Sunday, July 10, 2011

This Is Good. And Not That Hard.

A GM comes in, prepared, and gives the players options: 3 or 4 or 12 or 30 or infinite options.

The players usually choose one.

This leaves the GM with all the paths not taken. Plus then the GM plans the options for next time, beginning where the PCs left off. And since these options genuinely are options, then, almost by definition, most won't be chosen.

This leaves a lot of extra material. Even if it never gets used, it's there.

So the GM needs a notebook. Full of ideas or stats or places or all three.

It can sit there, and half of it doesn't get used. And it isn't really good for much else, in that form: it's campaign notes. They can't be turned into anything else useful (a book, a movie, a didactic puppet show) without even more work.

So you have it sitting there lonely, between some pages.

Or you can put it up here, on the web. Then people look at your notes--which you pretty much have to make anyway--and talk about them and maybe write back and maybe give you new ideas and suddenly your own backburner and unused ideas bounce back with some new spin on them and you think of a way to use them again. Or maybe you notice someone else has an idea like that, only better.

So the ideas breed. What would've been junk is now alive. And even if you can't use it maybe someone else can.

The point is: GMing and blogging are usefully related in a way that blogging and a million other things you might blog about aren't. I do a lot of things besides play D&D, but for the most part they don't get better or more fun or more efficient when you talk to people about them all day. (Had an art debate today. 5 hours and nothing anyone--including me--said is at all relevant to what I need to do next to the big slippery red and black thing covered in paint lying on its back in front of me right now.)

The point is: this is good. This thing we do is good. Even if you don't get anything out of the last thing you posted, maybe the next GM down does, and maybe they'll repay the favor.

And it doesn't have to be a big deal. I remember reading this old "content lite" post--just the Monsters and Manuals guy writing about his top 10 favorite monsters--and suddenly a whole bunch of things clicked into place. Not because of just that one post, but because I'd been reading everything he was doing--the atmosphere he'd been creating--and then, suddenly, Oh yeah, I see how Mind Flayers are supposed t0 work now. And--I'm sure--to him, it was just some stuff he assumed. Just a different angle on the same stuff is enough.

GMing is...maybe "hard" isn't the word, after all some of the dumbest people you know can do it...but it's a challenge. You set yourself a challenge, or your players do. This thing, however, doesn't have to be. It's just a conversation we're having.

Grab some chicken wings, sit back. "You like Gelatinous Cubes? I hate Gelatinous Cubes! One time there was this Gelatinous Cube and..." and that's all you have to do. Just pull up a chair and talk. Nobody worth a good goddamn is expecting James Joyce here, and if you can write like James Joyce, for Christ's sake don't waste it all on a D&D blog.

If we read you, we know a little about how you roll. If all you have to say today is "I really want to use a giant crayfish this week" that's fucking fine. Maybe that, in the context of everything else you've said, explains more than you think it does. I know if Canecorpus is into giant crayfish, it means something different than if Max is.

This isn't hard. This shouldn't be made hard, you're not being graded, just show up and show us one more way to come at this thing.

Because it is good. It is good to know more. It is good to know how many ways it can be done. It's a hobby. Maybe today's idea is dumb. So what? Maybe someone can turn it into not-dumb. Life is long. Talk.


  1. My Zod, great post. Great way to take it seriously while not taking it seriously, if you grok me.

    Might actually get a hoverer like me off my ass and onto my blog. Yes, in fact, I think it will.

    Thank you Zak. This is another one for the archives of the institute, as they say.

  2. This is the best post I've read all week, I think. Well said, man.

  3. See, I hate gelatinous cubes. I had a 9th level halfing rogue who was killed by a gelatinous cube due a series of truly horrific and unfortunate rolls.

    It remains one of my favorite gaming stories though.

  4. Yes. Thank you.

    And in comic book guy style, I love the gelatinous cube exactly for its groan factor. You can hide them everywhere in the mad wizard's lair: any cubic peridot ring is just waiting to be dropped in water to rehydrate it. Or there could be flat-packed slices of a cube waiting to be reassembled, or one lurking in the water system, invisible in the reflecting pool. How do you think the lair/crashed saucer/ancient palace's sewage system works? Oracular cubes, gate cubes that take you somewhere else, like square white holes (but greenish)...

    Puddings, though, I have no time for.

