Thursday, 22 March 2012

Making Friends. From Scratch!


First rule of Dungons and Dragons, Fight Club allusions aside, is that at its heart it is a cooperative game.

It seems obvious. You and your party spend every session struggling together against impossible odds after all. But try to remember that through all this you're also cooperating with a DM who's furiously trying to keep up with all the hair brained, half-cocked, deliciously ridiculous, unquestionably brilliant schemes you lot come up with. It's a miracle he lets you out of the Inn.

So I figure, what the hell. I like backstory, you like backstory. I like dice, you like dice. Let's take this relationship to the next level. Let's get the party involved in a bit of pre-game worldbuilding. I know, I know. I'm kinky like that.

DMs out there, it’s okay. Come back. Sit down. I didn't mean to scare you. But let's face it, your carefully sculpted, entirely personal world was going to take a hit as soon as you let four heavily armed, highly motivated thrill seekers loose inside. And that's kind of the point. If they didn't change the world at all by playing, you'd just buy four sets of dice and grow old in your parent's basement wondering why the publishers don't call. They're probably girls. Girls never call.

From what I can tell, there are two kinds of players aside from all the ones the comments are going to tell me about to prove me wrong. The kind that shows up to the first session ready to start cracking heads, and the kind that shows up ready to start cracking books.  Either case is a fine way to play. I'm not going to tell you how to have fun. The courts saw to that. But maybe there's a middle ground that will both give your party an immediate edge, and weave them into both the DMs intricate world as well as your detailed, eighteen page backstory complete with the lock of hair your lover gave you before you set out on your quest.

Wait, this is real hair. Where did... why is it so curly? And short.

The easiest way I can think of to hit all the bases before sinking your touchdown?

The party-built NPC.

"But Michael!" You say. "You're so handsome! Though why would I let my players do such a thing? They could make themselves such an over-powered ally!"

Why, yes. Yes I am quite handsome.

But the party can't make some ridiculous win button NPC just because we're letting them do some world building. When the party tries to justify their good friend and life debt owing pal who just happens to be the king’s advisor, and a dragon... from space, you get to bust out the DMs secret weapon. Say it with me now.


Oh come on, you didn't say it out loud. Fine. Spoilsport.

You'll hear a lot of places tell you a good DM never says no. This is what scientists refer to as bullshit. If good DMs didn't say no, Frodo would have driven his Delorean to Mt Doom before nuking Isengard from orbit. Good DMs have to say no to keep any hint of challenge, of adventure in the game. Great DMs instead say "no, but..." or "no, instead..." or even "no, let's call some hookers over, get cray-cray, and...".

Can you spot the similarities? That's right! They all keep the players idea alive without letting them start the game with their characters priceless family heirloom, the chaingun. Also there's an anagram of 'ton' in each one. Neet.

So for example when your party asks if their NPC can be advisor to the king and a dragon from space, you can say "No, but how about a secretary to the local head of government like the mayor. And he can be a dragon... born. Born on the astral plane."

As an added bonus, if your campaign doesn't allow for dragons, or the astral plane, or, like, advisors, I guess? Well then you get to perform the ancient ritual familiar to all DMs. Roll your eyes, sigh exasperatedly, and ask "did you even read the source material?"

Keep in mind this process might happen once or twice. Your players are going to want to barter for more power. Can you blame them? You let them make an NPC of their own from scratch, because of something you read on the internet! Who knows what else you'll let them get away with, you madman.

But its cool. Maintain. Poker face, my DM friends. Little do they know that while they haggle and rethink and discuss and revise, they're learning more and more about your awesome world! Absorbing it into their own characters! Enriching their connections to your story and each other! Bwahahaha!

Oh. Crap. We blew it. Oh well, at least they made an awesome NPC for you.

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