When in doubt, just Add Pie

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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.

Image credit – Wizards of the Coast

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.

Image Credit Wizards of the Coast

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!

How to Describe Scenes to Prompt Exploration in Dungeons and Dragons

If you want, skip to the bottom to see my bulleted instructions; otherwise, enjoy the read! I call my characters “sojourners” to remind myself they are journeying through the world we are creating together.

Boxed text in the tradition Dungeons and Dragons modules serve a purpose. I believe one of the most underplayed pillars of the game is exploration and reading aloud a narrative script to your players can prompt wonderful moments of exploration that make your world all the more fulfilling. Like any NPC name, or monster stat, most of the Dungeons and Dragons experiences can be substituted for your own table, as can boxed text. How can you make your own text? Maybe the text doesn’t fit your current plan for a scene, or maybe you want even more texts. Anyway, here are some methods for crafting your very own boxed text. 

Around the corner of the ancient oak tree, a herd of cows assemble under a sheltering canopy. In the center of their circle, lies an injured woman, bleeding in the snow. Within your thoughts , you hear a chill voice whisper, “guard that which remains the most important”.

First of all, take a moment to consider each of the senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, balance, proprioception, intuition, and temperature (relative to the setting) can all be called upon to create a collective perspective to the scene. In the above text, the use of adjectives appeals to the senses. Ancient invokes largeness of size as well as the possible influence the tree could hold on the forest citizens. The woman is implicated to be injured, but let the sojourners decide the details of the injuries. A good rule of thumb is to keep the text as vague as possible, until required to specify a detail related to a discovery. For example, if you want to draw attention to the four fingered handed man playing cards, it assumes that the missing digit is of importance. In the above case, bleeding implies she is in the progressive process of dying and therefore, may be able to be saved. The telepathic voice enters the mind without any form of consent and reveals that the woman holds some importance. Either way, the incident triggers the sojourners to involve themselves in the scene. Maybe you wonder how often to impose the sense’s experience upon a player. I say, use the senses all the time! Feel free to describe the sun’s heat as blistering, or the wave’s crashing as deafening, or the instability of the bridge as nauseating. When you describe the scene using adjectives appealing to the senses, then you are telling the players how the average person in the world would experience this moment. If a particular sun soul monk then smiles while staring at the sun, that then furthers the narrative of exploration. If an air genasi gently levitates, then a fearful NPC can steady their shaking body against hers. Start by describing the scene in the broadest terms and then the players can detail out their character’s responses.

In reading aloud the boxed text, be careful about linking text to one another, for the text could have happened if the sojourners followed the outline, but of course, they could have travelled elsewhere.

After the worm lay dead at your feet, a gentleman approaches you with a hefty backpack and walking stick. “Fine day for a journey, you think?” he announces. Dressed in light clothing and a wide brimmed hat, he carries a brand new map case. He whistles to his dog, who comes running at  full speed in happy obedience. 

Here, the incident triggers the sojourners to interact with their guide. However, the opening phrase implies they recently killed a worm. While the storyteller plotted for them to encounter the worm and hopefully kill it, they may have dealt with that encounter entirely differently than the text describes. Rather, the storyteller could simply say, “After the brilliant rays of sunshine rise over the eastern lake, a gentleman approaches you…”

The storyteller can not infer that the sojourners killed a worm, that’s up to their actions. However, at any time, the storyteller can imply that the sun rises and a new day dawns. The main idea is to keep the read aloud text as a description of action only the storyteller can perform. 

Another way to think of this is in regards to the difference between Ability Saving Throws and Ability Checks. Think of the read aloud text as an ability saving throw, where the sojourners must choose how to respond because the story defined the situation for them. Then, the sojourners actions are the ability checks. Then, depending on how they narrate their actions, the story continues.

A digestible amount of boxed text involves around 3 sentences. Of course, when I’m giving a story introduction, I will use more than a few sentences, but that’s another purpose. An easy 3 sentences gives just enough information for the sojourners to then ask their questions to expand upon the scene before they make their actions. It’s important to share the storytelling, for if you describe everything scene in vivid detail, you first exhaust the imaginations with business and then you take away any spotlight for the players to build the world. After a vivid description of the scene, I always encourage players to ask 1-2 questions about the scene. I want their characters to generate exploration so that together, we can build an exciting setting. Using the above example, here are a few sample questions that one might ask:

  • How many cows are there and do they appear threatening?
  • Is the woman breathing?
  • Do I see a tree stump where I could place the injured woman?
  • Does anyone else hear this voice?
  • I review my journal, do I remember anything specific from this command?
  • Do I smell any demons? (divine sense)?
  • What’s the light look like, do we have time to dawdle before sundown?

