Breath of the Wild’s Master Mode is Killing Me

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I really love The Legend of Zelda and Breath of the Wild in particular. It’s not like I’ve got a Triforce tattoo featuring the Triforce of Wisdom or that about 25% of my t-shirts are Legend of Zelda themed. It’s not like I can tell you just about anything from any of the games or point each of the references to past games in Breath of the Wild. Nope. Not at all. No one could ever guess that I spend a lot of my time thinking about The Legend of Zelda and it’s not like I should probably make The Legend of Zelda a category on my blog since I write about it so much.

With all the sarcasm out of the way, I want to honestly, earnestly say that Breath of the Wild is the game that keeps on giving. Not only did it give me over one hundred hours of fun during my initial run through the game, but subsequent DLC story content and the Master Mode version of the game more than doubled that. I’ve passed three hundred and fifty hours of gameplay on a single file and I’ve created two other files who probably add up to fifty hours total. The reason I created the first one was so I could stream the game on Twitch, because I thought that would be a lot of fun. I was right, of course, since it’s a fun game and having an audience only made it more fun, but it was impossible for me to make myself wait for my weekly streaming time and then I didn’t really feel like playing through it again on stream and in private after Master Mode came out. I wound up deleting that file so one of my friends could play instead.

The second file, though, was started because of a pet project of mine. While playing the game through the first time, I made my way to Hyrule Castle when I only had five hearts (but tons of stamina), in pursuit of a memory (one of the quests you get is to restore Link’s lost memories and one of them requires visiting Hyrule Castle). I had to make my way through what is basically the dungeon before the final boss with weak gear, no health, and nothing much in terms of healing items. While I was trying to find the right place, I got killed so many times it was almost funny. What actually was funny was a sequence of deaths brought on by an unfortunate auto-save. Every time I died right after entering Hyrule castle, I was brought to the same place, five seconds from getting one-shot. I eventually escaped by using the deaths to my advantage, trying different things to quickly escape the Guardians and simply repeating what worked until I made it to a safe place. I wound up with this really cool sequence of dodges, fire-powered flights, wall climbs, and a trip around a wall to a secret ledge. I probably died some fifty times figuring the sequence out, though.

Which is why I decided I wanted to make a “1,000 ways to die in Breath of the Wild” video to put on YouTube. I’ll put it to some kind of humorous music and make it out of segments of me dying recorded with my streaming devices. It’s going to be great. I was originally going to do it with a regular file, since it’d be easiest to power through it, but I decided Master Mode was the way to go since it eventually gets easy to avoid almost all deaths in a regular file with a modicum of skill and the eventual accumulation of good weapons and healing items. In Master Mode, sometimes you just die. A basic enemy can kill you in one hit, sometimes, and I struggle with killing them since they have a bunch of HP which regenerates if you don’t hit them frequently enough and weapons are a finite resource. Sure, you get bombs that are unlimited, but those take time to use without hurting yourself and lots of monsters have unpredictable invincibility frames when they recover from getting knocked around by a bomb. If you take too long to start dealing damage again, to make sure you’ve got your explosion lined up, then they just heal whatever damage you dealt to them. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when bombs are all you have for an enemy with over seven hundred HP in the Trial of the Sword quests (which pit you against a bunch of tough enemies after taking away all of your gear and items).

That being said, it also means that you die fairly frequently and don’t need to stand around waiting for it to happen. Maybe you choose not to heal yourself mid-battle, just to see if it happens, but I played for half an hour the other day and died six times. Which means I only need to play for another eighty-four hours and I should be good to go! I’m hoping death frequency will go up once I get off the intro area and stop trying to avoid difficult situations. I’m also hoping to find places to try some incredibly stupid and badass stunts like that time I strung together a bunch of crazy tricks to trick a Lynel into running off a cliff to its death or that other time I used a bomb, the ragdoll physics, and four fairies to get down the tallest mountain in half the time it’d take to warp to the shrine I wanted to get to. Each of those involved several deaths, even if most of them got cancelled by fairies.

