It’s about getting better, Pt. 3: New can be overrated, but it’s okay to try #DnD #RPG

The thing abut hobbies is that you do them for fun. It is fun to scrap book, paint, garden, play bridge, play sports, and play role playing games. And if something is fun, you don’t have to be good or great at it. Now some hobbies involve something competitive, so there is an urge to get better, if only so you can play more or longer. But that is if the hobby is competitive, and not all of them are. Role playing games by their nature are not inherently competitive, you can be competitive, but the measuring stick is so subjective that it is difficult to prove someone is the best. But that does not mean that someone who plays these games cannot strive to get better. This week I plan to write about some things that I work on or think about in my quest to be better at role playing games.

I was in a role playing group with the same core 3-4 players for at least 10 years I would guess. And in that time we ran one game for quite a while, and had a great time with it. At the same time we tried some different games and game systems. And if I had to pinpoint one of the reasons I was willing to stop playing with the group was this ‘game of the week’ flavor they fell into. And at the end it felt to me that it was more of a group of friends playing game of the week. And I don’t think anyone ever got better playing it that way. It was fun to hang out with friends, but no one was improving their skills at role playing that way.

Now the Denver group I am playing with is a group that has been playing together for a really long time. And for the most part their campaigns last a really long time, like several years. And also for the most part they play strictly D&D/Pathfinder games, not falling into other systems or campaigns.

I started the boys with 5E; and then made what was in retrospect a major error. I tried to transition them to Pathfinder. And while I kept the game going for a while with that system, the game was not the same. So when I decided it was time to start over I went back to 5E. Because that was a system that they learned on, and for some of the players it was still the most comfortable.

The point is that, while there are a lot of fun games out there, I have found that sticking to what you know and enjoy is probably the best course to take. For quite a while I played in Shadowrun Second Edition, to the point where I knew that system down pat. And when I was in graduate school and right after, Shadowrun was my go to game, because I knew it and the world so well. And when we had that really long term game group the game system we played the longest and got most comfortable with was Deadlands (turning into Savage Worlds.) And we knew that system very well. And now I am becoming very familiar with Pathfinder, and D&D 5E. And for the time being those will be my go to systems.

The thing that some people may not realize is that just about any system offers a lot of variety. As a player, if I am playing D&D/Pathfinder I am not limited to just being one character type, there are a lot of options. So if the group reaches a point where they want to start a new campaign, the players can ply something different and it will still feel new. The same thing applies to Shadowrun or Savage Worlds, you do not always have to play the same character. Even if you prefer a ‘gritty realistic’ style game, using GURPS, there are still options and variety.

I am not saying don’t take up new role playing games. But it has been my experience that if you want a long term campaign, and group, find a system and settle on it. Because familiarity improves performance. So I am settled on 5E for now. I might pick up the book for a new system, just to read through it. But if I want to get better as a player and a GM the best thing I can do is stick to what I know. And if I want the boys to really improve as role players the best thing I can do for them is to stick to just the one system.



Trying to get this imagination thing going #DnD #RPG @TheAngryGM

I have learned a lot in the last year and a half running a D&D game for the boys. If I had to pick the hardest thing though, I would pick the issue of imagination. It really is the biggest leap that anyone has to make when getting into Role playing games. And why role playing is not for everyone.

Today I was reading The Angry GM’s latest article. Which was a good analysis of the problems with using traps in modern D&D. His article goes into why traps, while seemingly cool and a good idea, are really just not all that great. And the following point brings me to my issue:

You want several layers of detail is the point. There should be a detail that warns that there COULD be a trap if they pay attention to the flavor text. And then you want another layer of detail that gives a more specific answer and makes it really easy to guess where the traps are. That layer of detail is the one the players have to ask about. They have to stop and purposely examine things. – See more at:

First, I have to work really hard to just come up with encounters and a logical thread to use when connecting those encounters. Lately I have been working on improving my description of where the players are. And using more visual cues with miniatures etc. And trying to insert some descriptive cues into the combats so the players have a little more buy in and interest. The point is though, none of this comes naturally to me. I have to work on it, and what success I have here is hard earned. Which means that coming up with all the layers of detail that he describes is almost beyond my reach.

Second, I am running a game for 4 teenage boys. That means restlessness and a lack of attention are just natural things I have to cope with. And even with the aid of movies and television I am still missing a crucial element: a common imagination. The boys do not all have the same background as far as what pictures they might have in their imagination when I describe things or they encounter something new.

For an example I go back to when I was first playing Shadowrun. This was during the Second edition of the game. And pretty much everyone who was playing was sharing around the same books, game materials and novels. So everyone who was playing had a shared world to work with, when someone talked about an Ares Predator, or Aztechnology or Tir Taingire we all knew what they were talking about.

But except for certain cultural touch stones the boys boys do not have that. Jimmy might understand what I mean when I mention Bruenor Battlehammer, but the rest of the boys would just give me blank stares. Or if I even mention the geography in a different part of the country, I cannot talk about the swamps of Louisiana, or a midwest snow storm, because they just haven’t experienced those things.

All of that makes the job of description that much harder. It would be much easier if I was running a game for my adult friends. But that’s okay. Because I know that I am becoming a much better GM for all of this. It is like the story of the boy who gets stronger by lifting the calf every day until it becomes a full blown adult cow. When and if the time comes and I am running for a group with a more common active imagination all of these muscles I am developing with description will be like an Olympic weight lifters muscles.

Do I have to pick just one? #30DayChallenge #DnD


Combining the last 2 into 1 post due to the brevity of one post.

Day 29 – What is the number you always seem to roll on a D20?

You know what happens if you are raised in a family of mathematicians who also enjoy games? You learn to ignore dice rolls, knowing that whatever happens is random. From my earliest days playing Risk (one of the worst games known to man.) I knew that the odds of a given number were always the same regardless of past rolls. Which means that to this day I have a built in tendency to ignore trends on a dice result, or pay any attention to them. Which is a really long way of saying I have no idea what number I always seem to roll.

Day 30 – Best DM You’ve Had

Here is where I almost refuse to make a choice. Because I have gamed for so long, with so many different groups and players and games. Having played in all of those different scenarios I have different criteria for best.

For a D&D game full of action, but finding a good way to role play through that action my DM in Denver is the best. Mark runs a very action packed game, and encourages us to role play through our choices in combat and action. His games are not so much a story as an adventure. They are the Mad Max Fury Road of role playing.

For a great story, variety in NPC’s and more role playing in the story my buddy Forrest is great. His combats are not the best, but he runs a good campaign, tells a great story, and keeps everyone involved.

For the best at setting an atmosphere my friend Stu takes the cake. His games are probably the best I have ever been in when it came to creating an overall atmosphere. He ran a one off game of his, called Redneck the Reckoning, that felt like we had all taken hallucinogens, And everyone of his games was like that, just great at capturing the atmosphere.

As you can see, it is impossible to pick just one DM for me. There are so many different components to a good game, and so many different game styles that picking just one is pretty much impossible. So if I want a different style I know what to look for. And it also depends on the game itself. Some games call for adventure (AKA combat), others for story, others for atmosphere and mystery. So picking just one is not possible.

Oh oh, now I’ve gone and done it

When I was doing that little research for my rant about publishing and costs for Role playing games I went down a rabbit hole, and now I am not sure how to get back out. I have begun to look with lust and avarice at other games, I’m sorry Dungeons and Dragons, I will always love you, but you don’t give me everything I want and so my eyes wander sometimes.

Continue reading “Oh oh, now I’ve gone and done it”