Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm a different sort of DM

As a result of this desire to be the best DM I possibly can; I have a lot of blogs on my Google Reader, I  read a few email lists and message boards and I listen to some podcasts.  I do this so I can pick up ideas and techniques that other DM's have found successful and apply them to my game.  Lately though, this has become less productive.  I'm starting to find that my DMing philosophy is very different than a lot of other DM's.  Further, at the last two conventions I went to and in a gaming group I played two sessions and quit, I found that certain types of DMing really rub my fur the wrong way.

At first, I thought that this was me developing so much skill as a DM that it was just impossible for me to sit in a less skilled DM's game and be satisfied with the resulting experience.  This is partly true because I'm just a dick that way.  It is a character flaw I'm working on.  I am coming to realize that I don't agree with or enjoy playing in the games of DMs that hold certain DMing ideals.  Some of these ideals seem to very common based on the various DMing technique resources I read.

I've recently come to understand what it is I don't like.  I'm nearly finished reading a book by Alfie Kohn entitled "Punished by Rewards."  In this book, Mr. Kohn reports that social psychologists have determined empirically that extrinsic rewards are counter productive in work places, schools and homes.  The carrot dangling on the end of the stick still has a stick tied to it.  In his book, what comes to light is that people don't like coercion.  It doesn't really matter if you are coercing them with a reward or a punishment, it is still coercion.  Contrary to popular belief, "you'll get this if you do that" actually reduces interest in an activity and reduces the quality of the result.  This has been shown to be true across age groups, genders, social rank and cultural background.  It is as universally human a trait as it gets.

What is interesting here, and pertinent to DMing, is that my approach is to give the players options and then let them decide what to do.  I'm a collaborative DM.  I work with my players to create a good time.  So what I'm seeing is that I don't like it when a DM is coercing players to "go here, do this, get that."  I'd much rather have a DM say, "This is here, that is there and over in this other place is something else."  I want agency over my character and I want to make meaningful decisions.  There seems to be a lot of approaches to DMing that I'm reading these days that seem to say that we are to give the players the illusion of agency without giving them any real meaningful choices to make.  Humbug!  Players are not stupid.  They know when they are being railroaded.

There is a lot more to this notion of not coercing players to unpack.  I will think on it more and outline some more blog posts to make clear how it is I do this.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Total Confusion: Part 3- Get To The Point Already!

The great thing about Total Confusion is that there are so many great events going on that it is hard to decide which one to sign up for.   This year, it was pretty easy for me to decide though.  I played old school D&D all three days I was there and it was GLORIOUS my friends.  The only other game I played that wasn't D&D was first edition Space Hulk.

Friday morning started up with Tim Kask.  Tim spent a good deal of time reminiscing about the old days at TSR and miniatures gaming in the early 70's.  We didn't get as far through the adventure as I would have liked. As time was running out the party was wiped out by a demon who didn't like us taking its treasure.

Next was my one foray out of the old school room and into the mini's area.  I played an excellent game of Space Hulk.  It was a custom mission that allowed numerous players but we only had two.  I played the genestealers.  It looked like the space marines were going to pull off the win but I managed to bottle neck them all into a relatively small area.  After winning a decisive skirmish in the middle of the board, it was just mopping up from there.

Friday evening I played a nice little adventure with Frank Mentzer.  Playing the pre-gen characters from Frank's module "Needle", we made our way into an old temple that had been taken over by a mess of hobgoblins.  We cleaned the joint out and had a good time doing it.

Saturday Morning I was scheduled to run a little Swords and Wizardry game but it didn't happen due to a shortage of players.  I ended up jumping in on a play test of Jeff Talanian's Hyperborea game.  I enjoyed it quite a lot. Jeff is a good GM and a great writer.  I picked up a copy of a module he wrote at Gary Con and plan to run it sometime soon.

