Today, we have so many apps and tools available at our fingertips. How far away is your smart phone from you right now? Maybe on the table, a docking station, or upstairs on your bed, or possibly in your hand at this very moment.
Have you ever seen someone tie a string around their finger? This old trick reminds the person that they wanted to remember something in particular and the out of place string wrapped around their finger reminds them of that memory.
Since we don’t normally keep strings on our finger, it can serve as a reminder to get something done. And we need reminders, otherwise, the day drifts into hours passed and minutes spent until the cycle completes and we witness the sun sinking behind the western wall with the same pressing feeling that we didn’t get anything done.
May I suggest setting aside all of the screens for a moment and do this one simple thing: make a list. Grab a mundane piece of paper, a blank one that allow you to freely express your handwriting. Retrieve a pen or pencil, depending on whether or not you like to scratch a hard line through your editions or buff them away with an eraser. Place the instrument on the paper.
Write anything that arrives at the top of your mind. Lay everything out on the hospitable parchment which holds all of the space for you. Without consideration, pour out your hearts desires, whether it arrives as a grocery list, unpaid bills, goals for schooling this next year, dream vacations or something you have been meaning to say to your mate. Deliver it up to the paper.
Watch in wonder, as your breathing changes. There it lies before you in honesty. Your thoughts, now in broad daylight, appear before your overarching witness. Whereas before, the jumble of activity in your brain looked more like a soup, this collection of words map out the recipe for how you think, how you dream and how you feel. Appreciate this feedback.
Finally, it all of it’s glory and imperfection. Post it. Not for anyone else to see, but give it just enough light to oblige your attention on a daily basis. You will thank that list many times over as it holds your thoughts for you. For now, my friend, your mind begins to create. Without clutter, and without encumbrance, it sets itself alight with the wings of the spirit and begins to fashion a life for you with the list in view.
Human resources said it one more time over the phone, “you are no longer employed with us.” I looked at my boss across from the table and of course, he already knew. Security walked me back to my office and I placed all of my belongings in a postal box. Then they walked me outside to my car. (Don’t worry, I’m not a criminal, this “walk out” is common practice when management gets the axe. Still, pretty embarrassing, and the severance is never enough for the amount of time it takes to find a new job.
Full disclosure: I am new to Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, I borrowed the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide from the local library for 14 days the day after I lost my job at an 8 year career. In 2017, this became one of the best turn of events in the story of my life.
Life prepares us in many ways for our next adventure, and I found that my time as a musician, pastor, student and nurse have all helped form me into a game master. But here are five things I wish I had known the day I prepared for my first game.
Invest in a simple adventure
I purchased “Starter Set – The Lost Mines of Phandelver”. I enjoyed the simple plot, the handy monster stats, and the compelling hooks into the storyline. Honestly, I would have been initially overwhelmed with a large hardback adventure. I ran this for my neighbors on Thursday evening for 6 months and it went off without a hitch, until they abandoned the plot. The players felt the pressure release right around level 5 and decided they wanted to go off and explore the big city of Neverwinter. And it was my own fault. Early on, I was so terrified of this evil device known as “railroading”. I was so afraid of that accusation, that I introduced a spray of plot hooks before they completed the initial mission.
“Dear young DM, please realize that your players will only take the hooks you hand them. If you craft three hooks, there is a 33.33% chance they will take one of those, and a 100% chance they will take the one you least prepared for. I urge you, if you want them to take one hook, offer a single hook. This is not running a bad game, this is directing the players into the action.”
My simple advice, don’t introduce more than you have prepared. There are plenty of ways to give the impression of a larger world than the players can experience for now. NPCs from other planes and far off lands can remind the players of the larger world. But as a new DM, remember that one strong hook is better than a sandbox full of flimsy ones.
