On Dungeon Masters

A DM’s judgement is the final authority in the game.

But if the DM is not running the game for the enjoyment of their players, then why are they running it at all?

Saw this quote in a discussion forum talking about D&D rules. Sage advice, that.

It boggles my mind when I see people telling stories of how un-fun their DM is. Like the one where he’d put the party up against too powerful opponents, calls every one of their skill checks failures, then, when it’s obvious the party is overmatched, would bring in his favorite overpowered NPC to save the day and wipe out the baddies. And not once or twice, but regularly.

How is that fun?

Or, to be precise, how is that fun for anyone other than the power-mad Dungeon Master?

I’m the DM for my group, mostly by default. (I’m the one who works to keep the group together; without me, there would be no group.) That’s okay. To me, the most important thing is for everybody at the table to have fun.

I’ve had sessions where the party did not follow up on any of my carefully crafted clues, or ignored several (what I thought were obvious) adventure hooks. I’ve had sessions that were a TPK. I’ve had sessions with what I thought were challenging encounters leave the characters barely breathing hard.

But when everyone is laughing and having a good time, that’s a good gaming session, whether or not it advanced the plot in my grand epic storyline that only I know. And I suppose I’m doing okay, because every member of my gaming group (except my teenage daughter) is married with kids of their own. They have plenty of other things they can be doing. That they want to spend their afternoon with me is the best compliment I can receive.


Microsoft Excel as a dungeon design tool

PC Magazine has an article about how to use Microsoft Excel as an architectural design tool. While not suitable for building a bridge, it’s more than good enough for laying out your deck, landscaping, or bookshelf locations. Essentially, the instructions are to resize all of the cells to form a graph-paper-like grid. Then you can use the built-in shapes and graphics or import your own.

Well, why not a dungeon? It must be better than drawing something up on graph paper and scanning it. If you’ve already got Excel available it would be worth it to try. I imagine Excel alternatives (Open Office Spreadsheet, for instance) would work just as well.

(via Lifehacker)


Dave Arneson passes away

We lost Gary Gygax in March of last year, and now that other pillar in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons has left us as well.

Wired News: R.I.P. Dungeons & Dragons Co-Creator Dave Arneson, 1947-2009

While not as famous as Gary Gygax, who passed away in March of last year, Arneson was a driving force behind D&D’s creation and his contribution to the world of adventure gaming should not be underestimated. It was Arneson’s spark that transformed Gygax’s game Chainmail into the first edition of D&D, and begat everything that followed.

Arneson had to fight to get credit for his contributions, filing multiple lawsuits (later resolved out-of-court) against Gygax over crediting and royalties. He nonetheless did return to TSR in the mid-’80s to work with Gygax again. Following that, he began a second career as an educator, working in several schools with a particular focus on how to use gaming as an instructional tool.

Arneson suffered a stroke in 2002 and was soon after diagnosed with cancer. He finally lost his battle with cancer last night, surrounded by his family, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gamers everywhere owe him a certain debt of gratitude for his work. He will be sorely missed.

Been gone too long – getting back into roleplaying games (part 3)

So, finally, no further complications cropped up and we were able to meet Wednesday last at a café in town.

I had three main objectives for the meeting: Make sure no one was too weird, to set up our schedule for play sessions, and discuss the kind of game we were looking for.

The first was easy. There was only one guy who I hadn’t already met, and it was quickly obvious that he fit in to the acceptable weirdness scale.

The third wasn’t too bad either. I suggested a semi-monthly schedule that everyone agreed with, although, predictably, we’ve already had to make adjustments.

The second actually took up the majority of our time but, in the end, was a bit anti-climactic. We’ve all been out of it so long (except for one of us, who has never been in it) that we didn’t have strong opinions about much of anything. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of RPG theory lately, and specifically social contracts, but I didn’t want to scare anybody away by going too crazy. We did agree on a few things (no player killing or thievery, no evil characters, limited meta-gaming at the table, lengthy rule discussions away from the table, and so on) but for the most part no one objected to anything I presented.

I did step up and offer to be the DM, even though I’m still learning the rules. Since we’re all learning the rules, it seems to fit, and I did a good bit of gamemastering when I was younger. (I’ll get my chance to play someday.) As such, I talked a bit about my DMing style and some of the things that I like to do. Not knowing this crowd, though, and not having done it in such a long time, I stuck to generalities.

So, when I left, everyone seemed enthusiastic if not exactly “gung-ho” and we had the date for our first session, where we would do our character creation.