There’s a lot to say about Master Mode, but ultimately the most notable thing is that it serves as an easy way to rack up deaths for my stupid video. It’s basically the same thing as the standard game, but with a somewhat more difficult beginning. In my main file, I still pretty much effortlessly win all fights, even if they take a while longer to finish because the stupid Golden Lynel I’m trying to kill has seventy-five hundred hit points. Enemies, late in the game, aren’t really a problem so much as they’re a nuisance. I prefer to avoid them, but I’m not put out much if I need to fight them, even in Master Mode where they’ll almost one-hit kill you even with the best armor on. Still, it’s more fun to have the additional (generally small) challenge than to play without it.

 

Tabletop Highlight: Running the Game

During my current break from running any Dungeons and Dragons, I’ve started following a YouTuber/Author/Game Master named Matthew Colville. I’ve followed him on twitter for a while, because I love what he has to say, but one of my good friends encouraged me to start watching his videos on YouTube. She’d started following him because she’s working on plans for running her first D&D campaign and he has an amazing video series called “Running The Game” focused around encouraging new DMs to run a game. As a moderately experienced DM, I can definitely say that these videos are amazing and everyone who will one day run/currently runs/or once ran a D&D session should watch them.

When I was first starting out as a DM, I only had half a dozen D&D sessions under my belt as a player. I had an amazing DM as my role model, but I still knew almost nothing about running the game. Since I was a quick study, I read the books, found some online resources for rule adjudication, and took it to heart when the everywhere I read told me that I was the final arbitrator of rules. Things only ever happened because I allowed them to happen that way. Unfortunately, none of these resources prepared me for the way story-telling changes because writing or speaking a story and running a campaign with a story. I was unprepared for the way my players would insert themselves into the narrative I was trying to create, I didn’t have a firm grasp of how I should be running sessions from an administrative point of view, and I was woefully unprepared to manage the social dynamics that sprang up as a result of the campaign. I learned by making wrong choices and it almost scared me away from running games entirely.

Nowadays, I’m a much better DM. I’ve learned a lot of tough lessons and while I still am not great at keeping all of the gears and wheels hidden from my players, I can do it well when it is important to. Still, those two years of campaign and the year of avoiding new games kind of hurt and I wish I’d had a resource that taught me not just the rules but all of the stuff you don’t think of until the shit has hit the fan and you’re wondering what you did wrong. Matthew Colville is such a resource.

His first few videos establish what he’s planning to do with the series. He also sets up the basics by creating a first dungeon and the handful of encounters and sessions that would encompass getting the party together and running through the dungeon. He covers the basics of the rules and how to manage a group of people, along with everything you’d need to know in order to start your own campaign. All of the videos after that are focused around particular topics like the use of maps, how to modify monsters, how to create your own adventure, managing player dynamics, and pretty much anything you might want to know as a DM.

He is a bit of a fast-talker in his videos, but not so fast that he is difficult to understand. His videos go from eight minutes to over forty, so he has a lot of ground to cover and slowing down would almost double the length of most of his videos. He uses a lot of specialized terminology, but he does an amazing job of explaining it as he goes along. His editing skills are top-notch and he keeps the flow of information going constantly, except when he’s working in a few jokes or anecdotes to give examples of what he just said or to show that even thirty-plus years of experience doesn’t mean you won’t still make mistakes. He likes to emphasize that he isn’t a perfect DM and that even he forgets to make use of the advice he’s giving in these videos. All he wants to accomplish is to encourage people to play D&D and to share some of the knowledge he has gained and traditions he has been a part of since he started playing in the eighties.

These videos are incredible. Even though I’ve learned most of the lessons he’s shared so far (I’m still working my way through the videos), it is an incredible aid to have them formally delivered in a way that makes me think about recent applications or how I can do better in the future. Even though I’d be hard-pressed to pick out even on thing specifically that I’m going to do better as a result of these videos, I’m really excited to get back to playing regularly with my group so they can see just how much I’ve improved. So much of it was just a sort of settling-in of what I already knew so it feels more natural. It’ll take a lot less effort to run well, once I start again, and less effort to prepare since the videos have a ton of great tips for stream-lining the process.

