In this age of Do It Yourself, people are diving into gardening, starting businesses, and learning an instrument. The “DIY” culture helps a community grow in its knowledge. The RV community is another good example.
Homeschooling is the mother of all DIY projects. Now, more than ever, parents are looking to homeschool their children, by choice, or by obligation. The modern homeschool family has a wealth of resources at their fingertips via the internet. And along with these resources comes the famous roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons.
I like to use a Growth Mindset when planning my games.
While some parents might consider the themes to be too violent or include magic, I would have you consider that D&D can be used as an endless resource to supplement your child’s education and enrich their experience.
How does D&D supplement education?
Now, when I say supplement, I am indicating that D&D, while not necessary to be present on your child’s transcript in order to pass to the next grade, does strengthen the natural intelligence of the child. Howard Garner’s Multiple Intelligence divides intelligences into multiple categories such as musical, logical, kinesthetic and linguistic. His theory surmises that each child, while having access to all forms of intelligence, usually drills down on 1 or 2 in development. While topics in school are sometimes isolated to draw upon one or two intelligences only (Math-Logic, Writing-Linguistic, Music-Musical) D&D draws upon all of the forms of intelligence. This means each child’s experience is different, although they are playing the same game.
This learning is natural and holistic. The child flexes their brain without knowing they are doing so. That is the power of playing storytelling games in the school place.
How does D&D enrich the experience?
Besides math, reading, writing and social studies, can you think of other topics we might use on a daily basis? Think of systems thinking, critical analysis, risk-assessment, workplace collaboration, and conflict resolution. As adults, we might be familiar with some of these terms and have sat through seminars explaining what they mean. But I don’t see these taught in any textbooks, because education is primarily information download.
Memorization, Study and Test. Now, I’m not wanting to revamp the education system, nor do I know how you homeschool. But what I do know is that within the game Dungeons and Dragons, a high level of energy goes toward using each of those features that children will eventually use in the workplace. D&D enriches the educational experience of the child by potentially preparing them for real life situations in a safe fantasy simulation.
One of the reasons I love homeschooling is that I get to build my child’s education, and often we do it together, as a family. While incorporating multiple intelligence theories in our learning, I can justify any activity as educational! This includes playing such a wonderful pastime of dice and storytelling.
So, next I will explain exactly how to incorporate D&D on a weekly basis using your current curriculum. And so, our story continues!
There are many reasons TTRPGs like Dungeons and Dragons have been lauded for their ability to simultaneously grant us fun and growth. Part of that reason, I think, involves all of the tenets in the the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.
In the book, the author explores tons of research involving human motivation and success. I liked this little chart here and thought how similar the growth mindset is to how we play our characters in D&D.
Unlike real life, our characters are simulations of our imagination, and often we expand our exploits way beyond how we would behave in our own life situations. But now look at the markers of a growth mindset and see how often tabletop roleplaying games match up with this mindset driving us to success in life.
A fixed mindset avoids challenges where a growth mindset embraces them.
WOW. If that isn’t D&D, I don’t know what is. In life, we avoid challenges when we are laced with shame, fear or frustration over the potential for failure. In a growth mindset, we embrace that challenge, because those three toxins are not worth the embrace that a challenge can provide. The main reason is that a growth mindset seeks to experience and learn wisdom. A fixed mindset stays home when the wizard comes knocking at your door, but a growth mindset says, “I’m going on an adventure!”
A fixed mindset gives up easily where a growth mindset persists in setback.
Again, wow! In the game, the player’s role is to determine a team goal and pursue it. But you didn’t think the villain was going to hand you the keys to the fortress? In the game, the dungeon master’s role is to provide setbacks that the players so they can practice persistence in accomplishing their pre determined goal, through all the setbacks. What I think is wild is that because the players and dungeon master agree that these are the roles, no one gets upset when the DM throws a curve ball the players’ way. It’s expected. Setbacks are encouraged and like the person who thinks with a growth mindset, they thrive off of the experience that leads to wisdom.
