DMing is Not the Same Thing as Writing Prose Fiction: This Should Not Be Controversial

The other day, some folks were discussing 5e’s Appendix E (the PHB’s “new” Appendix N) and how most of the new additions were not very good. I pointed out that while App E is bad, it is nothing compared to the DMG’s Appendix D whose “Dungeon Master Inspiration” list is actually detrimental to DMs, particularly inexperienced ones trying to learn the game, because they will see all of those books on fiction writing and assume that a DM must be a fiction writer.

appendix d list

That’s right, guy I stole your spreadsheet you tweeted at me.

Someone tried to point out that books on writing fiction only make up 25% of the list, but that means that 25% of a list of books meant to provide inspiration for DMs are actively sabotaging their understanding of what makes for good D&D, because it implies that DMing is writing fantasy fiction and storytelling. It’s not.

The DM’s job is NOT to write their fantasy story and have their friends live it out for them around the table. The DM’s job is to create game content within reactive environments for their players to interact with. The story that happens in D&D is not the story that the DM tells, it’s the emergent story that comes from the players’ interaction with the content that the DM provides.

As both a fiction writer and a DM, I understand that the storytelling skills involved in writing and structuring fiction are not the same skills that bring a story to life at the table.  It’s apples and oranges, and trying to use the approach of one for the other can be detrimental.

Though it’s a different medium, an excellent example of emergent story is the history of Boatmurdered. Boatmurdered was a succession game of Dwarf Fortress, where each player played for an in-game year before passing off the save file to someone else. Each player chronicled the history of the fortress of Boatmurdered as it played out. What resulted was an absolutely legendary story of murder, madness and rampaging elephants.

Take a bit and read it.

You don’t get that sort of story from using the tools that a writer uses to write fiction; you get that from the game-content components and the emergent events surrounding them. It’s the way you get “truth stranger than fiction” from a purely fictional setting.

So what IS the approach DMs should take? What IS “inspirational reading” for DMs? Honestly, one question does not answer the other.

A DM needs to first gain a good grasp of the system and mechanics. Once that’s achieved, it becomes easier to pull in outside ideas and inspirations. The question is not “what weird thing do I want to put in my game?” but rather “how do I put a weird thing in my game?” A DM’s ideas must be translated into game content that players can interact with.

The answer to the second question is “anything, really”. Sure, Appendix N has great stuff and helps answer “what were the literary antecedents of the mechanics used in D&D”, but a DM can get inspiration from just about anything. And with a grasp of system and mechanics, it’s easy to drag and drop content to your game.

Want combat robot maids?

4HD*, AC3, 40′ 1d6*/1d6. (*stun for one round)

They’re almost tough as ogres (4HD), hard to hit (AC3), quicker than encumbered humans (40′), and high output with flip-kicks and one-two punches (1d6/1d6).

Need a reason for them to be somewhere?

A mad scientist somewhere in part of the dungeon built them because he was lonely.

Do you need to have a grasp of the finer points of fiction writing to include weird stuff in your D&D game?

No.

 

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Doxxing, Dwarf Fortress, and Defense via Towers

What broke this little girl so badly that she felt that the best thing she could do to help feminism was to send highly specific and threatening messages to some man on the internet she’d never met?

At least this story has a happy ending and maybe she learned something.

Also, Joss Whedon thinks you’re a Klansman.

Joss whedon

In  non GG news, I reinstalled Dwarf Fortress to mess around with for the first time in three or four years. The main thing I noticed was that it felt even more unplayable than before. Now, when I used to play it with a bit more regularity, while I was never able to do the weird crazy stuff I’ve seen where people make awesome traps and dwarf-robotics to protect the fort, I was always at least able to make a functional fortress where dwarves went about their lives and works for a few years until finally more goblins showed up than I could handle.

The Mirror of Keys, however, did not fare near as well as any of my older forts. For whatever reason, i could not grow enough food (apparently wild vegetables and fruit aren’t food, either?), and no matter what I toggled, my dwarves would just let things lay where they died on the floor of the fort. Animals from cats to large hoofstock would meander aimlessly and hungry until they died from starvation. No dwarf would touch a carcass to butcher it. Even animals flagged for slaughter merely wandered until they died, lost in the mines, because none of my dwarves felt like occupying the butcher shop for half a minute to actually chop anything up.

Starving animals turned to rotting carcasses turned to piles of bone, all going unmoved, untouched.

Most Dwarf Fortresses only get to experience one death. Because the game crashed, Mirror of Keys got to experience two.

First off, I got a warning message telling me to hide because the dead walked. Only two years into my fort’s history, a giant horde of undead (upwards of 50!) came flooding across the land lead by a dwarven necromancer. It did not take long for them to stream down my entry-hall, overrun the garrison squad, and slaughter my dwarves to a man. I was down to one last dwarf-child hiding in the crypts when the game froze up and crashed, taking me back to my previous save state.

The second death of Mirror of Keys was far more ignominious. The fort had tremendous wealth of gold and could theoretically buy its way to food security. When elves showed up, I brought up a bunch of gold and bought ever unit of foodstuff that the elves had with them. Somehow it was no use. Though they had the crops, they would not plant them. Though they had the food, they would not cook it. The fortress sunk, a mere 2 months after buying TONS of foodstuff from the elves, the Dwarves took to eating vermin and each other. Those who tried cannibalism were killed. Those who did not starved in short order.

I just don’t understand how, despite my previous semi-successes, I just could NOT keep my fortress fed nor could I get the dwarves to clean up after themselves.

Even though i love dwarf fortress in concept, it’s not something I can just keep coming back to.

Meantime, I’ve been playing Kingdom Rush, which has been feeding my occassional deep-seated need to play some medieval-themed Tower Defense.

I love the infantry concept, something that you don’t really see in a lot of tower defense games, which adds a bit of RTS strategy to it. Infantry do damage to the enemies they engage with, but, more importantly, they also slow them down to give the shooting towers more time to shoot at them. This makes the reinforcements tactic a very interesting part of the game. Once every 10 seconds, you can drop a pair of conscripts anywhere along the path. Usually (unless you’ve taken a lot of upgrades), they get taken out pretty fast, but they can make all the difference against a particuarly fast-moving mob, buying just enough time for a tower to take them out. Additionally, I like how you can change the deployment location of your troops within a certain radius of your baracks. Things not going well on one end of the road? Move your rally point to the other end of the path. The mob has to move past more of your shooting towers only to be met again by a squadron of your troops.

Anyway, I’m about half-way through and been digging the hell out of it.