Initiative or What? – Archives – Oct/2008

October 31, 2008 by deadorcs

Refreshed and Retooled

Since I’m a user of a PC, I’m familiar with the most popular technique invented by Microsoft — rebooting.

A long time ago, I wrote about how this blog was originally conceived. It was supposed to be about my life, and whatever weird thing came into my head. While that worked, it really didn’t give me the focus I was seeking. I finally found a focus.

My first love has always been role-playing games, particularly Dungeons and Dragons. Having played the game for over 25 years, I figure I might finally have earned the right to share my wisdom regarding the game. That wisdom is meager, but maybe I can help encourage someone else who’s either currently playing (or thinking about playing) the game. Barring that, I’ll simply share my joys and frustrations at playing the game I’ve come to love.

While the title of this blog will seem pretty obvious to a gamer, you might be interested in a previous post which will tell you how this blog originally got its name. Some of the information is no longer applicable (hence the “rebooting”); but it fills in the gaps. A quick review of the archive will inform you that I couldn’t bring myself to delete all the old posts. Instead, I relabeled them and shuffled them off to a corner to collect digital dust. Feel free to read them if you like, but the main purpose of this blog (going forward) is to comment on RPG’s, Dungeons and Dragons, and topics so related.

My current gaming activity involves a little local group we like to call, “The Dead Orcs Society”. We’ve been gaming as a coherent group since 2000. Recently (after a nearly year long hiatus), we kick-started the group with a new 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign. You can find the group’s wiki linked at the right (it’s the “Gaia’s Calling” link) or HERE. We’ve only had one planning session and one gaming session (we only meet once a month), but everyone’s engaged in the game; and I think we’re having a pretty good time. From time to time, I’ll blog about them; but I’ll try not to make a habit of it (okay, that’s probably a lie, we’ll see what happens).

One thing you will see on the site quite a bit, is tips for improving your gaming experience. I really enjoy being a DM, and have tried to make the experience for my players an enjoyable one. I frequently use props and different scenarios in order to liven things up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it sucks. Live and learn, right? (this is where the wisdom part comes in, I think).

I hope to be posting pretty frequently (at least three times a week). I’ve made such blogging promises before. Anyone that’s regularly read my old blog will probably laugh and say, “Yeah, right.” Well, I’ll give it a try anyway. At least this time, I know what I’ll be writing about from day to day.

Well, that’s the introduction to the new blog format. I hope you enjoy. By the way, if you happen to be reading this and you are already an RPG blogger; I’d love the link love. I’ve no fancy banner yet; but if you like what you see, I’d appreciate the link. Thanks, much!

Until Later… Game Excellently With One Another – Originally published – 10/27/2008

Printers — Not Just for Paper Anymore

Since the advent of inexpensive desktop publishing, gamers have been utilizing both inkjet and laser printers to provide relatively inexpensive and easy-to-acquire materials for their games. While good ‘ol 20lb white copy paper is fine for printing out your favorite rules supplement; there are a number of other interesting media that the average gamer can use to improve the quality of their materials. Listed below are three of my favorites.

First up, a favorite of many gamers – cardstock. Cardstock dungeon design has made great strides over the last decade. Using highly detailed and colorful .pdf files, cardstock can be printed and folded into a variety of shapes and designs. Personally, I go another route for my dungeon design (cardstock dungeons use a LOT of printer ink); so instead, I use cardstock for player accessories such as power cards and magic items. You can even laminate cardstock effectively to give a permanency to the handouts and accessories you provide for your players. Use the 110lb cardstock for dungeons and stand-ups. It’s pretty sturdy. Use 65lb cardstock for cards and handouts. It’s lighter weight and will laminate better. Either way, cardstock is fairly inexpensive. I found a pack of 250 sheets of 110lb cardstock for just $10.99 at Staples®. That works out to around $.04 a sheet. I usually buy the cheapest I can find. The Wausau® stuff (which is good quality), will cost you a bit more per sheet, but comes in a richer variety of colors and sometimes even textures.

Next up, dry erase sheets. Under the link is a an example of what this stuff looks like (and a place where they happen to sell it). In my own home town (Topeka, Kansas); I have only been able to find this material at the educational supply store; so your best bet may be online if you don’t have such a store in your area. Essentially, this stuff is the same material you’d find on a dry erase board. This material, however, can be run through your printer so that any design can be printed on it. I used it as the base for my initiative tracker (in the future I’ll tell you all about my home-fashioned initiative tracker). I applied it to an oversized flat cookie sheet (stainless steel, not aluminum) so that I’d have a space to keep track of monster hit points and conditions. Of course, the beauty of dry erase material is that you can write on it with colorful dry erase markers and then simply wipe it clean with a dry cloth or eraser. I’m also thinking about using it for mapping. You can get a lot of 1” grids on an 8 ½” x 11” sheet. Print a grid on a group of these sheets, apply it to a large board, and you have a reusable mapping surface. Not sure about prices everywhere, but the site noted above sells 25 sheets for a little less than 20 bucks. That comes out to about $.80 a sheet. Not a bad price, actually, for exotic home-printable material.

