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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An ode to random, GM-ing from one's toes.

I am one lazy S.O.B. sometimes.
when I GM my prep is often laughable.
It's better with my AD&D game. With that I tend to look at the story and ask what's going on in the long term?
I'll answer the big questions ahead of time:
  • What are the PC's involved in? 
  • Is it winter yet? 
  • What are the villains up to? 
  • Where are they going? 
  • What are the  characters chasing, and why have they chosen to chase it
When it comes to the minutiae of the game however I get lazy.  Usually I forget to answer questions like the ones below.

  • How many Hp does each orc have?
  • Where do the guards stand at exactly midnight?
  • When does the caravan show up?
  • Whats in that chest the  Jarl  rests his feet on?
  • Do I have a map of this town.
  • How much gold is the innkeeper carrying.
  • Does a paper boy even have HPs? 
I just read a rambunctious discussion about hit points where one hit die monsters are concerned.*
I read the post and the comments that followed and thought to myself.
"Wow I never even think about that kind of thing. I just assign the hit points when the PC's come up on  monsters I don't think I have pre-rolled monster hit points in years." Truth be told I generally just give every monster maximum hit points and  let the chips fall where they may.
It's a different way of looking at things, but for me I  don't care how many Hp's the orc guard has before the  PC's decide to off the bastard.

So that brings me to random.
Sometime I use random content to bail me out, knowing full well I would not have to  if I was better prepared to begin with. It gets sort of addicting.

While I was working on AAIE, I got into the ill-advised habit of running play-tests with absolutely no preparation at all.
I used a random story seed generator to create plot hooks then actively try to link the characters into one or all of them based on their connections and their histories. Once the  party had chosen what they wanted to pursue, or as is often the case decided to pursue something I had not thought of I would quickly try to weave that choice into a coherent story. All the while  rolling up random monsters (some examples of these random critters have made it into this Blog,) giving descriptions of locations, and playing NPC's. 

After a while I realized I was doing something new. I was playing.  
I know of course the GM is playing , I'm being foolish.. hear me out.

The way  AAIE is built, a GM can run the game any way they please.  Tons of prep or almost none what ever floats the GM's boat. There is a real tool box vibe going on the charts and tables are there for the gm to use if they wish. For me I find it an interesting challenge weaving the random into something that resembles an interesting adventure.

And that is the power of random and I think why many "Old school" (what ever that means) GM's enjoy their charts and random lists. Why  two of my highest  viewed blog posts are lists of 100 random (Blanks.)
For me random challenges. Random knocks me out of my own  thought loop. Random ignores my tastes and my ingrained preconceptions. As a gm I have to react to Random, switch up my formula and carry on. In short Random makes me engage with the game and play in a different way then working a fully realized adventure does.

If one of my players asks about mermen and I  decide to roll on "The Half crazed Sailors Report, form the Dungeon Dozen.
And I get # 8:
The Mermen are, Training domesticated whales (and other sea monsters) for suicide attacks against human shipping concerns.
As A Gm now I have to run with that. I have to use it I have to adjust whats going on  and more than likely I have to blow the  Character's ship up with a booby-trapped whale.



And that's what random does it throws a big old monkey wrench into whatever peaceful pattern of thinking I have fallen into. It's mental gymnastics, puzzle solving trying to get all the pieces to fit.

So when I'm Running a game of AAIE and I roll a monster like "slug Goblin," a magic item like "Pin of skull Crushing." or a Story seed like "Retrieve The Head of a Feast From a Giants Feast."    I don't see it as random nonsense I see it as a challenge that as a gm I have to rise to.

This whole post needs to be viewed through the lens of my  improvisational brain. I have a limited capacity to  internalize details but a well developed capacity to wing it. What that means is I understand random is not for everyone. I love long running story arch based campaign and I admit too much random in that type of game would spoil the broth.

Even still, The next time you feel like running a one night game or have some down  time between story elements in your campaign Why not give some extra random a try?



* The discussion about 1 HD monsters and Hit points was from The Tao of D&D found HERE I Did not comment on that discussion because my thoughts were not on topic in relation to the authors intent. I do however find it an interesting post, and it made me think "Wow I have not rolled HP for a monster in a very long time."