Controlling your Emotions in a Role Playing Game.

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As a Game Master or Player in any Role Playing Game, we have the opportunity to become something other than ourselves. We are afforded a chance to be a powerful wizard, a space marine, a great warrior or even a dragon. As we play out these roles we act in a manner different than our own true nature right?

Well truth be told while most of us do in fact “play” the character or Non Playing Character and give them a twist of personality, many of us inject our own subliminal character traits into said character without much thought or control. Often we will allow our own emotions that we feel as the player, directly influence the actions of the character. In many cases this is not a bad thing, as if we feel empathy to a situation, then maybe our character would too, or If we feel saddened by something that occurs during the game, maybe our character is upset also. For example. Recently during a game session on Howreroll two of our heroes were faced with a dilemma to acquire the song of a Siren. They needed it as a bargaining chip to free a fellow part member and sister to one of the characters. They made a deal with the Siren, that they would find and return to her a stolen heirloom, in exchange for her voice (that she would sing into a magical box that they had been given). Upon returning to her with the heirloom it was time for her to make good on her part of the bargain. She was very emotional about parting with her voice and as such the players began to feel guilty, So much did I pull at their heart strings (sad back ground music and all), that one of the players actually teared up. Her character in turn became very emotional and it made for a great moment of role play.

I have also had many other occasions when a player allowed their negative emotions to affect the decisions of their character. Either the player getting mad at an influential Non Player Character (or me as I am the one playing it), and then in turn their character reacts in a foolish way or in a way that really should not have been characteristic of that particular character. I have also had situations when a player who has had a bad day, projects his grumpiness on his character and as such the character is short and snappy in his responses to others. When the negative emotion of a player is allowed to affect the choices made by their character, it often leads to issues at the gaming table. Poor choices and decisions are made, where calmer and less emotional people would have chosen better ones.

The unchecked emotions of a person can have a negative influence on game play both as a player and as a Game Master. We will look at both separately, but several of the points we will touch upon apply to both sides. Then we will look at ways to help control the situation so that it does not have a negative impact on play.

Controlling your Emotions as a player.

As a player you have a character that you are in control of. This character is represented by statistics, skills, abilities and traits that provide the understanding for the make up of the individual you are playing. He may also have an alignment (in the case of Dungeons and Dragons) that lay out some basic guidelines to how he should act. Beyond that the personality of the character is decided upon and played out by the player himself. Everyone is different. Some people are laid back while others are bold. Some are quiet while others are loud and boisterous. The challenge is in playing a character that does not match up to our own personality. Its easier for a quiet and timid bookworm to play a withdrawn and reclusive wizard, just as it is easy for an outgoing and confident person to play a bold and brash warrior. For the bookworm to play the “in your face” Barbarian, that is the challenge. To see him be able to  act in a fashion that he typically shy’s away from is more outreaching. The test for a player comes in being able to separate the feeling he has as the player and decide if those feelings are appropriate for his character. To do this it requires you to be able to take control of your personal feelings and emotions and put in your own stop checks.

Firstly if you are one of those people that can be honest with yourself and are able to understand your personality, then you are far more likely to be able to take steps to control it. Some people have issues with confrontation, or have a problem keeping their temper in check as in the player I mentioned in a previous post that you can find here. Of course in that post it was more an issue with the temper of the player around the table and not that he injected his temper into his character. More frequently the issue is that the player allows his personality to affect the actions of his character. I have even seen a very negative individual try to play a Paladin, and it be one of the worst portrayals of that class that I have ever seen. in fact after only four sessions his Paladin lost his abilities and fell from grace. Sometimes even the most level headed and positive individual has a bad day. Being able to put that in check when you sit down at the gaming table is important. Bringing negative emotions to the game can literally get you killed!

It is vitally important to remember that the Non Player Character you face is NOT the Dungeon Master! If you are ticked at your Dungeon Master you should not transfer that to each and every Non Player Character he presents you with. In turn you should not be aggravated at your Dungeon Master just because a particular Non Player Character got under your skin. It is a foolish player that does this, and it will only ever serve to hurt your character in the long run.

Many people have an Ego. An ego at the gaming table is rarely a good thing. Keeping your ego in check is important, even if your character has a big ego. Your personal ego will cause you to write checks that your characters body can not cash. Understand that your ego and the characters ego should come from different places. Whatever events that happened in your life to shape your ego are different from the ones that happened to shape the ego of your character. So once again it is important to separate your ego from your characters.

Controlling your emotions as a Game Master.

As the person who is ultimately responsible for the control of the game, you can less afford to have unchecked emotions than a player. If you have read other topics on this site you may have heard me say several time that not everybody should be a dungeon master. This is another reason as to why. If you are the kind of person that can not control your emotions you should never be a Game Master. I mean it, NEVER! There is nothing worse than a Game Master that acts based on feelings towards his players or based on his emotional state that the day has caused.

As the person running the game, it is your job to serve a great game to the players and do so with fairness and impartiality. You must also have the trust of your players. If you can not be impartial you will not have trust and your game will implode. I have seen way to many dungeon masters play favorites, or due to a current negative feeling towards a player they pick on his character. I cringe when I see this. They can try to fob it off with excuses but as a student of personality and as an empathetic person I see right through it.

Here is a hint. If you ever play in one of my games, do not ever think you can fool me by reacting in a certain negative way and then trying to palm it of as “that’s what my character would do.” I see the expressions on players faces as they act, and I can tell when an action is based of off personal emotion state, or made with a level head.

For the Game Master trust is everything. If your players do not trust that your actions will always be fair and impartial then you can not have a good game. I will not play with a Game Master who clearly plays favorites, or with one who is guilty of emotional outbursts. The biggest issue (when discussing emotional control) I see with Game Masters is in unchecked egos. There is no place for an ego in a Game Master. You can be an egotistical prick in real life but if you can not park that ego at the gaming table do not run a game! As a Game Master you can do anything. You can kill the players on a whim so what is there to be egotistical about? The player all know you have the ability to kill them, so you have nothing to prove. This being said it is frightening how many Game Masters have “god” syndrome or feel they need to remind their players of the power they wield. Once again these people have unchecked egos, and they do not have the respect of their players. I actually heard a Game Master say this once. “Hey you better be nice to me, or I will upgrade those six orcs to six trolls and then your fucked!’ He was kind of joking (partially at least), but this was the kind of personality that he had. These kinds of comments are just a reminder to the players that you (the Game master) are god. Well those who think that need to get over themselves and learn what being a Game Master is really about. As I have said before you are more servant than ruler.

So we have outlined the responsibilities of both player and Game Master when it comes to emotion and ego management. It is fair to assume that some of you reading this may have difficulty at times in checking your feelings, and may even be able to own up to times when you have been guilty at the gaming table. Lets look at some ways to help you keep it in check.

