Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Room to Move

So in my redesign process of A2, I thought I would just limit the fort and dungeon portions to the tournament sections. However, some of the non-tournament sections are important on the story development end of the module, which is pretty important to work in. So I fairly quickly decided to leave in most of the extra bits. I may cut the madman's quarters out, but he could be fun if played right.

I am also beefing encounters up. The fort makes heavy use of hobgoblins and gnolls, but most of these patrols and bands, both as written in the dungeon itself and in the wandering monster tables are far too soft for my party. I have a party of seven fairly healthy 7th level PCs with a decent selection of magic items and spells. Challenging them has at times proven difficult. I have found that higher level monsters alone or in small numbers are not nearly as powerful as I would like them to be. Therefore, I have beefed up both my humanoids in number and strength as well as relying on more powerful groups such as trolls--it is the in TrollBark after all.

But even this has not been my biggest frustration. It used to be, but I am gradually getting a handle on 5e mechanics and design theory to mitigate nerfed encounters. No, what I am really struggle with is room. Room to move and conduct encounters and allow for more than a simple frontal assault in most dungeon environs. We do use minis and a mat for battles and often to guide exploratory sessions. I have always been more of a theater of the mind kind of DM, but as I've mentioned before my players really prefer minis and maps. They have gotten better about mapping on their own, and I usually just draw the immediate relevant environ on the battlemat. But what I've found is that the five foot square is incredibly limiting.
Now, a certain degree of this is due to the fact that we are using miniatures that are based on a five foot square game, and a holdover of 3.5e and certainly 4e that were designed to be played this way. When we played back in the day we naturally assumed that three could travel abreast in a ten foot wide corridor, and even fight as such in certain limited circumstances. We also assumed the ability to move about in combat more freely than five foot spacing rules generally allow. Taking a look at the above map of a 25' x 35' room, it seems very crowded with 3 human sized minis and one large sized mini. Is this realistic? That is a fairly large room by today's standards and yet it seems crowded for even a three person party. Now imagine us playing a seven person party with a wolf companion for the Ranger... Yeah. You get the idea. Again, part of this is the artifact of having minis designed on a base for five foot squares. However, as we go about working out encounters, to the extent that we do use minis, combats seem much less exciting and dynamic than I have been used to in the past.

And take a look at the picture at the top of today's post. Granted it's an artists rendition, but you also get the idea that five feet steps might be a bit too wide if you get my drift. In real life things are apt to get a lot more crowded and dynamic than what the artificial 5 foot grid allows or replicates. for instance, here are some other examples:

One can easily see in both these medieval combat recreations that actual engagement in combat is not a five foot square operation, but a much more chaotic and close quartered affair. However, I think the matter is best illustrated with this video of the Medieval Combat World Championships on boht sides of the coin, take a look and then refer to my analysis:
Okay, notice how the battle begins. We have, for all intents and purposes a rather large dungeon room outlined by the fence. A roughly 50' by 50' enclosure with approximately a dozen knights on each side. As they approach notice the Polish team in red. They are spread out about five feet abreast and there are ten of them almost in a line. As the time and action permits they are spread at about a five foot square pacing, but it doesn't last long. Once combat is engaged everyone is very close, and it is very rough and tumble. Definitely not a five foot pacing. You can sense how spacious the area is when most of the fighters are engaged. At one point you have seven fighters actively battling in a space no larger than a ten by ten foot area. At no time does this 50' x 50' region seem overly crowded.

One more quick example. Let us take the rather medium sized room above of 25' x 35' and consider what kind of spacing we have available. We have a total of 35 squares to work with. If the room has three items of furnishing we are down to 32. If there are 8 in the party we are down to 24. Let us say we have an equal number of foes in the room to the party (if we are designing a combat challenge) we are now down to 16 unoccupied spaces. That seems like sufficient, but you start having players moving around as well as monsters in an effort to engage and be strategic things start to seem very crowded and limited. When in actuality, though such a room is considered crowded, a fight you might have half of the critters in the room bunched up in a 10' x 10' space battling for their lives. And thus seems alot less crowded.

