Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Loot DM's Notebook

My wife listened to me well and got me an awesome present this Christmas.  She bought me two really nice large blank unlined hardcover notebooks with sturdy bindings to use for my DM's notes. She got my name inscribed on the front and a dark brick red cover that reminds me of some old textbooks I have.  I usually scribble my notes in random lined notebooks, on graph paper or in art notebooks.  None of those typically hold up well in my backpack as they are used heavily for a year.  My usual DM's notebooks are a tattered wreck by the time I fill them up and move on to the next one.  These feel really solid, the binding looks great and the book opens up rather nicely.

The stats:  168 pages, cover dimensions: 13 3/4" x 9 1/8" x 7/8", inside page dimension:  13 1/2" x 8 7/8"

Here is the new book open to my first page of notes, with my other active notebook of standard size paper open on top of it for comparison.

Here is the book closed with the regular notebook closed for comparison.
Here is the binding from the outside.

After I fill up these two she is going to buy me new and different ones, so from here on out I will have an awesome collection of my DMs notes, well bound in sturdy hardcover.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Let it fly for all to see

One of my favorite DMs tricks is to make a quick decision as to the probabilities of some possible outcomes facing the party and then convert that into a dice roll that I do in front of everyone, clearly stating the parameters of the throw before letting it fly.  This is of course an alternative to simply deciding what happens and then narrating the events to the players.  It is part of my collaborative world-building philosophy of DMing.  Vocalizing the possible outcomes and throwing in plain view makes the moment of suspense as the dice roll across the table a shared moment between the players and the DM, instead of that awkward moment behind the screen as the dice are thrown and interpreted in inscrutable mystery.  Plus it eliminates the compulsion to "cheat" and ignore the behind the screens dice throw :)

Often I introduce far worse possible consequences than I would have comfortably decided upon by fiat, cushioned by the unlikelihood of rolling that nat 20 for the outlier result.  I have had d100 rolls to end the universe, and d20 rolls to blow up the entire party to smithereens.  For the random rolls that contain truly horrific outcomes I delight in making a party member do the actual rolling.  So you want to take the time-travelling hummingbird-masked sorcerer up on his dare and jump into the lava tube down to the magma chamber like he did?  You plan to replicate the complex ritual he did with his bad hummingbird self as he fell and jump into an existence outside of time and space like he did?  If you roll a 1 you are going to be dead with no possibility of a raise and all your equipment will be lost.  You still have a chance to chicken out... roll a d20...

During the last session of the 4e game I run I had several out-in-public rolls involving a rift to the future and a robotic incursion into a sacred grove in a volcanic crater.

16 or higher, more of the future robot mining machine comes through the time rift, 15 or lower, it stays put.  

10 or higher, the time rift to the future grows wider, lower than 10 it shrinks.

1-3, the robot dragonfly shoots a missile at Beautiful Bob, 4-6 at Hammer.  (I like d6 throws for determining who in the party gets attacked.  Always have.)

I am sad to say that I used my nightly d30 roll for the first example last session and did not manage a 16 or higher (to my chagrin).

Likewise I failed to roll a 10 or high on a plain ole d20 attempt at the second example.

Next time, my pretties!

Friday, December 14, 2012

One Disappointed Hobbit

I went to my first midnight movie screening last night, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with my wife, sister-in-law, and sister-in-law's fiancee.  The experience itself was enjoyable and mildly exciting, with a long line stretching out into the parking lot even though we had shown up 30 minutes earlier than our screening time.   We waited out in the cold with all the other excited midnight moviegoers.   The staff of the movie theater was abuzz, all hands on deck, managers walking around in suits coordinating the lines, the popcorn machines hardly pumping out enough to satiate the hungry mob.
"Good Looking Dwarf" Numero Uno

And then the movie happened.  I didn't have high expectations after learning the story of the Hobbit had been split into three movies, but I was still very disappointed.  I think my malcontent started the second the first of the "good looking" dwarves showed up, peaked with Radagast the Brown's entire run in the movie and then just sort of ended with a whimper when I could have given a shit if every one of the dwarves somehow managed to jump from tree to falling tree and finally skydive to the safety of the soaring eagles below or not.

There were highlights for sure, the beautiful landscape of the middle earth being chief among them for me.  Gollum was beautiful to look at and matched my childhood imaginings eerily well.  But the story they chose to tell here really was not the Hobbit that I remember.

I guess I will have to watch it again when it does not end at 3 AM and give it a fair shake.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How I DM in 30 Words

Throw a lot of hooks out there.  Whichever ones get sniffed by the PCs, throw a few more hooks out related to those ones.  Write 'em down.  Rinse and repeat.

The key is to really make sure it is a LOT of hooks that you throw out initially, and then like a hydra you throw out five new ones whenever one old one is chased down.  The rest is all details.  When the PCs decide to attack something related to one of the hooks, then combat happens.  When the PCs decide to investigate a hook, you get to improvise some more hooks based on that one.  Write them down.  Don't worry about trying to make them awesome, or trying to make them make sense.  The PCs will figure out inter-connections that you could never have dreamed of.  And you know what?  The improvised hooks you throw out there all come from your imagination... they have a shared heritage... chances are they are inter-connected in ways that you are not fully aware of consciously.  They are informed by your own unique DMing lifeblood and should be trusted.

Outside of sessions, D&D is a fun strategic wargame of the mind as you spin out possible scenarios for what is happening outside of the PC's control in the world.  You should have a lot of hooks dangling out there, and many of them will be swinging out of sight and mind of the party.  But as long you let the PCs keep chasing after hooks of their own volition, you have to respect where that chase may take them, and trust in your ability to improvise some fun details.

My 4e game started in a new-world setting, with the Forgotten Realms being the colonizing power to the west.  The east shore of the new world was a narrow rainless desert overshadowed by an impenetrably steep and high mountain range that ran north-south down the entire continent and had thwarted all past attempts at crossing.  A fertile river valley had recently been discovered on the desert coast and the first expeditions found gold in the streams in great quantities.  The PCs arrived on a ship mostly full of slaves destined for the mines and found a port settlement decimated with a plague the settlers called the "white death".  I threw out a bunch of hooks and the PCs have been merrily wreaking havoc ever since.

Rinse and Repeat for three years, and the party has spent as much time in alternate dimensions, on alien planets, creating alternate timelines, and utilizing altered states of awareness as they have spent in the jungle, and they have loved every minute of it. I have had my work cut out for me keeping up with the directions they chase my leads off in, and I continually surprise myself with how well it all works out and connects with itself when I look back at the whole that has been constructed between the players and myself during this game.
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