I probably won’t write any longer posts in the foreseeable future, due to, well… life.
I have a major headache finishing an assignment that’s due January 5th, and to complicate matters further, my wife could give birth to my firstborn any time now.
Because of this, I will focus my effort mostly on getting the assignment done. I have no idea how much time I will have to finish it when the kid comes.
I will probably post something here anyway, but mostly because I need breaks from the brain hemorrhage that is my assignment. They will probably revolve around orcs, since I have some plans to re-launch the orc as a player race for DW, with Racial Moves and all that.
First, I want to wish everyone a merry Christmas, although a day late. I’m truly sorry, but life interfered yesterday. I’m sure everyone knows why.
Because of this, I wish to give you all a present! Yes, that’s right. I’ve cooked up something special for you lot, something to “warm” your hearts.
The Fimbul, heralds of Winter
No one knows where they came from, but they struck with the fury of a thousand hard winters. Wherever they went, only ice and corpses remained, towns and steadings leveled to make room for the frozen tundra that spreads in their wake.
The Fimbul, as they were called, were rightly feared. They snuffed out all flames, ending all warmth, slew every living creature. No one could feel safe. The few survivors told stories of snow in summer, falling mere hours before they struck.
What are these creatures, and what is their true purpose? Only true heroes can answer this question.
|Icy Claws (d6-2 Damage)||3 HP||0 Armor|
|Special Qualities: Immune to cold|
|No larger than a common house cat, these small, white, furry critters pose no real danger by themselves. When they gather in large hordes however, they become unstoppable. Brandishing long sharp claws that are more akin to icicles, they claw out the eyes of their prey and slash their veins, spilling their warm blood on the frozen ground. Instinct: To end all warmth.|
|The Coldhearted||Group, Intelligent|
|Frostblade (d8 Damage)||10 HP||Armor|
|Special Qualities: Immune to cold|
|Many of the Fimbuls’ victims are changed by the unnatural cold that follows them. They rise again after death, and from this moment on, nothing of that person remains, their souls replaced by an eternal hatred towards the living. Instinct: To butcher the living.|
|Frostmaw||Solitary, Large, Messy|
(d10+1 Damage, +1 Piercing)
|16 HP||3 Armor|
|Special Qualities: Immune to cold|
|Where the frostlings are small, these monsters are big and terrifying. They are covered in a thick shell of transparent ice, revealing a pale blue flame that burns where it heart should be. Strong enough to tear a man in half, this beast is a threat to everything in its path. Instinct: To spread the cold.|
I found a goodie yesterday. It was a summary of actual play. The GM came empty handed and just asked questions until she had something to go with, and it sounded like they had a blast. Coming empty handed requires some guts, especially if you, like me, don’t feel entirely confident in your own abilities.
After Christmas, I have decided to give it a go though. I’m going to start up a new campaign, and I’m going to improvise the hell out of whatever the players throw at me.
I found it in “The Dungeon World Tavern”, a DW forum on Google+. You can find it here.
I was answering a question about Story Deadlocks on a Q&A site. You can see the question here.
I suggested converting the game to a front, if he met a deadlock. During my answer I made a very short guide, ending with an example. It was intended to be non-system-specific, which influences it a little.
You can read the final draft of my example below, and if executed right, this adventure can get very “Siege Troll Friendly”. Read the Impending Doom if you are confused. Enjoy!
Beyond the Dark Portal
Danger: Hordes: Barbarians (Impulse: to plunder and pillage)
Impending Doom: The city of Whateverthenameburg is crushed by the barbarian onslaught!
- Several smaller villages has been sacked, survivors flees to Whateverthenameburg.
- Werewolves prowl the countryside, slaughtering people and cattle alike!
- The city of Whateverthenameburg declares Martial Law after riots among refugees.
- What lies on the other side of the Dark Portal?
- What is Chieftain Gobzug’s motive to destroy Whateverthenameburg?
- How are the werewolves connected to the horde?
