We made the decision to homeschool back in 2017, simultaneously the same year we started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Believe it or not, I had never really heard of the game except for a few whispers back in the 80s between the evils of Halloween and video games. Much to my surprise, Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game providing a means to tell stories.
Storytelling is something we have done since the dawn of time. Myths and legends, history and tales, all in oral form around the campfire, in lecture halls and eventually scribed upon parchments. Eventually, we filmed movies on the big screen.
I believe a revolution is occurring; one where we show our dissatisfaction with the current content of entertainment and desire to simply create our own. Read more about which one you think you are here, Consumer or Creator?
When we started incorporating Dungeons and Dragons into our homeschooling curriculum, I watched as my children read more, solved math with ease, and picked up writing their own stories at night before bed. In short, it enriched our education and curriculum, read more on that here! All things any parent wants to see. As a dad of 3, I have my very own adventuring party right there to play with anytime! I hope it stays that way for many stories to come.
Three Steps to Take to include Dungeons and Dragons in your Life
Gather together 3-6 of your friends and family and schedule a game night!
Bring back the old ways, when we used to sit around the table and face each other. Rolling dice, keeping notes and having fun with each other. It’s no surprise that tabletop roleplaying games have resurged, and now is the time to bring everyone together and tell a story.
Sojourner's Spotlight, discussing RPG news and interviews!
News on Call of the Netherdeep, Eberron, use of healing potions, and Topaz Dragon Guns!
Our message to the Dreaming Dungeon Master! – ask players to describe rather than roll.
I heard it once said that D&D is a monster killing game. Although I enjoy killing monsters, I disagree. It is not only a monster killing game, but a way to tell stories. Since the rules for the game mostly circle around combat, when a player tells the DM they would like to, I don’t know, let’s say research a topic, the Dungeon Master has few rules by which to play. You might think that less structure lends itself to more playtime, but in my experience, players like rules and regulations, dice rolls and roleplay.
You may read the except titled “Research” in the Dungeon Masters Guide page 187. However, I have found that when a player says they want to research ancient lore, a magic item or learn a new language, the Dungeon Master fumbles through the DMG, and eventually simply says “make an ability check.” The player rolls and the DM decides, “yes, you now know elvish, moving on.” If you want to tell better stories, then find ways for everything to matter in the game, rather than simply waving your hand over an arbitrary DC and deciding if the player fails or succeeds. In short, I think this challenge is what makes researching a dynamic story. Since you are here looking for a way to tell a great story, then consider the following recipe.
During any point of the game, the player decides they want to research a topic, or an NPC questgiver asks the scholarly PC to do so. Then DM says, “before you can research, you must convince someone for access to property since that is the place you can research” Perhaps this is an NPC who owns a vineyard and has something they want before they grant you access to their land/library/basement for research. So, you now must find out how you can help the vintner achieve their goal. However, in helping them, you make an enemy. A rival faction, a jealous sibling, a scorned lover. And they seek revenge. After all of this, the hero finally gains access to the land, and then the research can take place.
Convince a Vineyard owner to Use their property to research
Perform a grisly task for the owner
Deal with the rival faction
Gain access to the land and begin the research
That alone can take quite a while, many sessions perhaps, considering that other players are performing other tasks in the downtime. I would exact a gold piece cost from the player during this time to pay for expenses. Once the research begins, I would treat the research project like a boss monster, where the player must take an action every turn and roll an intelligence check to “attack” the research by using these 3 methods.
Pour through Documents (make an intelligence check)
Tinker with Components (make a dexterity check)
Query a Scribe (make a charisma check)
After making the rolls against the Research Project, the DM decides how much “damage” the project takes and if sufficient, the project is complete. If not, then the Project takes an Action in the form of Setting the Player Backwards in Progress with an illness (poisoned condition), exhaustion, injury (loss of hit dice), or mental fatigue (disadvantage on intelligence checks). To make that attack more similar to life, the hero now has to go on another adventure to repair their mental and physical faculties, rather than just taking a long rest.
Set Initiative as Player first
PC takes action against Monster DC level
Monster takes action against PC Intelligence Modifier + 10
Rinse and Repeat until Monster or PC HP is reduced to zero
There are SO many stat blocks of monsters that can be substituted for your Research Monster. This process is called re-skinning and totally legit. Rather than giving you a stat block though, here are three features of this monster.