  1. Create a ritual that allows you to switch into game mode, and shed the negative aspects of your day. This is one of the reasons I believe a thirty minute pre-game session is a good idea, as it lets you get the stink of the day off of you and get mentally prepared to play.
  2. STOP and remind yourself before any action that you are NOT your character. It can help you refrain from acting on personal feeling and allow you to rein back in those emotions.
  3. Remember that nothing is personal to the player during the game. The negative things that occur during game play are to the character, and not the player.
  4. Develop and practice trust. Make sure that you remember that the players and Game Master need to have mutual trust, and remind yourself of it before you act.
  5. Remind yourself that it is a game. Yes you can have personal ties to your character but at the end of the day it is still part of a game and the negative things that happen to it should never be allowed to cause negativity in the real world.
  6. Be honest with yourself. Being able to realize when you may be acting in a negative way is important in keeping it in check.
  7. If its that bad DON’T play. If you really are having a hard emotional time of it, then its better to remove yourself from the situation. No one likes missing sessions and in the case of the Game Master we often feel obligated to play even if we do not feel like it. Truth be told if you do play under these circumstances you are probably doing an injustice to your fellow players.

Because Role Playing Games are a social endeavor, it is important to understand how emotions can play such a large part in the outcome and fun of the game. Most of us know better than to be rude to a stranger in real life just because we got a parking ticket ten minutes before, yet many are OK with their character being a total ass to the first Non Player Character they meet, just because they themselves are in a piss poor mood. Remembering that during play, you are responsible for the actions of your character, and his or her actions should be based on their situations and experiences within the game world. They should be unaffected by the events of our world, and by your emotional state…………….

The Art of Story Telling Part 2.

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Part 1 Here.

In the first part of this series, we discussed how to prepare your story and how to enhance your ability to describe a setting or scene to your players in order to get the most out of their imagination and ability to visualize their surroundings. Today We will look at the use of ones voice in story telling, as well as how to be animated.

The voice.

We all use our voices a great deal. Some probably more than they should, but when it comes to story telling, mastering the way you use tone, pitch and inflection is paramount to developing great technique. No one wants to listen to someone waffle on and on in a monotone voice, or feel like they need to adjust the volume knob either up or down on the speaker. Most people truly do not understand their own voice that well, and if you listen to yourself speak on a recording you may think to yourself “Do I really sound like that’? Also most people do not like the sound of their own voice. As a story teller you need to get used to it. become comfortable with your vocal sound, and learn to adjust it. Just like a fine instrument it needs tuning from time to time. We will begin by the use of tone, or volume. Tone is used to imply the emotional element in language. In speaking as apposed to music, higher tone is achieved by the use of increasing volume, and lower by decreasing. When you speak quieter you encourage people to listen more intently, and it sets an air of tension and intrigue. When you speak loudly it becomes dynamic and dramatic. When you switch from quiet to loud you can create a sudden impact or even startle or frighten your listeners. read this next paragraph but when you do read the the standard text quietly in your head and the bold loudly.

“You creep towards the casket. Your breath can bee seen as you exhale in the cold night air. As you get closer you remove the wooden stake and hammer from your coat and tremble with anticipation. You slowly begin to remove the lid SUDDENLY the lid bursts open and a grotesque monstrosity sits bolt upright!”

Reading it is not the same as hearing it but you understand the point. The use of volume is important if you wish to entice emotion and reaction. When I speak quietly I typically lean forward a little. As human nature is such that we often mimic, my players will follow suit. Then when my vocal volume suddenly increases they are startled. This is a great way to capture the right mood around the table. I may often employ the use of correct lighting too, but that is more of a prop than a part of the story telling itself.

Next we will look at pitch. Pitch is the resonance in ones voice. Pitch is similar in use to tone but a higher pitch can imply a brighter outlook, where as a lower pitch a more somber one. A higher pitch will often also increase the tone, but it does not have too. A deliberate decrease in volume can be achieved as one increases pitch if you so desire. Pitch can also be used to capture mood in storytelling. Think about reading the night before Christmas to a child on Christmas eve, and saying “not even a mouse” in a higher pitch. Or better yet,  Bilbo telling the little hobbits about the troll encounter in the first of the lord of the rings trilogy (the fellowship of the ring).

“So their i was at the mercy of three monstrous trolls! and they were all arguing among-st themselves about how they were going to cook us. Whether it be turned on a spit, or whether they should sit on us one by one, and squash us into jelly. Well they spent so much time arguing the whether too’s and the why fores, that the suns first light crept over the  trees POOF!and turned then all to stone!”

At the end when he says “and turned them all to stone”, his pitch goes up, but his volume does not. This use of pitch when accompanied by tone is the key to using voice to illicit emotional response from your listeners, and in our case our players. On Howreroll, I am not only speaking to my players, but also my viewers. It is this use of pitch and tone that I get across the desired emotional response from my audience.

Finally we will look at vocal inflection. Now while it is true that inflection is the modification in tone and pitch of the voice, and as such has already been covered in part above, it is more than that. It is used to create change in the form of a word to express a grammatical function. Inflection can alter the entire meaning of a statement. for example.

“I am all out of spells, what can I do?” If used with raised pitch at the end of the sentence implies disrepair, where as if said more like this “I am all out of spells, what CAN I do!?” it implies are more thoughtful questioning statement.

It is important to master inflection as a storyteller, as it makes for a much clearer understanding of a situation. Incorrect use of inflection can be misleading, and in the case of game play, may even cause a player to perform a different action or make a different decision than he would have. Be conscious of your use of inflection, and make sure that it is applied clearly so that your audience can gain the correct intention.

A final note on the use of your voice is in regard to voice acting. This is a passion of mine, and as I was blessed with a very varied set of vocal chords and an unyielding disregard for my own shame, I voice act almost all of my Non Player Characters and use vocal sound effects for monsters grunts, roars and other strange unnatural sounds. IF this is something you have a talent for then by all means use it. It can really bring to life your characters, creatures and your world in general. That being said, you need to be honest with yourself. If you do NOT have a talent for it then DON’T DO IT! you will end up failing with your inflections and use of tone and pitch, and will actually detract rather than add to your storytelling. I respect those that do not voice act and know that they are not good at it. You can be a good story teller without it. unfortunately I know and have watched several Dungeon Masters who simply fail at it, and it really hurts their content delivery. Some of them I know do it because they feel they should emulate those of us that do, but if you do not have a talent for it, or are comfortable enough to be flamboyant with it, you are far better shying away from its use all together.

Finally I want to look at an often overlooked tool of the story teller. The human body.

Animation.

