Apparatus of Kwalish

Every player can recall a moment when they latched onto something in a book, never to let it go. In fact, each player probably has several. Something about a class or a race or a spell tickled their brain and wedged itself in memory, and it became their mission to find a way to use it in game. Often it’s art that sticks out first, but art alone can’t do it. It’s a combination of how the object of their affection looks, how it runs, how it feels, and how they can apply it to a hypothetical character or campaign. It’s everything coming together in a mild obsession, such that a player can point at it and say “This? This thing right here? This is my jam.”

From anecdotal evidence and a bit of research, I think the apparatus of Kwalish is one of those obsessions for a lot of people. Introduced to D&D in 1979, it’s survived several edition and regime changes, continually popping up in Core sources like the Dungeon Master’s Guide. And why not? It’s an iron barrel filled with levers that transforms into a moving, drivable, crab-shaped submersible. It’s the closest thing D&D has to a mech or a submarine and there’s nothing else in the game like it. It enables weird exploration, it has stealth capabilities because it can transform back into an ordinary barrel, and it can even fight. What’s not to love?

I mean, besides the fact that it’s objectively terrible. Continue reading

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Session Hangover

In my last post I mentioned what I do the day after I run a session. That’s not exclusive to this campaign. Most of the time I use the next day to think about what worked, what didn’t, and where to go from there. Our sessions tend to run in the evenings, so it’s not practical to work on the campaign immediately afterward. Even when we game in the afternoon, I like having a chance to sleep on it before I do anything else.

But I also know I can’t wait a week, only touching the campaign again right before the next session. I’ve known DMs who do this, and that’s great, but it’s not how I work. If I wait that long, I find I’m not actually thinking about the campaign in the intervening week, which means I’m coming into my preparation with a bad memory of the previous session and no fully-formed ideas about where to go next. I have to start on the next session in that sweet spot, when the last session is still fresh in my mind but not so fresh there’s no room for anything else.

I call this the session hangover, in that it happens the morning after the session and has many of the same symptoms (headache, depression, anxiety, sweating, that sort of thing). Continue reading

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Ask the DM

Small blog update: I’ve added an “Ask the DM” link to the menu at the top of the page. If you have any questions or requests for future blog posts, hit me up.

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Faith: Planning through Time

I know I’ve been talking a lot about Faith lately, and that’s unusual for this blog. I rarely give updates on my current campaigns because I expect readers will find them boring. A session-by-session recap is more for the creative types who can turn them into a proper narrative, while my style of gaming really lends itself more to the live presentation. When I do talk about my campaigns it’s usually in the context of gaming advice in general. But from my conversations with other players and DMs, I got the impression that there was some appetite for information about this campaign, not least because of its premise. Time travel is a messy, complicated mechanic, and giving it to several creative, free-willed players intensifies its most dangerous aspects. People wanted to know how it would work, either for their own campaigns or out of morbid curiosity, and I thought it would be a fun idea to write about how I manage time travel in a tabletop campaign.

So it’s with some embarrassment that I admit after a dozen sessions I’m still not sure what I’m doing myself, but I contend that this is a good thing.

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Player Secrets

One of the running themes in my posts is that good games have players who communicate with each other. To quote a previous post:

I think the best advice I’ve ever gotten for gaming is the best advice I’ve ever gotten in general: communicate…Communication is the principle behind cooperative design, session zero, this blog itself, and the very concept of cooperative tabletop play. If players and DMs don’t talk to each other, you don’t have a game at all.

A lot of my advice is about the ways DMs and players communicate and how, how often, when, and why it occurs. But there’s a key assumption here, that players want to communicate with each other. What if, for whatever reason, they very pointedly don’t?

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