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A Dispatch from the War on D&D



I came across this article the other day and re-posted it on my Tumblr site. It’s a great look back to the “bad old days” in the early 1980s when the “D&D is Demonic” fervor was at its height. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it.

I remember these days and the fervor. I grew up hearing about all the various means that one could get themselves involved in satanic worship. There was rock and roll (of course)–one need only join the KISS Army (Knights in Satan’s Service) to fight the good fight. Or even AC/DC (“Anti-Christ/Devil’s Children”). There was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. There was even the Smurfs. And, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. The satanic/suicide panic against the game grew so out of proportion that even the esteemed news magazine 60 Minutes seemed to take it seriously.

Though I hadn’t really started playing until the mid-to-late 80s (man, that was a while ago), I still came across the fear of the game in the small, rural, North Texas town where I found myself going to high school. I would hear and read about all the supposed satanism in the game we played, though those descriptions never matched the fun and imaginative game I was playing. When I was playing regularly, I found myself approached by a concerned relative who gave me a copy of The Devil’s Web by Pat Pulling, hoping that I would read it and realize the error of my ways and the danger surrounding my hobby. I heard so much about these supposed dangers that I used them as the topic of the research paper I wrote for my junior-year English class. My teacher even managed to secure me a copy of Dungeon magazine to use as a source–though, she cautioned me that “this didn’t mean I should start playing the game.” I simply smiled and said “I already do” and continued on my merry way. I also remember reading about the upcoming new edition of AD&D (what came to be knows as 2nd Edition), and being disappointed that TSR had compromised against the backlash by changing their “demons” into these other races. It felt like a sell-out to me, a defeat against the onslaught of crazy.

Throughout the scare, my mom never voiced a single concern about me. She knew that I was a bright, relatively well-adjusted, teen with a vivid imagination. I had spent my entire childhood concocting adventures to play in and this was just a continuation of that. She trusted me. That is something that I’ll always appreciate and treasure.

And now we find ourselves in the Era of the Geek. Many of the things that I loved, and still love, things that cemented my identity as a “geek” and an outsider, are now mainstream culture. The satanic fever dreams of the 80s are now seen as the mob-induced panic attacks that they were. And, of all things, the grandfather of all RPGs is now produced by a multi-million dollar toy company. The game has thrived and is forty-years strong. It’s kind of a heady feeling. And a hobby that I am still proud to be a part of.

Happy GM’s Day 2014!

GMs DayHave you thanked your game master lately? Today (March 4) is International GM’s Day!

Since 2002 this day has been designated as a time to appreciate your local game master for all the hard work he or she put into giving you an enjoyable gaming experience. It is also, coincidentally, the anniversary of the death of E. Gary Gygax, the grandfather of all GMs and father of Dungeons & Dragons. This is especially special because this year is the fortieth anniversary of the release of D&D, the game that started it all.

Game Masters put in an awful lot of hard work for their players. Long hours of plotting and mapping. Making props. Logging adventure notes. Rolling with the various curve-balls thrown at them by players. All for the enjoyment of everyone seated around that table.

You can also celebrate “Read an RPG Book in Public” week. This celebration of gamer geekdom was created by The Escapist and is celebrated three times a year. Take out a rulebook and get a conversation started about our hobby!

So show your appreciation to your poor, old, beleaguered GM. Give them an extra slice of pizza next time you game. Sharpen their pencils. Munchkin a little less next session. Or just say thanks for all the hard work. Usually, enjoying the game is thanks enough, but now’s a good time to show that appreciation with a little extra love.

Taking Note: Adventure Logs, Session Notes, and Staying in the Moment

Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks

I’m currently running two different games: Pathfinder and The Dresden Files RPG. For each one, I’m running both a “group” campaign and a solo campaign for my wife. For all of these sessions, I post adventure logs and/or NPC character journals to the requisite Obsidian Portal sites for both posterity and as a reference between sessions. In order to do that, I try to take copious notes of what happened in each session so that I can not only be as accurate as possible, but also able to convey the spirit of the campaign at that time.

It’s a lot of work, frankly. And though that work is worthwhile, I worry that it is taking me out of the moment in the game. It’s hard to keep momentum going when I have to pause to note down some point of dialogue or some-such instead of simply playing and reacting to that dialogue or bit of action.

I’ve thought about recording our sessions so that I have a detailed record to refer back to when creating my session logs. But, as our sessions go on for about six to seven hours, that’s a lot of recording to sift through.

Maybe I should take up shorthand in order to facilitate my note-taking? I don’t know. I really feel like my GMing is suffering, though my notebooks are full of action and dialogue. But if I take it easy on the note-taking, then I feel like I’m going to forget something and my session logs turn into dull, inaccurate records.

Any tips or tricks out there for note taking while staying “in the moment”?


Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks

So I’m running two concurrent Dresden Files RPG campaigns and am planning on running a FATE Core superhero campaign in the future. One of the basic mechanics of these games is the “compel”. This is where the game master can make take one of the player character’s Aspects and make their life a bit more complicated, rewarding the player with a Fate Point for their trouble. It’s the “supply-side” of the Fate Point economy that drives the game.

And I can’t seem to get the hang of it.

Is it that the Aspects my players have chosen for their characters are difficult to compel? Is it a mental block on my part? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m inadvertently stingy with the Fate Points and that’s not good. It upsets the balance of the game and makes things unnecessarily hard for the players.

How about any of you FATE Core or DFRPG players out there? Have you had trouble with compels? Any tips you can send my way?

Badly-Planned Encounters: Is There No Escape?



So I’m running a side campaign of Pathfinder for my wife and I. We’re having fun with it and it’s something to do to scratch that roleplaying itch when we can’t play with the rest of our group. This last session something bad happened…and, as GM, it was entirely my fault.

You see, I planned this encounter for her and her NPC companion. It was meant to be challenging, but survivable–a little side-trip from the main adventure to allow them to get a little bit of advancement. It nearly turned into a TPK*.

The player made no bad decisions to place herself at death’s very door. The dice were falling as they will, sometimes in her favor and sometimes not. But the encounter was clearly too much for them. The baddies were entirely too powerful. No matter how well the dice would have rolled, the PC was probably going to die.

This falls on me 100% as the gamemaster. I should have planned better. I should have known.

So what did I do? My number one rule as a gamemaster is that the game should be fun but fair. But I felt like this party-killing encounter was not the PCs fault and, frankly, it was only supposed to be a diversion from the main story. Nothing major was at stake here other than the party’s survival.

I gave the PCs every possible benefit. And I may have fudged a few hits here and there.

But they lived to fight another day. Possibly to die later. But not today. Not when the stakes didn’t matter.

Am I a bad GM?

Maybe. I don’t know.

It’s not as if I’m a GM that lets the PCs win every battle and gives them Monty Haul dungeons. And, when the stakes matter, I let the dice fall where they may. I want the PCs to have a good time and want the story to matter. I want there to be real danger and consequences for failure.

But I don’t want to kill off a campaign based on bad judgment on my part. When I paint the PCs into a deadly corner and give them no way out, that’s not fun. That’s not fair. And, as GM, I feel like I should try to mitigate that as much as possible.

What would you have done behind my screens?

* TPK = Total Party Kill

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