So, what's the solution? Obviously using minis with a base designed for 5 foot grids is not going to easily allow us to implement some kind of a different combat arrangement. We could go with theater of the mind and allow for closer combat and more dynamic actions and thus not feel constrained by the artificiality of the five foot grid. However, minis have their use, and players seem to like them to clarify what the DMs description my not clearly outline, or that their imagination is not quite able to conjure in enough detail.

So I have been thinking about redrawing the adventure maps and increasing the dimensions by say a factor of 1.5. But that makes the space much, much bigger. For instance a 25' x 35' room becomes a roughly 50' x 40' room. But I haven't come up with any more elegant solutions.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Redesigning A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade

So we just wrapped up the assault on Highport--Slave Pits of the Undercity (A1). It didn't go exactly according to plan, but that's what makes these things so fun sometimes. In case you have been following this somewhat broken campaign arc, we are in the Forgotten Realms and I placed Highport on the Isle of Mendarn. Granted, Mendarn was a slightly more affluent and powerful port than Highport in Greyhawk, but I downgraded it a bit and resurfaced it with a humanoid invasion. And as my last entry made clear I set the Slaver's Fort from A2 in the TrollClaws back on the mainland.

The escapade at Highport ended with the Slavers magically collapsing the Temple and undercaverns in a failed attempt to crush the party. The party notified them rather early of their assault and it was a running battle from that point on. The Slavers evacuated themselves and the slaves before the implosion, however, and were caught by the escaping characters at Tymorra's docks where they saved about half the slaves, burned a slave ship and defeated the bulk of the slavers if not the top guns of the enterprise thus far. They are still chasing Neznarr from Phandelver along with his cohorts, Halia the betrayer of the Lord's Alliance, the Slave Lord assassin from A1, and a myserious elemental controlling drow sorceress.

At any rate they are about ready to return the slaves and set out for the Troll Claws. However, I am struggling with the tight design of the fort and the close quarters of the adventure as a whole. Though I like the basic premise, and truly hope my players are sneaky and choose the more surreptitious entry we'll see what happens. That and I have a rather large party of 7 players and one wolf companion. Accordingly I have decided to give A2 a close read and a redesign to make it more suited to my party. I am thinking about defaulting to the tournament maps for the adventure, but am going to need to do some remapping regardless. I'll keep you informed as I go, along with the changes to encounters and stats yo give you an idea of how I'm approaching it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Campaign Oultine

Yeah, I've been a little stuck in work lately. Every time I think I'm getting a little ahead, I just end up stuck deeper. As the recent month long break in blog posts, no doubt attests. But, Christmas Break just landed! Yay!! And for those of you who don't know, I'm an educator and though we don't get as many workdays (and hence the pay) throughout the year, we do enjoy several unusually long breaks. Yay!! And, other than fun family stuff, I'll have some free time to catch up on my posting. I know you've all been waiting for this ...

Today I wanted to share some of my plans for the campaign over the next few months, and what we might do thereafter. It's kind of a mini-study in how to take old 1e modules and tool a campaign for 5e, but honestly, I'm a going to run a little thin on details.

Our last campaign was in my homebrew world of ArborDale (the main city we were playing in and near) and centered around the rising of an ancient Necromancer in the Broken Finger region to the northwest of ArborDale. We played 5e characters through to about 8th level and called it quits to start a new round of characters. The players were new to 5e by and large and wanted the chance to spread their design wings and try new classes and builds. By the way, I did cover some of this campaign in previous posts, but never got around to a blow by blow--something I've always wanted to be better about.

