Game Mastering Through Stress

Here you are running an amazing series of sessions in your favorite role-playing game… and then work calls. Then you get an email from a project that isn’t going to get funded. Classes start, the laundry needs to be done, your kid decided throwing up is the best bedtime plan. STRESS happens, we all know it. The question becomes, how do we deal with it and keep enjoying our hobby? It’s not easy, particularly as we get older and pick up more responsibilities. I don’t consider myself a grognard in personality, but I’ve certainly been playing RPGs for quite a few years.

In the old days, it was easy to play 2-3 games per week because that was all I had going on. This is a lie, the more I think about it. In truth? I was working 70-80 hour weeks when I was in my early 20’s and gaming was my outlet; it was the thing that kept me going. Stress was present then just as it is now. So, in my experience, stress is something that we’ll deal with while we are running games. Sometimes, this stress is directly related to the games we are running. More often than not though, its external stress that bleeds into our sessions.

1 – Tell Your Players

If you are experiencing stress, tell your players. “Hey everyone, I had a pretty rough day at work today, do you mind if we focus on some cathartic combat tonight?” “I’m sorry its taking so long for me to get my head in the game tonight, my son kept me running around today and getting him to bed before our session just didn’t happen. Give me a bit to really get going.” I’ve heard things like this and said them. Statements like these are helpful to helping me know how to pace things as a GM, and I personally think it helps my players understand where I’m at while running the game. Sometimes they will want a heavy RP session, but if I can’t handle that? It might be a good night to run a side session/mission or even switch up games to something that fits the mood better.

2- Take A Break

The worst decision I ever made was trying to run a full campaign during Grad School. Off and on I had run some Pathfinder during my undergraduate degree and didn’t have a lot of issues. Keep in mind, I went from the Army, to undergrad and then straight into my graduate degree as an adult in my late 20’s early 30’s. That game was over Skype though, and to be honest, I was not as focused as I wanted to be and it hurt the campaign. I should have taken a break from running and just played in a few games. Then, in Grad School, I tried to run a Changing Breeds game, and play in a D&D campaign. I couldn’t do it. There were too many things going and my brain was overloading. I tried to introduce a few new players, and I think I spoiled their experience with role-playing games. That’s not what you want, and I was clearly not in the head-space to keep going. It won’t hurt to take a break, focus on one-shots, and just chill if you have a ton of stuff going on. No one will blame you.

3- Unwind Through The Game

One of my favorite ways to reduce external stress is to find ways to incorporate what is stressing me out into the games I’m running. For example, I once worked for a person I detested. I create a character that was them in my mind, and gleefully watched my party destroy the stand-in monster. I have no idea if this is psychologically healthy… it might not be. In the end though? It really helped me deal with that person. Every time I saw them, I’d chuckle in my mind as I imagined the player characters hacking and slashing them in game. When I’m having other stress points, I try and devise ways to consider approaches to dealing with them through game play. One character, described in this blog post, really helped me break out of a serious bout of depression. They were confident, capable, and had a solid relationship life. That helped me to imagine what I would need to transform into that type of person. I think it worked.

4 – Play, Don’t Run

This advice is a little different from taking a break, but it has some similar functions. Have one of your players take over for a little while. A night, a campaign, whatever. I think it can be fun to ask a player to take over running for a single session, give them some basic ideas that fit your meta-plot and see what they roll out with. This can be stressful for some GMs, so it can’t hurt to just let someone else run something for a few weeks. This can help you get your brain back in a place that is healthy and ready to help construct the role-playing challenge you like to create.

I’m sure this will seem like basic advice. Nothing I’m saying here is revolutionary, but I’ve found its helpful to remind myself on a regular basis. A lot of this is useful to keep in the back of your mind to address the stress before it destroys your game and your love of the hobby.

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

The Ferryman: An Introduction to Curse of Strahd

I recently started DMing Curse of Strahd, the 5th edition re-introduction to Ravenloft, based on the classic Castle Ravenloft module by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. To say I’m a huge Ravenloft fan is a slight understatement. The AD&D Ravenloft books were some of the few I have ever owned, I purchased nearly every 3.0 and 3.5 Ravenloft book that was produced and I ran 2 fairly long campaigns in the world.

Images used are owned by Wizards of the Coast: Buy Curse of Strahd from your local gaming store, buy WOTC products, and support their artists and writers. The written work in this piece is covered under the Open Gaming License, as I understand it.

5th Edition is cool, and I wrote about Advantage/Disadvantage a few weeks ago. That being said, I haven’t played or run many games yet. I actually purchased Curse of Strahd well before I knew I’d even run it. Heck, when it came out, I was in my last year of Grad School, and there was zero chance I was running or playing any role-playing game. It didn’t matter, I wanted to own a copy of this game. Ravenloft was my jam, man…

Well, last week I finally got the chance to introduce a few friends to Ravenloft and 5th Edition. I wanted to create a short introduction that was deeper than the “Mists Take You” option, but slightly less in-depth than some of the other opening options in the book.

 

What follows is an introduction to Curse of Strahd which I welcome you to incorporate into your own game if you’d like.

 

The Ferryman: An Introduction to Curse of Strahd

For 3-5 1st Level Characters

5th Edition D&D

 

Background

 

You are settled in for the night at the Wizard’s Wand, a tavern on the edges of Lake Galifar in Aundair, near what used to be the city of Arcanix. The mood in the tavern is muted, a few other patrons are sitting drinking their ale speaking rarely to one another. Since Arcanix disappeared, things have been looking more and more like war. No one has proven that the disappearance of Arcanix was performed by Brelish agents, but more and more hawks in the nation are pushing to attack SOMEONE for the event.

Six months ago, a great fog, much like the mists that surround the Mournland of former Cyre flowed off of Lake Galifar and surrounded Arcanix. That night it seemed to choke out the city, and when the sun rose the next day, the city had vanished with the misty fog.

 

The party has known one another for some time, either having done some minor adventuring with one another, or as children growing up in the area. You trust one another, and that trust is important. War is coming, and you need someone to trust when war is on the horizon. It has been a pleasantly warm summer.

 

Scene 1

 

As you drink your ale, the door to the tavern swings open. A man, dressed in thick winter cloak, boots, and hood strides in. As he does so, a thick fog accompanies him. The mists seem to creep toward the other patrons of the tavern, stopping short and then receding as if they were hands scraping the floor. There is not a drop of sweat on the man as he steps up to the bar, in fact, he looks frigid. He takes off a frost coated glove and slides an odd looking silver piece across to the innkeeper.

 

Any party member that looks out the window will see the streets are filled with fog, so thick they can no longer see to the other side of the street. Some of the mist curls around and for a moment, a spectral face will appear and loom toward the player character. A character with the ability to sense undead or see into the ethereal realm will see the streets filled with ghosts and skeletal spectres.

Not Yuri

If the players do not initiate contact with the strange man, he will turn to them and begin to stare. Eventually, he will stride toward them with purpose.