A fixed mindset sees effort as fruitless where a growth mindset masters
Part of the fun of the game is taking a level 1 character that begins an adventure and using the rules of the game to level up after completing an experience. Some tables use experience points, some tables use checkpoints to level up the characters, but all understand that the purpose of the game is to do better at playing your character by granting that character bonuses, rewards and features. A fixed mindset would remain static in their levels of mastery because they don’t believe it would make a difference. But then again, the fixed mindset is already avoid challenges and running away from setbacks, so why would they attempt to master their craft? The growth mindset, as you can now see, builds upon itself like a series of interconnected muscles. The growth mindset believes that every experience adds up to reward and therefore, they look for that reward. Seek and you shall find, it has been said, and when players defeat the long awaited villain, they indeed look for treasure and lo and behold, it is there. I wish to gather that gumption in my own life, that I look for the reward.
A fixed mindset ignores criticism where a growth mindset learns from it
So much can be said about criticism. When to give, where to give, how to give and more importantly how to receive. We cannot control another’s opinion, but we have agency over our reception. In the wonder of D&D, as a player, you can have a metagaming view of your character, watch them, learn from them and even criticize them from a 30,000 foot view. Yes, the player brings the criticism and not afraid because they have power to learn from their character’s weakness, flaws and mistakes. In our own lives, I believe the reason a fixed mindset avoids criticism is that we feel powerless to do anything with it. A growth mindset apprehends the criticism and uses it as a resource, for everything is a value of energy. Sit around and think about that for a while!
A fixed mindset feels threatened by the success of others where a growth mindset celebrates and becomes inspired by the success of others.
At it’s heart, D&D is a collaborative storytelling game. The rules create a party balance in which not one character has every tool and resource to beat every challenge presented by the dungeon master. Therefore, the collection of the players must celebrates the collective success because the party moves as a unit. There is no room to feel threatened, because the healer’s spellcasting might bring you back to consciousness before the axe falls upon your neck! The warrior’s rage might shield you from flying arrows! The inventor’s brilliance might bring about the answer the entire party needs in a split second. A growth mindset is required to play the game well.
Those who continue to operate in a fixed mindset eventually see their fate as determined and their agency stripped to a life of doom. Flipping into a growth mindset is the answer to bring about the agency, the free will and the empowerment one needs to achieve and succeed. By playing Dungeons and Dragons, with a growth mindset, we can simulate real life situations with imagination. In doing so, I think we will find ourselves “leveling up” in real life, because lessons are transferable. It’s that easy. May your story continue.
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.
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.
May your story continue!
I believe that everyone of us is a storyteller. You don’t have to speak of elves and dwarves or aliens from a far realm to convey a human experience using your words to another fellow human. Every time you make an attempt to persuade someone, you are crafting a story. Every time you rationalize an event, you are telling yourself a story. In other words, you already tell stories, and if you want, you can become better with practice.
I found this article while browsing for better ways to tell stories and discovered this method! I wondered how my Dungeons and Dragons campaign would hold up to the heat of this crucible for storytelling. Let’s see.
Immediately I drafted a list using this five pillars and overplayed my current game. We have been playing this since March 2020 and what started as a couple friends rolling dice while rescuing a lost miner has turned into a fantastic story, if I may say so.
I believe that is partly thanks to my amazing players, or as I call them sojourners, for together we sojourn through life telling stories. These stories make us. By playing Dungeons and Dragons, life begins to imitate art and we learn to utilize many sorts of problem solving practices in real life that we played in game.
But D&D being good for you is a different story. Today, I wanted to celebrate a success in my campaign and show you the overlay of the 5 Cs and how my story lays gently into this model of storytelling. While I think you should read the article above, here are the 5Cs.
Circumstance, or the setting
Curiosity, or why bother listening?
Conversation, or how would I share this with others?
Characters, or how do I relate as a listener?
Conflict, or what happens in the end?
And here, as promised, is my story.
Because Zariel, ruler of hell, struggles to maintain order in the war torn land, the hordes of the demonic abyss rise in numbers and threaten to overrun our beloved plane of Bonzárel. If she loses, the hordes will rise in numbers, but if she wins, she sets up a military cult recruiting mortal souls into her blood war and martial service. The characters are Felthran, who is honest, stubborn, loyal and dutiful. Garindan, who is haunted, darkened, redeemed, and rehabilitated. Bramble, who is vengeful, humble, proficient and pragmatic. Hey, who is lovable, simple, pure and abandoned. So then remains the difficult decision of setting up the ruler of hell, where an eternal war occurs between evil demons who want to overrun the universe and evil devils who want to enslave and overrule the universe. While the sojourners begin by visiting this neighborhood of conflict to ensure the battle stays far from their home, they discover they are they have been appointed to set up the rulership of hell sanctioned by the gods.
