Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 48 – Allison Spence

Allison Spence
Allison Spence

Allison Spence joins me to talk about her early career as a journalist that resulted in her diving into a variety of difficult subject matters. She shares her views on the importance of emotional intelligence, and details how her work in journalism led her to  Thompson Coburn LLP, where she is currently the Senior Marketing Communications Manager.

She discusses her work for nearly 400 lawyers at Thompson Coburn LLP, and the challenges of getting a message to “stick” in the crowded, chaotic digital landscape. She offers a variety of suggestions for individuals and organizations that are looking to market and promote themselves, and details how technology has advanced rapidly in recent years to enhance her ability to connect with an audience.

Given that so many these days are attempting to grow an audience – whether that’s the number of followers on Twitter, Instagram, You Tube or Twitch or people willing to support a Patreon or Kickstarter campaign – I think the discussion with Allison is extremely applicable to members of the roleplaying game community and beyond.

Enjoy the 48th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

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New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

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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 “Scheduling & Summaries: Pillars of Campaign Momentum”

Flashbulb Memories: The Pinnacle of Gaming?

September 11, 2001.

9/11

If you were born prior to 1990, then you likely remember this date in history. You probably recall what you were doing that morning and throughout that day. At the time, I was in graduate school and woke up from my telephone ringing. My girlfriend (now wife) called and said a plane hit the World Trade Center. Groggy and slightly disoriented, I ambled out to the living room and turned on the television to see live footage of two smoking towers. We stayed on the phone because her father was flying into Washington, DC that morning, so she had no idea if he was safe (he landed safely in Detroit). The clearest memory I have from that morning is being on the phone with her and watching the first tower collapse and being dumbfounded as she gasped in an agonized and empathetic voice, “Oh my god – all those people!?”

This is called a flashbulb memory – “a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshot’ of the moment and circumstances in which a piece of surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) news was heard.” In addition to 9/11, other commonly referenced flashbulb memories are events such as the JFK assassination, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the night O.J. Simpson drove his white Bronco down the highway. These specific memories are reinforced and strengthened because they are based on a shared experience – and in the examples above, they are shared with an entire nation.  

Flashbulb memories are a type of autobiographical memory. For example, most people may not remember what they did on October 30, 2009. But I know I flew from across the country to visit family and attend a Pearl Jam concert. My friend and I went to Tony Luke’s before the show, ate in the parking lot, found a way to upgrade our tickets and watched Pearl Jam blow the roof of The Spectrum. It’s an experience that I can recall with accuracy and reinforced by the fact that I shared the experience with a friend. (Side note, they showed footage from this concert in PJ20, which blew my mind when I first saw the movie!)

On this smaller scale of autobiographical experiences, tabletop RPGs provide a unique environment for flashbulb memories for those in the gaming group. One of the first things I noticed when I joined a long-running gaming group was the sheer number of shared stories about prior adventures they celebrated. The level of detail in the stories was interesting because they were routinely talking about earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons (that I never really experienced) and it was so nuanced. I cannot do the stories justice – perhaps one of my former gaming cohort will share a tale or two in the Comments below – but moments from gaming sessions taking place many years ago were recalled as vividly as if they just happened yesterday. And the memory was rehashed and enjoyed by others in the group who experienced the same unique event.

To put it another way, the players enjoyed telling their war stories. Below, I talk about a recent event in our Blade Raiders campaign that will live on for many years and how a DM can set the stage for flashbulb memories to “pop” for his or her gaming group.

Continue reading “Flashbulb Memories: The Pinnacle of Gaming?”

You’ve Been Terminated

During the past five weeks , I have moved out of a house, sold said house, closed down at one job, driven 1,200 miles and started a new job. And that’s the condensed version! One of the more challenging aspects of leaving my former hometown was saying goodbye to cherished friends and acquaintances. Since learning that I would be moving across the country, I have been terminating relationships left and right.

“And maybe it’ll be enough if you know that in the few hours we had together we loved a lifetime’s worth.” ~Sarah Connor

Termination is the somewhat unfortunate psychological term for the final phase of treatment with a client. For example, when a counselor is preparing to end therapy with a client he or she might say, “I’m about to terminate with Mrs. Jones” or “Mr. Jones and I only have three more sessions before termination.” Applied to my situation, I terminated with approximately 100 clients during the past two to three months. Ending a relationship with a client is a crucial portion of therapy, and it presents unique challenges.

I certainly gained a great deal of practice in termination. I have been a terminating machine!

As I prepared to leave town, I also had to terminate an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign, which had been running for over two years. I relied on many of the principles underlying appropriate clinical termination in a therapeutic relationship. Below, I describe how the process of termination can be best utilized to ensure a gaming group can end on the best possible terms.

