Things you quickly pick up being a new DM

Another Sunday, another month and another game of DnD.

Our little group of novice DnD players are busy killing and pillaging every NPC they can find, along with sweet talking and killing anyone which looks like they might hold something of value. Not to mention all the skin eating… so much skin eating. Its not normal and that’s why planing for these things is proving more and more challenging. So “winging” it seems to be a better strategy.

You have no idea what your walking into

Im not talking about the players, they seem happy falling into all sorts of situations and coming up with some rather unique plans to solve what seems to be a straight forward situation. I have to admit I’m impressed, which makes it even more difficult to DM a game.

How do you plan for 5 people imaginations?

Its a bit like herding ducks on drugs, with morning-stars. Some go where you want and some dress up as the opposite sex and try to “brute force” charisma role their way into an enemy compound. It’s allot of fun but difficult to plan, I mean how do you plan for 5 people imaginations. Simply put you can’t. Saying no isn’t productive and should mostly be avoided.

People coming up with random shit and wanting to do it is part of the game and doesn’t always fit into your beloved dungeon plan. So when it comes to planning: notes and ideas are best loosely worked out, then on the day use your imagination and a few charts to help you best judge how to handle the situation.

Guidance

Sometimes your party is eager to get hold of the latest orc bustin longsword and forgets what they are actually here todo. Gentle reminders work at first but sometimes you have to be blunt: “You are trying to do this, maybe you should ask around town about how best to achieve this”.

When you need to get the game back on track try not to limit the options. What this means is taking the players ideas and joining them back up to the intended goal. This requires you to stay one step ahead of your adventuring mob and the out come of what they want to do should in someway bring them back to the main quest.

Keep the game going

If your party is taking too long to get something done, solve the problem for them and move on as quickly as possible. Having the players re-enact an EU discussion on immigration over a small issue is both boring and time consuming. So just end it, kill it, move on.

What can I plan?

Plan out the goals, plan out the location, plan out key NPC and of cause plan out all the hows, whys and what nots of the scenario. Why are you hear, what are you going to accomplish, why can’t I just murder this guy straight-up and steal the quest reward, then go on a bloody murder spree where I collect NPC ears.

We are currently working our way through Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s a fun little adventure which is showing us the basics of how the game works and how to guide a group through. Unfortunately its not really holding up against my players imagination and general dis-regard for human decency, so I’ve had to take a new approach of using the game as a loose guide to try and direct everyone to the end result.

Will see how it all works out over the next few months, but this way of playing is proving both challenging and fun.

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Uncharted 3: Worth the Journey in the End

So I finally dragged myself back to Uncharted 3 after nearly three months of abandonment. Holy crap it turns out that the entire second half is ridiculous fun. Sinking ships, scrappy gunplay in destructible environments, a horseback pursuit, crazy fire demon hallucinations. It’s pure bombastic AAA from one of the world’s finest studios.

So who made the first half?

Don’t get me wrong. Everything prior to the abduction arc was decent, and beautiful to boot, but it felt a little like business as usual, especially following on from what is in my opinion the greatest, most consistently thrilling pure action game of all time in Uncharted 2. The first half of Uncharted 3 instead gave us lots of static city and ruin environments to sit behind a piece of cover and play shooting gallery in.

Lighting_000.bmp

Even the much hyped burning building sequence left me mostly cold. It certainly looked the part, but played out as somewhat empty and un-interactive. Just another static environment to take your time walking through and shooting guys, only that parts of it happened to be on fire.

The game started to find its way once it finally focused in on its core pursuit arc and started having fun with it’s 1960s swashbuckler stylings, and I really hope the fourth instalment next year finds a way to leverage its new massive environments into presenting something as generous and confident throughout as this game eventually became, not just a more-of-the-same-but-prettier sequel.

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Undertale: Two Reviews of the Same Game

As I walked into the next room I immediately saw it coming. It was so playfully obvious, and despite its uncanny ability to catch you off guard again and again with its offbeat sense of humour, sometimes this game just can’t resist a big obvious joke. Undertale was about to parody one of the most iconic gaming moments of all time and not a punch was pulled. It was at once meticulously dedicated to paying tribute and hilarious in its lampoonery. I actually stopped playing to physically applaud.

But I can’t tell you anything about that scene. Or about much at all when it comes to this game. This is a game where every signpost hides a gag and every rock may be lying in wait to subvert genre expectations.

Over the course of an initial ‘Normal’ play through I have experienced joy, sadness, dread and, most of all, gleeful stupid laughter. This game is so rich with tiny details and odd little characters that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the world. In almost 9 hours of total play time I was never once bored.

If Earthbound was the first post-modern video game, Undertale is what happens when you take it one step further by subverting that which is already subversive. At the core of this is the fact that every battle can be won through pacifistic means. This approach is cleverly encouraged as the endless slog of hitting attack and dealing damage when trying to play it like a normal RPG is revealed as dull and frankly quite grim compared to the ever fresh cycle of negotiation and defence that plays out between yourself and the various characters you encounter.

skeleton

Did I mention that defending in the game takes the form of an old school shmup? Its a mad idea, and proves both satisfying as a mechanic, and perfect as a medium for even more oddball creativity to make it into the game.

There’s actually a third ‘Genocide’ ending available if you choose to stubbornly play like its a normal RPG, but be warned, it’s intended to be a soul destroying ordeal by design. It may even prevent you getting the better endings permanently, because this game remembers everything. Reloading a previous save file to correct a past mistake will never quite clear your conscience as characters will have a vague recollection of what happened prior to your quickload; sometimes just a hint of deja-vu, sometimes something far more omnipotent.

I should probably end this section with another screenshot, but I really don’t want to spoil any of the good bits, so here’s only a moderately funny bit in the grander scheme of Undertale. You’ll have to take my word for it, but seriously, this isn’t even the funniest cooking sequence in the game:

cooking

If you’ve read this far you might be thinking this game sounds like a bag of ideas with no coherence, and it can feel that way on a Normal playthough, but when you start to truly invest in the game by pursuing the various goals which build towards the ‘True Pacifist’ ending does it start to reveal the painstaking care that the game’s creator has poured into creating scope for connecting and bonding with the strange characters that cross your path. This works to ground the game in surprising ways, working towards a true ending that is among the most satisfyingly coherent, complete and rewarding I have ever encountered.

And if all that promise of emotional investment and payoff isn’t quite your thing, haven’t you always wanted to play an RPG that lets you lie down next to a mute slime mould enemy and wiggle endearingly to try and make it become your friend?

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