Side Hustle (or how to relax while practicing your hobby)

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So side hustle is regularly regarded as a way to make money and subsist either working an extra job, or working multiple job. Including my freelancing work, I technically have three jobs.

But I’m not talking about our robust American hustle economy today. I’m talking about how you can make game prep work for you! Do you like painting miniatures? Drawing maps? Do you need to “veg out” and focus on something that takes you away from the outside world without having to dedicate time to mindless television?

Consider doing something that advances your love of tabletop gaming AND calms you. It’s important to understand your innate need for quiet time. Time that is for you and you along, in which you focus on something that is not the foibles and issues that cause you stress.

So consider perhaps writing about your campaign, even if it’s a side story about your NPCs or its history. Consider reading something inspiring, even if it’s a light novel or a series of short stories from your favorite schlock author. Nothing is off limits. Whatever you do that satisfies your creative energies is valid!

So take up miniatures painting, terrain printing, or actual painting and drawing. Let your muse guide you in whatever helps you “fill your cup”, and go crazy. Remember that no matter what kind of time constraints you have, you have to take time for yourself or you won’t be the best version of you. This counts for the game table just as it does in your professional life (or both, if you are a lucky cuss).

Regardless, find your zen and try to live there as often as you can. You will learn to love the muse that you use, and it will drive you to higher heights.

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A short treatise on personality

So one of the things that has been prominent in role playing during the last few years is personality. Livestreams are predicated on personality, either of the players and DM, the characters and NPCs, or all of the above.

But how do you showcase that character personality? It doesn’t have to be soliloquies every time you speak in character. Remember that much of your character’s uniqueness can stem from things that are relatively small in scope, delivered in just the right way. Having a catch phrase, a visual cue (like fake nail biting*), or a mannerism of some sort can go a long way without you having to deliver a speech multiple times per session.

Sometimes just pointedly describing what your character does (i.e. “Snelvin the Gnome Barbarian tromps around the dungeon, looking for trouble”) can go a long way towards establishing a game table personality.

And despite all that advice, always remember that less is more. No one is going to enjoy the idiosyncrasies of your character if you are repeatedly reminding people of them. Know when to play your hand and when to pull back and let other people shine. With time, you will learn the ebb and flow of a game and really enjoy sharing the stage with others, whether for a private home game, or for a streaming game.

And remember to have fun!

*But don’t really do that, it’s an awful habit.

Dungeon Meshi, and Why Ecosystems are Cool

Meh

So I really like Dungeon Meshi, aka Delicious Dungeon. It is a Japanese manga that seems to be about a fantasy dungeon crawl. But the focus of the story is two-fold: it is about how to survive and thrive off of the food that can be eaten in a dungeon, and also about the innate ecosystems that make a dungeon both dangerous and special.

I like these themes for various reasons, but primarily it makes the setting special and organic. That’s kind of a cheap pun, but it literally puts so much thought into why mimics and orcs exist in the confines of a place so dangerous that adventurers regularly die, are resurrected, and return at the first two floors of the dungeon just to have a chance at the treasure that lies further.

Not only is this a master class in why a dungeon shouldn’t just be square stone rooms with nonsensical monster placement. Nay, it is also a compelling story with a goofy yet loveable cast that seems to make you enjoy their foibles, and makes them almost secondary protagonists against the backdrop of the backdrop. That is to say, the dungeon is the main character, and the “players” are  merely there to explain and showcase it, even though they are compelling and interesting in their own right.

And though it plays off of many staid fantasy role playing tropes, it seems to do so in a way that is refreshing and fun. The dwarf is the master cook, and the elf seems to be an anxious worrywart. Expectations are sometimes subverted, but there is enough adherence to the genre to make fans smile and enjoy the “in jokes” that more of us seem to be laughing at these days*.

It’s not the greatest story ever told, and anyone wanting another Record of Lodoss Wars, or even a Slayers is going to be disappointed. However, it is worth it to pick up a copy of Delicious Dungeon and see what the fuss is about. You won’t likely regret it, and you might find yourself smiling by the time you are done flipping through.

*And that’s a good thing.

Spell Golems

So, I have this idea for spell golems. It’s not an idea like how someone says “knife spiders” and all of a sudden you have a spider made of knives and everybody loves it and now it’s in the next monster manual for a really popular game because it’s innately bad ass.

No, a spell golem would fit into the world of Diem Mundi. Yes, I’m still trying to ply that into something. Anything.

