Friday, February 7, 2014

Dungeon Master M.O. - what works for me (longish so sue me)

A discussion on G+ prompted me to think about what has worked and what hasn't for my online play via Hangouts (thanks to +Claytonian JP  for the idea).  I've run lots of DCC this way, and sprinkled in some Dungeon World-y bits, with a couple of mutants and a black streak of Carcosa.


  1. Keep it to less than 5 people, DM included, if possible.  In an OSR game with lots of henchies, or a 5 person funnel, this can get pretty wild and hard to keep track of with more. If you happen to like a VTT like Roll20.net this can really bog down when everybody's moving their little icons.  In that case, you better just scrap the icon thing altogether, although it does have benefits (dice, chat stuff). I think Roll20'd be better if users could save personal macros, which (fuck if I know) they might be able to do, but I never think of it - even when I was dropping the fee every month.
  2. Keeping track.  I go right across the little name bar at the bottom.  Divide one piece of paper into columns corresponding to player.  Then...
  3. For each player, have them introduce their characters by name and occupation (for funnels), or by name and class and a blurb.  Nothing too elaborate, just enough for me to jot down in the player's column the name and class and (possibly) Luck score, just in case.  If the Wizard is evil or something, and Chaotic, then I make a note of it.  Dogs and familiars and companion animals go in the column.  Henchies don't get a Luck score, but I try to get a feel for how fast I want them to die (men-at-arms and cultists may as well paint a target on the front, unless they are particularly fun or you can and will do a funny voice)
  4. I like games in which resource management is an issue, especially torches and lanterns.  One, when the lights go out naturally or on purpose due to water or wind or darkness spells, and only the demihumans can see and the random encounter roll says the cultists are herding a group of undead your way, well, a brief pause can motivate players. Do you want to relight the torches?  Hunker down and ready for combat in the darkness?  Gygax said that no meaningful campaign can happen without time tracking - I use the Labyrinth Lord one that's out there with the little check boxes but there are more elaborate ways.  Two, I mean, that shit costs money and my dungeons are generally stingy as all hell.  Your guy is gonna work his ass off for full plate in this thing and I'm gonna soak you for gold like a Cathayan Silk Trader.
  5. I try to keep it to 1 night = 1 delve and back to town, unless multiple delves happen owing to briefness/serious casualties/need for more flasks of oil.  This usually turns into about 5 or 6 good encounters in 3 or 4 hours of play.
  6. I try to keep the game calendar and the real-world calendar aligned, and the weather in the game is for the most part what my weather looked like today.  This saves me a couple of charts and shit, and if a guy Spellburns 25 hit points, we all know when he'll be back to full strength - I ask that the players remember this stuff and be honest (I have a vague memory for this stuff and like to say O PODRICK YOUR STRENGTH IS STILL LOW SINCE YOU BURNED IT ALL ON THAT COLOR SPRAY LAST WEEK, RIGHT? MINUS THREE TO YOUR ATTACKS HURR HURR HURR)
  7. Never forget to check for wandering monsters!  Even if it's a little old school, the clatter of dice every other turn or when Frilbo and Dergolips the Elf bump into the empty cask or when PCs (i.e. players) are arguing, I mean, that's magic.  That's motivation, right there.  Unity, as one stand together.  No quibbling and/or pouting.  There are some schools of thought that say "ITS AN ART!  THE DM SHOULD PLAN ALL THE ENCOUNTERS!"  I say, and you can quote me, fuck that.  
  8. If I have a group of folks I trust and that are good roleplayers, I'm almost always inclined to go Dungeon Scout's Honor on rolls.  I used to say that St. Issek abhors a fudger, but Ygg and Justicia forgive when the fudge is for the sake of dramatic tension and epic awesomeness.  On the other hand, that fucker that pulls the Mighty Deed off every goddamn round, or regularly gets 19s and 20s on the spellcheck roll gets to use the online dice roller in Roll 20.  Nobody's dice are that good, and I trust and love the players but Death and Judgment are Omnipresent and waiting like Vultures for those that cheat their friends of drama.  This is a little paradoxical, but hey.  I have recently begun to fudge dice DOWNWARD when I'm not running things, so that this one green d20 I have doesn't irritate people (I mean, I got like 4 18s and 19s in a row the other night and it looked suspicious to me, also).  For DCC, the Clerical Disapproval and Wizard Corruption is (to my mind) nothing to be afraid of and is just as good - if not better than - straight exemplary successes.
