and every creature they meet.
If an intelligent, spell-casting dragon is sitting on top of you, and they are well aware of the impact of your character's efforts (because they SAW YOU and your allies, and are feeling the wounds that you have made), you can bet your poor butt that that dragon's gonna' make sure you stay down. That fits in with an older creature; it didn't survive this long by allowing its enemies time to get up.
Beware intelligent enemies, and beware old enemies. There's a reason that 20th-level wizard is still around, and it ain't pretty.
I try very hard to give each character a voice and personality that is not my own, to further solidify the separation. This way, my players know when I break character to address them out of game, and when they're talking to that mean ol' dragon and need to be on their guard. Sometimes, I can even apologize for the actions of the creature...but I justify them from its perspective. Yes, it sucks that the Beholder disintegrated you, but it recognized you as the healer, and it was tired of its prey healing. ;)
And when those connections are made by the creature - key observations and mindless primal reactions alike - I try to embody this connection with my voice, my tone, and my description of the creature's movements. This way I can communicate to them that THE ENEMY took notice, not me, the DM. If the enemy did not take notice, then I don't act like they did. This seems to help my players maneuver around the creature they are facing, in combat or role-playing, based on how they behave, and they never seem to take it personally if things go bad.
Motivations, Consequences, and Vengeance
All characters are motivated by something, and often in combat, that thing is SURVIVAL. They want to survive. And, most likely, they will utilize whatever they can to ensure that survival, or the survival of others.
When players make decisions, there are consequences. Some of these decisions are dangerous, others silly, and still others fantastic, but all have consequences, and all are natural consequences.
If you chop off the head of the first guard you meet in a new city...then the entire contingent of 40 guards are now descending upon you (because you killed a guard) to arrest and, if you resist, kill you...This consequence is rooted within the rules and LAWS of the world. This is not the DM acting out of vengeance - it is a natural consequence to the character's action.
Also, if the characters got quite lucky and super creative and absolutely wrecked the mob boss halfway through the campaign (as opposed to the final battle at its close)...and instead, his mid-bosses have begun an in-fighting extravaganza in order to seize power. This is an awesome natural consequence to a great fight, and opens the doors to a more complex arc.
However, if your character is being annoying and the DM has had it with your Baloney Sandwich, and a literal mindflayer lich riding a beholder bursts out of the ground... This is vengeance.
Consequences are a product of the initial action, and are thus related. A vengeful action is unrelated.
Vengeance GMs go after your character for no discernible reason, or use unfair tactics and justify it with "because I'm the DM."
Consequence GMs go after your character because you shot the wizard with an arrow and they recognize you as a threat.
There. Is. A. Difference.
Don't be a Vengeance DM. You're ruining it for the rest of us. :)
See you at the table.
So this one's a short one.
I am honored to announce that we now have a (soon-to-be weekly) podcast available for your listening pleasure.
The show is called DM Shower Thoughts, and it was, I dare say, one of the best podcast experiences I have ever had so far. It may have helped that my partner in crime is one of my awesome fellow Dungeon Masters here at Questers' Way or for the fact that we actually have professional chemistry. ;)
Anywho, if you're tired of just reading my words and you need something to listen to on your way to work or headed home, give us a listen. We is good people, and we're covering topics in gaming that NO ONE else is.
Hope I hear you through the airwaves.
Our podcast is hosted on Podbean, where so many good podcasts are. Type in qwayGM.podbean.com or click HERE.
See you at the table.
GM's Note: The following tips are also life tips (as any tabletop tip inherently is) in the best sense. A lot of what I learned about being a decent human being was explored in a tabletop setting with family and friends; whether that be D&D, or Uno, Monopoly, or King of Tokyo. Interacting with our fellow humans is enlightening and awesome; here are some ways to help gain perspective, understanding, empathy, and respect - and maybe some storytelling tips, too!
1) Respect The Gestures Of Your Allies
I'll use a specific example for this one.
Say you're a new party member; everyone else is pretty established, they've got more loot than you (and they know it), and they've been playing longer. You waltz into a shop, and want to buy an awesome custom weapon, but you're super short on gold. You're the new dude, the party doesn't want you to feel left out, so the rich fighter in the group chips in the 2000 gold needed to help you buy your awesome weapon...
Maybe don't try to sell that awesome weapon the very next chance you get.
There's a couple reasons for this.
1) It makes the people who chipped in feel cheated - like you used them somehow. Gold, like real money, can take some work to accumulate, and not unlike a child whining for a toy that they never play with, the people who helped you realize that maybe you didn't need the thing in the first place.
2) It chips away at their sympathy for your plight. If they stick up for you and you abuse it/expect it no matter what, sooner or later, like the boy who cried wolf, when you REALLY need help, you may not get it.
What it really comes down to is the awareness and empathy of others' time and energy; it's a perspective thing. Put yourself in their shoes. They risked their (character's) lives fighting a dangerous crime lord to earn that money, they made the generous choice to help you buy a thing so you can feel more useful, and then the very next chance you get, you try to sell that thing. It can feel like a slap in the face; like their generosity had no value.
Acknowledge and respect your allies' decisions to help you out by utilizing the tool, weapon, armor, info, or action that they helped you acquire. Or, if you realize "I don't actually need this," acknowledge your mistaken impulse and maybe find a way to "pay back" that ally. Not unlike a parent who helps a grown adult out of a financial bind, when that adult realizes they're in better shape than they thought, and HAS A CONVERSATION with their parent, and creates a plan to pay back their generosity.
It builds accountability. Trust me.
2) Maintain Nuance (explain how, not why)
It goes a long way to describe what your character does WITHOUT explaining why they did it. This practice opens up some cool role-playing elements:
1) If what you did is interpreted as "strange" by your fellow characters, they can talk to you in-character about it...and you can respond in-character. This provides dynamic opportunities to act and role-play - without breaking that character to launch into your full backstory as the player. Keep yourself a wonder; it supports good storytelling.
2) It keeps interactions from repeating themselves. If you explain the WHY of your actions every time you do them, especially for repeated actions, then you might actually come off as annoying your fellow players; because they've heard it already a thousand times. Patient individuals will continue to entertain this behavior, but it doesn't mean that that patience might not be running thin. If you know you've said it before, they get it. Avoid becoming a broken record.
3) A sense of mystery is a powerful thing. Seek moments like THIS:
Eric: Urren takes a twill from his pack and sets out a few vials, some strips of parchment, ink, and a small porcelain doll, and tries to look busy while you guys talk.
