The Theme for the Game is…Why themes deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games

A theme is a literary tool used to convey to the reader the deeper meaning of the story beyond just the story told. In classical music, the musicians play the theme as a memorable piece right at the beginning of the song in order to establish the overall idea of the piece of music. In pop music, a theme is the melody lick that everyone recognizes as the song is beginning.

Roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons (I play 5th edition), are played over not 3 minutes like a pop song, or even 100 minutes, like a classical piece. Some campaigns last anywhere from a 2 hour one shot to 10 years of friends gathering around the table.

So, how then would you deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games with themes? Here is how i think you can!

The first thing you can do

Besides setting up great encounters (I view them as recipes for adventure), you may want decide sometime during your campaign an overall idea that you want your players to take away from each game. Some themes that I think work well with roleplaying games include the following:

  • no matter how bad it gets, good always wins
  • light vs dark
  • hope for a new dawn
  • confronting the evil within
  • the horizon always holds adventure and fun

Do a quick search for “literary themes” and find websites like this one!

The above themes are melodies that you want your players to take away from each game, but besides overtly stating the theme at the beginning and ending of each game (nothing wrong with that!) you can associate icons to the themes.

For example in light vs dark, the theme explores the competing forces of light and dark and whether they correlate to good and evil, respectively. The dungeon master asks each of the players to describe a feature of their character that they would like to highlight to embody a theme. The dungeon master then makes the effort to bring up those features all throughout important moments in the campaign. Also, the dungeon master uses similar features in the descriptions of the worlds to convey the theme in the moment of the story.

Player’s responsibility: Ted chooses a dwarven fighter that features a warhammer to exemplfy his stubborn resolve to hold out the light even in darkest of times. You had better believe a thematic dungeon master will make sure to bring up that warhammer at key times in the adventure

Where to place the theme:

the beginning as the war hammer glistens in the morning light

the middle as the war hammer soiled with dirt and blood

the climax as the war hammer, still clutched in the frozen grip of the fighter fallen, dying in the shadows

the resolution as the war hammer erupts in burning blue light charactering the fighters successful death save

One time I had a player who chose red ale as their feature. All throughout the campaign, the theme was ‘making the world a better place than how you found it” and along the way, that mug of red ale at level 3 turned into a tavern selling red ale by level 10! Every time I wanted to highlight that theme, I brought red ale in the scene to make an example of “making the world a better place.”

If you feel like your adventure is just a random set of encounters, a theme will help tie up your encounters to give that deeper meaning you are looking for. Dare I say, it will feel more than a game, it will feel like a story.

The second thing you can do

in developing a theme in your games is to decorate your monsters with that theme.

In the light vs dark theme, every monster, especially the main ones, should have a feature that holds up the antithesis of your chosen theme.

Color them in shadows, black holes and secretive whispers. Let them be orcs, but with hollow eyes and blindsight. Let them be dragons, but able to shift silently in shadows, able to cast pass without a trace on their minions. Let your monsters drive home the threat if the players fail to accomplish their mission.

To use a more funny example, each monster who fought against the Red Ale crew somehow featured really poor quality beer. The villain, with all of their crimes committed, also sold nasty beverages that furthered the resolve of the heroes to get out there and make a difference!

This is a simple technique to choose one theme for your campaign and then connect it to each of your player’s features for their character. Then go ahead and choose 3 other features in your world to exemplify your theme. Bring the features up as often as possible to play your theme and enjoy!

May your story continue!

How to defeat deceit
Story – Defeating Envy

Team Building and Storytelling with Dungeons and Dragons – a dungeon master challenge

Dungeons and Dragons is a Team Game of Collaborative Storytelling

I encountered this question on @twitter the other day and wanted to write my response. In my opinion, challenge ratings in ttrpgs have nothing to do with the monster, but rather the play styles of those at the table.

First of all, great follow up as a DM for “talking to the player first”. This increases the flow of communication both ways.

For a refresher, let’s make up 4 play styles regarding combat

  • Problem Solvers – clever, prepared and calculated
  • Dice Rollers – loves to roll tons of dice and do tons of damage
  • Partyfacers – in it for the monologues and catch phrases
  • Plotfinders – wants to know “why” combat

With combat, I try to vary the reasons for combat to occur.

  • Monsters attack and we must kill them to survive – great for dice rollers!
  • Evil cultists attack, but some of them give clues they may be turned – great for partyfacers!
  • Predatory creatures in a lair with area effects, traps and environmental hazards – great for problem solvers!
  • A portal opens to another realm and out walks a deranged old wizard ready for combat – turns out he reveals a mystery right before dropping unconcious – great for plotfinders!

Starting out with that package deal for each table I recognize that individual challenges will arise as varied as the beautiful people bringing those challenges. So what if your player is off searching (for what???) during combat instead of laying down the damage, healing and support?

