Monday, March 10, 2014

Falling Behind - My Failings as a 4E DM

This is a ramble.

I set myself a goal. I made it a week and now I find it slipping through my fingers. Why is that? I am taking a hard look at myself. I work 60 hours a week. I am running an OSR campaign. I write, badly. I paint. I am raising five children. A few years ago I ran two campaigns with four children, a less busy job and started this blog and ran my forums. If I could do it then why am I struggling today?

My 4E campaigns ended two years ago. I called it quits after spotty attendance. Why did I have spotty attendance? I started focusing on combat and story and not on player agency. My first campaign with this group was all about player agency. I would throw out scenarios, missions, events to see what the players would do. Once they made choices I would interpret those choices thru the lens of the world and react. The players loved it. They rose to the challenges. I loved the stories that came about. 4E was really hard to challenge the players, we had a few character deaths along the way and one near TPK. For the most part every PC that started the campaign finished at level 30.

The second go round was less effective. I now believe players were getting bored with 4E. The long combats take there toll. I stopped the campaign in the high 20's, tired of the epic slog fest and crazy prep work. The end of the campaign nearly destroyed the world and I felt the story had run its course. I thought I was tired of magic items, broken characters and the players' lack of desire to set their own goals. Really, I was writing a novel and they were just playing the battles I dictated and adding flavor to the heroic characters. They were improv actors with me directing. I hated it.

My solution was to create a sandbox environment with short quests. I based it around Frandor's Keep but ran in 4E. The campaign was fun, but the long tactical nature of 4E hadn't gone away. I used two hit minions to speed it up but it still didn't fix the issue. We could only get thru a few encounters. The second problem soon reared its head. In creating short quests I hadn't restored enough player agency. Instead of choosing their fate, I had dictated the PCs remain near the Keep and take quests from a list I prepared each week. This was to let me do prep work I told myself. Additionally, I offered the chance for PCs to roll play on the forums with each other and the NPCs. This worked well and sparked some enthusiasm until work forced me to go out of town for several months. I tried to keep up from the hotel, but long hours and an odd schedule made play by post difficult. Following on the heels of that we discovered my youngest son is severely autistic. We tried to play for several more months but as he grew older and stronger it became more difficult. My game grew infrequent and so did players attendance. Rather than let it die, I called for a hiatus. The hiatus was supposed to be temporary. It died. Two years went by. I lost touch with most of those folks. I miss the game, I miss them. I found Hack&Slash. I went aha!

Today, my youngest is taller and wider than this older brother. He has never said a word in his life. I remember the terrible twos from my other children's childhood. Imagine that going on for four years with a child of 100 lbs. It's not the ideal environment to play D&D. Luckily, my family is very understanding. My wife especially. We have always gamed together. We played 3.5 and 4E together. She is running a halfling thief now. Mostly she is chasing the young one about, taking him for rides, and occasionally adding her gaming experience to the plans of the players. Without her the game, my blog and my job wouldn't be possible. OSR is fast combat. Thanks to a lot of folks on the web, I now run a game chalk full of player agency.

I still haven't answered the question have I? Why I am falling behind? Here it is, I look at my posts and say they're not good enough. I have stopped writing eight posts now. They are sitting there glaring back at me, accusing me. Writing the First Age material I pulled an old draft of my novel. Re-reading bits of it, I noticed how much better I think and see the world and how horribly I portray that when I put pen to paper. It's all so clear in my head. I can think about two subjects at once and see the connections but when I try to explain that connection it falls apart. Why? Because I know the world. I don't need to explain A and B to make the A&B connection make sense. The interesting bit is the A&B connection. Well I hope it is. I had been dragging my heels this week because I feared none of this was interesting to anyone but me. Then I got the two comments on my blog. Someone is reading. Those 8000 visits aren't just friends and family. That is surprisingly invigorating. I feel driven to catch up. Watch out world!

What keeps you writing? What keeps you going when your players play with their phones while your talking? How do you deal with the groans when you mention adventure hook?



  1. Props to you for finding time to game amidst all the chaos, good sir! Hope you and the family remain well... we miss you (and your funner-than-you-may-have-thought game) too!

    Much love from the ever-insouciant Grin Winterborne and the shadowy Tyrra

    1. Additionally, if you are ever short of players, please let us know! :D