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.

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The Best D&D Story Genre Is Mix-And-Match

I’ve begun introducing some elements of horror into one of my D&D campaigns. One of the BBEGs of the whole homebrew world is essentially nothingness that is something. The Void, since I can’t help but enjoy an allusion to a common phrase. Because when you stare into The Void in this homebrew D&D world, it literally stares back into you. It provides a great tool to mechanism ennui, doubt, and questions about the purpose of it all in a D&D game where some of the players are interested in asking those questions.

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Delving Into A New Dungeon

Post-Publication Edit: One of my friends on Twitter helpfully pointed out that one of the creators of this game, Adam K., has been involved in some awful controversies and, as these horrible things have shown, was apparently never a terribly nice person despite the persona he cultivated online. I can’t suggest buying the book at this point since I don’t think this guy should get any more money, but the other creator seems to be grappling with the failings of this system (e.g. the fantasy racism spread through the examples of how to use the rules and narrative guidelines in play) and his co-creator in a potentially healthy way (I’ll admit I’ve spent only an hour reading up on all this so there might be stuff I’ve missed), so I suggest getting fully informed before you make a decision.

As you’ll see below, I like the narrative style of the system and the light, story-centric rules, but those are common to most Powered by the Apocalypse games, not just Dungeon World, so I suggest you look elsewhere in that system if you want a fun game that doesn’t support someone whose actions are antithetical to my primary principles as a storyteller and GM.

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A Focus on Power Fantasies Ruins TTRPGs For Everyone

I saw someone post on Twitter that Dungeons and Dragons is all about power fantasies and, as a result, most people play characters that are like them in an effort to roleplay situations that make them, personally, feel powerful. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this idea and a WHOLE lot of thoughts about how it can play out in actual games. Part of the problem, of course, is that making any blanket statement based on your personal experiences shows your personal biases, privelege, and frequently overlooks the experiences of people who aren’t like you. I’m going to try to avoid making any such statements here by talking about my experiences specifically, but I will have to generalize a bit unless I’m going to write an entire novel. Which has a certain appeal, but this isn’t really the medium for discourse at length.

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Player Engagement Is a Key GM Skill

I have not always been a good DM. I think it might still be presumptive to call myself a good DM and that I would be more comfortable saying I’m a decent DM with a few specialities, but I think I wouldn’t argue against anyone if they called me a good DM. I think the lesson I learned that made me an alright DM was to never, under any circumstance, take away player agency. They’re free to do whatever they want in the game and I should support their endeavors, but they’re also free to suffer the consequences of their actions.

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Tabletop Highlight: Dice and the Laws of Probability

If you pick up and roll a d20, you have a 1 in 20 chance of rolling any given number. If you pick it up again and roll it, you have a 1 in 20 change of getting the same number despite the fact that, if you’d considered this from the outset, you’d have had a 1 in 400 change of rolling the same number. If you rolled it a third time, it’s still 1 in 20 as roll it but, as a concept, is also 1 in 8000.

Mathematically speaking, the 1 in 8000 chance represents all potential outcomes for rolling a twenty-sided die three times in succession with the goal of it being the same number each time, but technically only if you pick which number it is in advance. If you say “any number” three times, the chance is really 1 in 400 because the first roll just sets the target number rather than affecting the probability of getting it three times in a row. But, if you talk about it afterwords, you still had a 1 in 8000 chance of rolling that exact sequence.

Clearly, the probability of this is a bit fucky because anyone who has played D&D can tell you, you do not need to roll a d20 8000 times in order to roll three natural twenties in a row. In 5e, this exact sequence is a little less remarked upon because if you roll a single “natural” 20, you critically succeed at whatever the roll was about (some variations on this apply since that’s technically a house rule that is widely used rather than a rule suggested by the D&D books). You don’t need to roll anything else. In the previous popular version of D&D, 3.5, you had to roll to confirm your critical hit and almost everyone played with the custom rule that rolling two 20s in a row mean you went from scoring a critical hit to potentially killing your target with a single hit. If you rolled a third 20, your target was just dead because it had been made clear the dice gods wanted them dead.

As a DM in charge of NPCs in combat and in social encounters, I typically make more dice rolls than any one of my players. As a result I have a tendency to see more extremes than most of my players. That being said, it doesn’t account for my ability to roll three natural twenties as frequently as I do. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve roll three natural ones in a roll because the number is zero. The most I’ve ever rolled is two. Yet I’ve also rolled five natural twenties in a row. I also have a high tendency to roll in the upper third of numbers on any standard die I roll. I like to joke with my friends that prettier dice roll better, but it doesn’t matter for me. Any die I pick up can do this.

I can’t explain it any way but this: I have a huge amount of dice luck. It doesn’t apply to any kind of chance-oriented situation since I’ve only ever won one thing in a drawing or lottery, and I don’t think I’ve ever been dealt a decent hand in any card game, but I always roll high with dice. Specifically, high. Not “well.” My friend was working on a game where you needed to roll under certain numbers in order to succeed and I failed literally every check I ever rolled in the two 3-hour sessions we played that game. For whatever reason, I roll high on dice.

Which is an incredibly frustrating knack to have as a DM. I’ve killed more players due to my own good dice rolls than because of my players’ poor roles or bad decisions. As a player in other people’s games, it can be frustrating or seem like cheating when I succeed with aplomb more frequently than the rest of the table put together. I’ve been called on it a dozen or so times and now I just roll my dice in the open as a player. If they call me on it then, I offer to re-roll with anyone’s dice and still, I succeed. This is one of the reasons I always get nervous about the idea of playing in a game shop. It only takes one person losing their temper and accusing you of cheating to make you not want to play with strangers any more.

So when I roll three twenties in a row and insta-kill two player characters, I sigh heavily and move on with my life. As do my players. It’s not like I tried. I didn’t choose to be an outlier on the bellcurve that is the laws of probability.

I actually took a statistics class in college, back when I was studying psychology, and I have to say that most statistics and most probability is a bunch of bullshit when it comes to explaining how the world works. Statistics are helpful because they are part of understanding how the world works on a conceptual level, but all you have to do is look into the Monty Hall Problem to realize it is a difficult science with far more factors than is readily apparent which makes it far too complex for most of us to understand without a great deal of explanation.

Anyway, the real purpose of this piece is so that I have something I can link to when my players complain about how frequently I roll natural 20s in our D&D games and so other people can appreciate that yes, sometimes your luck really is just that good/bad. You have no one to blame for your dice rolls but yourself since not even the uncaring mathematical universe controls them as we can clearly see from the fact that I just dumped out my bag of d20s at my desk and had five twenties out of the 27 dice I rolled.