So we started a new campaign set in the Forgotten Realms (since I had the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and it gave us some more build options) and ran The Lost Mines of Phandelver. It ran quite well, and near the end I wove the main villains of that campaign into the Against the Slaver's campaign from 1e and 2e. A1 to A4 were 1e tournament creations and not perfectly suited to campaign play, but rather more old school episodic play. So I drew some from the Against the Slavers of 2e and before long we were dealing with a hex crawl through the Mere of the Dead men to get to the start of the slavers adventures. By the time we started however, my players were a bit too strong for a 1e 4-7 adventure. Thus I had to retool some of the encounters to make them more of a challenge, and strategize a bit more. This worked well, as the Slavers series is about thinking as much as hack and slash and thus far things are clicking along nicely. In fact, in the last session they were about to headstrong and ended up alerting the inhabitants of the temple and were almost killed before they fled down into the dungeons below. They ended up spell spent, out of healing and about to enter the belly of the beast. The next session found them trapped in a massive cave-in as the majority of the slavers retreated with the slaves to the docks. A furious battle occurred which ended with a cliff hanging moment as the slavers pull away from the docks and the players can;t attack the ships without condemning the slaves to drowning. We are playing again this Sunday so we'll see if they can manage a full victory or are left once again chasing the slavers into the sunset.

Assuming they survive, they will have the option of staying on the slavers' trail, as they are developing quite a hatred for them. In which case the plan is to run through A2 through 4 afterwards. I set A1 on the isle of Mintarn, but changed the name to Highport. A2, the Slaver's Stockade, will be set in the Troll Hills near the Troll-Bark Forest. I am structuring it as a waypoint, or holding pen for slavers moving south into Amn and Tethir. The Slavers Lords, a shadow branch of the Zhentarim are spreading north to capture slaves which are being by and large sold in slave markets in Amn and Tethir. On a larger scale, the Zhentarim are using the connections of the Slave Lords thieves' and assassins' guilds to infiltrate the Lord's Alliance and the governing bodies of small towns throughout the Sword Coast region. The connection between the Trade Way and Coast Way has always been dubious and not well maintained--hence the Slaver's Stockade. This hill fort now sits along a newly made road that runs from Dragonspear Castle through the Fields of the Dead and to Baldur's Gate. Of course, the region is known for its vast and wily Troll population and the Slave Lords have bargained with the local menace for protection through the region in exchange for the weaker and younger of the slaves. Thus I've woven into the A2 storyline both the troll influence as well as the political machinations of the larger forces involved. The Winding River provides an entry to the region, where slaves can be transferred via slave barge to the Upper TrollClaws (the mountainous region just south of the Troll Bark) and the Stockade along what is being called the Troll Road.

However, the origin of the Slave Lords and their associated Thieves' and Assassins Guilds, The Zhadow (Zhentarim born Thieves' Guild) and the Silver Pin (a group within the Zhadow that acts as its assassination arm) are unknown to most even in the Zhentarim. Which is where the Drow enter the story. If the players get past the Stockade it will be clear that the slavers are connected to a Drow plot (it is already becoming clear that the Drow are somehow involved). The information they uncover in the stockade will lead them to the Aerie of the Slave Lords, tucked away in the GreyPeak Mountains. There, they will discover that the Drow are clearly calling the shots and using the Slaver Network to inflitrate the Lord's Alliance in preparation for some greater invasion into the Sword Coast.

As they follow the leads after defeating the Slavers in the Aerie, it will be clear that the giants are being stirred up to action to harass the northern regions. This will lead to some sort of a G 1, 2, 3 mash-up deep into the Silver Marches, which eventually will lead to D 1, 2, and 3 and the real plot of the Drow working with Lolth to take over Faerun. The 

elemental aspect from the Giants and Lolth will also play heavily into the overall story arch.

Quite ambitious, I know. My players are relatively new to D&D, and have never heard of most of these modules, let alone played them, so that should be great. However, we are talking about a fairly long campaign arch. By the time we are done, though we should be to level 15 or so and getting a taste for high level 5e play. It takes us a little longer to level up as we only play 3 hours at a stretch once a week for most sessions. And I have to weave the sessions together a little better as a lot of between module play can lead to increases in level that puts them out of the written play range for the module series in question. I learned that going into A1. But these are relatively easy things to manage.

