Tag Archives: dungeons and dragons

Reading of Books #34

Some reading done in the recent days with the Elminster Series by Ed Greenwood, Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore and the zines Bardo Methodology and Forgotten Path. Sometimes I feel that my way of grouping books is perhaps odd, but that’s just the order in which I’ve been reading them.

Ed Greenwood – Eliminster Series (titles grouped as main series fo first five novels): 

Elminster: The Making of a Mage
Elminster in Myth Drannor
The Temptation of Elminster
Elminster in Hell
Elminster’s Daughter
Elminster is a creation of Ed Greenwood. A bearded mage, with a sarcastic kind of humor, a kind heart and powers beyond anyone else. He is known as the great meddler, the storm bird and worse by his enemies. He’s also great with women. If you google Ed Greenwood, you might thing he idealized himself in one of his characters actually, so that’s a bit odd. As a D&D player myself, I read these books with great interest, but found them often complex, unnatural and slightly unhinged. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great works of fireball-throwing-blood-gushing-damsell-seducing-divinely-inspired-dragons-swords-and-whatnot fantasy. They’re not very much to my taste, let me tell you why. I read it with enjoyment at times, but never worried about any outcome. Sure, this happens a lot in fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be so bloody obvious.

As a player, there’s one pitfall and that is loving your character too much. Elminster is as close to unfallible as any character has ever gotten. I mean, Gandalf and Dumbledore have nothing on this guy, who keeps defying death, withstands the most extreme torture and if all else fails just fucking fireballs himself out of any sort of trouble. It becomes rather boring if every rising action in your story, is a mere hick-up for the protagonist, so while the first book is very satisfying, it soon becomes a bit of a bore. I know there is more, but I feel sort of reluctant to start reading those, for exactly that reason. Another point is that Elminster seems to be a singular shining light in a world populated by cardboard characters. Every other player in this game is pretty much insignificant or very one dimensional. That and the fact that Gods tremble when He Who Walks passes makes me less fond of the books. Sometimes, I completely got lost in the woolly, jumpy descriptions. Sorry.

R.A. Salvatore – The Cleric Quintet

Canticle, In Sylvan Shadows, Night Masks, The Fallen Fortress, The Chaos Curse
The Cleric Quintet takes us back to a more simple and pleasant Forgotten Realms, where not Goddes-infused Elminster blasts his way through the world or the troubled Drizzt cuts and slices through the underdark. Salvatore started on the quintet after a couple of Drizzt series, in an attempt to start something new. In future series, the cast of both books would meet. That to me, was a greatly positive thing for the Drizzt series, which went on for a good run more afterwards. The quintet takes place in a region, dubbed the Baronies, where Cadderly is a student at the Efidicant Library. The library shines as a light of intellect and knowledge in the realms and draws visitors from far and wide.

At the side of Cadderly Bonaduce is Danica Maupoissant, a monk of a peculiar order with an uncanny strength and agility. Their adventures start, when an evil trinity of forces plans to take over the Baronies with an evil curse. To defeat their enemies the duo, who are playful lovers from the start, team up with the fantastic dwarven brothers Ivan and Pikel Bouldershoulder. The second wishes to be a druid and speaks only in affirmative or negating sounds. It makes for a fun and loose party, which is a nice change from the serious and dour group around Drizzt. Together they are going to have some great adventures. R.A. Salvatore pushes in some new directions with these novels, in a realm that feels cleaner and simpler in a sense. More warm and welcoming, which for me felt liek an interesting exploration.

Niklas Göransson – Bardo Methodology #2

Some magazines simply go beyond mere magazine-form. Bardo Methodology definitely counts as one of the favorite things I’ve read in a long time. Not only does Göransson pick some extremely interesting interviewees, but he never goes for the low hanging fruits with his questions. There’s a refreshing honesty to his writing, also when things don’t seem to go his way. At some point during one of the interviews, it seems that a conflict starts to rise. As the interview cuts up here, the author explains what happens in a neutral manner, making the reader feel even more like a fly on the wall during the interview. That is one of the things that makes this zine so remarkable.

The depth of questioning and of the authors knowledge is astonishing to me. Questions really dive into the deep end with most of the characters, though here and there this means unmasking the pretenders it seems. One or two interviews really illuminated some charaters for me in a way that also dispelled the magic these figures once held. That’s the way of things, but also proof of skill from the one asking the questions. I’m looking forward to #3. Maybe it’s also interesting to mention that ‘bardo’ is not derived from bards. The word refers to the transition between life and death, where much extreme metal holds sway.