  5. A great response to those who seem to forget that this thing we do is just an extension of that other thing we do, which is having fun. Wouldn't it be great if people vented their rage at things that are actually important, like poverty, injustice, corruption, etc., instead of harassing and ranting at folks because their way of having fun maybe differs a degree or two? I'm generally optimistic, but sadly I think the people who need to understand your post Zak are the ones who won't.

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  7. (art school rage deleted)

    The players didn't rescue the giant crayfish this week. Maybe next time.

  8. So on the one hand, if I started a blog, my players are going to want to read it. Which is annoying if I perhaps want to reuse some ideas from said campaign notes in the future.

    On the other hand, I did show them a couple of pages from my notebook once and they said 'Hey, what's this? 'Orbital Prison Hulk'? That sounds cool.'
    So I made the adventure, and it was cool.

    The other thing is, where do you even start in attempting to get your new blog into general awareness?

    You have the DIY RPG Blog Sampler here, which is great to begin with.
    I don't play D&D though, so the circulation between OSR blogs is of limited use, and RPG blogs of other sorts are pretty thin on the ground by comparison.

    I am sorely tempted to start a blog now though. So consider this post a success.

  9. @ austrodavicus- I agree whole heartedly. I do my blogging as a side project of my love of the hobby.

    When I started my blog it was with the philosophy that Zak expounds here. I started this because I had ideas and I thought "hell even if only one person finds them helpful or interesting, then I've succeeded."

    I didn't start my blog to be taken seriously (like that will ever fucking happen), or think it would get me into the "industry", or anything like that.

    I do it to share ideas and gain ideas and knowledge from others!

  10. @wrathofzombie - I don't think I could even begin to calculate how much inspiration and gaming goodness I have got from blogs for my gaming over the last few years. The sheer volume of ideas and creativity in the blogosphere is mindblowing.

  11. Very interesting and thought provoking post. From the very beginning you are correct, even as my gut reaction was that my approach to the plot options as you describe them is somewhat different.

    Just the very nature of the fact that they are different makes the point of your post personally valid to me. I would not have thought of this in this way had I not read your blog. Isn't that why it's great that its here?

  12. "The point is: this is good. This thing we do is good. Even if you don't get anything out of the last thing you posted, maybe the next GM down does, and maybe they'll repay the favor."

    Yes! Hell yes! :)

  13. I guess I'll get to posting then, and hopefully someone reads it.

  14. My friend's about to run a LotFP game for some of us-- Me, my wife, a couple of mutual friends, a co-worker of his, and his daughter.

    Anyway, we were talking about it the other day, tossing around ideas, and we started talking about the assumptions made by older versions of D&D about adventurers in general and "the party" in particular, as well as what it meant, historically, to be "an adventurer." The term almost always had a negative connotation. These were people who went after fortune and glory through non-traditional means, often the lesser sons of nobility, the kind who would get shafted by the system of primogeniture (oldest son inherits). They weren't going to get much of anything when dad kicked the bucket, so they went out and seized it. That's how we end up with Norman kingdoms in Sicily. Same thing with the Elizabethans -- Walter Raleigh, Miles Standish, Francis Drake, etc., and the Spanish conquistadors. You've got jumped-up minor nobles and sons of the merchant class burning with ambition and carrying a huge chip on their shoulder, determined to make it big.

    The importance of the charter is what clinched it for us. These are ad hoc groups of semi-trained misfits bound together by a charter-- the same sort of charter that pirate crews signed or put their mark on. Pre-agreed shares, the establishment of a common fund, amounts paid for widows, orphans, and lost limbs in the event of death or maiming. This may be obvious to some, but to us, it's liberating-- the idea that the PCs don't need some contrived reason to join together and stay together.

    Each adventuring group is like a band with maybe 1d4 core members and an ever-changing lineup as members die, move on, quit in disgust, join temporarily for a tour or two, OD on purple lotus powder, or retire. This makes it so much easier on the players and the GM and eliminates the whole hand-wavy "You look trustworthy, wandering stranger! Come along with us, and help yourself to this bag of stuff."

  15. I've only used Gelatinous Cubes a handful of times, but I LOVE Green Slime. My LL players ran into a few (with disastrous results), and now the players who are also in my 3E game basically flee any time they see an environment that would be suitable for one (though I have never included one in that game).

    THAT is the kind of fear I love to instill in players.