The man is Yuri Iljavanovich. Yuri speaks with a thick accent, clearly not from any of the Kingdoms of Khorvaire. He will ask the characters questions about their lives, what do they do for work, if they are looking for jobs, where they grew up. If a player is a Cyran refugee, he will pay particular attention to them. If the players turn his questions on to him, he will respond with the below.

 

“I am from a place called Barovia, which has been conquered by a demon. We are seeking those who would help us. You all had something, perhaps a look, about you that made me think you would be interested in helping. We are slowly being hobbled by the devil, and need some fresh blood who can fight against him. The devil keeps us from leaving Barovia, only a select few have been able to escape, and even then, not for long.”

 

Yuri will admit to being a Cleric of Ezra. “Ezra is our Guide of the Mists. She allows those of us who worship her to briefly escape the clutches of the Devil Strahd. With this lantern (which he’ll hold up and appears to be a normal gas lamp) we are able to use the Mists to travel to other places. The devil forces our return though, and we can only bring people in, we ourselves cannot escape, though of course, I would be able to return you here if you choose.”

If the players choose to accompany Yuri, have him instruct the players to put warmer clothing on, as Barovia is in the middle of a harsh winter. If the players choose not to follow Yuri, you may of course ensnare them with Mists when they leave the Wizard’s Wand, or not, the choice is yours.

 

Scene 2

 

When the players leave the tavern with Yuri, the mists seem to part only slightly from himself and the party. He turns the lantern on, and the fog recedes a few feet. If asked, Yuri will tell them the journey will take a minimum of three days in the mists. If pressed, Yuri will tell the party very little about Barovia, except that the Devil Strahd is a great beast that feasts and hunts his people. They have tried to fight him themselves, but have always failed.

 

The Mists wrap around the characters and they are quickly far away from Arcanix, Aundair, and even Eberron. The thick fog wraps around them, masking their journey, and they cannot even see if they are on a road, and it appears they are simply walking within dark clouds. Eventually, they will come to a clearing, after almost a day’s walk. Before them will be a few large boulders and a makeshift lean-to. A fire pit has been used recently, and the Mark of Ezra is painted on a boulder facing the party as they arrive.

 

Either before bedding down, or in the morning, run the first encounter.

 

Encounter 1

Though the mists are not quite as close as they were while you were walking, they are still close and it is hard to see far from your resting place. The fire isn’t really warm, but it gives you something to crowd around. Everything around you seems to devour your body heat, and you find yourselves shivering with little provocation. Sleep helps, but standing watch is a thankless job. Yuri ignores any request to join a watch rotation, he goes immediately to sleep.

 

As you gaze into the fog, you smell the thick scent of pine and then you hear an odd sound. Scrape, thump, scraaaapppeeee, thump, scrape, thump. The sound seems to both echo and be muted. It becomes louder, and stronger, and finally, the mists peel back farther. You can seen pines all around you, and 10 – 15 feet away, are 3 Skeletons. These skeletons are wrapped in the remains of Cyran armor, holding rusty swords and tattered shields. One skeleton has on a thick iron boot, which appears to be some form of prison gear.

 

Any magic used against the skeleton with the boot only causes half damage. The boot is immune to all magic, but it incredibly heavy and largely useless to the players. If hit with any spell that is force related, like lighting or eldritch blasts, the boot will glow with runes describing its use to restrain magic using prisoners. The skeletons laugh every other turn in which they are hit for damage. This laughter sounds like dried bones hitting against each other.

 

During the fight, Yuri will be praying in incomprehensible gibberish. He will not attack the skeletons. They will generally avoid him, unless one of the players intentionally pushes him into their path.

 

After this encounter, Yuri will finish praying and will ask if the characters wish to continue along their journey. If asked, he will say that he knows that there are many undead in the area wearing similar clothes to these skeletons, and he believes they are related to the a group of refugees that entered Barovia a few years ago. They call themselves Cyrans, and a few have integrated into the local population.

Scene 3

On the second day, have the party reach a river. Yuri seems shocked and concerned when you reach the river. You can see a rope has been cut that used to cross the raging river. There are no mists around the river area, which is odd, as the mists hang thick not 500 feet or so on either side of the river.

 

“There used to be a ferry here, it looks like someone cut the rope.” If pushed, he will suggest heading north, as there is the possibility of another way to ford the river in that direction. He will refuse to try and wade or ford the river without a rope and boat. If the party constructs a way across at this point, hold the next encounter until they reach the other side. If the party heads north, or south, run the following encounter there.

 

Encounter 2

Please take your time….

Whichever way the party chooses to go, they will hear the same horrid skeletal laughing from their last fight. This warning will allow them to attempt to sneak up on the enemies. They will crest a small hill, and then be able to see through the trees, that there are 3 figures crowded around one another, swaying, making an eerie creaking laugh. When the players get within sight of them, they will notice 3 zombies, wearing the same outfits as the skeletons, with similar weapons. If the players have not crossed the river, the zombies will be guarding a boat which is attached to another ferry line across the river.

 

Once the players have defeated the zombies, they will be able to commandeer their boat, or, if they found another way to cross the river, they will find a small pouch of silver coins. There are 7 pieces of silver in the pouch. This pouch will be in the boat, and can be found by attentive characters or by Yuri at the least opportune time. If Yuri finds the pouch, he will inadvertently scare the characters who will have to make a strength check to keep hold of the ferry rope.

 

Scene 4

My favorite vampire meme

Night will fall, and players will be able to rest again at another similar way station to before. In the morning, Yuri will wake the party and push them to continue on. As they crest a high hill, they will see the valley of Barovia spread out before them. A dark shape takes flight from Castle Ravenloft in the distance, and a thunderstorm can be heard from far away.

 

“Welcome to Barovia, my friends. The Devil Strahd awaits you, I hope you do not make the same mistake I did, all those years ago. Go to the village below the mountain, it is a good place to begin your journey to hell”

 

The characters turn, and see Yuri become a spectral form before them, he smiles horrifically and lets out the same laugh which the zombies and skeletons made. Then, he vanishes.
From there, have your players follow the road into the village of Barovia.

How Not To Be *That* Gamer: Five Easy Tips

Remember back in the mists of time when you were just learning to play a game, hunched over a table at your Friendly Local Game Store? Trying to absorb the reams of information your friend was pouring into your brain? When you didn’t know what a con save was, or a bluff check, or a dump stat? Maybe this is the first time you had ever learned that dice came with more than six sides, or that there was more than one LOTR-type elf.


Remember when the know-it-all world-weary grognard ambled by and told you everything your friend was telling you was wrong and there is Only One True Way/Edition/Faction? Remember the crushing look of defeat on your friend’s face, and how that one person soured your affection towards the game?

Remember when you really, really wished you could jump in the TARDIS, distract yourself with a phone call, take your own place at the table, and tell that person to take a flying leap into the Pit of Despair?

