630 – Prep Work • 13

Dear DM,

@ Chronische: Dear DM, have you ever played or run a Ravenloft campaign? If so, can you give me some advice on setting the tone?

Dear Chronische,

Think Bela Lugosi vampire movies. Black and white, where the bad guy never runs, just inexorably stalks…

Technically, here are some things to think about. You want your characters scared and off-balance. Think about sounds that come from unseen sources. Heavy stones sliding against one another. Foot treads on the floor above. A sudden CRUNCH! from the room they just left. All without an easy explanation.

Split the party up, either with multiple objectives of supreme immediacy, or some kind of trap. Being alone means having no friends to depend on. Unnerving in a hostile environment where red glowing eyes are staring at you through the slits in the walls.

Give someone a powerful weapon… a +5 sword of kicking necro ass. It’s awesome, and does huge extra damage to everything they fight, until they meet the vampire, when it just… winks out… You can do a similar thing by just having a dispelling effect in an area that allows powers but negates magical items and their bonuses. Good for vampires, less so for characters. But mostly it knocks people off their game and makes them scared, which is of course the idea.

@Layne: Dear DM, does playing “Mr. Telephone Repairman” involve low volatage wires applied to areas that shouldn’t be that close to electricity? If so, my wife likes that game but I think it hurts. Oh, and those alligator clips she uses to connect the wires don’t feel too good, either. And I’m pretty sure that’s not where the phone plugs in, either. In fact, I’m not sure if I like this game at all. And you said Lena invented it? Can you tell her to quit talking to my wife?

Dear Layne,

Mr. Telephone Repairman is not for sissies!

@Alan: Dear DM, I have been thinking of using visuals in games. Not being as good an artist as you, any ideas where I can source images to have pictures of various characters, people, places, or monsters etc?

Dear Alan,

Any image you find pretty much anywhere (except money) is fair game for your personal use as long as you make no more than one copy and do not use it in such a way as to harm (financially or personally) the source. Google Images is your friend. There are a gazillion images out there of all manner of fantasy things. Towns, buildings, people, monsters, what have you. Sharpen up your Google-Fu and the internets is your oyster.

@Terran: Dear DM, if your players just aren’t “getting” and following clues that have been left for them (as opposed to simply ignoring them) how do you determine whether you left poor clues, or if your players are just doofus’? If the problem is poor clues, how do you go about rectifying that?

Also: Could you tell us all a bit about the history of the DM family, like their early days and how they eventually came to the U.S. ? I’d also be interested to learn if “Dear” is a traditional name in your family and if so, who the first “Dear DM” was.

Dear Terran,

Bad news, dude. If your players aren’t getting your clues, it’s always your fault, no matter HOW stupid they are. You have the ability to play to their level, they may not be able to return the favor. In a case where someone completely blows past a clue, give them something else some<i>where</i> else that either leads them back to it or gives them similar information. One really easy way to do this is to listen to whatever irrelevant idea they have come up with and let them run with that. For instance: The Police Constable is actually the trigger man for the hidden Cult of Baal in the city sewers. The party all ignored the sewer smell coming off the constable and decided to take the train to Cork instead because someone had heard that cultists all like knockwurst, and the best knockwurst comes from Cork. Fine. They go and discover nothing about cultists dietary habits, but they DO run into Charlene, the constable’s sister. She asks how her brother has been, worried over him because of “those new friends of his. They seemed a nasty sort. Robes and chanting and smelled like a sewer they did!” If they still don’t get it, Charlene could give them a “care package” of twenty pounds of knockwurst for her brother. “It’s his favorite.”

DMs fell from the sky to save your planet some forty-odd years ago. In that time they have averted numerous catastrophic occurrences such as the nuking of Wales, the sinking of Africa, and the spread of Cyborg Commando. “Dear” is just a name, like any other in the DM world. There is also Roger DM, Stan DM, Goddamn DM, and Motherfucking DM just to name a few.

@Jesse: Dear DM, did you ever watch the old D&D cartoon as a kid and think it was just the awesomest cartoon ever? Have you re-watched it as an experienced D&D-playing adult and thought it was the lamest show ever? What happened? How do you think it could be re-made to re-capture the awesome factor for adult fans of the old show?

Dear Jesse,

Unfortunately I was already old enough when that cartoon came out that I never really thought it was any good. I’m pretty sure I could recreate all the awesome for me by dropping a hammer on my toe.

@Anonymous Coward: Dear DM, what household chores and loot have you successfully scammed by being a DM?

Dear Anonymous Coward,

Dear DM only uses his powers for good beer.

@Christina: Dear DM, please enlighten us as to the special feats and superpowers the DM class has granted you.

Dear Christina,

In a nutshell, I control the entire universe aside from six kind of myopic idiots who run around in MY world like it was their own plaything. It’s not so bad though. In a pinch, rocks always fall and everybody dies. That’s reassuring.


Dear DM, what’s a good way of recruiting friends of specific skill sets (for example, programming) so that you can scam them into helping you with your own personal projects? A variable particularly noteworthy is when you currently lack any friends with such a skill. Kidnapping is not a viable option, for a variety of reasons including but not limited to differences in the American / Canadian legal systems, a general malaise known as a ‘conscience’ and the unlikelihood of specific skills being found in the victims of human trafficking. (Also: I just discovered that this is my favourite time of year. Why? Because I can buy solid blocks of white chocolate (unfortunately, rabbit shaped) for CHEAP. What is your favorite time of the year?)

Dear TSED,

An oldie but a goodie, they best ways to increase your personal cache of skills are either to buy people with the skill sets you require, or marry them. Since buying people is <i>illegal</i> and you will always be ratted out by those meddlesome kids and their loopy dog, marrying is the way to go.

