About Me

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


What makes a D&D session different from a story-telling session, where the story-teller actually engages and interacts with the audience? The answer is - Game Mechanics - a series of algorithms that allow the DM and players to simulate real world events and interpret outcomes. A procedure by which you figure out which dice to use, roll the dice, add or subtract modifiers, and plug in the results into a table for interpretation is called an algorithm.

What makes a D&D session different from a DM running a bullshit session, where s/he interacts with the players a-la story teller, which typically happens before and after actual adventure? The answer is - DM's Preparation. Arguably, there are places outside game mechanics in fantasy role-playing. For instance, the strategy of the Orc Chieftan opposing the players with his band of 60 Orcs. One the simplest level, it is easy to use up 60 Orcs in Random and Room encounters, but if you decide that the Chieftan leads his warriors intelligently, you will have to outline the Chieftan's strategy and general reactions in most predictable contingencies. You have to commit this to writing, much like the layout of ships in a game of Battleship. Why must you do that? You must do this to give the players a chance to actually defeat their intelligent opponent. You see, without this written down plan, the conflict will be between the players and the DM, in which case the DM is the Omnipotent adversary. If you have a contingency play for the Chieftan written on paper, you can actually show it to the players after the game in a moment of discovery for the players.

How is the D&D game different from a modern day Node-Scematic adventure game? Node based adventure design, as developed by Justin Alexander of the The Alexandrian fame, is very useful for modeling complex event based adventures. Dungeon Crawl adventure is a stylized form of story presentation in the game. Wilderness Hex crawl is another related story-telling form. But beyond that, there are complex non-site and not geography based adventures. For instance, a quest, that requires players to solve a mystery, find a missing sage, influence a King, deal with treacherous competition while planning for an expedition, that, as last will be a wilderness and a site-based dungeon adventure. You can't map this kind of an adventure geographically. You have to map out social networks of individuals, locations, where social encounters take place, and clues, red herrings, ets. Think of it as a dungeon map, except that each "room" is an encounter with a specific event that moves the story forward. These events may be separated by walls and miles. To go from Event A to Event B may be a simple walk across town or a three week journey with a wagon train.

What separates D&D from those other, later, games, is that later games concern themselves with specific events, and assume that you will get safely from Event A to Event B, where you will be risking your neck. D&D assumes a tactical navigation between the Event A and Event B. If the players walk across the city, you will roll for encounters and unusual events, as the players walk across the city. If played correctly, these encounters add the sense of place to your campaign, butg they have nothing to do with the story, through which your players are playing, which will only move forward when they reach Event B.

Why is this important? Because in a Sandbox campaign, and all OSR's aim at Sandboxes as opposed to meta-plot gaming, players can literally go anywhere and do anything. Ideally, all of the geographic and social directions, in which players might go, have been already considered and mapped by the DM. The problems begin, when the players cross into the uncharted territory, for which the DM has no encounter table or conceptualization. At which point, unless the DM stops the session, s/he starts improvising and the bullshit session will begin. A closely related situation, is where the players are lost in a Sandbox and are deciding, where to go next. So far as the DM has the mental framework of what lays to the north of Kingdom A, DM can improvise with rumors and tales of the faraway places. If the DM is worth his salt, that information will be passed via the loose tongues of the NPC's whom the players engage in conversation. Once the players decide to move out or they focus their attention on a place for which the DM hadn't dreamt up anything yet, DM should stop improvising and end the session.

Another example of it are players wanting to build a fort, dam up the river to flood the dungeon or some other such scheme that will take them outside the DM's box. Typically DM shows limitation of his or her spirit, by telling them why such an action can not be done. A cool DM would stop the session, and research the plan of action that the players want to take. Whether timber palisade construction or earthmoving, DM should figure out if an how it can be done, what will it take, who has the knowledge, how much it will cost, etc. And then, during the next session, he can let the players try to figure it out how to do it and try to pull it off.

A DM is like a river. If he tells the players NO! they have touched the river bottom. This is where railroading and linear adventure, and the players dissatisfaction with these elements, begin. On the other hand, if the DM is prepared, and he knows the material better than the players, and is one step ahead of them, players go in over their heads and are immersed in the DM's game world. This is where magic happens.