AC = 10 + player level
HP = 3 x player level
Attack = + player level
Damage equals 1d6 x player level and one condition as stated above, poisoned, exhaustion, loss of hit dice, or temporary disadvantage on intelligence checks.
After all that, the PC gets another turn and hopefully resolves the conflict, and wins the prize. If not, rinse and repeat until blood is spilled. Can a PC die from too much work??? Also, consider the other players rolling initiative to come up with clever ways to use the Help Action by giving the PC advantage on rolls.
Research in Downtime can be a simple montage or it could be an exciting part of the adventure you are all unfolding around the table. Let this advice guide you as your story continues!
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.
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.
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?”
I watched a scene in Casino Royale and asked myself, what is the recipe for a satisfying chase scene? Tabletop Roleplaying Games are not known for their action packed, intense speed, but I still think there are ways to increase the dynamics in any scene in your game. Here is a recipe I made, and hope you enjoy!
Hunter: the one pursuing the quarry
Quarry: the one chased by the hunter
In preparation, divide the scene into 5 turns of the chase. Success occurs when the hunter obtains the quarry and failure occurs when the quarry escapes the hunter. Success or failure is determined by the table master by the fifth turn and not sooner. The goal is to have the quarry and hunter run in 5 turns to create tension and release.
Pro Tip: Include as many dimensions as possible (height, weight, depth, time, space)
The hunter cannot catch the quarry by simply succeeding on movement. They must interact with the setting and succeed upon a skill check. Do not give advantage until the final turn.. The turns increase in difficulty, 10, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25. Upon a successful die roll, the player moves forward in their pursuit as described. Upon a failure, the player moves forward in pursuit, but at a cost and the table master rolls upon the mishap table. This ensures the chase does not grind to a premature halt due to a dice roll.
As the table master, establish the setting, distance between hunter and quarry, and describe 3 interesting features of the setting.
Players may then take their turns in initiative order, and describe how to maneuver through the environment to obtain success.
Table Master: restate the setting, making sure to include any changes in the setting due to the previous turns (continue this step throughout the chase).
Players: take their turns in initiative order.
At the end of turn 2, have one explosion occur and make an attempt to weave this from the player’s actions.
Explosion examples: a crowd erupts into an angry mob, a fireball, a car drives off the bridge, earthquake: any of these will work as long as they make sense in the setting. The goal is not to create false action, but rather to impose a loud dynamic to alter the plans and give the players a new feature to interact. Again, make an attempt to have the players cause the explosion if possible.
Table Master: Establish the alignment of the quarry by giving them NPC interactions
Upon intersection, consider running combat. This helps break up any stale motion by giving an enjoyable social interaction moment. During time of banter, consider leaving the initiative order to give a more free form conversational style between hunter and quarry. By the end of the interaction, the players should learn something about the NPC that creates tension in the chase, or further validates the chase.
Players: take turns in initiative order, and allow for more free form order while conversing with the NPC.
Table Master: Upon the beginning of the 4th turn, introduce a setback for the pursuit. This could look like the quarry/hunter having to strip their armor to continue the chase, or split the party momentarily to avoid burdening a creaky bridge, or it could be leaving behind the party’s favored NPC due to the danger that awaits. At this point, pull out all stops on the tension and prepare for the outcome upon turn 5.
Players: take turn in initiative order.
Tablemaster: stay silent during this round until the players make their final move.
Players: describe attempts to finally achieve success either by obtaining the quarry or escaping the hunter.
Table Master: allow for rolls if needed, having increased the difficulty, at this point, give advantage. Describe the final outcome with a closing statement. Whether success or failure, the description should include a highlight of the player’s actions. Think of yourself as a bard in that respect, you are embellishing the feats of heroism, no matter how the chase ends. However, it ends, make it glorious!
Note to the Table Master: this 5 turn chase sequence was designed by watching chase sequences in movies and developing a framework. Sometimes, in RPGs, the players will incur an action that warrants a sudden halt to the “plans” of the table master. This is where you use judgement to decide if the scene should come to a close. The 5 turn chase sequence is simply a place to start, but it is still decided upon by the table master and the table whether or not to close the scene. Chases that drone on or end early are both disappointing. Make the magic happen.
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 wherea 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.
I found a wonderful thread from @slyflourish on Twitter. He asked about one simple tip to dramatically change the game (for the better). I found these answers from the community to be most helpful and inspirational! May you use them to add to your life and games!