Retrofitting the modules to work for 5e is a bit easier, since 5e does 1e quite well, but in my experience you have to up the power levels. 5e encounter building is already unbalanced in favor of the players, and 1e monsters are not quite tough enough to withstand a party of 5e players. That being said however, I like to leave many of the 1e monster abilities in tact as they are tougher and more unforgiving and represent more of an actual risk and challenge. But HP value, AC, melee damage number of attacks and such have to usually be increased. I wish there was some sort of decent conversion for these things but it's really more of a gut thing. That, and I am okay with one encounter being too hard and another being too easy as balance is not my favorite thing in the world. Wish me luck as I continue tinkering ...

Now, to get the far future rolling, I'm really digging the Midlands Setting that I reviewed in my last post. I am thinking about starting a new campaign there when we finish the current one. Though ultimately, as I always do, I will go with consensus of the players. It's important that they are excited about a new campaign and into the direction and milieu. So we'll see what happens when we get there. As for now, We have miles to go before this campaign sleeps, and many promises to keep.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Low Fantasy Gaming in the Midlands

The Midlands at LFG
Can I just say Stephen Grodzicki has outdone himself? What an awesome piece of work we have in this, his newest release. For any gamers looking for an original, gritty, low magic, swords & sorcery setting, you need look no further than the Midlands. There are several things to love and admire about this setting supplement, but perhaps the design element I love the most is the ability to pick it up and play a game within the Midlands with this book alone. There is no need to create your adventure before you give your players a chance to explore this mysterious and dangerous realm, or to buy one of Stephen's other great adventure releases. What you get in the Midlands is a well done sandbox setting with numerous useful GMing tools and a series of ready to play sandbox adventures as well! But, I get ahead of myself. Allow me to proceed in a more orderly fashion to give you an idea of what's under the the covers here and why I am so excited about this supplement.

First off, as you can tell by the front cover, the artwork is gorgeous. Stephen has several talented artists contributing to his work, and all of them do a fabulous job of bringing to mind some sort of a blend of adventure, intrigue and danger that might just have stepped off the pages of Lankhmar, Hyboria, Dying Earth, or out of the Dreamlands. And yet together creating something original and unique. The artwork inside follows the basic style of the first release, in black & white, which I personally love. It give the game a feel reminiscent of the original brown books (only more artistically fine), yet one can easily tell the updated mechanics have produced something new and compelling.

Which brings me to my next general observation: Mr. Grodzicki's writing style. Writing in a manner that is easy to read, direct and still powerfully evocative is not something easy to achieve. I, for instance, do not seem able to achieve such an effect without lots of work and exercise of my poetic muscles. Thus my writing often comes across as a bout of stream-of-thought logorrhea. Stephen though, writes with a beautiful, crips, powerful style; incredibly visionary in its ability to communicate the essence of his game and his setting in the fewest words possible. And for most of us with shelves crammed full of gaming supplements, and hard drives overly fragmented with digital gaming files, a fun yet easy to read supplement is a godsend.

Several examples from his LFG work include,

"Magic is not only rare, it is dark and inherently dangerous. Sorcery is a power not meant for mortals, and adventurers engage with it at their peril." p. 4

"Luck is a flexible and ephemeral quality however, and it has some additional uses (eg: party wide retreats from combat)." p. 11

"Demons are darkness and corruption incarnate, utterly depraved and malicious." p. 94

And from the Midlands,

"A sandbox setting is ripe for exploration and discovery, daring players to explore the unknown and unearth lost secrets. In the Midlands, most of the region is unmapped and unknown; full of locations no human has set foot in for centuries, if not millennia." p. 9

"The last of the dwarves, known as servitors, languish in Dol-Karok; shackled and enslaved by the Circle and their own racial goldlust." p. 18

"Juro Venosteri, a master thief and assassin, is lurking in one of the three rooms. He intends to take over the Red Hooks, and winning the tourney is another step in his grand plan, earning him the fame he needs. He wears an eyepatch, having lost an eye to a Nydissian warrior years ago. He has cultivated an unhealthy hatred for all southerners since, and will target them first." p. 171

