Friday, April 13, 2012

Thinking Out Loud

I think one of the best ways a DM can learn how to become better is to actually play the game as a player with some frequency. It helps to open up the lines of empathy to the player's situation as well as gives the DM a bit of a vacation... it is so much more relaxing to only have to be concerned about a single character rather than the whole milieu! One of the things I have learned as a player that I believe helps the game to move along is to think out loud. Let me try to explain.

The game revolves around the DM and the players sharing an imaginary landscape between them, wherein all the action takes place. The majority of the burden of description is with the DM, but the players are also responsible for a great deal of setting creation of their own. The key point is the fact that the world only exists in everybody's imagination and the only way a functional game can happen is if everybody is on the same page as to what is happening and what possibly could happen. Even a slight breakdown in that consensus reality can cause than whole game to grind to a screeching halt.

I've been a player in a game where the DM set up a complex trick room that required a lot of thought and experimentation. It was fun for a while until hours started to pass with no success on the horizon. (The situation was such that the characters retreating was not an option.) Things ended up breaking down into player hopelessness and DM frustration. Later, when everybody talked about what had happened and the DM explained the simplicity of the trigger, the players were convinced that they had already done that very thing trying to work out the trick room and had become dejected when nothing else would work either. The consensus reality between the DM and the players had broken down and left everybody feeling shitty about it. And it was on a very minor detail.

I am convinced that such a situation may have been avoided if the players had engaged in the simple activity of thinking out loud. If, from time to time, they reassessed the different ways they had attempted to trigger the trick room... out loud so that the DM could hear their line of reasoning... then the DM could decide if the players were on the same page as to what has actually happened in the situation, and amend the details if necessary. ("Oh wait... you guys think you dropped a gold coin into the left slot? I thought you said right slot... ") It is a simple way to occasionally reaffirm the consensus reality between the DM and the players.

I find myself doing this a lot when I am a player, because I have a tendency to hatch some pretty crazy plans in my head, plans that may not actually have a basis in the reality the DM is weaving. So, thinking out loud is also a way for the players to "test the waters" of some outlandish ideas. It gives the DM an opportunity to see into the heads of the players to a small degree and, if necessary, gives him a little advance warning about some wild-ass caper the players are hatching. If this gives the DM enough heads up to keep the game from getting derailed by a surprise course of action that he didn't plan on, then so much the better!

(Now, if you are playing in a game that you don't want the DM to know what you are planning to do, because you are worried that the DM will make sure your plan doesn't work if he gets advanced warning, then I am sorry for you.)

Friday, April 6, 2012


Ubue by Erol Otus
Illustration by Erol Otus

I have been running the orange-cover version of B3–The Palace of the Silver Princess in my current campaign, digging on the funky vibe of the whole dungeon, but also changing about 85% of the content to suit my needs. Most of the new monsters in the module are completely shitty, not even worth trying to fix (for those I just replace them with something else that inspires me more), but the ubue are in a class by themselves. It really comes down to the original illustration by Erol Otus... man, that is weird and wonderful! If it wasn't for that gnarly picture I would've kicked the ubue to the curb like the rest, but that picture demands that I use them in my dungeon. 

Well, I actually don't go for the whole "cave-man" style of the ubue as written in the module. I have shifted the flavor of B3's setting into something more like a lost unseelie castle, so the ubue have morphed into these strange beings that have evolved out of wild and evil magic from Faerie. I made them psionic and they like to scour old ruins in search of magical items and lore. They like to wear long, arm-less robes of fine bronze plates (kind of Klimt-esque) and dislike brutish combat, preferring mind powers. They still look ugly and weird, though, and have a bizarre blended sexuality.

Here are my preliminary stats for these guys as I work them out. (Yeah, I found some stats for them in Necromancer Games Tome of Horrors, but it was essentially the same "cave-man" creature from the original module, so that didn't work for me.)

large aberration (psionic)
hit dice: 3d8+12 (24)
initiative: -1
speed: 40 ft
armor class: 15 (-1 size, -1 dex, +3 thick skin, +3 bronze robe)
base attack/grapple: +2
attack: Slam +5 melee (1d6+4)
full attack: Slam +5 melee (1d6+4) and 2 slams +3 melee (1d6+4)
space/reach: 10 ft/10 ft
special attacks: Psi-like abilities, multi-attack
special qualities: Darkvision 60 ft, spell resistance 10, naturally psionic, power resistance +13
saves: Fort 7, Ref 2, Will 5
abilities: Str 19, Dex 8, Con 18, Int 14, Wis 9 , Cha 22
feats: Multiattack, Alertness
environment: Fey-touched ruins
organization: Solitary, pair, or clan (3–9)
challenge rating: 4 [?]
treasure: Standard
alignment: Usually chaotic neutral
advancement: By character class (Wilder)
level adjustment: base creature +2

psi-like abilities: 3/day—defensive precognition, empty mind, mind thrust; 1/day—force screen.  

[For now I just gave them the Phrenic template from the Psionics Handbook, thinking I will flesh out their mind powers more later. I am lazy and move in fits and starts.]