Wow! After spending a couple moments filling in the gaps, the storytelling team has created quite a fulfilling scene of exploration. The second part of exploring this scene involves pushing buttons and pulling levers to see how one could affect the situation. Here are some sample actions based on the questions above. And of course, the details are not cumbersome, because everyone assists with the heavy lifting of world building and the exploration pillar.  A shared vision is a sustainable vision. When players simply nod their heads in agreement, the investment is not as high as when we have created something together. 

So now, building upon the boxed text, here is what the table built together by the sojourners asking 1-2 questions about the scene. 

Eight cows appear in a circle around the woman and while, noticing you with a quick nod, they do not appear anxious or threatened, but stand still like guardians in the snow. The woman’s chest rises slightly and she begins to stir. About 50 steps further in, you see a fallen tree lying in the drift. As you query your fellows, each of you confirm the whispering voice echoed in each of your thoughts. With a couple pages turned in your journal, you find the inscription “that which is guarded must be returned to the temple of the love goddess and this woman appears very much like the drawings of her that you have seen. A quick sniff in the air reveals only celestial beings are nearby, originating from the center of the circle of cows. With only 2 hours left of daylight, the winter wolves will be howling soon and on the hunt out in the open forest.

Can you imagine how much everyone enjoyed discussing each of their thoughts? With all this exploration going on, besides inquiring of the story teller, each sojourner gets a chance to interact with their fellows by roleplaying out the exploration and interactions. The storyteller then collects each patch of creativity into a whole scene. Now the action can begin!

Now, let’s talk about using ability scores in the building of a scene. Using an initiative, I like to go around the table gathering everyone’s actions before I narrate. Here, I also invite and challenge each player to listen to the other player’s actions and then narrate their own. A slight nod from myself or a quick thumbs up lets the players know everything is moving along smoothly from my point of view. Sometimes, I will spin my fingers around as if to say, “let’s keep this going”. My players narrate their actions and assume they “hit” the difficulty class, while I stay silently approving, in order to keep the story flowing freely. Upon challenging the situation, I will step in to say, “let’s see an ability check”. Regarding ability checks, I will use these for two reasons. Number one, I think that what they are attempting is beyond simple or easy and requires some risk of failure. Note that unless I am willing for them to fail, I do not ask for a check. Sometimes I can overuse perception checks that slow the game. A player asks if they see any magic items for sale in a busy city. I ask for a perception check (why???) and the player rolls a 4, So they narrate that a bird pooped in their eye. It’s funny and in the right setting, that could work. But it is plausible that one could buy a product in a marketplace. As the storyteller, I answer with

“yes you do see what you are looking for, please describe it.”

And then we move along. However, I like to use ability checks in this way. I like worldbuilding, but at the rate I play, I do not have all the answers for what is under rocks and in every shop and have great amounts of respect to DMs who are also worldbuilders. So, when a player asks for something in the world which I really don’t know the answer to, I will say, “I don’t know, let the dice decide and roll an ability check.” Most often, I use this with wisdom, intelligence and charisma based checks. Upon a high roll, there is a river nearby with freshwater (even though I didn’t plan for a river encounter). This is a check in which the dice helps decide the outcome not of a player’s actions, but of their luck in exploration.  Maybe we didn’t discuss your sojourner’s backstory regarding their understanding of the politics of the nine hells, so let’s see an ability check. Upon a low roll, it has been foretold that no, even though your character shows interest in politics, you now have the opportunity to narrate WHY or HOW your character missed that piece of information. 

To summarize, I use ability checks when a player challenges the world so as to present a conflict (pickpocket, hit, unlock, remove, expose, lift) for all these things that do not want interference. Secondly, I also use ability checks to help paint the world and history involving the characters, such as determining knowledge, influence in a city, or existence of medicinal plants.

Regarding the difficulty of an exploration check. Without giving away the DC, I think that a player needs to know how arduous a challenge is and if it’s even possible. I want to inform them of this so they can accurately narrate their response. I intend to be clear when specifying the rolls because I want the player to know that either they failed, or what they tried was impossible. The player rolls a 4 on a strength check: 

“I lift and grunt, but the boulder won’t budge, it’s here for a while, I say”. The player rolls a 3 on an arcana check, “I spend a minute going through my notes and begin cursing my laziness, “I should have studied more, I say, I don’t recall the politics of hell and announce that to my fellows.”

