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

Player Dynamics for Dungeons & Dragons

Image credit Wizards of the Coast

Hello from the Forever DM!

I could say that, but as of now, I am a player AND a dungeon master, a rare breed, indeed.

If you are interested in following along, we are playing through Rime of the Frostmaiden.

Maximum value is achieved through full participation

The reason we love our projects, artwork, gardens and D&D games is directly related to the amount of work and love we put into the game/story. In order to increase the love, we must increase the work. Read more about The Cure for Boredom in D&D. Here are a few things I have learned about how to better prepare as a player for your upcoming Dungeons and Dragons games!

Select a Player Bond

D&D, at it’s core, is a collaborative storytelling game. Besides the relationships you share with the people at the table, your character can also develop a relationship with the other characters. Dynamics means the relationship moves over time, creating a more immersive experience. First, let’s define the terms.

  • Passive – this dynamic means that the relationship is accepting of the other. It asks very little and requires no major changes for the relationship to continue as usual. Two peas in a pod. Agreeable.
  • Active – this dynamic means that the relationship challenges the other. It asks a lot and requires changes along the way for the relationship to continue.
  • Harmonious – the dynamic means the relationship shares the same values with little to reconcile.
  • Discord – this dynamic means the relationship holds different values with much to reconcile.
I will use relationship dynamics from the Lord of the Rings to make examples.

Regarding relationships between character to character within Dungeons and Dragons, there are no real rules or guidelines for how each player should relate to the other players around the table.

Besides having fun, Dungeons and Dragons is a great tool for developing intra and inter personal relationships. I have developed a map that allows each player to understand the dynamics between every other player at the table. Please make sure you take the time to communicate what kind of relationship you want.

Note: This dynamic model only works if the players are already in agreement with the desired relationship. It requires the player to have a Growth Mindset, feel free to refer to this article learn more about your mindset at the table. This model is for sophisticated and established tables, but with that being expressed, if a new table decides they want more dynamics in the relationships between the player characters and are ready for a challenge, then read on and use this model!

The Four Relationships

Passive Harmony

This is one of the easiest dynamics to roleplay because the characters share common values and require little to nothing of the relationship. It is very accepting. Merry and Pippin are good examples because in the beginning, they get along, get each other’s jokes and there is no conflict between them. As I said before, these are dynamics, however and over time, they may change. A passive harmony relationship plays nice and makes up most adventuring parties.

Active Harmony

This relationship involves shared values and vision, but requires much of the characters. It is constantly working or provoking each other, and in short, providing some challenge. The simplest model is to use the mentor/student relationship. Gandalf and Frodo are good examples because though they are in harmony, they provide challenge with Frodo growing in his leadership, eventually branching off from Gandalf as his mentor. The relationship moves. A parent/child relationship can also provide this dynamic. Too often in D&D, this relationship gets overlooked because it requires one of the players to act as the understudy to the other player. I think it can provide tons of rich roleplay, as long as each player are in agreement with the relationship.

Romantic relationships can fall under this category and require both players to agree upon the reality before proceeding. While harmonious, they still require much as are so, active.

Passive Discord

This relationship occurs when two characters are in opposition regarding worldview. Although they do not share the same values (discord), they have “agreed to disagree” and allow for each other’s differences since they are in such opposition (passive). In short, they ask little, but require much reconciliation of differences. Gimli and Legolas are good examples in that they come from opposing backgrounds, but still allow for their own space. I think other appropriate examples would be the cleric praying for the rogue to change their ways, while the rogue robs the NPCs blind. The characters passively engage but are at complete odds, and the end result is entertaining to the players around the table.

Active Discord

Whew! This relationship takes the cake. Of all of the possibilities of a D&D party, this one provides the most amount of conflict at the table. Let me stress again, as with all of the relationship dynamics, ensure that both members are in agreement with the dynamics. If you fail to understand, you will take the dynamics personally. It’s one thing to say, “my character shouts, interrupting your speech and exclaims, “you never take anything seriously!” when the player knows what you are doing. It’s another to spring it upon the player. Which is why I think we don’t do this too often in D&D, is that most of it is improvisational storytelling with very little explanation.

Active discord relationships hold to different values and requires much. A good example is Boromir and Aragorn. Although apart of the same fellowship, they served very different ideals, and conflicted in methods. They did not allow for differences to go unconciliated but duked it out until the precipice of Boromir’s demise.

Artist Anke-Katrin Eiszmann. Rolozo Tolkien

Hopefully you can see that these relationships are dynamic. They move, grow and evolve over time. These dynamics provide a rich roleplaying experience. If you are wanting to level up your interactions, consider experimenting with these around the table with your players and have fun! By increasing in participation as players, we increase the amount of value we enjoy at the table!

May your story continue!

More articles to enhance your table games below!

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
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 …

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

/

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!

Dungeons and Dragons as a Homeschooling Supplement and Enrichment

Sojourners seek to understand life from the road of adventure

In this age of Do It Yourself, people are diving into gardening, starting businesses, and learning an instrument. The “DIY” culture helps a community grow in its knowledge. The RV community is another good example.

Homeschooling is the mother of all DIY projects. Now, more than ever, parents are looking to homeschool their children, by choice, or by obligation. The modern homeschool family has a wealth of resources at their fingertips via the internet. And along with these resources comes the famous roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons.

I like to use a Growth Mindset when planning my games.

While some parents might consider the themes to be too violent or include magic, I would have you consider that D&D can be used as an endless resource to supplement your child’s education and enrich their experience.

How does D&D supplement education?

Now, when I say supplement, I am indicating that D&D, while not necessary to be present on your child’s transcript in order to pass to the next grade, does strengthen the natural intelligence of the child. Howard Garner’s Multiple Intelligence divides intelligences into multiple categories such as musical, logical, kinesthetic and linguistic. His theory surmises that each child, while having access to all forms of intelligence, usually drills down on 1 or 2 in development. While topics in school are sometimes isolated to draw upon one or two intelligences only (Math-Logic, Writing-Linguistic, Music-Musical) D&D draws upon all of the forms of intelligence. This means each child’s experience is different, although they are playing the same game.

This learning is natural and holistic. The child flexes their brain without knowing they are doing so. That is the power of playing storytelling games in the school place.

Read how to develop a growth mindset while playing Dungeons and Dragons

Worlds come alive with learning to narrate a story

How does D&D enrich the experience?

Besides math, reading, writing and social studies, can you think of other topics we might use on a daily basis? Think of systems thinking, critical analysis, risk-assessment, workplace collaboration, and conflict resolution. As adults, we might be familiar with some of these terms and have sat through seminars explaining what they mean. But I don’t see these taught in any textbooks, because education is primarily information download.

Memorization, Study and Test. Now, I’m not wanting to revamp the education system, nor do I know how you homeschool. But what I do know is that within the game Dungeons and Dragons, a high level of energy goes toward using each of those features that children will eventually use in the workplace. D&D enriches the educational experience of the child by potentially preparing them for real life situations in a safe fantasy simulation.

One of the reasons I love homeschooling is that I get to build my child’s education, and often we do it together, as a family. While incorporating multiple intelligence theories in our learning, I can justify any activity as educational! This includes playing such a wonderful pastime of dice and storytelling. 

So, next I will explain exactly how to incorporate D&D on a weekly basis using your current curriculum. And so, our story continues!

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.

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.