INSTEAD OF THIS:
Eric: Urren takes a twill from his pack, because he's got one of those with all his herbs for making potions and medicine. He unrolls it, taking out some vials, that he can use to make you guys potions later, or some other stuff that you'd like, because he's proficient in his Herbalism Kit. I take out some parchment, some ink, and a little porcelain doll that I had when I was a kid and it's really important to me because someone from my backstory gave it to me and I hope I can see them again, soon. They were taken by a roving band of barbarians, and I need to travel to the Forgotten City to find any clues of his whereabouts. Oh, and also I want to look like I'm busy, can I make a Deception check?
Both instances have the same visual component for the theater of the mind, but the latter reveals (in my honest opinion) WAY TOO MUCH for such a simple action. Just painting the picture, in its own simplicity, creates character nuance. If we go with the former, it opens the door for another character to join Urren and ask him about the doll. Then Urren (in character) could give small details about it, feel nervous and put it away, launch into its life story, or stare blankly at this person, refusing to say anything. This interaction provides character hints; where everyone is slowly discovering elements of Urren - without being expressly told by the player. It creates questions in the other characters; why did me asking about the doll strike such a nerve? Why won't he talk about it? Is it a painful memory? Why the parchment? Is he writing a letter? Is he writing anything? What's in the vials? ...And all of these questions are explored through the theater of the characters - the character wonders these things, the character attempts to understand their ally through character interaction. It makes for intriguing stories of complex characters; characters that grow and evolve through the theater of the mind.
In strict simple terms, when the game starts, have a little less PLAYER, and a lot more CHARACTER. Be an actor, without explaining why you're acting.
3) Keep Your Spells A Secret...until you use them
Casters are awesome, and D&D helps do a great job of making magic mysterious and powerful. Similar to #2, you might be excited about sharing a new spell that you just learned and all the ways that it's awesome...but don't. Not yet.
You can talk to the DM about it, you can gush about it to your buddies at the bar, but during the session...DON'T TELL ANYONE.
You want THIS to go down: "Hey guys, I just learned a new spell, and I gotta' tell ya', it's going to be AMAZING when it shows up!"
Now, the party doesn't know the context of this spell; they aren't also required to memorize everything you can do on top of their own stuff, they know you got something cool, but they can still be pleasantly surprised when you use it.
Magic is mysterious. Keep it that way.
4) Realize That It Is Rarely About Just You
I've said it before, I'll say it again.
This is a group game.
But here we're going to take this down a few avenues.
Character Development That Isn't You: Maybe you were the first arc in the story, so you got used to being the center of the attention, and now your initial conflict is over and it's someone else's turn. How do you manage that? Well, start by being present for the other characters in their own conflicts. They were there for you (or maybe they weren't, and that could be an interesting interaction when they bring up why you're being such a sour-puss), so you should be there for them. Find ways to watch their back, support them when they need to stand up for themselves, help them figure things out; sometimes just making sure they're not alone can go a long way in building that character trust.
...Some of the groups I've been in feel like comrades in a war; we had each other's backs, fought against insurmountable odds in a fictional world that was tangible to us, and because we trusted and supported each other, we succeeded. Those are friends I still have to this day.
Your Comfort Isn't The Only One That Counts: if you are making others uncomfortable to make yourself comfortable, you are wrong. If you are doing things that annoy the majority of the party, and they have communicated as such respectfully, yet you still do these things, you are wrong. Why are you wrong? Because this is a GROUP GAME. Comfort is one thing, but compromise and cooperation are skills, and thus are learned. In order to maintain any comfortable environment, compromises must be made, because everyone is different. What a concept.
I am honored to DM in a place where groups don't bully each other, so when discomfort comes up, it's usually that someone isn't socially aware of the fact that they are taking others' patience for granted, and a constructive conversation may be needed. ...AND THAT'S OKAY. No person can strive to be better at anything without first recognizing that something might be wrong. Which leads me to...
Character Conflict Is Not A Bad Thing: clashes between characters, or even players, don't have to be a detriment. So many people today are influenced by the idea that conflict is BAD. Disagreement and opposing ideas are BAD. This is wrong, and a great place to build better communication skills of ideas, ideals, ethics, plans, and decisions is in A FANTASY - where whatever you decide, does not have real life consequences. :) Plus, conflict - dynamic conflict that isn't petty - makes for good stories. If it's between players, the conflict isn't the goal, moving forward together after its resolution, is.
5) Don't Put Your Fellow Party Members In Boxes
We're all familiar with basic party roles. The Tank, the Blaster, Buff/Debuff, Healer...Sneaker?
I'm not talking about these. What I am talking about here is a bad habit I've been seeing, which is more complex than I think people realize. The habit is to define a character by their class, and openly say things like, "Well, Jim, you're a bard, so you act like this, and this, and this, and did you know you can do this, too?" or "Are you sure you want to act that way? Because you know, as a Druid, you're connected to the natural world and therefore it doesn't make sense for you to make that decision."
This is especially insulting to players that have been playing for a number of years; they understand their own mechanics, they've built their backstory, they actively role-play, they don't meta-game...yet you're telling how they should be playing.
The last example I overheard, and I'm certain it was too ridiculous to be serious, but it illustrates the feeling just the same.
Player 1: (Level 6 Bard) Hey, did you know you can cast spells?
Player 2: (Level 13 Wizard) ...Yes. I am aware.
Player 1: Well, as an Abjuration wizard, you should be picking only protection spells so you can get the most out of them. Here, let me tell you about every single spell you obviously don't know about...
As a DM, I don't tell players how they should play based on their class. They made their class choice for any number of reasons, but most of all, to play the way they wish to play. This way will undoubtedly evolve, but it's not MY character, so I have little say in how they're going to play it. And just because in fantasy literature, a certain sorcerer acts a certain way, does not mean that a player should act the same way just because they are a sorcerer.
Each character is unique within their own context. I have no business steering their play toward a specific outcome due to my own preconceived notions (coaching/teaching is one thing, railroading is another). Players/characters will surprise me by creating new avenues; new stories, and that's one of the most beautiful things about the game.
Whew. World-building and organization next time!
I'll see you at the table.
1) Be Kind. Be Patient. Be Consistent.
