What Do You Value?

It’s been a while since I read something that inspired me to respond with an article of my own, though that is just what happened after reading Susan J. Morris’ musings on internal tension in characters. I previously interviewed Susan on the Ego Check podcast back in January 2017 where she spoke about her work as a fantasy author and editor for companies such as Wizards of the Coast and Monte Cook Games. Her article this month on character tensions uses wonderful imagery to demonstrate how characters are affected by internal tensions and external forces:

Imagine for a moment everything your character cares about—Love, Friendship, Family, Country, Ideals, Religion, Tradition, Self, and Things More Specific—as a string, wrapped around your character.

The more your character cares about that thing, the tighter that string is pulled—the more tension on the line.

The more strings? The more interesting it gets.

She provides numerous examples of how characters can be tied up, and then offers this clear advice, “I think [the] most useful application is troubleshooting spots in your story where the tension drops or feels off.” By diagramming the tensions pulling a character in a story, a writer could identify when the tension sags and adjust accordingly.

Susan’s article provides useful suggestions for writers, though it struck me so strongly because it relates to an exercise I often complete with patients in my clinical work as a psychologist. And it is an exercise that can cut quickly to the heart of problems in one’s life.

Gaming Informs Work and Work Informs Gaming

A task I take on early when working with a patient in therapy is to clarify his or her values – in other words, why does that person want to live? What is important? It is a question I typically preface, “This may sound like an odd question…. why do you want to stay alive?”

Common responses are family, travel and a sense that there is more to experience in the world. An exercise I use to explore this idea in greater detail lists 10 values:

  1. Work/career
  2. Intimate relationships
  3. Parenting
  4. Education/learning
  5. Friends/social life
  6. Health/physical self-care
  7. Family of origin
  8. Spirituality
  9. Community life/environment/nature
  10. Recreation/leisure

In addition to listing the 10 values, it asks for the individual to first rate how important each value is in their life at that moment. The second step is to rate how satisfied they are with each value in their life at that moment. The third and final step is to answer some open-ended questions about each value.

The Valued Directions Worksheet gives a patient and I a great deal of information to discuss in therapy. For example, Parenting could be identified as very important while the satisfaction level with Parenting is low; this would be a good place to 1) explore and clarify why Parenting matters to the patient and 2) determine strategies for raising the satisfaction level of Parenting. One key thing we know from decades of research and clinical practice is that our mood typically improves when we engage in activities that are connected to our values. The first step for us is identifying what values are important, and the next step is taking actions that are connected to those values.

Many (if not most) of us struggle with this, and that is okay!

As I mentioned on the recent episode of Dragon Talk, human suffering is ubiquitous and I think we can all benefit from counseling services for assistance.

Susan’s article made me realize that the homework exercise above that I often give to my patients is something that my players or I could also use to create characters in role-playing games with more depth! What would it be like to complete a Valued Directions Worksheet as my Bard, The Stone? How could that exercise potentially add to my ability to “know” The Stone and role-play him effectively?

Summary

When designing playable or non-playable characters, consider not only random tables and other tools for designing the characters – also consider responding to the Valued Directions Worksheet from the perspective of that character.

How important are these values to the character, and how satisfied are they with those values? Discrepancies between importance and satisfaction naturally lead to potential plot hooks – and as Susan detailed in her article, tension.

For example, if the NPC strongly values Education/learning and is not satisfied in that area, then how could the players interact with that NPC to increase his or her satisfaction level? Regardless if the NPC is a queen, guard, innkeeper or monster – the exercise could give the NPC additional depth for the GM and PCs to play around with as the game unfolds.

Finally, consider taking a moment (ideally, after several long, slow, deep breaths) and complete the Valued Directions Worksheet for yourself. Self-monitoring and externalization can be wonderful tools to enhance our awareness and improve our mood. If this exercise highlights an area of your life that is important while the satisfaction is low, then consider methods to increase the satisfaction.

More exercises like this can be found in The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, which is a solid resource if you’re looking for a self-help option. In addition, considering speaking with a friend, family member and a professional clinician to work on areas of your life that might be a concern.