Invest in a Patreon – Invest in Creators
It’s a universal rule. When you sow, you reap. When you give, you gain. When you invest in another creator, your creative forces as a game master blossom. Somehow surrounding myself with like minded people who place a value on their own work lifts the level of performance I produced. I didn’t learn this until I was four years in as a DM. For the first 3 years, I relied on studying DMs on live streams and while this is a great place to start, this is just a one way relationship. I received 4 hours a week on a Thursday night, but I didn’t have the opportunity to give. The beginning of my fourth year as a DM, I wandered the shallow wastelands of social media. It wasn’t until I connected with Patreon creators that I found more like minded creators, and then found my own creativity blossom.
“Dear young DM. You get what you pay for. Remember this law and obey it.”
My simple advice is realize that in the cheap swarm of tweets, likes and posts, a weary traveler finds rest when they meet with people and invest in them.
Invest in Leadership
I believe that game masters use tried and true practices of leadership. Whether it is managing money, a project, human resources, a family reunion, or a funeral, life is managed well by great leaders. Dave Stachowiak says “Leaders aren’t born; they are made.” Being a good leader takes skill and practice, and talent is available upon request! A word to the wise: you may not think of yourself as a traditional or professional leader. Leadership is not reserved only for corporate suits and political figures. I heartily beg you to consider that if you are sitting behind a game master screen – then you are already a leader. It’s now a question of how much you will invest in that part of yourself.
“Dear young game master, you have become an expert at comparing yourself to others, as you would say, but you are misinformed. You are not comparing, you are envious of others. In comparing yourself, you have to first know yourself. And that, you need to practice. Learn your strengths, learn your weakness. Learn what you like in a game and play that to full enjoyment. Learn what you don’t like and consider if your players share your feelings. Before you can listen to your players, you must learn to listen to yourself. Before you can even compare yourself as a game master, you must first respect yourself as a good leader worthy of comparison.”
My simple advice: along with RPG guides, grab yourself a good book or podcast on growing your own self as a leader. You’ll surprise yourself when this investment radically improves your ability to game.
Invest in good RPGs
This was simple for me. I like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. I haven’t run every adventure or setting, but wow, how they have provided countless ideas for inspiration. I am slow to experience new things. I know this about myself. I researched D&D for 3 months before clicking “add to cart.” Since then I have perused through other RPG books in stores and online. Honestly, I can’t keep up with how many roleplaying world there are, and respect those who can rattle off names, dates and modules like they just finished rolling the dice. All RPGs have dice, oh wait…5 rpgs that don’t use dice. RPGs are as diverse as, well, the people creating them. Diversity doesn’t mean you have to purchase that random RPG that everyone raves about. Purchase the content you enjoy.
“Dear young game master. It’s ok to call yourself a game master, dungeon master, or storyteller. There are many paths to run your table well and many rules to learn. The point is to read. Read until you find inspiration and then brew something out of your creativity. It may never see a bookshelf, and some ideas may never even see your table, but only exist hidden within the recesses of your imagination. Play RPGs you and your players like. Avoid snubbing the world of “other” and avoid shouting from across the room. It’s a game, and if getting upset about different RPGs is your thing, your world is too small.”
Invest in your Players
This last piece of advice surprised me. I knew that roleplaying games would be fun, but I had no idea they would be life changing. Not to sound to dramatic, but I made a difference in many people’s lives by engaging with them around the table and between rolls of dice. First off, I play with my kids. Often times, we will have family discussions trying to explain life and love and all things in the universe, and one of the kids will pipe up, “oh, like a constitution saving throw?” or “Oh, that’s just like the beholder’s eye ray!” Many times, my fatherly life lessons have been peppered with D&D lore, rules and gameplay. I have had a Marine tell me our games helped with his PTSD. I have had a young man excel in his high school education by taking part in learning how to organize a game session. Many folks have come and gone around my table, but gosh it all, if there hasn’t been a few that have left an imprint on my heart. During the last few years of play, we have also witnessed each others lives around the game table. You can read more about the conclusion of our campaign, The End of a Story
“Dear young gamemaster, you have no idea what difference you are making in the world. While you prepare your encounters, fashion your lore, practice your NPCs one-liners, your players are reaping the benefits of your hard work. The universe has a way of rewarding such efforts in blessings. Be ready to receive them. I have heard people speak so fondly of their dungeon masters over the years as if they spoke of a family member. Investing in people over in results in a life worth living.“
Maximum value is achieved through full participation.
