Game Night Blog Carnival: Monopoly

Welcome once again to another entry in the Game Night Blog Carnival organized by Roving Band of Misfits. This month, I will discuss one of my favorite games as a child, Monopoly. I realize that you may recoil when you hear the name, “Please, that game is old, boring and never ends!” While I understand that thought process about Monopoly, stay with me as I describe why it is better than you think and why the game means so much to me.

Monopoly has been on my mind for two reasons this summer. First, I was stuck on a flight alone and only had my laptop for entertainment. My laptop is not a gaming laptop, so I only had the basic options like Solitaire, Minesweeper and several free-trial games that I have never touched since buying the machine. One of the free games was Monopoly, so I booted that up and started to play.

Almost immediately, I realized something was wrong. During the first lap around the board, the CPU opponent declined to buy a property and the game initiated an auction for the property. I never played the game this way before. Every time a property was landed on for the first time, either the CPU or I had to buy it. After a few laps around the board, the flight started its decent and I had to power down. I forgot about the playing experience quickly, but then I stumbled upon a blog post recently that made me realize something . . . I’ve been playing Monopoly wrong all these years!

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Obey Omar: Authority and Player Choice

Earlier in the month, Scott Rehm spoke about the importance of player choice during the life of a campaign. While there is certainly nothing wrong with traveling to a dungeon and clearing out monsters just for the sake of doing it, he emphasized that a DM should ensure that the party is actively choosing their path and making decisions that resonate throughout the campaign world. I have strived for this in my homebrew campaign, but I want to avoid making every decision a moral quandary. If you give players the same moral litmus tests repeatedly, then the campaign will become boring. I’ve been thinking about new ways to develop a storyline for a campaign that includes player choice, morality and potential conflict amongst party members. And when in doubt, I return to my roots in psychology.

Participant in Milgram's research.

While communicating with Sarah Darkmagic and others recently, I had the thought that a DM could benefit from borrowing concepts from some of the most famous psychological experiments to date. A great book for anyone even mildly interesting in psychological research is Forty Studies That Changed Psychology. One of the most ground-breaking series of studies featured in the book was performed by a Yale University psychologist, Stanley Milgram, in the 1960s. In his research, Milgram set out to learn more about the behaviors and sense of morality that led to the Holocaust. He devised experiments that examined the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. The results demonstrated that ordinary people were capable of inflicting a great deal of pain on others when ordered to do so by an authority figure. Milgram summarized his work:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

Below, I briefly describe Milgram’s research, and then offer an example of Omar, a well-respected NPC, to demonstrate how the concepts of authority and obedience can be used to engage your adventuring party with real choices throughout the life of a campaign.

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The Sound of Silence

DMs have a variety of tools at their disposal to set a scene for players. First, there are the core rulebooks and other resources featuring campaign settings, story hooks, NPCs and monsters. The core books set the stage for the DM and the players to execute published adventures or lay the foundation for homebrew campaigns. Second, there are visual stimuli ranging from the very crude – a flat map grid sheet of paper – to the very elaborate – terrain pieces like those sold by Dwarven Forge. DMs can find many useful visual aids for their gaming sessions in craft stores; in the past, I have used cheap mosaic tiles, Play-Doh, colored plastic sheets of paper, and decorative stones to bring the visual element of the game to life. In the past, I relied too often on visual stimuli both as a player and a DM. But there are four other senses, which should not be overlooked.

Earlier in the year, I was influenced by a post by Benoit at Roving Band of Misfits discussing the importance of storytelling for the five senses. Benoit states in the article:

As a DM, when I describe a scene to my players, I generally start with what the PCs see.  Unfortunately, I often stop there as well, assuming that my visual description is enough to draw the player into the scene.  This is a problem because when we enter new environments, our bodies give us a lot of sensory input that is non-visual.  In order to truly draw the player into the scene, we need to play to these other senses as well. So we ask the question: how can we start to describe scenes more fully?  I’ve begun using a “blind characters” approach.  By that I mean, assume that the characters are entering an environment with their eyes closed, and at the end, they open their eyes.  With that in mind, I describe the visual last.  By filling in all the other sensory input before giving the full visual picture, I am forced to think about what the characters experience rather than what they see.

It is a very useful strategy for DMs to implement, and I must be honest that I have strayed away from doing this lately. I encourage everyone to read the full article. Visual stimuli are likely the easiest sense to engage with your adventuring party, especially if you have elaborate terrain, but the four remaining senses – smell, taste, touch and hearing – can be a challenge.

Soundwave superior. Constructions inferior.

I continue to experiment with bringing the various senses to life. For example, I am thinking about searching for specific incense candles for upcoming encounters and locations. In the past, I gave out a bottle of blended scotch-whiskey to the party after they defeated a dastardly pirate. The prop doubled as a healing potion in-game, but required the person to consume some of the “Rot Gut” out of the game. I have not incorporated the sense of touch into the game, unless you consider props such as burnt parchment and other documents created for the campaign.

Below, I focus on the sense of hearing, and provide suggestions for bringing this sense to life during your sessions. I have been wanting to discuss my thought process regarding music and sound for D&D sessions for some time. I finally set my mind to it, and have posted some ideas that may help other DMs out there as they plan for gaming nights.

