Definition of Verisimilitude
Check out the word verisimilitude! In fact, to improve your storytelling, you should study literary terms regularly and you’ll be surprised how often you already use them in your Dungeons and Dragons games. Verisimilitude means “it appears real.” When playing games and telling stories, if you keep your fantasy world consistent, then 99% of the time your table will enjoy a realistic roleplaying experience.
If you would like more examples of how to improve your world building, then browse through the 11 signs of life. You may have had to study these for a biology exam, and I believe by using these signs as principles in your games, your table will enjoy a more realistic and rich roleplaying experience. You can also read here of how to improve your descriptions.
The ingredients necessary to express these principles are utilizing the 5 senses, and incorporating player choices.
11 signs of life
- Life seeks order. Cellular order means the world must be organized for it to feel alive. We see this as cells gather together in organized manner to “be alive.” Notice this great infographic!
When gathering the data points of the story, one must organize them in a way that appeals to our humanity. In Dungeons and Dragons, any dungeon master can tell a story, but if the world is build upon organized and consistent principles, the story will for sure, be a lasting one in our memories.
- Life reacts. Stimulus response means the world must react to stimulus. An easy way to implement this principle in your stories is to provide consequences that affect the characters. After all, the story is about them and therefore, should effect them. In other words, the wilds should be dangerous! Click here For great tips on Wilderness Guides in Dungeons and Dragons
- Life reproduces like kind. Reproduction means duplication occurs through division and living things pass life along the timeline. The best way to include reproduction in your world is to demonstrate the family system, children and offspring. Another way is to include the mentor/student relationships, bring in teachers and guides to pass along information and wisdom to the characters. In the end, bring about the story full circle of life and have the characters start families of their own or take on a student!
- Life adapts. Adaptation means everything wants to survive and will do it’s best to live in its environment. There’s a great book out there titled The Monsters Know what they’re Doing by Keith Amman. When a dungeon master gives the survival instinct to a monster encounter, the combat goes from hitting a bag of hit points to dealing with a sentient creature that has a desire to live another day. By studying real life biological tactics of defense in the wilds of nature, dungeon masters can design enthralling encounters for their players.
- Life matures. Growth means life matures in order to pass down information to it’s younger forms. I think this can be utilized by keeping a note of the meaningful encounters the characters had in a village only to jot down the ways those encounters would mature over time when the characters arrive back after plane walking. Real NPCs wouldn’t stay exactly where or how the players found them and demonstrate maturity by growing, leaving, getting old, or developing grudges.
- Life regulates. Regulations means life ensures the transport of nutrients and expulsion of waste. This might seem like a good place to add a potty joke, and…well, I guess it’s a good place as any. While rolling for constipation might seem arduous, keeping in mind that cities require plumbing, or they fall into plague, helps the dungeon master create a real world feel for the players. Regarding nutrition, many D&D games bring in food and drink (quite literally begin in a tavern) in order to establish that real world feel. Nothing is relatable to all as a home cooked meal!
- Life moves. Metabolism means the transfer of energy is life. This is where I feel maps and minis fail. In combat, many times the movement speed is simply expressed by dragging your character across a grid. To enchant your players, describe movement in relationship to the world around. “You move 30 feet” has no real world marker. But “you bolt ahead through the jungle, branches slapping at your arms and face.” <— much better! Like with the smells of barbecued meats, the player can now experience movement through the world through their senses.
- Life balances. Homeostasis means life seeks balance. No matter how much mess your players make, or how inconsistent quests seem to begin, remind yourself that real life seeks balance. But that balance takes time. Nature is never in a hurry, yet everything is accomplished. This means, you too, DM, can be patient for everything to settle out in your campaign.
Countless stories have grown alongside us throughout generations. We bond through the stories we share. How much more effective those stories are when they carry the weight of our skeptical minds through believable details. Incorporate the player’s choices, draw them in through the senses, and with these principles, bring your stories to life!
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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!
I started off by asking the player’s “what do you do?” I got a lot of blank stares. I figured that I wasn’t doing a good enough job setting the scene for them to make any informed decision. So I increased my descriptions, but then got interrupted by players stating their actions, probably just to shut me up from talking the entire game.
The truth is, I don’t want to talk more than the players. I love the games where I sit back and watch the story unfold in front of me. I prepare most of the week for a game, writing quotes down, reviewing lore, developing
Good GMs ask great questions one of the questions I posit to my players is “where do you pay attention?” I ask this question upon describing an opening scene for exploration. For example: a thick layer of mist blankets the floor in this cellar. Crates stack to the ceiling and rats scurry in the corners. Somewhere beyond the walls, you hear the faint click click click. Where do you pay attention? Assuming the PCs are all here for the same purpose, to discover the secret hideout of a gang, they then have the opportunity to “play” with the descriptions i provided. They could ask, what happens when I press my ear against the cold stone wall? and get a great result, “along with clicks you hear the shuffling of hurried feet”. However, if they want to get creative, they can push the boundaries of my descriptions by coloring outside the lines. They could ask, do I see any meat hanging in this cold room? Notice I didn’t mention any meat hanging in this cellar, but because the player demonstrates curiosity, the meat now exists. Of course, I would only say yes assuming this was probable, very likely that meat hangs from metal hooks in this cold room. But it gets more interesting when the player then begins to show suspicion as they snoop around the meat locker. A quick GM could then drop a discovery of foul play as the PC then finds a familiar signet ring in the ground meat packaging. Yikes! The power of asking the players an open question “where do you pay attention?” broadens the search field of exploration beyond your simple opening descriptions. For simplicity, it gives the PCs a chance to play with the 1-3 descriptors you do hand out for free. For creativity, it gives the chance for PCs to search beyond the explicit descriptions.
Another great question I ask is “how does this affect you?” “how do you respond” “who do you notice?” “where does this day find you?” “how does the story continue?”
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.
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.
May your story continue,
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com
What is your Why
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
- Physical Health
- 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!