I’ve been thinking recently that I decided to become a dungeon master because I honestly like the process of preparation. The process of creation in itself is the reward. I am a creator. Through this preparation and honestly, work, I found enjoyment. In short, I’m never bored. But I did wonder if my players were achieving similar levels of satisfaction.
The truth is that when we participate in something, we invest our time and interest and end up developing value from that something. The surefire way to generate interest, and cure boredom, in any project, including your tabletop games is to increase participation.
Short disclaimer: I do realize that dungeon masters enjoy prep. Players play and DMs prep. And in this beautiful tango, the game happens! Great stories are told. However, this writing is to address the boredom one might find with the players who lack participation. In my experience, players always desire to contribute so as long as it relates to their character development.
As a dungeon master, I initially struggled with sharing the workload (much like in real life) and would keep all the world building responsibilities to myself. But in assuming all of the worldbuilding responsibility acted as a “gas hog” in my energy levels. Upon bemoaning my state, I received guidance from Johnn Four and he asks a GREAT question.
“How are you allowing your players to share the prep?”
Initially, I thought there was a secret behind the DM screen I couldn’t share. I think I am just now beginning to realize the possibility of sharing the creation process. So, this is what I came up with for next session.
My goal is to build a richer, more believable world to play in. I think at the very least a player could prep is assisting in generating the “Sly Flourish: strong start“. I assign one player the home of generating a simple monologue in which their character recounts the last session adventure. This could appear as a letter to home, a prayer to a god, or a private musing by the seaside. This level of participation helps kick start the session. More importantly, the more a player participates, the more value they find.
Regarding world building, I found a large challenge. No doubt, there are many ways to prepare a persistent and consistent world for the players to immerse themselves. I decided that the burden of lore and locales could be partially outsourced to my players. I had each player generate a simple lore/fact/knowledge about the world of Bonzarel and promised the reward of inspiration upon when their character shares that information in game. By the way, I have never used the inspiration rules of getting one time use re roll, so I thought this would be a good reward. Otherwise, I know that without a tangible reward, lore has little value in the game.
Here is the simple assignment I ascribed a week before the session.
Garindan: you know of one person who lives in Avernus, they have a name, title, job, and relationship to the Blood War.
Felthran: you now know of a thing in Avernus, possibly relating to the wildlife, natural order.
Bramble: you remember (from your studies) reading about a social grace in the politics of Avernus
Hey: you know a magnificent local landmark that provides aid/guidance or resource, possibly you learned this from your patron, the archfey.
Zarion: besides the other sojourners, you can now see Felthran’s abyssal corruption, and you are able to sense the growing disease within him.
Each player determines the time and place their character shares the lore. Upon sharing, the DM grants one point of inspiration.
Now the question for you is what part of preparing as game master do you find to be a “gas hog?” And how can you allow your players to share in that process? Remember that maximum value is achieved through full participation. And remember that the only reason anyone ever does anything in D&D or any RPG is because of the reward. You know your players and will find appropriate assignments that provide enjoyment, but if you want your players to engage, totally cured of boredom, make sure to share the wealth in preparing for a session.
Blending the tabletop role playing game Dungeons and Dragons into strong and positive education for children
Parents possess so many opportunities for their children to be successful. As you search for activities for your child this summer, consider getting them involved in Dungeons and Dragons. Let me share three values of playing this well-established tabletop role playing game.
What is tabletop role playing?
Peer over the edge of your imagination.
One of the questions I am asked when talking about Dungeons and Dragons is “what kind of video game is it?” Most people imagine children glued to a screen and nothing could be further from the truth! If video games are your thing, then have a blast, but if you are looking for something for your child which involves more social connection, then consider tabletop role playing. Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, is a simple game where people…
When playing Dungeons and Dragons, each player has their own reason for joining a game. Perhaps they want to spend more time with their friends, or they have a creative streak they want to express. Some people enjoy the rolling of dice and gambling aspect of random chance, while others enjoy the well thought out plans and execution. All of it is storytelling.