So, there you have it. I’m pleased to find I didn’t require much tweaking with the storyline in order to neatly fit into the 5 Cs of Storytelling. Whether you are sharing your morning coffee with a friend, selling a service to a customer or interviewing for a job, we are all telling stories. Because they appeal to the very core of our ancient humanity, we should learn to tell them well. May your story continue!
The sojourners arrive at the monolith after harrowing travel through the wilds. Upon their arrival, a bright light shines from the stone and they hear a booming voice greet them, “you have sojourned far to find me, now that you are here, what do you want?” They have finally reached the lost shrine of Torm, the god of courage.
How do you imagine deities working within Dungeons and Dragons? My style of running the game always involves telling a story. But even then, I want to benefit the players with boons and banes every time they choose to interact with these immortal beings.
I begin with an introduction to review the story so far. This involves about 3 minutes of me narrating what has happened in relevance to the sojourners. By the way, I call my player characters “sojourners” to remind us all that we are sojourning through life.
After the introduction is read, I inform them of the setting and ask them “how they are preparing for the adventure today?” You’ll see that right out of the gate, I’m having the sojourners describe themselves interacting with the world. And from there, I drop the incident, which is a simple action that kicks off the adventure and prompts them to act. We go around and around until a nice story has been told!
The world of Dungeons and Dragons has many deities who manage domains of the universe. I could get into all of the lore, but to be honest, I don’t know much of it. Instead, I think of how it makes sense to me for these immortal beings to interact with the universe. But the recurring question I have is how and why would they intervene in the affairs of mortals? In short, they are non player characters in my story and I need a motivation and a means for their actions.
To keep things simple, I use the pantheon list from the 5th ed. Player’s Handbook. The way I imagine everything working out is that some gods are all powerful, some all knowing, and some all loving, but not one god holds all three responsibilities!
They have clear limitations, otherwise, I feel they would overpower the story. Their motivation and means of action stems from one of those three responsibilities they possess, either power, love or knowledge. Now I just have to divide them into appropriate groups.
To start, I set up a division between power, love and knowledge. Then I determine that those with power oversee historical events, those with love rule over natural creation and those with knowledge govern mortal experiences. I align the domains within the PHB into each of those three categories. The formula is simple. If the god rules an event, they possess power. If they rule a part of creation, they possess love, and if they rule a mortal experience, they possess knowledge. For example, I think war is an event, therefore the god ruling over war is all powerful. Storms are part of the natural order, therefore the god who rules this domain is all loving. Finally, mortal experiences (love, divination, loss) are assigned to gods who are all knowing. In my mind, this is where technology breakthroughs occur, whether it’s the hit song, or the cure for a disease, or a 10th level spell, these gods show up and deliver knowledge.
First, let’s talk about the all loving gods. Deities of the natural world such as Meiliki of the forests, Moradin of creation, and Selune of the moon are gods who demonstrate love and care for their creation. Their motivation originates from their love for what they have made and how they care for it. Of course, goddesses like Auril, the evil one of winter, manages to fit in this “all loving” category and in truth, she loves winter, but severely crosses anyone who opposes her. In truth, Meiliki would do the same if some powerful warlord burned down an entire forest to cause calamity. Then we might see the passionate love of Meiliki as she avenges! Either way, these gods, though they love and care, do not possess much power or knowledge. Asking them for favors will only go so far in your request, but you can trust their motivations always stem from their beloved creation.
Example: Garindan is a young dwarf with much ambition. Although he lived in civilization all his life, he later committed himself to Moradin. Every time my player indicates Garindan cares for natural creation for a dwarven community, I allow him to gain advantage on one spell attack that day. This affects the world around the players and still, allows for mechanical bonuses in game.
