I think as Dungeon Masters we are our own worst enemies at times, way worse than any twinked up paladin/warlock hybrid or some snot nosed aspergersish rules lawyer. The problem is our tendency to get all up in our heads and over analyze our games. It can be even worse when multiple DM’s get together and begin to theory craft shit, like some kind of monstrous DM sowing circle. Don’t get me wrong all of this introspection and shootin’ the breeze can be beneficial and help improve your game, it’s just there’s a potential downside to it, namely blowing crap way out of proportion.
Everyone wants to run a good fun game; nobody goes into DM’ing with the goal of sucking the joy from people’s lives or running a game so horrific that it scares people muggle. However, I think we can end up ruminating way too much over such things as whether there is too much plot or too little; too much collaborative story telling or not enough; too much railroad or not enough; are encounters too hard, too long, too short, too easy, are there enough alternative goals; do players choices have enough meaning or too much meaning; is there too little or too much role playing; do my players hate my game; am I a bad DM, am I a horrible person etc…on and on until I want to kick my own ass. I think all of these things are important to consider and when refined can create an enjoyable game experience and patch some bugs. We should probably stop short of a crippling neurotic degree of consideration because for the most part I don’t think players notice or care and are just happy to be playing.
Now for sure there are games with issues both on the DM and player side, some of which can be solved through open communication and some which cannot and seem to represent more of a clash in play styles and personality dynamics. For example, some people just struggle with any kind of perceived authority and act out in subtle or more active ways. Similarly some folks are looking to exert control and dominance for any myriad of reason from feeling an inherent lack of control in their past or present to a gratification derived through dominating others. But by and large I think most games and people fall more in the middle and just enjoy the game, giving wide allowances and tolerance for the ups and downs and limitations of playing make believe.
Take me and my dichotomy of DM and player selves. As a DM I am the ruminator who is waiting for the inevitable player revolt, complete with a bloody coup and burning of me in effigy. While as a player I am the most laid back accepting dude there is. I can find the fun in any play style and am just happy to be gaming. Honestly, the DM could bend me over, burying my face in a pillow, and proceed to railroad the shit out of me and I would still probably find a way to have fun (picture Kevin Bacon in Animal House…”thank you sir, can I have another”). I mean at the end of the day no matter what I can always find joy fighting shit while making dick and fart jokes.
I am beginning to ramble a bit now so maybe it’s a good to time end and sum up: Just relax; don’t sweat it so much, your players are probably having a great time and if all else fails crack a dick joke
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“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” …Yoda
I wonder if my players would find any more comfort in this statement than Anakin did as three of their characters shed their “crude matter” in a recent session. I know what you’re thinking…awesome job right, teach those players whose boss. I am kidding…sort of as I do suffer from the occasional bout of bloodlust at times. The deaths came over two encounters, with 2 coming in the first major showdown of the campaign. The players decided to track down and exterminate with extreme prejudice Mr. Sultan Griss, their former slave master, who also happens to be a member of the Merchant House Shomm.
I tried something a little different with this encounter. It started off as a run of the mill bad guy encounter with various hurled insults and soliloquies, followed by bad guy’s underlings attacking. After about 2 rounds things got a little freaky as I had Sultan Griss use defiling magic, sucking the life force from his goons and killing them all, to summon a fire demon from the pits of the abyss and facilitating his escape. Now this was one tuff mofo. I again took a page from Frothsof 4E and his Savage (you can check it out below) concept and made the demon essentially a solo monster with elite defenses and hit points. I re-skinned a 3rd level white dragon from the monster vault and tweaked some of the powers to make them more fitting of a fire demon. I may have over-shot a bit as the demon tore into the party like a tsunami of whoop-ass leaving 3 players making death saves with 2 eventually succumbing to their wounds (well I did coupe de grace one character as the survivors dragged the others to safety).
There were a couple of things that I think led to this outcome. First, the demon was a brute and put out a lot of damage and did so quickly and when added to first 2 rounds of battle (my dice were smoking hot) with the henchman made for a bloodbath. In hindsight I should have had one round of combat, especially after the opening salvo by the henchmen did a ton of damage, and maybe toned down the damage of the Savage a bit. I also should have made it clearer earlier that the party could have used arcana/religion to damage the ritual that was binding the demon to this plane. Secondly, the main striker was absent from the game that night and the other spent multiple rounds unsuccessfully trying to revive the fallen characters with a non-existent heal skill (we actually envisoned him causing harm in his ineptness). This resulted in the fire demon taking no damage. The demon didn’t have a lot of hp to begin with and I think had things gone slightly different they could have pulled it out.