Finally, printable magnetic sheets. Behind the link, is an example of a place that sells this material in a variety of forms. Kids, this stuff is the coolest thing your printer will ever eat. Basically, one side is a printable surface, and the other side is a magnet. Everyone’s seen those magnetic business cards, right? Well, it’s basically the same stuff in a full 8 ½” x 11” sheet. It’s a little thinner, but not much. I use the stuff for my initiative board. The graphics, pointers, and icons I use for my initiative board are all magnetic so they can be moved around. The magnetic sheets print clean and cut easily with scissors. I’d also imagine that it’s ideal for a vertical mapping board. Print tokens and icons directly to the magnetic sheet, cut them out, and throw them up on the board. One caution though. The stuff is pretty expensive. Depending on where you find it (it’s sold in most office supply stores) and what quantity you buy; it can run anywhere from $1.50 to over $3.00 a sheet. However, this material does seem to be one of those things that costs less, the larger quantity you buy. I recommend using it sparingly and on those things you’ll be reusing and/or keeping for a long time.

Of course, none of these innovative raw materials is any good without access to a good printer. Ink and toner are expensive. Plan your print jobs carefully, and get as many graphics per sheet as you possible can (particularly when you’re printing icons and other smaller graphics). That way you’ll save as much ink as possible.

Until later…game excellently with one another. – Originally published – 10/29/2008

Meeting the Game

E’s post over at Geek’s Dream Girl got me thinking. E posted an excellent article where she draws parallels between running an RPG (in this case, DM’ing a game of Dungeons and Dragons®) with being a teacher. It was a interesting analogy I hadn’t considered looking at before.

In a brief response to that post, I mentioned that I have always considered DM’ing like running a board meeting. I thought I’d elaborate on what I meant by that, here at my own blog.

My real-life career is that of a cube monkey in a corporate office (the details are unnecessary and probably boring). Needless to say, in a corporate environment, we have LOTS of meetings. In the nearly 15 years I’ve worked in such an environment, I’ve seen meetings both productive and unproductive; and too many downright useless wastes of time meetings as well. The trick to a good meeting, like the trick to good DM’ing, is proper planning and excellent facilitation. Recently, we’ve had a push here at the office to cut down on unnecessary meetings, and to improve the quality of meetings we do have. To that end, we received a helpful six step process. After the list, I’ll explain how this relates to gaming, I promise. Bear with me now…here’s the list:

  • Decide: Is the meeting necessary?
  • Decide: What do you want to the meeting to accomplish?
  • Decide: Who should attend and what are the topics?
  • Plan: Items to include in the meeting invitation (i.e. objective, topics, speakers, etc.).
  • Execute: Follow the Behavior Cube (I’ll explain this a bit further on).
  • Follow Up: Send meeting minutes and next steps within 48 hours.

For DM’ing a game, some of these steps can be simplified, since the purpose of the meeting is pretty much set (i.e. having fun playing a game). If I was to follow the above process, I would break it down like this:

  • Decide: Who’s going to DM? What game are we going to play? (In our own game group, this is pretty much set for several months of play at a time).
  • Plan: This one is pretty much the purview of the DM. Familiarize yourself withthe adventure and prepare any props you need ahead of time. For the player, it’s about remembering your character sheet (actually an issue, sometimes), your dice, and something to write with.
  • Execute: Follow the Behavior Cube (wait for it…it’s coming).
  • Follow Up: Record experience gained and post important player data on the wiki site.

It’s all pretty straight forward. However, the real meat of DM’ing a game comes from the mysterious, “Behavior Cube”. Let me explain.

When our office decided to improve everyone’s “meeting experience”, they placed foam cubes in the conference rooms with specific meeting behaviors printed on them. I know, I know. If you like, please take a moment and make up whatever “Dilbert” joke you’d like to insert here. Better? Okay, while I was tempted to abscond with several of them, paint pips on them, and use them as “ultra dice”; I didn’t. Turns out, these “meeting behaviors” actually apply to DM’ing a successful game. Here are the behaviors listed on the sides of the cube (and how I applied them to my own games):

1. Start on Time: (This one is always a challenge for my group. I’m a much less grumpy DM when we actually manage to pull this one off).

2. Assign Meeting Roles and Responsibilities: (These are pretty much set. I DM, the others are the players. Occasionally, the players will assign one of their number to record treasures or in some enlightened cases, actually record their gaming experiences).

3. State Objective(s): (Usually this is unspoken, actually. As a DM, I usually have an internal objective of “accomplish x number of encounters this session”. I’m sure my players’ objectives would be something along the lines of, “man, I hope this doesn’t blow and we have fun.”).

4. Stay on Topic: (This one is often a challenge for my group. Gentle reminders to keep the table talk to a minimum are a must. This is especially true if I’m trying to get my role-play on or reading dreadfully important narrative).

5. No Disruptions: (This one is often related to #4 above, but can also include cell-phone calls, inquisitive children, inquisitive pets, and non-gaming spouses. I’ve found the best way to mitigate disruptions is to make sure everyone has the same expectations of how they want the game to go down).

6. Actively Participate: (This one is probably the most difficult one to manage, actually, as everyone’s playing style is a bit different. As a DM, I try not to leave anyone out when it comes to role-playing opportunities, although the occasional wallflower does occasionally grow. During combat, if someone is dragging their feet, I usually set out a 30 second hourglass timer to prod them along. If the player can’t decide his or her actions in that time period, the character does nothing but stand and defend during that turn.)

Well, there it is. Of course, the main test as to whether a corporate meeting is successful, is whether or not the meeting accomplished it’s objectives. If your game is successful, then everyone will have had fun and will want to come back again.

Whether you DM like a teacher, or DM like you’re facilitating a corporate meeting, your ability to lead will determine the success of the game. Now go out there and get your game on!

Game excellently with one another.  R. M. Walker – Originally published – 10/31/2008

R.M. Walker



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