Take care of yourself, and happy gaming!

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 40 – James Haeck

James Haeck

James Haeck

James Haeck, Lead Writer for D&D Beyond and Coauthor of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Critical Role’s Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting joins the pod to educate me about how Critical Role overlaps with elements of the RPG and D&D landscape – and how it also has carved its own niche. He discussed the evolution of Critical Role and how it only recently became an independent entity outside of Geek & Sundry and Legendary Digital Networks while also clarifying my prior misconceptions about Critical Role being “under” Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. James and I ponder what Critical Role’s success may mean for tabletop RPGs and empathize with individuals that may question the money that is being raised.

I disclose my initial interest and envy from the success, and we both discuss the perils of focusing on the successes and failures of others while trying to create content. I thank James for delving into these questions, and we both acknowledge our lack of adequate solutions for these dilemmas. I shift gears with James to ask about how he got involved in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and prod him for suggestions on how to get the most out of the content provided in the book. I selfishly wanted this information as my group my find their way into an urban setting soon! This is a worthy conversation, and I hope you give it a listen!

Enjoy the 40th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6p4ip-aa850b?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=1

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!

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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My Walk onto Dragon Talk

I had the pleasure to be invited on the Dragon Talk podcast, which posted last week through Wizards of the Coast. They gave me the opportunity to talk about my charity efforts with Limitless Adventures to raise money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The book we created, No Assembly Required, remains available for $5 and all money goes to AFSP. My motivation for raising awareness and funds for this cause goes back to my brother ending his life by suicide in 2017, and you can learn more about how AFSP uses donations to educate the public, advocate for better policy, support survivors, and fund additional research on suicide through my interview with AFSP’s New Jersey Director. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss all of this and more on the Dragon Talk podcast.

The episode of Dragon Talk can be accessed through iTunes.

Dragon Talk

I consider the Gritty Eyes an enhancement to the overall experience.

Speaking openly about mental health issues is not a frequent thing in our society. Topics such as anxiety, depression and suicide are not accepted as widely as conversations about medical issues like diabetes or cancer. Because of this, I want to offer my sincere gratitude to hosts Greg Tito and Shelly Mazzanoble in addition to everyone involved at Wizards of the Coast that allowed me to speak on Dragon Talk.

Thank you.

I previously interviewed Greg on my Ego Check podcast in December 2017 about his role as Senior Communications Manager for Dungeons & Dragons. He spoke lovingly about tabletop role-playing games and provided a compelling answer to the question, “What is D&D?” We had a nice conversation about the staff of 25 or so individuals that bring D&D products to life in addition to how the explosion of streaming and video delivery services has allowed the tabletop industry to expand its audience. Greg and I have stayed in contact periodically since that time, and I eventually asked him if I could come on his podcast, Dragon Talk, to talk about mental health and gaming.

Greg and Shelly were wonderful leading up to the interview as they wanted to ensure they were respectful of the topics being discussed. I was also aware that my discussion about mental health issues and gaming could come across as preachy, and that was not my intention. I believe we avoided any number of potential pitfalls during our hour-long conversation, and I again thank Greg and Shelly for committing to the topics.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 39 – Marc Allie

Marc Allie

Marc Allie

Marc Allie joins me to talk about his history of “being geeky when geeky wasn’t cool.” He talks about his early memories of playing Dungeons & Dragons and how he jumped into the online community with his blog, The Learning DM, during the 4th Edition era. We spend some time remembering fondly elements of 4e D&D and talk about the transition to 5th Edition. Marc and I spend a good portion of the show talking about our shared enjoyment of Transformers, which hit us both in our formative year in the mid-80s. We talk about why Transformers persists while other franchises from that era have fallen in terms of greater public consciousness. He details his efforts to write a haiku for each episode of the original animated series, and we discuss our enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the Transformer films in recent years. We both agree that Bumblebee is wonderful, and hope the future is bright for additional films that will come from Bumblebee’s creative team. Enjoy our stroll down the space bridge memory lane!