In good storytelling, I ask “why do the characters show up to the action?” and more importantly how, as a Dungeon Master, can I hook them into my story in such as way that it becomes our collaborative story. Action is good, but Motivation is better.
Every good adventure successfully hooks the characters in the story. Just like when fishing, the hooks must be appetizing so the players easily “take the bait”. The hooks then, have to be tempting enough so the players can honestly play out their character’s values rather than chasing empty meaningless action. I would like to discuss two main hooks.
Active plot hooks happen to the characters
Passive plot hooks draw in the characters
Let’s start with the active plot hooks. The goal is to generate action with incidents, events and occurrences with a direct action interrupting their everyday life. These are things in the world that happen to the characters, or at least around them. Some possible hooks include war, famine, a birth of a baby, the first holiday after the war, or simply the dawn of a new day. You can think of these as “ability saving throws” so common for use in the game. They just happen because you as the dungeon master determines. I enjoy using these hooks because they can demonstrate the passing of time which helps immerse your players into the story. Time, after all, is the great equalizer.
Also, do not be afraid to sprinkle your session with mundane events to continue hooking the characters into the game. Some might include, price of rations increase in town, registration on your sailing vessel has expired, a note arrives informing your character that they received an inheritance, or a demigod announces to the church that they are retiring. One of my favorites to keep hooking the characters is to announce, “your stomach rumbles with hunger, for it is time to eat.” This simple autonomic response can drive the players right in the heart of a story. Active hooks invoke an immediate response because of their invasive nature on the characters.
Now, let’s continue to define hooks. There is a story that you are telling. In order to draw the players into the story without directly spoiling the details, the dungeon master provides tempting hooks to lead them into the storyline. These hooks can be active, such as events that occur, or passive. A goal of a passive hook is to create interest that relates directly to their story.
Passive hooks do not happen to the characters, but rather, they draw them in and at their best, they are tempting morsels of storyline the players cannot resist. These passive hooks invoke the players to act.
In order to set up a passive hook, the dungeon master needs to explore the values of the characters in question. Do they respond to needs of justice? Then a crime committed acts as a passive hook. Do they resonate with keeping up the natural order? Then a necromancer practicing in the town graveyard draws them into the story. Passive hooks don’t really link to the place or time, but rather make an attempt to directly reach the characters themselves. Passive hooks do not “happen” to the characters, but sit aside quietly until the characters decide to act. Naturally, then, these are the main hooks that drive the plot.
Ingredients in a plot hook
Now that we have defined hooks, here are some flavored ingredients that you can add to the hooks in order to solidify the success. These work because you know your player characters. By directly asking the players of their character’s values in a Session Zero, you can better prepare hooks that are sure to, well, hook the characters.
Family and Friends
Money and Wealth
Places they love
Places they want to travel
Monsters they hate
Items they have or want
Items they want to encounter
Answers they seek
Knowledge they seek
Vengeance they seek
A word of caution:Fridging is the practice of killing off or hurting a minor character in order to motivate or torture a main character. The term comes from the world of comics, describing an issue of Green Lantern in which the hero’s partner is killed and stuffed in a refrigerator for the protagonist to find. Yikes. While many stories in movies kill off a character to further the plot, I would personally exercise caution in over relying on using family bonds as a plot driver. While I think great stories like Conan and Braveheart both involve deaths of a loved one to motivate an entire story, these are also true stories in people’s lives. Please, tell these stories respectfully.
Upon deciding hooks, just remember that characters have the ability to ignore passive hooks, but cannot ignore active ones because of their invasive nature. Again, in Session Zero, and beyond, revisit the character’s values through various NPCs and even direct conversation. If the character says they value knowledge, seeking to knock off their parents might not be the best course of action, but threatening to burn down the local library may. If a character says they value their village, launching an all out raid upon that village would be appropriate, but threatening their mental sanity might go too far. What kind of story are we telling together?
Without creating false action or gratuitously noise, here are some other benign and humane active hooks to continue generating action and the passing of time in your story. These are particular enjoyable in a realism genre and should reasonably happen to anyone in any given time period.