Technically a house rule not just a trick, but very simple: PCs only get the benefit of a long rest in a place of relative safety and comfort, not when camping in the wilderness. Lets you run wilderness adventures like they were dungeons. – @alexbro97829019
I really liked this suggestion and it reminded me of the wilderness rules in the Middle Earth RPG for 5th edition, something that I’ve used in my games to make overland (and underland) travel grittier and more deadly, therefore, giving the PCs more to consider. If you want to create strong tension and upbeats in the game, limit how and when a long rest can occur!
2. Electric tea light candles go on for concentration spells – @geekmoviehouse
Haha, at first, I had to read this a couple of times, but slowly realized that the electric tea light upon the table, acts as a physical prop and indicator that concentration spells are being used. This is an amazing idea, affordable and also adds to the ambience around your game. I love this idea!
3. -having states of failure, meaning one dice rolling bad is not the end of the thing, for instance if some is trying to persuade an NPC, rolling 1 or 2 fails just makes the PC act less friendly. – @skinny_bob
I couldn’t agree more. Keeping in mind a scale of variance for success and failure in the game makes for more of a dynamic game, rather than one that stops/starts upon success and failures. Having a mind of variant success and failure means the difference between pushing a button and turning a knob. Good advice!
4. Create problems, not solutions to them. – @groshnik
Wow! This is a discipline for every tablemaster! Many times I have prepared the “plan” or “way out” or “answer” and that, I have discovered, puts out the fire for the players. It can be tempting to give the answer while simultaneously asking the question (for we want our players to succeed). I think in the culture of having a more “friendly” DM has also brought about the “answer DM”. I believe part of the fun of RPGs involves some opposition birthed by the tablemaster, and of course no one has to be mean! But creating challenges, problems, and allowing the players to then take the wheel and drive home the solution, now that’s good RPG.
5. Asking my players to describe why they fail at something when they roll a Nat 1. It gives the player control over a dramatic moment, it lets them scale what happens based on how they’re feeling at the moment and often give amazing insight into the character’s thoughts! – @oboeluaren
I couldn’t agree more! The first couple times I tried this, my players looked back at me blankly. Not used to having a DM allow for such narrative power, the players took sometime to get used to this routine, but since then, less of the narrative burden on me and more various description from the other players at the table! It takes trust, but worth doing, in my opinion.
6. For theatre of the mind, on a player’s turn, describe the last turn/what they seeing through the PCs POV. Ask “what is (PC name) doing?” instead of “what do you WANT to do?” This helps alleviate choice paralysis and helps players who might not have caught every detail. – @marcellus_krowe
Daaaaaang. What a game changer! Just a simple turn of phrasing completely alters the course and the flow of combat. I have witnessed this choice paralysis in theater of the mind and I can see how by simply asking the player “what is your character doing?” keeps the narrative flowing in the fantasy game, rather than breaking immersion and asking direct questions to the player. I’m going to remember this one for sure.
There were many more suggestions in this thread and many more threads, but hopefully, if you have but a moment, you can trust and add a few of these features to your games around your table. May your story continue!
Human resources said it one more time over the phone, “you are no longer employed with us.” I looked at my boss across from the table and of course, he already knew. Security walked me back to my office and I placed all of my belongings in a postal box. Then they walked me outside to my car. (Don’t worry, I’m not a criminal, this “walk out” is common practice when management gets the axe. Still, pretty embarrassing, and the severance is never enough for the amount of time it takes to find a new job.
Full disclosure: I am new to Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, I borrowed the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide from the local library for 14 days the day after I lost my job at an 8 year career. In 2017, this became one of the best turn of events in the story of my life.
Life prepares us in many ways for our next adventure, and I found that my time as a musician, pastor, student and nurse have all helped form me into a game master. But here are five things I wish I had known the day I prepared for my first game.
Invest in a simple adventure
I purchased “Starter Set – The Lost Mines of Phandelver”. I enjoyed the simple plot, the handy monster stats, and the compelling hooks into the storyline. Honestly, I would have been initially overwhelmed with a large hardback adventure. I ran this for my neighbors on Thursday evening for 6 months and it went off without a hitch, until they abandoned the plot. The players felt the pressure release right around level 5 and decided they wanted to go off and explore the big city of Neverwinter. And it was my own fault. Early on, I was so terrified of this evil device known as “railroading”. I was so afraid of that accusation, that I introduced a spray of plot hooks before they completed the initial mission.