You see, the second player didn’t fail in the search, because the information doesn’t exist, but rather gave us some insight into their past. A converse example would be as follows:

The sojourner stands in the massive library. With only an hour to spare, they begin to frantically race through the tomes to search for insight into the politics of the nine hells.

If this presents with no amount of challenge in the world, and the librarian is generous with the sojourner’s privilege, then why make the player roll? Simply describe their success because in this case, it is plausible that a scholar with a desire succeeds with the right amount of resources and environment. However, in this present situation, we are not asking “did they remember” but “can they find?” With the large amount of books, the narrowing look from the librarian who thinks you a crook and the pressing time before you have to leave to avoid the town guards, now that calls for a challenge! Have the player roll an ability check. Upon a success, your sojourner is a hero and is free to narrate their discovery, but upon a failure, the sojourner must pick themselves up, and try again elsewhere. Again, it should be specified from a honest standpoint on the storyteller’s part if the book exists! I think that if this is a clever player inventing the politics of the world and generating a narrative, then the sojourner should discover a clue with any roll, but upon a low roll, perceive the clue but have it without their reach, furthering the challenge.

Hopefully, you can see this asks for communication between the storyteller and the sojourners. It’s important to communicate the how and why of a success or failure, because your sojourner needs to know how they can communicate the outcome to their fellows.

When reading aloud boxed text, consider altering the tone of your voice. This cues your players to lean in and listen to the narration so they can assist in building encounters. Some possible ideas include using your “reading voice”, dropping your range, adopting an off screen narrator NPC that follows the sojourners around on their journey giving life to their actions through commentary. If not altering your voice, set up a sign or place an object in the middle of the tabel to signify the changing of scene. Whatever you do, make an attempt for consistency so that the team around your table can operate on the same page as you. Soon enough, your shared voices will sound like a symphony of stories all in agreement.

Another great question to prompt exploration from your players is asking them directly, “how does your sojourner respond to this?” I’ll ask this question when something particularly evocative occurs whether by the action of another sojourner, or an incident that kick starts the action. 

An unconscious body rolls down the stairs onto the cellar floor. The queen shrieks as a spectral figure approaches the judges bench and demands justice. The fisherman halts his step, his eyes locked open in terror and begins muttering “the beast below, the beast below”. 

These incidents may shock the players at the table and jar them from the roleplaying experience, simply because you’re an amazing storyteller and have possessed their attention. Reminding them that the story will not progress without their involvement may be necessary when they are either bored out of their minds, or having the time of their life. You can simply remind them to get back into the story by asking them, ‘how does your sojourner respond to this?”

Bulleted Instructions for Creating Boxed Text

  • Open with a prepositional phrase indicating the time and space of the scene, examples (around, in, within)
  • What is the subject? (cows, woman, voice)
  • What is the subject doing? (assemble, lies, whisper)
  • Describe appealing to the senses (herd, injured, chill)
  • Use 3 sentences and consider highlighting 3 props in the scene. (Oak Tree, Circle of Cows, In your thoughts)

Around the corner of the ancient oak tree, a herd of cows assemble under a sheltering canopy. In the center of their circle, lies an injured woman, bleeding in the snow. Within your thoughts , you hear a chill voice whisper, “guard that which remains the most important”.

Learning to Listen by playing Dungeons and Dragons

I want to be a great listener and I thoroughly enjoy hearing people tell stories. I love playing around the table, Dungeons and Dragons because by listening actively, searching for meaning, we can share our stories to end up becoming even better listeners.

Very quickly, I say that listening includes taking in necessary data from another person, but active listening hers and searches for meaning in the words. It asks, “yes I hear and this is how what you say means something to me.” By doing so, I can help the other person feel like I’m in the story with them.

The way Dungeons & Dragons work is by using the storytelling method of “yes and”. “Yes and” simply means that I accept reality and I build upon it. But how do we make this work? The answer is to search for meaning. Ask yourself “if this reality is true then what does this mean to me?” This is IMPLICIT reality. Only listening to a description the dungeon master gives you does nothing more than store new data into your brain. But by actively listening, searching for meaning, then together, we can share stories.

Example

  • Dungeon Master says, “a storm arrives on the hill.”
  • Players say “aha, we walk through the storm.”
  • The above example simply states an explicit reality. Something happens and you do something about it, and at best this informs us, but also bores us incredibly. However, Active listening takes what I describe to you and build up on it to tell a story.