  9. You gotta put up with a rules lawyer every so often - it is good for the Spirit and builds character. Hold on there, Squire.  We'll get back to this.
  10. Turns are turns.  You go in order from left to right, according to the icon I have at the bottom of the Hangout.  I try to be firm.  We announce the turn, I give a description (maybe longer if I have been drinking) of what's happening, mark my little hashmark on the light/spell duration thingamabob, and I try to do my best to keep shit flowing smoothly.  If a person is droning on and on and sucking up the spotlight the whole time, I try to snip it a little and keep everybody in the game.  If that one guy is not talking too much and his cleric seems sad or whatever, "Hey Goodbert the Wise, what are you doing this turn?"  Communing with Justicia, asking for guidance?  Poking/gently caressing that sarcophagus?  Day dreaming of the elven thief lass with the fiery hair and regretting your vows of celibacy?  Awesome!  +1 Luck, sir.  Now look lively.  It's the DM's gig to keep everybody in the game and participating, and to keep it moving.  If some fucker that wandered in to the game is running over everybody's good time, then you gotta be in a leadership position to quell it.  I mean, nobody likes a tyrannical overlord asshole, but it's not telephone conversation: it's for groups (with obvious exceptions)
  11. If I can roll a bunch of dice at once, I try to. For example, we discuss that 5 turns pass, requiring 3 encounter rolls, I roll 3d6 instead of one at a time.  Similarly, it's a good idea in big upbeat combats to try to do an attack and damage (and deed die) together, just to move the thing along.  When you are a player, be ready to shout out your shit and the result and pipe down unless you've been slain or something., in which case gurgle feebly for help.  Nobody likes that guy "MMMMMMMMMM.   OKKAAYYYY.  WELL, CAN I GET TO THAT ONE RATICENTIBLIN, THE ONE WITH 1HP?  IS IT IN RANGE OF MY LONGBOW FROM HERE?  OR CAN I RUN UP AND WHACK IT AND THEN RETREAT ANdronedronedronedronedronedronezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz".  I mean, your Barbarian is frothing at the lips in a swansong of hellfury, and this guy is mincing about asking about how many actions is uncorking his potion and string his bow and shooting?  I mean, come on, man (NEXT ROUND YOU ARE AT THE END OF THE INITIATIVE CHAIN).  Lately, I have weighed asking everyone to roll initiative every turn like in the old days but that's generally too much work for my players and we... You know what, I'm droning.  Sorry.
  12. I don't think DCC calls for a screen, since I put the onus on players that have the game to refer to their own charts, but I do have a rarely-used binder that has some random treasure things and I made a couple of easy-to-refer to monster charts for Barrowmaze.  DCC has lots of random charts and I think maybe the handiest one would be the Turning Undead since I can never remember that stuff. The core mechanic's pretty simple at the heart of it.  YMMV if you have some big and bogged down thing with bloaty tentacles and such - I tried to hack a 3.5 version Shaman into a L/L Druid the other day and fuck, I don't know what an Awareness Feet is.  Fuck it, like a +3 to listen for goblins or something?
  13. We've taken to using the chat bar in all the online games to post initiative rolls, names of characters and NPCs, important loot (and unimportant loot), whatever needs a temporary record to refer back to.
  14. In combat, not every miss needs an edit - that is, not all the shots need be described.  I say "A solid blow.  A ringing blow.  It's staggered."  Keep the players guessing the AC, since you know they are keeping track on the other side of the screen over there.  A particularly dramatic slaying ought to be optioned to the player "Okay Parthenus the Warrior, how do you slay this thing?"  If somebody won't do it (but why?  this is an RPG!) then it's your cool.  A droog or minion can just crumple into a puddle of blood, moaning.  But serious deaths need some gore and shrieking.