Anyone who has ever looked at ANY rulebook knows, there can A LOT to remember. Just as no GM can be expected to memorize the spell book, no player is expected to know how to play awesome 100% of the time. Everybody has an off-day, and being patient and kind with new and old players alike will build stronger parties and better friendships. It should never be a problem to revert back to "teacher DM" to help out your players; no need to scold or reprimand, just teach it, roll it, make note, and move on with enthusiasm.
House-rules and home-brews are definitely a thing. If you make a ruling, make sure to jot it down, so you can take a look at it later. Maybe in the heat of the moment it made sense, but moving forward could cause problems or misunderstanding (I know how THAT feels). If you decide to make a permanent change, be sure to let your players know and hold yourself to the change, as well as justifying why you did so. Understanding the WHY of a house-rule is just as powerful as its own existence.
Remaining consistent in your rulings makes play expectations clear for your party; every GM has their own style, but players need to know what kind of ruling you roll with in order to play more effectively.
2) Use Dice Rolls Where Appropriate
Often, when first starting out, GMs will take every opportunity that they can to engage the variability of the game by demanding a dice roll, even for simple tasks. I recall one particular example of a GM requiring a Strength check for a character to kick his friend awake. The player rolled a Natural 20 (a critical success), and it was ruled that he punted his ally so hard that he took his head off.
There are a number of things wrong with this, of course. 1) A critical success has no business killing another character for something so simple. 2) And most importantly, there was NO NEED for that check anyway. It should have transpired as such:
Player: I kick Fenthris awake.
Fenthris: Ow! Jeez. I'm awake! Cut it out!
No die roll required. Simple tasks where the likelihood of failure is dramatically low or for impossible tasks (like hurling a javelin into the sun), should be ruled as automatic successes and failures, with no dice rolls. Requiring a die roll for every little thing bogs down play - especially for you, who has to now track the DC for walking down the street.
Also, if a task is going to be attempted multiple times - like leaping from rooftop to rooftop in an intense chase - I may rule that only one die roll is required per character, to keep things moving and to simulate their OVERALL ability. Use die rolls when appropriate, but often to keep story flowing and allow for smooth role-play, try to avoid requiring an Athletics check to walk down the street (but definitely use it if you're trying to chase down a brigand - see the difference?)
3) Communicate Campaign Expectations
Show up to a session expecting political intrigue, only to be thrust into hack-and-slash mayhem? Yeah. Adventurer whip-lash, here we come!
Communicate at Session 1, or even Session 0, what kind of campaign you'd like to run and ask what your players might be expecting to play. Their idea of a Hack-and-Slash adventure might be a little different than your own, and you want to make sure that everyone is on the same page moving forward. Want to run an Evil Campaign? Make sure you and your players know how dark they are willing to go and what line you shouldn't cross. Want to run a Monster Campaign? Discuss your player options, and where the story takes place, so no one shows up to a Goblin camp with a Beholder PC.
This communication can also happen mid-campaign, or at the start of another Arc, or the close of one. If you want to try something new, make sure that your players are aware of possible change and can have input as to the direction of the campaign. This is also a great opportunity for...
4) Ask For/Encourage Feedback
Game Mastering's a tough gig, I know. We know that we're not perfect; we make mistakes, get frustrated, tired, we miss rulings, we misinterpret things... I'm not talking about that.
I'm talking about having open discourse - good and bad - hashing out the previous arc, or the game as a whole. Go out for a couple drinks, have a brunch and build session, just hang out for a time before playing again. Let you and your players VENT.
I can feel some of you tensing your fingers in retort, already hammering away at your keyboards, but hear me out.
A Game Master will never grow unless they are given a reason to. Anyone starting out by running a game makes a ton of mistakes, but if the group still has fun, who cares? If those mistakes created some form of discord, air that out; clear the air, and move forward. Too many people, I feel, get SO WORKED UP over rulings and classes and balance that they forget that tabletop games' main purpose was just to have fun. No GM is infallible outside the context of the game, and that allowance in one's mentality opens the door for us to grow as players and masters alike.
Besides, by having these conversations, you may reveal another need...
5) Hand Off The Helm
By having open discourse with your players, you might reveal strengths in them that you never knew about. Maybe a player wants to try their hand behind the screen.
The first time a player expressed this, I felt that tiny bead of anger well up inside me; how dare they to STEAL my thunder - I wasn't that bad, sure I made some mistakes here and there, but already you want to replace me!?
That is not what is happening. It is a simple expression of desire for a player to request running a session, or a one-shot, and if your players are also on-board, then go for it. The act of Game Mastering doesn't have to be OWNED by you, carried like a badge of honor.
This can accomplish some great things:
1) You get a break. Someone else gets to be in the hot seat behind the screen; and often that experience for a new GM coming from playing is a powerful thing - guaranteed that they'll have a little more respect for what you do when they experience it themselves.
2) You get to PLAY. Here at QW, we make sure that each Game Master is playing in at least one other game run by another GM. Being on the other side of the screen is an enlightening experience; it reminds me what it's like to be a player, to have distinct desires for play, goals to pursue, the need for treasure, and the joys of being effective in encounters. It shows me that even "shopping episodes" aren't a waste of time; they represent investment by the players in future achievement.
3) You get PERSPECTIVE. What you perceive as the players losing focus is maybe just us thinking around the problem; maybe our resting faces look bored, but we're clearly not; advocating for a ruling may not be a power play, it's just us trying to understand the game better; "breaking" the GM isn't an act of us being mean, we're literally trying to think outside the box.
Just a short one today, folks. Hope it was a help for all you burgeoning GMs out there!
See you at the table.
1. Arrive on Time
...So everyone can start together, and you don't miss out on stuff if we start without you. On-time arrival communicates mutual respect for all the other players gathered. Things come up, schedules get busy, emergencies happen - but communicate these things so the GM can plan accordingly.
2. Think about your turn before it happens/get organized
This is a life lesson. Get thyself organized; everything will take less time, you'll be less stressed, and EVERYONE will appreciate you more. ;)
If you're a monk with a million attacks...maybe roll your damage and attacks together. Then, if the attack hits, you already have your damage. If it doesn't, discard the rolls. Easy-peasy. Set your dice out that you're going to roll ahead of time. If you're hasted (ugh), maybe even write down your own order of operations to keep yourself focused on your tasks, then check them off one by one.
If you're a caster, READ YOUR SPELL. Know what it does, understand its range, casting time...all those frustrating details; but ESPECIALLY have ready the Save DC and WHAT exactly the DM is supposed to roll, if there even is a save. Bonus: casters who narrate what they do to cast the spell adds great depth to their character and the visual art of it all, plus demonstrates an understanding (maybe) of how the spell works, so try it out!