“Dear young DM, please realize that your players will only take the hooks you hand them. If you craft three hooks, there is a 33.33% chance they will take one of those, and a 100% chance they will take the one you least prepared for. I urge you, if you want them to take one hook, offer a single hook. This is not running a bad game, this is directing the players into the action.”
My simple advice, don’t introduce more than you have prepared. There are plenty of ways to give the impression of a larger world than the players can experience for now. NPCs from other planes and far off lands can remind the players of the larger world. But as a new DM, remember that one strong hook is better than a sandbox full of flimsy ones.
Invest in a Patreon – Invest in Creators
It’s a universal rule. When you sow, you reap. When you give, you gain. When you invest in another creator, your creative forces as a game master blossom. Somehow surrounding myself with like minded people who place a value on their own work lifts the level of performance I produced. I didn’t learn this until I was four years in as a DM. For the first 3 years, I relied on studying DMs on live streams and while this is a great place to start, this is just a one way relationship. I received 4 hours a week on a Thursday night, but I didn’t have the opportunity to give. The beginning of my fourth year as a DM, I wandered the shallow wastelands of social media. It wasn’t until I connected with Patreon creators that I found more like minded creators, and then found my own creativity blossom.
“Dear young DM. You get what you pay for. Remember this law and obey it.”
My simple advice is realize that in the cheap swarm of tweets, likes and posts, a weary traveler finds rest when they meet with people and invest in them.
Invest in Leadership
I believe that game masters use tried and true practices of leadership. Whether it is managing money, a project, human resources, a family reunion, or a funeral, life is managed well by great leaders. Dave Stachowiak says “Leaders aren’t born; they are made.” Being a good leader takes skill and practice, and talent is available upon request! A word to the wise: you may not think of yourself as a traditional or professional leader. Leadership is not reserved only for corporate suits and political figures. I heartily beg you to consider that if you are sitting behind a game master screen – then you are already a leader. It’s now a question of how much you will invest in that part of yourself.
“Dear young game master, you have become an expert at comparing yourself to others, as you would say, but you are misinformed. You are not comparing, you are envious of others. In comparing yourself, you have to first know yourself. And that, you need to practice. Learn your strengths, learn your weakness. Learn what you like in a game and play that to full enjoyment. Learn what you don’t like and consider if your players share your feelings. Before you can listen to your players, you must learn to listen to yourself. Before you can even compare yourself as a game master, you must first respect yourself as a good leader worthy of comparison.”
My simple advice: along with RPG guides, grab yourself a good book or podcast on growing your own self as a leader. You’ll surprise yourself when this investment radically improves your ability to game.
Invest in good RPGs
This was simple for me. I like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. I haven’t run every adventure or setting, but wow, how they have provided countless ideas for inspiration. I am slow to experience new things. I know this about myself. I researched D&D for 3 months before clicking “add to cart.” Since then I have perused through other RPG books in stores and online. Honestly, I can’t keep up with how many roleplaying world there are, and respect those who can rattle off names, dates and modules like they just finished rolling the dice. All RPGs have dice, oh wait…5 rpgs that don’t use dice. RPGs are as diverse as, well, the people creating them. Diversity doesn’t mean you have to purchase that random RPG that everyone raves about. Purchase the content you enjoy.
“Dear young game master. It’s ok to call yourself a game master, dungeon master, or storyteller. There are many paths to run your table well and many rules to learn. The point is to read. Read until you find inspiration and then brew something out of your creativity. It may never see a bookshelf, and some ideas may never even see your table, but only exist hidden within the recesses of your imagination. Play RPGs you and your players like. Avoid snubbing the world of “other” and avoid shouting from across the room. It’s a game, and if getting upset about different RPGs is your thing, your world is too small.”
