Scheduling & Summaries: Pillars of Campaign Momentum

One of the nifty things about social media is it allows you to live vicariously through other like-minded people engaged in fun activities like playing Dungeons & Dragons. While it can be enjoyable to see tweets with descriptions and pictures from the gaming sessions of others, a constant response in my brain is, “Where do they find the time to play this often?” Quite frankly, it has been a challenge to maintain a tabletop campaign in recent years for a number of reasons. There seems to be a dwindling window of time available for hobbies as we get older and more responsibilities are tossed our way.

So this article offers a few helpful tips to keep a campaign moving.  How can you go from playing once every few months to gaming more consistently? And how can you keep the players interested in plot points that were introduced many weeks (or maybe even months – or years) ago?

Adventuring in the Middle Ages

Has anyone ever ran a campaign where characters in the game world had to juggle their personal call to adventure with the realities of raising a family or holding down gainful employment? Probably not, because it would lead to the following conversation:

King Yavin IV: Our kingdom is plagued by the undead. The source of this foul curse seems to be coming from the east. I sent my most-talented warriors and sages to solve the problem, and they have not returned. No word from them in weeks…. I fear the worst! Would you follow their path, and end our suffering? I will see to it that you are all handsomely rewarded.

So’lana Arquist (Bard): Most honorable King Yavin IV, your need is great, and we can certainly take on this most-important quest. Tough, perhaps we could delay the start of this quest as I’m booked to perform each night at The Dove’s Inn until the new moon arrives.

Farcha Oxblood (Fighter): Yes, nothing is as satisfying as ridding undead vermin from this world! However, my partner is away on business and our children need someone to stay home with them. You have my swords, of course, when she returns.

Rinzin (Rogue): Yes, yes…. Later would work better for me as well, your majesty. I’m scheduled to see a surgeon for a medical procedure. Since our last run-in with a group of mages and a flame imp – long story, I won’t trouble you with details – my back has been killing me and it needs some work. I should be in tip-top shape in a few weeks!

Sister Maven (Cleric): I’m ready to cleanse your land of these abominations, though I would need the assistance of the others here today. I will remain focused until the time comes when So’lana, Farcha, and Rinzin are ready to venture east!

King Yavin IV: Oh dear….

Coordinating the schedules for four or more adults is a challenge, and it seems to get increasingly complex as we age. Ideally, everyone in a gaming group would have the same level of commitment to the game and make attendance a priority.

Life happens though. Children need attention, work requirements escalate, emergencies come up, illness strikes, and hobbies such as playing a tabletop roleplaying game for a few hours must be pushed aside for other pressing demands.

D&D Session PlanningIn recent months, I’ve found that three strategies are most effective in dealing with the realities of running a game composed of people in theirs 30s and 40s who are invariably juggling multiple real-world responsibilities.

First, accept that each player is not going to attend every gaming session. The struggle to find a time that works for everyone can limit how often the game is played, and that delay can sap the enthusiasm of every player involved. When all the players involved understand that sessions will take place without one or more players at times, the group can collectively move forward more efficiently with scheduling.

Second, attempt to find a consistent time that works for the majority of players. I recently tried to schedule a game that would run on the same night of the same week each month. For example, “Let’s all agree to meet from 6-9PM on the second Tuesday of each month.” That type of scheduling makes the game predictable for everyone, and can be added to calendars and digital planners as a recurring appointment. The problem with this is it may not work for everyone in the group, which leads us to the final option. Continue reading

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One Way I’m Saving vs. Grief

My first memories of Dungeons & Dragons were from watching the animated show on television and begging my brother’s friends to let me play in their game. My brother, Albie, was about five years older than me so I was forever chasing him and his crew. While my brother would rather be outside playing sports, some of his friends were into other hobbies – like listening to Iron Maiden and playing D&D. Every once in awhile, his friends would set up shop in our den and play through an adventure.

I was extremely jealous; I wanted to play as well!

I finally got my chance after I bothered my brother enough for him to tell his friends, “Let him play.” The first game of D&D I ever played featured me creating a Fighter. While I don’t recall the scenario, I do remember that we were exploring a cave and I was in the front line. Some monster attacked, and I took a swing at it. A member of the party threw a flask of oil toward the monster, and the oil spread to me as well. Another member lit the oil with a thrown torch, and just that quickly, my gaming experience was over as my Fighter died from burning to death.

It was clear my brother’s friends didn’t want this little kid playing in their adventure, and they found a clever (and cruel) way to get me out of the game quickly. My brother got me into the action though, and it allowed me to get a taste of the hobby. He didn’t have to go to bat for me with his friends. But he did.

Exactly one year ago today, my brother jumped in front of a train and ended his life.

I could write a book about our lives together, and one day I just might.

My brother (right) and I enjoying an elaborate party (long story!) for the Eagles/Bears playoff game in 2002. I’m wearing our father’s Army jacket.

There are portions of this post that will be difficult to write – and possible challenging to read. I’ll summarize first, and go into details second. For over a year, I have partnered with the creative minds at Limitless Adventures to update a collection of monsters I originally created for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I previously interviewed Andy Hand of Limitless Adventures in 2016, and after that interview we decided to take the monsters I created for my No Assembly Required series, which was originally hosted by the site, This Is My Game, convert them to 5th Edition, and package them into a book to sell through the Limitless Adventures site.

Though it has taken much longer than originally intended, the book is now available for purchase.

No Assembly Required Cover

Cover for No Assembly Required

Andy raised the possibility in recent months that we could use the sales from the book to benefit a charity, and I thought this was a brilliant idea. All money collected from sales of this book will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We priced the book to cost $5, and each sale of the book will result in $5 getting donated to AFSP. Continue reading

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Do You Want Some Exposition?