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Player Characters Are Gods

I was offline for the past week or two on vacation and busy with work. During that time, my brain was stewing on several upcoming posts related to experiences playing First Edition D&D last month. After some interesting discussion with my DM, I leveled my Rogue to Level 12, and jumped back to playing him in 4th Edition this past weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time scrolling through and debating my Level 12 Feat selection. In addition, I have some other ideas floating in my mind related to the general topic of monster building. The two ideas led me to the following exercise.

I have always enjoyed the character-customization process. Since I wasn’t playing tabletop roleplaying games for most of my life, my customizing was held to videogames. I would spend hours putting together various armor and outfit combinations for characters or paint jobs and accessories for vehicles. Take a game like Tiger Woods; I spent a long time earning enough cash in the game to buy the pieces of clothing I wanted, and even spent time drawing a tattoo for the player – the Rebel Alliance Insignia from Star Wars if you’re really curious. The same applies for games like Mass Effect and even racing games like Midnight Club and SSX many years back. It has always been fun to have options, and Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition bashes you over the head with character building options.

J’hari Wrex, Dragonborn Rogue

After 4th Edition clubs you with options in the initial character creation process, it continues to batter your mind with heavy blows of countless alternatives each time your character levels. I think it’s wonderful, although it certainly can slow the game down because the players have so much to manage.  As a result, I’m always thinking of ways to improve the flow of combat with ideas such as two-hit minions, pre-rolling attack and damage die and most recently considering attack powers from monsters that auto-hit like Magic Missle. But I believe players would find something like auto-hit attacks to be cheap, and after all, many monsters already have Auras that deal out damage without an attack roll.

As I mentioned, this has all been festering in my mind for several days, and I decided to combine them into an interesting exercise, which I believe will show just how overmatched the monsters in 4th Edition were (until recent books like Monster Manual 3 and Monster Vault were released) when dealing with PCs. My thought exercise: What would my Rogue’s monster Stat Block look like compared to other Level 12 monsters? The result is below.

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Ego Check: Scott Rehm of The Angry DM (Part II)

If you missed it earlier in the week, I posted Part I of my interview with Scott Rehm of The Angry DM. Today I present Part II of the interview. I’m going to preface this half of the interview with the following comments: We both enjoy 4th Edition! Outside of a recent D&D First Edition session, it is the only game I play. So while some of our discussion of 4th Edition is critical, we are not “bashing the game” but looking for ways to improve our experience.

I compare discussing a game system to talking about your favorite sports team. Sometimes you complain about the players on the team. You might call for the coach or general manager to be fired because of management decisions. You may want your team to trade for another player or sign free agents to improve the product. You pick apart the team endlessly over beers at a bar with friends or through blogs and other websites. But you love the team, and you’ll likely defend your team against other competitors. It can be quite tribal now that I think about it, and probably explains why people get so defensive when a game system is criticized. Regardless, D&D 4e is my team. I love it, but I’m always looking for a way to make it even better. I don’t hate the product, and I know Scott doesn’t hate it either.

With that disclaimer out of the way, please enjoy the second half of my interview with The Angry DM. In this segment, Scott discusses topics such as player choice and interactive storytelling. He also discusses how 4th Edition’s success/failure system influences roleplaying. We conclude with a discussion related to resource management and attrition. I realize this interview is lengthy, but it may give you something to do if you are not – like me – attending GenCon.

I think the popularity of Angry illustrates something rather important that is often ignored. The DM role can be a thankless job at times, and the vast majority of the tips and advice available are geared to making the players’ experience more fulfilling. I have benefited from tools and applications to make my preparation easier, more enjoyable and interesting, but where are the resources for improving the DM’s level of enjoyment during gaming sessions? What type of content would you like to see more of for DMs to ensure we are enjoying the game as well?

Now that I am out from behind the curtain, I don’t want to seem too down on DMing. Obviously, I love it, or else I wouldn’t have been doing it for over two decades. Anyone who sticks with DMing for any length of time has to find something to love about it because it is a lot of work. If the negatives outweigh the positives, the DM stops – if he’s smart. If he’s not smart, he forces himself to keep going until he burns out. And then, no one is having any fun. And I think that’s part of why you don’t see much advice about how to increase enjoyment during the game.

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Ego Check: Scott Rehm of The Angry DM (Part I)

I have mentioned a few times that one of the first blogs I started reading when I turned online for DMing advice was The Angry DM. The articles made a big impression on me because they did not only offer advice for improving the game, but also advocated for those toiling in the DM role. When I started the Ego Check series, I was hopeful that I could eventually reach the writer of The Angry DM for an interview.

Fortunately, Scott Rehm, the writer of The Angry DM, agreed to share his time with me for an interview. The interview covered so many topics and I’m happy to say it’s the first Ego Check that will require a Part I and Part II. In the first half of the interview, I speak with Scott about the creation of The Angry DM and how “Angry” has connected with the D&D community. Please take some time and enjoy the first half of an extensive interview with Scott Rehm. And remember, Angry’s not a system, he’s a man.

Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I want to get the most obvious question out of the way immediately, “Why are you so angry?”

I think the better question is: why aren’t you more angry? Look at what DMing entails. Really look at it. You spend hours every week creating worlds, characters, and stories. And you can’t do that without truly getting attached to what you create. You become invested. Heavily invested. Hell, you have to be invested just to put in the time to begin with. Even learning all of the rules is a huge time commitment. And, even if you’re not running a homebrew campaign or writing your own adventures, you still need to study the adventures and bring them to life. The most inexperienced, laziest DM still puts enough time and creative energy into every game for it to qualify as an unpaid, part-time job.

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