Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Brave New Thawed Out World.

DM David is wondering about different styles of DMing, and he’s especially interested in the dichotomy between the “classic” impartial referee and the more modern “collaborative storyteller.” On Twitter (seriously, that’s still a thing?) he posed the question:

How do you feel about GMs who eavesdrop on your conversations, and then incorporate your speculations in the game?

  • Love it. Let’s tell stories together.
  • Hate it. The DM shouldn’t steal my ideas to complicate my character’s life.

And, to his surprise, the lovers far outnumbered the haters. He thinks the lovers might not be thinking it all the way through, however:

…my sense of the answers is that folks don’t often imagine their DM overhearing a worst-case scenario, and then wielding it against characters. If players only wanted compelling stories, DMs should sometimes adopt players’ cruelest ideas and use them. Stories feature characters facing obstacles. Countless sources of writing advice tell writers to torture their beloved characters. But how many players want to participate in the torture of their alter egos?

There are more folks like that than I suspect DM David realizes. There are players who love random character generation because they enjoy compensating for the handicaps, or playing those handicaps. There are players out there that relish getting their characters into trouble and (hopefully) getting them back out again. There are players who love to toss the dice and see what happens, daring a carousing table, a table of Death & Dismemberment, or a Deck of Many Things to do its worst. There are players out there who love it when their character collects a cool scar. Hell, the warlock class is basically built around the idea that something horrible has already happened to a character before the game even starts!

Now, in my (extremely limited and unscientific) experience, these players do want an interesting story around the tortures a sadistic DM tosses at their PCs. They don’t want an endless parade of misery and degradation. But they do want to know that the bad can happen. They want either the challenge that comes with knowing that failure is, in fact, an option, or the drama that comes with both highs and lows. Sometimes both.

And then there are the true masochists… But that’s a tale for another day.

Suffice it to say, there are lots of ways to play RPGs, and nearly as many ways to play D&D. Getting the right mix of players is paramount, as is not assuming you know what everyone at the table is after. Asking and knowing beats guessing and being wrong.

Art by John Martin.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Leveraging Warlocks for Campaign Greatness

Warlocks are one of the great post-TSR additions to D&D. Their relationship with their patron is much closer than that of a cleric's deity, and yet they can't take a direct hand in the campaign. Even better, they can be awesome frenimies for the PCs, power they know they shouldn't use but hey, one of them has already taken a big bite out of that forbidden fruit, so how bad can it get, right?

Someone over on Quora asked about what an Archfey could want from their warlock. And that inspired the following thoughts:

1. Why did the Archfey take the warlock on?
Maybe it was a whim of a moment, maybe it was an accident. But maybe there was something about this character that drew the attention of the Archfey. If so, that may dictate what the Archfey wants.

For a new PC, this can be the hardest way to go, because neither you nor the player may yet know what makes this actual character tick. Or, even worse, you might have a solid idea, only to see it morph and mutate when the character starts interacting with the other PCs and the world.

Still, the key to an awesome warlock experience is to make it personal, so if you think you can pull this off, do it! Look for something that capitalizes on a trait that makes this character unique, whether it’s something in their background or personality, or the people they know.

If the warlock is a PC, like all PCs they’re bound to have interesting adventures, almost as if they are fated to happen. Legend says King Arthur would not begin his New Year’s Day feast unless he’d heard of or seen some marvel. Perhaps, like Arthur, what the Archfey wants is an account of the warlock’s amazing adventures. And, if they are deemed not quite amazing enough, the Archfey will take matters into their own hands, perhaps by bribing the PCs to take on certain adventures, and then offering the PCs' adversaries some help so the warlock’s eventual triumph will be all the more exciting!

2. What does the campaign need from the Archfey?
You’ve got your world, you’ve got your villain-types and their victims, you’ve got your starting location. How are you going to put your PCs in the path of the villains? Your Archfey can help here. Maybe they want the same thing the villains want. Maybe they want something else entirely, but two things are mutually exclusive somehow. Maybe they’re just in the same neighborhood.

The nice thing about Archfey is how flexible they are. Need the PCs to focus more on the quest? The Archfey wants something related to the quest. Want to mix some romance into things? Archfey wants to help a pair of star-crossed lovers. Things getting to heavy and dramatic? Archfey wants a pig dressed up to look like the Queen of Dramatopia. An Archfey can work like a safety valve, releasing or storing up pressure as needed.

3. Being Fun-fun Silly-willy Absurd
As others have pointed out, the desires of the Archfey can at times seem a bit… off. Not quite sane. Certainly not understandable by mere mortals. To help with this, make three lists of 20 items each, one of verbs, one of adjectives, and one of nouns. Then roll on all three lists. The Archfey now wants their warlock to verb the adjective noun. The more ridiculous it sounds, the better.

Art by Sophie Anderson.