This week Zed Games discuss the week in gaming news, and Maylee and Zahra talk about tabletop RPG tools and alternative systems.
Tag: dungeons and dragons
If you’ve heard of Dungeons and Dragons then you’re probably aware of the role of the DM, otherwise known as the Dungeon Master. The mastermind behind the game, the one who holds your fate in their hands, all-powerful, all-knowing, yada yada yada.
Here’s a secret. They’re actually just another player! Take a moment to absorb that. The DM might be guiding the game, and they might be managing multiple characters, and they do know what’s around the corner, but really they’re just another player. I’m demystifying that role now.
Dungeon Masters don’t know everything, they don’t have all the rules memorised, they don’t have everything planned out, and they absolutely do not have enough unique voices for every NPC your party runs into.
It’s understandably a rather intimidating role, but it doesn’t have to be. And hopefully by the end of Zahra’s Very Brief Intro to DMing, you’ll feel ready to take it on. Because really, you’re already ready, you just need a bit of prep.
So, quickly, what is Dungeons and Dragons? It’s a tabletop roleplaying game where a group of people create characters, and using dice and modifiers you play as those characters, overcoming enemies, solving puzzles, and learning about the world you’re in. It’s a lot of fun! It can be as dramatic or as silly as you want, it can be a single session or a campaign that lasts years, and it’s a collaborative experience, where all the players all contribute to gameplay and the story. It’s customisable, and unique to every party.
But you need a Dungeon Master. They’re the one who creates the setting for your party. They are in control of enemies and non-playable allies, they adjust the game as you play depending on the desired experience, and they often have a story that they want the party to play through.
This doesn’t mean the DM is in control of everything! They are also subjected to the same rules that the party must abide by. If their big bad evil guy rolls badly and trips over a rock, they can’t just say no, I’m not letting that happen. Likewise, if the party turns down the wrong path (that has loads of warning signs plastered all over it), and end up falling into lava, well, they can’t really stop that.
Every game is different, and every group is different. But you remember what I said about DnD being a collaborative experience? The DM may put you in a setting, filled with vibrant and cool characters. And they may have a story they want to tell, but the party also decides on where they want to go, what they want to do, and will influence the story in their own way.
That’s not always the case, you might want more of a Party vs DM kind of game, which can also be quite fun with its own unique challenges.
But at the end of the day the most important thing is that people are having fun, and they’re engaged.
So, now that you know what the DM does, just how do you DM?
Depending on your group and the desired experience, outline a world. It might just be a forest with little villages in it, could be an undersea city. Don’t get bogged down by details right now.
You’ll need to create various characters, some may be villains for your party to go up against. A lot of them might be allies, annoyances, just silly little guys. It’s up to you! Think about your players and your goals, and create obstacles to challenge them, and helpful folks to nudge them in the right direction. This bit is a lot like creating characters as a party member, and for minor characters you can just have the most basic sheet with their stats and attacks on it.
For more important, major characters? Making them is exactly like creating a party character. Feel free to flesh them out as much as you wish. Give them goals, strengths, weaknesses.
For longer campaigns, outlining story beats is helpful for me to do upfront, and then before each session I will flesh out that beat. I’ll give my players a quest or two that will either move them through the story or act as a way to round out their experience. How do I give them that quest? I might simply say ‘This ragtag group is on their way to defeat an evil wizard who has been terrorizing the local population! What will they do?’. It can be that easy.
Often though you’ll give your party a handy inn nearby with an innkeeper who knows about everything and everyone, and will have a quest or two on hand. It’s a bit cliched, but it works, and it’s nice for your party to have a homebase and an NPC who welcomes them.
And finally, make a map. Will your party be going through a dungeon filled with traps and dangers? Or a swamp where one wrong move will have them walking into the jaws of a monster? You’ll want to make a map, it can be crudely drawn it just needs to be clear, so then your players can more easily understand the space they’re in. You don’t need a map for everything, like the long boring walk between towns, but for anywhere where having a space visualised will be useful. And keep a couple of pieces of grid paper nearby for those unplanned fights.