(In 5E) The Attack Action, even if you have Extra Attack, consumes your action, so unless you are Hasted, you cannot also cast a spell, or interact with an object, or grapple a foe, or do anything big after that. Your movement moves you across the board...that's it. A Bonus Action is specific - if you do not have a feature that would grant you a bonus action, assume that you do not have one to spend. An understanding of this speeds up play dramatically - and actually allows a lot more to be done each encounter, as more player turns will occur - this way no player feels that they need to CRAM their turn with stuff to do because they won't get another chance later.
As a DM, I've made a few house rules for player ease: 1) Potions take a Bonus Action to consume yourself, but an Action to give to others; this way, there's still a cost to healing, but it doesn't consume a full turn. 2) Sometimes, as context or creativity might allow, I have expanded the use of the Bonus Action - this is something I will try to do less of, as individuals have become confused by it/try to abuse it. 3) As per the rules, a Bonus Action spell does NOT allow another leveled spell as an action; me and my fellow DMs rule that one can cast a Bonus Action spell AND another spell of 2nd level or below (but the core rules state "cantrips only" for this).
There ARE class features/feats/items that mess with these basic rules, of course, but everyone is held to that initial standard. Knowledge of what rules you can bend, and what you can break, will speed up turn time and allow more opportunities for everyone. PLUS, it helps the DM avoid unnecessary rules lawyering/arguing/etc. that can drag down play.
3. Share the Spotlight
This is a group game. Don't hog the spotlight.
This requires some personal and social awareness. There can be a lot going on, but no one wants to feel forgotten. It gets harder with bigger parties, but if everyone stays aware of their own spotlight, no one should feel slighted.
It goes a long way, especially if you think that what you're about to do is going to take some time, to INVITE another party member, maybe one that isn't used to playing much yet, along for the ride. This makes them feel wanted (yay), gives them a joint opportunity to shine, AND forces the initial player to interact with their party in character. Maybe the whole group follows - sweet! I'd rather an ensemble with everyone taking part than a looooong solo with everyone else waiting.
4. Listen to the Game Master
If the Game Master is talking...listen. Your side conversation can wait, that random thing you want to say that you just thought of...can wait. This isn't me trying to squash anything; quite the opposite really. It's to set up a level of respect. If the GM listens to you as you describe something, then listen to her as she describes something.
Your GM works hard for you; they have a tough job, and they need to be given the space to help paint the picture in front of you without being interrupted. Some great emotional and effective moments can be hindered by a player making a joke in the middle. Don't spoil the fantasy of a detailed resurrection ritual just because you thought of a thing - save it for later.
Plus, this ensures that everyone comes along for the ride in the fantasy, at least for a little bit. Details are all shared; collective in the theater of the mind. It grants the DM space to craft a great picture. Seriously. Shush.
5. Rise to the Challenge
...and don't whine about its difficulty.
As player-characters get stronger, they will undoubtedly face off against more and more powerful entities. Wizards are SCARY at high levels, and some dragons are ALSO wizards, so... Mind Flayers are terrifying; there are some creatures that will just bring your hit points to 0 as an ability; Legendary Actions keep you humble; Intellect Devourers, though weak, can still decimate your party. ALSO, heists are hard. Planning is hard. Maybe you're not a sneaky person, maybe you're not a planner, maybe you just want to set everything on fire and call it a day.
We can use these moments in a fictional game to help ourselves become more complete people. Rise to the challenge to improve your planning, your execution, your self-control, your spell usage, your creativity - don't whine about it, TRY. Because anyone can roll a NATURAL 20. :)
Have an awesome day.
See you at the table.
Games are full of lessons.
Some found through annoying tutorial levels, where a perky sprite leads you through platforming and interrupts your thought patterns... While others are found through trial and error, or keen game design (Mega Man X for SNES or Shadow of the Colossus, for example). Most of these lessons are only for the function of PLAYING the game effectively, but with so many games, commonalities, tropes, and certain expectations transcend gaming platforms and cement in our minds our paradigm of the world.
I grew up playing games, digital and tabletop, but the latter I have always found to be the most rewarding. Tabletop games force us to PLAY WITH OTHERS, a powerful, and surprisingly rare, circumstance in today's digital world. Playing with others in an open-world system that supports out-of-the-box thinking has influenced the way I approach my life, my dreams, my work, and my interactions with my fellow humans. It's powerful stuff, and I'd like to share some of what I've picked up over the years with you.
Confused yet? Good. TL;DR - I'd like to present to you 10 Life Lessons I learned from tabletop gaming.
1. There is always more than one way to win.
When the adventurers approach, they see a lumbering troll, a chain running from its leg to a post in front of a moat and drawbridge. Fighting the troll doesn't have to be your first choice, though it may be the easiest (for most). Maybe the party has no fighter, only a druid, a wizard, and a rogue; the rogue might have a shot, especially if someone distracts this thing... But what if you couldn't fight, or didn't want to?
What if you spoke to the troll? Charmed it? Put it to sleep? Freed it from its chains? Sometimes an ally, even a magically-induced one, can be a lot more advantageous than another corpse. And a friendly troll might, with the help and pep of the adventuring party, rebel against their cruel masters and become an adorable friend to the group.
Point is, there is always another option; some options are more likely than others, but fortune favors the bold. :)
2. If you're going through hell, keep going. There's some sick loot at the end. Perseverance.
Life is not easy, and anyone who says so is lying. Music takes thousands of hours of practice, but the feeling of being "good" far outweighs that time. Getting fit takes hard work and discipline, but you'll live longer and feel better. Lesson? Anything worthwhile is going to take some struggle and perseverance to reach that sick reward at the end. Keep. Going. It's often the most difficult before the finish line.
3. Failure is your friend.
Learning from our mistakes is a huge part of living a full life; don't be afraid of rolling that natural "1." Own it instead and see what happens in your awesome narrative. Then, take note of what went wrong and why, so you can grow and learn from it in the future.
4. Cheating isn't fun (Godmode is boring)
Remember Starcraft? Remember the cheat, "poweroverwhelming"? Yeah... That felt good for maybe, what, a single game? And afterwards, you just sucked all the skill and fun out of the game. Good job. Now you feel awful, don't you?