Secondly, the deities who oversee events and time possess power. This includes war and peace, birth and death. They rule their domain with abilities that frighten mortals, causing them to evoke respect rather than love. Indeed, these gods do not particularly care for mortals so much as they take seriously the event they rule. I can imagine beings such as Bane and Eldath contesting as to who gets to determine the fate of the realms. Will this be a time of war or peace? I can imagine Lathander overseeing each birth, taking the responsibility of beginnings seriously, not out of love, but duty. He then bestows power based on adherence to that duty. Do not come praying to these immortal masters believing they will favor you, for quite possibly all mortals are pawns on a chess board in order to fund the domain in which they rule.
Example: During this crisis of war, the sojourners encounter an obstacle with running low on supplies in ammunition. Out of desperation, the monk, Windrunner, sets up a small shrine to Bane. Even though he does not “serve” this god normally, he is making a request for more ammo to destroy his enemies. Since this aligns with Bane’s domain, the god sends a messenger in the form of an arrow shooting a random sojourner. After dealing damage, the team notices a note from Bane divulging a stockpile of weapons within a nearby dungeon that will turn the tide of the war.
Finally, deities of knowledge, in my opinion, hold the most domains within the universe. I categorize these by their domains of mortal experiences such as wizardry, strategy, and pain, other examples include beauty, courage, and justice. These gods, though without much power and love for mortals, roam the universe with mastery of their domain. Asmodeus belongs here, for he knows all things of indulgence and from his palace in the Nine Hells, he gathers intel on the best way to provide enjoyment to its fullest extent. Gond, who understands the matters of crafting and construction boasts his insight and his followers beg to learn of the secret ways to build their empires. Milil, the god of poetry and song, might share with a servant the most impressive love song and release it into the world for the sake of spreading knowledge. Again, these deities are not motivated by their love for their creation, nor the will to rule the events of time, but rather, like springs of intelligence, they sprinkle information on those whom they deem fit.
Example: The sojourners gather with Bardock, the bard as he insists they view a once in a lifetime performance of Milil, god of song. The god performs and anyone within 300 feet that can hear and see the god’s avatar perform receives the benefits of the Crusader’s Mantle spell for a one time use. Or if Milil performed a stand up routine, the sojourners can permanently learn the Vicious Mockery cantrip as they relay his brutal jokes to their enemies!
All in all, adding interactions with deities in game can provide rich storytelling, and adding boons and banes can encourage the players to encounter gods themselves. Whether you bonus the players by giving advantage, adding a d4 to an ability check, or the benefits of a spell for a day, you encourage the interaction with a deity besides simply telling a good story. However, every god needs limitations because conflict makes a good story. So to recap, some gods are powerful, some are loving, and some are knowledgeable, but none possess three qualities and they, for the most part, stay in their lane of their ruled domain. If a god rules an event, they possess power. If a god rules a creation, they possess love. If a god rules an experience, they possess knowledge.
Go mortal, do my work, and I promise you favor: cross my will and suffer the consequences. And so, our story continues.
Recently, I have been pondering the role of story in the game Dungeons and Dragons. When I first began to play, I realized quickly that this kind of game facilitates story telling at its finest. Images filled my thoughts of villagers gathered around an evening campfire as the elder recounts the tales of their existence, myths and legends retold, along with variations added as, generation after generation, the tribe grew.
Eventually, books held the stories and myths were lost. The books kept the story told the same way every time with little to no variation save for edition updates. I rest that there remains something powerful about stories originating from our mouth and memory.
And then we began to passively watch television, streaming shows and movies. This form of entertainment required less imagination, for along with the verbal descriptions from books, now the visual descriptions were laid out for us right there on the screen. Little if any work was asked of the listener.
Still, from oral tales around a glowing campfire to lounging on the bed staring into another glowing device, we have always been wanting to hear a good story.
With Dungeons and Dragons, and other roleplaying frameworks, we are now able to flex our myth telling muscles into crafting stories around the table. Interesting that the word myth originated from the same word used to make “mouth”. These myths we share do more than entertain, they allow us to become the creators of our own entertainment. Beyond scratching out hit points and rolling dice, storytelling games lead the way in entertainment.
This is a call to summon your imagination to the forefront and begin by prompting your adventures with friends and family around the table. Playing Dungeons and Dragons is an exercise as old as time, long before books and long after television, we will continue to tell stories.
And so, our story continues.