A challenge for me while running sessions of Dungeons & Dragons is efficiently detailing important story details to the players at the table. There are standard ways to accomplish this, and the most common is the text box in a published adventure. The text box highlights the information that the players should be told when they enter a specific area. The design of adventures force the DM to notice this text with the equivalent of a neon sign that flashes, “Stop! Read this!” Another option for DMs to deliver vital plot details is to use a NPC to convey information to the players through some conversation. While I use these methods often, I’m always experimenting to do something creative at the table that gives important details about a character, a location, or a quest that doesn’t involve me reading a block of text or speaking through a NPC.

Flavor text D&D

It’s impossible to miss the must-read flavor text in adventure books!

I detailed last article how I collaborated with other DMs to build NPCs for the initial session of a Tales From the Yawning Portal campaign. During the second session, I had three primary goals that I wanted to accomplish with the players. First, I wanted them to have some interactions with the rival adventuring group they agreed to partner with in Undermountain. Second, I wanted something to split the adventuring groups up so, third, the party could explore a ruined stronghold in a session or two without assistance.

I knew the first goal would happen organically at the table, and I was confident I could find a clean place during the session to have the vain leader of the rival party abandon the partnership with the party. The third goal required me to create a stronghold for the party to explore. The players had previously purchased a map from a NPC at the Yawning Portal to “an abandoned stronghold that is rumored to house great treasures.” Now I had to figure out what was on the map! Continue reading

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Don’t Prepare on an Island: The Joys of Collaborative Worldbuilding

The three pillars of Dungeons & Dragons are Roleplay/Interaction, Combat, and Exploration. There are multiple tools available to support Dungeon Masters in creating these pillars at a gaming table. The most common tool is a book that gives you information about each pillar. The most recent example is the Tomb of Annihilation adventure, and the upcoming Waterdeep books. The books describe locations, characters, monsters, and quests that are to be consumed by the players around a table. It’s a successful formula, and it works really well for most groups. It also leaves gaps because no matter how many pages a book like Tomb of Annihilation contains, it cannot provide all of the information required for the three pillars of D&D. Players are bound to go in an unexpected direction, and the DM may want to feature an area of the world that isn’t mentioned or fleshed out in detail in the book. Thankfully, there are other tools available for DMs to build up the pillars.

One tool to assist with brainstorming and generating ideas for the three pillars is the Dungeon Master’s Guide; the DMG has pages and pages of random tables to help build up any of the three pillars for a gaming session. I have long argued that one of the most useful strategies to simplify game preparation and session management is to create some anchor NPCs for players to meet during a session/campaign. I originally referenced my enjoyment of games like Red Dead Redemption, which advances the story through a series of interactions with important NPCs; players are even directed to these NPCs by large indicators on a map! (With Red Dead Redemption 2 coming out later this year, the game is again on my mind.) As I was planning to start a new campaign based on the material in Tales From the Yawning Portal, I realized that I needed to create additional NPCs for the characters in interact with during the first session. I cracked open my trusty DMG and set out to create another group of adventurers that the party could engage with (and perhaps be rivals with later) during their time in the Yawning Portal. Continue reading

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 27 – Mike Shea

Mike Shea bio pic

Mike Shea

Mike Shea joins the show once again to talk about the changing dynamics of tabletop roleplaying games. He explores how technology like streaming has advanced the hobby and spread its growth. We discuss the possible differences between what makes an excellent game to watch through streaming, and what makes an excellent game to play in with friends. He details his reasoning for launching his latest Kickstarter for Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, and explains the purpose of its content. He emphasizes the importance of game masters focusing on the player characters in the game, and how that is now his first step during preparation for any gaming session. He offers advice for how to maintain a consistent, weekly gaming session while managing a rotating cast of players at the table.

Return of The Lazy Dungeon Master

Enjoy the 27th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode of 2018 is scheduled to post on March 6th.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 26 – Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman bio pic

Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman, President of Trinket Studios, joins me to talk about their new release, Battle Chef Brigade, which is now available on Steam and Nintendo Switch. Tom talks about the four-year development process for Battle Chef Brigade, and the challenges his team faced as an small independent company. He discusses the perils of marketing the game while fighting obscurity, and how Trinket Studios partnered with Adult Swim Games. Tom details how Battle Chef Brigade went through a rollercoaster in terms of scope and gameplay variations, and how they arrived at the current combination of mechanics and features. He answers my numerous questions about the design of the game, including how players are rewarded – rather than punished – for playing the game. We also get into the logistics of art design and voice acting. Tom concludes by talking about the mental toll of working on such a project and releasing it into the wild. If you have played Battle Chef Brigade or are simply interested in how games are developed, then this podcast is a must listen! And if you have yet to experience Battle Chef Brigade, go buy the game! It is an amazing experience that I am loving.

Battle Chef Brigade

Racing to hunt, gather ingredients, and cook to impress the judges is way too exhilarating. The game is a huge dose of fun, and you should play it!

Enjoy the 26th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode of 2018 is scheduled to post on February 20th.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 25 – Cedric Van Dorpe

cedric

Cedric Van Dorpe

Cedric (@cedflanders) joins me from the Hearthstone Championship Tour in Amsterdam to offer a live report on the tournament. He details his experience at the event, and how he collected autographs from professional players and members of the Hearthstone team on his iPad throughout the weekend. We delve into competitive play and his thoughts on how tournaments could be improved to allow a wider variety of player skill to shine. We discuss his expertise in Arena as he speaks about his efforts to appear in the list of top Arean players in the world for the month. He offers advice on how to string together successful Arena runs from understanding the current meta, drafting cards, and playing aggressively.

 

Enjoy the 25th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. 

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Posted in Ego Check, Hearthstone, Podcast | Tagged , | Leave a comment