Don’t Split the Game Master’s Mind

GMG5070CoverLargeFor the past few months I have been running a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign every Tuesday night. It started as a zero-level funnel and lead into the continuing adventures of a group we have come to know as, “The Murder Cult.” Think Murder Hobos with fewer morals. I know…how could anyone enjoy that?

Well we have come to love our Tuesday night sessions. They are only a couple of hours long each, and up to now, are completely a sandbox. As the GM I provide a few plot hooks here and there and my group (which includes RPDNA’s co-host Ed) takes the story to interesting and fun places. The game isn’t serious, but has a deep and rich campaign history. I’ve become quite proud of it.

But last night’s game turned into a fun session into a chaotic beast.

I really don’t know how to put into words what happened. I don’t want to bore you with too many details so I will do my best to give you context.

The adventurers found themselves on the elemental plane of water. After arriving a player, who is new to the group, interrupted my introduction and asked if he could spot land. I had him roll and he was successful which led to this exchange:

Me: You look through a spyglass and off the starboard side of the ship you see what looks to be a collection of buildings. You also se…

New Player: This is a plane of water there is no land, what are the building standing upon?

Me: Well from this distance you cannot tell. But you can see structures for sure.

NP: Are they built on a platform?

Me: Well if you sail closer you can…

NP: Are they ships?

Me: As I said, you are at quite a distance. If you wish the ship can get clos…

NP: So they are built on rock?

This went on for a few minutes until someone else suggested they sail closer to inspect this interesting grouping of structures.

After arriving on this flotilla of ships that were crafted together to build a small town it devolved from there. Usually the players will see what plot hooks I come up with or explore something unusual. But either the new player or something else changed and every plot hook was explored for about thirty minutes then dropped. At one point in the game the players were trying to get information from an NPC that greeted them on the dock.  Just as the NPC was about to answer one question someone else (to be fair it was the new player) would jump in and ask a different question. I kid you not when I say the NPC was answering a question about why the townspeople didn’t come out during the daytime when he was interrupted and asked what the currents were like under the town.

From there a perfect storm of confusing actions and interruptions created a scene I hadn’t encountered in a group of great gamers such as this. Some of the players just checked out completely, some tried to steer the party’s actions back towards some semblance of story. And a couple competed for who could ask any given NPC the most random question they could.

About an hour and half into the game I considered stopping things. But the sick part of my mind wanted to see what would happen. Things didn’t get any better. I tried to force action by having an assassin attack the party. For a while they jumped at the chance to do something. But after capturing the assassin and asking if he had any family in the area, I decided this line of story was going no where. I ended the game 30 minutes early and suggested next week we come back and try again.

Some of the players stayed after the game to debrief. No one knew what happened. Most tried to assure me that I had come up with interesting ideas and hooks, but they couldn’t identify what went wrong. To be fair I am partially to blame, managing a table is one of the GM’s duties and I could have been better at that last night.

I think the new player had troubles fitting in. It happens. Coming in cold to a new group can cause odd outcomes if you don’t ease yourself into the dynamic all around you. Plus the player in question wanted answers to mysteries that I placed in front of him by simply asking me, the GM, what was up. Which leads into a discussion that sometimes you have to play the game to get the answers you want. This also may lead into a great topic for the show, managing the table as a GM or player.

Lucky for me I have a great group of gamers on Tuesday nights. They all agreed they wanted to come back next week and do a mental reset. It has been agreed that I will set the game in a more traditional dungeon setting. And it was agreed everyone would help manage the table as a group. All-in-all the outcome was positive, which is great!

Game on!

-Justin

 

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Whatever Floats Your Boat

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

One of our listeners, James, has a bit of a follow up question from our previous episode in which we discussed how Kickstarter has spawned a plethora of game systems and settings. Derek mentioned that it can be hard for a backer of a project to find a group willing to play that specific game. James was wondering if online play can help people find others who share in one’s passion for a niche game. Good question, James.

The internet helps bring those with a more “mainstream” hobby together in an effective and efficient manner. I would wager that it has helped our hobby of face-to-face tabletop gaming as well. In the old days of gaming, I had to have pigeons deliver messages about the next game for my players to ignore. But despite the magic of the internet looking to find local players that share your love of a more obscure title is still difficult. But then came online gaming.

I was an early adopter of the idea of online gaming. Definitely not the first, but necessity brought forth the need to figure out ways to involve a friend in our regular game. My long time friend, and Protocol 5 Productions corporate overlord, Will lived in Asia for a number of years. Because he enjoyed gaming so much and wanted to keep in touch with us we figured out ways that he could play remotely. Our solution was Skype and a webcam pointed at the table. Will had his way to keep gaming, something he couldn’t find where he was, and allowed us to keep a good friend involved.