The Midlands is not only designed to be a sandbox setting, but as Stephen puts it, the kind of campaign he played in growing up. And this is exactly the kind of play I was used to as well. The Midlands is open enough to allow rotating GMs, and self contained play sessions. By self contained, I mean that each "adventure" can be played as a unit isolated from other adventures, thus allowing GMs to develop the world collaboratively by choosing to focus on different areas within the overall setting. I would love to implement this in my current campaign.

Which brings me to a brief mention of another reason I love this setting. Though, ostensibly, the Midlands was created as a follow up supplement to the LFG game, it can be played in any reasonably D&D-esque system. In fact, when LFG first came out I was so excited because I was looking for something that played more like old school D&D in a hard core S&S milieu; but my players were somewhat loathe to leave 5e. In the Midlands I have the perfect opportunity to play in a setting designed for such a milieu, but that could very easily be played in 5e. Whether we make it a transition to LFG itself, or simply continue play with 5e in the Midlands, I think I would be much happier than I am now with the campaign we are playing in 5e.

As for the specifics in this supplement, after setting the groundwork for what the Midlands is, Stephen writes a short history of the world which I felt drew on just enough Swords & Sorcery tropes to define itself clearly, but also novel enough to seem fresh and exciting. And here's something about myself you may not have known: I absolutely love serpent-men! And the fact that serpent-men are present in Grodzicki's campaign setting is not the only great thing, most self respecting S&S settings have them somewhere, but that he offers a bit of a new spin, at least one I had not heard before.

"In other periods, monstrous dynasties prevailed. Cruel serpentmen enslaved the warmbloods until the world suddenly cooled, forcing a southern retreat to more humid climates." p. 14 The Midlands.

Here again, in that powerful but brief style we are given a seed line that a dynasty of Serpent-men ruled as slave lords over the the "warm-bloods". And that they did so during a period of a warm, possibly very humid, earth. And that when the earth cooled and the climate changed these serpent folk retreated to the jungles further south. I love such little seeds that spark and fuel my imagination on which I can riff, creating my own unique expression of what is possible within the Midlands.

However, the go-to foe in the Midlands is not Serpent-Men but, appropriately for the genre, men. From dark cultists, to brigands on the roads, men and the evil in their hearts or their domineering, self righteous zeal pose the most common threat in the Midlands. Though the cannibalistic Skorn, a rough half orc type, is inhuman enough in its culture to make it seem certainly monstrous. Which is a classic example of Grodzicki's Midland design. Taking a familiar trope --the orc/half orc type--deepening and changing it just enough to make in new and interesting. But men alone are not the only danger in the Midlands. In a nice but brief bestiary Stephen highlights some of the native monstrosities that lurk in the further corners of the world of the Midlands. Stephen doesn't waste time covering every monster that has been covered a million times in other supplements. You'll find no goblins or gnolls here. The Midlands book presents about 27 unusual, unearthly, demonic and dangerous examples of the types of wicked critters that crawl the face of the planet with the races of men (with three more "normal" exceptions). Each one is, as mentioned above, a seed of weird, Lovecraftian goodness that clearly highlight one of the basic principles of LFG and the Midlands--true monsters are rare, and beyond frightening. Midland monsters are true monsters--mutated horrors of madness that none would want to encounter, let alone hunt down, kill and take the stuff of. In fact any "stuff" such beasts might guard or use would be so demoniacally horrid and cursed that sane men would aught but seek their utter destruction by hammer and fire, salting the earth with its ashes afterwards. No, the mad delusions of a world gone wrong presented in the Midlands is perfectly suited to its purpose and tone.