That happened to some people near and dear to me this week – and someone needs to bring this up, so we as a community can stop this travesty from happening. New players are the lifeblood of our culture, and we have GOT to stop inflicting our own pet peeves and biases on new people, so they can enjoy developing their own.


Here’s a brief checklist of how not to be *That* Gamer:

 

Point the First: If you see someone explaining a game to someone else, and the party of the second part looks confused – mind your own damn business. Let the person doing the explaining do the talking, unless you know them. In that case, ASK IF YOU CAN HELP. Do not, repeat, do not, just assume that everyone wants to hear your opinions.


The one caveat to this follows: If it is a game you love, if there is a natural break in the conversation (Point the Second will address this), you can politely say “Oh, you’re talking about Warbling Mongooses! I love that game! It’s really fun. Welcome to the community. I’m *Name*. Let me know if you’d like a game or if you have any questions.” Then walk away unless invited to comment more – but wait for the invitation.

And for the love of spice, remember to introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than being approached by a random person that you will likely run into again, but you can only remember them as “that guy in the Metroid T-shirt” or “that lady with the purple hair”.

If you mention this game, and I can hear you… I’ll probably say how much I love it. It’s an awesome game.

Point the Second: Do not interrupt someone explaining a game to a new person, particularly if your interruption involves some obscure bit of trivia that is not relevant. This creates a lot of confusion and, frankly, makes you look like an ass.

Example: “Oh, Warbling Mongooses? You know, in the second errata of the third edition, they ruled that female mongooses can only warble in the contralto register on the second Thursday of a month without an R in it.”

 

If there is a natural lull in the conversation, you can politely (that word again, I know) ask if you can contribute something to the explanation. Be prepared to accept “no” as an answer.

 

“Hey, I heard you guys talking about Warbling Mongooses. New player? That’s great. You’re lucky to be starting now, the rules are so much simpler after the second edition – no more twelve hour game sessions! After you’ve learned the basics, let me know if you’d like to play a game or two. Always glad to meet new people.”

Be positive or be silent.

Take Notes Folks

Point the Third: So, the grizzled veteran (GV) and the eager young convert (EYC) are sitting at the FLGS table, playing a hand of Warbling Mongooses – and the new person looks like they are getting the hang of it. DO NOT walk up to the table and start pointing out how the new person (or the veteran, for that matter) are playing it wrong.

 

WRONG:

GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: (as GV is opening their mouth to correct their student) Oh hey, you can’t play that, it’s the wrong phase. Contratenors can only be played during waxing crescent. You shouldn’t be playing contratenors anyway. Mezzosopranos are so much better! I’ve got a wicked Mezzosoprano deck that just beats faces all day long. Oh, by the way, if you play that baritone in the next move and follow it up with a second tenor, you’ll win in the next turn.

RIGHT:
GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: *silence*

GV: No, wait, you can’t play that during this phase. See the moon phase icon on the card? You have to match that to the indicator on the table.

EYC: Oh, right. Yeah. My bad.

*Game continues*

 

Most people learn best from one source at a time. If you aren’t that source, wait until you are asked for assistance or a natural break in the game to add a comment. No one likes to be told how to win – part of the joy of gaming is figuring out your own win conditions.

 

Point the Fourth: So the EYC has become a convert to Warbling Mongooses, and you see them playing with their GV mentor. They are doing okay but still making some mistakes, maybe not playing with an optimal deck. You are at your FLGS and see them playing. You approach the table, and:

 

“Dude, that deck sucks, and contratenors are always weak against basses and contraltos. You should be playing mezzosopranos and second bass against that match up. Have you seen my deck? I’ve put like $1,000 and ten years into my deck! It kicks so much ass! Make this play and this play and this play and you’ll win right now.” *

 

*Change the subject of the sentence (sub a particular faction of minis in a popular war game in for the Mongooses) and this is a faithful transcription of what I heard. I wish I was exaggerating.

 

Shut up. Shut up right now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use your love for a hobby as a brandishing weapon about how much disposable income and free time you have. Go home and rethink your life if you think this kind of behavior is even marginally acceptable.

 

Repeat after me: Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once.

 

Instead, after the game is over, you can walk up to the table, introduce yourself, and offer to help.

 

“Hey, I’m *Name*. Saw you were playing Mongooses and having a little bit of trouble – that was a tough match. I’ve been playing for forever and I might have some extra cards that could help you out. Interested?”

 

Again, be prepared to accept “no, thank you” as an answer. Sometimes people don’t want help. It’s not your place to ram it down their throats. That being said, I have never seen a sincere offer turned down. Often, the new player will ask the person making the offer for advice or suggestions. Voila, there’s a bit of camaraderie to add to the community. Good for you. You get a gold star and/or a cookie.

 

For new players that tend to be a bit on the defensive side (like me): This is the time where you get to mind your manners as well. If someone is legitimately offering to help you, not trying to wave their more-gamer-than-thou card in your face, the least you can do is give them a polite answer.

Unrelated Clouds

Point the Fifth: Thou shalt not condemn anyone’s choice of faction – or means of choosing a faction – especially when they are just getting started! There’s no faster way to crush a tendril of interest than to be told everything they find intriguing is bad or stupid.

 

We’ve all heard of the, poorly named, “girlfriend method” – where the person picks their faction (or equivalent, say, their Commander for M:tG) based on what they think is pretty.

 

There’s not a damn thing wrong with this. In fact, my gaming mentor specifically mentions this method to all people he introduces to his gaming drug of choice. It’s simple logic: you’re going to have to be looking at them while you are playing them, so you might as well choose something you find aesthetically pleasing.

 

Most people get into a game by choosing a faction they loved (or one that was handed to them), using it to learn the game, and then upgrading to a “stronger” faction when/if they decide to become a more competitive player. For example, I learned to play Commander using a prebuilt 2013 Commander deck that I would never willingly choose to play again. Now I’ve built my own and I love it, despite its flaws.  

 

They may never progress beyond a casual player, but they at least will enjoy looking at the models/cards they have chosen. If they ask for advice, and they might, especially if their mentor/teacher shows that your opinion is worth listening to – then you can provide your opinions in a constructive way. “I really love playing contraltos/sopranos, because I love tricksy combos, but if you want a more aggressive, straightforward deck, you might want to look at…”

 

No one, and I mean no one, decides to walk into a game store and become a world-champion player of anything the first time they play it. Let the neophytes choose their doom in whatever manner they choose. It’s no skin off your nose.

 

Bonus Point the Sixth: Compliment a game well played, or a clever play, or a well-painted miniature, or a cool playmat. Say something nice to a new player; don’t cross the creeper line. When you are meeting a new player for the first time, be friendly, offer a compliment, but nothing you wouldn’t say to a stranger on the street.

Also Unrelated, but a cool picture

For those of you in the socially awkward demographic, an example:

 

“That’s an awesome *insert fandom* T-shirt/hat/lanyard/patch!” “That’s a really pretty playmat!” “I haven’t seen that variant of that model before – that’s cool!”