Any doubts I may have had about anyone enthusiasm were pretty much erased the next day, when the guy who had the least experience among us offered up his choice of race and class and a backstory to go with it. Shortly thereafter came another character concept with backstory. I’ve got a good hook for the first; I’m still working on the second.

So I think we’re off to a pretty good start. Now, if we could just find a couple more players…

Been gone too long – getting back into roleplaying games (part 2)

Continued from Part 1

So, after being out of it completely for the better part of a decade, I’ve decided that I miss roleplaying games and want to get back into it.

But…how? I’ve made a few acquaintances here in Maryland, maybe even a friend or two, but I’m reasonably sure that not a single one is into RPGs. Heck, I don’t even know where there’s a game store around here. I’m pretty sure that my local Barnes & Noble has rulebooks for a few modern games, but that’s a terrible place to try to network with gamers. What am I going to do, stake out the bookshelves and accost every thirteen-year-old who picks up the Dungeon Master’s Guide? No, I needed more reasonable methods and I’d need to cast a wide net.

Thank goodness for the World Wide Web. It didn’t exist when I was a kid; I’m glad it’s here now. First I tried looking for sites that were made to help roleplayers find each other and found a few. Some look like they never really took off, others like they were abandoned a couple years ago. I picked a few likely candidates, registered, and put my profile out there. It was hard trying to write something that sounded enthusiastic without sounding desperate and “noobish”. Since it seems like D&D is still the biggest and most famous, I figured that would be the easiest to find people for, so I went to Wizards of the Coast’s website and looked through their player classifieds. I found a couple of possibilities and sent out a couple of e-mail messages. The local gaming club was no help, though, as they’re almost exclusively board and war games.

One thing that is making this more difficult is that I’m trying to find people who are like me. That is, people in or near their forties with kids/spouse/home/job/etc. Teenagers and college kids aren’t going to appreciate where gaming needs to fit into my list of priorities and I just don’t see a sixteen-year-old having compatible “roleplaying goals” with me. I remember some of the stuff that I thought was great in the D&D games of my youth and that’s not what I want now. I also know that when I was that age I never would have wanted to dungeon delve with some “old dude.”

Another is that I’m essentially a newbie. Unless I found someone who is playing with a ten-year-old (or older) system, I’m not going to be hip to the lingo. Reading some of the blogs and forum messages out there, I was surprised as to how many terms I didn’t recognize. And this was mostly generic roleplaying stuff, not specific systems.

While I continued to look online for not-too-scary people, I decided to check into my friendly local game stores. I little digging revealed that there was basically one nearby: Brainstorm Comics and Games in Frederick. So, on a recent Monday when I had off from work I stopped in. The guy working the counter was friendly and told me about their 10% discount on RPG books and the bulletin board in the back for people looking for players. Cool! Another avenue. Their selection of RPG books is pretty good, but not extensive. I see my old friend HERO System there, specifically the 5th Edition rulebook. Tempting…but no. I opt to take a chance and get the D&D Fourth Edition Players Handbook.

By now I’m getting some responses to my queries, but not many, and there weren’t that many messages sent out in the first place. One group I heard back from had an opening, but their schedule just wasn’t going to mesh with mine. I heard from another guy who is looking for a game for himself and his brother-in-law and we pledged to keep in touch as we looked. But that was pretty much it. Ugh.

A guy I know in town does a lot of photography and had done portraits of my girls a couple of times now. He also happens to be a ColdFusion developer like me. He’s suitably geeky enough that he probably knows who plays, or at least won’t look at me funny when I ask. Well, it turns out that he hasn’t played since he was 13 years old and would love to start it up again. Cool!

Then there’s a guy I work with, also suitably geeky, and we share a lot of the same taste in our reading material. I told him about what I was doing and he also expressed an interest. Meanwhile, the photographer asked his fellow photography club members if anyone was interested and got a bite.

Wow! Sounds like we have a good core to start with. We should all get together face-to-face and discuss what we want to do. Some people like more combat, some people like really delving into their character, some people think die-rolls are sacrosanct, some people don’t mind a little fudging if it advances the story, some people think character death should be avoided at all costs. There are lots of ways gamers may be incompatible. Besides, before any of us starts inviting people to his house, we really want to ensure we don’t get too weird a “vibe” from them.

Needless to say, we’ve spent several weeks trying to find a time to sit down for an hour or so to sit down and talk about what we want to get out of the game that fits on all our schedules. It’s been nigh impossible. We think, though, we have a date settled. Unfortunately, it’s still over a week away and I have to bring my kids along. I’m not surprised, though I thought I’d be playing by now.

Part 3 will be the outcome of that meeting.