(As always, don’t forget to put your questions for next week’s Dear DM below! And if your question doesn’t get answered, try again! It’s free!)
@Glenn: Dear DM, Wow. How come you [Lena] don’t sub for Kevin more often?
I have been trying to get Lena to post a blog here literally for years. Apparently the trick is to be injured on the job and get her to feel bad for you. Next Friday I’m planning on running over my feet with a cement mixer. I’ll let you know how it goes.
@Alan: Dear DM, What is Chorka?
Dude, do I really still need to answer this? He’s a giant teddy bear.
When describing a new area/room/person, what kind of details do you include to set the scene?
One of my favorite SF writers was Roger Zelazny. He believed that 3 things was all you needed to know about a character, and the writing and the reader’s imagination would take care of the rest. I like to carry this one step further and say that two physical and one emotional thing is all you need to know. For instance, “A tall man with a pinched face and expensive clothes rushes into the bar and motions to the bartender, who worriedly makes his way over.” sounds better than, “A man enters. He is tall, has dark hair and expensive clothes, a wilted flower in his lapel, no weapons that you can see, and is probably from the north. He looks nervous or maybe mad. When he walks in, he waves at the bartender, who goes over to him.”
Now the second example contains more information, but it reads like a laundry list and most Dungeons & Dragons players won’t remember half of it. The first example keys more into the way humans visually process information about each other, which is all about threat assessment. Is he bigger than me, what’s his emotional state, what’s he doing… and then we start to notice details, which your players will ask you about. Also, if there is one obvious physical thing that makes a statement about what the character is… for example a noble might wear expensive clothes… that is a good one to throw in there too.
@Tim: Dear DM, How much time and effort to you put into making maps or npc stats for your games? I’ve gone the route of drawing up a detailed map of the town the players would be spending the majority of their time in, as well as the surrounding countryside and a detailed list of all major people living in the town and their backgrounds. But then I’ve also just winged it and made it all up as I went along. Which do you prefer, and how much time on average is good to spend setting up the, well, the setting for your players?
There are as many different approaches to this as there are games of Dungeons & Dragons in the world, but since you asked how I like to do it, I’ll stick to that.
The answer is as little as possible. I have a great big map of Lesser Earth where the characters play and live, and a map of Laketown where they’ve all been exactly once, but that’s about it topographically speaking. What I have done is taken pictures of all the town sites and dungeons I’ve created with the dungeon tiles, so I can put anything back together that they’ve already been to, but that rarely seems to happen. I had hopes that one of my players would want to map out their town… but the truth is it isn’t that necessary. It’s a tiny place and you can run from one end of it to the other in about a minute and a half. I have a rough idea which landmarks are where, and that seems good enough. The players also appear to have a good idea of what their town looks like to them, and that’s all that really matters to me.
When I’m making dungeons I start with a general idea, and then go to town with my dungeon tiles, looking for stuff that looks fun and interesting. Afterwards I stock the dungeon, and revise monsters with WotC’s Monster Builder program — which is a godsend. I love being able to play with the monster’s levels, so I can use basically any creature at any point in my party’s career.
As far as NPCs go, I don’t think I’ve ever statted any of them out unless I knew there was going to be combat with that guy. Typically I don’t stat anyone out at all, instead I just keep a vague idea of how much bother any person in particular would be the party. If they surprise me and attack someone who really ought to have stats then I just make it up on the spot, deciding then what their powers/abilities would look like and how much damage they would do. I don’t like combats that go on too long, and I enjoy it when the players dispatch something more easily than they expected… or when a bad guy does something mundane and clever that confounds everyone… so I try to keep those things in mind. I do use Monster Builder here sometimes as well.
I do get a little bit more into backgrounds, because I want my NPCs to have very clear motivations for me. I want to be able to know immediately how an NPC is going to react to whatever weird thing the PCs throw at him or bring up, and have it be natural and meaningful.
@Giffein: Dear DM, I run a D&D group of 6 players. One of them is really hot. She is married to one of the other players but they argue and I think I can break them up. How can I break them up and make her want to be with me?
I hear this D&D question more than any other. Fortunately the answer is as simple as it is quick. Run an encounter against something that people are really scared of, like rattlesnakes, or great big scorpions, or gorillas, or clowns with ratty green hair and whiskey breath who try to grab you with their giant clown fingers and drag you to the middle of the parade even though you’re screaming and all the people watching are laughing at you and you hope god comes down right that instant and kills them all with a plague of honey and carnivorous fire ants but he doesn’t because god isn’t real and everything anyone ever said to you was lies, horrible, horrible lies…
Um… we’ll just go with gorillas.
So you run an encounter with these really scary and strong gorillas and just as you get to the final roll where your hottie’s husband (we’ll call him Todd) is probably going to die, you give the secret hand signal to your mom, who is hiding in the closet with a real gorilla, which leaps out of the closet and into the middle of the table. Now your real gorilla (which is actually a super-intelligent ape, highly trained in ninjitsu and a master at acupressure) roars at Todd and punches him directly in the abdominus defecatus complex, causing him to crap his pants. Next the gorilla picks up the hottie, holding her over his head in triumph while scanning your parent’s dining room for a tall building to climb.
At this point you leap forward with your replica of Aragorn’s sword Anduril and in one swift motion, chop off the gorilla’s head. Finally you stride forward, covered in the hot blood of your “enemy”, grab your hottie, and dramatically setting one foot on the headless corpse, plant a wet and sloppy kiss on the girl of your dreams. Once you’ve shown how rugged, brave, and romantic you are, she won’t be able to run away fast enough from her big chicken, pants crappin’, ex-husband Todd.
P.S. You’ll probably have to cut off your Mom’s head too, just to tie up any loose ends.
@Mist: Dear DM, if DM’s (especially webcomic author DM’s) suddenly “get a life” (meant in a nice way – read huge paying job/win lottery/grilfriend starts spiking drinks with aphrodesiacs & cialis) and find that they stop being able to run game/post updates should they be expected to come clean about the plotline/ending of the current adventure?
As a fellow player and a human being I would absolutely have to say yes. Little is more frustrating to a player and discouraging of future play than to put potentially years into a character and a game and then have it suddenly and unsatisfactorily snuff out without ever even seeing the end. Think of Battlestar Galactica being cancelled at the next to final episode. Would you want to play that game?
As a DM however I say what the hell gives those ingrates any right to one more minute of my time? Here I am, working late, working weekends, neglecting my real friends and family to make a fun world for them to ignore and ridicule and now they want even more from me? Oh here, here’s a nice little tie-up for your campaign for you to take home and throw in the trash without even reading! You know what, you guys can suck my balls if you think you’re getting anything else out of me! What’s the matter with you assholes anyway?
So… um… anyway, I’d say yes. Let ’em know.