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Friday, April 13, 2018

Dungeons & Dragons - What is a Good Dungeon Master in 2018?

I have been busy working on a couple projects, one of which is a secret thing that I am very excited about.

This blog has opened up many opportunities for me in the D&D realm. Thank you for reading my stuff and buying my DMs Guild products!

Running the Tomb: I've been running games online and it has been going tremendously well. We have played through almost all of the Tomb of Annihilation. I'm starting to look at the final encounter and really study the bad guys. I want make sure I don't mess anything up!

So far, the tomb has not been as deadly as I thought it would be. I think part of that is due to me being a bit of a softie.

My other group, the Dungeon Academy, has started playing through the Chris Perkins/Jon Leiheusser Temple of Elemental Evil prequel, the Battle of Emridy Meadows. That group is fantastic! The last episode was really awesome, total chaos.

The Greyhawk Channel: I am playing in a campaign on the Greyhawk Channel. It's called Mordenkainen's Path of the Planes.

I made a githzerai, basically so I could use all the lore I dug up in my guide to the githzerai.

Being a part of this game has taught me quite a bit about where D&D is at in 2018, and it made me think about whether or not I need to adjust my style.

I run my games in a goofy sort of manner. I keep it moving, I joke around, there's not many in-depth scenes. I keep dialogue short.

As I played this session, it dawned on me that many players on this show and on others are expecting something different. Players are watching Critical Role and Dice, Camera, Action, and it seems like a lot of them are expecting and looking forward to the emotional, dramatic side of the game.

People want to invest in the game in ways that, frankly, I have never been comfortable with. I'm not saying that I can't or won't do it, I'm just saying I've never fully committed to it and that it's new territory for me.

The session we just did in Mordenkainen's Path of the Planes was really awesome. The production on this show is great. Shane, the DM, has background music, he uses roll20, he's got maps and tokens for everything, and we use zoom and discord.

On top of that, he's got all of these twitch gadget things running that keeps the chat engaged. It's amazing to watch the channel grow so quickly and it is very clear to me that the greyhawk channel is going to be huge very soon. All three of the other players he got for this game are awesome.

So as I'm playing, I'm sitting there thinking about which of these things that he's doing might fit into my online games. I'm not a technical guy, but I understand that production values matter. What should I use? What can my computer handle? How simple is too simple when it comes to running an online game?

As the session cam to an end, we had a scene where we'd survived a cataclysmic occurrence and were in the ruins of Mordenkainen's tower. My character is a drunken master monk, and so he went looking for booze.

Since I'm a githzerai, I hate slavers. One of the characters was a reformed slaver, or something to that effect. My character hated her. The other heroes encouraged me to let it go. She made an impassioned plea. So, my character paused for a moment, and then slid her a drink. My character hasn't accepted this person, but he's open enough to see what she does next.

When the session was over, I turned the whole thing over in my head. Should I be making space for these kinds of scenes in my games? We only have two hours per session. They eat up a lot of time.

I'm coming to the conclusion that many.. most.. of my players are looking for this kind of thing, and I probably have not been accommodating them.

Spotlighting Backstory: I've never been good at blending backstories with published adventures. Going over the Dice, Camera, Action summaries, I noticed how the show pretty much revolves around the group's backstories.
  • Strix: The Izek, Lady Wachter, and Skizzies.
  • Diath: The hanging, Gutter and Lorcatha.
  • Evelyn: The Lathander stuff with the constructs and the saints.
  • Paultin: The Strahd/Dark lord run and the ring of winter.
Chris jumps around, focusing on one or two characters each session. It seems to be working both for the players and the viewers. People like it.

One thing I don't like on DCA is how Chris splits the group up a lot. There are plenty of times where a player will sit there for 30 minutes, doing nothing while two other characters are off adventuring.

I don't like that, I don't want players to come to the table and just sit there and watch. If I was going to split them up, I'd try to cut between them every 5 minutes or so.

But, again, nobody seems to mind.

Going Forward: I think what I am going to do is just take little baby steps and see what happens. I'll make some space here and there - probably during rests - and throw in story-type stuff that feeds the feels, so to speak.

I think the point of all entertainment is to make you feel something, right? I've probably not put enough effort into that in my games. In think that gives my games a somewhat shallow quality, sort of like rocks skipping on the surface of a lake.

We'll see. I'll mess around with it and let you know how it goes.

I should be able to talk about my secret project soon. Maybe a few weeks? I hope people like it, I'm really breaking my back over this thing.

I'll be running:
Tomb of Annihilation tomorrow at 6:30 PM EST
Dungeons Academy 7 on Sunday at 6:30 PM EST


Anonymous said...

- Just make it personal, im DMng Storm Kings thunder. here are the player hooks.
Rock - human fighter - Hashnag defeated his dad in a duel, he need to find him and regain his honor.
Eldreth - elven Mage - he is searching for the family moonblade, he knows the allfather oracle can have the answers.
Fulgrim - Human paladin - His order was destroyed by the kraken cult, he need to find them.
Maegasa - Dwarven rogue - he is being hunted down by giants because he has the iron flask

Ive created one important NPC for every character to show up in occasions.
Rock - his older brother - talk about politics and information, he is a general
Eldreth - his grandfather, a mage that prohibited him to persue the moonblade
Fulgrim - his god tyr, in his dreams
Maegasa - his old companions the zentharins (he is a contact)

Gamingdin said...

