Saturday, May 07, 2022

Secrets of Dungeon-Mastering: Relics and Rarities

What is this? Deborah Ann Woll was on “True Blood” and played Karen Page on “Daredevil” and other Marvel shows, but she was always a closet geek and eventually got her own show as DM on Geek and Sundry. As with “HarmonQuest”, she invites on a celebrity guest to adventure with the regular cast every episode. These are horror stories set in the 20th Century, so you’d think they might play “Call of Cthulu,” but they’re playing DnD 5e.

The people involved:
  • Deborah Ann Woll is DM
  • Tommy Walker plays Veros
  • Jasmine Bhullar plays Beryl
  • Julian Denni plays Annabella
  • Xander Jeanneret plays Rikki
  • Matthew Lillard is the guest as Allister
What I learned about DM’ing from watching it:

The Power of Objects

Woll has something that other streams don’t have: props. She begins every game on a set where the PCs are encouraged to explore and find objects that will help them when they move on to the next room to actually play. She also dresses up in costumes to play the NPCs such as when she puts on a veil to play a mournful ghost. She also makes giant puzzles for the players to solve, which the players find delightful.

Enough with the Hanging Out:

You can play DnD without a lot of hanging out. One of my DnD advisors has been telling me that Critical Role totally changed DnD. Since that stream caught on, there’s a lot more of an expectation in home games that the characters will just hang out a lot and goof off in character. But some players, and DMs, would rather just play the damn game. Woll appeared on Brennan Lee Mulligan’s “Adventuring Academy” podcast and made it clear where she falls:
  • Woll: I don’t have a lot of sittin’ around the campfire talking moments in my games. I’m like “Action, progress, forward”, I wanna tell the story. I don’t do downtime. I’m like “sure, you spend a week, you buy some stuff, moving on.” Don’t spend a lot of downtime. I will admit that there’s a lot of players that want to play in that space, and I’m either not the right DM for you, or that’s an aspect of my game that I have yet to develop…But for me, I don’t like playing those moments as a player. I don’t want to have a conversation in character around a campfire, I want to get to the action and storytelling and play the game, so I don’t tend to leave a lot of space for that in my games.
  • Mulligan: I love plot-based players and I think that’s a very real thing because there are some players, people might lump character and plot into just being like “story”, but I really do think there are people for whom the game is an ability to just sink deeply into character, and then there are other players who are like “Nah, I am chasing this story down.” Like, “what are your deep character conflicts?” “None, baby, next puzzle!”
  • Woll: Like I remember for example for example Critical Role, because they are voice actors, I think they really do love that downtime conversation, that kind of stuff that they do, and I am unversed in that, I guess, so when I went on the show, we did it, we had a great time, we did the battle, we searched the thing, and at the end, there was this extra 45 minutes to an hour of talk, and I remember sitting there being like, “Oh, I don’t know how Twiggy fits into this,” so Twiggy was basically like, “Bye! Have fun, here’s the ball,” and I just left! And I’m not beating myself up about that, because I do think that just for me, the joy that I get out of DnD is that action-plot oriented joy. It’s just not as much fun for me to sit around and talk in funny voices.
Give them multiple hooks to go on this adventure and let them choose their own

Different players play for different reasons and it’s great to have multiple reasons to go on each adventure. Here’s Woll on “Adventuring Academy” again:
  • Woll: For every adventure, I try to include the emotional, the money and the plot hook, so you’ve been tracking down the henchman of the big bad, you find out that he’s kidnapped a family, and they’re staying in a cave that is known to contain treasures, and you’re like, “Great! We’re all covered! We’ll advance the plot, we can save a family, and we’ll get the money! We’re going to the cave!”
  • Mulligan: I like it! A little something for everyone!


McL said...

What I especially love about Wohl's objects is that they are all story-telling driven magic items. They don't just give a bonus to hit, or cast a fireball, they do things like a mirror that allows you to look like someone who's reflection you've viewed in it. They add more creative problem solving to the game, just like the actual physical puzzles she presents her troupe with.

It's also great that she incorporates the puzzles into the narrative in often acceptable narrative ways. Most people think riddles and puzzles seem to not make sense, narratively, but hers usually do.

Matt Bird said...

Excellent points!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Gillian here again from the comic books comment — I guess I’m going backwards. Anyway, I’m sorry for the pre-look-leaping/commenting — the above seems more relevant. (I’m trying to comment through my Google account, but I obviously have some problem bc it just reroutes me to “Comment as: Anonymous” etc. Ah, well.)

Anyway, apologies.