So when you REALLY want to hit that guy and you're just not rolling well that night...what's to stop you from fudging the numbers and smacking the big bad and being the hero? Your integrity. And the moment you start down that path, the luck mechanic of the game and your own skill at maneuvering elements to your advantage, is gone. Ripped out by your immediate "need" to succeed. It kills the soul of the game; and it will rob you of the excitement of live play - because for you, victory is guaranteed, and where's the fun in that? PLUS, this one has the additional consequence of destroying your perceived integrity with your fellow players. THEY'RE not cheating, so how come you are?
5. Side Quests can have even greater rewards than the main plot.
Sometimes we can become so focused on the task at hand that we avoid the things that could be the most rewarding. An odd job, a night out with friends, finally giving in and going skating even though it makes you uncomfortable...these things can have hidden gems of awesome. Try new things, because you never know what you'll enjoy or not, and you just might find something really special while you're taking that tangental path.
6. You can't win if you don't act.
Inaction is the dream killer. Sitting around won't burn fat, staring at the screen won't write your paper, complaining about your life won't change it; take action, or you'll never go anywhere.
7. You don't have to face the world alone.
Whew. This one, for me, is rough. Mainly because I hate asking for help; I want to do it on my own, I don't anyone to do it for me. Here's the thing, though, no human can do everything on their own. AND, as I've learned very recently as an adult, we all need help sometimes, no matter how independent we try to be.
In an adventure, when you face a dragon, you don't do so alone. Your party - friends, allies, family - have your back. We might all experience the TPK together, if we're not smart, but our survival rate is much much higher if we all work together.
The tricky part here is sincerity. A sincere person is honest with themselves and tries to maintain a level of connection and respect with people, even if in just a small degree. They don't abuse a connection with someone, taking advantage of their help and banking on it. In a party structure, the hapless rogue shouldn't sneak off all the time with the assumption that the party will just always save him. We'll save him because he's saved us in the past; there's a bond there. A sincere person is genuinely thankful for help, even if it is difficult to ask for, and works tirelessly to strengthen the bond with those around them.
The point is, relationships take work. If you take them for granted, then help may not be there when you DO need it. So, take care of each other with kindness and sincerity, and you won't have to face the world alone.
8. Never be afraid of taking all the wrong paths until you find the right one.
Life is about learning. Go forth, and learn all the wrong ways to make an album. Sometime I'll find the right way, and I can learn quite a bit by traveling all the others.
9. Sometimes...you just have to let it go.
If you cannot change the outcome, and can do nothing at the moment to influence it, let the emotion move through you and let it go. It serves no one, especially yourself, to ruminate on matters that, in the long run, hold no sway to you. So why waste time and energy on them?
10. Stirring the water makes everything hard to see.
This last one is going to need some in-depth explanation.
There are very few things that bring me from "0-60" - elements that would push me into irrational anger. There have been only a few key moments in the last three years of teaching and DMing that has brought this out, and each one was during a specific exchange between DM and player, player and players, and student and student. Each instance, I feel, falls into this lesson, and showcases that wonderful (sarcasm) little idea of "stirring the pot."
Stirring the Pot refers to deliberately being irritating or provocative for the express goal of causing drama with a person or a group.
I do not think that in any of those instances people were/are intentionally "stirring the pot." However, there are people in this crazy world that we live in that don't seem to be aware of their own effect on others - or if they are, they do not seem to care. Their main goal isn't necessarily to irritate, it is to "win." This victory is found in getting the last word, getting their way, bending the rules to a certain point, breaking the rules (just this once, I promise!), blatantly betraying the party, being overly mischievous and tangental (irritating) because "that's just how my character would act," or otherwise being overtly offended if they are not the center of attention, and whining about it in overly dramatic ways.
I bring this up specifically because I have experienced being stirred, stirring myself, and the growing up moment of stepping back from the "stirrage" and taking a deep breath. I will admit that it is easy to get sucked down the rabbit of argumentation. People are so easily offended for minor slights, misunderstandings, and preconceived notions that it's almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE.
If we are too busy getting the last word, too busy "winning" the argument, too busy lamenting the fact that it isn't our turn yet, so far down the rabbit hole of our own voices sniping back and forth that we forget what we were talking about or doing in the first place - then we cannot see that the solution has already been made, and, often, that the rest of the group (or the world) has already left us behind.
If we are too busy being "that guy," we fail to see the team's solution, and are often holding the team back. We fail to work together because we're too busy stirring everything up, just because we see the opportunity to do so. We also miss important details - the DM just described the room to us, but we were too busy making a snide remark, that now we're making nonexistent assumptions about that room or we're unnecessarily confused.
There is a maturity in taking a step back from that mentality, so that one can see what is actually happening within a greater context. One begins to listen the GM's ruling, recognize that further arguments are unnecessary, and moves onward with the rest of the group. The real "victory" is in removing oneself from the argument/tangent/thought cycle and stepping back.
In life, quite a lot of good can come from practicing empathy and understanding the time and place when stirring might be allowed. Let's be clear: mischief is awesome, but there's a time and place for it; great role-playing is awesome, but there's a balance to good RP and positive player to player interactions; bending the rules and breaking them with context is fine, but pushing for them after a ruling has been made and justified is irritating.
So many times that we unintentionally stir things up could be avoided if we just let the water settle for a moment, so we can see the truth at the bottom. If everyone in the group can see the gem at the bottom, we're so much more likely to move forward together and get it - saving time, energy, and ourselves.
Let the water settle.
I'll see you at the table.
A Little Info Up Front
With the new semester just around the corner, we've got more players interested than ever before, and a few spots here and there available for folks to come play with us.
However, many of the parties with openings have been adventuring with each other some time, a few nearly two years. They've built strong bonds with one another, some fighting literal gods together... So how does one join into that kind of dynamic? Well, in short, slowly. But here's some more detail!
1. Read the Room
I put this one first because it is the most important life skill I have ever picked up in my years of teaching, performing, and just plain existing among other people.
Each of us possesses an ability to "read the room;" to gauge how others react to our presence early on in an interaction, the things we say and how we say them, and feed ourselves information on how to react in a way that isn't obtrusive to the other. It arrives in the form of that feeling at the base of your neck when you realize "I said something wrong" or "That joke didn't hit the way I wanted it to." This amazing superpower is frustrating, because it relies on immediate hindsight, but one can also address it immediately in public and help assure the others that nothing ill was intended. "That sounded better in my own head, sorry" or "That joke didn't land well, did it?" The trick is listening and learning to how the room reacts to your speech, mannerisms, and characterization and make slight adjustments as you go to keep everybody in a good place.