 

These are okay. Any comments on a gamer’s appearance that you wouldn’t say in front of a judge are NOT okay.  Just keep that simple rule in mind and you’ll likely stay out of trouble.

 

Also, as a side note: remember and respect personal space. You’re at a FLGS, not squeezed on a Tokyo subway. Give people room to breathe and to not feel like you are cornering them or pinning them against a table. Be aware of your presence.  

 

I know this sounds like a lot of “mind your own business”, and that sounds antisocial. It’s not, really. You want new players to feel comfortable in your gaming locale of choice, and it can be intimidating as hell to be in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. If that new player walks into a store to laughter and people having fun, gets greeted by smiles and open acceptance – well, a good first impression works wonders, as they say.

 

Remember, everyone was new once. We should always be open to inviting new people into our hobbies and our gaming dens – and we need to police our own. If an LGS isn’t welcoming to new players, or tolerates behavior that ostracizes players, vote with your feet and your dollars and go somewhere else. We are all responsible for our community and the members within it.

 

May all your 20’s be natural,

 

Georgia

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

Advantage/Disadvantage in D&D 5th Edition

D&D_Transparent

Marlaa

I’ve always been a good shot with a bow. Even as an Elven child growing up in Evermeet, I was exceptional. Yesterday was no exception, but I think I’ve taken my archery skill to a new level. We were taking out a hive of Ankheg’s and I was hitting eye shot after eye shot. It was pretty satisfying and though it took us about 3 hours to clear out the entire hive, I didn’t miss a single shot. I wonder if I can talk Marcus and the rest of the crew to head to Waterdeep for the annual Faire. I could use the money and it would be a ton of fun to claim a golden arrow in that kind of event.

Farn

Luck just isn’t with me at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m taking on challenges I’m not ready for, of if I’ve pissed off some cosmic being. Worst was when I was trying to convince that local guard to let us pass through the gate without having permit papers. Most of the time, slip a few gold coins in their paws, and walk on through. Well, it was my bad luck to get the one Towney that felt he was making enough cash on his regular salary. Hopefully I get out of prison tomorrow. I think my employer is willing to pay bail… again.

Advantage and Disadvantage

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Buy Some Dice

Here’s the easiest mechanic in the world. Roll x dice and if you hit this number, you succeed. It’s the basic premise 90% of role-playing games have used since day 1. Now, games adjust this mechanic in a lot of ways. Skill points give you a bonus, because you have a skill. Obviously, right? There are dozens of ways to complicate this to try and be more realistic or nuanced.

Advantage and Disadvantage still blew me away as an idea when I read it. I’d been gaming for like 18 years when 5th Edition D&D came out and I’d played a lot of different systems, so I really never expected I’d be surprised by something like this. I was. It is a simple, obvious mechanic, and yet, it floored me when I first read about it.

If you don’t know, Advantage works like this, you get two d20s for things you are particularly good at. You roll both, use the better roll to see if you succeed. Disadvantage, roll two d20, take the lowest roll to see if you succeed.

I’m still trying to figure out why this was mind-blowing, but it was. This is a super simple mechanic that says, I should succeed or fail, but there is still a chance I might not. I might have help; GM gives me Advantage. I might have a background that makes it obvious I should be good at something, have Advantage. My life sucks, and I’ve been hamstrung (maybe literally), cool, Disadvantage on your rolls, mate. This is a simple system. The mechanic can be used in a 1000 different situations for 1000 different reasons. That’s what makes it awesome to me.

How do you feel about Advantage?

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

WHO’s THE GM? SOCIAL CONTRACT 4

Social Contract 4: Who will be running the game if a Game Master (GM) is needed?

tabard

Welcome back, once again! This week the topic is all about that very important job. The job that not everyone wants to do. The one that for some people is shrouded in mystery and veiled by a screen. Of course, this is the role of the esteemed GM or Game Master. However, whether you refer to them as DM, GM, Storyteller, Judge, or any of the other long list of names it all comes down to the same thing. They run the game for the group. From setting up the plot, creating interesting situations on the fly, to not flipping out when things go off the road, the GM is a role with many hats.

Of course, that is, if a GM is even needed for your game. In these days GMless games are gaining in popularity and merit a look as well.

So, this week we shall break down what one is really getting themselves into when they sign on to be a GM, from a one-shot, to a campaign. As with other weeks I will intersperse examples in italics. Looking over the duties of a GM, what all is really needed? What exactly does this position entail?

Judge

judge

Like the esteemed Judge Reinhold , the GM must make quick and fair decisions on the fly with a strong regard for the rules.

This doesn’t mean they have to know all of the rules and I will tell you a little GM secret, listen closely now, we don’t know all the rules.

We don’t and that is okay. However, we DO need to understand them enough to interpret situations as they arise. Interpreting dice rolls and understanding WHEN to call for rolls is a large portion of a GM’s roll (ha!). This will be largely influenced by the game being ran.

D&D has a different way of handling things then say, Burning Wheel. In D&D, by the book will tell you that you need to roll for just about everything, if there is a CHANCE for failure. However, with that in mind, this works well for the D20 engine and that is an important thing to keep in mind. Many times I have heard the following conversation from groups:

I don’t like game X because it uses the X system and that system is bad.hero

This is a very basic way of determining if a system is good or bad. Look, I personally am not a fan of Hero System

That is MY personal preference. However, I can APPRECIATE what it does. With six editions under its utility belt it does what it does well and has a rabid fan base. The system allows you to create just about any kind of character you can think of. That is its goal, and in that, IT SUCCEEDS!

Why the short diatribe on this? Because, from a GM standpoint it helps to run a game you overall understand and feel comfortable with, as well as making sure it is something you ENJOY! When you enjoy a game, learning the rules and helping others to understand the rules will be easy. You will enjoy teaching the game to the group and that enthusiasm will show in the game in other ways as well.

So, know the rules. Use the rules. Know when not to use the rules, as well.

For some groups part of the first session (besides character creation) is going over the basic concepts for the game, usually rules and setting.

My friend Metal put together a powerpoint presentation for our group to go over and explain Hero System as none of us had ever played it, or even looked at it before. This allowed us all to understand how to make a character and get used to the game system.

So again, know the rules in depth. Not all of them. You never will, and that is okay, however, know them and understand them enough so that you can use them and discard them as needed.

Gameworld

Aside from knowing the rules, the GM will have to create the world and situations the players encounter. Some games have established settings and some don’t. This is really your first question. Will you run a pre-printed setting/module, run your own game within the established setting, or run your own setting all together?

This question isn’t really as daunting as it may at first seem. From a creative standpoint you will know if a published adventure or settings grips your imagination or if the rules make your imagination swim with possibilities.  In either case, the GM needs to make the world feel real and tangible to the players. They make the PC’s the center point of the story and have their actions produce consequences that will affect the world they inhabit.