I love the short section on Laws of the land, giving GMs a good idea of how to handle the inevitable situation when cutpurse, rogues of adventurers run afoul of the ruling powers. And speaking of ruling powers, the Gods and "divinities" of the Midlands are a delightful blend of earthly fantasy and Lovecraftian twistedness which are developed into one well designed whole. Again, reminiscent of R.E. Howard and his kin with their use of the earthly and the unusual in a tantalizingly real version of fantasy.

I love the magic design in LFG, and the Midlands gives us more cool spell names that gives the hum drum spell types we are all too familiar with a new twist. Such names can again can be used as seeds for how to describe and understand the nature of certain spells in a more sinister and dangerous way. For instance I can cast Hold Monster in just about any version of D&D I play, and a lot of games that aren't too D&D at all. However, in the Midlands I cast Crush of the Warp! What the holy hell?! Crush of the Warp? How frickin cool is that?! But doesn't it just make your mind teem with incredible possibilities? What in Gehenna is the Warp? Am I warping space time to hold, nay crush, a monster in some sort of dimensional grip until he can break it? And could I perhaps research to make such a spell that can use this force to literally crush something into dimensional dust if I was powerful enough? And what if the spell fails or goes wrong, as is very possibly in a Midlands game? Have I unleashed  small rip in space time? Or, have I inadvertently crushed myself, or my unwitting comrades, into subcellular goo? I just love this stuff!

But we're not done yet! As I kept reading the Midlands I realized that no matter how much I was enthralled with the first 42 pages, it got better! Next comes the descriptions of the major areas of the Midlands. And though we are not talking about hundreds of nations here, but rather a handful of well described locations, each one a cornucopia of adventurous possibilities. Warning, for some players reading past this point might contain spoilers so advance forewarned. For instance, there is Crow's Keep where the serpent sorceress Rinwolde controls the destiny of the city from the shadows cast by dying Uldred. The well-ordered streets of Dal Karok ruled by the Circle of Five and their feuding houses. The distant Nydissian city of Melek, "her vast slave pens ... the magic hunting Ordo Malefactos," and "the Orogien fighting pits." Here the Skorn horde is faced most directly on the furthest populated outpost of the Midlands. Other such mysterious, shadowy, and dangerous places as Northgate, Port Brax and Vorngard all await the exploration of brave reavers under the creative powers of their GM.

I simply loved the coverage of the locations here, just as I do the geographic wonders such as the Argos Plateau, the Drelnor Forest the Sunstone Ranges and the Suurat Jungle. With his just enough to whet your appetite for adventure style, Stephen has laid out for us a classic and original Swords and Sorcery setting in which we can risk our lives for gold and possibly glory, though such things are as fleeting in the Midlands as the winds that blow across the Trackless Moors.

Numerous other inspired goodies lie hidden within the Midlands campaign setting, such as the GM tools of NPC ideas, Party Bonds, rival adventurers, street names, new classes, and random encounters by region. However, I want to end with my favorite part of the whole work: The last 210 pages of the book! That's right, 210 pages! the Midlands weighs in at 366 total pages including the front and back cover. And more than half the book is my favorite part. If you buy the Midlands for no other reason than this part alone, your money would be well spent. For Stephen in this last section provides material usable by any GM in any campaign with very little adjustment. What you have here are essentially 6 City adventures, 8 Forest adventures, 3 adventures set in the Ice and Snow, 6 in the Jungles and 8 set in or around lakes and rivers! That is a total of 31 adventures! So you are not just getting a setting in The Midlands supplement you are getting a library of adventures to keep you and your group busy for potentially years to come. Now, don't get me wrong. Each adventure is about 6 or so pages long equivalent to the adventures you might have found in Dragon or Dungeon magazine of old. But they are, as the rest of the Midlands is, well written and detailed enough to run right out of the box, while still retaining lots of sandboxiness for GMs and players to romp within. I simply can't say how much I appreciate this part of the book in a setting supplement. I am not sure I have seen such an effort in other similar works. Bravo Mr. Grodzicki!

