e-D&D and Parallel Experiences

In a lot of ways, I’m a curmudgeon of a luddite who is afeared of technology. I mean, sure, I’ve literally worked on space telecommunications, but for some reason podcasts seem new and terrifying. Video streams, and even YouTube channels, don’t seem weird or foreign, but podcasts? It’s strange magic performed in the woods by the Sheldon gang summoning the Black Goat of a Thousand Young. Shubby N. is a good dude, I’m sure, but we have a hard time relating to each other. We just have very different backgrounds, ya know?

Get to Know the Crossroads

After a diversion into some discussion of Nemesis, I return this week to encourage people to get to know things. In the name of this spooky season, I am continuing with demons, devils, ghoulies, ghosties, goblins, and so forth. Ok, so I covered a type of devil and scarecrows thus far for the month and that’s it. Whatever, let’s not make a big deal about it. Rather than discuss a particular creature, I wanted to instead talk about the folklore of the crossroads, and the supernatural beings that are said to patronize them. Don’t worry, there will be some discussion of D&D critters, though maybe not the ones you think. If you’ve missed the rest of the series so far, you can catch up with it here.

Unearthed Arcana: Encounter Building Breakdown

Huh, new UA today, and on what is for some of us a holiday. I guess WotC doesn’t take Indigenous Peoples’ Day off? Either that, or they decided it should be a gift-giving holiday. Anyway, today Mearls is tackling an alternate approach to encounter building. Overall, we see very little expansion or revision of DM-facing content, and especially not with something as bone-dry as encounter building.

Get to Know the Kenku

Last week, I spent a little bit of time talking about a creature I thought was cool and didn’t get enough recognition — the azer. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so I thought I would discuss one of my other favorite creatures in D&D: the kenku. For the unaware, kenku are awesome crow people (except for when they are hawk people), and have an entire weird culture built, on the surface at any rate, around the idea that crows are clever thieves. Kenku are much more than that, and have some pretty great backstory that is modular and capable of fitting into many a campaign.

Get to Know the Azer

One of my favorite creatures of all time is the azer. Even though they have been around since 1983, I have never played in a game in which azers have featured, nor have I heard of games friends and acquaintances run that feature them. This is a shame, because azers are incredibly interesting, and are a great alternative to traditional elemental representation. Even better, the lore is easy to insert into a variety of situations and games. If you are looking for something underrepresented to feature in a game, then look no further than the azer.

Puzzles in a Pinch

If you had asked me a decade ago, I would never have said I would be in a spot where I need to have multiple puzzles ready to go at a moment’s notice. Well, time makes fools of us all. I’m not saying I’m a world-class detective with a top hat, courtly manners, and a weird orange shirt, but I am saying I run a few games with a variety of players and mediums. This means that I need to have a similarly diverse spread of puzzles. This can be a tricky feat, as puzzles can be time consuming to create and difficult to run in a satisfying way. Over time, I’ve found some time-saving, but still satisfying, solutions to this problem. Hopefully, these techniques will save some time for a GM in need.

Tribal Knowledge: High-Level Plot Seeds

High-level gameplay has long been one of the toughest parts of a D&D campaign, for a variety of reasons. In 5th Edition, the game-balance issues of many earlier editions are greatly reduced, if not entirely solved. The adventures WotC has published bring characters to the threshold of serious high-level play (other than Curse of Strahd, we’re talking about 15th level or so) and then stop – leaving DMs to go it alone or end the campaign. In this article, I discuss ideas for how to make high-level play as satisfying as earlier levels. If your players get to high levels and have goals of their own that they’re invested in, then don’t worry about any of this article – just look for ways to make pursuing their goals bloody and inconvenient, because they’ve done the rest of the work for you. Come back to this article once they have everything they want, but they’re still looking to you for the next story.

Popstar and Putting a Good Twist on Classics

I am taking a break from the Zir’an series this week to focus on some GM advice from an unlikely source: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

I’m a big fan of the directorial efforts of Christopher Guest. When your weakest entry into films is the still-hilarious For Your Consideration, you have made some wise choices. With this is mind, it is no small consideration for me to state in the future there will be back-to-back viewings of This is Spinal Tap! and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The last few years have seen a resurgence in the music star biopic. Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, One Direction, and more have put out theatrical release documentaries. This is to say nothing of all of the reality shows and news magazine shows that cover celebrities. While people might say, “This is just a rip off of This is Spinal Tap!”, it is really a topical mockumentary lampooning recent trends, while also presenting some amazing comedy. However, this article isn’t really to sing the praises of the film. Instead, it’s to discuss some of the specific ways the film approaches classic jokes and spins them in new directions, reappropriating them to create something else entirely, but with the trappings of the classic jokes. This is invaluable for storytelling, specifically if you are looking to expand your GM skills.

Tribal Knowledge: You’ve Got to Know How to Ask

This article is about a very thorny subject in gaming: what does it take to get information out of someone who doesn’t want to give it to you? I’ll be attempting to address this point within both LARPing and tabletop gaming, as the visceral immediacy of LARPing intensifies the issue. There are interlinked issues of information control, the grimdarkness of the setting, the players’ and DM/NPCs’ conceptions of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” mind-control magic, and whether any threat suffices to get the PCs to back down.

Also, a caveat to the whole discussion: nothing that I’m going to discuss here is necessary or helpful if the DM and the players can easily come to consensus on the issues. Rules exist to guide the flow of play when the sides of a conflict can’t agree, or when uncertainty in the outcome is desirable. This is doubly true when applied to rules governing social encounters (or, in the case of interrogation, anti-social).

Five Essential Lessons for New DMs in D&D

Since the release of 5th Edition, I’ve run into many DMs trying their hand at D&D for the very first time. Some of these folks are coming to the table with previous experience in Pathfinder, Star Wars, Gurps, etc., but others are as green as it gets. With that in mind, I’d like to welcome the new DMs to the wonderful world created and maintained by Gygax, Greenwood, Salvatore, Elmore, Hickman, Weis, Easley, Perkins, and many, many more. I’d also like to impart some of my hard earned knowledge from 20 years as both a player and a DM with five essential do’s and don’ts that can easily make or break an adventure. Keep in mind that a lot of my advice is geared toward DMs running their own original homebrew material and not all of it may apply to pre-generated adventures.