I have been leading story telling sessions for Dungeons and Dragons since 2017. I started by watching a fantastic session with Matthew Mercer by googling “live action dungeons and dragons.” I was struck with awe! This was exactly the kind of games I played as a young child. Somehow adult life crept in and I forgot how to tell stories. Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition really has introduced me back into the world of role playing and storytelling. Crafting adventurers for many groups of players, I have had lots of time to build a campaign and then review my work to see how I could refine my skills. I have found that treating adventure planning like a meal recipe helps me remember to keep the ingredients simple and consistent in order to deliver a wonderful home cooked adventure for your sojourners around your table!
Session Number I think it is important to keep track of how many sessions you have run and how long your campaigns survive. This can also be important regarding leveling up your sojourners if you are using the milestone rule.
Title Give your session a title. A title focuses the session into a common story. By shifting their perspectives into the title, all of the players around the table can share in the same story. I’m not sure about you, but this makes me feel like I’m in a book.
Inspirational Quote I always like to remind myself of why I play the game. From the plethora of great GMs, I will borrow an inspirational quote I have heard from another game master or story teller. Some examples that I have used before are as follows:
- I begin this game assuming I’m already having fun
- Players will have only as much fun as you do
- Blessed are the flexible, for their stories will not be broken
- Great storytellers ask great questions
- You are creative!
Sojourner’s Spotlight and Goals Share a recap on the sojourner’s characters by their stating their place in the world and why they care about the mission at hand. By keeping the sojourners as the centerpiece of the adventure takes skill, you can avoid derailing the adventure with distractions from the main characters. Take a moment to jot down who your sojourners are and why they make the difference in the story.
Introduction When I say, “And so our story continues,” this lets the players know that I have begun the session. I like to start off by sharing about 3 paragraphs of a recap of last session or the current story in a narrative past tense format. This gives me opportunity to crystalize the mission, and highlight some of the most daring escapades of the sojourners. I will then complete this narrative with the phrase, “and so, our story continues.” Also note that with this phrase, “and so, our story concludes for now” is how I let the team know that the session has ended for the day. Bookending the adventure with a consistent ingredient keeps the table on the same page as the storyteller.
Villain Of course, a great adventure requires a great villain! As the story teller, I challenge you to think about your villains as your personal player character. Answer the questions of their origin, who they are, what they are doing in the world and why. Give them bonds and flaws and elaborate backstories. Treat them as you would your own player character and allow them to complete the adventure for the sojourners in a mighty and epic finish! Then, at the end of the campaign, tear up the character sheet in celebration that you helped craft a story of excitement.
Holy Grail This could be a powerful relic, a piece of land, a hostage princess, or any number of holy artifacts. Basically, this is what the sojourners and the villains compete for in the adventure. Along with physical objects, it could also be the affection of another, the witness of the gods, or the favor of a queen. By using the unicorn horns, lost stones, the ancient crystal or whatever your mind fashions, this gives the story a theme of competition between the sojourners and villains.
Setting Where and when your adventure session takes place helps set the mood. There is a big difference between describing the opening scene taking place on the barge floating in the great sea and a dungeon cell locked in a vampire’s lair. Take this time to impose senses onto the sojourners and asking them how they choose to interact with their environment. Some favorite questions I have asked the players at the beginning of the session are as follows.
- To what does your character pay attention?
- How do you respond to this scene?
- What wonderful smell do you sense this morning?
- How does the weather affect your character in a way we can all see?
Incident I have heard it said that consumers will decide if they enjoy an establishment within the first 15 seconds of arrival, whether it be a restaurant, church, or anywhere that has a vibe. After you have described the opening scene, you must impose an event or encounter to kick start the session. Instead of blankly looking at the sojourners and ask them, “well, what do you want to do?” Take a moment to place the encounter in front of them. The incident can be a great place to hand a quest or mission, perform a lore drop via a street corner prophet or town crier, or invoke an emotion by a demonstration of the villain’s perilous plans. After this push from the story teller, look out, because the adventurers will steer the story from this momentum!
Encounters Following the incident or starting point, I can then branch out into possible encounters the sojourners will experience. Please note that I can change the order in which they occur depending on what this particular session needs to manage the energy at the table. Encounters can include social interactions with contacts and villains, exploration of cities or wilderness, or wild combat that pushes the narrative into exciting scenarios.