Unfortunately, there are many role-players so obsessed up front with the idea of their character and how they feel they want to express themselves that they end up ignoring the remaining people in the room, and their level of comfort, which can quickly lead to even the best people feeling frustrated with the "new guy."
So, when joining an established adventuring party (or work group, study group, livestream, podcast, social brunch, or any new social group), try this: imagine your character (you) at their highest level of expression...then scale it back to half power. I don't say this to CRUSH YOUR CREATIVITY and single you out; I say this to allow space for the others to allow YOU to grow a part of THEIR party. Because let's face it, you're the "new guy." A strong adventuring group is a delicate thing; too many are broken by internal strife, misunderstanding, destruction of boundaries, and feelings of isolation - so allow yourself and the others in the room time to get to know you, instead of explaining your entire backstory the moment they meet you. ;)
2. Find Your Niche
Established parties have established skill sets for each member. When things get nasty (combat or not), everybody knows what their job is and how to support each other. You've got to find where you can fit. Often, with a group that's been together a while, there isn't necessarily a gaping hole for you to fill - they've gotten this far without you, you know. So you need to find how you can augment their current establishment; do things that others struggle with, bringing something new to the table.
3. Take Your Space, But Respect Theirs
They won't trust you right away. To let you in, I mean really let you in, is a huge rarity first thing. You're going to have to earn your place, and respect their distance. This means not being offended if they're unsure how to work with you in the beginning. A new person is ALWAYS jarring.
If they cross a line with you, let them know, so you can establish boundaries, BUT if you do this, you MUST respect theirs in turn. If it's not okay for someone to reach out and pat your head, maybe you shouldn't poke the Rogue with a mage hand the first time you meet him...
Again, this is interaction with an already established group. They've wrecked bandits together, bonded over the corpse of a spider lich, done tavern crawls, and survived many a bar fight. They're friends, in some cases, even considered family. Being new is difficult. Be patient. Respecting boundaries goes a long way toward building trust early (in fantasy and out).
And often, establishing that level of mutual player respect, will speed up that whole trust thing exponentially.
4. Slowly Blossom
It's easy to get excited, you're playing an awesome game with awesome people... But take a deep breath. Feed them your personal story in small snippets; if they ask for more, reveal only what is comfortable. You don't have to fish through your bag for your handwritten backstory and then slam poem it to all of us - you can keep it vague.
This also allows you to edit your character as you go. You don't have to feel pressured about all of the intricate details in your backstory making perfect sense right away; it's YOUR character, you can make changes to the things no one knows yet, and that is extremely powerful to your own agency. You choose what to reveal and when; mystery can go a long way in building a bond based on what you can DO first, rather than focusing on where you came from.
Much like #2, you can find stronger connections to the party by finding (and editing) how your story intertwines with their values, desires, and skeletons.
5. Challenge Yourself - Create Agency - Reflect
Maybe you've never played before, and this is your first experience with a tabletop RPG; maybe you played a long time ago and want to see how the new edition of the game functions; maybe you've come from eons of playing the best games in the universe and you want to see how we lowly mortals function; maybe you're coming from a bad experience and are just trying to find your place.
Breathe. Just take a deep breath. Then take another one, and remember that no entity in the universe begins perfect.
GMs have a difficult job. They need to balance conflict with success, and provide contextual hooks for the players to help drive a narrative without railroading them. In other words, give the players agency of choice while also telling a story.
If you take damage, heal. If you get cursed, find a cure. Random demon possession? Something to overcome - maybe even an awesome side quest toward redemption where you discover the mystery of your bloodline. Not sure what to do? Improvise! Still not sure what to do? Engage your AGENCY.
Make a goal, and pursue it. And share this goal with the GM so they can find better ways to support your personal development as a player and a character. And, as the group gets to know you, they'll understand your goal(s) as well; able to back you up, as you have backed them up I'm sure.
Conflicts that arise in the game's world are opportunities for you, and your character, to persevere and grow - not personal attacks for you to complain about. Challenges to overcome, and stepping stones toward that goal. Reflect on what these steps mean to your character, and to you, the player. Doing this puts everything else into perspective and helps remind us that not everything can go our way every time. Sometimes settings are not kind places, and we must rise to the challenge, rather than complain of our hand dealt.
In closing, you can learn a lot by scaling back at the onset. It keeps you from looking as if you're trying to derail or "steal" their thunder, while allowing you time to read the room, find your niche, take your space, and align a goal on your own.
A good party is a delicate thing, and people can be very protective of it. Please remember and respect that perspective if you're jumping into a group that's been together for awhile. If you grant them that respect at the beginning, you WILL grow into the group easily and quickly.
BUT...if you don't grant them that space, there can be hurdles to overcome later; boundaries that have already been crossed, messages already sent. Not impossible to overcome, of course, especially with good people, but it will take longer to find one's place.
Hopefully that didn't meander too much. Here at QW we always try to foster positive gaming experiences with a high measure of patience, understanding, and teaching; none of us are ever perfect, so benefit of the doubt is great. But at other social game scenarios, new players may not be given that breadth of allowance.
Looking forward to the new faces already at the door.
I'll see you at the table.
Maybe it's because I've always enjoyed math, and I've always been good at quick calculation, but Pathfinder requires more than that. It requires organization, and rewards character planning.
There are many numbers in play in Dungeons and Dragons, and there are many more in Pathfinder. If you crave deeper mechanical customization, I highly recommend trying it out, as there are rules and builds for just about anything you can imagine...and they all use numbers to back them up.
Numbers aren't scary. They make games function, and there is safety in the mechanics that utilize clear values. Where Pathfinder becomes overwhelming for folks is when they start to consider ALL of their options. With over 1000 Feats to choose from now, and stacks upon stacks of books, home-brew, race builders, alternate class options, and a massively supported multi class system, it can feel like a little much.
But I love it. And I love it because it forces me to stay organized. I can cause shenanigans, insanity, and other hilarious hijinks, just like any other tabletop rpg, but I'm also supported by a system of numbers that I am continually trying to maneuver in my favor.
Say what you will about Sword Art Online’s first season (and it’s abysmal second half…shudder), but SAO Abridged by Something Witty Entertainment hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the active elements of Pathfinder.