In a story telling sense I am not referring to animation as cartoons or drawings. Animation is in the use of your body language to amplify your delivery. In a previous article (here), I discussed the differences between a physical and virtual table top, and in how I am able to be more animated at the physical table. If you watch me Dungeon Mastering on Howreroll, I am limited in my animation. This is because I am confined to a small pip camera window and can not move much without going out of frame. Around the physical table however, at times I can become a proverbial whirling dervish. When describing a scene of a combat I hurl my arms and legs around and jump up out of my chair quiet often. I move around the table and get right up on individual players when a Non Player Character would be getting close and personal with a players character. I crouch down next to them, with a squint and tilted head that moves awkwardly from side to side as he leans in quietly and says “I know what it is you seek!”. Many of us talk with our hands. That is to say as we speak to someone our hands become animated. This use of body language helps us bring a visual aspect to what we are saying and is also used to imply intent. For example. If we say ‘Hey you over there!” to a single person as we look directly at them, they know we are referring to them. If we say the same to a group of people and they all look at us we point, to clarify which person we were directing the comment towards. We throw our hands up to express disrepair or to imply we are questioning something. We may ball up our fist to express or amplify our frustration. This use of body language is a great tool that should not be ignored by the story teller. You can use your entire body to help tell your story. From demonstrating an action to tilting your head to imply that your Non Player Character is listening more intently than before.

I have played in several games where the Dungeon Master was content to sit on his ass and slough in his chair. Not one of these sessions did I ever truly enjoy. The lack of enthusiasm is a killer for me at a gaming table. In this same way I hate running games for players that do the same thing. If you are at my gaming table you WILL sit up, pay attention and be enthusiastic. If not I will send you home! For a Dungeon Master of story teller to act this way is unforgivable.

A good Dungeon Master and story teller will be enthusiastic. This enthusiasm is often exemplified in their use of body language and the level of animation they display at different times. If we are in a tense combat situation, I want to stand up and be active. Often demonstrating the thrust of a dagger, or the chopping motion of an axe. It all adds to developing, enhancing and maintaining the correct mood and emotion from the players around you.

“I’m a story teller, and my stories must be told!”

Story telling is an art. Any art must be practiced. Some people are more natural at it than others, but everyone can improve and learn to become better tellers of tales if they put their mind to it. Too many people assume they can tell a story. Many can not do it well. Its like a good joke. Some people can tell a joke and its just not funny. A good comedian can tell the same joke and people will laugh their ass off. Its not in the words chosen, but in the manner in which the joke was delivered that made it funny. The story is no different. Tell a story with no passion or emotion and it is boring. Tell it with vibrantly and with vigor and it is exciting……..

The Art of Story Telling. Part 1.

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As a Dungeon Master you will wear several hats. You are the referee, adjudicator, administrator and creator, as well as playing the part of a  host of Non Player Characters and monsters. One of the most important however is that of the storyteller. In fact some Role Playing Games even refer to the Games Master position as the storyteller! Being a great story teller has little to do with knowing the rules of the game . It is about understanding how to create and deliver content to your players and bringing your world and each scene to life. In this multi part series we will look at ways to improve your ability to deliver content, and make you a better story teller.

If you have played more than a few games of Dungeons & Dragons with several different groups, then undoubtedly at some point you will have played with that dry monotone Dungeon Master. He may be well versed in the rules of the game, but reads everything as if from a script, and has little inflection in his voice. He may have been a bit stuffy and academic in his approach and as such it is a stretch for you to imagine the world around you. On the other hand you may have also been lucky enough to have played with a vibrant and enthusiastic Dungeon Master, who delivers great descriptive content and knows how to provoke, and spur on your imagination. Some players like a mechanical academic game and may be fine with the first option, but most, especially those that truly love the game and want to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their characters probably will not. As a Dungeon Master the way you deliver your content is just as important as the content itself. In some cases it is more important.

Years ago I helped a guy out that I met in a gaming store. We shall call him “Dave”. He had been a Dungeon Master for three years but he was frustrated. He had a hard time with experienced players staying in his groups, and felt like he had hit a wall in his skill set. He was thinking of abandoning trying to run games and just go back to playing. We had a good chat about his experiences, and he asked me if I would run a session for his group. He wanted me to show him everything I did prior to the game, and sit over my shoulder as I ran it. A few days later I sat down with him several hours before our planned game session. I showed him my prep work. I went over the adventure I was going to run, and each encounter. I also reviewed each character sheet and explained how I saw each character fitting into the story. He was in shock. “Wow, I had no idea you did so much work before hand” was his comment. Well lets fast forward to the game session itself. So he had six players. Each arrived and came into his home, and he greeted them and introduced me. Soon they all were sitting around the table in their favorite ritualistic spots and we got underway. Four and a half hours later we finished the sessions and all the players and their Dungeon Master were smiling and bouncing of the walls. “No offense to you Dave, but that was the best game of Dungeons and Dragons I have ever played” was one comment. Dave was not offended, he was instead full of energy and enthusiasm. After the players left I sat down with Dave and we went over the differences between our Dungeon Mastering styles. We went over the key differences and discussed how he would implement change in his game. Much of what he was doing wrong was correctable. Speaking in first person and not third person. Referring to his players by their character names and not the players names. Giving more thought provoking descriptions and describing combat other than simply saying “You hit, you miss” etc. We also drew comparisons in our personalities, and there were not many. Bottom line was we were very different people and he was not probably going to be comfortable with standing up, hurling his arms around and voice acting bar wenches. So we ironed out his strengths and worked with those. In the end however despite the personality differences, we were able to make him a better story teller, which was where he was really falling down. I continued to bump into Dave and some of his players for a couple of years afterwards, and their game sessions had vastly improved. Anyone can learn to be a better storyteller but you have to realize who YOU are as a person, and be able to figure out the best way for you to tell a story with your personality.

When it comes to story telling there are several key aspects.  Many of which can be implemented by each and every Dungeon Master, and a few that you either will be able to do well or should not do at all! Some times it is better to omit a certain aspect than do it poorly. Know yourself and be honest with yourself. If you do not have the skill set for somethings, be honest enough to admit it and avoid it. We shall now go over the most important ones.

Preparation.

Prepare your story. This is not the same thing as preparing your game session or your adventure. Story preparation is more about mentally visualizing the story unfolding ahead of time. Try to run it through your mind and imagine each character and Non Player Character. Think through and visualize each encounter. By doing this you will see it. Seeing it will help you become better at giving descriptions. You will notice the things that “pop” in your mind, and can use those to enhance your delivery when you describe the scene to your players. If you do not have a creative imagination and are unable to do this, well I am sorry to say you should not be a Dungeon Master. One thing a good Dungeon Master has to have is a vivid imagination.

Description.

