Tag Archives: Battlemat

The Worst Game of My Life

A couple of weeks ago I ran the worst Dungeons & Dragons game of my life!  It was the kind of game that felt like a slow motion train wreck. Something had gone horribly wrong and I didn’t think my players, or myself for that matter, where going to make it through the whole game.  When it was finally all over, I sat back thinking, “I would never play Dungeons & Dragons again.”  I know that sounds dramatic, but that was truly my state of mind at the time.  It was all-in-all a horrible experience.

It started out with everything in my favor.  I had the luxury of time to plan this particular adventure.  Over a month of time to be honest.  All the while I continued to run my weekly game, building up each session to the mother of all climaxes.  I had great traps and monsters designed.  I had help from other Dungeon Masters.  I drew some really great maps on my battlemats.  I was so very much looking forward to this game.  With all the time and effort I had put into it, I could hardly wait for my group to play it.  I knew they where going to have an unbelievably great time!

However, by the end of the encounter, my perfectly planned game with all its wonderful traps and monsters fell apart right before my eyes.  The energy and fun was all sucked out by players questioning the balance of the encounters and debating whether or not it was even a fair game to begin with.  It was all I could do to keep them playing and letting them know there was a light at the end of this very long game.

So how did this happen?
I over planned.  I was to so caught up with making my monsters and NPCs look cool and act cool. I was DMing like it was me vs. the rest of the party.  I forgot something very important about roll playing games – you run a game for everyone to have fun, so everyone can feel important and like a hero.  Sadly, I had let my own ego get in the way.

As a result of this, I was in a self pity funk for the better part of a week after the game.  When I was finally able to pull myself out of it and dust off, I started to think about what I was going to do next.  I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over a year now and have almost always had a great time running it.  I was not going to let this one bad game defeat me.  I decided that if I was going to keep playing D&D I needed some help.  I needed to talk with other Dungeon Masters about what I did wrong and how I could avoid it again.  I needed to see what other people where doing online to keep their games fun and exciting.  I needed help and I was not afraid to ask for it.

Dungeon Masters.
I first went to Mike Shea of Sly Flourish. Though I have never actually spoke to Mike before, I have followed his website and twitter posts for sometime now and he seemed like a nice enough guy.  I thought it was worth dropping him an e-mail and seeing what he thought about my recent adventure.  I wrote to Mike with specifics regarding my last game, hopping he could point out how I could have ran things better.  He got back to me with much needed great advice.

Next, I wanted talk to someone who could slap me around a little and explain to me what I did wrong and how I could not just improve, but also make up for it at my next game.  The first man I went to was Capitain Pike.

Captain Pike was the very first Dungeon Master I ever met.  He ran 3.5 games with me and some friends several years ago.  I always had a good time at his games and have sought his advice before when I needed it.  The good caption has always been more then willing to help me out.

Captain Pike’s message to me was one of congratulations followed by discipline.  He pointed out that the reason my party was getting so upset was because bad things where happening to them.  My party had become attached to their characters, so of course they are going to feel hurt and upset if something negative happens to one of their characters, and of course they are going to question if your game is fair and balanced.  Players put a lot of time and effort into their characters.  They have a personal investment in them.

Captain Pike also congratulated me for sticking to my guns and not wavering.

While I was down and out I discovered a new website (to me) called DiceMonkey.  The thing I like about this website is that the main writers are a husband and wife team that remind me of myself and my fiancé.  I went to the very first post on this site and read it all the way through to its current post. One post in particular got my attention over the others.  It was a post regarding a small book titled, Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering.

Based on the advice of this post, I picked up a copy of the book from amazon (I now see you can buy a cheaper PDF version) and read it cover to cover the first night I got it.  It’s filled with so much great information that applies to all role playing games.  It really did remind me that we all play role playing games to have a good time. The pages of this book are filled with some great advice on how you can plan an interesting game and a fun encounter for you and your friends.  It reminds me of something I read from a Jeph Lobe interview regarding the Batman: HUSH series he wrote.  He said in this interview something to the effect of, “I try to write stories people want to read and see on the page.  People want to see Batman fight the Joker.  People want to see Batman match wits with the Riddler.  People want to see Batman fight Superman.  So I just give them what they want.”  I think of that quote every time I sit down to plan my next D&D game.  My players want to crawl through dungeons and they want to fight dragons; It’s even in the name of the game we are playing. So I try my best to give them what they want each time.

From this whole experience I have take with me a few hard learned lessons.

  1. Run a game for the players.
  2. When they succeed, you succeed.
  3. The game is called “Dungeons & Dragons,” so give them what they want. Give them dungeons to crawl and dragons to fight.
  4. Remember the rule of fun.