Contacts Contacts are NPCs and a critical part of the adventures. Various NPCs can help or hinder the quest at hand by offering information, giving clues, or leading down trails where you believe the sojourners should go. Honestly, the contacts offer to cover the blind spots the sojourners might have in their adventure. If the table requires a damage dealer, maybe offering a raging warrior NPC to aid them on their quest allows them to share in a harrowing adventure without taking enormous damage and death. If the table requires a book smart librarian, maybe including a mage to tag along with the party might provide opportunities for lore drops to keep the quest on track.
I have also found the game master’s contacts can draw out wonderful roleplay for the players to experience. This provides a show and tell style learning right there at the table. Use the contacts to endear the party to the mission and draw out their backstories for all to experience!
Monsters Monsters. Wow. I have so much to say about them. What I will say is that the process of “re-skinning” a monster from a manual is the best thing I’ve ever done for combat. Most of the time I will browse through the monster manual, and choose at the most, 3 monsters. I choose 3 just to make life easy on myself, rather than rushing back and forth between hundreds of pages and books. Please note that a monster is really any live action challenge placed in opposition to the sojourners. This could appear as a warring tribe of goblins, a rival gang of pirates, or a crime lord beholder. Since I only run 2 hour sessions (for now) I may or may not have combat each session. But when the story begs for some carnage, I have at the most 3 monsters ready to fight. Upon the sojourners meeting the monsters, I’ll give a vivid description depending on our shared imagination and then use the stat block to crunch out the attack rolls and defenses.
Discoveries Discoveries can really drive the story and act as hand holds for the sojourners to experience in furthering the plot. If no discoveries are made, I believe the trail can become cold and the players yearn to round off the quest by prematurely completing the mission. A major discovery includes a finding about the sojourners or the world around them, This could include the villain’s plans which act as an appetizer to tease them to sticking around for the main course, the final showdown. Some great discoveries my players have made include
- new cures from local plant life
- history on a local area
- a newfound truth about their own character
- the backstory of another player character
These discoveries also present a great way to reveal something about the villain without them making an appearance, all could arrive as messages, prophecies, warnings, or news from afar.
Rewards There are so many ways to hand out goodies during a game session, but just like any other party, they are best done at the end. Normally, I will already have customized a reward for each sojourner. This could include a social benefit, magic relic, cash prize or holy blessing. Towards the end of the session, I will utilize the high dice rolls as an opportunity for the sojourner to discover their coveted gift. However, in the case that if a player actively goes off the rails to seek for something and rolls high, I will use a random treasure table and dish out a reward.
Surprise and Twists Most of the time, the quest is the main quest, the contacts are trustworthy, the villains are evil incarnate. Occasionally, adding a twist into the narrative can challenge sojourners to think outside the box and surprise everyone with a clever maneuver. Some of the best twists I have used
- making the initial rescue mission contact also the main villain by the end of the adventure
- a necromancer deal with the party instead of suffering defeat by advocating for the benefits of a recyclable workforce
- part of the session was a dream state. This lead to an interesting future session taking place on another plane helping the sojourner get back to their consciousness
- Again, use sparingly!
Highlights After the session is over and I utter those magical words, “and so, for now, our story concludes” the players and storytellers will debrief the session by sharing one or two moments that really stood out and pleased them as players. Seriously, this has nothing to do with the characters in the story. This is simply an opportunity for the players to highlight what they enjoyed about the session. It could be a moment of victory for another character, or a villain’s closing monologue or maybe just the way the story teller described the scenery. This gives you a window of opportunity to listen to what your players at that table enjoy about playing roleplaying games. Listen!
Hopes In keeping with alliteration, after you visit the highlights for each player, ask everyone around the table what they hope to see for next session. While they can share future hopes in the overall campaign, allow this time to show you to what your players are paying attention to. They will share you their theories about where the story is going and where they expect the adventure to travel.
I want you to know that we are all creative people and story tellers. Hopefully, by viewing this creation as a recipe for adventures will help you design your own stories with friends and family around the table!
And so, our story continues!
Thank you to all of the story tellers from whom I have drawn inspiration! (In order of exposure)