Of course, there could be a slight conflict of interests if you do run Midlands with rotating GMs if everyone has the supplement. These last adventures would have to be guarded from each other somehow so as to not spoil the fun. So if you are going to run it this way, be sure to take a look at page 147 & 148 at the Rumor Table, and decide who would like to run what and avoid reading other GMs picks--player's honor here! The same doesn't necessarily apply to the setting material in the first of the book. In principle it would be more exciting as a player if you didn't know all the setting and monster stuff ahead of time. But the book is written with enough open flexibility that with a creative GM there will still be tons to surprise and explore as you go. And reading the setting guide for players does give a great feel for what you are getting into, and developing the spirit of the game, so I say just go for it.

And that, my friends, is some of what I think makes the Midlands such a great product, and why I am going to build my next campaigns around this adventurous new world. I'll be sure and fill you in when we get there. We are about midway through our current campaign with several months yet to go, but I can't wait to get into the Midlands both as a player and a GM!

The Midlands at DriveThruRPG

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On Being a "Good" DM

There has been a proliferation of DM advice columns across the digital universe in the past decade or so, and some of them are quite good. There has been a deeper and more thorough description offered in all of the major D&D rulebooks of how to address the many issues facing the DM in the game. Also, a very good thing in my opinion. We have seen the rise, as well, of the streaming game casts such as Critical Role, and live game sessions such as the PAX Acquisitions Incorporated sessions. These, even more than the columns and rulebook advice, have given DMs and players alike the chance to see good DMs in action. These live & streaming events have done something even better for hard working DMS--they have helped us realize that even the great Chris Perkins and Chris Mercer stumble at times, stall, wing it, are caught unawares or with their plans down. Let's face it DMing isn't a science and rarely goes perfectly.

In point of fact much of the advice online and elsewhere for DMs is about what I call "good enough" DMing. They bottom line identifiers of how to know when you are doing just fine and when you need a course correction. These tips often refer to "everyone having a good time" and "giving your players what they want" or "it's not about you it's about the players". These are fine pieces of advice and should be somewhat of a baseline for play regardless of what else you might be focusing on. However, these are often the results of good DMing, not the way to be a good DM. However, the technicalities of tips range the gamut and often depend on playstyle and personal preference. The fact is being a good DM is alot more about charisma and wisdom than they are intelligence or creativity. Don't get me wrong intelligence and creativity are certainly important and these two factors tend to be present in abundance in most DMs. But the ability to DM in a way that everyone is having fun and that entertains as well as challenges the players (i.e. gives them what they want) is about how you apply that intelligence & creativity (wisdom) and about your delivery (charisma). It is interesting to note here that the famous nature of Critical Role has alot to do with the fact that the players are all famous voice actors.

In that vein I would like to recommend two unusual sorts I have come across recently that I feel do a good job of communicating these elements of DM character in rather unconventional but clearly stated ways. The first I mentioned before: Matt Colville.

Matt is a game designer and author and other cool things too, as well as what appears to be a great DM. I love his channel and especially his Running the Game series of videos. Not only does Matt give great advice, he also talks through his failures and successes in such a way as to model what works and what doesn't and why.

The second I just came across recently, and I'll admit at first I was uncertain. Runehammer admittedly first struck me as an out of place viking looking for a tavern, not a game table. But after watching his first couple of videos, I was hooked. I'm not sure if it was the mead flowing or inspiration, but he has a take on DMing that is original while being right at the heart of the artform at the same time.

I mention these two, there are certainly others because they do something the pdocasts, live streams, rulebooks, and columns don't do. They break down what's going on in the game and talk about why it works. We can read about it in columns and rulebooks, we can watch it in action on livecasts, but then we can watch someone explain it all with passion, drama and expertise after the fact. I think all three are helpful, but these types of game commentators (Colville and RuneHammer) have made me excited about DMing. And they make it seem accessible to even the most thick headed of us Grognards.

Being a good DM is a journey not a destination and like most performance arts every session is different. But one of the best things about it is that you get to come back to the next session and try it all over again, and if we're lucky we have good partners with us at the table helping it all come together.