Friday, May 28, 2010

And suddenly, there were players. No Yellow Sign required.

Oh ho ho.

So. Last week I picked up used copies of the Player's and Dungeon Master's guides (3.0, because flipping through 4 just confused me and they didn't have the player's in 3.5). Then we headed over to some friends' house, and I carried the books in with me because I knew they'd get a kick out of them.

Turns out they'd be willing to play.

Oh, but I'm not done. A former coworker of my wife's, who stays in touch, is getting married. During a dinner for her, Kitty brought up what I'm doing here.

Turns out she used to play DnD all the time. Even has a pair of fuzzy d20s on her mirror.

Roleplayers. There are more of us than you think. Chances are one's looking at you right now.


Now I'm faced with the possibility of an honest-to-god group of gamers again. At the very least, my wife and two friends will try it, and maybe we'll get to play with her ex-coworker and her new husband. Regardless, not what I expected. Now I'm turning my attention to DnD more, trying to relearn the rules when I'm one edition and 8 years behind.

For the crowd I know well, at least, I want to strike a good balance between storytelling and pure sandbox-like game play. Really, it's not a balance - it should lean toward the later, but with gobs of color added.

This is the mistake I've made in the past - coming up with a (in my mind) great story and then trying to make the players act it out. That's doomed to failure, and is much less fun.

This doesn't mean I can't include stories. My plan is to include a whole bunch of stories piled on top of one another and let the players uncover, investigate, drop or shrug off as they see fit.

 "You know, I don't really give a damn about the weird old story the innkeeper told. Let's look into that camp of goblins the sherrif's offering gold to drive off."

"Fuck, an owlbear!"

"I'm glad we outran the owlbear. Oh, hey, a cave."

"Man, those skeletons put up a hard fight. What's this map? Kinda looks like a castle. Didn't the innkeeper talk about a castle?"

"Okay, here's where the goblins should... hey, the goblins and the owlbear are fighting!"

Okay, so it'll be smarter stuff than "Fuck, an owlbear." But still, you catch my drift. It's the kind of thing you can't pull of in a game like Call of Cthulhu:

"Eh, I'm not really interested in investigating the spooky old house."

"Um... you have to."


"Because that's the adventure."

Now, a good GM could improvise. Ideally, improvise something horrific that makes them wish they had long ago fled to the realities safety of that goddamn house. Something like a lead role in the King in Yellow. But it's harder to do that sort of thing in CoC, or other mood-and-story-first games.*

My literal game plan, then, is to establish a setting, bigger than a town but smaller than a realm, and drop lines of plot across it like cobwebs. If they decide to leave, fine - I'll put them through some random encounters on the road to the next end, then come up with a new location for next time. I can even transplant webs they didn't hit on in the last place.

But I know my players. And I think I know how to hook them.

*Now's when I find out if I have any gaming readers yet, because SOMEONE will call me out on that statement if I do.


  1. Ah, you probably should have given D&D 4e a try. It's very different from all previous editions but in some ways closer to the spirit of the earliest editions. And, from all I hear, it's way, WAY easier to DM than 3e.

    That said, D&D 3e is a good game, and you'll totally do fine with it.

    So what's with all the King in Yellow stuff? Not to say you can't work those tropes into D&D, mind you. I once ran a really Dunwich Horror-influenced D&D 3e game, in fact.

  2. 4.0 confused me only because I learned as a kid playing AD&D and then, when it came out, 2.0. It's been years since then, but enough of that stuck with me that 3.0 felt more familiar (and even then I was flipping through the index wondering where the hell THAC0 was).

    Honestly? To save money, I would have bought 2.0 but the books were so fucking ugly I couldn't stand having them in my home. What is the guy on the cover of the PG doing? Blowing the door down by posing for gay musclehead porn?

    The King in Yellow: Sorry, this is why I need an editor. I tend to write a post (or article when I was an honest-to-god newspaper columnist), include some aside like "I'd punish players by making them deal with the King in Yellow," and then realize the post needs an image and a title. So I pick something from the post that has a good image. Hence, cover of a 1885 copy of the KoY.

    Then I forget that had very little to do with the meat of the post, and mention it in the title.