A patron gets sick
A page is missing from your textbook
A rival frames you for cheating
A secret admirer delivers a gift
A piece of equipment or weapon needs repair
A new skill is available for training
A family reunion occurs
A characters wardrobe is outdated
In every great story, there is a believable motivation on the hero’s part. And the best stories speak to all of us, resonating with our values. I hope this read was useful to hook your player’s characters into a story with grace and ease. May your story continue!
While back in nursing school, I remember the long nights of studying, the groupwork projects and of course clinicals. It can take a lot of steam to keep track of everything there is to learn before you pass your NCLEX. So, naturally, great educators of the bygone days developed simple yet, effective models to help with learning all of this information. One of the standards of being a nurse is learning to think critically about any situation and the model we use is ADPIE.
ADPIE is a nursing theory which helps professionals remember the process and order of treatment to obtain the best possible results. Having this grilled into my brain over and over, I realize now that I use this process in everyday life, including while playing Dungeons and Dragons. Instead of referring to the players as “nurses” in this model, I will call them “sojourners”.
For reference, ADPIE stands for Assess, Diagnosis, Plan, Implement and Evaluate. I would like to have you think of ways to use this model during your roleplaying game sessions, emphasis on “game”, no one’s life is at stake, right? Roll for initiative.
Without some scaffolding, even roleplaying games can go in meaningless directions that may leave the table feeling unsatisfied, because I do believe everyone desires to accomplish something in the game. But if you have no structure, most likely, your desires will go unmet. That’s why I think it’s important to use models like ADPIE, or anything really that helps you achieve your TTRPG fantasy!
Please, be warned, this model could change your life and help you achieve your goals. Any success gain while in use of this model is your own fault and reward. May your story continue!
Assess – This process is in place to ensure the sojourners ask questions. What I find most often happening, the Dungeon Master will set the stage for any scene of exploration, interaction or combat, and then the players will immediately jump into action. Might I suggest to follow the nursing model by first asking questions? Pry into the mind of the DM, and describe what your character would pay attention to. Just because the DM didn’t mention a 30 foot oak tree with a fort above the canopy does not necessarily mean it’s not there! But in my games, if a sojourner asks a question about a scene, “would there be a trap door we could utilize?” I will then answer that question, hopefully in favor of the heroes of the story. While assessing the situation, this process allows for sojourners to gather as much information as possible so as to make the best dice rolls as possible!
Another note – I use Owlbear Rodeo in my games and something I always remind them is that “just because you don’t see it on the grid, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist“. This means I don’t always have time to place all of the furniture within the virtual tabletop and encourage my sojourners to continue using that theater of the mind imagination skill by asking great questions.
Example: the DM describes a sinking boat with the colors of the local fishing guild flying humbly in the wind. The players then assess by asking questions about the peripheral information left out by the DM, are there passengers, are their skulking figures nearby, what is the weather, how fast could I swim to get there in time, can I make a memorial so as to come back tomorrow to loot the sunken ship? All great questions before any action is taken.
Diagnosis – While this might seem a word strictly used in the medical world, to diagnosis simply means to Determine what you Know. This is critically important step in the process, because if the table comes to a divided acknowledgment of the situation, then the outcome of the attempts will also be divided. In my games, I like to present two basic situations – Invitation and Challenge. The overall question the sojourners should be diagnosing is “is this an invitation to accept, or a challenge to meet?” Diagnostic indicators are used in the medical world and this is where players need to refer to their character backstories and determine how their character would judge this situation. While being aware of this step in the process, rich moments of roleplaying can occur, because if you properly diagnose the scene as an invitation or challenge, then the entire table will stay true to their characters throughout the story.
Example: After all of the assessment has taken place, the players then confer with each other (in and out of character) that this ship sinking is most likely an act of threat towards their beloved fishing guild. They firmly decide that the party’s course of action is to discover who is behind all this and make them pay dearly.