In the past couple of years the tools to allow people to tabletop game online have become quite impressive. Roll20 and other similar tools can create a virtual table for people to game on. I have only dipped my toe in the online gaming myself, but I do know that it is pretty impressive. But does this allow people to come together who enjoy a game that isn’t as mainstream? Well it should.

The discussions and chats you can have online are like a 24/7 gaming convention. Hoards of gaming geeks are just floating around waiting to talk about their favorite whatever. Therefore one can only assume you could toss a virtual 5-sided die and hit someone who has actually rolled such a monstrosity! But I speak from a point of ignorance. What are your experiences in finding that unusual group of gamers that share your love for that game you can’t get going in your local community? Or what resources do you use to find like minded gamers? Share your thoughts in the comments here or on the RPDNA Facebook page.

Game on! Virtually

-Justin

P.S. Would our non-Colorado fans like to try out a monthly online game with the hosts of RPDNA? Just a thought…

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Horror Stories From the Game Table

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

Chorna H. responded to my request for a topic to write about today with a query on my person horror stories about how to not run a game. I won’t use real names to protect the innocent…unless I am talking about me.

Where I messed up in my early days of being the game master is not being prepared for the players. I’m not talking about prepping a game or not, I’m talking not being able to handle the times that the players find something more entertaining to do within the session the GM had planned. Before I really learned the art of running a game without notes, I can recall times getting flustered and trying to force the players back on to the rails I had so carefully crafted. This will almost always spell disaster.

I think the one time this sticks out in my head the most is when I was running a Cyberpunk 2020 game that involved an assassination job. The players botched the job in a wonderfully fantastic way…they fumbled shooting a grenade launcher at said target and it hit a crowd of innocent bystanders. The players then thought it was more entertaining to incite a riot in downtown Night City for the rest of the game. Their logic was that the riot had a good chance of killing the target. After looking at my notes (yes, I used to write my games out) I just had to toss them aside and try to roll with it. But eventually I just stopped running the game as I had no idea what to do. What could I do? I was just a boy.

Another GM I know tried so hard to get a D&D game back onto the rails he actually had gods show up. This was a 5th level game, and deities suddenly showing up to convince the players where to go was strange at best. Not to mention that at the point the gods showed up we had been playing for eight hours and still had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. A few of us finally had to ask, “What is it we are supposed to be doing?” Shortly after we all went home and pretended the game never happened.

Other times I have seen a game master prepare way too much and there is no going off the rails. You are on the “Small World” ride of game sessions. I have told the story on the show before about a convention game where the GM told us about the world we were playing in and what we, as PCs, were doing for the first hour and a half of the session. I paid $3 to play in that game. I don’t want the money back, I want my life back.

To be fair, not all bad sessions are the fault of game masters. I have seen lots of players mess things up for everyone. I think I can refer you to episode 27  in which I had an experience with a guy who was being a jerk in the name of roleplaying. I’ve even talked about when players come to the game in a bad mood and throw things off just because they aren’t happy. My house rule about no couples (which I have mostly dropped) which was born out of seeing so many of games get deep sixed because of the bickering, or in some cases cheating with other players.

Most of these examples are caused by a lack of experience and/or maturity. And most of these can be solved with a little communication. Unfortunately, we are gaming geeks, and healthy communication is not always our strong suit. It is something I struggle with on a daily basis in my personal and gaming life. But, I also welcome players who approach me and suggest ways for me to improve my game.

Let me leave you with some positive. If you are new to gaming you will make and witness these mistakes. The good news is they are easy to overcome if you practice at it and try to be a good citizen gamer. If you are a GM, take time to get feedback from players.

If you are a player, be aware of the other players. It is the collective job of the table to move the story along (not just the GM’s story mind you) and make sure everyone is having fun.

What horror stories do you have? How did you solve the problem? Leave a comment!

Game on!

-Justin

 

 

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Episode 34: First of 2015

AlbumCoverHappy 2015! We welcome Chris the Savage Mommy from Smiling Jack’s Bar and Grill, we talk our holidays, the Dread AP is coming, for 2015 we are going to do at least a few actual plays, our thoughts on the Tenra Bansho Zero AP, we answer a question about if Kickstarter is good for gaming or not, and check out Derek’s work on Soujourn Volume II.

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Happy Merry Stuff

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

I won’t get into the discussion about what is politically correct to say around this time of the year, so let me start off by saying I celebrate Christmas. However, I respect all the holidays as long as it means you take time to sit and game with friends and/or family.

