Friday, November 14, 2008

Dungeons and/or Dragons

I enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons. A lot. Like most RPGs it allows a chance to tell a small piece of a story inside of a world, whether you are a player telling the story of your character, or the DM guiding players through a world of your design.

What makes DnD particularly interesting though, is that the world is only roughly outlined, so that an infinite number of stories can take place inside of it.

This can be a very daunting set of shoes to step into, especially for a DM. This is the role I enjoy filling, as a writer, but even someone who decides they want to step up has only overcome the first hurdle.

From the get go, you are stuck in the middle between letting your players choose their own path through the world as they play and trying to tell a coherent story. Now, some fix this by leaving everything open ended and just handing their players a map and a couple of hints.

This can be fun for players, but it tends to get rough fast if there is any friction within the party and it means a lot of work in advance for you.

The way I tend to try and work it is by striking a balance between the story and the freedom of open world questing. I use the story as an overall frame that, instead of putting the players on a railroad into what I demand they enjoy, it just nudges them in various directions.

One good way of doing this is by having a lot of minor quests for players to accept or decline as they see fit. If the story sends them to a town that also happens to be the center for some strange occult activity, then they can decide to investigate. Along the way they may find a dispute to try and settle, or maybe a criminal on the loose that needs catching.

All the while, tie it back into the main story, by perhaps giving up a little information that will help them as a reward. Also, I try and make these the quests that reward them with the monetary types of treasure, while the magic items come in through the story.

The other thing to do is have multiple ways in mind that they can complete a given objective. If there is a mad leprechaun on the loose, perhaps they can pay him off, negotiate with him, or simply divert his energies elsewhere. Not everything has to end on the point of a sword. (Unless your players want that, which is cool.)

Now, I mentioned rewards a moment ago, which brings me to another point I hadn't thought of.
Players want to feel that their actions are noticed, so it is deathly important for you to pay attention to small things they do. Reward them for clever sayings by tossing a little bit of extra gold their way, or perhaps an action point for fast thinking. These small rewards go a long way to encourage players to think on their feet, and really helps with their immersion into the game if they feel like their actions have real consequence.

Now, this goes the other way also. The hardest part of the job is punishing player behavior, because you don't want to feel like a nanny that has to tsk their players. The problem is, if they decide to derail the game, especially if the whole party is not in on it, then it is time for you to step in and handle it. This can be done in or out of game.

For example, if the party has been dealing with the King of Wagonville, and one player decides that the king's blood pressure is too high and stabs him a few times to alleviate the problem, then that puts you in a rather tight spot. Do you allow the player's action to stand? Or do you tell them that their psychotic behavior causes him to turn into a weevil?

The best answer is to let the players decide, since to be honest they were the ones wronged, not you. (No matter how pissed you are that they derailed the work you put into a game.)

Remember, the game is about the players in the end. Without them, you are just left as a writer with a loose idea. (This has its own merits, but we all know how I feel about writing.) Make sure that they understand from the get go what you expect, and keep checking to make sure they are having fun, and things should go smoothly.

Good luck DMs!

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