Being able to describe the scene to your players in such away as to spark their imagination and create a mental picture is important. How you do this requires an understanding of how people think. You need to know how to deliver your description in such a way that they will listen to the details and visualize them. One fault many Dungeon Masters make is reading a detailed description to their players like reading from a book. DON’T! Its boring and sounds rehearsed. It is far better to describe the scene free form so that you can use your voice to inflect tension and atmosphere. Its OK to make yourself notes, but do not read them like a page from a book. Also learn to use your voice. Change the tone and pitch when describing something foreboding, be enthusiastic when describing something that should be wonderful etc. Now here is something that I learned from my vast years of experience and I am going to share with you to hopefully really help you improve your ability to create a visual picture for your players. Do not rob your players of their own ability to imagine! As Dungeon Masters we often feel it is our job to describe the scene. We take pride in going into great detail and telling our players what they see. This can be counter productive. You can go to far. It is better to give enough detail as to spur the imagination but do not try to control what the player imagines.

No two people will imagine the exact same thing the same way, and this is OK. As a Dungeon Master saying a simple phrase like “Imagine an abandoned spooky three story mansion” is more powerful than going into para-graphic depth with a description about each broken shutter and spooky looking tree in the courtyard. Allowing your players to imagine things is a great way to allow them deeper immersion, as their minds will create what they can imagine to be believable. I often start with a simple teaser like that. I am going to give you a couple of examples and then discuss them.

Example 1.

“You emerge from the edge of the pine forest and into the clearing. The bright sun hits your face and assaults your eyes as you step into the open. It feels far warmer, and several degrees hotter in the clearing than it did while you were protected by the forest canopy. You squint your eyes as they become accustomed to the light and hold your hand to your forehead, to keep the bright sun from obscuring your vision. As you look ahead you see what looks like a ruined building. It is half sunken into the ground, and covered in vines and creepers. The walls are mossy and in ill repair, one area of the left wall has stones missing, and much of the details of the architecture has been washed away by the elements over the centuries. As you move closer, and as your eyes continue to adjust to the light, you can see warn markings around the edge of the arched doorway. The marking look mysterious and possibly of an arcane nature. The door way itself sits at an angle as the left side of the building has sunken deep into the ground. You wonder what subterranean event has caused the foundation of the vast stone temple to sink in such away. You notice the lack of birds singing, and the general absence of natural sounds that you would expect to hear in a forest clearing of this kind. It is clear to you by the undisturbed plants that cover the ground around the clearing, that no one has entered the clearing in a long while. You feel apprehensive and wary as you contemplate what may lie inside the temple, or in the sunken depths of what lies bellow”.

Example 2.

” As you leave the forest and look into the clearing, you see a ruined temple ahead. It is bathed by the rays of the bright sun. Try to imagine a ruined temple covered in vines. It has sunken into the ground somewhat. The door way is visible beneath an arch that has markings around it”.

The first example takes great lengths to describe the scene in detail. However, if you read this to your players as if it were a page in a book, Much of the detail will be missed and will slip through their minds, and as they try to imagine the scene exactly as you describe it they will struggle. As you read it I bet most of you reached the end and had already forgotten the fact that I had mentioned part of one of the walls had bricks missing which may be an alternate way in if explored. Thus an important clue may be overlooked.

The second does just enough to provoke your players imaginations and their minds are allowed to conjured up the image.  They will then ask questions to validate their mental picture, and you can then tell them about the arcane looking symbols over the arch and the missing stones in the left wall etc. It will then be more meaningful and and observed.

Here are some points to raise about the two examples. They will know it is hot and bright it is, by the fact that you mentioned it was bathed in the suns rays in the second example, so it is not really necessary to describe it as we did in the first. You also do not need to tell them details about undisturbed plants, and by including it, you rob some players of chances to use skills such as tracking, and imply that they are all equally observant about those facts. You did not give them a chance to perform some actions prior to leaving the clearing in the first example and maybe the players did not WANT to approach the temple yet. The way you deliver the above two examples vocally, will help dictate how the mental pictures form in your players mind.

The second example (if delivered correctly) is by far a better way, and not only allows for, but encourages your players to use their imaginations. It would be OK to maybe give a hint of more detail in the second example, but I find many times it is just not necessary. Of course, you have to be ready to fill in the blanks and answer the questions that the players throw at you. Learning how to deliver the content takes practice, and you will find you may have to tweak your delivery method several times before you find the right balance between given detail and provoked imagination. If you are worried that the players will not ask the right questions as to discover the important details such as the arcane marks or missing stones from the wall, this is where you utilize a little trick. If the players ask the right questions, then they get the right answers and feel accomplished in doing so. If not you take the opportune moment to bring it up yourself. For example. When a player says “OK I move slowly over towards the arch way”, you can then interject by saying “as you get closer your eyes are drawn to strange markings carved into the stone above the arch”. These skills can make a huge difference in your ability to set the right mood and will get a different reaction when delivered in this way than if you just explained them as part of the initial description.

In the second part of this series we will talk about using your voice, and about being animated, as well as other aspects of story telling.

Happy Gaming………..

Understanding your job as the Dungeon Master.

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You are probably reading this topic from one of two different stand points. Either you are wanting to become or are a New Dungeon Master, or you think you already know what it is to be a Dungeon Master and are just curious to read what I have to say about the subject. In the first case hopefully I can enlighten you as to what a Dungeon Masters job really is. In the second case you will either be agreeing with me or I will be reeducating you!

This topic is not aimed at telling you how to perform each duty or action or improve it. It is instead aimed at telling you what your duties are and pointing out pitfalls. The items bellow will be covered in depth individually in other posts at other times.

So lets begin.

I know more “Dungeon Masters” than I care too, if I use this term loosely. However as it is used as a title, or to describe a position at the gaming table it really is a little misleading. The word master is often misconstrued in this situation as it implies excellence. If I take the word in the title to mean excellent, then I would say I know very FEW Dungeon MASTERS!

So many people decide to become Dungeon Masters, or are nominated to take on the role, and they never really learn about the task they are undertaking. Yes they have a conception of what a Dungeon Master is, but they usually do not fully realize what it truly entails.

The biggest and first mistake that many fledgling Dungeon Masters make is in not understanding their primary responsibility. They become so empowered by the position that they buy into this the “Dungeon Master is GOD” ideal. This could not be more wrong. In fact the Dungeon Master is a servant! The Dungeon Masters primary job is to serve the players and provide them with the best story and game session he can. It is a position of responsibility and trust. If you are going to expect people to spend a valuable currency on a product that you are going to deliver, you should be ethical enough to provide the best darn product you can. The currency is time and the product is your game session! I cringe when I hear Dungeon Masters brag about how their encounter stumped their players. Or scoff at how dumb they thought their players were when it came to solving a problem. Yes as a Dungeon Master you have a power. One that most will abuse!

Those that know me have probably heard me say the following statement at some point. “As a Dungeon Master, you are there to serve the players, and not the other way around”!

