Episode 005: Chasing Deadlands

After a quick wrap-up of the RoleplayDNA Game Day, we complete our Spring 2012 session with a discussion about those campaigns you never forget. We talk about what stood out about those games, for the players and the GMs, how they changed the way we thought about gaming, and whether or not they can ever be duplicated. Is it really just lightning in a bottle?

After learning of a friend/publisher losing his son to a tragic drowning accident, we decided to dedicate this episode to Michael Rohan. Our hearts go out to Kevin Rohan and his family. The Rohan family is looking to fund a charity in their son’s name. If you’d like to be a part of that, please contact State Bank of Spencer (https://www.statebank-spencer.com/) to donate to the Rohans’ cause.

For our part, please respect the moment of silence toward the end of the show.

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9 Responses to Episode 005: Chasing Deadlands

  1. Will K says:

    Very interesting conversation, as always.

    I was part of Justin’s long campaign from its inception in high school (including a stint as the DM during the time Justin was playing Spoonman) and have fairly similar thoughts to him on this topic based on this experience, but I’d expand to add a few things that I think made our campaign so successful.

    First off, I agree you can’t force these things – it is a “lightning strike” sort of happening. The trick is knowing when to grab on to “it” when it happens and not letting go. Going into a game with the plan to force it into an epic story probably guarantees it won’t happen (it might, but on the whole I think it wouldn’t). Treating the game story as “your baby” and trying to ensure it follows your beautifully laid out plot will destroy the experience. If the way your story is envisioned is so important write a novel, don’t try to force your players to follow your preconceptions. The big picture plot should be firmly in your head (say, the endpoint of a campaign, the exact nature of the enemy the players face, etc), but the exact path taken to conclude the game should be flexible and player interactions should play a big role in how things develop. So at some level, too much preparation is the enemy of an epic game…but, too little could be as well because the GM doesn’t know where they would ultimately like to go. Achieving balance is always a tricky thing and depends on the group.

    Same thing for the players actually: writing two pages of background is great, but that’s not all there is to your character. I think players with too strong preconceptions of who they are also risks derailing a game. Players have to be willing to grow and learn things about themselves too. Play the game in front of you, not the game you wish it were… Go in with an open mind, and have fun.

    GMs have to create surprise sometimes. I love setting up situations to fool the players into thinking they know what is going on and then turning the tables on them (and I love being tricked in this way). Careful use of this technique in the right places help invest the players in the story – you certainly shouldn’t do it every game, but here and there can really hook everyone into the game. Another fun one if there is more than one GM in the group, and if I recall this correctly is something Justin and I did once, is to bring the players in thinking they are going to play a simple continuation of the last game but switch GMs and play a new story line for a little while. Vern’s character getting kidnapped and having Vern run the games to find her character is a wonderful use of this sort of surprise. An epic campaign can’t form if the players or the GM get burned out, so mix things up now and then.

    Lastly, we value things we can lose. That might be the life of a character, or the life of an important NPC, or a special artifact, whatever. This might be the trickiest part of all for an epic game: to build an emotional investment in something that motivates the players to keep coming back. In our long D&D campaign it was the church all our characters belonged too: a new religion trying to find a home on Faerun (we didn’t write the backstory to this until much later) and through an incredibly chance encounter — and Justin not reading the loot text in some source material carefully, to his credit he let us keep it — our party found enough treasure to build a temple and form a small town. We fought like crazy to protect this temple (its presence near Waterdeep caused all sorts of trouble), and even lost it once — a long tale for another time. GMs need to create situations that give the players something to lose, and players need to allow themselves to form an emotional attachment to certain things knowing the GM will use it “against them” for dramatic effect. Those moments are what we look for in games, but we all have to be open to letting them happen, and realize they can’t be scripted by the GM or by some character background you wrote months before….

    Enjoy your break from the podcast, looking forward to your return.


  2. Dave Bozarth says:

    If you need a new thing to chase, try Rifts!

  3. Dave Bozarth says:

    I cut my teeth on Rifts (and TMNT) so that wild and zany action is my first love…

  4. Derek says:

    Great episode (there was actually some heavy stuff in there–ugh.)
    Anyway, I remember one of the very early campaigns me and my middle-school buddies had with 1st ed. that we tried to recreate and never could. The failure of that made me very sad.

    I LOVE the idea of props. I need to try that. I know the other folks at the table are going to look at me funny, but I keep trying to do the voice/accent thing and I’m just not good at it. The props might be the thing I need to get into character (both on the PC and the GM side).
    Thanks guys.

    ******and sorry for being “that” guy*******

  5. Tim Hannon says:

    Hey guys! Great show as always. There was one thing I wanted to talk about regarding PC backgrounds. In the show, you noted that sometimes you had difficulty getting players to provide a background. In my experience, this largely comes from players who might be engaged with the world, but don’t yet have a clear picture of their PCs place within it. That makes it hard to write up a detailed description of that PC’s history. In such cases, let the player discover the facts about the PC organically in play (Dramatic Interludes are THE BOMB for this, BTW. :) ).

    On the other end of the scale, you’ve got players who want to give you _too much_ background, layering background element after background element on their character until it reads like a synopsis of the collected works of R.E. Howard. :) In these cases, that’s way too much; the player has “gamed _before_ the game”, and there’s nowhere you can take that PC that would be someplace new. This especially hurts when it’s a beginning campaign, because the character’s background doesn’t jive with the PC’s actual power level.

    For these types of jokers (;)), you want to cut that short. Two pages might be too much to give a guy, so ask for a limited amount of information; maybe 500 words or 1 sheet, no more. Stress in advance what you expect to see, and communicate clearly the power level of the game. A long background is great if you’re starting a veteran-level campaign, but no so much a Novice one.

  6. Juhan says:

    This is criticism about this and every other RPG podcast out there. I really like to listen about the subjects these podcasts talk about, but it is done so unprofessionally, that it makes me bleed when I listen to this. By doing professionally, I am talking about shows we are used to listen on the radio.

    RPG podcasts are however not like radio shows and it sucks! These podcasts usually are about having fun, living a social life behind the mic, talking about random bullshit about their daily lives – who the hell is interested in this? Dude, you are 40, you play RPG-s – don’t talk about your life.

    This is not a disrespect to any hosts of this show. It is just the sad fact of the RPG podcast scene out there. I wish there was a podcast that is more thorough, more focused to the point, QA of listeners, no casual talk (if it is dead boring). It too can be made in an entertaining way sadly people fail to do it (actually there are some, but so few).

    • Robert Doolittle says:


      I am not sure I can agree here. I think it may be a matter of perception here, however the podcast feels very professional to me. It’s just like a large number of Radio Shows that talk about different subject matter. What it “isn’t” like are the shows that are about Reviews, or How-to’s or Educational programs. If you listen to any Car Talk type shows you will find a similar experience. The Podcast format does eliminate some things as options that make a show seem more professional, such as the ability to have people call in from the audience. On the plus side, it also doesn’t have commercials.

    • Matthew says:

      Things to remember about most podcasts.

      1. There is a very limited budget if any at all. To expect a podcast to be produced as well as a Radio Show without having you pay for it or having to see or listen to a bunch of advertising is expecting a little too much.

      2. Most podcast are done out of passion not profit. Not to say that this won’t change someday, but for the most part people take time out of their busy schedule to share something they love. If RL bleeds in on occasion, so what.

      While I agree with some of the criticism, I do think the last show was more focused and on point. I think this is a new endeavor, where the hosts are trying to find their voice and style, and given some time they will.

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