Jim talks about his work in comics over the last 20 years that have landed him writing for characters such as Conan, The Avengers, Rick & Morty, and Black Panther. He talks about his long relationship with Dungeons & Dragons that was summarized in a recent Tedx Talk he gave, which I encourage everyone to watch below.
He discusses the genesis of the Young Adventurer’s Guides and how the idea grew from a simple pitch to a multi-book series that may continue to grow. He talks about why he felt the books needed to be created, and the philosophy behind how the books were designed including why it was important to have new art and a different structure from the typical Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. Jim also discusses his work on the upcoming Descent Into Avernus adventure for Dungeons & Dragons.
It was wonderful to speak with him and learn about the creative process behind the Young Adventurer’s Guides. I truly believe they are a wonderful entry point for young readers into D&D AND a refreshing source of inspiration for long-time players.
Enjoy the 50th (!!) episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!
And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Grant Ellis joins me this week and talks about his efforts to create engaging tabletop roleplaying game live shows. He discusses his background in the creative arts and how that translates into designing and producing roleplaying game content. He details the variety of ways that tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons can be played and consumed, and specify addresses the differences between playing in a game versus watching a session of a game being played.
The impetus for Grant and I recording was our shared love of the 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale – a movie we both feel is sorely underrated! We lavish praise on A Knight’s Tale and explain why the movie resonated with us in the first place and why the movie persists in our minds. We talk about the loaded cast, which features actors that would later go on to be prominent players in major television and movie franchises such as Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Breaking Bad, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh, and a young man by the name of Heath Ledger is also in the movie and radiates star power and charm.
A Knight’s Tale is wonderful, and Grant and I are getting in early on the eventually 20th Anniversary celebration that will certainly commence in 2021! This was a fun episode to record!
Enjoy the 49th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Jason Massey joins the pod to talk about his start with 4th Edition D&D and how that evolved into a full-time career in creating the actual play podcast, Dungeons & Randomness. He speaks about his enjoyment of 4th Edition, and elements of that system that complicated the creation of podcast content. He reviews how the shift to 5th Edition smoothed the podcasting enterprise, and details how his homebrew campaign setting, Theria, came to exist. He discusses the current Kickstarter campaign for The Adventurer’s Guide to Theria, and explains how the book will be useful for those running D&D adventures.
Enjoy the 47th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Greg Leatherman, founder of VRECast, joins me to talk about his life as a gay man and what it’s been like for him playing tabletop RPGs since the 1980s. He details the origins of the Very Random Encounters podcast, which randomizes as much as possible for character creation and story lines.
He explains the concept of safe spaces and how his life as a gay man forces him to consider changing his behavior to blend in to decrease the chance of violence against him. We talk about the lack of male affection in popular media, and he offers a suggestion to listeners to begin to change this culture.
Many, many thanks to Greg for being willing to share his experience and life with us.
Enjoy the 45th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
I’m joined by Jana Flesher, a professional nurse midwife who also happens to be both a player and DM in various RPG campaigns I’ve been involved with over the past three years. She talks about her 10+ years of experience running various RPG systems including Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeon World, and specifically offers tips for running tag-along NPCs and engaging the motivations of player characters. She explains why it’s the “GM’s job to remind players of their character’s backstory” and examines why perceived invulnerability can negatively affect a campaign.
Jana also details her professional role as a midwife and speaks to how gaming has increased her ability to cope with any situation her professional work can deal to her. Throughout the episode, we both provide examples of games we share both ends of the screen, which leads to some great conversation about principles of tabletop role-playing games. Enjoy!
Enjoy the 41st episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
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?”
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!
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?
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.
The episode of Dragon Talk can be accessed through iTunes.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I was happy to contribute to Andy’s article series, though I struggled to get started on the quest ideas – the kind of struggle when an open document is starring you in the face and the blinking cursor is simply taunting you with every repetitive blink. I considered using some of the random tables from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which I’ve put to great use when designing a delve for my players. The “been there, done that” vibe got in the way, so the cursor continued to blink with nary a word written.
I was scrolling through earlier articles in Andy’s Quest Ideas series, and noted that the Ranger quests started with a brief title. I considered the option of using song titles as a starting place for each Cleric Quest Idea, and from that point – I was cooking with gas! I briefly considered Pearl Jam songs (as they remain my favorite band), though I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to reach new eyeballs to persuade readers to listen to a band they may not have heard of, Dead Sara.
I listed each Dead Sara song in my blank document and vanquished the blinking cursor! I deleted some songs to get down to 20 tracks, which now functioned as quest ideas for a Cleric. From there, it was a matter of writing a few sentences for each song title to create a quest that would relate to a Cleric in D&D. It was enjoyable to write once I unlocked a way to get the article started.
Check out the 20 Cleric Quest Ideas at Boccob’s Blessed Blog, and be sure to read through to the end of the article as I linked to a Spotify playlist of Dead Sara songs arranged in the same order as the quests; this wrinkle may delight only me, though I’m sharing that delight with everyone!
Also, experiment with this device when preparing sessions. Start with song titles – or even movies titles – and use those as a jumping-off point for ideas for characters and quests in the campaign. For example, what would the NPCs in the next important location be like if the starting point for each NPC’s backstory were a title from the last five films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture?
The Shape of Water
12 Years a Slave
Fun little puzzle to sort out, right?!
Quick note, I’ll be appearing on and episode of Dragon Talk next Friday, February 8th at 1PM PST. The show is hosted by staff with Wizards of the Coast, and you can watch live on Twitch or the show will appear as a podcast later in the month.
Finally, it has been quite some time since I openly plugged my Patreon site. If you enjoy the content including the articles and podcasts I’ve been posting and would like to support my creative efforts, then please visit my Patreon to consider getting involved for as little as $1/month. Every little bit helps with improving the articles and podcasts that I put out into the world for free, and there are some fun ways to get involved with the content.