Invest in your Players
This last piece of advice surprised me. I knew that roleplaying games would be fun, but I had no idea they would be life changing. Not to sound to dramatic, but I made a difference in many people’s lives by engaging with them around the table and between rolls of dice. First off, I play with my kids. Often times, we will have family discussions trying to explain life and love and all things in the universe, and one of the kids will pipe up, “oh, like a constitution saving throw?” or “Oh, that’s just like the beholder’s eye ray!” Many times, my fatherly life lessons have been peppered with D&D lore, rules and gameplay. I have had a Marine tell me our games helped with his PTSD. I have had a young man excel in his high school education by taking part in learning how to organize a game session. Many folks have come and gone around my table, but gosh it all, if there hasn’t been a few that have left an imprint on my heart. During the last few years of play, we have also witnessed each others lives around the game table. You can read more about the conclusion of our campaign, The End of a Story
“Dear young gamemaster, you have no idea what difference you are making in the world. While you prepare your encounters, fashion your lore, practice your NPCs one-liners, your players are reaping the benefits of your hard work. The universe has a way of rewarding such efforts in blessings. Be ready to receive them. I have heard people speak so fondly of their dungeon masters over the years as if they spoke of a family member. Investing in people over in results in a life worth living.“
Maximum value is achieved through full participation.
I’ve been thinking recently that I decided to become a dungeon master because I honestly like the process of preparation. The process of creation in itself is the reward. I am a creator. Through this preparation and honestly, work, I found enjoyment. In short, I’m never bored. But I did wonder if my players were achieving similar levels of satisfaction.
The truth is that when we participate in something, we invest our time and interest and end up developing value from that something. The surefire way to generate interest, and cure boredom, in any project, including your tabletop games is to increase participation.
Short disclaimer: I do realize that dungeon masters enjoy prep. Players play and DMs prep. And in this beautiful tango, the game happens! Great stories are told. However, this writing is to address the boredom one might find with the players who lack participation. In my experience, players always desire to contribute so as long as it relates to their character development.
As a dungeon master, I initially struggled with sharing the workload (much like in real life) and would keep all the world building responsibilities to myself. But in assuming all of the worldbuilding responsibility acted as a “gas hog” in my energy levels. Upon bemoaning my state, I received guidance from Johnn Four and he asks a GREAT question.
“How are you allowing your players to share the prep?”
Initially, I thought there was a secret behind the DM screen I couldn’t share. I think I am just now beginning to realize the possibility of sharing the creation process. So, this is what I came up with for next session.
My goal is to build a richer, more believable world to play in. I think at the very least a player could prep is assisting in generating the “Sly Flourish: strong start“. I assign one player the home of generating a simple monologue in which their character recounts the last session adventure. This could appear as a letter to home, a prayer to a god, or a private musing by the seaside. This level of participation helps kick start the session. More importantly, the more a player participates, the more value they find.
Regarding world building, I found a large challenge. No doubt, there are many ways to prepare a persistent and consistent world for the players to immerse themselves. I decided that the burden of lore and locales could be partially outsourced to my players. I had each player generate a simple lore/fact/knowledge about the world of Bonzarel and promised the reward of inspiration upon when their character shares that information in game. By the way, I have never used the inspiration rules of getting one time use re roll, so I thought this would be a good reward. Otherwise, I know that without a tangible reward, lore has little value in the game.
Here is the simple assignment I ascribed a week before the session.
Garindan: you know of one person who lives in Avernus, they have a name, title, job, and relationship to the Blood War.
Felthran: you now know of a thing in Avernus, possibly relating to the wildlife, natural order.
Bramble: you remember (from your studies) reading about a social grace in the politics of Avernus
Hey: you know a magnificent local landmark that provides aid/guidance or resource, possibly you learned this from your patron, the archfey.
Zarion: besides the other sojourners, you can now see Felthran’s abyssal corruption, and you are able to sense the growing disease within him.
Each player determines the time and place their character shares the lore. Upon sharing, the DM grants one point of inspiration.
Now the question for you is what part of preparing as game master do you find to be a “gas hog?” And how can you allow your players to share in that process? Remember that maximum value is achieved through full participation. And remember that the only reason anyone ever does anything in D&D or any RPG is because of the reward. You know your players and will find appropriate assignments that provide enjoyment, but if you want your players to engage, totally cured of boredom, make sure to share the wealth in preparing for a session.
When playing Dungeons and Dragons, each player has their own reason for joining a game. Perhaps they want to spend more time with their friends, or they have a creative streak they want to express. Some people enjoy the rolling of dice and gambling aspect of random chance, while others enjoy the well thought out plans and execution. All of it is storytelling.
In good storytelling, I ask “why do the characters show up to the action?” and more importantly how, as a Dungeon Master, can I hook them into my story in such as way that it becomes our collaborative story. Action is good, but Motivation is better.