The protagonist, Kirito, is squaring off in one of the earlier episodes against a band of player killers…and he’s just standing there. They surround him and slice into his form, and he just stands there. They end up heaving and wheezing, tired, and he calmly explains that in a game like this, it’s very simple. “My numbers…are BIGGER than yours. My wounds heal FASTER than you can make them.”
Now if I achieve THAT with Bigby, my Monday night Pathfinder fighter character, I’m pretty sure I’ve ascended to godhood - and it’s only possible if I somehow become half-troll or am blessed by the evil god of regeneration… I’m getting ahead of myself.
The main point here, and the reason that I really enjoy Pathfinder, IS its reliance on numbers and floating, conditional modifiers. At first, it WAS overwhelming, especially when compared, back then for me, to D&D 1st Edition and Advanced D&D, followed up quickly by 4th Edition and one failed attempt at 3rd Edition (not 3.5).
But after years of playing Grignor, a half-orc Barbarian in Pathfinder, and more years (8, before taking a break to dive into 5E) teaching the darn thing, you start to see the method to the madness of numbers, bonuses, penalties, and feat chaining. I organized my powers, rage abilities, and other conditions (like when my allies would cast spells on me like Enlarge Person and Bull Strength) into a literal spreadsheet to streamline my own process. Now, that doesn't have to be NECESSARY for play, but for me it was a way to make sense of the madness. "If that, then roll with this. If this, roll with that." Less thinking needed after some pre-organization. AND, after doing this with my characters, I started to become more organized in my own life. Recognition of my own need to be organized in a fantasy world, then executing that organization in a thoughtful way, opened the door to pursue a more professional workspace.
If one is thoughtful and plans accordingly, you CAN have a fighter at level 4 (4!) with an AC of 24 - without Platemail or Tower Shield - who can dual-wield with axe and shield, deals great damage, and if anyone shoots him from a distance with an arrow or bolt, he blocks it once per round. My DM, another of my team, bless him, has to roll a Natural 20 on most occasions just to hit me. Put simply: my numbers are bigger than his. And that is mostly through some good rolls at character creation, picking a human combat class that gets feats EVERY level, and focusing on one core concept: Sword and Board. Protect and Attack. If it does not support that concept, I don't even look at it.
Having a working knowledge of how my numbers act during play is the most powerful skill gleaned from playing Pathfinder, and one has to approach this idea with the understanding that the numbers working for and against you are literally the mechanics of the game at work. They are built in to provide a sense of realism for tasks and abilities that WOULD be difficult, even for an adventurer.
For example, with Bigby, dual-wielding a shield and sword is possible at level 1 with no help, but at that point I’m just a dude who picked up a shield and sword and tried to swing it around. To do so is possible, but hard without training, so I take a penalty: -6 to my attack with my primary hand (sword), and a whopping -10 to the off-hand (shield).
Now, coming off of 5E, that’s quite a penalty, but take note that Pathfinder is, by its nature, a machine-builder when it comes to your character. Those are the base penalties; now it’s time to stack the odds in my favor and make those penalties as small as possible or downright inconsequential. So let’s work through it.
At Level 1, Bigby has a Strength score of 20 - 18 rolled +2 for being Human, and a Dexterity of 17 - lucky roll and necessary later. I take the low ones in my mental stats; they don’t help me with those penalties anyway and it’s not part of my concept.
Strength of 20 grants me a +5 bonus to my attack and damage. Now those penalties are a -1/-5. Alright, then, but what does the class give me? Level 1 gives me a Base Attack Bonus (ONE of Pathfinder’s representations of a proficiency bonus) of +1. Penalties now: +0/-4. (Those increase by +1 every level)
Now I’ve got Feats to think about. Every player gets 1 Feat at level 1, humans get a bonus feat, and Fighters get a combat feat at level 1. So I’ve got three feats to figure out. Well, I need bonuses to my attacks, not penalties, so let’s grab these to start:
Right off the bat, I grab Two-Weapon Fighting, which evens out and drops the penalties to -4/-4, so with my bonuses now (+6 each)… that's +2/+2. That’s not bad, but I’ve got other problems. You see, IF I bash with my shield, I’m too busy bashing people’s faces in to defend myself, so I lose the bonus to my Armor Class (AC) when I bash. That won’t do, so for my second Feat I’ll grab Improved Shield Bash, which lets me keep my AC bonus when I bash (yay, less floating modifiers = less thinking for me). Finally, I don’t get my awesome Strength modifier to damage with my shield (off-hand), so I take my last feat, Double Slice, to cut that right out.
So, now, at Level 1, I keep my AC bonus when I bash, my strength gets added to all of my attacks and damage, and I get to swing two weapons with the same bonus to hit (+2/+2). Now, moving forward, those numbers will just keep rising, and I can keep finding ways to minimize my penalties and augment my bonuses. On top of this, I have Skill Ranks instead of a general proficiency bonus. That means that every level, I can pour points into skills to help the things I stink at, stink a little less; with more bonuses to skills that are part of my class. So far, Bigby's done this:
Level 2 - Shield Focus (+1 AC w/Shield), +3/+3 --- Level 3 - Two-Weapon Defense (+1 AC with two weapons), +4/+4
Level 4 - Missile Shield (block one ranged attack per round), +5/+5 --- Later, multiple attacks with shield, more bonuses to hit, higher AC, etc.
And so on. My point is, math rules. Math is power. And Pathfinder is one of the systems where math is clearly translated into power through the context of the game. By taking choice Feats early on, both my Fighter character and my old standby Barbarian were very tough combatants at low-level and could grow toward fighting literal gods...because I organized my play. Nothing had to be by the book, and I wasn't forced into any particular build; in fact, quite the opposite, I could be LITERALLY ANYTHING, and there were rules to support it. Which is awesome. But it takes some work. Anyone who has studied game design is aware of this... Any game, tabletop or otherwise, uses numbers to make itself function.
Now, I can build a character pretty quickly, but playing alongside others in our community, I understand their apprehension to the system. Taking a step back to look at it is downright nuts. So if you're new to Pathfinder, I highly recommend ONLY using the Core Rulebook's Races and Classes. There's plenty in there to keep you busy, and you won't get overwhelmed. Take it slow, and you'll see the power of math in action...right before you leap toward a dragon screaming that you're going to name it Fluffy. :)
See you at the table,
It is sometimes difficult to fathom how weeks of preparation for one event can be over in just three hours.