Plan – after watching a few streams since 2017, I have to say I think even the most seasoned players can flub up on this step in the ADPIE process. We are quick to roll the dice and quick to act and while this can make for some comical moments in the game, planning can provide a more sure outcome. Planning is simple. After taking into consideration all of the questions answered, and forming a unified judgement about the situation, the players use their particular skills, features, spells, and silly accents to ensure their plan goes off without a hitch. Also, on a side note, I think this step is where most of the bonding between players at the table takes place. This step should not be sidestepped by rogue players who shoot first and ask questions later. While there is a place for that level of roleplay, most of the time I have seen players enjoy the unilateral approach to problem solving.
Example: After asking great questions about the sinking fishing boat, and determining this was a crime, the players then decide to split up and gather intel in the town using their various charms, connections and coercing. One player thinks it best that they stay behind and keep a sharp lookout to see if anyone shows up tonight to clean up any messes.
Implement – While developed as a nursing theory for medical professionals to provide the best care, I bet that the best sessions you experience already use something like this! We are over the halfway point of the ADPIE step by step process to providing a rich tabletop session! Implementation, of course, this is where you pull out those shiny math rocks and get to rolling. This is where steel meets steel and everything progress (hopefully) as planned. However, before you start rolling the dice and holding the DM at knifepoint to tell you what you’ve won, please, take a moment and follow this method. As I say in my games, “Describe to me what you are doing, and I’ll tell you how to roll.” I do this because while D&D is fun, I think it’s also a creative exercise in developing perspectives. For example, if I describe to you that I’m drinking from a teacup, what does the teacup look like? Five players can silently write out a description and we will easily gain 5 different images, and none of them were as the DM imagined! The point being, that while rolling all that dice and gleefully anticipating the results, use this step to describe what your player is thinking, feeling and doing.
Example: After witnessing the sinking ship, determining a villain was to blame and planning with the party, Jon the Bard and another sojourner rendezvous with an old friend. They play cards, share a drink and an old story. The other sojourner (player at the table) learns a little bit about Jon’s past as he remembers his hometown. And then, Jon asks the dark question, “who would have an interest in sabotaging the fisher’s guild?” The rooms goes silent and the DM says, “make a persuasion check”. Jon checks his die, “24” he says.” The DM smiles, now ready to drop some serious lore.
Breathe deep for now we take the last step to the ADPIE process for your Dungeons and Dragons sessions. Some might have easier methods, but if it’s good enough for living saving medical professionals, then it’s good enough for RPGs, right? 🙂 Don’t forget, once your brain uses a model, it likes to remain efficient and use the model for other areas in your life. Remember, if you use this, prepare to be successful!
Evaluation: This step is incredibly simple, for it’s about time that the Dungeon Master gets a chance to speak. Oh yes, that’s why I love using this in my games, because he players are doing all of the interacting, talking, laughing and sharing. Aside from answering questions, the DM simply keeps up the pacing of the story, and checks their notes. The evaluation falls into the DMs hands based on the assessment, diagnosis, plan and implementation of the players.
Example: After witnessing their beloved ship sink, decided the villain was to blame, the sojourners make a plan to use their various features and go gather intel. The plan goes off well, for the dice were in their favor, with the exception of the cleric, who despite having the best course of action (gaining intel from the local shrine), the dice failed her. Here is the evaluation. “The fishers guild is being sabotaged by none other than Charming Chums, a bogeyman pirate group who have allied with the town sheriff to chokehold the industry. Rumor says, they meet in the haunted mansion up the hill. Sadly, while doing so, the cleric found to her horror, that the local priest failed to provide info and falsely believe her to be a heretic, and she will now have to navigate town without the churches blessing, imposing a new challenge.“
When in doubt, just ADPIE! Remember that if you use this model in your games, or anywhere in your life, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. You will need to reference it like a dry checklist, but the more you use it, the more natural the process will feel. In the game, you have steps in combat, – movement, action, bonus action, speech, interaction, but over time, those become second nature in your memory. So, don’t allow structure to scare you, for constraint makes for a creative spirit. I hope you enjoyed this step by step walk through of a popular nursing theory ADPIE, and I hope you can use it in games and life.