Better Example:

  • Dungeon master: A storm arrives on the hill.
  • Bard says “I accept reality and prepare supplies so they are not damaged.”
  • Cleric says “I accept reality and bite on my lip for a fear being struck by lightning.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality, hold up my sword and anticipate the thrill of meeting a storm giant, face to face.”
  • Warlock says “I accept reality and I remove my robe down to my linens, kneel down and ask forgiveness to Tempus God of the storms for my many sins.”

While not necessary to always preface your implict statements with “I accept reality”, the statement alone provides a sort of training wheel as you get used to sharing the narrative around the table. The explicit means that a storm has arrived and presents a challenge to the players, but the players take responsibility to search for meaning. This moves the story from explicit information to implicit meaning. The story continues.

Example 2

In this example the dungeon master gives yet a very simple encounter as an ogre attacks the party in camp. However, we can use the same method of “yes and”, in that the players accept the reality and build upon it within a story format. Notice the similarities between the two encounters.

  • Dungeon master says, “oh no! an ogre attacks your camp!”
  • Bard says, “I accept reality and prepare to defend the ponies.”
  • Cleric says, “I accept reality and fear being taken alive as a meal.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality and anticipate the opportunity to collect an ogre’s hide to profit in town.”
  • Warlock says, “I accept reality and pray to Tempus to forgive me for taking a life.”

In this example, it explicitly states that if the characters want to live, they must fight. However, the characters must search for what this information means and state the implicit reality. By using this technique of “yes, and” and then moving from explicit reality to implicit meaning brings the table from simply saying the mundane and obvious and into collaborative and exciting storytelling!

So remember, when presented with a reality say “yes, and”. Take the responsibility to search for meaning by taking the explicit information, and gift your table with a story, and share the implicit reality. If everyone performs in such a way at the table, we enjoy a sojourner’s tale of adventure.

Good morning

Even if you don’t play Dungeons and Dragons, or any roleplaying games at all, I hope you can appreciate that by using these storytelling techniques, even in your own life can your communication improve. Think about it! By actively listening, you are connecting your own personal meaning and investment into the information the other person tells you. If you then use the “yes, and” method, you agree with the narrative and build upon it. You are saying, “I am playing in your reality, and I will add to it with my own meaning.” Of course this doesn’t mean that you blindly agree with every statement any more than a hero agrees with the ogre that humans taste the best over an open barbecue! By saying “yes and,” you keep the communication moving and alive, even if your following statements and actions divert from the original intention. “Yes, Mr. Ogre, you do want to cook us all up, however, I believe there is a win-win situation we can also cook up.”

Enjoy those around your table and play Dungeons and Dragons and learn to actively listen, search for the meaning and build upon a great story.

Three ways playing Dungeons and Dragons improves family dynamics

Do you have a family game night? I have heard of families getting together on a Sunday afternoon after a meal and playing cards, board games or video games. It’s hard to find something that everyone enjoys. Sometimes families simply put money towards dinner and a movie. All those are popular and fun, but think about this.

When you watch a movie or play a board game, you are being entertained. This is a form of passive entertainment. You take in the fun and that’s all well and good!

But what if you shared the creation of that entertainment with your friends and family?

Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative role playing game. Three ways to collaborate means we engage, entertain and entrust.

Engage

When we sit around the dining room table, the coffee table or outside on the patio, we face one another and engage. Armed with a pencil, paper and imagination, you are part of the storytelling process in the game. The Dungeon Master, who operates as the storyteller, referee and other characters in the game, sets the fictional stage where each of the players around the table build upon the ideas infusing their own created characters as heroes of the tale. Each game lasts from 2-4 hours with breaks and with about 3-6 players, the most interesting and exciting adventures can unfold!

Entertain

Telling stories requires your imagination, along with collectively sharing that imagination with others. This means you entertain! You may not consider yourself a comedian, but each of us have some form of creative energy whether humor, descriptions of brave deeds, revealing hidden backstories or simply sharing in the laughter. As opposed to simply watching a movie, you make the movie. Using tried and true techniques of improve such as the “yes, and” method, you actively listen to what’s going on, engage your part of the story and entertain your fellow travelers. This level of creativity rewards your brain with the feeling of success.

Entrust

Most people have a fear of public speaking. Role playing games can be daunting at first because so many questions arise in our minds.

  • Do I have to talk with an accent?
  • What if l say the wrong thing?
  • How will I know if it’s my turn to speak?

