Sunday, June 7, 2015

Connor's Five

I had written on Connor's new blog that I would write advice if he wanted and he suggested that I do it here. So here I am, writing on Connor's five points (as opposed to my own).

I'm just going to give shorter versions of what Connor describes; full versions on his blog.

1. The ability to more eloquently deliver descriptions of the terrain or the surroundings the party is in, without detracting from what really matters in the situation . . . to describe things clearly, concisely and accurately. Extra description gets in the way of the message being delivered, it creates noise in the transmission that the receiver has to filter out, generally not as successfully as the transmitter would like. A good example of this is players getting hung up on some unimportant piece of the description that is just there for extra depth. They did not properly filter what you were giving them so they think it is important.
The filter is important, no question - but it is also correcting wrong ideas the moment you hear them.  Your players can't get hung up on something unless you're willing to clap your mouth shut and let them.  Sometimes, this is desirable; giving the players enough rope to hang themselves can increase tension and drama and produce a good effect when they find out what the truth is.  However, it can also be a tremendous time-waster, with the players endlessly talking themselves out of things because their imagination is bigger than the obstacles they're liable to face.
Take a moment and question what kind of story teller you actually are.  I actually have a good exercise for this.  Pick a story from your past that you've told more than one person - can be anything, but it should be something you've gotten a little experience in telling.  Record yourself telling the story.  Wait a week and then watch yourself.  Where are your hands, your eyes, what's your stance, how much are you moving, is the story really interesting or do you waffle on quite a lot.  If you have the nerve, watch it with someone else who doesn't know you that well and explain that it's a monologue you're doing because your girlfriend/wife has talked you into it.  Stress that these are not your words.  You'll get to hear what someone honestly feels about the quality of the stories you tell - and what they dislike - while at the same time being in the position of helping you make it better.
 This is a brutal, brutal exercise.  I did it for a drama teacher I had in high school.  Picking the right person to go over it with you is important, because it's great if they'll listen to you tell the story three or four times.  It will totally ruin that story for you.  Totally.  But you will see things in yourself (I did it on a casette tape, pre-video age) you'd never see otherwise.

2.   The ability to better manage players who take to long in combat due to distractions, not paying attention, or disinterest.  Many of my combats have lasted over 10 rounds in the 15 games I have run in my campaign. These usually take about 3 hours, maybe 4 hours if it starts pushing 14-15 rounds. One of my main problems is not being able to tactfully bring players to act faster. If they are distracted, and need to look over the map before playing every round it slows combat down a fair bit, even if there is only one of them doing it. Also, I am in need of a better way to prompt players to action instead of thinking everything to death before commiting to an action.
Connor, you've mentioned this sacrifice already in another post on your blog.  You will need to find a merciless streak inside yourself.  This is your players walking over you; you've got to walk over them in turn.  Don't put your players on the clock, but urge them to act several times while you're waiting, skip them and move onto the next person (it's humiliating to be put on hold, even if they will get to act) or rule that they've spent their round dithering.
In tough times I will tell players that they're 'on deck' - that is, while I'm running this player, I'm telling what player I'm going to be asking questions of next. This tends to improve time on people making a decision.  It also requires that I think ahead, in effect managing more than one player at a time.  I will also sometimes urge players with a leading question - "You're going to attack?" rather than "What are you going to do?"  I only do this when the answer is 95% obvious, because it shortens their answer to "Yes" rather than "Um, I, well, okay, I could . . . attack?"  Often you'll notice players do describe their actions to you as a question rather than a statement - indecisive players are often looking for confirmation for their decisions.  It can be easy in some situations to give them confirmation as part of the question.  The player can always say, "No, I'm going to . . ." whatever.
 Note also that I don't let anyone roll a die at my table AT ALL (no practice rolls) until I say "roll."  This gets the players thinking with their heads and not their hands.  I notice that you've added in that following post a few points about dice.  I suggest implementing this rule - and adding that if a player takes a full round's worth of time (12 seconds in my world) picking out their die, you can always say it took them that long to draw the weapon they liked.

3.  The ability to make dramatic combats short, without resorting to super powerful monsters.  As stated above many combats go on for a few hours. And this is largely because I choose to use a larger number of lesser creatures such as orcs/goblins/kobolds than to simply use more powerful monsters.
I have had many large, time-taking combats with lots of orcs that lasted a lot longer than, say, three dragons.  The combat my party had with 100+ orcs (in which they actually only engaged about 40% of the total) lasted two sessions.  The combat with three dragons that they finished a week ago Saturday lasted all of 90 minutes, with a break and lots of rolling saving throws for equipment against acid.
 For party morale (bringing them together as a group), I suggest a number of encounters where they are all fighting one BIG monster.  This lets them gang up and experience pleasure at someone else damaging the monster they are also trying to kill.  Another problem with mass combats and many single opponents is that it is easy for a player to feel that they are fucking up and not doing their part; everyone is fighting different people and there's minimal opportunity for cooperation.  This is particularly true if the mass combat is scattered.  Single big monsters pull parties together.
4. The ability to design maps with greater speed.  I need to improve my speed of mapping my world, without sacrificing detail. The maps are the back bone of my campaign, with a key set up so that if there is anything interesting in a hex I know of it before the players get there.
After thinking about this, I believe what you really mean is the ability to draft ideas quickly, such as drawing a room or a thing to give a visual sense of its properties.  No one makes a good map quickly.  Maps are trying, painstaking things and they are best done slowly.  But if you're looking at drawing faster, apply yourself to pictionary or take up the habit of explaining things to people using a black board or a white board.  Hell, just stand there and explain things to yourself, drawing as you go.  Drawing is like anything else.  Takes practice.
5. The ability to recruit more people.
I'll skip the rest of your description as this is a pretty common problem.  I'll tell you honestly - you will never, ever recruit players as easily as your players will recruit people for you.  If you are having trouble right now bringing people into your game, it is because your players are not anxious to share the incredible experience of playing with you.  If you up your game, they will scream it's merits to their friends and you will be awash with people.
This is a take care of the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves problem.  You can take steps if it makes you feel better (I did, posting on bulletin boards in school and later advertising in the university newspaper) but I almost guarantee that the only stranger you will meet that will turn up for your game will be the sort that shouldn't be allowed in ANY game.
Yes, for the love of puppies that scare themselves in mirrors, talk to your friends. Talk to anybody.  Hell, you just don't know who plays, since people who play don't advertise it, right?  Rest assured, however . . . the secret to getting more players is to make the players you already have little machines that cannot . . . stop . . . talking . . . about . . . you.
Hope it helps.


connor mckay said...

Thank you for this post. The advice differs from what I expected and has made me think differently about my perspective on my problems. That in itself will help me as much as the advice. For now I will take what I was going to do and mix in some of the advice you have given me and see what happens. I hope to revisit this in a few months to adjust how I feel things are going for myself.

Again thank you

Zrog (ESR) said...

Alexis - I've had a very similar experience with recruiting players in public forums of any kind, except I got lucky once. Ideally, you want the good people you play with to bring other good people, whether they've ever played D&D or not. ("Good people is good people").