GM Tip: How to create suspense in resolving actions

Short Version of the Tip

When a player takes an action that requires a roll:

  1. Ask the player to describe exactly how they are doing it
  2. Complete their description right up to the moment that decides success or failure
  3. Ask the player to roll
  4. Narrate the resolution (or have the player do it)

It may sound simple, but it’s not actually how most GMs resolve actions. Continue reading “GM Tip: How to create suspense in resolving actions”

Thoughts on OpenAI Figuring Out Dota 2

In 1996, Deep Blue played competitive Chess against world champion Garry Kasparov. In 2011, Watson beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy. In 2016, AlphaGo played and beat Lee Sedol in Go. And in 2018, OpenAI Five played 2 games against professional Data 2 players, and the humans survived 2 very fun games. But in another year, I think that OpenAI Five will handily beat the best human Dota 2 teams.

(Disclaimer: I am neither a Dota 2 nor a Machine Learning expert, and I didn’t do much research for this blog post before diving into writing) Continue reading “Thoughts on OpenAI Figuring Out Dota 2”

Try out “College Contagion”, my one-page RPG!

After my last stint writing and publishing a tabletop adventure, I was inspired to take a shot at writing a rule system. With a few playtests and a PDF from an online Word template, I now also call myself a game designer by sharing “College Contagion.”

Continue reading “Try out “College Contagion”, my one-page RPG!”

Watching Tape

I spend a lot of time preparing for my Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) games. Not only do I plan the adventures themselves, but I also watch, read, and listen to advice about being a better Dungeon Master (DM). And for fun, I watch streams of other D&D games, which is also preparation because I am studying what the DM is doing in their game. Some DMs are amazing, and some are only okay. I can tell by watching them, and that made me wonder: which one am I? Continue reading “Watching Tape”

My Favorite Things (with Evidence)

People love to share their favorite things. They write gift guides. They sing songs about them. They form committees to publish lists. They will bore you endlessly at parties. However, most of that is just talk. To really know what someone’s favorite things are, they need to put their money where their mouth is: what things did they actually spend money on? Continue reading “My Favorite Things (with Evidence)”

“Spies Like You” is published!

I’m excited to announce that I have achieved #4 of my 2017 New Year’s Goals: I published a one-shot RPG adventure called “Spies Like You” earlier this month. Although it was self-published, six people (with only one self-proclaimed shill) have purchased it so far, so with a grand total of $1.94, I am officially a professional writer.

Thank you WordArt for at least one graphic.

Continue reading ““Spies Like You” is published!”

The Many Appeals of The Elder Scrolls Online

Despite having faithfully played PC games of many genres since I was 4, I never played an massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPGs or MMOs) until Julie and I picked up The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at the recommendation of a friend. I could say that my self-restraint kept me away from extremely addictive MMOs, but in truth, I didn’t play any growing up because they required monthly subscriptions paid via credit card, and I didn’t have a credit card. These days, many MMOs only have a one-time upfront cost, which is how ESO got us. Continue reading “The Many Appeals of The Elder Scrolls Online”

My Life on Shiny, Spinning Disks

When Julie and I got back from our road trip from Oregon, we still had a few chapters left on The Golden Compass audiobook. At first, I figured we could finish it inside while we were unpacking, but when we took out the CD, I immediately recognized a problem. It’s 2017, and the only CD drive that we own is in the car stereo. Continue reading “My Life on Shiny, Spinning Disks”

Running a D&D Murder Mystery

This last week, I ran my first murder mystery adventure for my weekly Dungeons & Dragons group. I have designed many adventures, written a handful of mystery stories, and critiqued many mystery book, but I had never quite combined those into writing a mystery adventure. Continue reading “Running a D&D Murder Mystery”

Surviving the Bane of Road Trips

I grew up on the family road trip. Every summer, my family would pile into the minivan and travel across the United States to national parks, amusement parks, and swimming pools at Fairfield Inns. I would pack a bagful of toys to occupy myself in the car, and over the years, those toys turned to library books, then copies of the USA Today. Some of my best reading was in the car on a random interstate because I had nothing more interesting to take my attention.

My family abided by a strong, tacit principle of keeping yourself entertained. My sisters and I spoke only to change the temperature or get a snack from the trunk filled with cereal, granola bars, and fruit taken from continental breakfasts. Altogether, it was an undemanding experience that we were all well-prepared for and very comfortable with.

Despite my extensive experience on interstate highways, road trips these days make me nervous. I mostly travel via plane since road trips only make sense for a few California destinations. However, my habit of road solemnity is apparently the anomaly. On my first Los Angeles road trip, I was shocked when a friend took shotgun with only a water bottle in hand. He wasn’t planning on sleeping: he was planning on talking for 6 hours.

I often ramble just to avoid awkward silences, and over the course of several hours, that is a lot of space to fill. I consider myself a decently interesting person, but I can only babble for 2 or 3 hours before running out of things to say. And if we’re doing the road trip to LA, that leaves us somewhere between remote and nowhere with only uncomfortable silence to keep us company.

Despite my inadequacy for the task, I too have embraced this chattering mindset. In fact, I now consider it my job as a road trip passenger to talk and keep the driver occupied. It’s only fair for all of us to share the load, and an engaged driver is a better driver.

Still, I had hoped there was a better way to road trip together, and I think I might have it. On the drive back from LA this past month, my cousin Adam introduced Julie and me to what I see as the future of non-awkward driving: Dungeons & Dragons (or just about any role-playing game). Specifically, I’m referring to the style of D&D that plays like improv theater using dice to resolve situations with chance. It is brilliant in several ways.

First, it’s not just a way to kill time: it is legitimately fun. Games like Contact and I Spy aren’t fun. If they were, people would play these games in regular life or at dinner parties, too. On the other hand, D&D is fun enough that there are conventions and businesses built around it. It is still somewhat niche, but this game has something for everyone.

Second, it is totally flexible with the number of people participating. It works for pairs. It works for 7 people stuff in a minivan. It works when someone falls asleep. It works when you’re skeptical friend realizes it is awesome and joins half-way through the game.

Second, you can play by only talking. Most board games require boards or cards to look at or share information. And if you were playing D&D as a tactical combat game, you would need a big grid map, miniatures, and a table for your players to surround. However, if you’re just focused on the storytelling, you can play the entire game in words and not worry about setting something up in a car. Also, it doesn’t require much packing or preparation. It’s nice if you can have character sheets printed ahead of time, but these days, you can find everything you need on the internet and use a dice rolling app.

 

Third, the driver can participate as well. Reading is a great way to pass the time in the backseat, but that doesn’t keep the driver entertained or engaged. Sleeping is also great but highly discouraged for drivers. Other than needing someone else to click the dice roller on their phone, drivers can participate fully.

Fourth, road trips fix the worst part of D&D: the time commitment. As much as I love D&D, it does take a very long time to play. Combat is slow as you go turn-by-turn, and even out-of-combat interactions are filled with long decisions and scene descriptions. Although it is engaging, an evening of D&D can fly by without much progress. On a road trip, however, that’s not a bug. That’s a feature.

So the next time you are packing for a road trip and dread how you’re going to get through the car ride, remember D&D. Or if that sounds too intense, check out Fiasco, an amazing storytelling game. Or try out improv theater games or group storytelling. All it takes is a little imagination.