Due to scheduling I’ve got a long break between my next game session. As such, I’m in the long haul of re-working my DMing style and revising it, improving it, et cetera. One thing I’m doing is adding to the tactile, mnemonic aspect of the game with more game aids like counters, tokens, charts, as I’ve already talked about. That preparation is going very well and I think the results will be well worth the time and effort I’ve put into it.
The next and equally important revision I want to make is in my presentation style. For one thing I knocked myself off track by making the game too sandboxy where I wasn’t really ready for it, but for another, the dungeons weren’t interesting and I often forgot to even read the room descriptions I had prepared. Basically it was a flavorless miniature combat game and I wasn’t having fun with that.
That’s not to say every sword slash needs to be “a strike that knicks the soft flesh in the weak point where the orc’s armor plates meet, leaving a trail of crimson across his dark steel greaves.” But it would be good to give the atmosphere I want to convey at least.
To do that I need to set up my dungeons more carefully. I’ve now numbered my maps based on interaction point instead of simply room delineations. I still intend to use a miniature map, so I don’t need to read out the dimensions of every room, instead I can stick to the flavor text,
“It’s dank and smells like body odor and piss”;
“Up ahead you see a light, the water beneath your feat sparkles, and you realize that crunching under your feet was bones…”;
“The arched ceiling above is lined with gargoyles peering down, they’re so lifelike you have to wonder if they might leap down and attack.”
In order to get those across I need to set-up a presentation rhythm or flow to keep myself together, probably something like this:
- Draw the tile map according to the players visibility.
- Read the flavor text I’ve prepped for the area whenever I draw a space that includes a number on my small DM’s map.
- If necessary do spot, listen checks to determine awareness.
- Read the monster’s appearance text and show the players a picture of the creature if the miniatures are lacking in detail.
- Place the monster miniatures on the tile map.
- Start encounter-time and have the players roll initiative and declare their actions.
- When the encounter’s over, let the players search, explore and as necessary redraw the tile map, starting over at number 1.
This is more or less how I have been doing it. Two things I want to add: low volume environmental music and once or twice per location photo or image to give a starting point for the players imaginations. Assuming I can manage this without too many problems this still leaves a few matters to consider, presentation of combat encounters and dialog encounters especially.
For both I can only pre-plan to a certain extent because I don’t know what the players will do. I can set up a few contingencies for intelligent monsters and describe their general combat actions, and for dialog I can only hope to describe their characteristics and known information, the rest of that is up to my ability to do good improvisational acting.
Combat should go something like this, extrapolated from the combat sequence in the SRD.
- Roll initiative and place the combatant’s cards on the magnetic encounter board accordingly.
- Announce the monster’s attempted action with minimal flavor, “The kobold aims its crossbow at Barney the Halfling and shoots.” The next time the kobold repeats this action it might simply be, “The kobold tries to shoot Barney again.”
- Minimal narration for monsters movements, “They approach with axes in hand.”
- If a monster scores a hit, roll damage and then describe the wound, “The kobold’s bolt hits you pretty hard for 4 damage.” Misses are less worthy of mention, and can be skipped unless the battle is high tension.
- If the monsters lose a great portion of their force they might react, “As the kobold drops to your axe the others start to turn tail and run.” It’s totally unrealistic that intelligent monsters will fight to the death by default. The party should still earn XP rewards for defeating them if they don’t encounter them again.
For dialog preparation I need to give the NPCs minor personality traits at the least. These could be a simple note like, “Stubborn and mean” and might include motivations and aspirations like, “Bittered by exile, seeking revenge.”
I’d gladly take advice in this department, my adventures ran fairly smoothly except where rules questions arose. And I’m hoping to have most of those problems covered.