Great Expectations

It was the best of backstories, it was the mediocre of backstories…

I had requested that my players come up with some background for their characters. Although I don’t generally require a detailed backstory when I GM, this was a unique situation.

This group of players had been trying to startup an Adventures in Middle Earth campaign for several months. They (which included me at the time) had gone through several GMs. For various reasons these GMs had to step down and another would take their place. I stepped up and have been running the campaign for a couple years now.

The players had shared backstory information with previous GMs, and there was an assumption that I had received that information as well. I had bits and pieces, but not all of it. Therefore, I asked everyone to provide a brief synopsis.

Game night came, the backstories piled up, and then I realized I had made a mistake. I hadn’t set parameter for the back stories. I had assumed the players understood how Middle Earth worked in the 3rd era. This lead to an issue with one backstory, and I will fully admit that I was at fault.

In fantasy media, Elves are normally portrayed as too good to be true. They excel at everything, they are handsome/beautiful, and many times immortal. One player wanted to play a character disenchanted with elf perfection. They spun a tale of deception, intrigue,and murder, with the blame placed fully on the shoulders of elf kind.

Now to be fair, they didn’t place the blame fully on all elves, but they had elves doing things that Middle Earth elves would not be doing in the setting we are playing.

“Thus entered panic into my brain, and fear into my soul.”

Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, however my immediate reaction was to dismiss the backstory completely. This was not okay and after chatting with my fellow blogger Frerin, I have a possible solution for the type of situation.

  1. Apologize for not setting better guidelines, and for immediately dismissing the backstory. In short: Own up to my mistake in the situation.
  2. Offer to modify the story to fit, if the player would like to keep the basics of the story. There is plenty of room for prejudice and distrust in the setting. Much of Tolkien’s writings contain people overcoming racism and hatred.
  3. Provide clearer guidelines and the chance to rewrite for anyone who would like to make their story fit better into the setting.

No matter how long you GM, you will make mistakes. I have been blessed to play with a patient, understanding, and forgiving group. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. (I might TPK them for a pizza though.)

Fun Limitations vs. Character Flaws

First off let me say that I’m slightly annoyed at the terminology already used by D&D, because it makes diferentiating a error in character abilities from a playable limitation difficult. What D&D refers to as character flaws I would call a limitation: Your character is afraid of snakes? Very good, have fun playing with that characteristic.

What I would refer to as a character flaw is a character whose game balance is flawed. If your character cannot hit an enemy, notice any object in a room, recall any information, or survive a couple of enemy attacks, then I would call that character flawed.

I’ve been playing a Dwarf scholar in an RPG called Adventures in Middle Earth for several years, and when the character was at his first level he was flawed. In the first two battles we played he was almost totally useless, and in the next two battles he came very close to dieing. Fortunately our DM saw this issue and realized it for what it was, a flaw in the characters balance. To remedy it, he gave my character a more powerfull weapon. I still didn’t hit very often, but when I did I could take out a significant chunk of the enemies health. I now had a chance of removing enemies before dropping unconscious.

We played Adventures in Middle Earth again last week, and I took a moment to appreciate that my character has some limitations, not flaws. My character can’t talk very well, but insists on trying. It results in alot of fun, but he can easily be overruled by other players. My character can also hold his own in a battle, sure, he might get down to single digit health points, but I know I can deal damage and heal myself, battles aren’t frantic attemps to survive anymore, they’re fun.

Organized Chaos

Like herding Cats…

I’m currently prepping to GM a session for a group that stopped midway of a module over a month ago. I had to evaluate some of my organizational GM standards because of this.

ISSUE #1: I didn’t take good enough notes.

SOLUTION: This group had been meeting often enough that I was able to get by with shorthand notes. This was a mistake, always take notes as if you will need to recap the entire session for someone. It will save you a headache later.

ISSUE #2 (Possibly): My players may have not taken good notes.

SOLUTION: This makes issue 1 less of a problem. I chose several options provided by the module for moving forward that fit the notes I do have. I will present this as a “previously” recap, and then we will move on with the game.

ISSUE #3: The module scales with player count, and my player count may be different than when we shelved the module. This unfortunately means I need to be prepared to run between 3 and 20 enemies for one fight.

SOLUTION: My solution is bullet points. Most text editors can add bullet points, with sub-points. I can create a quick visual flow for any fight by creating bullet point 1 “Goblin.” Then I put 15 sub points on blank lines. When the fight comes, I just add HP, notes, etc next to the number of lines I need.

  • Goblin (DMG Page 962)
    • 1 20HP, stunned
    • 2 2 HP, prone
    • 3 0HP, dead
    • 4
    • 5
    • …..

Some small thoughts on organization, I hope you all have a wonderful week.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started