My favorite time of year is my birthday. This year it’s Dragoncon!

23 Responses to 630 – Prep Work • 13

  1. “An oldie but a goodie, they best ways to increase your personal cache of skills are either to buy people with the skill sets you require, or marry them.”

    Yep, did that. I married an electrical engineer who also does computer troubleshooting. And roleplaying, of course. 🙂

  2. Dear DM,

    if a bunch of cocky, evil player characters decide to go on a killing spree in town, what can you recommend as the most amusing (or amusingly cruel) tool in your cabinet of DM tricks for some “attitude adjustment” while still allowing them to continue breathing? Having the elite city guard beat them up like the punks they are might get old quickly. (Unless some stay in jail is part of the scenario, of course.)

  3. Last monday, when I asked that, a few people offered tips for attracting programmers.

    Well, I have to ask (and waited til today when it was semi-relevant). Do you programmers want to try to recreate one of those rather-low-tech RPGs of Ye Aulde 1990s greatness? I’ll give / share money, AND I BET THE AI PROGRAMMING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

    YEAH. Total longshot, but why not?

    In other news:
    Dear DM,

    What is your favourite kind of cereal? Why?

    • In an attempt to gather interest of the programmers maybe:

      It’s a classless strategic combat setting, turn-based and tile-based. Typical RPG fair with the start-small-end-up-saving-the-world, but non-linear. So non-linear, in fact, that maybe even the starting location for the party is chosen at the beginning of the game instead of just always the same place every time.

      One neat thing I hope to do is make it first-person (like old Might & Magic 3, 4, 5. Crusaders of the Dark Savant or Bane of the Cosmic Forge), only the different members of your party don’t all share the same tile, and there’s three dimensions (for flight or climbing or elevation in general).

      The classless system revolves around selecting three skill trees – weapon types, specific defense styles, various schools of magic, and even other more specific kinds (Honour, Music, Gadgetry, etc.). I currently have over 35 of these skill sets planned out (though admittedly most are not finished), and by my 2:30 am math skills that says over 39,000 combinations (admittedly a bunch are not available to players: ‘ghost’ skill tree for example) before you even look at races (which admittedly play a much lesser role). I already have basically the entire combat system figured out, I just need to finish the skills.

      I’m not going to make a big game design document here, but the game’s appeal comes from two fronts: hurray giant ol’ story line, and hurray for complicated turn based combat. The AI would definitely need to be at the very least competent in order to make the game fun, though. I mean, half the fun of combat would be working out brutal synergies and the other half executing them on monsters working actively against being slaughtered.

      • So THAT is what it is for.

        Sounds like a cool idea. Maybe you could have a blog set up for the project with a jobs list of what you need to do. If you keep it up to date, it is likely that programmer type people are likely to come on by and offer their criticism advice, in which case you can show them the jobs list, and ask for their help. You might get quite a few people who don’t actually help at all, but there will be a couple who will want to offer input.

        Shamus young did a city building program, and garnered a lot of praise and support. I think that there were a few people who took the code and helped out with him – without Shamus really asking for it:


        Perhaps you could do something similar?


        • Programmers like to be a part of a project that has an ending goal with starting objectives that are clear and realistic. Once you start it and bring life to it they will come. Starting small and ending big will attract more involvement than wanting to expect to end Huge. I know a few people that like to mod games from anything from Crisis to Dwarf Fortress, and they are always part of multiple projects, but they rage about not having a clear outline of objectives or “air-ware” as they sometimes joke. A lot of time goes into programming and having a realistic end result is very important to building a programming team.

        • You know, I think I will. I have to go to school right now but I’ll make it once I get home from work; probably stick it on livejournal. ):

          Can’t hurt to get it out there, you know?

  4. Regarding the answer to my question: Use Google – a bit of a cop-out?

    So, a question that may be one of the most important ones answered yet:

    Dear DM,

    I feel that the great unwashed aren’t paying us roleplayers enough respect.

    How can we take over the world and institute brainwashing programs to ensure compliance in roleplaying related activity.

    Yours concerned,


  5. Dear DM,

    Where can I find an infinite supply of money so that I can spend all of my time roleplaying and still have all of my needs (and wants) fulfilled. I used to say that my back-up retirement plan was to commit some crime that had a long stay in minimum security prison (free room and board!!) and didn’t curtail my internet rights (gotta keep up with my webcomics), but now that role-playing is banned in prison, that plan is starting to fall apart. I need to come up with another plan because it doesn’t look like my 401k will be bouncing back any time soon.

  6. Dear DM,

    I have a D&D group I participate in… but we don’t meet very often, and when we do, it’s common for half our people to be too busy so they can’t make it.

    Given that I’m neither the DM, (I’m still too new to D&D to take that on) nor the owner of the house we meet at, (and my place has no parking so we can’t meet here) what is the protocol to get the group together more often?

  7. Dear DM,

    My city has a disturbing lack of stores that stock polyhedral dice. How can I remedy this?

    What are some good online sources of dice, and can I get any that won’t cost me an insane amount in shipping to send to Alberta, Canada?

    • Yeah, Alberta sucks, innit?

      Which city specifically? You may be better off picking some up on your next out-of-town trip, and making due with computer / internet dice rollers until then. (WotC has a nice one on their site.)

      • I’m in Calgary, and the rest of my group has plenty of dice they brought with them from Winnipeg that I use. But I’d like to get my own.

        • What?

          There are tons of gaming stores in Calgary. Look harder.

          *No seriously, TONS. TONS. ALL CAPS WORTHY amounts!

          • Yes, tons and tons of trading card game stores, and warhammer stores… but they don’t have polyhedral dice because they don’t stock any D&D books or any of the similar games. At least none of the ones I’ve looked into have.