Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Things Go Like This

Sometimes there's an ambiguous hangout moment when there might not be a game. The laziness and torpid sunniness of the afternoon will simply fail to allow it to congeal. It's receded into a possibility of a game.

Players want to play when they are playing, and players wanted to play days before when they scheduled playing, but right now, when the game threatens to start--when that one player is like 'alright, so are we gonna do this?'--everyone has been in the apartment long enough to be thinking about something else or to get themselves occupied.

Someone just woke up, someone's tired from medicine, someone is looking at webcamgirls. They're dispersed and distracted--worse--I'm dispersed and distracted.

Like look at all these game things--they are everywhere all of a sudden in what once so recently was just an ordinary living room/recording studio/painting studio: notebook, d100 tables printed out, official game products (I never seem to need to crack those open), character sheets (why do I have to keep track of the character sheets?), laptop (there's a picture I want to show them if they go to a certain place and it's on the laptop) (oh and the music is on the laptop, it's important to be in charge of the music), and the minis and the little diorama of the restaurant and this box full of dice and something to drink and the deck of cards with different dangerous weapons written on them in Sharpie...every single thought ticks off some attempt to locate some physical object attached to that thought and it feels like this: like these various and mostly not-strictly-necessary things with which to run Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plus Mutant Future are various subsections of my own thinking brain and it is therefore my very own brain itself which is tucked and wedged in around the room and spread out across two couches, a coffee table and a shelf behind Kimberly. I need my brain.

I'm not hungry but I know I need food to do this. Noodles. Meanwhile: I take small, necessary steps. None of these commit you to actually playing. Steve, explain to Kimberly what happened last time while I do this. Kimberly your character has body-building which gives you a +something to P.S. do you know if you have that written down? Let's put all the minis where they were by referencing this photograph I took last time... Everyone find their character sheets while I do that. They definitely think they are going to play. But my head's all fuzzy, still.

What I need to do is describe the scene now. This is what's happening. I know all this already because we already did it. Not hard. And then what next? What's next is they are pursuing this villain. A dishonorable and cowardly foe. Yes. The foe is in the place. And I just need to think: what would I do if I was this foe? I am eating and drinking very fast. Either these calories are helping me think or just giving my fidgety hands something to do--it's unclear but there's no time to worry about that. I think like I'm the villain. Certain goals are meant to be achieved by me using certain known resources. I am armed, rational, and fearless. I am located in this place, which is here, which I know and they don't know and I know they don't know. Here is what I would do. And them, what would they do? What are you guys doing? The different people's pressure fronts in the room gel into a distinct climate. I drink Dr. Pepper and I begin to think very very fast. I know all of this stuff because I invented it, like a week ago. I remember. And I know what she's carrying because I have a deck of cards that says what she's carrying--I wrote on it: a flamethrower. Look, guys, a flamethrower, I'll just sit and think while you deal with that. Yes. It will take them longer to assimilate that than it will take me to think of the next thing. And that's all that really needs to happen. Yes. Right. They are going, they are playing and there's four of them and one of you and everything they do requires translation by dice so you're ahead. Maybe only one step, but that's all you need. Usually more. A player is doing a voice now, that's good, I will do a voice back, a voice is good because you think like the voice and then you're an NPC and an NPC just has to do what he would do. Ok. Good. You're in a room, its dark there's a stairway going down. They don't know what to do, they talk about what to do. It's going, it's good. I am now experiencing a high-focus productive submanic state that prior experience has proven can be maintained for up to 14 hours. Good. Good.


  1. The problem is obvious...

    You've forgotten the bacon to dip in the Dr. Pepper.

  2. When you put all these posts into a book (We Did D&D?), this, this will be the foreword.

  3. This may be one of the most brilliant posts yet. Keep this, it's important.

    Observations: (1) A checklist for your stuff helps. (2) My creativity while playing is an order of magnitude beyond when I'm not-playing. Playing, I come up with stuff instantly and with zero effort, stuff that would be impossible with weeks of effort while not-playing. Same goes for my math teaching, surprisingly.

  4. @delta


    2-don;t need a checklist. i post stuff like this because i feel like talking about the ideas that go through your head when GMing, not because I genuinely need help doing it.

  5. I've basically found that my current "adventure notes" are just checklists, yeah.

    Also "We Did DnD" is a dang funny title.

  6. I think "DnD Done Dirt Cheap" would be funnier.

  7. Great post Zack. Definately can relate.

  8. Wow, Zak, this is perfect. You exactly outline all the mental states I go through while gearing up for a session. I especially love the "high-focus productive submanic state." Thank you!

  9. Holy shit, did you say you have played for 14 hours before!? That must have been awesome, unless it had too many slow parts i guess.

    I have to say this post is pretty close to my normal thought process during game, nice job sir, a very good read

  10. FWIW, my "checklist" is just regarding the physical accoutrement you need on the table to begin, not adventure notes or anything. (Mine goes: dice, DM screen, battlemap, minis... pencil, ruler, paper clips, calculator, tape measure, etc.)

  11. Chris, check out the titles of Zak's other books, and you'll see why I suggested what I did.

  12. I have taken the checklist approach to a ludicrous level --
    a) Create locations
    i) look at last session notes for planned PC destinations
    ii) create timeline of what happens at that location
    iii) flowchart what happens when PCs interfere at various points in timeline.
    b) create NPCs
    i) look for existing NPCs to reuse
    (1) check each PC's list of contacts
    (2) check list of NPCs in that location or quest line

    Then the actual NPCs get designed with a checklist that has a bunch of random generators in it. Race, class, level, check. Motivation or encounter goal, check. Secret, check. Personality trait, mood, mannerism, check. Physical appearance, check...

    You can see that Zak is showing me a completely other world of DMing style with posts like this...

  13. Maybe "We Did Roleplaying (no, the other kind)" ;)

  14. Oh, forgot, most excellent post, Zak.

  15. This is the same rant that goes through my head every time I start. Utter chaos. It's only a matter of time before the DSM-IV starts listing "Dungeon Mastering" as a serious mental disorder.

  16. "Look, guys, a flamethrower, I'll just sit and think while you deal with that. Yes. It will take them longer to assimilate that than it will take me to think of the next thing."

    There's nothing else, _nothing_, that gets me to exactly the same place as this bit which you described so well.

  17. Excellent post. 14 hours is a pretty good session. Reminds me of the way to infrequent gaming weekends we did back in my late teens. Start either Friday night or Saturday morning play until either a good portion of the players or the GM was incapacitated, sleep then keep going til Sunday evening. I miss those times when everyone's schedule would permit that kinda thing.