What is a Good Dungeon Master in 2018? You're having fun, your players are having fun. It's the same answer no matter what the year is and it will never change.

Any good DM has always thought about others. They think about the players, the NPCs, the world they're in and they care that everyone has a good time. That kind of empathetic person tends to be self critical and often vulnerable. There's a weird almost body shaming culture coming from the promoted streaming. It's like young girls and boys comparing themselves to super models and athlete and hitting the gym and starving themselves to be just like the adverts and photo shopped pictures. I think it's hurting a lot of the less confidant DMs. Yes you can always improve. Yes you can learn from other DMs. But I don't want all D&D games to be the same.

Lets compare your and the DCA ToA campaign. Wait, why should we? You have different players and a different purpose for playing the "same" campaign. Your campaign is you specifically checking out what the written ToA has to offer while Chris Perkins is putting ToA in his game/advertisement campaign to advertise D&D products to character invested fans.

I wonder if it's because D&D is now "cool." People who don't want to play the "cool" D&D are perhaps feeling more left out than ever. While I love that wizards has put a huge amount of focus on welcoming new players and promoting diversity I wish they would also promote diverse game styles and player types so that the dungeons diving, rules and combat heavy games are also "cool". It's "cool" to have a jokey DM who does mildly offensive accents and steps out of DM character to have fun with their players. Inclusion means everyone, not just the type of people you think should be included.

Ditch your current players. Hire actors. Make everything about your players story and put the narrative first for your viewers. Become a Good GM in 2018! Ask the players you stop playing with if you're good. Ask the person sitting out half the session because they don't fit into the narrative if you're good. Ask yourself as you and half the players at the table yawn through an hour of interactions between just two characters if you're good.

D&D is a communication game. State what you want from players before a campaign, ask what they want. Does it match? There's more available players than ever thanks to technology. There's little reason for a GM to suffer their players and for players to hate their GM and their style. If your players are having a great time and you are miserable you're not a great DM in my opinion.

You and your players seem to be having fun in the streams I watch. So Sean, you're Good. The answer to the question is very simple, how you get there is harder but it always requires the most important skill any player or dungeon master has, communication.

What is a Good Dungeon Master in 2018? You're having fun, your players are having fun. It's the same answer no matter what the year is and it will never change.

Brian Southworth said...

Great article! Gamingdin is right that comparing yourself to DCA or Critcal Role then getting down on yourself as DM is not productive. If your players come back each week then you are doing great. However, I think watching and listening to actual plays can provide inspiration to try something different. Maybe it is more emotional scenes. Or dressing up for the game. If the new thing you try makes your game better, keep it. Otherwise, discard it.

Strand said...

Critical Role is a show of friends, who have a) played for years (and even that show evolved), and b) are all actors with professional improv training. DCA is a picked cast, who are probably get paid to be on the show as well.

I really love your shows, because they are different than CR or DCA. DungeonAcademy has great players, and I really like how you let them have their way. Your ToA sessions really go to the details of the adventure and this is a refreshing change from the more "mass market" streams.

So, really good article, but I don't like your conclusions. You need to have the right players to "feed them story bits" or it won't work. A good DM caters to the needs of his players, not to the need of his stream audience. And I think you are a good DM.

mAc Chaos said...

I think you need longer sessions to do what you're talking about.

Colin Flanigan said...

Getting players to commit to an emotional moment and pulling their backstory into the forefront takes some work. But if you put the work into they campaign it will happen. If you make a world where their history is an important part of the world's history then it will occur even more.

Pablo said...

Those guys don't mind to be left out when two characters are pointlessly interacting for half an hour, or the party has been split for half an hour, because they are there for professional reasons. They are streamers, actors and/or work for this industry. They better be excited when Mathew Mercer or Chris Perkins are trying to sell me a product. Don't get me wrong, Chris Perkins is great (Mercer's players are too much for my taste, so I really don't have an opinion about him as a DM), but if I was there waiting for yet another uneventful interaction to be over, I would be so bored...

Anonymous said...

Just ask your players what they like or what they would be interested in trying out. It's about them and you, right? Everyone having fun in their own way.

Ant Wu said...

I really loved this post and the reflective quality of it.

It takes maturity and courage to reflect. I agree with some of the other comments here, that in very important ways DCA and CR do not and cannot represent a typical game.

Yet, I also agree with your overarching point: whether they represent such a game or not, they are increasingly what new players are seeking. They represent a style of play which folks endeavor to experience, and which folks want to try out...and which before was much less the "norm".

One thing I think is worth considering is looking into game design, as well as streams. Streams have an aspect of production quality and acting chops which are hard to port over to local tables. But if you look at game design, I think you can see how "modern" sensibilities inform how games are made. Dungeon World and 13th Age, for example, are more "story-forward" than D&D is.

I don't necessarily advocate playing them, though experiential learning is great. But I do advocate dedicating an afternoon to reading things like Fiasco, DW, 13th Age, to name a few. The last one is my personal favorite when I need a refresher course on how D&D could be a bit more different if I push its limits in that direction.

I think looking at how the mechanics are conveyed and looking at what is important in each game will crystallize those more emotional or at least character-driven scenes more. It's a concrete reaction to this new population of folks who want a bit more narrative than in the past, and the mechanics or philosophies involved in such games can be concrete things that you port over to D&D. It's a bit more grounding than the abstract sense that your spotlights are in the wrong place, or you're not quite "doing enough" of some unknown factor, to generate more character scenes.

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