First off, I would have the DC of the search be at least higher than the monsters AC. This is because it’s hard to find something when blood and fire are spewing all around. Secondly, I would not have the item revealed until the end of combat. The player might “find” something but it will be as non descript as possible until combat is resolved. “You find a necklace.” That’s it. Thirdly, I would make it a hell of a challenge to get to the item. I’m thinking Indiana Jones reaching for a holy grail, in a crevice of rock WHILE goblins are stabbing into the player. Combat comes to you, because you FOUND the shiny item! Congratulations!

A lot can happen only 120 feet away given ranged attacks. From what I know of predatory wildlife, they like to gang up on loners, wounded and the young, so bring that element of world building into the combat.

The other consequence of leaving the group is that your player story is PAUSED during combat. You step away from the main scenes, then you are off scene and we will get back to you after this situation is resolved.

It’s ok to directly confront a player who seems to be dragging the game down. Whether they are combating during exploration, or exploring during combat, both are wrong time/wrong place. D&D is certainly a collaborative storytelling game requiring a hive mind of teamwork. When you have a “rogue” player who plays … well, a thieving rogue, the flow of the gameplay is thrown and believe me, everyone feels it. As the DM, it’s ok to say, “hello, for the sake of the gameplay, I would like you to contribute to the overall team goal. There is always a time to run away, but make sure the team is on board before doing so.

Dungeons and Dragons game highlights stories of the magic that happens when we work together. Read more on Sharing the Spotlight!

At the end of the day, I would attempt to find a way for the player’s actions to directly affect the outcome, even if it’s a poor outcome. Dungeon Masters connect the dots of player’s actions into the larger story.

Holding Space as a Dungeon Master

When beginning as a hospice nurse, I read Holding Space by Heather Plett. My experience in hospice care exposed me to her work, and I wrote about it here. I hope you enjoy these Eight tips from Holding Space, a blog initially written by Heather Plett, in regards to what she learned while watching her mother’s hospice nurse. I believe that a good dungeon master uses the same techniques in playing games and telling stories around the table.

1 – Give players permission to trust their own intuition

New players sometimes ask “what do I do now?” and the dungeon master smiles returning the question, “what do you want to do?” Players can freeze haven been given this much power, and often need the DM to continue gently asking great questions that prompt the player to act. It can be tempting to fill the space with words, DM, but if you continue to plow through the game to avoid awkward pauses, you will miss out on the player’s insight. Make room for the players to generate their own intuitive thoughts in the story, and that means, in the beginning, they will be unsure. When they stare at you blankly, give them one detail about the scene to evoke their imagination and then ask them a great question.

2 – Give players only as much information as they can handle

This is great advice specifically for younger players, but applicable for adults as well. Most of the times, we can handle only 3 details about any scene. Since D&D is collaborative storytelling game of imagination, the DM is responsible for describing the truth about the world in which the players act. So, it’s up to the DM to hand the information to the players. In my games, I strongly encourage players to ask great questions. However, at the end of the day, many descriptions are missed because our brain only identifies information that we are used to seeing. Otherwise, it files it away in “Miscellaneous Dark Closet of Unknown Information” and it gets lost. So, it’s important, especially during high pressure times in the game, to hand the players simple details of information that they can latch onto in order to act in the story.

3 – Don’t take their power away

Wow! This is a highlight for Dungeons and Dragons. The entire game is played because player agency is a factor in the process. The dungeon master describes the situation, and the players take in the detail, and then act. After the actions are complete, the dungeon master describes the outcome. Without the players having the autonomy to act on their own accord, the dungeon master would just be playing by themselves, controlling the minion players to do what they desire.

4 – Keep your own ego out of it

Hey you, yes, you my friend! Would you like to mature into an adult that understands you can work hard on a project, have others reconstruct it to something entirely different that what you envisioned, all the while keeping your ego from getting it’s feelings hurt? Would you like to do some serious ego work and ascend the limiting belief that you ARE your work? You should become a dungeon master! Seriously, though, if your ego is constantly a second dungeon master at the table, you will always defer to caring for it, rather than your players. Your ego wants validation and attention all the while, you have actually people at the table playing this game with you. Not your ego. No one cares about your egos need for self inflation, so it’s ok to practice the disciple of ego-removal and give it a time out while you play. Because, seriously, this is the way to maturity. Become a dungeon master and keep your ego out of it. Players success and failures are not the result of your gaming or storytelling. Look at number 3, they have agency, unless you have hoarded all of it on your side of the table to protect your ego. See how this all connects? Please stop staring at your ego in a mirror after every game wondering if YOU did a good job. They wouldn’t come back if you were terrible. Let that be enough and quit feeding your ego attention. Time to grow!

