Making Interesting Characters for Tabletop Games

In the final entry of this week’s “Making Interesting Stuff for Tabletop Games” series, we’re going to talk through the process of what makes a character interesting. I’m going to continue to reference stuff from the past few posts, so read up about Interesting Worlds, Interesting Events, and What Makes Stuff Interesting if any part of today’s post is confusing (or, you know, if you’re interested in that stuff). If that’s too much for you to read, the main thing I’ll be referencing are the difference betweening knowing (being able to recite facts you have established) and understanding (being able to make decisions and answer questions for things you never anticipated). There’s a bunch of world building that I reference throughout the series, building further as I go through the posts, but most of it is fairly basic and shouldn’t be difficult to run with.

Continue reading

Making Things Interesting for Tabletop Games

Today’s post is a bit more difficult. I know it might sound strange, given the general assertions of the last two posts, about creating interesting worlds and filling those worlds with interesting events (both of which are suggested reading for today’s post since I am using the same examples and techniques across all of them), but I can’t give you a sure-fire method of making something interesting. I do my best to make things interesting for my tabletop games, but I still fail with a frustrating degree of frequency. I’m good at pretending otherwise because I’m quick enough to cover for it by pivoting to what my players are indicating they’re actually interested in. There’s no real way to teach the ability to pivot on-the-fly other than experience and getting to know your audience, so all I can do is hope that the general rules and guiding principles I use for determining what is “interesting” will be enough to help you get started. Like most of the worldbuilding and GM prep I’ve talked about recently, if you keep your preparation focused on understanding things rather than knowing things, you can almost always find a place to recycle them if your original use doesn’t pan out.

Continue reading

Filling Worlds With Interesting Events For Tabletop Games

Once you’ve created an interesting world for you tabletop game, the next step is to fill it with stuff that is either currently happening, about to happen, or has happened. You really only need one to have one built out, since the others tend to grow out of exploring one, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few different options of each kind so you can run the game your players are interested in playing. You could try to predict that ahead of time and build the precise number of interesting things you need in that direction to make the world feel lived-in, but it’s usually more fun if you have a bit of each. In my experience, it always feels rewarding when the players find ties to past events that get them excited to learn more about whatever situation they’re in, when players can tie current events to past events when they initially seemed unrelated, and everyone loves a bit of foreshadowing that pays out.

Continue reading

Creating Interesting Worlds For Tabletop Games

Creating a setting for a tabletop roleplaying game is a lot of work. Regardless of whether it is supposed to be the backdrop for an entire campaign or a temporary location your players find themselves, it takes a lot of work to get it ready. I have had a lot of experience creating worlds, given that it was always my favorite part of writing stories and running D&D games, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons about how to do it effectively and quickly. Not every setting can be created quickly, of course, some things just take time to work out, but I have a few tips and principles I stick to that help me create something I can use without making it so rigid that there’s no room to improvise and adapt as your players (or characters, for written stories) explore.

Continue reading

I Got To Play D&D In Person For The First Time In Over Two Years

Thanks to a friend coming into town for the first time in a few years, I was able to run my Sunday night Dungeons and Dragons game in-person for the first time. There is the unfortunate caveat that the game was 4/5ths in person, since one of the players was still remote, but that’s a setup I’ve dealt with many times in the past (it was the default for my pre-pandemic Sunday night game for pretty much the entire time I’ve had a Sunday night game). This time, though, the guy who was usually the remote player got to be there in-person! It was a fun change of pace, even if I had to basically dismantle my computer and office in order to get the whole setup working since most of my notes, resources, and tools are digital these days.

Continue reading

Together, We All Grow As Storytellers

I’ve been running Dungeons and Dragons games for over a decade now. Twelve years, this summer. For the last six years, I’ve been running Sunday evening games for a group that has changed many times, with the exception of two players. These two people, friends I’ve known to some degree about as long as I’ve been running Dungeons and Dragons, have been an endless source of amusement and fun for me as a dungeon master. From tragic beginnings, moments of hilarity, grave failures, and a general willingness to go wherever I lead them, I don’t think I could ask for more from any players of mine.

Continue reading

What Makes A Story A Gaming Campaign Or A Book

I wish I had the time and energy for more weekly Dungeons and Dragons games. Specifically, the time and energy to run them. At present, I’d like to get myself to one weekly game (that, you know, actually plays weekly) and two every-other-week games that alternate so I can run two games a week but have more time to prepare the two that alternate. If I didn’t have to spend time working a full-time job, I could probably run a game every day. Do prep in the morning, run in the afternoon, and have evenings to myself. I’ve thought about trying to get into the “Game Master as a day job” gig, but I’ve decided that for now, I want to keep this as just a hobby. Still, if I had more time and energy, I’d love to add another game or two into rotation.

Continue reading

Potential Timeline Hijinks Aren’t a Risk, They’re an Opportunity

I’ve been recycling a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that, in its first run, dramatically changed during the time it was transitioning from the “early introduction to the mechanics, world, and general themes” phase to the “initial major plot threads and character story incorporation” phase. Because of some players withdrawing due to pandemic-related stress and removing a player due to violating table rules and interpersonal conflicts, the scope of the campaign had to be drastically reduced since two of the early-plot-essential player characters were no longer in the campaign. And while I could find a way to make it work without them, the players left weren’t as interested in continuing those story arcs the way they’d been going. So I made some major changes, moved their campaign around in time, and changed how a lot of the story was being told. As a result, I had an entire campaign’s worth of world prep, plot notes/ideas, and cool magic items just sitting around.

Continue reading

All This To Say I Just Want To Talk About Stories

There is nothing I love more than talking about stories and storytelling with people. A mix of literary criticism, careful analysis, delighted comparison, and rampant speculation, nothing gets me as fired up, recharged, and happy as a long talk about beloved stories with someone who shares my enthusiasm. It is something that has been in short supply lately, given my isolation and what feels like the rising toxicity of the internet. Most of my friends who enjoy stories don’t really care for the level of analysis and discussion I would like, and the few places I have access to this online, there’s a degree of rabidity that makes me uncomfortable to engage with others past a surface level.

Continue reading

A Gift of Self-Analysis

As someone who is examining low-cost holiday present ideas for this absolute disaster of a fiscal year, I’ll admit that I find myself somewhat frustrated that I can’t really fall back on my creative talents. Musicians can record songs, visual artists can offer pieces of their work, and craftspeople can give excellent handmade gifts. If your skill is words, it is a lot more difficult. I had an excellent gift from a friend that was a treasured memory written in beautiful prose, but I myself am not so inclined. Partly because I’m skilled at producing lots of words but feel like the weave of my prose is lacking, and partly because I genuinely don’t have many memories that aren’t tinged by sadness or loneliness.

Continue reading