This short section helped us setup the next, which is time spent prepping the game.

Prepping for the game

prepping

You have decided on the date, the time, the place, the game, the world, and spent time reading and learning the rules. Now you need to get the plot outlined and ready to run the game. How much is too much?

Let’s discuss that, shall we?

Before looking at this further I want to share something about how I prep for a game. I do this to show one way of doing things. There is no right or wrong way. Find what works for you and use it. For me it starts with the end; more specifically, a scene. I take that scene and figure out how to use it in a game. I then work backward from there. From that scene, I look for a good theme and mood to apply to the whole game.

The mood and theme help me to direct the story I want to tell and give me a focus to come back to once the game starts. KEEP THAT IN MIND!

NO AMOUNT OF PREP WILL SURVIVE THE PLAYERS. ALL OF YOUR HARD FRAUGHT WORK WILL COME TO NOTHING. In fact, Victor wrote about this a couple of weeks ago in his convention game write up

Keeping things honest here, I was the person who ran the Changeling game he mentions. I will come back to how I could have planned that better. (SORRY FOR THE FRUSTRATION ON THAT, VICTOR!). He also mentions that the Numenera game went off the rails when the GM’s plan for the plot escaped them.

So, to keep this at a minimum I plan a skeleton of a plot and have certain scenes that will happen. I think of these as set pieces rather than hard and fast things that have to go off as planned.

So, really the “prep” for a game will depend on your style. Different people plan differently. Like I mentioned above, I tend to have an overall framework for the story I want to tell. This goes for convention games as well. By not over-planning, I allow the players to really engage the world, and no matter what they do, my story can continue and hopefully the players all have a grand time.

Other GMs I know will have pages and pages of story and plot, and playing will be more reminiscent of the old classic Call of Cthulhu adventures.

This is a true “railroad” game.

cthulu

This is not a slight on CoC adventures. I LOVE Call of Cthulhu. However, it is a different game than what I normally run. Those who do run games like this have a very hard and fast plot that will happen no matter what. Players will find that they only a few real choices. Again, this is fine if that is the game your players have agreed to play.

My friend Ray ran a Star Wars game that was very much railroad in style. Now, we understood this going in, and to Ray’s credit, when we asked to have more freedom as a group, he gave us that freedom. He had full on handouts and backgrounds for all the NPC’s we would be interacting with, and a very detailed knowledge of the worlds we visited. It was impressive.

On the other hand; unlike my skeleton plot points and Ray’s handouts, there is my friend Bob.

Bob is currently running our group through a Burning Wheel game. Bob will let an idea sit and percolate for a long time. Like a year. He will jot down notes as they come to him. From there, he will then do a character creation session to get the players roles set up for his story. With that done, his real prep is complete. The week to week prep is really just noting 4 scenes he wants to try to work into the game. It takes him all of 5 minutes. It is truly amazing to see him do it.

As you can see, these are very different ways to prep and set up a game. All of which are perfectly legitimate ways to work the GM magic. The point here is to know how much time *you* as the GM will need to put into the game from getting the basic ideas running around in your old hamster wheel onto paper and all the way to getting to that climactic showdown with the adversary and the aftermath.

So, to GM means putting in extra time and effort and keeping up with the ongoing story. It is a demanding role, to be sure. However, it is one that is also incredibly rewarding. Next week we’ll wrap this whole thing up with a discussion on how to make sure the topics covered in the game are not offensive, while still being true to the theme and mood that the GM is trying to bring to the game.

As always please comment and let me know your thoughts either bad or good. Let’s get a good discussion going, and of course, thanks for reading!

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 3: WHAT GAME WILL THE GROUP RUN?

Welcome back! Last weeks article! This week we finally cover the all-important question of what game the group will sit down and play. For me this mainly comes down to knowing the amount of player “buy-in” that each person is willing to give for the game. This buy-in will vary between each game. Some games require more than others. Each game has the same basic types of buy-in:

games

So many games so little time

  • What game are we going to run?
  • Cost of the game.
  • Prep time for both GM and Player
  • Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the game

Let’s break down each of these four points and see what each means in terms of buy-in.

As always I will give examples in italics with regards to my home groups.

What game are we going to play?

 

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this week’s topic on the Social Contract. What game will we play? This will depend on group preference. With so many genres and different styles to choose from it’s easy to get lost in the sheer vastness of games currently available. In fact, let me break it down like this. Let’s look at three generic genres and I will give a list under each for five types of games. The three genres we will use will be very generic but the games under each will vary, while still falling under the parent genre.

Fantasy

  • D&D (Pick your edition)
  • Houses of the Bloodedchoices
  • Burning Wheel
  • Within the Ring of Fire
  • Homecoming

Sci-Fi

  • Shadowrun
  • Era: The Consortium
  • Coriolis
  • Paranoia
  • Eclipse Phase

Horror

  • Wraith: The Oblivion
  • Kult
  • Sins of the Father
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Night’s Black Agents

Now I would expect most people (gamers) have heard of some, if not most of these games. However, this shows the multitude of options for games to choose from. D&D is an obvious choice and I could whip up a 5th edition character in about 10 minutes and a 2nd edition character in maybe half an hour or so (it’s been awhile since I messed with 2nd edition). So that doesn’t take much investment on my part to make a character. From a GM standpoint it isn’t a big thing to pull together a game either. Give me about 10 minutes and I can do a one shot session for D&D no problem. In fact, if I don’t want to do that, I can go onto Wizards of the Coasts’ site and get one directly from them for not much money.

Now on the opposite end, I would put Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel has one of the most interesting dice mechanic and character creation processes I have personally seen, and I am a big fan. For a lot of people, it can take a bit of time to wrap their head around how the system works. A character in Burning Wheel still takes me about 2 or 3 hours if I make them all in one go. More often than not, I will sweat over details and nitpick different aspects of what I can possibly do. From a GM standpoint, most of the time for a Burning Wheel game I can only sketch out a rough plot before my players have their characters made, or burned, in Burning Wheel parlance.

Also, an important topic is type of game. This not only covers what people find enjoyable, but also covers what people might be uncomfortable with. This is a delicate subject and one that may need to be discussed in private, however, these discussions must occur.

A couple of years ago I ran a Wraith: The Oblivion game at Gen Con. The game had a caution on that the game would contain mature subject matter, as it was taking place during the days leading up to the liberation of prisoners at Auschwitz. The players were recently deceased who had to keep their remaining family members safe until the liberation. That is very heavy in terms of theme and subject matter. It’s not for everyone. So please, make sure to discuss the type of game you want to play with your group.

paranoia

One of the pricier gems of my collection

Cost of the Game

When it comes to game cost in regards to buy-in, the real question at hand is how much will each person have to spend to play the game. Let’s be honest here and now though, in reality only one person NEEDS to buy the books. However, it will often better suit the group to have multiple copies of the book for rules reference.

