It happens every session, or after every session; the story is moving the party is focused and are aimed in a specific direction and I’m pumped up ready to go. The next day the ideas come flooding in and I’m trying to remember everything, writing cryptic notes down when I can. Then a week goes by and I go back to those notes and try to make sense of them, and all of a sudden it’s the night before our next session and I’ve got next to nothing prepared. Well, not really but it sure feels that way compared to how keyed in I was 2 weeks ago. It would be nice if I could turn my creativity on and off like a switch, but even though that is how it behaves it does it of its own accord. Some may say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, or that this is just how I am, I’m never going to change, but I still have hope that I can adjust my life into one that allows for more creativity. I sure hope it doesn’t involve taking time out of my “there’s not enough hours in the day” schedule to read a book on how to better schedule my time. . . That just might make my frickin head explode.
The party returns to Shel after exploring the mines and discovering what the bandits were looking for. They also come out of the ground with their hands full of interesting items. As a DM I need to refine how I handle the magic item revelation scenes. I don’t like just saying “You find a sword +1; and you find magic armor +1; and you find an amulet of protection; etc.” But I’m also reluctant to make them search high and low for someone that can give them information on this strange little bauble they found wedged in the folds of a goblins knapsack. But actually I should give that a try, maybe it will keep me from handing out magic items like Halloween candy.
The party is partying with the zombies and the rats, looking for info on the worm parasites. Roll20 makes making maps easy. So this episode is just another plug for their virtual tabletop, if you’re looking to hop into an on-line game go check out roll20.net
The DM guide estimates that characters will advance after approximately 8 encounters per level. It does mention that this would count completion of a quest as an encounter, skills challenges of course as encounters and traps as encounters. This sounds fair, it sounds do-able and in practice it will probably turn out to be correct. But my problem is that I immediately begin mapping out encounter after encounter moving the characters on their way towards next leveldom. At least this is how I started out.
The story develops as the players attach themselves to whatever attracts them the most, and as that gets more defined some of the circumstances become inevitabilities. There are pieces of information that need to be revealed in order for the story to progress, and how they are revealed is the essence of the game. So far it has been mostly me deciding how these plot points are to be revealed. I finally started bringing in a few of the elements that 2 of my players had provided for me as background to their characters. I’m making a concerted effort to develop those details into plot driving instances within the game. (Unfortunately it won’t be for another couple of episodes.) Right now, we are headed into a mine, which I felt compelled to develop in order to 1) expose certain elements of the story and 2) get the PC’s more xp so they can advance. If you are an experienced DM then you may be saying to yourself “dude, you’re making this way too complicated.” And I am. Or I was. Lucky for me, I’ve got a podcast where I can listen to how the game goes, share it with others and get some feedback on ways to improve my DM skillz.
So, if you’ve listened to all the episodes up to this point, you will know that they are attempting to rescue some children that they believe to have been kidnapped for some unknown reason. They are dealing with quite a few people and the plot extends beyond just the kidnapping. Apparently, some of the “bad guys” are infected with some sort of parasite that may or may not have mind controlling powers. My DM conundrum at this point was in how do I reveal more plot points to keep the story moving and hopefully keep the pc’s interest.
I know that there will be times when the pcs will need a gentle nudge in the proper direction and I am unafraid to provide that nudge. But there were a couple of sessions- the previous one, this one and the following (probably going to encompass at least 5 maybe 6 episodes) where I felt a bit dirty afterward. I felt like I was the DM that made the PCs do what I wanted them to do in order to keep the story going. There was very little in it that had to do with what the PCs had chosen to create for themselves. It got to a point that I knew what was happening and I didn’t want to force them into anything so even though I had an encounter all planned out and they were right on the cusp of busting it wide open I had to let it go (*see Keep Calm and Be Prepared). I found a spot later on where I could use the map (that I had lovingly put a couple of hours into creating on Roll20), and the fight was enjoyed by all.
After the way-too-long encounter, I continued to put my campaign together piece-meal, stringing together encounter after encounter. I think I got into that habit mostly from enthusiasm overload. We would play every two weeks and there was a lot of time in between sessions for my head to spin, and the only outlet was to envision the most likely direction the party might go. Roll20, an excellent virtual table top gaming tool, provided me with an outlet for my imaginations. I searched for monsters and found reasons to put them in the PC’s path. I know, this is not the way to go.
I have learned that the story will reveal itself. No matter how many times I hear other GM’s say it or read it on my favorite RPG blogs, the game is not all about me.
So, this is my lesson, as a returning DM, let the game play itself. I can create the world without having to tell the story. It is difficult to let go of this aspect of world-creation, the writer inside wants the final word. But the best part of playing an RPG is not knowing what is going to happen. The most obvious example of this- polyhedrals. PC’s love to roll dice, and not just in combat, anytime anywhere for anything. You want to see if that surly half-orc at the bar really believes you got that blood stained scale armor (that looks a lot like his cousins) from the blacksmith up the street- roll for it.
Well I’ve been saying for the past couple of episodes that we had an epic battle and here it is. I think I mentioned it being 2 or 3 hours long, but it was more like 5! You’ve already heard 2 hours- so consider yourself warned, this is 3 hours of 4e combat (and we’re a bit sketchy on the rules). So you may find it comedic, you may be bored to tears, or you may just settle in and take it for what it is. Either way, I can assure you that we have not approached anything nearly as lengthy since this encounter.
A Chronicle of one man's heroic return to the land of Dungeons & Dragons