Some of my fondest memories are those that involve a board game or RPG on Christmas or around that time. Knowing that for a week or two (back when I was in school) I didn’t have to be anywhere and that Christmas was coming, put me into a joyous frenzy that gave me +3 to happiness. When I combined that euphoric feeling with getting a chance to roll dice with loved ones, well it made for the best of times.

I’ve done my best to keep gaming going around the holidays now that I am an adult (in the sense of years spent on Earth, not maturity wise) and I have been mostly successful. I’m fairly sure that as the host of two Christmas get togethers I can rope some people into at least playing something. And I have already scheduled a D&D game for the weekend following New Year’s (Getting all the D&D 5th edition books so this will be my first run with the full game). And tonight, I am going to run a very special holiday themed Dungeon Crawl Classics game.

I hope you get a chance, or maybe already have, to get some quality gaming time in with those you hold dear. But don’t forget to give some attention to those weirdos that don’t game, they need love too.

The cast of RoleplayDNA wants to wish you and yours a joyous holiday season. And the next scheduled recording has been set. You will be getting an episode very near the New Year!

Game on!

-Justin

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State of the Podcast

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

I won’t say, “I’m sorry.” I know we haven’t released shows like we said we would. We are not going to hit our actual play count we said we would do this year. I haven’t been blogging as often as I should be. But, right now, life is just taking up more time than it usually does for me.

If you have listened to past episodes you know what most of my time has been taken up with: new job, family issues, and moving into a new house. Just one of these items would normally take up a large portion of my time, but in combination has proved to be a lethal combination of time suck.

But RPDNA and you, the fans, have been on my mind.

The new house has a great space for us to record in. I have my own little gamer/recording cave to call mine. This will enable me to schedule recordings that won’t be as disruptive to my extremely patient wife or my dogs. Now that I am in not in a constant state of trying to move out/in, my schedule should open up.

The Dread actual play is going to happen. It might be more holiday themed, but Derek is going to run it. I will do my best to push the shows out on time for once, and provide you with our insane ramblings about the state of RPGs and how to under prepare for a game.

My goal in 2015 is to make RPDNA the best show it can be. I hope you will continue to listen and provide us feedback to help achieve that goal. If you really want to help out, spread the good word about this show. Tell friends and family about it.

RPDNA U will continue as well. I’m already lining up interviews with some awesome industry folk and other noteable gamers. If you have someone you would love to hear us interview, let us know who.

Now, this could all fall apart if life decides to toss me another curveball. I will do what I can to ensure the show can go on without me. I admit a fault of the way things are set up is that I have to be heavily involved for shows to record, get edited, and then posted. I might need to get an intern I can pay in D20s. All those interested please submit your resume and an essay on what it means to be a gamer in the 21st century.

What other changes would you like to see us make in the upcoming year? Let us know!

Game on!

-Justin

 

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Episode 33: Too Extreme For the Spotlight

AlbumCoverWe are back! Jake is filling in for Ed, Jake was just on Gamers Tavern, We play a little catch-up, an update on the actual play recordings, we get political (ads) for a bit, ThanksGaming is coming up, Knight of Injustice talk, how do you make good use of the spotlight in gaming, we finish up talking about our game of choice to play at Halloween and the challenges in running a horror game.

 The Gamers Tavern episode Jake was on

ThanksGaming registration

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What’s up?

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

I swear we have a good reason this time. I know, we haven’t released anything nor said much for a while now. I would apologize but I would rather just say, life happens.

If you follow us on Facebook you know that Derek posted something mysterious about some serious family health issues I was going with. Well that kept me quite busy for a month. My Mom was in the hospital/hospice care for that time and in the end passed away. A lot of you sent me kind words and thoughts and I truly appreciate that. You don’t realize how strong your community is until you are faced with what I was faced with.

I had hoped that I would be able to release the audio from our experience with Tenra Bansho Zero, which was a blast, but there were technical issues with the recording and we had to ditch that. Don’t worry, we will be talking about this game in an upcoming episode. I highly recommend playing this game.

We have some actual plays we want to do as well, but time keeps marching forward. If we can work it out we will record an AP of Dread this month and release it in time for Halloween. I will also say we will do our best to record a normal episode. We will also do our best to record some of the other AP’s we said we would do this year.

Derek, Ed, and I are committed to continuing providing you content and I have some cool things planned for the upcoming months.

Don’t count us out just yet.

Game on!

-Justin

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Enemy at the Gate

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

Be fair warned, this post is more serious than the usual fare you have come to expect from yours truly. But I think one must take on the serious even in a hobby that is all about fun.

