I enjoy attending gaming conventions, I always return home brimming with ideas and thoughts about new games, new game mechanics and new ways to adapt familiar rules systems. This year’s Dreamation, a wonderful little gaming convention in Morristown, NJ, was no different. I had the opportunity to play some excellent games, and I even ran sessions of Numenera, and Monster of the Week(which are available at Twenty Sided, and I highly recommend them!). I also had a unique opportunity to run a freeform Live Action Roleplaying Game (LARP) by Emily Care Boss called In the Arms of the Pack.
Running a LARP was a big deal for me, because it was my first! For those unfamiliar with the genre, in a freeform LARP the Game Master (DM) usually has absolutely no preset plan. This is in contrast to traditional models of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), where the assumption is that the DM creates a detailed world and meticulously crafted adventure for players to react and respond to.
So, I walked into the convention room, set up the scenario, and let the players go hog-wild. Occasionally I would nudge the action, whisper suggestions to heighten drama, and frame new scenes. As DM, I had little say in the narrative flow, and the story was driven entirely by the players.
When I got back to the table I decided to test out this technique of freeform LARP with Monster of the Week. I sketched out the barest hint of a setting, painted in a main villain, and slathered on some Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in broad strokes. Details were added when and where the players needed them, often in conversation. One player needed a fancy Faculty House because they made a character who’s a visiting scholar... BAM, done. Another needed a side-mission that their cult assigned to them... What do you know, the nearby museum has some mystical coins that are ripe for…err…acquiring…
You may argue that this only works in rules-lite games, or games in non-convention settings. However, even in games like Numenera - which one might argue is all about players discovering truths about the weird world whose secrets only the DM knows - there is room to modify your game depending on what the players want. In fact, I would argue that this is the most important part of the DM’s job!
For example, when I ran a game of Numenera at the Dreamation Convention, I created an adventure about exploring a village that was built vertically upon a massive Stone Head emerging from the cliff side. I had NPCs, encounters, and locations all planned out. I planned for there to be two big fights, they would occur in a certain order, blah blah... but of course the players wanted to do all kinds of things I had not planned for. They loved the NPC kids I introduced and spent a considerable amount of time wanting to play make-believe with them, instead of exploring an underwater ruin and where I was staging the main fight. In fact, what the players found particularly fun was describing precisely how each of their characters plunged, dove, fell into, or otherwise entered the water that contained aforementioned ruin!
The water-entering descriptions were actually pretty compelling and humorous! It was an absolute blast and the players clearly LOVED interacting with the weird world of Numenera. I made a point to observe what they enjoyed about the game and made adjustments on the fly. For them, trading jibes with the mutant mayor trumped trading blows with dimension-hopping aliens. I cut the first fight short, and changed the location of the main fight into a weird puzzle room because that’s the direction the players took the narrative.
Whatever system you are running, be it super rules-lite or insanely crunchy, it is important to go with the flow. Let yourself be driven by the currents the players create, even if you’ve detailed a course for them, even if it means killing your darlings. It’ll be more fun for them, and probably more fun for you too! Remember the Game Master is a player at the table as well and all roleplaying games are collaborative storytelling experiences at heart.
Session 1 - 3/1/17
My longtime readers will know that I never miss an opportunity to road trip. So you can bet that when Starr Wrestling Alliance gets on the Countdown to Showdown, I'll be following them like a VW Bus following the Grateful Dead, only with more steel chairs and less "noodling."
This week, Monday Night Mayhem stopped in Orlando, FL, home of Disney, Sea World, and this week, one of the biggest bombshells to hit the wrestling world in years. Rumors had started to swirl that SWA CEO Benjamin Starr would be making an announcement about this year's Ultimate Showdown in Brooklyn. But no-one could've expected that the Boss would strip Nate "The Money" Moore of the SWA title after almost two years of holding the belt. Apparently, Mr. Starr is as fed up with Moore's dirty tricks and flim-flam as we are and decided to do something about it. So as of Monday, SWA has no champion. A new champion will be crowned in Brooklyn at the Ultimate Showdown, and we'll find out who will fight for the title soon.
Monday night also saw action between the cyborg D-Bug and the mysterious Nocturne. Before the match, Nocturne gave a rare and cryptic address to the SWA crowd, railing against the corruption in the company, and promising a reckoning. Could he have known that The Money would be stripped of his title? Can we add clairvoyance to his list of abilities? I don't know. But if he can see the future, he couldn't see the brass knuckles D-Bug used to finish him off and win the match.
The other match of note was between Diane Lowry and Jimmy Steel, a match of red, white, and blues. Diane, with the crowd behind her, mounted a solid offense against the All American Boy and looked to be close to taking the match. But unfortunately for the French Phenom, the match was interrupted by the monstrous Dietrik the Dominator. She still picked up the win, but the word from backstage was that Diane left the building in the back of an ambulance. It would seem that Steel made a deal with Dietrik and the House of Pain. Something tells me he may not like it when Dr. Moreau and his monsters come to collect.