Continue reading “You’ve Been Terminated”

The Tome Show: Player Engagement & DM Preparation

I was recently invited to participate in The Tome Show, a long-running podcast devoted to Dungeons & Dragons news, reviews, interviews, and advice. I joined hosts Jeff Greiner and Tracy Hurley to discuss the topics of player engagement during a session and DM preparation before a session. Before we launched into those topics, the hosts discussed news items and articles leading up to the release of D&D Next. Listen to Episode 195 of The Tome Show for all the magic!

Jeff, Tracy and I discussed the challenges of keeping all players engaged at the table during a gaming session. Players have access to a limitless source of entertainment with cellphones, tablets and laptops, and we detailed how we cope with the technology during sessions. I personally do not mind the use of phones and other gadgets during a game; I find it very useful to see when a player is “checking out.” It alerts me to do something to bring the player “back in” to the session. We also covered the characteristics of a “good” player. As a DM, my list is fairly short – attend reliably (I’m personally bad at this!), play nice with others and contribute to the game. When playing the game, I enjoy when other players are cooperative, respectful and not offering too much unsolicited advice on how to play my character. We all have our gaming pet peeves, including announcing another player’s die rolls. Don’t do that!

We pivoted to the topic of DM preparation, and how best to use the time between sessions to create a fun and interesting game. I liberally refer to Mike Shea’s recent survey on DM Preparation at Sly Flourish and discuss my struggles with the combination of thinking about my campaign too much but procrastinating on actually creating content for the next session. We all offered suggestions for how to effectively use preparation time, and I detailed how I am now preparing more flavor text and dialogue to make combat encounters more interesting and engaging for the players. It all comes full circle!

I want to thank Jeff and Tracy once again for inviting me onto The Tome Show; it was a great time! Be sure to add The Tome Show to your list of roleplaying game podcasts! Finally, I decided to add a Podcast Category to the blog since I have now appeared on several podcasts during the past year. For those who would like to hear more of my thoughts on gaming – often with a lean toward psychological issues for players and DMs – the interviews can now be found in one place.

99 Problems But a Lich Ain’t One (Hundred)

Jay-Z runs games for Beyoncé and her friends, right?

The Id DM earns an Action Point today as it reaches the 100-post milestone. I previously expressed gratitude to all who have helped me and summarized the first year of the blog. With my 100th post, I thought it might be beneficial to offer some unsolicited advice to other gamers and writers who have a blog or are thinking about starting one in the future.

The following observations and suggestions are not meant to be a sermon on “how to do things,” so please consume at your leisure. In looking back how I went from not having a blog in March 2011 to winning Stuffer Shack’s RPG Site of The Year in April 2012, these things stand out as decisions that were helpful for me. Others may have a different way of doing things, and that is not wrong by any means. But for those curious, this is how I have operated.

Get the know the community. If you have not already, join Twitter and follow the discussions that are transpiring with the #dnd, #rpg and #dndnext hashtags. Join in the conversation and ask questions. Visit other blogs, read the articles other writers post and respond with concise feedback and questions in the Comments. Contact other bloggers by email to ask questions or offer support or feedback about their work. Become involved!

Continue reading “99 Problems But a Lich Ain’t One (Hundred)”

May of the Dead: Character Death & Player Grief

I was asked by the fine folks at The Going Last Podcast to participate in their May of the Dead Carnival. The blog carnival features a wealth of articles devoted to the undead. Realizing that many other talented writers would take on the task of creating monsters, campaign arcs and other gaming mechanics with an undead theme, I spent some time pondering a different angle for my May of the Dead column. I landed on the topic of character death and player grief during a roleplaying game. (EDIT: The painting below was created by Gene Gould. I first found the image through Google Image Search and did not know the origin. Check out other works by the artist!)

Image created by artist, Gene Gould. http://www.artintime.com/Painting-Gallery-1.htm
“We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else”. ~ Sigmund Freud

It is interesting to think about character death from the perspective of the player in terms of attachment. I previously discussed some thoughts about character death and how save-or-die mechanics can take away a player’s attachment to her or his character. How does one cope with investing effort and time creating a character and bringing that character to life at the gaming table only to see the character die? Everyone does not experience character death in the same manner, and while some players may grieve the loss of their favorite character, other players may not give the matter a second thought after their poor Paladin is pounded to pulp by a Purple Worm. Below, I discuss ideas for how a DM can handle the death of a character at the table. I frame the discussion by detailing the five stages of grief and present ideas to ensure the death of a character is not overlooked in a campaign.

Continue reading “May of the Dead: Character Death & Player Grief”