Friday, March 20, 2015

Everything I needed to know about DM'ing I learned in Prison

Ok, let's talk about this. When I was out before, we played once per week, and I did my best to put on a good game, to come up with interesting challenges, and have some fun. But I did so at a severe disadvantage: I played once per week.
When you only play once per week, you don't necessarily have time to compile the lessons learned from previous sessions.
Its like watching a tv series one episode per week as compared to marathoning the whole thing back to back in an afternoon. Little things you didn't notice before just jump out at you.
So when I went to prison and found a few players, they wanted to play every-freaking day. So we did. I had a lot of chances to try out new things and learn what works and what doesn't, to put together a long term cohesive game, and grow at an amazing rate.
How fast of a rate, you might ask?
Let's do the math:
I used to play 1x/week, and depending on the day, for 3 to 10 hours in that one week. Lets average it to 6.
While inside, I played six days per week for 4 hours per day.
So in one year, on the old math, at 52 weeks times 6 hrs per week, we played 312 hours.
In one year, inside, at 4 hours per day for six days for 52 weeks, we played 1248 hours.

Here are some of the lessons I learned:

  • Stick with point system or basic set - (15,14,13,12,10,8) or, for a more powerful game, (16,15,14,14,13,10). That's it. Don't do 4d6, reroll 1's. Someone will end up with low scores, someone will end up with (3) 18's, and someone will feel like the other players are superfluous and treat them badly, with many comments about, "Stop sucking."
  • Keep challenge ratings appropriate. - Yes, its fun to get your ass handed to you and feel like you came out on top. But not in every encounter. Some encounters should be simple, some a decent challenge, and boss fights should almost kill you, but in the end you can overcome. If every fight is about to kill your players, then the players feel like it is only dumb luck or DM fudge rolls that are saving them, and discouragement happens.
  • Take copious notes - I created little booklets that I could jot down notes on player questions, wish lists, investigation things that had to come back to them, etc. This way at night when I was preparing for tomorrow's game, I could come up with the answers to keep them on the trail (or throw them off). Yes, out here I can go to the store and buy a small spiral notebook for 35cents. In there I had to make them.
  • Don't give away lots of magic and gold - It is fun for the players to find treasure. When you try to be nice and hand out cool stuff, it comes back to bite you in the end. Yes, they should have something special about their character, such as an awesome droid, a special weapon, a power that no one else has, but keep it small and retain balance in your game.
  • Hold something back - Don't make all the powers available at the beginning. Don't have all the gear available, even if it is in the player's manual. Hold it back as a reward for later on. If they ask about it, tell them it isn't available, or they will have to find someone that knows it to learn it from them. Holding back will give them something to search for and give them a goal.
  • Throw in a treasure hunt, even if you aren't sure what the treasure is yet - I had a random encounter with a derelict freighter that had obviously been in a pirate raid. The players searched the captain's quarters and found a datapad that had notes about a lost treasure, and included three possible locations. No matter which location they went to in what order, the third one had the next clue. After 9 locations, and they were to the place where the treasure should be, that's when I had to decide what it was, and I picked something that would help them in the final battle against the Sith Lord, a few crates of clone embryos. Now they can have their own troops to lead against the Shadow Lord's armies.
  • Create custom prestige classes that are designed just for them. - I'll post mine later, but that was a big hit. I created a special prestige class designed specifically for each of my players that made them unique designed around something that happened to them in the game, such as Konan becoming a Werewolf Lord, or Lone Wolf becoming a Dragon Rider.
    In prison I did not have the books, and it was actually against the rules to play, so we had to make up everything. If some of these prestige classes exist in books, I didn't have them, and I'm sure mine are quite different.
  • Sometimes what makes a player happy to play his character is a simple boon - Try giving him a 'Frost Giant' bloodline, so he gets a Cold Resistance 2. Simple, but it helps the player feel special, different, and adds to background.
  • Try playing without the books - As I mentioned, I didn't have access to the books, and if I wanted anything, like Spell Descriptions or class abilities, I had to spend 3.50$ and call Skipp and hope he stopped talking about Warhammer long enough to look up what I needed before the end of the call. Monsters, had to make them up. Locations, had to make them up. Vehicles, had to make them up. We made up new spells, items, powers, equipment, modifications, rules, everything. Our game was loosely based on 3.5, with a twist of pathfinder, and we were constantly tweaking and testing new rules to find what works. Creativity flourishes when you don't have resources. Try it.

Well, those prolly aren't all the things I learned, but its a good amount of them. I hope someone learns something, and if you don't agree, that's okay. These are the things I learned after finding that it didn't work out, and came back to bite me in the ass.


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