Saturday, February 22, 2014

Some blogs that helped me learn to be a better DM

In no particular order:

Jeff's Gameblog: How To Awesome-Up Your Players

-Helped me to put in perspective how to focus on my player's goals and brought me to the realization of not really caring about backgrounds, as the real character gets built from the ground up by what the player chooses to spend their time doing and what they succeed and, more often, fail at trying to do.

Rotten Pulp: Matt Rundles Anti-Hammerspace Inventory Tracker

-I really like the idea of a more pulpy item system and brought this into my game in a modified way (higher strength characters have more slots) and it is nice for certain situations that can destroy an inventory item (backpack) or cause them to lose something from a pocket. I have had a player go unconscious while another player hoisted them up and grabbed a healing potion to feed them while running away. They lost the Dexterity check so they rolled to lose one item from their pocket. It just so happened that out of the half a dozen small items they had, he randomly dropped the key to the Inn they had recently acquired, meaning they were now being chased by a tribe of orcs and locked out of their own Inn.

Rotten Pulp: How My Campaign Works

-This one just appeals to the ways players seem to get involved in everything and anything they get involved in invariably turns out horribly for everyone else involved.

Hack & Slash

-This blog has too many favorites to count, but has put out amazing quantity and quality of content regarding everything under the sun. More interesting treasure, tricks, traps, and encounters, which has helped in many ways to formulate some of the basic ideas behind the algorithm and styling of my DM Screen program. There are many blogs about keeping player agency alive while still having many interesting (and deadly) tricks and traps. I have gotten a lot of miles out of reading this blog, and it updates very regularly.

False Machine

-A great source for really off-the-wall random tables and ideas. I love a certain amount of weirdness to keep my players on their toes and False Machine genuinely delivers if not in execution then certainly in all the villainously insidious ideas that those tables generate. Take a look at Twelve Kinds of Dark if you want an idea of something crazy to keep your players questioning what is really beyond the next door in a dungeon or in the world.

Telecanter's Receding Rules

-Telecanter puts forth a wealth of interesting material but what first helped me as a DM trying to improve my craft, I looked to his house rules document for some really amazing rules that both simplify the rules and make the game more interesting for the players. Really cool ideas though, are in his Deadly Distractions documents that showcase a new kind of deadliness for the players, things that go against their expectations.

Monster Manual Sewn from Pants

-Cool crafty stuff aside (i.e. sewing together the entire monster manual from scraps of cloth), these random tables are another one of my favorites. The, pull-no-punches, absolutely crazy tables are a constant source of inspiration and ideas for my own tricks, traps, and encounters.

Hex Crawl: Hex Basics

-This blog really helped convince me to go from a word and map only overland map style to a physical hex map for the overland map. It also includes, in the subsequent parts, the basics of generating such a map. I really helpful tool for anyone looking to get at the basics of how to run a hex-crawl map.

Rendered Press: My Petty God Mythos

-One of my favorites because it brought about a change to my usual treatment of the D&D mythos as simply being a pantheon of distant and powerful gods to a whole spectrum of demi-gods and petty gods vying for power all the way to the mightiest of gods. It has also given me more ideas of having these gods actually interact with the players and react to their plans.

Rather Gamey: The Six Million Dollar GM

-I like Rather Gamey for a lot of reasons, the random drawings, the random inspirations and ideas, but most of all I really liked this short post on ways to really improve. It is rather snarky, but I like snark, and I realized I had been doing most of those things. I would defer to rule books during a game, fudge dice to make encounters more epic, and I planned way too hard (burned me out more than a few times).

Once I get the hang of this blogspot thing, I will probably add a bar along the side that links to the blogs I am currently reading.

Friday, February 21, 2014

[Obligatory Intro Post]

I am an avid gamer. I play a good number of video game, board games, and role-playing games. I am a poor college student (almost out of the woods) so I mostly play the same games over and over again. Recently, I have watched some very cool, and necessarily cheap, ways of creating terrain and have been building up my own supply of terrain pieces over the last year. While doing so, I have been DM'ing a game of D&D Next as a sandbox adventure, writing my own virtual DM Screen program, brewing small batches of beer, and playing loads of board games.

My recent kicks for games have been, in no particular order, Medieval II Total War, The Binding of Isaac, Terraria, Bang!, Pandemic, and Avalon. Those can and do change though.

DM'ing D&D Next is very engaging for me and I have learned a lot over the last year and half that I have been running this campaign. I always had trouble running a sandbox before but some useful blog posts by a variety of people really helped me to sort out my DM style. I run a hex based map of 6-mile hexes for over-world travel and run a grid-less system for tactical combat and dungeon crawling. The over-world map is something I have drawn out on paper and hexed out with Hexographer.  Hexographer Website. I started off using the free version, but it was so useful (and went on sale) that I went ahead and spent money on the full version. Here's a map of an area my players are in right now. I like to keep the symbols vague enough that I can spin them on the fly to what I roll up in random tables.
The Southern Orc-Lands
The world is a creation of my own, Evylos. I have some basics of it fleshed out and a general over-world map, but I enjoy building it up around my players as they explore a la Truman Show. It helps keep some mystery about it too, as they only really have access to information that they ask about or encounter, and there may well be a demi-god or hidden cult waiting around any corner or behind any plot (and boy do my players come up with some convoluted plots of who is behind everyday coincidences).

For my tactical and dungeon crawling times, I run without a grid in a sort of 2.5 D terrain style. DMScotty introduced me to this style DMScotty's Youtube Channel and his channel is a cool place to see terrain features that can be made with only cardboard, glue, and paint. My players took a bit of adjusting to get used to a grid-less system but it works for us and feels more realistic/free flowing (i.e. confirmation bias)
A long fight in the second to last floor of a mini-Mega Dungeon.
To make all this randomness possible without a textbook of random tables and hours of dice-rolling, I have been building myself a digital DM Screen that is able to handle most of my needs. It handles encounter rolls, encounter types, treasure hordes, and much more. I now DM with my girlfriends broken laptop (half the screen doesn't work), a scrap paper for monster HP, and my maps. Granted, I like making things up, so the descriptions on most things are left pretty vague and open to detailing. There is plenty of random occurrences, but that doesn't stop my players from adding in their own subtext and connecting dots that may not be there. I am happy to flesh out the half-paranoid rantings of my players or attach it to the schemes of NPC's. Boy, do they come up with some crazy ideas. The key is never letting them know what was planned out and what was random...

Monday, February 17, 2014

I intend to start my posts soon, and I want to upload one every week, starting this Friday. Stay tuned for posts about Dungeons and Dragons, terrain crafting, my long-term DMTools program, and more!