When LIVE ended, I think my brain just stopped. In martial arts terms, I dumped my cup out to allow time to fill it again, slowly, with reflection on every new drop.
Last night was AMAZING. I need to gush on a few points.
1) Goal #1 was to raise money and have fun doing it; I can safely say we achieved that!
2) The Questers' Way community, in all of my years of teaching, concerts, and events, is THE MOST understanding, patient, and supportive community I have ever had the pleasure to perform for. Every roll, every new player, every donation - the response is overwhelmingly inspiring. Just...wow.
So now comes the time of reflection. Extremely valuable, but sometimes dangerous for those of us with hyper-critical minds. So, in reference to the above, D&D Live was an overwhelming success. We raised a great sum of money for a good cause, raised awareness on that cause, and rode the chaos for fun and glory during the game. This event's success opens the door for many more games, game systems, and new Game Masters to try out (and tweak) this format. It was my honor to be the guinea pig.
Now, we look forward, and think critically on the things that we can improve upon, and how possibly to achieve that.
...I made a short list.
The Need for Immersion
The Cafe can get loud (the dreaded smoothie incident was a big indicator), and nothing pulls you out of the immersion faster than the other ambient noises of a mall. So here are my thoughts:
1) Start investing in a mic system with less large equipment and our own speakers, so audience members can always hear the music AND the cast, and no one has to yell over that ambience.
2) Think critically about the table placements of the cast (and crew) and the audience. *I think we did pretty well, and microphones will help big-time.*
3) I've got some backdrops lying around; we can make some of our own to set behind the cast, and tag charity stuff on (it might also help some of the sound reflection by aiming it back toward the audience).
4) Some sort of visual representation/display of the battle map, characters, visual aids, even just a "what just happened" aid. This might be a ways out and require a fundraiser of its own to get off the ground. ;)
Character Identity and Play
Now this one's a little tough to think on. I try very hard to keep lore, story, and player opportunities as my absolute priority. My players tend to put quite a bit of thought into their characters, their play-style, backstories, and all the cool mechanics they can use and exploit in and out of combat. This makes for really creative and epic group storytelling in all of our regular Knight Owls, One-Shots, and weekly sessions.
A live event for charity is different. The goals are different. And I admit, the most exciting, yet terrifying, thing about running a live tabletop RPG for an audience who can manipulate the game at their whim...is letting go and riding the tide of chaos.
I had a narrative planned. It involved arcane gang members vying for control of the city through magical pranks (which justifies all the weirdness generated by the audience), all while a bounty hunter hunts one of the players. That WAS the story...for about five minutes. I was not prepared for the overwhelming involvement and creativity of the audience (which was AWESOME), but in a way, I feel it might have stunted the players. We all had mixed expectations, and each was shattered as the evening went on (but again, for a good cause!). I'm not mad about it, just reflecting.
So, moving forward:
1) I want to make sure that the players get more opportunities to actually PLAY and the GM can tell some semblance of a story (while still rolling with the audience). Even if the goal is to embrace the chaos for charity, I don't want either party to feel that they've lost their personal agency, especially if they've planned quite a bit around their characters (they all showed up IN COSTUME and in character!). Chatting with the players afterward, no one felt robbed, but looking back on it, it felt like they did very little personal play.
2) To help with #1, I want to have more opportunities for the audience to MEET the cast BEFORE the event. We can help generate excitement and momentum through each cast member. For example, maybe have each cast member talk up, advertise, and otherwise try to build a fanbase of their character; they could generate donation funds specific to them, granting their character special boons before play (but all the money goes to the charity anyway), like pledging for someone in a marathon with fantasy items. I could make character Boon Tiers, like fundraising goals, for each cast member and audience members can choose to donate to a certain player when they get their ticket. These are just ideas off the top of my head, but we want to support the cast as their characters by connecting them better with audience members prior to the night of the show. This way, we're more invested in what the characters are doing and not *just* causing rampant chaos. :)
Streamlining and Tightening Up
I love how fast our community rallies around us and offers up ideas. At 10:15 last night, some awesome peeps paired up with our shopkeeper and our DM in line for Pathfinder Live to help streamline the pledges. Nothing's final yet, but I'm definitely in favor of what they were discussing. Speaking of the "little things" (which I think far too much on), here a few more:
1) Slight adjustment on gold and ticket packages so you get more bang for your buck + clear communication/education up front and in the weeks prior on how that works.
2) Prior to the show, give a brief but effective description of how the game functions; key mechanics in play, the various roles represented by the players and game master, etc. so newcomers aren't lost in the beginning. *(planned in the beginning, but got lost this time in execution)
3) We got A LOT of play-test feedback on the various pledge options, what to add, what to take out, and what needs some tweaking. We're on it! (Something Happens was extremely powerful, and super creative, so it stays with a gold adjustment)
4) Displayed Character names - *we were planning on this, but it fell through the cracks in the prep, so we'll hit it next time.
5) Character Portraits** - we might be a ways out on this one, as it pulls on artist resources, but it could be a great way to link up with our other awesome neighborhoods or bring in commissions from guest artists!
6) Auction Items - less is more; less offerings overall for better bidding - maybe make bidding blind (like on eBay), so we're not worried about outbidding each other by name. We also want to showcase a local artist in the community every time we offer this!
7) WILD MAGIC BURSTS - ...were not as awesome as I intended in practice; I'd like to keep them with 1 major change. I ROLL ONCE, that effect hits the whole party. Makes it faster and cleaner; less waiting on lists, rolls, and calculations (I might even be able to roll them in advance, then I/the GM can work them into the narrative better if/when we reach those fundraising goals). Also, the custom surge table needs some tweaking; less individual consequences, more group based. Again, faster, cleaner, but still straight up silly.
Still A Great Time...
The end of any good reflection acknowledges what was done RIGHT. Speaking with audience members - people had a good time. We raised money and awareness for a good cause, and played some crazy D&D. We dressed up and did our best to embody our characters while battling the Swedish Chef, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and the dark sorcerer Mary Poppins. We had guest players rock the table and have a blast destroying hounds, shrinking werewolves, and causing an entire tavern to turn to water and wash away. Voices were changed, unicorns were summoned, strange love triangles manifested, people turned to stone, broke out in song... It was downright jaw-dropping.
I can't wait for the next one. Thank you for making this one such a momentous success.
I'll see you at the table.
Game On! Director, musician, music teacher, game designer, and professional game master. In short, I'M A BIG NERD.