But that said, the world of Diem Mundi is in fact a world ravaged by the hubris of hyper-magicians; a society of arch-mages that thought they could be gods, and almost were. But when you have that many arch-mages in one place, it’s like having too many politicians in one place, and bad things start to catastrophically happen. The mageocracy* nearly destroyed the world when they tried to make it into the elemental plane of hedonism.

As a result, the world reshaped itself the way a souffle turns into a lava cake, and people learned to live amidst the horrible apocalypse.

Cue to hundreds of years later, and the world is more or less the same, save for all of the ruins and leftover magic that the old ancient archmage empire left behind. Some people try to lock it away, or use it for their own gain. Or both. But there is so much of it, and barely any of it is understood.

So you have spell golems. They are either crafted metal warriors that embody a specific spell, or naturally forming elementals that are formed out of the residual magic that once suffused the broken world.

But what of these spell golems? Why are they important, what challenge/opportunity do they pose, and why do they come in two flavors? The answer to these will come later, I’m sure. But for now, they live away from the equally tempting concept of the living spell. I’m eager to explore this in more detail, and yet for now I am content to just pontificate on it. Hopefully soon, I will have something of a concise but complete mini setting.

*Or however you spell it.

A Certain Smoothness

I think I appreciate that many things these days have a certain smoothness. It’s a matter of understanding that rough edges may exist, but humans work hard to smooth out everything around them.

It’s why we like smooth stone, smooth handles, smooth jazz. We enjoy things that take us away from the roughness of reality. Not that’s escapism at its finest, and a smooth gaming system is one in which we can indulge that smoothness at its best.

When I used to run a Pathfinder game for my friends, I was like a streaming server delivering Pathfinder for them by interpreting their actions as pathfinder rules to the table instead of demanding that they learn it and employ it.

Now I have people who barely know what a D20 is playing 5e D&D, and I can interpret the rules for them, and it’s smooth. The best part? The rules are so intuitive, so smooth, that I can even teach them as we go, instead of worrying about how every item and rule in the game comes prepped with some stray bonus or conditional penalty that might rear its ugly head.

I finally abandoned Pathfinder, not because it became too complicated for me to understand and interpret for others, but because I had a player that made a character from a book I didn’t own and had not yet read. It was yet another set of rules and conditions with which I wasn’t familiar, and that was terrible. The player was fine: he was nice about it and helped me understand what each thing did, but it wasn’t fun trying to plan and plot around the weird powers that I hadn’t really gotten a chance to know myself.

5e D&D seems to have sidestepped that problem, for now. I may yet reach a point at which the rules are bloated and I couldn’t be bothered to slog through a class-fest that makes my head spin. And yet, for now, I am content in using a game system that seems readily able to engage the students with whom I am trying to share this magnificent hobby, and it has been doing a bang-up job so far.

Table Management- A classroom analogy

So, much has been said about the way that tables are managed by game masters being similar to how classrooms are managed by teachers. Some tables rely on people to be rapt in silent attention, while others thrive on the noisy energy that is contributed.

The comparisons are strong and relevant. Not only should you be reflexive and fun, but you should also know how to retain the interest of  your group. This can look different ways for different styles. You might have a loungey style with people sitting on couches and getting up for frequent breaks, or you might have a group that takes frequent breaks and needs constant attention.

In the way that a stand up comedian might learn or develop skills for reading their audience, you will similarly find your pace and your groove when it comes to managing your group. And it will take time. And it will take communication. It will sometimes be awkward.

But it is important to give it some thought. Think about how your group responds best. How your energy is best spent, and how to find the balance that maintains your energy. As I’ve said many times, we are in an unprecedented era of choice and variety, in which many styles and methods can be accommodated, so don’t waste that opportunity.

And above all else, observe other game masters in action, whether it be as a player (preferable), or watching a recorded session (still pretty good). It’s great to feel what it is to be in the shoes of a player for so many reasons, but really taking the time to observe others is good as well. And as a final caveat, don’t let someone else’s play style necessarily inform yours. Learn what works for you. Only Matt Mercer is Matt Mercer, and only you are you.

Collaborative Storytelling

So I’ve been reminded that there are still games that are run like regimes. GMs run their games like dictatorships and players who feel like they are being led around by the nose.

Lets remember that tabletop games, like basic human kindness, are best shared. This tenet has always been the underpinning of role playing, even since its inception. It was the deviation of a stale war story to one of individual antics and exploits that could not be possible if only one person was telling the story.

