Monday, April 28, 2014

Stop Being so Damned Boring.

It is easy to become boring when you're playing Dungeons and Dragons. All it takes is for you to become comfortable with your Game Master's style and the system. Then you begin to develop a standard routine for dealing with the world about you. You march in a standard order; you interact with non-player characters (npcs) the same way each time you meet a new one; you choose to roll your dice instead of announcing your actions. Face it, you're in a rut and the game is dull as hell as a result. 

As a Game Master when you realize this has happened to your game you'll probably find yourself staring at your notes and wondering where you went wrong. Should you have used music? What if you had used two Ogres and a Mindflayer instead of the Hill Giant? Maybe you should have sprung for that fifty dollar game mat and deluxe box of miniatures? Or maybe you should have stopped taking the easy way and started stretching your gaming limbs. 

Your players take their lead from you. If you ask for dice rolls every time that some minor challenge comes along then they'll soon be calling for their own rolls. What to find out rumors in town? Roll a Knowledge (local) check. Trying to find food out in the wild? Roll a Survival. Do you want to ask that bar maid back to your room for a nightcap? Roll a Charisma check. 

Do you see how boring that becomes? 

To break up that monotony the first thing you have to do as a Game Master is to stop letting your players roll for everything and start asking them what they're actually doing. If they want to screw the waiter till he can't remember his own name then have them actually approach him and talk out the scene with you. You don't have to be graphic, but having that player actually think about what they're going to say and how they want to engage the situation takes it from a d20 roll to a memorable event that the player will talk about after the game.

In a recent session I had a new player. He was incredibly shy around so many new people and was really hesitant to get involved in the goings on of the game. Yet when they went to the inn to get rooms and he had a waitress flirt with him he got involved. He moved from leaning back into his chair to sitting on the edge and describing to me how he wanted to try and woe her. She was a throw away npc and he still remembers her name three months later because he had to think about what he was doing and that made her something special.  

After the inn he understood how this game was played and didn't just ask for the d20 roll to determine his successes. Instead, like most of my players, he would begin any situation by telling me what he wanted to do and then we would work it out. Sometimes we rolled to determine success, but more often than not the way that success was determined was by talking out the interactions. Choosing to interact with the events of the game rather than mechanically determining results is the difference between a boring game and a memorable one. 

15 comments:

  1. Preach it brother! Seriously though, I strive for every session to be memorable in some fashion with all of my players. I absolutely hate being a slave to the dice, and I have to check myself before I call for any type of die roll outside of combat. That most likely comes from back in my playing days when you had to roll for everyfuckingthing outside of the most menial of tasks.

    When it comes down to it, how would you rather have it? The party is facing down a big bad evil guy, they are almost out of resources, and decide to try and convince the bbeg to surrender. I much prefer a dialogue between myself and the players then one of my players going, "I'll roll a bluff check and then an intimidation check." Snooze-o-rama right there. I'd much rather hear one of my players say, "We've traveled and fought our way through every trick, trap and adversary you've been able to muster and throw at us, and we keep coming like a bad case of the clap. Lay down your weapons and face the justice you so richly deserve, or die like the rest of your minions and burn forever in the nine hells." THAT is a hell of a lot more memorable than, "I roll bluff then intimidate."

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    1. "We've traveled and fought our way through every trick, trap and adversary you've been able to muster and throw at us, and we keep coming like a bad case of the clap. Lay down your weapons and face the justice you so richly deserve, or die like the rest of your minions and burn forever in the nine hells."

      Hell yes!

