The Many Tones of Shade

I’ll admit the name of the last post inspired this one, but its a valid topic besides.

I have been fortunate in my DMing career in that I’ve rarely had to deal with players who cannot stand each other. It’s much more likely that I don’t like a particular player, but I’m a lot more tolerant of my own suffering than others’, and such a player can stick around in my campaign for a while. On the other hand, if two players can’t coexist, one or both of them don’t last longer than a couple of sessions in our circle.

Having two characters who can’t stand each other is something completely different. Intra-party strife is a time-tested source of drama, entertainment, and character development. It encourages the group to look at problems from different perspectives and consider options they might ignore if the party was all of like mind. It helps define the group as a collection of individuals who work together rather than a group who think in concert. It’s a good tool all around…as long as it’s done maturely, it doesn’t detract from the table experience, and there’s no actual malice behind it. Continue reading

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The Many Shades of Tone

I’ve begun a new campaign, because I am very dumb. While Faith is closing out its first season I’ve also put together Under the Stars, a campaign I loosely described to the players as Breath of the Wild meets Ni No Kuni 2, video games I’d been interacting a lot with lately. A new campaign means a new Session Zero, which means another opportunity to break out the old campaign survey, my favorite method for getting everybody on the same page in terms of campaign feel. While there’s some wiggle room in each survey question, for the most part it’s pretty straightforward. Players know the difference between a G-rated campaign and an PG-rated campaign, or the difference between leaning slightly urban and leaning slightly rural. I don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what the results mean.

“Tone/Mood”, however, isn’t always as clear, and it’s a hard concept to fit into a simple 1-to-7 scale. Even the descriptions in the survey are kind of all over the place; they say a light campaign has clearly-defined good and evil while a dark campaign has moral ambiguity, but they also say a dark campaign has more elements of horror. Those aren’t equivalent. Really they’re two separate concepts that can go hand-in-hand but just as often don’t. The descriptions are more examples of what could be “light” and “dark”, not exhaustive lists. Finding a proper definition for tone is harder than that, and it’s worth doing. Continue reading

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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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