It doesn’t sound like a lot of prep, right? And here’s where I reveal the biggest secret for DMs. It’s all improv! Think about it, you can’t predict what your players are going to do, who they’re going to talk to, where they’re going to go. You can make them a super clear path, but they may decide to just slash their way through the forest. They might decide that they need to help a little girl find her pet dog, or they might want to try to seduce the innkeeper. Give them some space to explore and do their own thing, improvise as you go, and when you need to give them a nudge then have a messenger run up to them with a request for help.
But what about when you’re playing through the session and your players ask if they can do kickflips off the back of the enemy ogre but also they want to convince the ogre to let them do that? What skill check is that? What numbers do you need? You didn’t prepare for this, you’re feeling the pressure, is it persuasion or acrobatics? Both? Don’t panic! Here is my other secret.
You can just google it, look it up in the handbook, consult a cheatsheet, or you can even just go ‘this sounds right, does that sound fair?’ and make a decision. It’s fine! You can’t know everything, and it’s stressful being put on the spot constantly. Some DMs will have a ‘Rule of Cool’, where if a player proposes something extremely epic then you’ll do what you can to make it work. I like the ‘Rule of Keeping Momentum Going’. It’s more important to keep the game moving than it is to make sure every single move is perfectly legal. It really doesn’t matter all that much.
It doesn’t mean just do whatever you want, but you can just use your best judgement, and if it sounds fair then your players will be fine with it. Let’s keep this fight going!
And finally, you don’t need to create this perfectly unique, epic, homebrewed story with your own language and tonnes and tonnes of details and lore. You can just find an adventure or campaign that someone else made, and use it! There are adventures specifically for new DMs that will give you all the information you need for a successful session, gently teach you, and give you advice as you go. You can still put your own spin on it, introduce customised puzzles for that one person who is really good at moving tile puzzles, and make a friendly wolf character for your party to adopt. It’s all fine!
So let me just recap:
- The DM is just another player, just with a lot more paperwork.
- The DM does NOT need to know everything, they don’t need to know all the rules, they don’t need to plan for every possible decision the players might make.
- You can just improvise.
- You can just make up reasonable rules, or make a decision based on your own judgment in order to keep the game moving.
- You can use pre-written adventures.
- Maps are very important.
- Have fun! The party should have fun, but the DM also needs to have fun too!
You’re all playing make-believe. It’s not that serious.
This week Zahra brings in guest Hazel to encourage you all to become Dungeon Masters, but first they discuss the news. Then after regaling us with their favourite Dungeons and Dragons moments, Zahra introduces the basics of being a Dungeon Master.
In Zed Games this week Zahra and Rani battle for control as they talk gaming news, Rani reviews Fire Tonight and Zahra tries to convince us all to give Dungeons and Dragons a go.
You find yourself in a room that is 5m by 5m. It is empty, except for the people there with you, also waking up, and the long bench against one side of the room that supports 4 bundles of gear, including weapons. The room itself is made out of smooth stone tiles, off-white against the light coming from the ceiling. You see a door, it is solid and heavy. Next to the door is a hook, with a similarly heavy key hanging from it.
You find that you have no recollection of what brought you here. You don’t know who the other people are, although when you see each other you feel a sense of knowing that you SHOULD know who they are. It is on the tip of your tongue, but it doesn’t seem to want to leave.
A piece of paper falls from your pocket. When you look at it, it has a name. When you read it outloud, you know it to be your name. How could you have ever forgotten your own name? And as those familiar strangers stir, you wonder…
What do you do next? Open the door? Question those in the room with you? Grab the nearest weapon and start swinging?
In the world of Dungeons and Dragons, all that, and so much more, is possible. All that really limits you is your imagination. And some rules, guidelines, and mechanics to get you going.
First things first, what is Dungeons and Dragons? It is a tabletop roleplaying game, where a group of people all create characters to play as. A Game Master will control enemies, allies, and create the world and setting for the players, as well as guide the players through a story. But the players aren’t just witnessing a story, they are experiencing and changing it. Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D for short, is a collaborative experience. The experience might be a slapstick comedy, an epic heroic tale, or a truly tragic story of heartbreak and betrayal. That’s up to you.