Saturday afternoon I played in an AD&D tournament adventure ran by Paul of Paul's blog.  The adventure was written by Ed Greenwood and set in the Forgotten Realms, before the FR was a published setting.  The adventure's goal was fairly straight forward.  Grab as much magic loot as you can, destroy the rest, get out alive. We did OK but messed around quite a lot trying to avoid what turned out to be a fairly easy to win.  It was a scored event and I won both on points and in a vote of the players.  The prize was a mint copy of Dragon  #95, wherein the module was published.  I read through it and was doing more than a few face palms about not checking out some areas better and missing some opportunities.  I ran the same adventure for my players a few weeks later and they were a bit more cautious and didn't bring out as much loot as my convention party did.

Saturday night, I ran an AD&D adventure that I wrote just for the con.  I was pleased with the way the adventure ran and had a good group of players.  A couple brought four teenagers with them.  Two other players made for a total of eight.  They managed to figure out the mystery and take on the baddy without any casualties.  My personal philosophy about running games at a convention is that they should be something that you wouldn't normally do at home.  So a few things I tried at this convention were that the characters were all trying to do a side mission in addition to working to achieve the main mission.  This created some chaos, though not as much as I thought it would and it distracted somewhat from the scenario I think.  I did remove that element from the Gary Con run of the game.

Sunday morning I played in another game with Paul.  He ran his award winning One Page Dungeon contest entry from 2010.  We had a large group of around ten for this one also.  It was a lot of fun and the game really spun out of control with several characters getting wrapped up in some protracted legal battles.  My character, a cleric and the other party cleric decided to leave town while the leaving was good.

The final game I played was another round with Frank Mentzer.  This was another good size crowd of about 12 or 13 I think.  I got the feeling though that a lot of the players weren't used to the sort of game that Frank likes to run.  That sort of game is that you have to think.  If you don't think, then your character will die.  Simple as that.  We only had one PC death in the game but several near misses.  The thing I like about playing in Frank's games is that, as a DM, I always learn something.  Frank is a real pro when it comes to running a game.  He never misses a beat and seems to be able to keep everything that is going on in the game in his head, all at once.  I'm constantly writing notes, consulting dice and sometimes a bit frazzled.  It is a joy to watch him work.  If you ever get a chance to play a game with Frank, I recommend it.


That's it for TC 25.  I had a great time and I look forward to next year. I'm thinking of an idea to run a Braunstein type game with Swords and Wizardry with a prize of some sort.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Total Confusion 25: Part 2- Total Con Organization and the Venue Were First Rate

In part one of my TC25 review I wrote a general overview of the convention and what it has to offer.  There was a lot going on at the convention that I didn't see or get to.  Check out TC's website, join the message board and email list if you want to learn more about the parts I don't mention.  It is a good convention all around for anyone who likes table top social gaming. www.totalcon.com

The event was very well organized.  The games themselves were great and the venue facility itself is very nice but I think the hotel management really missed some opportunities in the food department.

Steve Parenteau and his staff have done a fantastic job at managing this event.  Some of them have been at it for 25 years and have developed into real pros.  I had an easy time getting my events I wanted to GM submitted, signing up for games I wanted to play and getting my tickets and badge at the convention.  The staff kept things moving and never let the logistics of the con conflict with the game play.

I dungeon mastered a game, so for me, the process started back in the fall.  In order to create a schedule, catalog and allow attendees to pre-register for games; the TC staff takes event submissions in September before the con.  GM's and event organizers have about two months to submit games for consideration.  The process is fairly simple and easy to follow.  They have good documentation available on the TC web site.

There was a bit of a delay on getting the online registration going so I opted to send in my registration via mail.  The only downside there was that my registration didn't arrive before the online registration was up and running.  It wasn't there in time to get a spot in Andre Krupka's legendary Call of Cthulu games so I missed that one.  No big deal though because I was able to fill the spot with something cool anyway. On game day, I showed up, gave my name, received an envelop with event tickets, event badge and lanyard and a swag bag and was on my way to my first game in moments.  It was very streamlined and well organized.