If you want to run D&D or know someone who does, I suggest checking out his videos! They’re so accessible that you don’t even need to have played D&D before to understand them! Like Matthew Colville, I just want to be a river to my people. Go, learn to run, and then share it with your friends!

Tabletop Highlight: The Importance Of Fudging Things

The most important skill I ever learned as a Dungeon Master was how to Fudge It™. I cannot overstate the value of this skill. It has saved numerous sessions, countless player lives, and kept friendships alive that might otherwise have been destroyed by the capricious nature of small plastic random number generators. Yes, I am being somewhat over-dramatic. No, it is not nearly as over-dramatic as you probably thing. I’m a bit of an oddity when it comes to RNG using dice since I tend more towards extremes than is statistically likely (based on a log book of rolls I kept for two years of daily rolls for science purposes combined with weekly rolls for D&D purposes using a variety of dice and rolling surfaces).

Given that each roll of the standard RNG polyhedral (a d20) is always a one-in-twenty chance of any given number without any relation to the rolls previous, this is hardly conclusive evidence. Nevertheless, I soon discovered that I either needed to make every roll to even the odds, or I needed to learn to fudge the numbers as they came so my players wouldn’t accidentally get killed as a result of some nameless mook rolling three natural twenties (a phrase describing when a twenty-sided die ends its roll with the twenty facing up) in a row. In most D&D campaigns, repeated natural twenties means some kind of incredible success for the character that rolled it. In combat situations, it usually means automatic death for the target of the attack.

Fudging It™ has more applications than simply correcting errant probability. If my players throw me a curve ball during a session and I need to correct on the fly, you can safely bet I’ll be making it up as I go along. A lot of my favorite parts of the campaigns I’m running are a result of my decision to abandon the rules and just wing it as I go. I literally built an entire campaign around the idea of deviating from the rules everywhere I can without undermining player ability and just making the funniest things I can think of happen in any given situation. At the Orchestra and surrounded by the upper class? Well, get ready for a bunch of Phantom of the Opera style vampires to attack and the only tuba player left in existence (BLORNTH THE TUBA PLAYER was the only tuba player to survive the tragic battle of the bands) to use his magically enchanted tuba to batter vampires to death before eventually spewing a gout of fire out of the end to rival that of any dragon.

I remember the first campaign I ran and how hard it was on the players to deal with my weird probability. I wasn’t very good at fudging things back then, so the healer accidentally died, the archer fell off a cliff (and then teleported over the bard in an attempt to save himself only to nearly kill the bard instead) to his death, and the bard accidentally killed a zombie so hard he killed himself as well. I learned a lot running that campaign and have improved as a storyteller so that I can Fudge It™ at a moment’s notice.

Now, in order to properly Fudge It™, there’s a process involved. The exact steps vary from person to person and situation to situation, but it usually involves some kind of disbelieving chuckle on the DM’s part at the sheer absurdity of the moment followed by some silent bargaining with the dice gods. After that, solutions are proposed and discarded in rapid succession until the DM settles on an acceptable outcome that either allows the players to continue without knowing something was amiss or allows them their choice of fates. Not all DMs choose to Fudge It™ and that is their right. Sometimes, in a harsher setting, it even makes sense to be as brutal as possible, though it might be better to Fudge It™ and make things slightly more brutal.

That’s the important thing to know, I suppose. Fudging It™ isn’t just for fixing problems. It also works great as a way to create problems or bump up the difficulty of an encounter if the players aren’t having any trouble with it. It is incredibly versatile and I recommend picking up the skill.

What Does “D&D” Mean?

I’ve been playing D&D for going on 7 years now. That’s not a long time by any means, since I only started playing in college, but it has been a pretty significant part of my life ever since then. I had a really good DM the first time I really played (a campaign) and a really bad DM the second time I played. The third time I played, I was the DM.