So if you’re reading this, and wondering why your players are pensive, why you can’t seem to attract new players, or why your players have been playing for 20 years and aren’t anything more than words on a page.

But maybe you don’t think that. But if you run tabletop role playing games, I challenge you to think about your process, your story. Even if you are one of the good ones, and you collaborate, I challenge you to explore your process and see where you can be better. Very nearly all of you can come out a better GM.

Genre Study

So, there is a lot to be said about fantasy. It fits many genres, and sub-genres. While it’s tempting to just fit ethnic stereotypes in (Asian, Scandanavian, etc), it’s important to see that the stories you tell can be altered through the lens of your stories.

From the noire/pulp styles of Eberron, to the gritty and sometimes gonzo styles of Greyhawk/Blackmoor, the genres you employ do a lot to adjust the stories that you can tell. Think about the pacing, the storytelling beats, and even the emotions you want to convey.

For example, one genre that you very seldom see in D&D is the “coming of age” genre. Many who play the game aren’t interested in watching weak and younger characters come into their own, but there are several role playing games that can, and may even hinge on such expectations.

Though this subverts the usual tropes of characters starting weak and becoming powerful, the personal growth a person experiences in a “coming of age” story is not about power, but of wisdom. So how do we employ this? Consider stories like “Red Dawn”, “Z for Zachariah”, or even books like “Hatchet” or Stephen King’s “It”.

So how do we view a role playing game through the lense of a “coming of age” story? Probably don’t make it D&D. Levels don’t necessarily correspond to growing older, though I suppose in a pinch you could tell that story. No, rather, it would be better to choose a point based system, probably rules light. I’m totally being openly biased, but a system like Stranger Stuff, perhaps even modified with vs. Dragons.

But whatever system you choose, just remember to tell the story that matters to your and the players at your table, especially with their input and help.

So, what do you think, sirs?

Survey

So, I think I’ve been remiss in not checking in with my audience. What do you like? What do you enjoy reading her? What do you want to see more of? Please take part in my short poll so that I can know who I am writing for.

I guess I thought there was some survey function, but  please comment to answer the following questions.

  1. Would you like longer or shorter posts? (I average around 500 words)
  2. Would you like more monsters or fewer? Or none?
  3. Do you prefer 5th edition, Pathfinder, Other, or none?
  4. Ask/tell me anything.

So here we go!

Dimensional Interlopers

Mxyzptlk

A recurring theme in the  sci-fi stories has been the concept of an dangerous inter-dimensional being. Sometimes mischievous, sometimes outright malevolent, these beings are always depicted as immensely powerful, at least relative to the protagonists. They also tend to flaunt that power in ways that resemble a cat and mouse game.

Despite the vast difference in power between the dimensional being and protagonist, it is often through a battle of wits that the day is won. In some cases, the dimensional being, despite being vastly different, wants to test its wits against an otherwise inferior alien mind.

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But how do we use such characters in a fantasy role playing game? It’s been seen often enough: an outside being with limitations intrudes upon reality to attempt to subvert it  for some unknowable whim. These beings, whether relatable or wholly alien, bend reality around them with ease.

Perhaps the most recognizable form would be that of certain “mythos” figures that directly intercede in the affairs of mortals, such as Nyarlathotep. Specifically, his role in Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, in which the dimensional being harasses a mortal on the eponymous dream quest.

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These beings are most often moral relativists, if they recognize the concept of morality at all. Not all are outright intentionally evil, but their actions are likely to cause suffering. Some have a sense of caprice and are not prone to doing any lasting harm, mostly wanting to have fun, and at least understanding the fragility of lesser beings, the way a responsible child would take of preserving their toys; such a being might even become attached to their “toys”, and have a passing interest in their general well being.

But ultimately, what makes a dimensional interloper unique is their ability to do just about anything. It isn’t typically a win button; a being’s ability to change reality is much like D&D magic, and has its limitations. It can be resisted, reversed, and even  obstructed. But it is pervasive and powerful, and not easily meddled with.

If you are interested on stats for such a creature, have a look below. It occupies a spot on the CR chart all by itself (not counting homebrew creatures) at CR 28. Not quite a Tarrasque. Let me know what you think. Most likely going to do up a version that has legendary actions. Soonish.

Update: It’s bigger, and better!

Dimensional Interloper 2.0

cypher