- Chieftain Gobzug, of the Bear Clan.
- Suntog, the Shaman.
- One-Eye Longfang, werewolf pack alpha.
If you’re anything like me, you love the the idea of massive, orcish armies, trampling down village after village until they finally reach Whateverthenameburg, the citadel the heroes must defend at all cost. It’s epic, it’s awesome and the players love handing it to an army of orcs.
I GM’ed a game for D&D 4th edition, where a city was about to be butchered by such an army, and to make sure it wouldn’t just be a million encounters versus various compositions of orcs from the Monster Manual, I decided to let the orcs have some heavy duty artillery; a Siege Troll.
Trolls regenerate, right? They can only be killed by fire and acid, right? Perfect! I designed the troll with this in mind; bred for sieges, huge as an elephant and twice as deadly. And since it couldn’t easily be killed, it was flung over the city walls by catapult to cause mayhem and destruction.
It went on a killing spree inside the walls, stopping only to crush houses and other kinds of architectural nonsense. Of course, the heroes did not find this especially beneficial to their cause, so they went down to kill it. They barely succeeded and everyone looked at each other with that “holy crap” expression players get, when at least two character at a time has single digit HP scores during more than half the encounter. It was glorious.
The best part about this encounter was describing how the orcs pulled the big loaf in chains, with a over-sized bucket on its head, and placing it in the catapult. When I made the “pull lever”-motion, one of my players looked at me with a noticeable expression of surprise, silently whispering those sweet words; “holy crap”.
The monster was fairly complex, because, well, it was D&D. I decided to convert it to Dungeon World, because it is the best boss encounter I ever played, and I often looked back on it, thinking that this was one thing that worked.
Without further ado, behold the terrible Siege Troll!
This troll species was bred a long time ago by a wizard who was as mad as he was ambitious. Bred for size, strength and resilience, but certainly not intelligence and beauty, the Siege Troll was given it’s name due to a peculiar tactic in siege warfare, where they were flung inside the walls by catapult so that they may break down the gates of a fortress from the inside.
When their creator died, they were taken in by the various orc warchiefs, who were able to hold them in line. Now they cause wanton destruction wherever they are let loose. Where defeating a troll is an admirable feat, killing a Siege Troll is the stuff of legends. Instinct: To destroy.
- Unleash chaos and destruction
- Throw something or someone
- Fly into a frenzy
- Eat townsfolk alive
Have you ever tried joining a group, and after a few sessions you just had enough? A group where the game got boring, stupid or was just incredibly disappointing? Sometimes you know what went wrong, other times you don’t. I’ve been there a few times.
I post this because I read the latest entry of GM Struggles today, a blog written by Nifelhein, and it was a good read that actually shared some great insights. More specifically, I refer to his article Trying a New Game: A Matter of Trust. I will not give a resume on his article, though I would recommend reading it.
Why do I mention this article? Because Nifelhein touched briefly upon something I find tremendously important as a GM; expectations. I believe unmet expectations to be the single most important reason why some games just fail.
What do you mean ‘expectations’?
That’s a solid question. Nifelhein wrote:
Hell saying to almost anyone who plays tabletop that I want to GM a D&D game brings instant expectations…
The same goes for World of Darkness and Shadowrun. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s true for all systems out there, if the players know them prior to the invitation.
The point is; when you invite people to play a specific role-playing system, everyone has different expectations, and they often depend on their individual experiences with the game. This is both good and bad. Good because you can easily satisfy players, when you know what they expect, and bad because it can be hard when you don’t.
I’m not talking about “high” or “low” expectations. I’m talking about more sophisticated ones, like if you invite people to a session of Vampire, then they might expect it to be a game ripe with intrigue and backstabbing. I say “might”, because the inverse could also be true; a game with close to no intrigue, closer to a “supernatural action movie” game.
I have tried both, and they can both be fun, but it is rarely fun if you are sold on intrigue, and you don’t get any. If you hate “World of Action”, as I sometimes call the supernatural slug fest gaming style a lot of World of Darkness players seem to like, then you will probably be a little disappointed.
