21-30 of 37 Questions
Further continuation of a quiz, lifted from Tumblr, about D&D, in the style of LJ
(A post-industrial ruinous landscape, one of a long series of generated landscapes for eventual game purposes. Maybe.)
21. Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re getting ready to run a game?
Oh, everywhere. Books, TV, things I see in day to day life, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, old illustrations, poetry, music, cats, and conversations. It’s cutting the inspiration down to reasonable levels that gives me hassle, to be honest, but I have to, otherwise I end up with incomprehensible kitchen-sink settings with no real shape of their own. When I’m trying to communicate a mood for a setting, though, Pinterest boards and Spotify playlists, and now Midjourney, are my go-tos. I have no real idea if any of the players look at the boards or listen to the playlists, mind - that’s up to them to do or not do. The media have done their job in my head by then.
22. Do you prefer running homebrew, independent modules, or source material? Do you mix and match?
Homebrew. People running modules, be they independent or otherwise, always look a bit stressed to me, and trying to run a game in an established setting just makes me twitch. I will happily steal elements from settings and modules - the modular bits like monsters and magic items and so on - but by and large I write all my own stuff. When I was a the very beginning of writing game stuff down, I used to try to make it like the printed modules I’d seen - boxed text, instructions to an unknown GM, and so on. My notes are a lot more pared down now.
There’s also the fact that I rarely set down plot events for more than three sessions in advance. Sometimes the notes last a bit longer, sometimes they don’t, but I’m rarely if ever aiming for a set-piece that’s more than four sessions out; my assumption is that enough unexpected things will happen between now and then that such planning is pointless.
23. Are you a stickler for the rules that are set or is there just about anything you’re willing to introduce a mechanic for?
I have a few fairly minor house rules for D&D, and otherwise I run it rules-as-written, because that seems fairer to everyone. The house rules are: “drinking a potion is a bonus action”, “scrolls just work as long as they’re on a spell list you have access to” and “when you roll initiative, you can choose any number that is lower than you rolled”. These apply to NPCs as well as PCs.
To be honest, I’ve encountered more players that were mad keen on the rules than GMs. I had one player, years ago, literally rules-lawyer her own character to death.
24. How long does preparing for a session usually take you? Do you chronically under or overprepare?
Technically, I over-prepare, but not by a long shot. Nearly everything I write down in my notes gets used at some stage. Sometimes the notes I intend for one session work for the next three, but that’s usually in situations where there’s a long travel sequence in one environment, or where the player group is staying in one specific place with one specific set of NPCs for a stretch. Sometimes things take a left turn and I have to make stuff up on the spot. By and large, I do maybe one hour of prep per hour of game, with extra world-building stuff done in bursts whenever there’s a new area necessary. At this stage, I can probably run out a new campaign world in an afternoon, although I’d prefer not to.
25. What do you do when you feel stuck preparing for a session (ex. not sure where to take the party’s reaction to a hook and nothing’s coming to you)? How do you work through it?
I haven’t been stuck prepping for a session in a long time. Even in the periods where I’ve been burnt out, actually prepping a session remains easy. It’s running the game that becomes onerous.
26. What do you do when you feel stuck making a decision in game (ex. not sure what an npc’s or environment’s reaction to the party’s decision would be)? How do you manage it and get the flow of the game back?
Again, it’s been a long time. Very occasionally, a player will do something so unexpected that I am speechless for a few seconds, but it’s never problematic working out what will happen next. It’s what’s happening in the rest of the world where the players aren’t poking it that gives me hassle - which is also an issue when I come to write narrative prose. I’ve been running games for so long that when there aren’t players to do things, nothing happens.
27. Have you ever had a big dm goof (forgetting to give information, giving too much at the wrong time, etc.)? How did it turn out?
Plenty! But most I just roll with them, and retcon my own thinking (not what happened at the table) to adjust around them. I’ve never given away a major plot secret, that I remember, and I’ve never missed giving out information I should have. Sometimes I haven’t made information clear enough, or realised that the relevant player was zoned out when I was giving it out, but mostly stuff just flows.
28. What do you have to have in front of you to feel confident going into a session?
My notes, my campaign binder, some dice - even when I’m playing online or with a VTT, they’re just there - something to fiddle with to keep my hands occupied, and something to drink.
29. How do you treat critical success and failure? Have you ever had a game-breaking nat 20 (or nat 1) to honor? What happened?
Critical successes succeed. I don’t do critical failures. I find it far more likely that someone who is reasonably skilled will turn out a masterpiece or a stellar performance 5% of the time than that they will crash and burn 5% of the time. I’m not sure what a game-breaking natural 20 might be; if I haven’t accounted for the possibility that a player character succeeds on any given check, I… have failed to prepare properly, and that really doesn’t happen much.
I’m much more likely to arrive at a game-breaking situation via spells I didn’t know existed, or even more so, mid-to-high-level subclass abilities I didn’t know existed. Those can be an absolute bugger. But even then I don’t think they’ll break anything massively anymore.
There was a 2nd Edition spell called time pool, which was a mistake to let a programmer near, because that combined with a binary chop process meant every mystery could be solved by half a dozen castings of that one spell. Looking at you, Anna.
30. Have you ever had or been close to a tpk, or otherwise stressful party situation? How did you handle it? Were there any shenanigans to save the day?
I don’t think so. I mean, I know what will happen in each campaign if there’s a TPK, but unless I throw something truly unbalanced at the party and they have terrible rolls and I have fantastic rolls, it’s not going to happen by means of mechanics. If they all walk into a dragon’s mouth or something, that is of course another issue.
The last seven questions will occur in a future issue. Once more, it might be the next. It might not. We’ll see.