Playing With Others

Breaking Down the 20

The last three questions of the twenty question background are probably the hardest to answer because they’re usually answered in a state of ignorance. It’s difficult to say why a particular character is with the party when you don’t know who else is in the party, what their purpose is, and why they all hang out together despite being murderers and centaurs. These questions are holdovers from Conversation Cafe, but I find that they help encourage people to develop ties within the group and it alleviates some of those early trust issues that fantasy adventurers or paranoid investigators tend to have.

Read more

Money Isn’t Everything

Scrooge McDuck

Once, when collecting my student loan money at university, I found out I’d already been approved for a grant. I wasn’t about to say no to a free $800, and didn’t. The loan officer commented, “There’s nothing better than free money!” Actually, there are lots of things better than free money. In fact, almost anything is better than free money, because I’m going to take that free money and trade it for things.

It’s simple, in a game where people essentially play professional hobos and mercenaries, to say that a character is motivated by money. That they’re looking for the payout, plain and simple. But the fact of the matter is that no one is doing that, and that wanting money for the sake of money isn’t really a motivation worth having. So today I want to talk about why, and some ways to describe mercenary tendencies without talking about them in terms of money.

Read more

Adding Some Depth

Farm Boy

Breaking Down the 20

Very little of the twenty question background explicitly asks players to tell stories, these ones definitely do. No one cares that your character has a memory of baking bread or that they like to whittle. It does not matter one bit. What matters is why they do it. It is the only thing that matters. The best answers often have nothing to do with adventuring, fighting, or conjuring small rodents through magic. They describe a life before these things and outside of it. Boring answers reference a character’s main skill sets. Cartography isn’t a hobby for a scout, it’s part of their job.

Read more

All About Enemies

Gary from Pokemon

Breaking Down the 20

I just added a number of new players to both my D&D games, and was reminded that it’s high time to finish this series. Every D&D character that joins my game needs to answer twenty questions about their background and who they are. Answering the questions isn’t hard, but there are ways to answer them that encourage stories rather than shut things down. So I asked, they answered, and here we go. There are only eight questions left, and they break down into nifty sections.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from comic books, it’s that heroes are defined by their enemies. Batman has the Joker, Superman has Lex Luthor, and the Aquaman has his reputation and orange shirt. So today, villains. Or enemies, at least (after all, villainous characters would have heroes).

Read more

You’ve Gotta Have Goals

Inigo Montoya

Breaking down the 20

It’s time to break down a bit more of the 20 question background. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about goals. What goals are worth having, different kinds of goals in gaming, and the distinction of goals and dreams. This is a bit of all of that, but the role of goals in the life of a PC can’t be underestimated. We like to think of them as adventurers with good hearts and unclear goals, but goals can tell you a lot about who a person is by telling you what they want.

Read more

Playing as a GM

Bike Boy on a pole, by Torsten Blackwood

When it comes to my friends, I’m the GM. Any system, any timeframe, I’m the one who runs the games. Every once in a while someone will run a game, but it peters out after a few sessions, and I’m back behind the screen. I get it. Many are called, few are chosen. But I finally got into something more long term, playing in Ryan’s D&D Essentials game, and boy did I have a lot to learn about stepping around the table and playing. I wanted to share the biggest things I’ve learned about playing as a GM with you today.

Read more

Secrets in a Background

Darth Vader in the Empire Strikes Back

Breaking Down the 20

I’ve written about the different kinds of secrets you  can have in a game, and how to use them. This is more about, as a player, how to integrate them into a background. Secrets can be an incredible way to tell a story about the character, and can help players surprise each other with hidden character elements.  Read more

The 3 Major Responsibilities of Players

The Violator

So waaay back, about two years ago, I wrote a post about what I see as the primary goals of GMing. Create a vital setting, a vibrant style, a safe space to play, and treat players with respect. Some of those we can cash out as responsibilities, especially the last two. And I’m going to do that, but not today. The things a GM is responsible for have been done do death, and will be done to death here at some point too, when I finally come up with something interesting to say about how the core responsibility of a GM is not to be a dick to people. No, this is about players. So I wrote part of my master’s thesis on ethics in D&D, and I learned some really interesting things about the responsibilities of everyone involved. Today I want to share some of that.

Read more

Breaking Down the 20

The Joker

Breaking Down the 20, apart from being an awesome name for a band, is something that people have been asking me to do. Last year I outlined the 20 questions I use to help players write character backgrounds. I also answered them when I started playing in an Essentials game, mostly because I didn’t want to write a post the week that I finished my Master’s degree because I was busy agonizing about my future and playing video games like it was a full-time job. One of these things has since ceased.

Anyway, people have been asking me to break down the 20 questions and talk about the answers. After all, there are answers and then there are answers. A description of a characters social background as “Middle class” or “Loner” answers the question, but doesn’t really convey a lot of information. So I’m going to go through each question and talk about the opportunities it creates.

Read more

1 2 3