BBQ and D&D

SunOver this past Memorial Day weekend my gaming group and I got together for a barbecue and some Dungeons & Dragons.  Normally the games are at my and my fiancé’s place, but with spring and summer here the weather has been nothing short of amazingly perfect.  This last week we have had sunny days with temperatures in the mid to high 70s.

In Juneau, Alaska the summer days can get quite long.  Currently the sun is up by 4:30am and sets at 9:30ish, though it’s still light out for several more hours. Due to this, we have been pushing the start of the games to later in the evening because everyone in our group wants to take advantage of this great weather.   I really can’t blame anyone for wanting to go outside and play in the sun, considering I’m one of them.

We ended up changing things a little this last weekend.  It was going to be the last weekend I would be able to DM for a couple of weeks, so everyone wanted to get one last game in before I would be unavailable.  Everyone was working with busy schedules so none of us where able to make a game later in the day.  One person from our gaming group (will call him by his character name Shadow an Elf Shaman) suggested that we have our weekly game earlier at his place since as he has a big porch and we could all be outside and have a barbecue for lunch.

The idea went over well with everyone so we met at Shadow’s house on Sunday just before lunch.  I got my battlemats all set up along with my Dungeon Master Binder, minis and dice.

This was the first time I had ever played Dungeons & Dragons outside and I was a little worried about the wind causing issues.  I quickly realized my worries were unfounded. The day was not windy at all and Shadow’s house was surrounded by trees.  I imagine it would have to have been quite windy for it to have been noticeable on the porch.

BBQ Game
iPhone picture from our D&D BBQ Game

Shadow grilled up some chicken, burgers, and sausages while I did the normal recap of what happened during our last game and got our group of adventures pointed in the direction of their next mission, which was to restore the eye site of one member of our party.  Everyone in the group brought something to contribute to the barbecue.  I brought some Macaroni and cheese while my Fiancé (Erona, a Deva Warlock) brought chips and soda. Our other friends and gamers (Snort, a Half Orc Avenger  and Scorcha, a Dragonborn Sorcerer) also brought snacks and drinks to share.

Time really flies when your playing Dungeons & Dragons.  Our adventurers traveled three days by boat to the island of Nütor in search of a powerful shaman named Roz.  Everyone had learned that Roz might be able to restore Erona’s eye sight. After the end of the first encounter it was time to take a brake and eat lunch.

Our D&D games are pretty relaxed.  It’s not uncommon for us to get side tracked for an hour or more during lunch or dinner to just talk about life, the universe, and everything.

With full stomachs we returned to our game on the porch.  I noticed that the mid day sun had inched it’s way onto the porch and the minis on the battlemat where getting soft from the heat.  We moved the table a bit so it was out of direct sunlight and the party continued to search for Shaman Roz.

After everyone got through the Kobold encounter (an idea I borrowed from dicemonkey.net) and a Harpy encounter my group of adventures finally got to speak to the Shaman Roz.  Thankfully, Roz was able to restore Erona’s eye sight and she no longer required the aid of the other members in her party to explore the world.

It was a good end to a great game with close friends and awesome food. I never thought playing Dungeons & Dragons outside would work. I was presently surprised how well everything worked out. If I have one word of caution it would to take good care of your minis out in the heat of the sun.

Anyone else played an RPG outside? What’s your experience been like?

Chessex Battlemat Review

One of the most important things as a Dungeon Master that you can have at your Dungeons and Dragons game is a battlemat. It’s one of the items I struggled with for the longest time before I finally settled on one to buy. There are a hand full of choices for Battlemats and reviews for them are hard to come by. In the end I finally settled on the Chessex Battlemat.
The Chessex Battlemat is a “expanded” (i guess they mean stretched) vinyl mat with 1″ Squares on one side and 1′ Hexes on the reverse side. The battlemat was shipped and packaged very well. I was worried about  a rolled up tube of vinyl getting damaged in the mail, but my worries where for not.

Some care instructions came with the Battlemat instructing me to use only wet erase markers (which i found at a local store) and never to use any red or orange markers. Something in the ink makes them permanently stain the vinyl. Never to fold the mat but rather just roll it up into a tube.

When I first opened the mat it had some wrinkles that you can see in my photos. But after a few games those wrinkles have dissapeard and the mat lays flat at every game.

I now currently own two Chessex Battlemats. When I first started using the Battlemats I would draw out my dungeons on the fly. Keeping my players guessing as to what was coming up around each corner. Lately however, I have switch to drawing out my dungeons before hand. This can kill the eliment of surpize for my players but it does allow me to draw very detailed maps and I almost always get some oohh’s and aawww’s from my party. That’s saying a lot for a guy who can’t draw.