5 – Help them feel safe enough to fail

An ego-drive DM will keep their players from experiencing failure. They are scared of people leaving if they lose the game. Most of the time, failure in D&D is not death or a TPK, but rather benign examples in the game (often tied to the players own ego). Examples include

  • caring for animals
  • negotiating with a noble
  • resisting a saving throw
  • being able to bend the rules for the sake of a good backstory

Please, DM, hear me, if you do not allow for failure, you will not allow for success. You will be the own cause of bottlenecking your campaign into a series of safe, comfortable sessions with no risk involved. Your game will stagnant and your players become bored.

6 – Give guidance through humility and thoughtfulness

I think that in response to the “tough love” dungeon master style of the older editions, some 5th edition DMs take their hands off the wheel and with enormous amounts of kindness tell the players they can do anything they want. While generous on the surface, and most likely with good intention, the DM plays to guide the players in the right direction. As a DM, you have already prepared a great adventure! While not taking away HOW the players do it, you are still there to show them why they NEED to save the world. Guide them through friendly NPCs, bonds to the player’s backstories and voices from the gods. If that doesn’t work, have a player meeting after the game and ask a great question.

  • Where do you see this adventure going?

Since you began with listening, they will most likely listen to you when you say, “ok, I have this adventure prepared involving giants, not dragons, and I’m wondering how you can direct your actions towards this plot?” Allow your players to accommodate what you have planned, in the same way you accommodate their backstories and preparation.

7 – Create a container for complex emotions

In many games you may run, the only emotion is joy. People gather together to roll dice and have fun. And 90% of the time, good times will be had. But life happens. Oftentimes, we bring our pain, sadness, anger and worry to the table and take it out on NPCS, plotlines, or even other players, and of course, the DM. I tend to expect people to behave like the complex emotional and dynamically thoughtful individuals that they are, and while most of the time, they leave their baggage at the door, it can easily sneak up at the table. When that happens, let it. You don’t have to fix any emotional outburst, change the game, or break up the party. Most of the time, emotion simply needs acknowledged and validated without any decisions made. After the outburst, they will thank you for just letting them vent, and may even feel embarrassed. My point is that if you are doing your table right, people will eventually feel comfortable enough to express complex emotions. After the emotions is expressed, the game can move on with everyone more solidly connected and grateful to play.

8 – Allow them to make different decisions than you would

Call this the bedrock of great game mastering. That’s it. As a worldbuilder, game designing, NPC voice, villain actor, and magic item granter, you most certainly have on the tip of your tongue, the answer. Remember to provide challenges, invitations, but not solutions. The players arrive to the table because they want to solve the puzzle, convince the lady, defeat the villain. While you can provide guidance (see number 4), you must allow the players to make different decisions. Together with your storytelling and their storytelling, you will craft together a fun game and dynamic tale that will keep your spirits alive through life itself.

Using Dungeons and Dragons as a Homeschooling Supplement

Asking Great Questions

How to Use Invitation and Challenge

The Theme for the Game is…Why themes deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games
A theme is a literary tool used to convey to the reader …
How to defeat deceit

Lifetimes of Fun

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

  1. Purchase the Starter Set
  2. Sign up for my personal coaching for players and dungeon masters
  3. 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.

May your story continue

Welcome Sojourner

This is your call to adventure

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The sojourners finally arrive in Lonelywood and it's full of exciting characters! Welcome Sojourners! Continue following along with Will the Dungeon Master Rismyn the Drow Silmarn the Elf Sugardumplin the Halfling Nexsan the Dragonborn Rime of the Frostmaiden, a Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition adventure. Visit TableTop Audio for wonderful background music and ambience Visit Halfling Hobbies for resources to give your game advantage May your story continue!
  1. The Rime of the Frostmaiden – 10 – Lonelywood
  2. The Rime of the Frostmaiden – 9 – A Slight Detour to Lonelywood
  3. The Bookish and the Brave – 4 – Battle through the Forest and How they Continued
  4. The Rime of the Frostmaiden – 8 – Minding the Kobolds
  5. Welcome Sojourners!

Research in Dungeons and Dragons

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.

Learn to research topics in D&D

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.

How to Run an Exciting Chase Sequence!

  • Quest: Research a Topic
    • 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.
Consider carefully the fine print

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!

Recipe for a Chase Scene in Dungeons and Dragons

Recipe for a Chase Sequence

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)

Rules:

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.

turn 1

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. 

turn 2

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.

turn 3

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. 

turn 4

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.

turn 5

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.

Using Hooks in your Dungeons and Dragon’s games and storytelling

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.

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast 2021

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.

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast 2021

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!

When deciding on how to spend your energy, remember; action is good, but motivation is better.

Jonathan Hardin

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.