Saturday, July 16, 2011

Roleplaying time... alright

2nd ed, the version for men.
I started a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign with my friends on Tuesday. It was awesome. If I'm counting correctly, it's been almost three years since I've been legitimately involved in a campaign, as opposed to one-off sessions (which were usually of home-brewed, gun-totin' campaigns - just as fun, granted, but more easily lost to the sands of time).

I'm the Dungeon Master this time around, which is really exciting in that Dungeon Mastering is basically just storytelling - which I've been doing a buttload of the last two years with my writing. That means I've got the practice and chops - in my opinion, at least - to build a cool campaign world. However, what's even cooler about the way pen-and-paper RPGs tell stories is that it's never just the DM telling a story: the PCs are involved in a way that's just as, if not more, fundamental. It's a communal form of storytelling - and, in my group's case, a communal form of awesome-making.

When I was younger, I was a really bad DM. Reason being, I spent all my preparation time working on a single adventure, honing it to minute precision. Despite that, I can only remember a single session where things went according to (my) plan. This really frustrated me, and, back then, I blamed the PCs: I couldn't see that it was their world, their lives, also, and that they might not share my conception of what the best course of action for their characters would be. In fact, this kind of strategic planning is what makes roleplaying roleplaying: no idiot is just going to dive into the dragon's proverbial maw.

This time around, instead of working on one arc, I diversified. I wrote a bunch of hooks, drew some maps, and defined some monsters (I'm basically creating all fresh creatures, rather than use the Monstrous Manual, because it's a lot more fun). I didn't know which direction my PCs would travel, who they would take a liking to and who not, and what kind of expectations and goals they would have. It worked much better. Granted, they keep refusing to enter the dungeon that is opening up in the rocky soil beneath them - but that is probably because there are giant, man-eating earthworms spilling out of said holes. It's funny, because as a DM, I tend to expect that adventurers will want adventure; but as a player, I only want loot and experience. The former does not necessarily mean the latter, since it more often than not means death for some of the party. So, good on my PCs; and besides, there are always more Dungeons in D&D.

I actually based the campaign world on a world I built in a short story. I had pretty big plans for Fourland in a literary kind of way, but those dropped off when I found it incredibly difficult to make stories out of the characters I was writing. On the other hand, those characters make excellent villains. My party has also created a great cast of characters, and they're all excellent roleplayers - which makes for tons of fun just watching them talk to each other in hilarious voices, or abandoning comrades to the vulture-people when the battle goes the wrong way.

Suffice to say, I can't wait for more.

Any of you guys roll the twenty-sided die?


  1. Running an RPG is a different skill set to writing a book. With books, you focus on characters. With RPG, you focus on setting. Either way, I 'plan' just as much when I'm a DM as when I'm a writer: bracket outline, the easier to be tossed when the characters have a better idea.

    Be that as it may, you should run a PbP game, and then I'll play a sorcerer. It's been altogether too long since I've been a player.

  2. You're completely right - and, man, bracket outlines have made my entire creative life so much easier. When I readied for the session, I basically bracketed a bunch of possible hooks/villains/dungeons/etc. - nothing more than ideas. That said, now that the PCs have accomplished some things - pissed off some folks, gotten into some trouble - I can start to mould some NPCs to cause them grief.

    What's PbP?

  3. PbP is Play-by-Post. I use the Penny Arcade forums for my current game.

    True on the 'make NPC' part. A stable of villains and erstwhile pals is a good thing to have handy when the PCs are wandering around. Make sure there's one evil wizard with a teleport spell. Call him "The Old Man From Scene 24", just to screw with them.