In fact, Victor had a wonderful write up on just this sort of topic a while ago in regards to the cost of the recent Invisible Sun Kickstarter. http://keepontheheathlands.com/2016/09/13/invisible-sun-a-study-in-the-tension-between-accessibility-in-price-and-design/
In this he excellently breaks down the cost for modern gaming. I highly encourage you to read it. I’ll wait.

Please take your time….

Please take your time….

 

Okay now that you have read that, let’s continue. Most books will run about 60.00 US dollars. Add into this dice… which… you can never have too many dice.

Dice normally will run about 10-12 dollars for a standard set. Copies of character sheets and pencils are honestly very small cost and negligible. So at the very minimum, if each person buys a main book and only one set of dice, they are looking at about 75 dollars’ investment. Add in pencils and paper for copies and let’s round-up to 80 dollars.

Overall this is not much more than a video game these days. So I don’t see the need to balk at this. However, there is more to this really than just a main book and some dice. At least with regards to the buy-in aspect of a game.

Prep time for both GM and players

work

This is a lot like work!

The time from when a game is chosen and when it starts really is the time for the GM to get their story down on paper and make notes. This honestly can only be done to a certain degree. Most games recommend (and in the case of some, require) that you do a character creation session with all the players and the GM as a group. So, prior to this it is a good idea for all involved to read up on any pertinent details. The game world (if one exists), overall game rules and especially character creation rules.

Reading up on this is no different than studying for a class. You are learning how the game is run and how the system works. Now I can hear a lot of you saying that “can’t I just have this taught to me during character creation?”

Yes…you can and if your GM offers pre-made characters this may be an option to try a game out. However, when making characters for a game it is a good idea to know the rules at least as they pertain to your character.

A great example I like to give of knowing the rules as they pertain to your character is from Shadowrun. Shadowrun is a very crunchy simulationist system at its heart. As such, the different types of characters you can play use different rule sets. When running this game, I let my players know that they are responsible for knowing their character and the rules governing them. This helps speed up combat especially, and keeps the game moving overall.

So, take the time to read and learn the game. Do your homework, so to speak. Invest the time to know and understand the game system, the world, and special rules. I promise you will be happier for it in the long run. One thing I like to do is read up on character creation and mark down any questions I have for the GM during the character creation session. Simple things like this can go a long way to making the game more fun for you, the other players, and the GM.

For the GM prepping requires even more work. They have to know the system, and have to plan out how the characters are involved in this story. PC’s are the main protagonists in a story, so, it is important to have the story revolve around them. This means that the GM can honestly only do so much planning and prepping prior to running a homemade game as opposed to a published scenario.

All of this means that the GM needs to sit down with the players and be an active part of character creation. Doing so allows them to flesh their story out around the players and this is essential.

charcter-creationCharacter Creation

This is a special portion of buy-in. Different games have different levels of character creation. Some are more involved than others. The reason this is something to discuss is not every player wants to spend 4 hours poring over a character they may only play 3 or 4 times. So know what kind of time character creation can leech. Most games ask that the first real session of a game be entirely comprised of character creation. This is a great idea. It allows for the group to discuss what each other wants to play and to build off of that.

Discussion and dialogue is what this process is really about. From what race/roles each player will fill in the game, to defining parts of the game world, this process helps to make the players really feel invested in the world. Questions can be answered as well, both in terms of rules or related to character creation choices that will require GM approval.

Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the gameshared-duties

Finally, when speaking about buy-in aspects of a game, there is the discussion of how many shared or not shared duties exist when playing the game. This can take a couple of forms. The main concern is the amount of time a player will need to engage in a game each session.

Different people role-play for different reasons: to socialize, to escape from the mundane every day, to challenge themselves mentally, among many other reasons. This also can mean that not every player will be engaged during every scene of the game. Especially if their player is not in the scene, or center stage. When this happens, some players may start side conversations, pull out their phones, or use the time to take a bio break, or grab a snack. None of these are bad per se. However, different games require players to be more engaged on different levels.

From a D&D perspective this is easy, as the party usually with one another. Fostering a sense of duty to keep the party together is something that D&D does extremely well. Even when simply looking over the map and figures and trying to figure out the best way to approach the new room of the castle, players are all discussing and talking out plans. This is great.

On the other side of this is Shadowrun. Shadowrun combat can have different players in different places during a scene: from being in a physical fight, to hacking into a security system, or even doing spirit combat in the astral plane. This can take time and can (and in my experience will) will cause players to become disengaged.

Now neither D&D nor Shadowrun award XP for always being engaged. That is not a slight to the games, it’s just a fact. Yes, a GM could (and I think should) award good role-playing. It doesn’t normally happen, though. However, Let’s look at two other games that handle XP in a different way: Burning Wheel and Within the Ring of Fire. Both of these games use votes from the group to determine XP awards.

Burning Wheel asks for different votes based on who did the most work for the session, to who had a skill that was needed at the right time. It even goes farther than that, rewarding players to play up their Beliefs and Instincts. Doing so is an integral part of the game and one the drives the story forward. This also means that players have to be more invested and engaged in the game at all times looking for and making opportunities to play up these aspects of their characters.

Within the Ring of Fire is similar as it also uses a vote system to determine who is awarded XP. Here each person is asked to select one other player (not themselves) and explain how the exemplified their character in that session. Simple. Again this means that players will be having to pay attention to each other even when they are not in the scene.

So, how we have discussed what sort of game we are all comfortable playing and how much we all want to be involved with the game from a session perspective. We can move into our next question: Who will run the game? Normally, this will be determined during this step of the process, as the one who recommends a game usually will be the one who runs it. We will look at the process to decide to run, or not run a game. We will take a deeper look into planning a game and the GM’s role before, during and after a session.

As always, please comment and let me know your thoughts and let’s talk about things you feel I may have missed or that you liked. Until next week, may your dice always roll true.

picard

Make It So

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 2: WHERE WILL THE GAME BE PLAYED AND WHO WILL HOST THE GAME?

openerWelcome back to part two of the ongoing discussion on the social contract that exists in starting up a new tabletop RPG game. Last week we discussed the means in how to help determine the length and frequency that a game group will meet. So let’s recap that very briefly and then build off of that for this week’s topic: Where will the game be played and who will host the game?

 

Last week the topic focused on understanding how often and how long a group would meet. These broke down into three separate questions

  • How many days per week/month will the group meet
  • How long is each session going to last
  • How long will the story run for

 

These revolve around the availability of the group and the amount of commitment each member is willing to put in. So, with an understanding and agreement on that; let’s look at the next portion of this contract. I will break this into two sections

  • Where will the game be played
  • Who will host the game

 

As in Part 1 of this series of articles, I will break out examples of how the groups that I game with came to these agreements to create a fun environment for everyone involved.

Where will the game be played?

home-table

Before I get into the details, keep in mind that really this boils down to either a playing in a public game or a private/home game. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each, shall we?

