This post is written by Peter. Due to a needed overhaul of the backend of the site, his post will be marked as written by ‘Bay’ for the time being. Sorry for any confusion.
A few weeks ago, I introduced myself as ‘the D&D guy’. And in the wake of that, I have to preface this with an official confession; I have until recently spent a lot more time daydreaming about planning and listening to other people play D&D than I have spent playing or DMing.
This is mainly to note that I’m not by any means experienced. I could rattle off about TTRPGs for hours, but knowing and actually experiencing are very, very different things. DMing specifically is a practical skill. It needs hands-on experience unless you’re some kind of savant. Some people are, just not me. My unique social deficiencies, short and long-term memory issues, and obsession with rules that ‘make sense’ have produced some particular hurdles in my journey to run a game of my own without the years some of you fine folks might have under your belt. So, it’s been trial and error thus far to balance these issues and the actual goal of a DM, which is ‘make sure everyone, even you, is having fun’.
My current project is a Monster of the Week game. I tried to run it once before, a few years back, but due to some issues with my choice of players and their ability to enjoy each other’s company, it ended after the second session. A rough first lesson, but an important one that I, unfortunately, had to learn about three times before it stuck for realsies.
I tried again recently, thinking I’d fixed everything I’d been doing wrong the first go around. I gathered some friends and set off to Clown Town.
Mistake number one was I built a world. A unique, and well-established world. With its own unique, and limiting, rules.
The game runs like this: players will enter a strange town, full of people who are friendly but closed off. The town is secretly a pocket dimension in ‘limbo’ created by one of many strange eldritch beings, directed by a larger force. The pocket is a ‘sanctuary’ for people who are dying, to allow them to live a full life before they run out of time, in order to prevent them from turning into Monsters, or ‘Husks’ when they die.
Husks are the primary monster of the game. They are the remaining impression of the souls of people who have died suddenly. They have no memory of their original life. And without a physical body, the only way they can sustain themselves is by hunting and absorbing the life force of others. They are generally trapped in limbo; drawn to sanctuaries and the easy food they would provide. The husks are ‘themed’ after their death, and the only way to kill them permanently is to replicate the original cause of their death. The players’ investigation follows them trying to puzzle out who the person was and how they died by comparing news articles on deaths in the area and what they know from the Husk’s behavior.
It’s a solid premise! Unfortunately, Monster of the Week revolves around a ‘monster of the week’ not a ‘mystery of the week’, which is a key difference. Not to mention it conflicts with some of the playbooks because I didn’t really read through them the entire way.
Another unfortunate issue is…I didn’t consider that MOTW is built to take place in a world full of strange things, not one where there’s one secret strange thing, in a corner, being secret and strange far away from everyone else.
But I’ve already made my bed, might as well bury myself in it! So, here are a few things I’ve been doing to fix the issues.
First off, my players were kind enough not to care that I asked them to ignore certain playbooks…and certain sections of other playbooks. And overall, they have been very patient with their status as lab rats as I learn how to do my job as a keeper. I could definitely rework the playbooks so they’re playable someday, and add some more seasoning so there are fewer conflicts, but for the time being, patience is my ally.
Second, I needed to make the mystery more interesting. So far, part of the mystery was just a very awkward game of twenty questions punctuated by the occasional dice roll, which meant I needed something to make things a bit more engaging. A simple solution, in retrospect, would have been to make a few pretend articles for a fake newspaper and let them glean information from those. Keep it hands-on without making it overwhelming.
What I did instead was make a Twine game: Newspaper-clippings
Twine is a simple program where you can make text-based games with minimal coding. Using that, I made a small ‘game’ where I sent them a website, and they would click on ‘newspapers’ from around the area and look through articles Which were a mix of things I wrote myself, and ones I pulled from news sites in the area my game is set in. Any articles I included that involved a death, I wrote. I didn’t pull any that were about real peoples’ deaths. for clues. I made a few mistakes here, one of them being, the first person I had to playtest it does ARGs for fun, and their first piece of advice was to add more challenges. This ended in me slightly overwhelming my players with too many articles to look through, and not enough pertinent information mixed in. Which lost some of the fun of solving the puzzle. I also made some formatting errors, which just made it harder to read and remember what they had already looked at.
Aside from that, they liked it! And with some tweaks, it will probably be a recurring start to their mystery, with some small changes to keep it interesting. Is it a better approach than a simpler puzzle I could have set up? Probably not, but I can’t call it worse either. And my players needed the enrichment.
Riding high off that near success, I then decided to solve another, more niche problem.
My players all come from a group who are very into character-building and writing. This means the game’s roleplay section takes up quite a bit of time. And sometimes a character gets left behind to kick their feet while the rest have an important conversation. The solution?
I made another Twine game: Headquarters
This one’s simple enough, it’s a chance to explore the most common gathering space This NPC’s house is basically my players’ base of operations, so they’re here a lot. without me having to be there to exposit over the other PC’s conversation. They get to mess around, nose through her things and learn some details about her as a character. It’s not a permanent solution, but I’m hoping it will be a fun way to allow for some passive interaction with the world they’re in.
If it ends up successful, I plan to make some more for other places. But I haven’t had the chance to mess with it yet, so the jury’s still out on this one.
And finally, I tackled a problem that wasn’t really a problem at all.
There are a lot of weapons in use in this game. I’m liberal with things like guns because the monsters are less vulnerable to them as a general rule. But several of the PCs are…less skilled with firearms, or avoidant of them altogether.
Now, I could have them roll when they have to shoot a gun, like I’m meant to…
…or I could make a Twine game: Gun
This one is pretty simple. You click some buttons, and either get no result, unload the gun, or shoot it, accidentally or otherwise.
It’s probably not going to see frequent use, but it was fun to make. The idea is if they get too nosy and pick up a gun, I send them this and say ‘have fun’, then let them mess with it until they hit an ‘end’ state of shooting, unloading, or putting it down. Or, in combat, they go to shoot, and I give them a link and a timer and see what happens.
As I said, this one probably isn’t going to be as popular, but I’m banking on it being fun at least once.
I’m fully aware this is a product of the age-old issue of only having a hammer. But until my information recall and ability to describe things improve, it’s nice to have things to toss at my players to gnaw on while I figure things out. And as an added bonus, they’re really fun to make.
 Which were a mix of things I wrote myself, and ones I pulled from news sites in the area my game is set in. Any articles I included that involved a death, I wrote. I didn’t pull any that were about real peoples’ deaths.
 This NPC’s house is basically my players’ base of operations, so they’re here a lot.
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