How do we avoid such disappointment?
Of course, there’s a lot of ways to deal with it. The only wrong thing to do is not to deal with it. What’s best most often depends on your players. A couple of ways to deal with it could be:
- Don’t just pitch the system, pitch the style of game you wish to play.
- Invite players that you know expect the same style as you do.
- Talk with the players before the game about their expectations.
- Discuss the style of the game to be played as a group, so everyone is on the same page.
This list is far from exhaustive, but these are the ones I have experience with, not only as a GM, in fact mostly as the player. I have positive experiences with all of them, and I can’t imagine how they could make your game worse.
Be honest to your players about the game. If you sell them on a game full of intrigue, don’t give them an action adventure. If you sell them on a game of fantasy adventure, don’t give them intrigue. I shouldn’t need to say this, but my experience is that people often sell their game as something it is not.
I don’t know why, but I expect it revolves around elitism. The “hack and slash” gaming style has received its fair share of verbal abuse over the years, so it’s not hard to understand why some GM’s don’t want to be associated with it, even though it’s how they GM. I don’t get why, because a lot of people actually enjoy hack and slash gaming, myself included if it’s how the GM sells the game to me.
My advice for everyone; think about expectations and be honest about your gaming style. It is harder to fix a broken game than it is to prevent it from breaking down due to unmet expectations.
For a while I have been thinking on the subject of retrieving feedback from the players, after gaming sessions. What went well, and what could have been better. So forth.
Of course, this would be an attempt at tailoring my GM efforts to better suit my group, as I find that I have the most fun, when the players enjoy themselves. I don’t think many GM’s will feel much different.
But how should I ask them for feedback? People are generally polite and wouldn’t want to hurt other peoples’ feelings. I have given this some thought.
My silent thoughts
I’m afraid that asking people directly about what they disliked about a session might backfire. Most people are fairly polite and tries to avoid unnecessary conflict, which might result in less than sincere answers. That’s my fear at least.
So I have come to the conclusion that asking them about what was bad should come after asking them about what was good. At least just to get the conversation going to begin with.
This is not an attempt to flatter myself, but it can never the less be beneficial to know what the players liked. It will be too difficult to better my efforts steering only by negative input, so to me it seems just as vital as asking about the bad. The following are questions I plan to ask all players to think about for maybe a minute before actually answering.
- What was the most interesting single event in the session? And why?
- Was there a thing you think I handled particularly well? And why?
- Which loose ends do you wish to investigate in the next session?
The point of the first questions is to find out what I should have more of in future sessions.
The second serves to give me a sense of how the players wants me to handle things, be they rules, NPC actions or the story. Anything at all.
The third is a little different since it is essentially the same as asking “where do you want the story to go from here?”. This is a great way to let the players impact the story in a Out Of Character way that doesn’t disrupt the game itself.
… and the bad
Now, this is where it will probably hurt a little. I can take criticism fairly well, at least when I ask directly for it, but it still hurts. In my head I know that I’m not the best GM, but I do so desperately want to be an excellent GM. Now, the painful questions:
- What did you find dull about the session?
- What did I handle poorly, and why was it bad?
- Did I say or do something that made you cringe?
- Did I do something that you consider “bad GM practice”?
I expect these questions to deliver a world of pain and shame. The point behind each one should be fairly evident; to ask the players what I should never do again.
I expect the answers to be foreseeable, with the occasional surprise of course. After a session I have a few ideas about what went less than perfect, but having people say them out loud might motivate me to actually change my GM’ing practice for the better. I expect the surprises to be the most educational though.
The idea of feedback is not new or original, I know that. I have never been in a game where the GM consistently asked for it though. If you have ever tried requesting some formal feedback after gaming sessions, then I’d love to hear from you. Having more questions would be tremendously helpful.
Either way, feel free to post suggestions and experiences in the comments!
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