I’ve been taking time to consider the issue of gender equality in the hobby of tabletop gaming. Really the issue of gender has become an issue in all of geekdom. I’ll be honest and tell you that, at first, I was shocked to learn just how much gender has become an issue within the gaming hobby. Why am I being so naive? Well, I always viewed gaming as the hobby of inclusiveness. One does not need to provide credentials at the door to get in on a game. They simply need to follow Whedon’s law: Don’t be a dick. And I hadn’t walked a mile in my sisters’ shoes. I never witnessed harassment or discrimination. Of course I see inequality in every day life, but I was ignorant that the problem existed all around my favorite passtime.

As the issue of gender politics announced itself to the gaming community at large, I decided to talk to my sisters in the hobby. I learned of the discrimination and harassment women I know experienced at gaming tables all around. One of the founding members of RoleplayDNA, Veronica Blessing, used to tell me stories of how she wasn’t taken seriously as a gamer simply because she is female. I’m sure there were more stories but Vern, despite her capacity to tell it like it is, never regaled me with more tales of the creep. Even more women told me tales of being propositioned at the game table. I was told of Game Masters who would depict scenes of violence against female PCs, in which the violence was of a sexual nature. Players who would go out of there way to make a woman feel uncomfortable around them.

For the past few years I have tried to listen, I became concerned I was part of the problem. Some may know me to be quite the jokester. I believe humor is a good tool to point out the absurd and to allow people to laugh at something that society may frown at. It takes the issue from the negative side of the ledger and exposes it to the harsh light of truth. Humor is empowering, but without proper context and understanding it can be damaging. There is a time and place for jokes. I had to ask those around me if they felt my jester like nature at the table ever offended anyone. So far, everyone I know seems to understand that my jokes are just that and they understand that they are nothing more than a method to incite laughter. Of course, some may just not want to confront me about it. I hope if they are hesitant to say something this article gives them the open door to inform me and allow a dialog to happen.

In public settings, such as a gaming convention, I tone the jokes down to PG levels and I welcome all to my table. I try to treat each player equally. But I do remember a game at a convention where a younger woman was playing a character whom made brash decisions (well roleplayed for the pregen I had created) and at one point this player apologized to me for her actions. I shrugged it off as everyone was having fun with the trouble and success she was having, and asked why I would be upset. Her response, “Well, I have had GMs and other players who don’t like when girls play aggressive like this.”

I laughed a little. I remember voicing the idea that I could care less, and I just wanted everyone to have fun. Some of you might be applauding right now, in a way that is a sad statement on the state of things. This young woman’s approach to gaming should not relate to who she is as a person (unless she broke Whedon’s law) and can’t be judged on a sliding scale of her identity. And I should not be considered “evolved” for not caring about what her reproductive organs are in relation to a game.

None of what I say makes me feel brave or heroic. If anything I feel like I am saying, “Make sure you breathe air.” Yet we have people who have to take a stand on these issues to show support. Wizards of the Coast spent ink (pixels) to make sure we understood that with an excerpt from their rules just released for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. In a hobby I got involved in because it was so welcoming to a goofy kid such as myself, we are actually having to deal with those who dare to stand at the entrance and try to stop some from getting in to play these games of wonder.

Like the rest of our society these issues exist. Those who stand in the way of progress seem to always be around no matter what we do to correct that. To those who stand at the gate trying to place labels on everyone and decide who gets in, I say this…Get out of the way or leave. We gamers, those who find community by telling stories, do not want or need you here. You disrupt the pure awesome aspects of our hobby every time you succeed in bullying a person out of gaming.

Through my formative years gaming helped me find my tribe. Most of the people I call friends are ones that I found through this silly little ritual of ours. They did not bat an eye at my unusual ideas, instead embraced my oddness and helped me forge them into the games I play today. I became the successful individual I am today because I was given an outlet to express myself. I was allowed to have fun with fellow geeks. Let us always be welcoming to those who will treat others with respect and not rank them based on their gender, race, beliefs, or choice in pastries.

In this odd world let gaming be a shining example of how to treat others. Don’t let the geeky hobbies be a sad mirror of society.

Game on!

-Justin

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Episode 32: More Than a Feeling

AlbumCoverWe talk about our gaming life, Talk about Justin’s game “Knight of Injustice” selling out quickly at TactiCon, give a review of Conclave of Gamers, Initial thoughts about the Dungeons and Dragons starter set, We then talk about imagery in a game, Justin tells a story about making someone feel some real emotions in his Dungeon Crawl Classics game, we answer a listener’s question about her character.

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