Yes you are the referee and adjudicator but that is only a duty and responsibility that you take on. When you decide to become a Dungeon Master you are taking on a work load. If you think you can just spend an hour or two reading books, scribbling down notes and throwing together adventures for your players to bumble through, well you are going to be one of the masses of piss poor Dungeon Masters out there. Is this how you run a game? Could you be better prepared? A hard thing to do in life is to examine yourself and your skills and be honest about it. Yet to be a Good Dungeon Master you must.  My first experience as a Dungeon Master was in October 1980. After a couple of years and a few campaigns under my belt I used to think I was a good Dungeon Master. I was wrong. A decade later I thought I was a veteran Dungeon Master as I had over a decade of experience. I was still wrong! Yes I was better than I had been, and I continued to learn and improve, but then I was a fanatic about improving. I played every second I could, and I was never ashamed or so proud as to refuse to learn from those that had more experience or had put more hours in. Here I am over thirty three years later as a Dungeon Master, with thousands of hours invested and only the last decade do I really think I have honed my craft. Paid offers to write adventures for people or come and run games for them now come due to the opinion that I actually know what I am talking about. Well for the most part I do but I still come from the stand point of opinion. My way is not the only way, but it is a tried, tested and proven way.

Before I continue about what the real job of a Dungeon Master is, lets look at some of the mistakes that lead to being a poor Dungeon Master or worse!

The worst kind of so called Dungeon Master is that idiot that thinks he is playing against the players. He tries to defeat them, even if not obviously or openly. He gets of on beating them. This is the moron that brags about how his encounter defeated his players or how they miss used a spell or screwed up the use of a wish. They even enjoy being viewed as a bit of a tyrant. I have zero respect for this type of Dungeon Master and do not entertain them, yet more of them exist than you would realize. If you can be honest with yourself know you are guilty of any of this, STOP IT NOW or go back to playing! This is the Anti Dungeon Master. A good Dungeon Master never tries to serve his own ego and plays WITH the players to tell the story, and not against them.

Another failing that some Dungeon Masters have is in poor preparation. They think they can wing it, and for over ninety five percent of them they are wrong. Yeah they may get through a session but they really are robbing their players of the quality game that they deserve. They fail to read a published adventure thoroughly before running it, or just come to the table with a scrap of notes and just do not have the talent or experience to fill in the blanks as they go. A good Dungeon Master is studious and well prepared.

Others are inconsistent. They change the rules to frequently or apply them differently to the players and Non Player Characters or monsters. Or they change their play style or try to emulate a style that is just not inline with their personality. A good Dungeon Master is consistent and learns his OWN style.

Some lack communication skills and do not talk to their players about the game outside of the game itself. They feel the players should just go along with whatever they line up and are oblivious to realizing what the players may actually want from the game. A good Dungeon Master talks to his players.

Some lack personality and are a little self conscious . While you can be a good technical Dungeon Master without much personality, I will argue you will be missing the ability to bring real depth and emotion to your game. Their is a reason that not everyone should be a Dungeon Master. Many should not. At the very least they should play to their strengths and accept their lack of certain skills. This is not to say that they should not attempt to acquire new skills or improve, but they should not try be who they are not. For example. I voice act almost all of my Non Player Characters, and use my voice to perform sound affects for monsters. I pull funny faces and really try to “become” the characters I present. I am comfortable with this and have some skill at it. Many I see try to do this with awkwardness, or inconsistency and to be honest it takes away from their game instead of adding to it. Not everyone is comfortable doing this or has a talent for it. If this is the case they should not do it. Instead they should focus on aspects or skills that they do have. They should also find players that are OK with a more technical game.

In order for you to be able to perform your duties to the best of your abilities you must establish a trust. Your players must trust you to always be fair and even handed. They have to believe that you will not alter the rules you put in place, and that you will be consistent. If you do alter a rule they should understand why you have done so, and know that it applies to everyone. They should know that you do not play favorites and will treat each player equally. They should be able to trust that you have done your homework, and prepared the game you offer them to the best of your ability. Above all they must trust that you will not abuse your position or in anyway serve your own ego or try to compete with them.

From time to time some situations will arise where opinions differ, or something happens in such a way that you and the players may disagree. Maybe there is a conflict between players. A rule may have more than one interpretation or may be misconstrued. In these situations you are the one expected to make a decision and adjudicate. To be able to do this and have your ruling respected you again must have established trust with your players. They have to know that your decision is based solely on the nest interests of the game and was made impartially and fairly. You are not the judge, jury and executioner. You are the even handed council that ways everything before making a decision. You should also have the social skills to never belittle a player at the table or reprimand them.

Being a Dungeon Master you are expected to know the rules. The rules are vast, so knowing each and every little detail is not realistic or necessary, but the rules that pertain to running a good flowing game is necessary for any decent Dungeon Master. The less you have to pick up a book and research something during the game session the better, so try to minimize this.

It is also your job to be the lead in telling the story. As Dungeon Master it is not your soul responsibility to tell the story, but you are the one who guides it along and manages it. The players have equal responsibility when it comes to the story, but you are expected to drive it. Being a great story teller is a skill and one that you should strive to improve or acquire.

You need to be creative. Especially if you want to make and run your own adventures, or build your own world. You need experience to do these things well so it is a good idea to run several published adventures first. If you do decide to run published material then READ IT! do not just skim over it, read it all and make sure you understand the flow of the adventure from start to finish. Do not just read the first few chapters and think that its enough to cover the next gaming session. If you do not understand the end you can not appreciate the beginning or the journey and you will fail and let down your players.

One final skill that any good Dungeon Master should have or learn is to SELL. Learn to sell yourself to your players and sell them the story. Make them believe in your world and believe in you as their Dungeon Master. You want to feel pride when your players refer to you as “their Dungeon Master’ and not as “A Dungeon Master”. I get messages on face book, or on twitter often from players reminiscing about games past. I feel great pride when a player from twenty years ago says that they still have not had a Dungeon Master since provided the same level of game as I had done. This is mostly due to the work I was willing to put in.

The most important thing any Dungeon Master can learn and realize is that he is only there to provide the game for the players. Yes this within itself is fun and rewarding, so it is not like a thankless and laborious task with little reward, but he is not there FOR his or her own fun. Selfish people make poor Dungeon Masters. This is a fact I have come to realize over the past three plus decades. Egotistical people make poor Dungeon Masters too. At least those who allow their ego to compete with the players.

Some people make (what I refer to as) good “technical” Dungeon Masters. They have a great grasp on the rules, the game mechanics and are walking encyclopedias about the subject. This being said they may lack a little of the personality to really bring the game to life. Others make great “immersion” Dungeon Masters. They have a talent for really bringing the game to life and pulling their players into their world on a deeper level, even if they are not walking rules lawyers. Some are both. Not many are suited to be both, but those that are are the potential GREAT Dungeon Masters.