Death is not the end only the beginning….I think this is where the campaign really began to shine as I have adopted the attitude that if a character dies it is up to the player to decide if they are truly dead. It was pretty interesting to watch as the group engaged in some collaborative story telling to craft the next chapter of the characters lives (all decided to stick with the same pc’s). In true Dark Sun fashion the dwarf warden decided to comeback as an undead banshee for failing his life focus. Dead Kord, as we have begun calling him is now a revenant assassin who’s new focus is to kill Sultan Griss after which he will fade away into the ether (unless I manage to kill him again—edit-oops I did it again, he died again the next session–end edit). Next up was the Tiefling Psion Quell which we decided that the trauma of his dying awakened a hidden psionic potential that allows him to project his consciousness into other beings ala Wrath of Khan. He initially joined with Dead Kord but has recently subjugated Iman Fasile (human ex-gladiator). These acts of collaborative story telling have really opened the campaign up to different pathways and possibilities allowing for an even greater investment in character development. I even stated up Iman Fasile with a monster stat block in case he is ever allowed to surface. I guess what was most pleasing is that death didn’t derail the game but enhanced it.
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I am starting to get back into the swing of things here. Things have been busy on the gaming front and a lot of my time is being eaten up by prep for my bi-weekly Dark Sun game. I am also getting to play bit in some one-shot/multiple session scenarios in a location-in-motion setting, but more on that in a later post. I am going to give a brief recap on my trip to the San Diego Comic Con to accompany my previous post about finally winning at D&D so bare with me.
It was a bit of a whirlwind trip as my friend and I were there for just 4 days and 3 nights. Given that it was is in San Diego there was superfluous references to “a whale’s vagina”. The city itself was awesome, and exactly what I remember from my time living in southern California. Although given the limited amount of time we didn’t get much exploring in. If you have never been to the Con itself it’s little hard to describe the magnitude of it. It has all the trappings of most sci-fi/comic/anime cons these days but it’s like the volume is turned up to 11. It is just unbelievably massive, but so well organized that you almost forget that. I never really felt overwhelmed by the press of humanity until I was outside the Con and trying to negotiate my way to various restaurants. It took us almost 2 days just to walk the exhibitor floor, although in fairness my friend did enforce a very obsessively rigid exploration pattern that saw us walk up and down every isle in the joint.
We pretty much tried to sample a bit of everything that the Con had to offer with one notable exception. We never bothered trying to hang with the “cool kids” and get into the big movie panels. I don’t know if it is my neck beard status but I am unwilling to wait in line for fucking jack-shit these days. I don’t care if the payoff was slapping high fives with Robert Downey Jr. while being serviced by Jessica Biel, it was never going to happen (although given that I am happily married to Mrs. Middle-Aged DM it would be more like a respectful hand shake with Ms, Biel followed by a discrete hair sniff). If you wanted to get into the area where these panels were going on it was a several hour wait outside under tents depending on the time of day. There was also no guarantee you would get in or if you did that it would be for something you wanted to see. I did make it to a couple of panels that were definitely highlights of the trip for me. The first one was The Attack of Show panel which was hilarious followed by the Geek and Sundry panel which included Wil Wheaton. Seeing Wil in person was pretty cool and I was reminded how insanely popular he is with us geeks. When he took the stage the auditorium sounded like a field full of crickets for several minutes as people’s phones and cameras snapped pictures of him. It reminded me of something Kevin Smith said in a podcast about how Wil Wheaton left Star Trek and became Veeger’s.
You can’t talk about the Con without mentioning the Cosplay. It was sooo awesome; a lot of our time was spent getting pictures with people in costumes. I have to say that this segment of the culture is truly fearless, cause I don’t think I have the stones to step out in any outfit let alone some of these getups. One of my favorite momonets was getting a picture with guys dressed in classic Starfleet uniforms and having them address each other by rank. The good old redshirt (who I kept calling Guy) was like “after you commander”.
I also picked up the obligatory cool SWAG, although I did manage to resist shelling out $800 for a full Jedi outfit. It was a bit touch and go for a bit, particularly when I hit the floor after about 5 pints of Dos Equis, but I made my Will save and avoided Mrs. Middle-Aged DM’s wrath. I snagged a cool fantastic 4 shirt, a Mjolnir keychain, a Flash usb key, Zombie Dice, 3 Dragon Ante, and the coveted Highlander movie poster from my youth.
Well that about wraps things up. I had a great time and have to thank my lovely wife again for sending me. I would definitely go back but probably not for a couple of years as I think I have my sites set squarely on Gen Con next.
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