You’ve been watching Critical Role and listening to The Adventure Zone. You are all about the RPG games now. D&D is calling your name. The only problem is, you’ve never actually played. Even if you get all the books, what next? How do you find a group? This can be super intimidating.Continue reading “Finding a Group”
A while ago, I wrote an article about describing your combat. People like to think that role playing and combat are two separate things, but they don’t have to be. The way your character fights says something about them too. Does your fighter hammer away repeatedly with their sword, relying on their strength to batter away the enemies defenses? Or do they dance away from their opponents sword, spinning underneath their blade to stab forward under their guard? Both of those are very different and very visually pleasing.
What about magic, though? People often fall into the same trap. “I cast magic missile.” Roll some d4s. Done.Continue reading “Your Magic Sucks”
When I’m running a streaming game or recording an episode of our podcast, it’s not enough that I have plans for whats going to happen in the game; I also need to know when it’s going to happen. I prefer to have each episode reach some sort of completion. If there is a cliffhanger, I want that to be intentional.
So how do I keep a game going where I need it to go? I think in threes.Continue reading “Campaign Prep in Bullet Points”
It’s been quite a week in the RPG world. An abuser was outed unequivocally as an abuser that has often tried to silence others in the community. I don’t know that I have much to say that hasn’t already been said in ways much better than I could, so I’ll say this.
Support gaming companies run by women and POC. Here are two great options.Continue reading “Abuse is Not a Game”
It’s easy to engage your players. Just make them do the work.
“I rolled a 17. Does that hit?”
“Yeah. Roll for damage.”
“Okay, that’s… 8 points of piercing and 6 points of radiant damage.”
“Okay, next player…”
Sound familiar? Combat starts and the game suddenly becomes just a long drown out battle of dice rolling, especially when all your flashy powers are used up. It feels sterile and players can quickly become bored if they’re just waiting to roll above a certain number. How can you keep combat fresh and keep the players engaged?
By now, we’ve started season two of Tales from the Tower on Twitch. We’re playing World Wide Wrestling, a game about being a professional wrestler. We’ve had a blast getting together costumes and creating the back stories for this little world. I’ve personally spent a lot of time on YouTube watching old matches and promos for research. While it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve also learned some things.
Wrestling has some great villains.
Having trouble coming up with a character backstory? Grab yourself a d20 and give it a roll. Now you have something to go off of.
Some of these are a little particular to my own campaign world, The Isles of Samsarras, the setting for the podcast Crumbling Keep Presents: The Isles of Samsarras. Feel free to change a few names and make it your own.
Sending your PC into hordes of rampaging monsters: easily done without a second thought.
Wielding Magic that has the potential to tear worlds apart: Sure, what is the worst that could happen?
Stepping behind the screen and GMing a session: Terror has never been so real.
It’s a scenario I’ve seen over and over again: a player wants to become gm, but they don’t know where to start. Either that, or they are so intimidated by the prospect that they stay away from it indefinitely. The idea seems staggering. So much power! So much responsibility!
This article builds heavily upon the previous one which spoke about what to do before and during session zero. You can find it here.
At this point, if you’ve gone through session zero and its pre-prep, you have a lot of tools in your bag. You know at least a little about your world, the player characters, and the histories of both. Now you just have to mold all that chaos into something cohesive and compelling. This is the fun part. You get to begin crafting the mightiest epic of all time!
Starting a new campaign can be a daunting and exciting task. There is a whole new story to create! Where do you start? What about character creation? Should you have a session zero?
One of the things I strive for in my games is getting the players invested. One of the best ways to do that is to make the game about them. If their characters are personally involved in the story-line, that means they are too. You may have a great epic written in your head, but if the characters are just bystanders in it, why would they care?
One of the most common new DM mistakes is gifting the players too much treasure. I’ve often seen someone bemoaning high powered low level characters after they had too much magic heaped upon them. Its an easy thing to do, as giving a character a new toy makes the player momentarily happy. It hits that instant reward trigger that many MMORPGs rely upon.
When players are running around with Vorpal swords at level 3, however, the campaign can be quickly derailed and the intangible rewards you are giving to fictional characters being to lose their appeal. When they already have the best things, where do you go from there? How do you make appropriate encounters? The characters are still comparatively weak fleshy meat puppets, but they are walking around with cannons. It is not an easy mess to get out of.
“Don’t split the party.”
The very phrase seems to be known by every adventuring party ever. If ever a character starts making plans to go off in a separate direction, one of the players is guaranteed to shout this from across the table. If you ask the internet, it won’t hesitate to chime in and let you know what a mistake it is, citing personal examples of character death and misfortune. Scooby Doo’s “Let’s split up, Gang” does not apply when it comes to D&D.
The basic understanding here is that there is strength in numbers. If the GM throws the big bad at the characters, they’ll have an easier time dealing with it if everyone is together. In a game based on random die rolls, bad things are bound to happen when it is most inopportune. Praying to any intangible gods of luck won’t save players from the game master’s wrath when characters go separate ways.
There is an even more meta aspect at play as well. Many comics and memes have painted Game Masters as vengeful gods who only exist to punish players. The trope exists for good reason, as those types of GMs absolutely exist. Splitting the party means you’ve made the game more difficult for the GM to run and their vengeance shall be forthcoming. It’s not IF that big bad comes when the party splits, its WHEN, because the GM will make sure that it does. This isn’t a GMing style I endorse, but we’ve all seen it.
There is a third reason I’d advise against it, and one that is not often considered. Splitting the party has the very real potential to make the game less fun. By doing so, you’ve taken one game and essentially made it two. That means that whenever one half of the group is playing, the other half isn’t engaged. They are no longer part of that story. Sure, some players will still hang on every word, but many more are going to be going to their phones or having disruptive side conversations. That’s not really their fault, however. They came to play a game, not watch one.
As a player, when faced with the option to split the party, I’ll generally try and take a read on the GM and see what they think. Barring a glance from them that tells me otherwise, my inclination is to stay put. There is always a way to rationalize it in character. It keeps the game together and fun for everyone, which should be the main point.
From a GM perspective, however, splitting the party can be a great engagement tool if it’s done right. There are times when every player is at work doing something different. Each one has their own little aside in a separate area. It seems unavoidable. When it happens, I focus on two things: length and cliffhangers.
Keep each player’s turn short and sweet. That way, no one is waiting too long for the lens to shift. That doesn’t mean you have to finish their task; just the opposite, really. Give each player just a snippet at a time, with the knowledge that you are going to come back to them. This lends itself really well to the second technique.
Whenever you can end one of these snippets on a cliffhanger, do it. These don’t have to be huge. It’s almost better if it is not, as a major happening every moment feels a little soap operaish and cheapens the impacts you want to be larger. Did they open a chest? Let them wait until their next turn to see what is in it. Maybe an NPC asks them a deep or unsettling question.
“UnQuat stares at you menacingly, his jagged smile unnerving you by its very presence. ‘The Dark God comes,’ he says. ‘She demands a sacrifice. What will you give her?'”
That would be a great time to take a break and move onto another character. Its a big question and deserves a big question. Any players not involved in the scene listening in will be on the edge of thier seat. The player in the scene in question gets time to think of an epic reply, which can only help the story. If it works out, it keeps everyone engaged and active in the story, even when it isn’t about them.
There is another time when splitting the party can be a great resource for the GM. An extended split can do some great things for storytelling, role playing, and character development. I’ll cover that in the next article, “It’s Been a While.”