As any DM will tell you, the first time you run a campaign is always rough. I’ll definitely admit that a lot of the issues weren’t a result of an inability on my part, but more a result of the social dynamics that grew up over the year and a half that I ran my first campaign. Things started well enough, everyone had a good time, and I had a pleasant world for the characters to explore. By the end, I was making dumb stuff up just to fill the next session, my players resented what I had built for them, and some of the players tried to stage an intervention.

While all that was going on in our sessions, the group of players (who had become my only friend group over the past year due to most of my other friends either leaving the college or picking sides in an argument in our fraternity that I refused to get involved in) stopped spending time with me, my best friend tried to get my girlfriend to break up with me and date him instead, and all of my friends (how they all found out, I’ll never know) decided that it would be best to keep all of this from me. I suppose you could see why I might not be super motivated to make their D&D experience an enjoyable one.

After that, I didn’t do much large-scale DMing for almost a year. I ran a few sessions here and there, did a couple one shots, had small-scale campaigns to test worlds I had built, and was unable to find D&D to play anywhere else. After a year and a bit had passed, and I had gotten some closure on what had happened with the players in my last major campaign, I started a new one. I built this elaborate, ridiculous world that broke most of the rules players take for granted and was entirely geared around the idea of just having fun.

After that, I generally tried to keep my campaigns on the sillier side. I’m really good at keeping people laughing, at fostering a relaxed, fun atmosphere, and coming up with the best jokes and situations for the people currently playing in my campaign (there was no set cast since each session was its own full adventure) was fairly simple. I will admit that I stayed away from the more serious and story-oriented campaigns because of how horribly things went the last time I’d done one. I didn’t think I could stand being rejected and hurt like that again.

I really like to make people laugh. I enjoy story-telling more than almost anything. I enjoy creating these worlds for people to explore and helping them to reach their utmost potential. I love being a dungeon master. Even with all that, there was always something missing for me when I ran one of my silly campaigns. I never enjoyed it as much as I knew I could. In early 2016, I realized it was because I was telling stories without nuance, stories without a life of their own that took place in a two-dimensional world. Yes, they could be fun, but I knew there’s so much more that I could be doing.

Early last spring, I started a new campaign with my roommate and three of our closest friends. A small party with a tight focus on what was going on in the world. I painted broad swathes of the world in simple colors and then filled in the narrow sections they occupied with extraordinary detail, giving them the feeling of really living in the world. I provided them with an array of tools and sub-plots that they could pick and choose from, figuring out how to use each tool to fit their situation and finding their way down what seemed the random disparate paths of their plots only to find them all tied together neatly at the end of the first story arc. We brought in a fifth player to fill some of the gaps, another close friend, and I was able to add even more to the world with what he brought to our sessions.

As we approach the one-year mark, I can happily say that we’ve avoided all the problems I ran into with my first major campaign five years ago. The whole group is getting along excellently, they’re all enjoying themselves, and they’re all clamoring for our next session. My social life has only improved since we started playing and I’ve now got an even larger group of people who want me to run for them. I’ve started exploring new ideas of what it means to run a D&D campaign and how players can experience a D&D campaign. I’ve got so many new ideas for how I could accommodate a group of over a dozen potential players that I am super excited to try out. I can’t wait to see what this year brings for me as a DM.

I don’t play D&D as much as I used to and I kind of regret that. I really enjoy being a player and I can never seem to get enough playing that I’m ready for a break, but being a DM is where my heart truly resides. DMing is my favorite way to experience D&D and to truly live out what I believe it means to play Dungeons and Dragons.

To me, D&D is a way to connect with people I would otherwise have a hard time connecting with. D&D is a way to practice my skills as a story-teller and get instant feedback. D&D is a way to create a space in which my friends can relax and enjoy themselves. D&D is fulfilling in a way that the job I’m leaving has never been. D&D helps me scratch the itch I feel, that drives me to write, in a way that recharges my writing energy. I may end each session feeling tired and worn out from putting all my energy into making my campaign fun and engaging, but I’m never more inspired to write or create as I am when I put away my dice and stick my books back on their shelf.