 

Public games

flgs

Many groups have access to a Friendly Local Game Store often abbreviated as FLGS. These locations overall are great. From having a place to get your gaming gear to meeting likeminded gaming fans they help provide for and grow the community. Many even have space set aside for people to play games. Oftentimes for free. However, there are some things to look at when considering running at a local shop. Let look at those shall we.

 

Before looking at the issues that may arise, I want to stress it behooves your group to try and game at your FLGS when/if able. This accomplishes many things. First, you will find others who are into the games you are into. I have lost count of the times I have been running a game and someone comes up and says “I didn’t even know that [insert game title] was still available or even in print.” Second, it provides the FLGS business. Should they charge for the game space extend your group’s social contract to the FLGS by showing your support and patronage, if they don’t seeing bodies in the store is good for both the hobby and for business.

 

Speaking of business; when it comes down to it your FLGS is a business and as such is looking to profit. Support them when possible. Game there, purchase your gaming supplies from books to dice and such directly from them when able. Yes, it can be more expensive; however you are supporting local business and one that is supplying a service you enjoy.

 

This I plan on covering in more detail in a future article, but needless to say I feel very strongly on this topic.

 

So, there are the reasons why it is good to game at your FLGS. What are some of distractions one may encounter?

 

I want it to be noted that a simple lookup on a web site, a call, or even a quick visit during your Lunch Hour to the store can answer most if not all of the following questions.However, I want to point them out as they may not be readily apparent to new groups.

closed

 

First is hours of availability.If your local shop offers space for people to come and game. Especially, if the store hosts other events. On special occasion days open free gaming may not be a possibility. Really this should be a quick determination if any hours offered will work based on the answer to what days of the week or month the group will meet and for how long.

 

As an example there are a few stores in my area that offer different times of availability. The main store we frequent is open Monday through Saturday,  11AM until Midnight. They have a great big open area for gaming. You can see half of the area in the above picture at the start of this section… However, looking over their calendar they have many days that are not open for gaming or may be limited.  Take a look at a recent week’s list of events:

schedule

 

That is pretty packed. Which is good. However, you would want to reach out to the store and make sure open gaming is okay and that space if available. In fact, Wednesday’s from 6PM to 10PM it even says RPG; however, I can tell you that table space is very limited. So make sure to check before just showing up. Depending on store policy, the staff may even hold a table for your group.

take-my-money

Second is cost. Yes cost. Most stores offer free open gaming, but not all do. Please be sure to check.

 

There are two stores in my area that do charge for gaming, each in a different way. One charges a day fee. This fee is overall very reasonable and actually very good for groups who like long marathon sessions that can take a whole day. Your group pays the fee and they will give you your own private room that can be securely locked in case your group wants to take a meal break without having to worry about leaving your gear unattended. Of course if you don’t want to pay for this premium treatment, the store does have free, open space.

 

The second store does charges for any sort of gaming. You can pay a flat daily rate or hourly rate. Each table is semi-private and the staff will watch your things at the counter should you need to leave. Also, this store is open later than any other in my immediate area (until 3AM) which can make it perfect for night owl-style groups. Do note that this store does *NOT* offer any free/open gaming as an alternate option.

noise

NOW FOR THE ISSUE OF NOISE! Woops didn’t mean to yell there. Let’s face it, when you get large of groups of people together things tend to get LOUD! Add in that as other groups get loud that makes every other group raise their volume to be heard as well. This can be a problem for GM’s and players who are sitting next to each other to be heard properly. Both need to hear each other and for the GM especially this can lead to a hoarse voices had by all at the end of a session.
What can be done to fight the noise? Well, looking ahead at the calendar can be the best bet for open gaming area style stores as this will hopefully allow you to schedule around the high traffic days of a store. This may have your group making renegotiations as to how often your FLGS can accommodate your game.

 

Noise is the main reason why my weekly Tuesday group moved from being at our FLGS to one of the player’s homes. It was so loud that it became a distraction and hard for anyone to really concentrate and overall took away the fun of the game.

 

Last thing I want to mention here is the subject matter of the game you will be running. Most FLGS are family friendly and as such most will have rules for what kind of conduct is allowed. This can include language, types of games, food and drink to name just a few. So make sure that the game you are running is not going to break any of those rules. I want to stress here also is that what may offend one person may not offend another. So do your homework and cover your bases.

 

I ran a Demon: The Descent game for about 6 months or so at my FLGS. The game had some mature themes and touched on some adult(ish) subjects. As we were meeting at the store I made sure to convey these subtlety. For my group this worked and we didn’t have any issues with the store in this regard.

On the opposite side of this coin, my Wednesday open gaming table had a few players who while waiting for game to start, had a tendency to make some off-color jokes. When the store brought this issue to my attention I made a announcement to my table about it. It then became a non-issue.

 

Private/Home Games

game-table

Not all groups has an FLGS close to them and, when they do the there is the potential that play space doesn’t sync up with your group’s wishes, or it is just darn noisy. At that point your group will be looking to have a game at someone’s residence. These games are usually referred to as private home games as they are at a private home. This just like a open FLGS game has it’s pros and cons and some other considerations to take into account.

 

The big one here  is who’s house will be hosting the event. Normally the person hosting will have a space that fits everyone and is as close to centrally located for the group. These two things may not always be the case, however.

 

When my Tuesday group decided that the local shop was just too loud for us we decided to move the game to one of the player’s homes. Luckily, the distance was not much overall for any other players. The space was overall more accommodating and the noise was a moot point as we only had to worry about our own volume.

 

Note that the Host and the GM are not always the same person. The GM usually wants to arrive before the players to set up the area and get any notes ready for the session. When the GM and the Host are different people, setting a time with the Host as to when players and GM can arrive prior to game start will need to be established.

 

Expanding on the Tuesday game our Host is not our GM. As such they ask that no one arrive prior to 6:30 pm. This gives them time to unwind from work, eat Dinner and get the area prepared for the game.

 

Content for the most part with home games is a bit more open. I will cover this more in detail in question five Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the roleplaying setting?

For now just understand that home groups can be a bit more overtly out with adult themes and language, assuming that all present are agreeable.

 

Finally, one thing I have found among many home groups is that since the host is well….hosting everyone is asked to bring a snack or drinks. Now I am not saying this is always the case it just tends to be the norm more often than not. This is different for each group but something to consider.

 

My Tuesday game used to rotate who sprung for pizza or would split costs of the pizza and sodas. This assured that food was plentiful and at hand. No need for food runs mid-session or running late due to grabbing Dinner.

 

As an aside one other thing that really separates a open gaming FLGS group from a private home group is ‘randoms’. What I mean by that is people not regulars to the group joining your game… In a FLGS I promise you people will come up and either watch you play or just simply ask what game you are playing. Do your best to accommodate them, as long as it does not break the stride of the session. This is good. It brings more players into the hobby.