Now for a quick rant.

What I am about to say may sound harsh, but with new media outlets to play Dungeons & Dragons online, I am able to observe many more games being played and many more Dungeon Masters at work than I was once able. I am typically disappointed. My disappointment does not stem from those that I view having a lack of experience, but in the lack of effort put forth or in how weak the story telling and prep work obviously is. There are a few that I enjoy however and a couple are fairly new to the task. Most unfortunately, come across as fumbling novices that would do better to concentrate on playing the game in private and improving their skills, rather than trying to broadcast it. This being said Dungeon Mastering over a virtual tabletop is very different than around the physical table. I have discussed this in another topic you can find here. This is not the reason why I do not care for them however. I feel that to many today see Dungeons & Dragons as a pen and paper version of a video game and not as a story telling social experience. The substance of their games are hack and slash, or weak story plot lines held together by combat encounters. As such few Dungeon Masters seem to bother to acquire or improve many of the skills we discussed above. If this is what you want from your game of course, that is your prerogative it just is not for me. As mentioned earlier everything comes from a stand point of opinion. Mine just comes from one with a wealth of experience and decades of hard work……

World Building Guide. Part Five.

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If you have been following the series thus far, by now you already have the framework for a thriving developing world, for you and your players to explore and enjoy. We have some immersive villages and towns for our players to visit, as well as a wealth of history for them to draw from. Sooner or later however, our players will want their characters to do what adventuring is really all about. Dungeon delving, slaying evil, exploring ruins and battling foul and dangerous monsters are the bread and butter of the adventurer life, but most of these things will not be found just down the street from the local tavern. Your world will need a variety of locations and features that will provide this kind of stimulation to the players, and these special features are going to be one of the most important aspects of your world.

When I begin creating these kinds of locations I always go back to the history aspect first. Why do the ruins exist and what where they before ruins? How and why does this network of underground tunnels exist? was this man made or a natural occurrence? etc. Regardless of the origin, I need to be able to explain it. In the example of a network of underground caverns, how did they come to exist? Well most caves are caused by centuries of erosion, as water seeps through the cracks in the rock and the water absorbs carbon dioxide and creates carbonic acid. If we are talking about some old ruins that are hidden deep inside a forest, maybe centuries ago it was a reclusive temple of worship for elves. I need to have an idea of the origin of my feature in order to properly develop it and decide why this place should hold interest for my players. You should also be able to explain why others have not came across it before and ransacked the place, or if others have tried and failed. If they failed, then what was the reason for their failure. If a ruined temple was to sit on the outskirts of a forest and near a village, it is unlikely that it has not already been fully discovered and explored.

Lets look at the cave networks mentioned in previous parts of this series. The large expansive caves in the mountain side that have become home to goblin refugees. After the goblins were driven out by our king from the west, some of those that survived were driven into the mountains. Needing shelter they came across this cavern network. The caves were formed naturally over centuries as erosion worked at the rock, and now there is a network of winding natural caverns creeping down into the mountains. Our goblins no doubt met a few unpleasant creatures that may have previously taken up residence, but they managed to clear out enough of the caverns to feel somewhat safe. Perhaps they also found a good source of water in an underwater lake or river, where water had been gathering over time. We know that the mountains have forests at its foothills, so they have a source for wood and food very close by too. Over time the goblins have repopulated their numbers, and may have decided that the caverns (as they are) are not adequate, and they may have dug into the rock and created some additional tunnels and chambers. Also perhaps one goblin has risen to claim leadership and has crowned himself the new goblin king of this tribe. He may have wanted grander chambers, so the goblins (once again) dug out more goblin made tunnels, including some more secure chambers to house the treasures the king has begun to amass from raiding.

Taking all this into account I would begin drawing out my cavern networks, and making sure that I have room to expand them should I need too. I want my players to be able to explore my caverns and encounter my goblins. I also want them to have a few more challenges other than a goblin horde. Any other creatures I decide to put in my caverns have to be done so with several considerations. How will these creatures interact with the goblins? Are they friendly or allies to the tribe, or are they hostile?  If they are hostile creatures, then why have the goblins not killed them or vise versa? I decide to put a couple of trolls down one of the natural caverns. At first the trolls and goblins were at odds, and many goblins and a few trolls were killed. Overtime however, the goblins figured out that if they threw a portion of their prey and food down the tunnel where the trolls live, the trolls would leave them alone for the most part. The trolls get easy food out of the bargain and as their numbers are diminished, this seems like an amicable and safer arrangement. The goblins and trolls (while not allies) have created a sort of symbiotic relationship that works. Also should the caverns get invaded, the goblins know that a couple of enraged trolls could be a good asset for them.

I would like to include a trap or two in my caverns, but neither goblins or trolls really have the mental aptitude for creating any trap that would be considered remotely cunning, so instead I will lend from nature. Perhaps there is an underground river very close to the surface of one particular tunnel. The running water has been eating away at the cavern floor above, and it is now very thin and brittle. A couple of goblins fell through a few years ago, so the goblins know to stay clear of that tunnel and have created an alternative route around it. our adventurers would not know this however, and should they fall through, they would end up in the fast flowing underground river. This could lead to drowning, or maybe there are a few air pockets and by following the river maybe an entirely new special feature or location is discovered. As I sit here creating this dungeon and by following my own process, I am naturally creating options for additional content for my world. I began devising a trap, and in doing so created a viable new place for adventure for my players. I also want to examine the geographic aspects of my caverns. If water is dripping down we are going to see stalactites and stalagmites in some areas, as well as possible mold, mildew and fungus. All these aspects are to be considered.

This is one of the advantages in creating worlds in this way. Following the steps In this five part series will not only allow you to create a believable and vibrant world, but the process itself will do much of the work for you. Your world will grow and expand naturally through this process and as such will be far superior to anything you could have thrown together at random. In the first part of the series I told you you would never finish your world. Now I am sure you can see why. It is an amateur Dungeon Master that draws a map, scribbles in some forests, mountains and swamps and then draws dots on the map to represent towns etc without even considering how each and every feature would come to be there. So many people have asked me to look at their world and critique it. I hate doing this. Mostly because in my opinion the majority are not worlds, but just maps. They have no real depth and I can look at the map and see so many geographical anomalies or unexplained oddities. Often rather than critique it and hurt their feelings I will just say something like “That’s a nice map you have drawn there, hey can you tell me how come this lake is here in the northern hemisphere without any river or water source flowing to it? or why is this town here in the middle of no where, and how do its citizens survive?”. I point out a few floors in their logic and allow them to struggle to answer the questions for themselves. At this point they usually get the point.