That's it for me from sunny Florida. See you in Raleigh, NC for the next Monday Night Mayhem and the return of Stalwarth Jackson as the Countdown to Showdown continues!
As Dungeon Master Appreciation Month 2017 comes to a close, we turn our attention to roleplaying games that do not require a Dungeon Master (DM) to play.
Dungeon Masters spend so much time prepping our games to spin stories and introduce us to memorable places and characters each week that we forget that they are players at the table too.
DMs love to create so much that they take on a lot of work and often forget to take a break. Every now and again, even the DM deserves the relatively carefree life of a player! Give your DM an opportunity to refresh their creative juices by returning some of those enjoyable offerings at the table.
Don't worry! I am not asking you to take on Dungeon Master responsibilities in order to give this gift to your DM. There are so many great RPGs out there that don't require a DM. Such games benefit from collaboration and improvisation from each player equally because they don't require an all knowing Dungeon Master to lead the game.
My TOP 5 List!
In reverse order, the top five DM-less RPGs recommended to give your favorite Dungeon Master a day off!
5 - Misspent Youth
Set in a dystopian future, in Misspent Youth you play as teenagers who rebel against the Authority. There are so many ways a group can go with this setup! Generate the dystopian future you would most like to play in by collaborating with your fellow players on who the Authority consists of, how they oppress society, and what their goals are. Create kick-ass heroes who struggle against the Authority and then play out scenes as the rebellious youngsters try to take down the system. A very cathartic proposition!
4 - Atomic Robo
Based on the popular, quirky, and hilarious graphic novels, Atomic Robo is all about ACTION SCIENCE! Play as an immortal robot or an action scientist from any era or dimension you can think. Engage in pulp action adventure as you battle aliens, cyborgs, intelligent noble gasses, travel through time, ride dinosaurs, and any other wild idea your group can think up. Create your heroes, decide who the antagonists are and in which era, then play out gonzo scenes of science fiction fantasy!
3 - Monsterhearts
Think Monster High. Yup, you in Monsterhearts play as a teenage monster confronted with their burgeoning sexuality, desire for their peers, and the (in)compatibilities of monstrous anatomies. Players put their characters' hearts & souls through the ringer as they explore what it truly means to be monstrous. Yes, this game would be best for more mature audiences who want to explore the whirlwind of feelings, discovery, and heartbreak that adolescents experience in high school. But with fangs.
2 - Kingdom
The Kingdom can be anywhere, any time, and made up of any society you can imagine. Want to play as a group of settlers in the mythic American West? How about astroid miners in a far off solar system? Undead creatures who've haunted a theme park? Kingdom concerns itself with the challenges a society faces as it exists, how those challenges are overcome, and what repercussions those decisions have on the kingdom itself. Players take on different abstract societal roles such as Perspective & Power that are expressed through their character's actions and reactions. A night of gaming could span centuries in a kingdom as time goes by or just one day as the kingdom falls into ruin or anarchy.
1 - Fiasco
If you haven't heard of Fiasco, think of a Cohen Brothers film: odd characters in quirky settings, farcical, mysteries and betrayals, as well as a good dose of murder and mayhem. In terms of flexibility, simplicity, and approachability you really can't find a better DM-less game out there.
Whereas the rest of the list asks players to come up with their own playgrounds, Fiasco provides Playsets in whatever genre you're interested in. Whereas the rest of the list often leaves the onus for scene resolution on the narrative timing of the players, Fiasco forces resolutions through it's rules so the players don't have to do all "narrative heavy lifting". Fiasco even has an elegant conclusion mechanic where every player rolls on a chart to figure out how the story ends for their character.
Until Next Year!
As DM Appreciation Month comes to a close, make sure to thank your DM for all they do to make your games great. They would no doubt love a bit of thoughtfulness in return. Thank you, Dungeon Masters!
To honor and highlight that very important player at the table, who week after week organizes your games and leads you on epic adventures, February has been pronounced Dungeon Master Appreciation Month by Wizards of the Coast since 2009, 8 years now!
Shelly Mazzanoble first celebrated the yearly appreciation of Dungeon Masters in an article published in Wired Magazine.
Since the mid-nineteen nineties, I have enjoyed being a Dungeon Master (DM). Running games like Dungeons & Dragons has become a big part of my life.
My first DM-ing experience was a far cry from the best - I didn't know all the rules, I had problem players - but I didn't give up! After many years playing, I picked up tips and gained experience until DM-ing became the highlight of my day.
If you're looking to appreciate your DM this month, check out these five mystical items that helped me along the way... and let's celebrate all those new DMs out there!