  15. I like to not tell players NO and use a simple Improv approach to things.  I try not to say what players are doing unless no one says anything, or else their declared actions don't take up the allotted passed time.  I will work with you as hard as I can to get that thing to go if it's fun, except if you are breaking the implicit or explicit rules - even then if you can give a plausible explanation, or a fun roleplayed one that fleshes out the shared narrative or your character, or the relationship with other characters, fuck it, let's see what happens.  We have dice and time and we are ADVENTURING, lets go out on a limb a little bit and bend these rules to cracking so that we can see what kinda fun comes through.
  16. What I said about rules-lawyers before, I mean, for some folks the rules-lawyers thing IS the game, and I try to be friendly and accommodating but all it takes is for you to squeeze my balls or pout or back track to an earlier scene to recover a couple of hit points or experience or copper pieces, and then (I hate to be a dick this way) I take a business-like, hard-boundary thing.  I try not to bullshit and I like to think I can back down when I am being a rat-fuck asshole, but if it comes to it next time maybe you're welcome to join but I won't tap you a couple of times before the game starts because we already have 5 players, man, and you said you might have something else going on.
  17. On the other hand, you sort of need to let more charismatic PLAYERS be good leaders, also.  It's a magical thing to watch when everybody is polite and funny and having a good time and everybody steps up and zings and riffs and I don't have to be some field marshal but rather a conductor.  I don't give a fuck how many XP you got or gold or whatever.  When the stories and jokes flow like cheap wine and we can all give each other a knowing wink down the road, that's why I run games.  Also, I'm a power-hungry ego maniac, but I mean, that's a given a priori thing we all agree.
  18. I don't like FLAILSNAILSing, as a matter of preference.  One reality at a time ought to be pretty exciting for your average low-magic grungy dungeon murderhobo.  I think it's poor form for a guy to have a pack of comrades scrabbling for iron rations and go off to Dimension X and come back 30 XP on with a Vorpal Hammer and Plate Armor of Goldbricking.  Causes bad feelings.  In me.  When I see all my hordes of monsters laid low I just get bitchy.  I had a pretty good discussion some months back when some guys schooled me and set me straight and called me out on my narrow-mindedness about it.  For this I thank them, and the odd guy with nothing to do that comes wandering in, as long as you're existentially compatible and not Mann Rider when we are malnourished dungeon raiders (actually happened once), I mean, hey.  Cling to your long-developed narrative if you like.  Ahem.  God Bless Mann Rider, BTW.  I am trying to stay true to my "try a new random character every play session thing" - it's working out lately.  I think people ought to try it.  Anyways, more on that some other time.
  19. Lastly, stinginess with treasure and magic makes for a richer experience, in my humble opinion.  A glut of gains easily gotten becomes under-appreciated and the next thing you know, you've written some droning awful high-minded treatise...  I mean, if you're gonna give a magic-item, make it one the PCs are loathe to use except in the most dire of circumstances (they always sell this shit when they get back to town rather than try to seduce the bound murderous water nymph, but hey, it woulda been fucking awesome to watch in play).  This is a Gygaxian truism but it's not going to hold for all games. That's it, I'm out.  


Also, tonight I found a bunch of cool Gamma World shit at:


Which I think can easily become part of the ASE/Carcosa/DCC/Star Frontiers/Mutant Future thing that is dribbling around in my ears.  I've sucked up so much OSR stuff that now I am stuck in some pastiche of 1981,which is okay I guess but I really need to check FIASCO and Monsterhearts off the old list.


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