A map is not a world. It is but a tool to help you to visualize the world. Maps are powerful, as they allow others to visualize what you already have imagined in your head. Never allow the map to lead the creation of the world, instead create the world and then map it.

I hope that you are willing to put in the work that is needed to create a real and believable world. If you do I can promise that you and your players will not regret it, and that your stories will be all the richer for it. If you do not want to do the work, or do not have time, then I seriously suggest you do not waste your time and more importantly the time of your players by coming up with some lame and inferior shell of a world. Go buy a published one and read it! As a player I expect my Dungeon Master to have put in the work and present me with a game session worthy of our mutually devoted time. If I see holes and gaps throughout his storytelling or if I can not get a feeling of immersion at his game, the odds are I will not be visiting his world or his gaming table again. Recently I have had discussions with a few acquaintances and viewers of our show Howreroll, and they talk to me about other games going on that they are or were a part of. We get complimented for how our games are run and often they ask why we can achieve and do what we do where others can not or do not. All I can really say is the more you do something the more you improve. I have thirty three plus years of gaming experience and thousands of hours put in at the gaming table. I have evolved in my craft and am very critical of my performance as a Dungeon Master. I also put in ten to fifteen hours of prep time for each of our bi weekly shows. Work yields reward. Sadly if you can not or will not do the work required, you will have a poor results and too many are willing to settle for that. I am not…….

The one with the enraged college student.

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Many years ago I was running a weekly game for a group at my local college. I was attending this particular institute one a week as part of a course I was taking at another learning establishment. Meeting new people was always something I enjoyed, and I was eager as ever to expand my social circle. A few of the other students informed me that they enjoyed tabletop gaming, and asking if I would be interested in running a game after class each week. There were four individuals, three guys and one girl and one of the guys had a friend who was taking another class that he said wanted to join too. We all got together in a vacant classroom and rolled up some characters. The group make up was a Fighter, Magic user, Cleric, Thief and a Barbarian. The game started that following week and my initial impressions were optimistic.

We continued for several weeks. As I recall they were exploring a sunken temple in search of a lost scrying orb that belonged to some priestess. The Party had battles with several undead and a few unsavory underground denizens, but eventually they recovered the orb. It was then that their troubles really started. You see they were not the only ones looking for the orb. An evil warlock was also after the prize, and he set his minions against the players and tried to take it from them before they could deliver it. He succeeded, so now our players had to recover it from him.

This is where the first red flag went up. If you remember I mentioned one of the students in my class wanted to bring along a friend? well the friend became very irate when they lost the orb to the Warlocks minions. Now I would like to make the clear distinction that it was the player and not the character that became irate. He began raising his voice at his displeasure, and slung his pencil and sent several dice flying. The look on the other players (all except his friend) was one of surprise and awkward discomfort. I am sure my face displayed a similar look. When Mr angry realized how everyone was viewing his little outburst, he tried to play it of as role playing his Barbarian, but I do not believe there was a single person who bought that excuse. As it was the end of the game session for that week, we all moved past it and tried to ignore it.

Then next week we were back at it. The party had traveled to the Warlocks citadel and were contemplating how to gain entry and steel back the orb. The players were having an open strategy discussion on how to go about gaining access and a few different ideas were floating around. The thief and Magic user wanted to take the covert approach, and have the thief scale the wall and try to find a way to let the rest of the party in. The Fighter and Cleric wanted a more direct approach, but one which still employed strategy, and the Barbarian wanted to just bust down the gate and charge right in. As the players discussed their various points of view, I could not help but notice that the player who had the little tantrum last week was becoming noticeably agitated. He was fidgeting a good bit and getting a little red faced. He was also struggling to keep his voice at the same volume as the rest of the players. Once again he (speaking as his Barbarian) reiterated his opinion that he could lift the gate and they could charge in, catching the Warlock and his minions by surprise. This is where things turned ugly.

So the Fighter of the group (still being in character), looks at the Barbarian and says something along the lines of “Well this is the kind of stupid and fool hardy plan I would expect from you”! Well Mr angry lost it. He stood up and hurled his D20 at the player who was controlling the fighter. He then threw loud and enraged verbal insults at him and made his way to the end of the table where the other player sat. The player stood up to meet Mr angry, and said “hey, its all in character man don’t take it personally. I am talking to your Barbarian, not you”! “BULLS**T” was Mr angry’s reply and he then shoved him. Everyone got up and moved away from the table, the girl protesting that this was absurd behavior and the situation was clearly out of hand.

I dived in between the two players, and told Mr angry to cool off and that I was not going to tolerate that kind of emotional outburst, let alone anyone getting physical. I called an early end to the session and everyone went home. That evening I called Mr angry’s friend, and told him that his friend was no longer welcome at the game, and did he want me to tell him or would he rather do it. “Oh no you tell him”, was his reply. He then informed me of his friends anger issues, and that he often was the cause of social unrest. I asked him why? if he knew this, would he invite this person along. He told me that he did not so much ask him, as he overheard a discussion about the upcoming game and invited himself.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this:

One. keep your emotions in check. While bringing a little acted emotion to your character is a good thing, allowing actual unchecked emotion to surface is not.

Two. Keep a line of distinction between player and character. If your character is unhappy with the actions of another character, then that displeasure should be confined to within the game.

Three. There should never be a situation where two players allow things to become heated between them. We are all human and as such will have disagreements, but they need to be handled with civility and decorum.

Four. It is the Dungeon Masters responsibility to deal with these situations should they arise. It may become necessary to involve the players in making decisions, but it is ultimately down to the Dungeon Master to finalize and execute.

At the end of the day, A Role Playing Game can be very engaging. It can cause a variety of emotions to rise within us. It is still our responsibility to control those emotions, and if you can’t, well you probably shouldn’t be playing…………………..

Creating a memorable character.

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One of the most fundamental skills for a pen and paper Role Playing Games player to learn is how to create a character. Knowing what dice to roll, how to read charts, how to assign points, how to fill out that character sheet etc. These tasks however are simply book keeping and creating and recording statistics. If I asked you “What Character are you playing”? how would you answer?

I want you to be honest with yourself, when you read the two examples I am about to give and choose which you feel would be closer to your answer. Do that before reading on to the next paragraph.

  1. “I am playing a Human fighter who specializes in two handed weapons and the cleave feat”.
  2. “I am playing a  Human male named Devero Shen, who grew up in a small village as a blacksmiths son, and after his father passed away, he joined a local mercenary group as a camp attendant, but eventually became one of the mercenaries.”