1. Published Adventures
I wrote my first adventure, and while I'm glad I was creative, a published adventure module written by an experienced world builder would have really been more helpful. Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars RPG, and 13th Age have published adventures by some amazing writers.
2. Dungeon Master's Screen
Keep it secret, Keep it safe! A Dungeon Master's screen can hide a DMs tricks and surprises, as well as keep information, reminders, and rules handy. Almost every game system has a published DM screen, or you can customize your own with the World's Greatest DM Screen.
3. Dice Rollers
Being able to roll one's dice in a leather cup with a secure top and then dump them out on the table has a fun feel to it. Bounce the dice off the wall of a tray, or drop down a dice tower - combining dice rollers with the fate of the player's character makes using dice that much more enjoyable.
4. Battlemat & Minis
Being able to draw abstract maps or build a landscape with Dwarven Forge dungeon tiles adds so much dimension to the gaming table. Adding minis to represent the Player's Characters and the Monsters helps to gain perspective in a situation that might have a lot of obstacles. I definitely wish I started my Dungeon Master career with at least a battlemat and set of pens.
5. Food & Snacks
Bringing your Dungeon Master their favorite snacks will keep them happy and energized throughout your game. Food could be the difference between succeeding in that negotiation with the Goblin King or a TPK (Total Party Kill). Your DM probably spent all day prepping for your game and forgot to eat - Help them out!
Suffering from Holiday hangover? Need a vacation from an exhausting vacation? Take it easy with brand new board games and RPGs. And if you've got some extra holiday scratch from Grandma burning a hole in your pocket, what better way to use it than on some brand new games? Check out our newest releases and snag them up before the deathly chill of February sets in.
While everyone loves the big-name roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Numenera, and Pathfinder, some of the best, most innovative gaming is coming from the indie realms. And we've got three great, new indie RPGs worth paying attention to. Check out Downfall, a storytelling game about the brilliant collapse of society, Lazer Kittens a game where kittens grow up and learn to use their lazer powers, and The Sprawl a gritty, mission-based action RPG about cyberpunks. Want to build RPG locations on the fly? Then check out the Dungeon Morph Dice Sets, where a roll of a handful of map-image-imprinted dice will have your adventurers heading into a new town in no time.
Art of Atari
This beautiful centerpiece book will look great on any gamer coffee table. Featuring the lush, bold box art from the history of Atari video game covers, Art of Atari is perfect for anyone who remembers the good old, shag-carpet, wood-panel days.
Mad Libs: The Game
What do you get when you combine the classic "fill in the blank" paper game Mad Libs with the board game company responsible for the wildly popular Fluxx series? Mad Libs: The Game! We can't think of a better pairing than these two, and we think you'll love this zany, hilarious board game.
Citadels is the classic card game that sees players taking on different roles each round to represent characters hired to help them gain money and build new and powerful buildings. We're excited to announce that we just got in a new printing of the game which includes the Dark City expansion, nine new characters, and twelve new districts. Want to stick to the classic? We've also got the new and retooled Citadels Classic, which comes in small travel size box, and is the original game (without expansions) What are you waiting for? Get building!
Hit Z Road
Hit Z Road is a brand new board game that combines the allure of a 1950s cross country road trip with the terror of a zombie apocalypse. Fun! Part horror storytelling game, part survival game, and all nifty fun.
From King Post, the makers of Moby Dick, or, The Card Game comes a brand new literary adaptation Beowulf: A Board Game. Successfully funded by Kickstarter, this tabletop board game for 3-6 players challenges you to build your kingdom, attack your foes, and survive and thrive in the world of Beowulf.
Evolution: Climate challenges players to adapt in a continually shifting ecosystem. Food is hard to come by, predators prowl every corner, and the climate can swing from scorching hot to icy. For 2 - 6 players, this game will appeal to casual and hardcore biology enthusiasts, as they perfectly capture the evolutionary history of early life on earth.
Back in Stock
Everything is Dolphins RPG
Everything is Dolphins is an RPG and art book by Tim Hutchings. This incredible, off-kilter, amazingly inventive game is hard to describe, but when the game's creators call it an "RPG hovering somewhere between side scroller video game, talking animal fairy tale, and triptastic fun," we find we're inclined to agree.
Ca$h 'n Guns
Ca$h 'N Guns plays out like the gory end to a gangster movie. Players are all crooks splitting up the loot after a big heist, and the goal is to be the one with the most money at the end of eight rounds. Oh... and, also to still be alive at the end of eight rounds... that's important (and harder than it sounds) too.
Junta is a game for 4 - 7 players, and sees players playing various families in the "Republica de los Bananas." One person plays as the El Presidente, and assigns roles to the other players, who all squabble and fight for power. Can you survive the machinations of your friends in the Banana Republic?