The truth is role playing comes more natural than you think. No one around the table is trying to impress or outdo anyone, and there’s no pressure to give a stellar performance. Much like anything, practice makes your art better. The Dungeon Master should be like a guide helping your stretch your acting skills and build creativity. Remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. There’s no real “right” way to be creative. Think of it as a pool party. If you just show up, you may be nervous about getting in, but once you see others enjoying themselves, you’ll be tempted, even if to dip in your feet, to join the party.

This leads to a surprising level of trust between you, the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. We build bonds over time by telling stories around the campfire. For as long as our civilization has existed, we have told stories in one way or another. Some stories were factual, some were exaggerated for effect, some written and some transformed into memorable songs. Either way, at it’s heart, Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a way to tell stories. You become a better story teller. You become a story maker. This builds trust between those you care about the most, because you begin to ask yourself, “what stories am I telling now?” And believe it or not, this greater level of awareness happens all while you are having fun!

So, consider this your new recreation! Dungeons and Dragons can become a great family pastime and what a wonderful way to express yourself creatively. With no instrument to learn, or serious rules to memorize, you can just jump in and explore the world of role playing games.

Photos used with permission by Wizards of the Coast

3 pillars of playing Dungeons and Dragons

To explain Dungeons and Dragons, according to the Dungeon Master Guide by Wizards of the Coast, the 5th edition builds adventures off of 3 pillars. These 3 pillars help guide the storyteller, or dungeon master, in creating exciting settings, peoples and items to make this go from a a simple game to a narrative adventure. When adding in the randomness of dice rolls and the creativity of other players at the table, there really is no limit to how much fun this pastime can be. While reading through this, first, you must understand 3 truths about the world of fantasy, in that the world is primarily unexplored, hostile and incredibly diverse. When you factor in that most of the plane has been city built upon ruins from the past, or the entire terrain has been altered due to some tampering with the laws of physics, then you can find much to be discovered. Also, when you think about all of the conflicts between deities, otherworldly beings and even nature having a personality, this then fills the world with competing beings, also known as monsters, possibly inducing combative situations. The last principle about the world in which to engage, is that humans, although plentiful, are one of many races on the plane. Between elves, dwarves, dragons and extra terrestrials, this means your average dinner party brims with customs and manners worth discovering. Interactions become humorous and moving. I hope you enjoy learning about the 3 pillars of playing Dungeons and Dragons.

The world is an unknown place

Exploration of uncharted lands requires adventurers to saddle up and head out into the great blue yonder. Between wilderness and new civilizations, when the world presents interesting locations, players can use their time exploring people, places and things that grabs their attention.

I think these encounters channel up the most imagination in players. A good dungeon master presents a living breathing world to not only explore, but to actively engage and alter the setting. No one wants to touch the backdrop scene only to find that it is made from cheap cardboard and paint. When a player says “I want to dip a bucket into the abandoned city well”, ensure to make it worth their while! If you don’t know what one may discover down the well, then allow the players to assist in the building of that world. Maybe the water has a strange property that gives a clue as to why the city inhabitants evacuated so long ago, therefore aiding the adventures on their quest. Maybe the well links to a basement in the noble’s manor, and a guide presents itself to walk with the players for a time, giving history and lore along the way. Maybe the well looks mundane, but later on, awakens the curse within the city causing a hideous otherworldly being to rise from the ground. If only the players could have read the warning sign!

The world is a hostile place

Between encountering exotic lands and peoples, sometimes adventurers will be required to retrieve weapons to defend themselves. At times, a quest begs the adventurers to oppose a villain using force. Since the world, especially in the wild, presents as hostile, players may find themselves in a situation where they might be on the menu for some hungry monster. Even the natural order that we commonly think works together competes for territory and resources. When you add extra planar beings in the mix along with other worldly entities, worldviews don’t always match up. Players often descend on the food chain and will need to defend themselves to prevent experiencing digestion. Combat may not also be resolved with death, for parlay sometimes brings the best results. Deals can be struck and bonds can be formed. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In a pond of threat, players may realize that it’s not about fighting the big fish, but getting the attention of the bigger fish. That being said, protecting your friends against pure evil, brings out self sacrifice, noble strength that makes a story move us to tears.

The world is a diverse place

It’s not all pit traps, lava monsters and hordes of undead zombies. Social encounters bring Dungeons and Dragons from a game to a theater. The dungeon master plays parts as the townspeople, nobles, tribal guide, or alien emissary and the players act out their respective parts as the adventuring heroes encountering the world. Sometimes social encounter go well and the king hands favor to the players and sadly, at times, these encounters end with the village chasing them out of town. Beware that even a friendly game of cards could end in loss of life! Did you really mean to make a joke about the orc’s mother? Roll for initiative.