My only big black mark for the whole event was the hotel's management of their food services. I'm particular about my food but not unreasonable.  The food available on site made me sad.  I don't eat fast food but McDonald's would have seriously been a step up in quality and service from the schlock being slung at the hotel.  Breakfast was passable.  It was a buffet with cereal, pastries, fruit, scramble eggs and various meat products masquerading as pork.  The hotel had a bit of a lunch counter set up with some overpriced deli-meat sandwiches and sodas.  Dinner time in the hotel restaurant was a disaster.  There is one real break in the gaming schedule for TC.  That is between 5 PM and 7PM.  I waited for more than an hour to get a grilled chicken sandwich that finally showed up as I was telling the bar tender that I had to go get ready for my game.  I paid my bill choked it down and ran off to my game. The sandwich was lousy. It had been sitting under the heat lamp for a while.  Never mind the fact that I had ordered a chef salad.  The bartender was sure I ordered a sandwich.  I didn't.  I'm allergic to gluten so why would I order something with bread on it?    None of that the con staff's fault and I lay that on the feet of the hotel management.

The facility was very nice. The hotel rooms were clean and well appointed.  I didn't have any problems getting my room reservation, the price was reasonable, check in and check out was no problem at all. The hotel has a heated indoor pool and hot tub with a patio space. There was plenty of space for games.  There were plenty of tables, plenty of seating and the gaming spaces were

well lit.  The convention staff made good use of the spaces available.  Several small meeting rooms were rented and the RPG's were in those spaces. The board games, children's games and miniature games were in a large convention space that hold hold three or four hundred people. There was a small theater with a screen and stage.  Some film screenings and panel discussions were held there.  The card games, registration and venders all had their own separate rooms.  There was plenty of parking and the hotel was easy to access off the highway.

Next time I'll go into more detail about the games I played in.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Convention Report: Total Confusion 25: Part 1- A General Overview.

Last year was the first time I went to Total Confusion or any convention at all for that matter.  I had a great time.  I only went for the Saturday festivities last year and decided that I would go for Friday through Sunday this year.  The number of VIP's, special events and old school games available made it very worthwhile.

TC 25 was even better than last year. Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask were both VIP guests and their new company, Eldritch Entertainment, sponsored TC. Frank and Tim asked the event organizers if there could be an Old School gaming room this year.  The event organizers accommodated the request.  Having a clearly marked Old School room was great.  The main RPG area is in a large open room with a high ceiling.  It can get very loud in there so having an enclosed conference room was good for being able to hear each other.  The crowd in the old school room was pretty good.  There were a core of players that spent most of the con in the old school room and a number of others played one or two old school games mixed in with their other games.  There were several times when three games were on going and in some cases there were at least 20 people playing in the old school room.

I don't know what the con attendance was but I'm guessing somewhere in the 400-500 range.  The board games and miniature games seem to have been the biggest draw. At the height of the con on Saturday there were at least 50 board games and 20 or 30 mini games in addition to the RPG's, all at once.  There was a wide variety of games available and quiet a few are the sort you don't get to play every day.

Someone brought a Monsterpocalypse game that was 16' long and could accommodate more than 20 players.  There was a Car Wars tournament, Battletech Tournament, Flames of War and many others.  In the board game area there was a Settler of Catan tournament, numerous rail road themed games and many classics.  The events were well run, seemed to happen on their scheduled times and had plenty of players.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chiaroscuro

"In the open spaces, mostly along the line of the old road, there were little hillside farms: sometimes with all the buildings standing, sometimes with only one or two, and sometimes with only a lone chimney or fast-filling cellar. Weeds and briers reigned, and furtive wild things rustled in the undergrowth. Upon everything was a haze of restlessness and oppression; a touch of the unreal and the grotesque, as if some vital element of perspective or chiaroscuro were awry." The Colour Out of Space H.P. Lovecraft



Photo taken on the Quabbin Reservoir reservation land. One of the farms that was dismantled when the reservoir was built in the 1930's. Lovecraft used the building of the reservoir and the removal of the towns and farms from the valley as the backdrop for the story. This is about a mile from my house.

Just Getting Started

I'm figuring out how blogger's dashboard works and in the process of getting ready for Gary Con III in two weeks.

I'll be running an adventure at Gary Con called "Clockwork Demons."  I ran it at Total Confusion in Mansfield, MA a few weeks ago.  It went well but some of my experimental elements didn't pan out as much as I liked.  I've refined the pre-gen characters and parts of the map.  I have a few more fixes to implement and it will be ready to go.