Every good adventure successfully hooks the characters in the story. Just like when fishing, the hooks must be appetizing so the players easily “take the bait”. The hooks then, have to be tempting enough so the players can honestly play out their character’s values rather than chasing empty meaningless action. I would like to discuss two main hooks.
Active plot hooks happen to the characters
Passive plot hooks draw in the characters
Let’s start with the active plot hooks. The goal is to generate action with incidents, events and occurrences with a direct action interrupting their everyday life. These are things in the world that happen to the characters, or at least around them. Some possible hooks include war, famine, a birth of a baby, the first holiday after the war, or simply the dawn of a new day. You can think of these as “ability saving throws” so common for use in the game. They just happen because you as the dungeon master determines. I enjoy using these hooks because they can demonstrate the passing of time which helps immerse your players into the story. Time, after all, is the great equalizer.
Also, do not be afraid to sprinkle your session with mundane events to continue hooking the characters into the game. Some might include, price of rations increase in town, registration on your sailing vessel has expired, a note arrives informing your character that they received an inheritance, or a demigod announces to the church that they are retiring. One of my favorites to keep hooking the characters is to announce, “your stomach rumbles with hunger, for it is time to eat.” This simple autonomic response can drive the players right in the heart of a story. Active hooks invoke an immediate response because of their invasive nature on the characters.
Now, let’s continue to define hooks. There is a story that you are telling. In order to draw the players into the story without directly spoiling the details, the dungeon master provides tempting hooks to lead them into the storyline. These hooks can be active, such as events that occur, or passive. A goal of a passive hook is to create interest that relates directly to their story.
Passive hooks do not happen to the characters, but rather, they draw them in and at their best, they are tempting morsels of storyline the players cannot resist. These passive hooks invoke the players to act.
In order to set up a passive hook, the dungeon master needs to explore the values of the characters in question. Do they respond to needs of justice? Then a crime committed acts as a passive hook. Do they resonate with keeping up the natural order? Then a necromancer practicing in the town graveyard draws them into the story. Passive hooks don’t really link to the place or time, but rather make an attempt to directly reach the characters themselves. Passive hooks do not “happen” to the characters, but sit aside quietly until the characters decide to act. Naturally, then, these are the main hooks that drive the plot.
Ingredients in a plot hook
Now that we have defined hooks, here are some flavored ingredients that you can add to the hooks in order to solidify the success. These work because you know your player characters. By directly asking the players of their character’s values in a Session Zero, you can better prepare hooks that are sure to, well, hook the characters.
Family and Friends
Money and Wealth
Places they love
Places they want to travel
Monsters they hate
Items they have or want
Items they want to encounter
Answers they seek
Knowledge they seek
Vengeance they seek
A word of caution:Fridging is the practice of killing off or hurting a minor character in order to motivate or torture a main character. The term comes from the world of comics, describing an issue of Green Lantern in which the hero’s partner is killed and stuffed in a refrigerator for the protagonist to find. Yikes. While many stories in movies kill off a character to further the plot, I would personally exercise caution in over relying on using family bonds as a plot driver. While I think great stories like Conan and Braveheart both involve deaths of a loved one to motivate an entire story, these are also true stories in people’s lives. Please, tell these stories respectfully.
Upon deciding hooks, just remember that characters have the ability to ignore passive hooks, but cannot ignore active ones because of their invasive nature. Again, in Session Zero, and beyond, revisit the character’s values through various NPCs and even direct conversation. If the character says they value knowledge, seeking to knock off their parents might not be the best course of action, but threatening to burn down the local library may. If a character says they value their village, launching an all out raid upon that village would be appropriate, but threatening their mental sanity might go too far. What kind of story are we telling together?
Without creating false action or gratuitously noise, here are some other benign and humane active hooks to continue generating action and the passing of time in your story. These are particular enjoyable in a realism genre and should reasonably happen to anyone in any given time period.
A patron gets sick
A page is missing from your textbook
A rival frames you for cheating
A secret admirer delivers a gift
A piece of equipment or weapon needs repair
A new skill is available for training
A family reunion occurs
A characters wardrobe is outdated
In every great story, there is a believable motivation on the hero’s part. And the best stories speak to all of us, resonating with our values. I hope this read was useful to hook your player’s characters into a story with grace and ease. May your story continue!