If a fellowship of heroes find the world, discovered, safe, and predictable, what would be the use of leaving the comfort of hearth and home? Although, Dungeons and Dragons can be used to tell any tale, even one of simple folk playing out their lives after the war, rebuilding, the story teller must keep in mind these 3 pillars, exploration, combat and social interaction, and like a good book, the setting, conflict and characters keep us entertained for years to come.

Life Lessons from Dungeons and Dragons Part II

The mist began to effortlessly rise from the ground as the darkness swelled into light. Soft sounds of birds and woodland creatures stirred in the traveler’s minds as they took turns waking from their exhausted night in the forest glen. Only Quenlin, already awake and peering through the pine with draconian eyes, did not take the time to stretch his sore muscles into life. Yashbagee lit a fire with the last of her tinderbox and retrieved some of the talsin root she foraged yesterday. “Take this, all of you, the tea will help your bruises and wounds heal.” Quenlin, sniffed the tea, but of course, did not drink it as his wounds had already healed through his night’s vigil. A spark of compassion blinked quickly in his cold heart as he viewed the horrid gash in Strom’s leg. He bent over the supine warrior and held the rustic bowl up to his mouth. “Drink.” he growled. Strom’s swollen eyes opened and he slowly accepted the gesture. That morning, the party stood still around a flickering fire in the mist and watched the transformation come over Quenlin. Maybe they were wrong about him after all.

Dungeons and Dragons captures the imagination and attention of players because although part of the game rolls dice and takes chances, a big part involves the decisions of your character which can make a lasting change in the world, whether Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms. There is also a temptation to scold ourselves when things aren’t working out. Here are some principles to consider. You may find that in this reckoning, you find our world works that way as well.

Success – Warning! May involve some wandering

horse palladin

Maybe you find yourself between a job you didn’t want, only applying for more jobs you don’t want, but have to take because you need the money. Maybe you find yourself stuck in a major in college and you are not quite sure if this is what you want to do for the rest of your life. Maybe you have no idea what success looks like. In Dungeons and Dragons, role playing involves a lot of waiting and even more discovering because you truly do not know how the story will end. A warrior can spend ample time searching, investigating, or wandering around to discover “what” the “quest” means. Even each clue, each little success in the journey leads to a better answer to the larger puzzle. No one simply stops playing because they are stuck in the game with no answer. They make something happen. They throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Movement is life. When you find yourself stuck, visit the local rustic tavern, ask about trouble in the country side, investigate the local crimes in the sheriff’s office, or search the library for ancient books, or maybe wait for the town crier asking around for an adventure to keep the game going. Eventually, this path leads you to success and we should not scold ourselves during the rhythm of downtime in the game.

Everyone is where they are because they walked there.

elf hound

In the story above, one hero specializes in survival skills, knowing how to track in the wooded realm, discerning between healing and poison mushrooms, and navigating using the stars. Another character specializes in keeping a sharp blade and not backing down from a fight. We cannot spend our energy envying the hard earned skills of others. There is a cost to specialize in anything worth doing and that cost is, by definition, not specializing in another skill. Every hero is there because they walked there. You are where you are because you walked there and your skills are needed on any team, whether in a relationship, in parenting, in your career or any group. Dungeons and Dragons vary the party’s skills so that they accomplish any quest by the hands and minds of many.

dragon

The warrior who fights back darkness weilds more fear than the evil itself.

As your characters first start out, you may encounter a pack of feral wolves, or a grumpy ogre guarding his cave, or maybe a hideous rat that tries to steal away your supplies. Then you travel further and find the evil becomes more organized, such as a marauding band of orcs, or systemic attacks from flying imps. However, the battle peaks while discovering that the enemy behind all of the brute force is a corrupt law master, using cruel cunning to deceive the townspeople. Or maybe a rogue wizard poisoning the vegetation in order to establish her as the dominant economy in the region. However, the band of fighting travelers braves the night and hunt down the villains. What makes our heroes so great is they are not necessarily law abiding, peace keeping polite citizens. They are just as quick to slash and burn, use brute force or cunning magic as the enemy. Of course, the principles differ – the villain wants to eventually use up the people around them, the heroes protect and defend against wickedness. Times of evil summon the bravest warriors.

So, wherever you find yourself today, grab your hard earned skills, a couple comrades, and ask yourself, “What lures you to adventure out of the security of your local village?” Roll the die, and participate in writing the story of your life.