 

When it comes to inviting people into one’s Home though, most people tend to like to know and trust those people. So, be aware that should someone want to join the group and they are not known to everyone, especially the host it is good manners to check with the group as a whole.

 

Who will host the game?

hosting

This is really about who will provide the space and area for the game. It really has been covered in a roundabout way above. If you find that you are playing in an FLGS, the Host normally will be the GM. They will want to arrive a bit early to make sure that the gaming area is ready to go and set up any maps, get their notes and such in order before the players arrive.

 

When the the game is being held at a home the Host normally will be the owner of the house the game is taking place at. In these cases, the Host will let everyone know when they can arrive and set expectations on food, beverages, noise and such as well.

 

Well time and place as well as host have been decided. Man can we please get to just playing the game already?

 

gygax

Hold onto your dice, there Mr. Gygax!

We need to cover a few more topics… The big one in fact is next. What game are we going to even run? After all this work finding a place and deciding on how long it will last. It is up to everyone to decide via group discussion what setting we will be adventuring in. That shall be decided next week, in Part 3 of this 5 Part series..

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts on pros and cons of FLGS games versus home games. Any points you feel I missed or disagree with? Let me know. Any points you liked? Let’s get a discussion going and as always thanks for reading.

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

HOW PLAYING A HERO SAVED MY LIFE or HOW I WENT FROM LIVING IN MY CAR TO GRADUATE SCHOOL

Ruinil

Miniature of Ruinil Alam

I’m sure some people are going to think the title of this article is hyperbole, and in some way it is, because I have no idea where I would have gone without gaming. There is a strong possibility I’d have slipped into a serious depression and not be here today.

Grigori Piedrich - Tzimisce

Grigori Piedrich – Tzimisce

In my teens I found role-playing games and they became my regular hobby. Partly because I had dreams that I would travel the world and do great things and gaming was my temporary surrogate to those goals. However, High School was a period of toxicity for several reasons. One, I suffered through some anger management and depression problems that I really failed to address effectively. Two, I got stuck in a toxic relationship that I was too unwise to remove myself from. Now, I don’t blame my fellow co-dependent any longer, because I had the agency to remove myself from that situation, but I didn’t and it helped to make things worse for quite some time. Throughout that time, I gamed pretty regularly, eventually playing table-top games twice a week with a group of friends who hung out with the gaming club in town. On top of that, I would travel to LARPs in the region at least once or twice a month. Eventually I’d run several of these as well.

Gaming was my constant outlet for creativity. Though I wrote, and read, gaming was where I realized my dreams and generated plots and solutions to various conundrums. Usually these games were White Wolf games or Dungeons and Dragons (3.0 and 3.5), and we played a few random home rule worlds as well as testing out a bunch of other games here and there.

Eventually I found myself playing villains, people that were cruel, angry, and prone to revenge and actions I deeply found abhorrent. That being said, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to think of playing heroes, all the characters I made were flawed in ways that showed some of my deeper issues. I remember being borderline grumpy, angry, quick to snap at my closest friends at a moment’s notice and the characters I played were equally sullen and interestingly prone to failure.

Between 2002 and 2003 things started to change. A new friend at gaming club introduced me to a D&D setting he wanted to run called Birthright. Birthright is a

Not Osric, but from that era

Not Osric, but from that era

lower fantasy setting where there are extensive rules for running kingdoms and smaller sovereign lands. I initially played Osric Illien, a Mage-Noble who was desperately out of his league. He was intelligent and charismatic, but he was one of the least powerful regents in the area. He made terrible choices, and was slowly on a slide into evil and probably would have eventually sold out the rest of the party. Thankfully, he died.

That character was killed in a pretty freak situation and I was initially pretty devastated. However, my friend Jeremy was a pretty wise friend and he had some suggestions to helping me bring a new character into the game. He also was wise enough to see that playing villains was helping me wallow in my misery. Here I was working up to 2 dead end jobs, not traveling, not adventuring like I had expected to be doing in my life. I’d always dreamed of seeing the world and due to a series of terrible choices, I wasn’t. I was stuck in the area of my home town, where I’d never expected to be much longer than my last day of High School. I was stuck in a dead end relationship, wallowing.

At least until I created Ruinil Alam. Ruinil was a roguish character in the vein of Westly from The Princess Bride. He was the heroic nephew of the cruel ruler of Alame. At first, he was a low-level freedom fighter that worked to usurp the Duchy from his uncle. After a few weeks of play, he succeeded and though he wasn’t at first welcomed by his people, he changed their mind with his dedication to their success. Ruinil was first, happy. He was motivated to do great things, he liked other people, and he was driven to make the world around him a better place. He also, eventually was killed. However, due to his passionate nature, the love of his NPC wife, and his dedication to a goddess, he was given life once more. This is not a common occurrence in Birthright; resurrection was not a spell most clerics could cast. This story helped to motivate me, to give me a spark of the spirit I was missing.

San Diego

One of the few photos I have from San Diego, that’s me on the right, my brother on the left

Half-way through that game, I ended up having a massive break-up with my ex and I finally decided I needed to change my life. Ruinil inspired me to strike out and do something crazy, as well as the support of a friend that knew I needed to get out of the situation I was in. So, I moved from New Hampshire, to San Diego California. Sadly, when I arrived, I didn’t have a place to stay as my brother who was supposed to take me in was himself living on someone’s couch. So, I spent the next few months living in my car. Though I didn’t get to play Ruinil at a distance very frequently, I did connect with my GM a few times and it was good to get back in his head during this situation.

Having made this crazy change, I knew I’d have to make a plan for making further changes. I decided that I wanted to travel the world, and get an education. So, though it went against a lot of what I liked doing, I decided to join the Army. I knew that I would eventually get the GI Bill, and be able to use that money to get a degree. I also knew that if I chose my MOS (job) correctly I’d get a chance to travel. It took me another 2 years to get everything taken care of, but I eventually joined the US Army in July of 2006. It’s been almost 10 years now since I joined the Army, (I left in 2011), and I can say looking back that it was the mental shift I had playing Ruinil that really pushed me into make the changes that have brought me where I am today.

My first duty station was South Korea. I met my wife there; she’s an Englishwoman who was teaching children English (learn from the source, right?). From there we chose to go to Germany, and I got to travel a lot through Europe, and eventually drive all the way from Uppsala in Sweden, to Bavaria in Germany. I left the Army, got my Bachelor’s degree in 2 years, then my graduate degree in 2 more. In my last semester of my undergrad we had a wonderful little girl. Now having completed my school work (all using the GI Bill), I’ve decided to pursue the activity that helped drive me toward success, gaming.

Gaming is something I believe can change the world, person to person, in small ways and in big ways. I see the Inclusive Gaming Network, Keep on the Heathlands, and Reach-Out Roleplaying games as steps in tying so much of my life together. I’m tying my education, my passions, and my goals to help make the world a better place through a few integrated projects.

You all can thank Ruinil Alam for helping make all this happen.

House