Enjoy the 39th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen 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!

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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Childhood Ruined – A(war)d Show, What Is It Good For?

ChildhoodRuinedLogo_final smallWe take the Presidents Day holiday to record a new episode and give each other an update on our son’s behavior. Chris prods me on my lofty expectations for my two-year-old son, and I encouraged him to follow his son’s diet of recreational activities. Chris brings up the topic of the Grammys, and discusses how they seem even more irrelevant than usual. The hosts ponder if an organization like the Grammys is losing prominence as the pace of the music accelerates and the scope of music broadens. The conversations expands to discuss the Oscars, and how the film industry in heading in a similar direction. The hosts debate over whether awards shows do (or should) mean anything to a wide audience given that they are still decided by a group of people that are older, wealthier and whiter than the general population.

Enjoy the new episode of Childhood Ruined!

 

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 38 – Ed Grabianowski

Ed Grabianowski bio pic

Ed Grabianowski

Ed Grabianowski (aka, “The Grabster”) joins me on the show to talk about his career as a freelance writer for outlets over the years including io9 and How Stuff Works. He speaks to his start as a writer for a local newspaper in Buffalo and how that led to other writing opportunities as he continues to work on a novel. He discusses the pressures involved in producing content for an online audience that is bombarded with an endless stream of content. Ed also talks about his musical project, Spacelord. Ed performs vocals for the band, and he details their journey in the independent rock scene. While Ed provides details about Spacelord’s influences, a few samples of their music are including to give listeners a taste of their sound. The band is GOOD, and you should give them a listen! Ed shares a hilarious story about the cover art for the latest Spacelord album, and we close the show by rehashing our efforts in 2016 to narrow down to the best 12 songs from the Use Your Illusion albums by Guns N’ Roses. If you haven’t read our takes on this, then go do that now.

Enjoy the 38th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen 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!

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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Go Nowhere with Random Encounters

In recent months, I’ve been slowly working my way through Red Dead Redemption 2. I started before the holidays, and the slow pace of the early game tripped me up. It took some cognitive adjustment (and a few tutorial articles) to get my bearings in this new version of the Old West. The game is beautiful, and gives players a vast canvas to devote countless hours to do – well, just about anything.

From hunting wildlife to donating to beggars to playing poker to bonding with a horse to furthering women’s rights to shooting up a “the whole damn town” with a frenemy, Red Dead Redemption 2 gives players a trainload of options for how to spend their time while controlling Arthur Morgan. In addition to tens of hours of primary plot lines to follow, which I’m still nowhere near completing yet, the game has various tiers of what I’ll label Random Encounters. It is these encounters – and how they could relate to a tabletop role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons – that have been on my mind in recent days.

Arthur

Arthur Morgan – Friend. Outlaw. Legend.

I wrote years ago how I learned to structure D&D sessions like the original Red Dead Redemption. At the time, I was running a 4th Edition campaign setting that I was making up on the fly. I needed to build a foundation in my mind so I didn’t get lost in my own world. Enter my experience with games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption:

In games such as Red Dead Redemption, the NPCs drive the story forward. I mentioned above that a player can travel to specific locations on the world map to trigger the next story mission; the icons on the map are the names of important NPCs in the world. The player knows at any time during the game the NPCs that are available to trigger a story mission. I used this design to build my campaign.

Back then, I channeled my preparation time into creating prominent NPCs that players could interact with during sessions, knowing the general areas and missions those NPCs would trigger. It was a formula that worked well with my group, and helped me prepare for each session. Clearly, adventure books and modules accomplish this same goal; those texts provide details on important NPCs, and the DM steers the players in the direction of those NPCs to advance the plot.

Where Red Dead Redemption 2 is intriguing is that some tiers of the Random Encounters do not serve a purpose in the classic sense of game design. Completing the encounters does not increase skills, earn your character money, or unlock new items. The encounters are simply there; they exist to be experienced by the player. It’s rather strange because many other areas of the game drive you to complete specific actions to craft an item, earn more money, or improve your character or equipment in some way.

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