Both of these are generic examples but here is the point. The top answer is what character class and skill specialization you are utilizing for your character. The second is closer to describing what character you are playing. Most of you will (if honest) have chosen option one. It is rare I ever get an answer similar to option two. You see who and what your character is, is not the same as what class or skill set does he have. Look at the real world. Do you define who you are by the job you do and what job skills you have? I would hope not. I have spent a lot of my time doing the day job of Communications Manager for an Internet Service Provider. If some one asks me to describe WHO I am, I would not say “Hi I am a commercial internet sales person, who has great communication skills”. I define who I am by much more than that.

The fundamental problem for many, is that when they create a character they do so with the idea of performing a role. That’s like being born and your parents training you to be nothing more than a production line worker. Now don’t get me wrong, most games kind of make it seem like that’s all character creation is about. Choose a race, choose a class, pick feats, spend skills etc. The thing is, that is just the mechanical part of your character and the “role” it will play. WHO and what your character is goes beyond that.

My challenge to my players is always to make a character that is memorable. We have fleeting memories of that time we rolled three natural twenties in a roll, or that time we “one shotted” the Troll. The  characters that I have long lasting fond memories of,  are the ones that came to life as individuals and had, real CHARACTER! I see a lot of people concentrating on character builds. And optimizing their character. To me if this is how you go about creating your character, you have already lost the plot and are missing out on the whole concept of playing Dungeons and Dragons! Imagine if at birth (or in your late teens or twenties, when you suddenly become conscious as a player character) you sat down and planned out every aspect of your future career and life. No one in the real world does that. Yes we may make and set goals for ourselves, and some of these may stay constant or change as we go through life, but we do not set things in stone and strive monotonously towards them. Now before I piss of those that play Dungeons and Dragons much as if they were playing a video game, if you want to play characters that are min maxed, build determined and optimized that is your choice. You may even have a Dungeon Master that is OK with it. Just know that most DECENT Dungeon Masters don’t want you in their games. I for sure don’t! I could care less about your characters stats to be honest. I am more interested in your characters back story, personality, mannerisms and quirks. You see to me your character should be a personality. Not a list of numbers and statistics. I also want to see your character organically develop through game play, and not be preset. As a Dungeon Master I love it when players make choices for their characters based on the events that happen to them. They learn new skills based on the situations that they have recently been exposed too, or multi class into something because it fits the story or an event opened up that avenue for them. I am far less a fan of the guy who says “I am going to make an arcane archer so here are all the pre required stats, feats, and skills I am going to need to have by the time I reach the entry level requirement. SCREW THAT! How about you start out playing a low level character and see where it goes!

When it comes to “rolling up a character” I still believe (especially for newer players) that rolling is what you should do! I am not a fan for the points buy systems. I have allowed veteran players that I know and trust use points buy (all players in a group must use the same system, be it roll or buy), but they used them to create fun characters to play and not min max the crap out of their chosen class etc. I can here some of you bringing up the various arguments for using points buy. “Its more fair to everyone”, “It ensures I can play the class I want because some classes are More ability dependent than others “, “I don’t want to play a gimp character”. My general method is the 4D6 (drop the lowest) method, and the players roll two sets and pick the best set. Rarely does it mean you can not play a certain class, but if that arises then we re-roll or drop and raise a stat to get to the required number if there is one. (old school paladin requiring a seventeen charisma for example). PLAYING a character is about embracing the personality and developing a being. Bringing it to life in a game world. It is less about how much damage you can do, or how many hit points you have.

I have often chosen to take flaws just to have more to role play. I once created a thief and had him start life with his right hand missing by choice. It made it fun to role play. I have had a fighter who lost an eye at fourth level, and I loved the fun it was to make concessions for my lack of depth and field of view. If you are a person that contributes how much fun you have by how “bad ass” your character is, well to that I say, whatever makes you happy. Yes as a new player I wanted these things too. I grew out of it. I realized the true fun to be had in a role playing game, was in the role play itself and in the story telling for both player and dungeon master alike.

Now with all this being said how do we make our character memorable? Well first he or she must be real! OK yes its a character in a game so it isn’t real, but you know what I mean. They must be believable and have their own personalities.

I have said in other articles that I encourage players to write a minimum five hundred word back story for their character. I want to know (and want them to know) where they are from, how they grew up, what events shaped their lives, why did they start a life as an adventurer, what family do they or did they have etc. This gives you the basis for developing a personality. It helps you decide how trusting your character is of others. It can determine your characters demeanor. It can provide future plot hooks and help define relationships. You should do as much work on this as you possibly can. The more the better. Once you start playing you should have this back story in mind. Our pasts are part of what shapes us in the real world, and it should be no different for your characters.

Get yourself comfortable with “becoming” your character. Around the table you are for the most part the character and not who you are in real every day life. Make decisions based on what you believe the character would do, even if you as a player may know it is not the best idea in the world. Embrace the negative things that happen to your character and allow them to shape who your character becomes as much as the positive things. Assign some personality traits or quirks to your character, is he moody, grumpy or happy. Does he have a nervous tick or a habit that manifests under certain types of stress? Above all allow him to emotionally, mentally and physically develop naturally. Do not pigeon hole your character with per-determined decisions.

Playing a real and well developed character (flaws and all) is so much more rewarding than playing “mister perfect”. When you learn to truly embrace your character for all it is, and not concentrate on improving its stats, or doing more damage, you will realize their is just as much role play to be had in your characters weaknesses, if not more so.

When you allow your character to become real and embrace every aspect of it, then the experiences it has have more depth and value. The weak character that somehow survives the battle with two ogres and overcomes is memorable. The max strength and constitution barbarian that slaughters the same is not. One is a triumph, the other is just doing what was expected. As such one becomes memorable, the other does not.

When you look back at the characters you have created and played the ones you will remember years from now are the ones you formed attachments too and that did some truly amazing things. It will be the ones that seemed to truly “live” and had memorable experiences that stick with you.

One example of this is a cleric that was played on Howreroll during the “marks of intrigue” Campaign. He was an abused orphan that ended up in the priest hood devoted to St. Cuthbert. Due to his up bringing and difficult child hood he struggled with the day to day doctrines of his chosen religion. He embraced its core concept, but often went about doing things his own way, much to many others disapproval. With theses challenges in place he turned to drinking a good bit, and ended up becoming an alcoholic. We imposed a game mechanic that caused his character to have negative skill and trait checks if he went to long without a drink, as the “Delirium Tremens” set in. He became disheartened and eventually had to make a decision to help free a friend from imprisonment who was facing the death sentence or stay true to his religious belief. He chose to save his friend and as such lost favor with his deity and was stripped of his powers. The player made these choices knowing it was not the best thing statistically or mechanically for his character, but due to the events that occurred during game play it felt right for the character and the story. I can tell you that already Radovan Renier has become memorable. Not only to the player and the Dungeon Master, but also to all the viewers of the show.

Having a powerful character is fun in the same way that winning all the time is fun. Sometimes though its the struggle we remember and not the victory……….