Now, there is a lot to this game, but it’s a lot easier to get started than you would think. So here is Zahra’s Very Brief Intro to D&D!
First up, you and your group will want to decide on a setting. Maybe you’re going to be pirates on the high seas, or exploring ancient ruins at the top of mountains. Knowing where you’ll be playing is a good start. This is mostly up to your game master, but like I said, this is a collaboration.
Next, building a character! Ideally, you and your group will want to have a balanced party, with at least one healer, one tank, and at least one for dealing damage. You can be extremely flexible with this, there are so many classes to work with.
Tank types can be barbarians and paladins, spellcasters tend to be clerics, druids, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. Damage dealers may be fights, monks, and rangers. Choosing your class depends on what kind of character you want to build. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.
On top of classes, you’ll have to decide on a race to play. Humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs are probably the most recognisable ones, but you can also play as halflings, goblins, drow, tieflings, cat people, bird people, and so much more. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and can compliment and round out your character.
Finally, you can build the rest of your character, which starts to involve dice. Depending on your decisions, and the numbers you roll, you can build your stats. The main ones are your hitpoints, which is your health, and your strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. These numbers will grant you modifiers that you will apply to your rolls during gameplay.
You will also select weapons, spells, and equipment, best suited to your character and gameplay style.
Granted, this is a lot, but thankfully you can use a step-by-step guide, or even dedicated character creators where you just need to make decisions, and it’ll take care of the technical stuff for you.
You’ve created your character, given them a name. Maybe they’re a tiefling bard, or a halfling cleric. It’s almost time to play, but first, a quick overview of the mechanics that’ll you’ll encounter as you play.
I mentioned stats. Your stats, class, race, and background will influence what skills you have. I’m not just talking about attacks and spells. You can get skills such as animal handling, deception, medicine, performance, stealth, survival, and so much more. You can also be bad at some of these skills. After all, if you’re in full plate armour, stealth isn’t really going to be your forte.
Spells and attacks are pretty self explanatory. Depending on your character, you will have a range of spells and attacks you can use. For magic users, your strength will be with spells. For others, you’ll be using weapons. You can get skills in both areas, but you’ll generally focus on one or the other.
Spell users, do be aware that you can only use a limited number of spells in battle. Some spells will have special requirements, like requiring you to concentrate for a minute, or you’ll need materials, like precious stones, or even skulls. So don’t just start launching fireballs everywhere.
Now, outside of combat you’ll be wandering around, exploring the world your game master has put you in. You might need to break out of prison, solve a murder, or find a rare book. You’ll talk to characters and your party, and this is your opportunity to roleplay, acting out as your characters. Are you the lone wolf type who doesn’t want to be part of a party? Are you trying to find your lost family, and you need your party to help you? Are you just tagging along to beat up baddies? It’s up to you, and don’t be afraid to act it out.
Uh oh, you’ve run into a group of goblins who have been robbing travellers! It’s time to roll for initiative. This will determine the order in which everyone will act. The goblins are also establishing their initiative order. The higher the number, the sooner you act. And when it’s time to act, you have a few things you can do.
Your turn will generally have three things you can do. You can move, how far you can move depends on your speed, you can perform an action, which might be an attack, casting a spell, or using an item. And then you’ll have a bonus action, which can sometimes be another attack, but is usually your opportunity to do something minor. Maybe yell an insult. Whatever you do, you’ll need to use your stats and abilities to see if you succeed or not. The higher the roll, the better… usually.
Each turn lasts 6 seconds, but you’ll have more time than that to make your decision. Not that much time though, other people are waiting their turns and you need to keep the game moving.
Thankfully, with the help of your party members, and some health potions, you have defeated the goblins, although one managed to run away. That probably won’t be a problem later. But you got some experience and some loot, and a cool story for later.
Actually playing is fairly straightforward, once you’ve got your character all set up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, like ‘can I try to swing on these vines to get across the ravine?’. There is usually a way to try to pull off what you want to do, but do keep your character abilities in mind. Vine swinging is usually easier for a ranger than it is for a paladin.
So, how do you get started?