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  2. I agree with this advice and the story of your new player. I get the idea of rolling for success in some situations that are tricky to "role-play" but it's the role-playing that is fun, not so much the dice. The worst is when you have a situation where the Game Master relies almost exclusively on the dice. This despite role-playing involved. I don't like getting into character, describing my actions in negotiating with the NPC through speech and conversation only to roll a failed Charisma check and have the GM say "NPC's not buying it. Next Idea." I guess it wouldn't be so bad if he spun it into the narrative like "NPC keeps staring at your pointy ears and frowning without really listening to you, perhaps he doesn't trust elves and therefore doesn't trust you." "Or, you hear your voice crack and feel the sweat forming on your brow, unfortunately so does NPC, he doesn't seem to buy your Bullshit." Roll to fail/succeed with nothing else is dull.

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    1. "The worst is when you have a situation where the Game Master relies almost exclusively on the dice. This despite role-playing involved. I don't like getting into character, describing my actions in negotiating with the NPC through speech and conversation only to roll a failed Charisma check and have the GM say "NPC's not buying it. Next Idea.""

      True story: I once convinced a DM to let my player go by just talking my way though the situation when one of the other players broke in and said, "Aren't you going to make him roll to see if that works?"

      I failed the roll and haven't played with that son of a bitch since.

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    2. "Goddammit! Why did I make Charisma my dump stat???" HA!

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    3. I was a fighter; who knew I might have to convince someone without using my battleaxe?

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    4. Which son of a bitch? The DM or the other player.

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    5. The other player. I played with the DM for another two years before he went all, "My shit doesn't smell! You ignorant fuckers should worship my worlds and the ground I walk!"

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    6. Ugh. When a confident DM becomes and overconfident douche.

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  3. I like to end every sentence of description I give with the question, "What are you doing?" My longer term players have internalized that, and frequently give *very* creative answers before I've even finished talking. As Lord Dyvers has mentioned, bringing new players to the table can require some extra care, but is totally worth the effort.

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  4. I always thought that in a good RPG you must be able to balance the use of dice with the interpretation, but it is the latter that makes the real difference. Most of the time you think back to session that you was impressed, both for their epic or for their comedy, it is almost always in situations of pure role-playing, and almost never that involved a die roll failed or successful.

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  5. Charles, I know where you are going with this and for the most part I heartily agree. But from reading the article and the comments, it seems like there is a point that many people are missing. It sounds like you and your readers may be letting players roll for saves, ability checks, etc. that should be rolled in secret by the DM. For example: Thief skills -- it's probably ok to let the player roll their own Climb Walls check because the difference between success and failure is going to be pretty damned obvious to everyone immediately. But Hide in Shadows, Move Silently, Find Traps, etc. rolls should be made by the DM as the player announces their intent, and the results should not be revealed as you roleplay the outcome ... a bad failure: "you are about halfway across the courtyard when you step on a twig which snaps loudly; the guard spots you instantly and calls for help as he draws his sword" ... almost didn't succeed: "as you approach the guard, he suddenly perks up and looks around carefully, then seems to decide it was nothing and relaxes somewhat" ... or whatever fits the situation. A die roll can be used to create Fear, Uncertainty, or Doubt, but not if you let the players make their own rolls. If you do it right, it can lead to a much more suspenseful and memorable game experience.

    By no means am I saying you should be a slave to the dice. ignore the results when it suits you. but even if you have no intention of letting a character fail an ability check, roll anyway to make them nervous, even if some crazy action can't possibly succeed, roll a die to create false hope that you can crush.

    Back in the 70's & 80's we didn't have hundreds of sound effects & mood music queued up on our (nonexistent) laptops or MP3 players. We had dice, and books, and imagination. And I still managed to create suspense (and occasionally paranoia), The dice are a tool, use them skillfully to help advance your plot, or just to keep the players off balance and guessing. At random intervals, roll dice behind your screen & flip pages in your notebook or pretend to consult charts in a manual. If your players are being particularly obtuse, you can use fake die rolls to drop a hint that they are missing something. Or maybe you want to slow them down -- roll a d6 whenever an elf gets within 10' of a wall or %s for a dwarf even though there are no concealed doors or traps - chances are the players will start doing thorough (and time consuming) searches, thereby allowing your monsters to regroup and attack again.

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