As I’ve been working on a setting for a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I’ve been thinking about alternate ways to inform my players and manage various things like lore, legends, myths, and what a person in the world I’m creating would consider the truth of things. There’s a lot of willing-suspension-of-disbelief that happens for most D&D games, so there isn’t a lot most GMs and players need to make it work, but the particular game I’m running is reliant on very specific knowledge and mythology. I can expect my players to ask questions to help fill out what their characters know and I can work to understand what the average person in this world would know so I can avoid making my players roll for the basics, but I can also use my degree in English literature to create mythology and legends for the world in a way that establishes the basics. Plus, then I get to have fun writing stuff and I LOVE writing stuff.Continue reading
Lately, I’ve been enjoying making lots of documents for my Dungeons & Dragons games. I know I talk about “understanding can serve you better than knowing” a lot here, but there’s a point where you understand so much you start needing to record it all somewhere so you remember it later. Generally, I like to keep these documents to broad, general strokes without a lot of specifics so I can cleave to my principles as a DM, but it is very helpful to have all the specific, complex systems worked out ahead of time. For instance, in the domain of dread I’ve built for my weekly Sunday D&D, I have a list of the various tiers of effects the players can encounter, the ways various encounters tie into those tiers, how to switch between tiers, and how the world/the people in the world respond to their efforts written down. What I add whenever it comes up are the specific debilities tied to the tiers as my players encounter them. Those I do not have built out ahead of time since I don’t need a name until it’s happening and the name and specific effect should reflect the situation the player character has found themselves in.Continue reading
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
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
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 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
Of course, the week I wrote about being resilient and capable of managing my stress is the week the world takes another step down the “gone to hell” path. My workplace announces an end to mask requirements, Russia invades Ukraine (keep in mind I wrote this on February 24th and February 24th Chris has no idea what has happened between now and then), and the conservatives of my country have continued to do their best to prove what absolute shithead fascists they are. I really need to stop writing about how I’ve finally gotten my feet underneath me or how I’m managing my stress. It feels too much like tempting the fuckers to fuck something up in the world at this point.Continue reading
I have been spoiled by Breath of the Wild. I can’t play a single game without thinking about BotW and making what are usually unfair comparisons. Nothing will ever be the same for me, after BotW, and every gaming experience I have will be in the context of this game. And I’m only being sorta overdramatic.Continue reading
After over three years, I’ve finally returned to Horizon Zero Dawn. I bought it back in 2018, started playing it, and then stopped because of some overly critical comparisons to Breath of the Wild (which I had just finished replaying) and a significant frustration that it LOOKED like I could climb anywhere if I did it right, but the game wouldn’t really let me do that. I never really got back to it because one of my roommates played through it and I dislike playing anything that he’s played where he can watch because he is terrible at not spoiling things. Just the worst. He makes a lot of comments and they’re all revealing rather than clever, plus he has very particular opinions about plotting and world building that I don’t necessarily agree with.Continue reading
My roommate convinced me to start playing World of Warcraft several months ago. After a one-month subscription and about thirty levels of playing, I set it aside and never really planned to play again. Recently, as he was preparing for the Expansion that just came out, he discovered that a few of our friends also played and so used my main weakness against me. I’ve got up to four other people who will play with me, now, so there’s not reason for me to worry about letting my money go to waste. Seeing that he was correct and that the new expansion looked like fun, I decided to follow most of my friends from our other online games to WoW.
My initial reactions, this time around, were about the same as last time. The game seems pretty interesting, but it feels way more invested in giving older players something to do than in bringing new players to the game in a way that is easy to learn. If, like me, you wind up purchasing an expansion and using the level-up on a character so you can actually participate when the new content comes out, you better hope you can learn things quickly because you’re otherwise going to drown in the mechanics of target managements, cooldown abilities (powerful abilities that can only be used once every so often, as determined by the ability itself and possibly some of your stats), and casted abilities (can be instantaneous, but often require your character to spend time preparing to use the ability before it goes off), movement in combat, how everything works, and what the hell is going on while you’re trying to remember which button you bound your fireball spell to after you finally bought a mouse with extra buttons that you can barely reach because people apparently don’t believe that MMO players might have large hands. I’m definitely not still annoyed about that last one. Not at all.
That being said, once I was finished having my mind exploded by all the stuff I had to track, found a key-binding I could work with, and started getting to the point where I could watch the battle instead of staring at my abilities constantly, it was actually a lot of fun. The quests are a little hard to follow and there’s so much going on in the world at large that it feels almost pointless to really dig into any of them, so I am pretty much only playing as a social video game. Which is a lot like social drinking. You’d never have more than maybe a beer on your own (do a daily quest) but you’ve got no problem cracking open a few cold ones when you’re with your friends or attending an event (doing quest lines and raiding dungeons). For WoW, that’s what I’d call myself: a social gamer. I don’t think I’ll ever play it by myself and not just because I’m worried I’ll get addicted. I just have other stuff I’d rather do with personal time than play WoW since I can do that with social time.
As far as I can tell, the game is basically a giant grinding machine with little bits of story thrown in every year or so in order to confuse new players who just want to understand what’s going on in the world when their friends pull them into it. That being said, WoW has a wide range of lore for people to peruse. There are books, comics, promotional videos, in-game cinematics, the dialogue from the quests you do, and then history brought in from other games. Most of the big, named characters have long, complex backstories that add nuance to their actions that isn’t really something you can do in a game that doesn’t have the actual history that WoW does. Because we know who everyone is and how they’ve acted in the past, we can generally see how they’ll react to something going on in the current story. One of the most popular parts of the pre-release for a new WoW expansion is going on message boards and theorizing about the plot or who is going to do what based on whatever little tidbit has been recently released to the public. I don’t really have the patience for it, but I’m still pretty new to the world. I have literally done the same stuff about the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss (which are amazing books you should read), so I wouldn’t dream of judging or looking down on anyone who enjoys postulating theories for WoW. It just feels like so much more work to get caught up to speed because the Kingkiller Chronicles is two books and WoW is a bunch of games, books, comics, etc that need to be analyzed if I’m going to participate in dissecting nuance.
As far as my current experience? Well, I’ll admit I’m a little frustrated by the number of high-level Alliance players corpse-camping in the lower-level Horde area and the fact that apparently none of the powerful Horde NPCs will lift a finger to attack Alliance players that are camping out in our base. It was funny to get absolutely wrecked by two people–killed so quickly and effectively that I didn’t have the chance to do anything in response to their attacks–the first couple times, it has since gotten rather frustrating since I can’t kill them (or even effectively fight back) and they’re preventing me from completing quests. A bunch of Horde players showed up to clear them out at one point, but they apparently got bored and decided to leave the area to the Alliance players once again. So that, plus constantly getting spammed with invitations to join guilds, requests to party up with random strangers, and some dude trying to sell some dumb looking mount for three million gold, means I’m pretty ready to just turn off all public chat and interaction with unknown players. I dislike the spam and I don’t want to make friends with random people who just want me for my DPS.
Thankfully, I’m getting better at the game. I’m not always so stunned by it, and I’m starting to remember to use my abilities in the correct order and at the correct times. The only mistakes I made today are a result of not looking at my keyboard instead of the fight like I used to. If I can mark the keys a bit or get a new keyboard (it’s about that time, since my mouse already died last week) that has some sort of tactile feedback for each key, I will be in really good shape. I didn’t see myself getting into this game as much as I have and I definitely struggled at first, but I feel like I’m finally starting to get a handle on it.