You’ll want to find a group of people, at least 4, but you don’t want to have more than 6 people, not to start with at least. One person needs to be the game master, but don’t worry, we’ll be doing an intro to being a game master later. It’s not as intimidating as you’d think. You can find tonnes of adventures already written up, with story, characters and enemies, maps and dungeons, and any relevant information, online. Some for free, some for a small cost. Or you can even buy one of the official campaigns, such as Curse of Strahd.
Having the Player’s Handbook will contain all the information you need to build a character and play them effectively, but you can use online character creators to build your character. The D&D 5th Edition community wiki will also have all the information you need on weapons, armour, classes, races, backgrounds, spells, and so much more. Once you build your character, it’s a great reference.
Creating or finding a group isn’t hard either! Maybe you’ll have your friends who can join your party, but you can also look into local play spaces. There are tonnes of groups looking for new players, and many veterans who are happy to teach and guide new players. You can find an experienced game master to lead you through your first adventure. And really, the best way to learn is to just get started! This community has never been so welcoming and easy to get into.
After all, at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of nerds playing pretend. And it’s a lot of fun. So go pick out some dice, bring up a name generator, and get into it!
Netflix Making Moves into Games
In the early hours of Friday the 21st of May, The Information published an article claiming Netflix had approached “veteran game industry executives” over the past weeks looking to hire someone to “oversee an expansion into videogames.” Within 3 hours Netflix had informed several outlets that they were seeking to expand on the success of games like those based on Stranger Things and the interactive stories of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and according to GamesRadar Netflix is looking towards a subscription based service akin to Apple Arcade. This confirms what Netflix’s COO and Chief Product Officer Greg Peters announced in April;
“There’s no doubt that games are going to be an important form of entertainment and important modality to deepen that fan experience…”
Switch Not Getting GamePass
In documents released in the Epic v Apple legal battle a discussion has been unearthed between Microsoft and Nintendo around the topic of bringing xCloud – the Game Pass streaming service – to the Switch. While the documents were heavily redacted it implies, according to gamesindustry.biz, that Microsoft was willing to compensate Nintendo to fulfill Microsoft’s Head of Gaming’s Phil Spencer’s ambition of “…bringing [sic] Game Pass to any device that somebody wants to play on.” from 2019. Sadly, at least for Spencer, according to the documents talks seem to have dissolved into corporate politeness with Nintendo declining Microsoft’s offer.
D&D Goes Bumper in 2020
In a bumper year for tabletop gaming Wizards of the Coast has boasted that 2020 was their best year ever and 7th consecutive year of growth. With more interest than ever in Dungeons and Dragons, and increased sales even after releasing free content for the “Stay at Home Play at Home” initiative the company has announced crossover content and more in the future. Demographics released show a fairly even split in age, and a 60:40 split between the sexes showing that while this hobby is perceived to be male dominated, the ratio is changing.
Research Released about Women’s Experience of Gaming
In response to an increase in women playing games, recent research by Lenovo and Reach3 Insights have revealed that while, on average, women play the same games as men, they receive a disproportionate amount of harassment based on their gender. Of the 900 women surveyed from China, America and Germany 70% faced judgement of their skills in game based on their gender, 65% experienced gatekeeping and 44% received unsolicited relationship asks while gaming. 59% of those surveyed also said they used non-gendered or male identifiers when playing online to avoid conflict. The research concludes with 71% of women agreeing that increasing the presence of women in gaming ads could foster more inclusive behaviours in gaming.
Upcoming Game Releases.
On May 27th, the psychedelic, genre-busting beat ’em up Kung Fu Jesus comes to PC. And the pixel art, Police Action RPG Pecaminosa come to PC, and Switch.
On May 28th, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World comes to PS4, and Switch.
On June 1st, the co-operative espionage adventure game Operation: Tango is coming to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. And Stonefly, a Ferntree Gully take on a mech adventure is coming to PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch.
And the life sim, Hokko Life, is coming to PC on June 2nd.
In studio: Jody Macgregor, Lee, Candi Payne and Razor
Lee & Jody review OTTTD (Over The Top Tower Defence)
We chat with the organisers of the Go Play mini con, John and Sharene.
We have a brief chat about the Game On Symposium 2014.
Aired 13 August 2014