  1. STOP THE GAME?!?! What blasphemy is this? I do my best to avoid that from happening. I have noticed that when I error, it is typically in the players favor. I'll know that I did it right away, and file it away. Once the game is over, I'll ask myself how to correct the problem next time. Even when I don't error I still critique the game, there are no masters of Dungeons & Dragons, if that ever happened, then the master would put the books on the shelf and move to something different to challenge himself with.

    As to BS gaming, this is my style. We are dealing in fiction, but at its heart we are dealing with cause and effect. If the players allow me to set the battle field, I will have it in my favor. I'll have jumpspots on my key because that is why the monsters live there. If the players some how trick the monsters into letting them pick the battle ground, then the odds are in the players favor. The battle ground is a character, but I believe that battle and combat is a thinking mans game. Cause and effect are my rules. If you write something down, then it only limits your potential to provide a challenge. Do I cheat by doing this, using my omnipotent powers as a DM? No. I'm role playing, my characters can only know what they know, not what I know. If the creature is more intelligent than anybody at the table, I'll use more and more player babble against them, that is how high intelligent creatures have always been ran, but even then there has to be a fatal flaw, a chink in the armor, else the entire scenario is pointless. I'm not sure if you can even have a game with a high intelligent monster without meta-gaming.

  2. That's the whole point of putting stuff down on paper - to limit the DM's omnipotence and to set a fantasy world in motion outside the DM, The Players, or the story that they create. That is how you can run highly complex creatures and situations without meta-gaming. Keep in mind, that we are not writing plot or story - merely setting and the background conditions, through which the players actions may or may not ripple with various consequences.

  3. I guess that I do do this, in a sense. But I make it a point never to over-write. If the battle goes the way that I believe that it will, then I'll have three or four different ideas, but with my players, this rarely happens. If I start getting bored, I can always resort to a random event just to spice things up. Typically, I can't always share my work because my notes are for me, and me alone, the ideas are just reminders, kind of written in a personal code that I've developed through the years. It looks like gibberish, but to me it is enough to recall entire ideas I've got locked away in my noggin. I will write what the creatures normally do, but once you pit the parties combined minds together, it is there job to not let these terrible things happen. If they do, they are dead. Is that what you are talking about? Proving to the characters that they died from their own errors in judgement?

  4. I am not talking over-writing at all. Mostly conceptual framework, that gradually develops into people places and dungeons as the players get involved with it. It's a stepwise process. Players might hear about Forest A, Tournament B, and Boat Escort C while running whatever it is they are doing now. If they make noises about the Forest at the end of the session, by the beginning of the next session, I will have the required maps and encounter tables for them to travel there, plus a few fleshed out NPCs for them to find and talk to to get their bearings and a possible quest. I have the Barony they are based at fleshed out. All the hamlets, towers, villages, roads and travel distances between them, stuff accumulated from previous games. They can go anywhere within the bounds, I can play no problem. Say, they want to travel to a Monastery a couple of days away. I will break the session at that point.

    I play with non-D&D players and do all of the game running. If they think that I just throw the monsters at them, I show them my notes after the game. I had one guy, who mistaked me having him to roll to confirm a crit hit for me asking him to roll again, so that he would miss. This was the guy who did not want to hear about the rules of the game to begin with. So, after he brought it up, I sat him down and explained the combat mechanics to him.

    It's a good thing to have - a personal system of notes that can convey a lot of information in in a few jottings. I prep the stauff in Word on my computer.

    I handle the battles a little differently. My players are not generals or field commanders. They get a grunt's view of the battle. Battlefield is like any other piece of terrain - a map, dispositions of forces, a timeline of events, with a beginning and an end, whch players may or may not impact with their actions, and then the biggest piece are events and encounter tables that convey the feel and sights (and the combat encounters) of the battle. They may have a mission or business on the battlefield, but it is more like a a group of player characters crossing the field of battle, as opposed to player characters leading armies.