DM Blog 6: Railroads & Gygax

Gygax book cover

Image: cover, Empire of the Imagination

Gygax news and image via io9

We just had our new recording session for upcoming episodes 8 through 10. There was much to learn. I was so happy with our finally realised audio set up and near perfect quality, I should have known that the universe would throw us a wrench. Sometime after a soundcheck and before getting into the episode material, Colin’s mic died, but he sounded Ok to me because I had one ear of the headphones off for the room sound, as I was playing the game too. So I was hearing him coming in through someone else’s mic, but not hearing the echo that would indicate something was up. So this time round, everyone sounds amazing, and poor Bjorn sounds a bit Skyped. But anyway, the episodes are fine and we hit a great point with the story.

We have come to the point now where choices the players have made have affected the game world and have shaped the story in a big way. As D&D nerds, this was really exciting for us. I can’t wait for listeners to get to episode 10. It’s hard to do, and we have made it work using a very specific strategy. If you’re reading this I assume you’re the type of person who is interested in this stuff.

The whole magic of D&D is that the players have a lot of freedom and they contribute to and shape the game and scenes. But in practice it’s tricky to balance. Mere mortals and hobbyists don’t always have the time to write and create massive adventures that have answers for anything the party does. At the pure freedom end the game becomes gonzo randomized weirdness, but people like story and goals, which can lead to the opposite end … the dreaded ‘railroad.’ Railroading is arguably the worse outcome as it takes away the freedom that makes the game unique and reduces it to a kind of video game on paper. But on our pod, we find ourselves in a unique position to walk the line. For other logistical reasons, we meet and play for the show once a month, then cut the 3-4 hour game into three or four episodes. So we play a normal D&D session, then there are about four weeks before the next game, which allows me the DM plenty of time to take whatever the party have done and write/prepare for that, to allow them to follow the threads they created. We barely noticed how it was paying off ourselves, until this session.

On another theory note: here is a super-nerdy series on pure D&D theory I once wrote elsewhere

In other news, an awesome looking book is about to come out detailing the early days of D&D and its creators TSR. It’s called Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer. The sci-fi, science and fantasy blog io9 has an excerpt here. And if you want to bluff some serious nerd cred in casual conversation you can mention that the cover image is a tribute/reworking of the classic AD&D v.2 sourcebook Unearthed Arcana … see. Don’t quote me though, it’s not secret and I’m absolutely not the first person to notice. Talking of the many sourcebooks of 2nd Edition, have a read about the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide.

As always, drop us a mail or tweet at us, I’ll read and reply.

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