Monday, October 26, 2009

Focus

Ran my offline campaign Saturday, first time in five months as a DM (two weeks ago, my daughter ran), and I tried something new.  Nothing excessively complicated, but I added a second monitor to my laptop for the game.  So while the lap top faced me, the monitor faced the players.

It was a huge hit.

While I am reassured by one of the players that I can be selective in what the out-directed monitor shows compared with my lap-top screen, I made no such distinctions last Saturday.  So the party saw everything I was looking at ... since my die rolls have, for more than a year, been thrown without benefit of a screen, it was a more open running than ever.

Strangely, the effect was to calm the party down more than I could have hoped for.  I have made comment in the past that it is a particularly rambunctious party, usually more so when I'm doing the DM thing and looking up stuff.  Only this time, they could SEE what I was looking up, and how it was relevant to the campaign.  Result: much quieter party.

Moreover, the party was there to check me ... which is something I don't mind.  I give my X.P. out according to the damage they deliver and suffer, and I keep a running total on an open page on the computer; on one occasion, the dwarf cleric asked, "Hey, why am I not up there?"  He reminded me his cleric had done damage and I hadn't accounted for it.  Oops.  But he could watch as I fixed it.

The best part of it, from my point of view, was the opportunity to show maps and to do hex-affected combat all on the screen.  No miniatures, no large sheet in the middle of the table taking up room.  I was running six people at once, and they could all see clearly where their characters were, and how they related to each other, and make decisions on what to do ... without having to poke around on a flat table.  40 miniatures tightly packed on a table look cluttered - but a vertical, color-coded computer screen showing a top-down view is crystal clear.

It was a great running.  Two new players started, they rolled up new characters, both of their new characters died and we ended the night rolling up new characters for them both.  They said they had fun.  And just to make it stranger, my female players now outnumber my male players 4:2.

Must be something about my world.

I have read many posts on blogs in the past 18 months about pencil and paper D&D, about Ludditism and about the textual feel of miniatures, to which I answer a resounding PHOOEY!  Romanticising weaker technological delivery methodologies for the depiction of what is an imaginative venture is a condition for stuck-in-the mud DMs.

In my ordinary, daily life, I don't do anything with pencil and paper.  My last job with a magazine, everything was done electronically, from the writing down to designing pages for the printer, who used a computer to control the web machine that churned out the issue.  I never bothered to pick up an issue of our own paper ... it was available online.

I don't deliver resumes on paper, I don't communicate with my friends or anyone by mail, I don't keep notes on paper and I don't use paper books for recipes.  All of my D&D work is done on computer, backed up on other computers and on flash drives.

For years and years I sat and wrote with pen on paper for four or more hours a day, and developed a massive callous on the third finger of my right hand.  You never saw such a callous.  I certainly never did, on anyone else ... in university I used to bet people my callous was bigger (I have a strange sense of fun).

Right now, that callous is almost gone.  It has winnowed away with the last ten years, since I went digital.  It has been replaced by a big lump on my wrist ... where I rest my right hand to use the mouse.

So why would I throw away all my normal daily habits to play D&D like this was 1990?  I don't want less technology, I want MORE.  If you love your players, you'll want more too.  Visual aids are more than just fun and convenient, they can focus a campaign like no one's business.  Don't you want to play as a DM without your players having to ask all night, every night, "Where am I?"

5 comments:

Carl said...

I use a laptop as a visual aid and show pretty pictures to my players of the monstrosities they encounter, or the hovercraft they find. I use google maps "terrain" feature as my campaign map and it works amazingly well. All Hail the High Tech Revolution in D&D!

Of course, we play on a giant glass table top that I write on with a dry-erase marker so that is what I use for maps and positioning, but it is much bigger than any of my monitors so in that instance low tech wins out.

Zzarchov said...

I am a HUGE fan of this mentality (which is not surprising that I am building my rules system in an interactive EXE format).

The ability for players to pull up spell lists with a click of a mouse, or cross reference rules along with me (we ALL have computers these days) speeds up the gameplay without detracting from anything we enjoy.

Zzarchov said...

@Carl: My intention was for some time to have a large flatscreen underneath such a table that I could change the underlying terrain with a click of my laptop.

But with some of the new computing options sure to be released in the next 5-10 im reconsidering the investment and sticking with a table and laptops for now.

Strix said...

"The best part of it, from my point of view, was the opportunity to show maps and to do hex-affected combat all on the screen. No miniatures, no large sheet in the middle of the table taking up room. I was running six people at once, and they could all see clearly where their characters were, and how they related to each other, and make decisions on what to do ... without having to poke around on a flat table."

I would love to see how you manage that as I'm working on the same thing (only web based). It'll be 4-6 more weeks at least before I can get to that point, but I'm curious how you interact with it, what it looks like to you (the DM), the players perspective and what scale you use.

I'm also curious if you have some way to represent initiative on the same screen, as that seems to be one of the more popular options requested.

I'm obviously a huge fan of technology (or anything really) used to augment a game.

R said...

Nice work - I've been using two screens for about 3 years now, and it's been amazing. Mainly the second screen is just for cherry-picked pictures from Google to show the PCs the surrounding terrain, ancient ruins, etc.

And I never DM without Excel, though, unless I have to.