Various authors – Forgotten Path #6

Again, not that I’m in the habit of reviewing zines, but these thick slabs of metal history/journalism are well worth mentioning. Though Forgotten Path is not a one man operation, it seems that Odium, the main author, has an obsessive urge to put words on paper. The amount of pages in this edition astonishes me, the same goes for the wide range of bands covered. Pages full of miniscule font cd-reviews, dense interviews and here and there an opinion piece, make for a read that fills up multiple evenings and rarely starts to bore.

Opinionated is something that definitely applies to Odium. He has a very clear artistic vision and view on the world, which shines through in his introductions, questions and most of all opinion pieces. This is not a bad thing, unless there was any pretense of being the objective writer. A zine is always personal and shaped by the authors. That is for me one of the main charms of Forgotten Path. Apart from that, they also do a great job at writing in a way that feels very natural, using speaking language instead of complex, intellectual swivel. A joy to read.


Lessons Learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons

Not too long ago I started running a Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Though the game we play is just the starter set of the fifth edition, ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelvar’, you can gain some insights. Though they are crude, I’d like to share them with you.

See, role playing may seem like a fun activity for your free hours, but you can learn a lot and apply a lot of it to, so here’s five lessons I’ve learned from playing D&D. But let me preface that with the fact that D&D’s magic doesn’t lie in the characters or setting, it’s in the collaborative effort. That’s where the magic happens and how that comes to be is not so different to work situations.

1. Being a DM is much like managing

For those who don’t know, a DM is a dungeon master. Essentially you play the monsters, other characters that the players encounter and you judge whether things that the players try to do work out. Most importantly though, you run the story and try to make everyone enjoy the ride. As a DM, more often than you think, you’ll try to guide the players or direct them. However, you shouldn’t, as this is exactly the part that they need to do themselves. As a DM you have to rely on the qualities of the party. You can suggest or hint at things, or throw some extra stuff their way, but basically you’re managing a team of skilled individuals. Trusting them is a challenge.

2. Role playing only works when you are vulnerable

Role playing is collaboration. Collaboration between the DM and the players and between the players. This only works fully, if you manage to be open and trust each other. As a DM I sometimes have to voice certain characters. Since I’m not a voice actor, it can be tricky, so the willingness to engage with my meager acting skills is extremely important for the mutual fun we want to have. Similarly, if I laugh or mock another player for attempting things in the game or imitating a voice, I might cause a big decrease in expression and joy of that player. He or she will think twice before speaking up again.

Do you have one of those managers or bosses that are hyper-direct, blunt and pretty much always right (even when they clearly aren’t)? Pretty much everyone knows the kind of character I’m talking about. It’s that person who chokes the creativity out of any project group or team, the one that makes refrain from sharing ideas/suggesting things. That’s exactly the same thing. Feeling safe and being able to feel vulnerable are key ingredients in any collaboration.

source: Dungeonsmaster.com Click the image for a great article (even though its 4) on engaging your players.

3. Engaging your players is harder than you think.

Apart from that safe environment, there is another huge challenge if you want to get things done. Engaging with your players is vital to the success of a D&D campaign. If they don’t feel invested or attracted to the campaign, they won’t get into it. Even less chance that they do in the way you want them to. In fact, to get the interaction going and the story rolling, you need every single person around the table to be invested. To achieve such engagement, knowing their various strengths and interests is vital.

This, again, is very similar to a project. No one wants to be bothered with a project that doesn’t offer any challenge. Why? Because it’s boring and doesn’t give you those positive vibes of excitement that make you go out of your way to contribute your best/to do your best, etc.. Simply ‘challenging’ someone does not make for a good project. It’s a matter of constantly estimating their attitudes and interest and working that on a personal level. Challenges have to be tailored to the individual. Have you ever been in a project where everyone was agitated and nobody felt like it was really his or her project? That’s the absolute opposite of an engaged group. If you find that exact bit of the story in which the player can excel, it becomes her story. The same goes for work-like situations: if you don’t feel engaged, you’re not switched on.

4. Reward effort, even when it fails.

Your players will attempt stuff, that will be creative, weird or even utterly out of place. Also stuff that you were simply not prepared for. So… sometimes they fail. Sometimes players come up with elaborate schemes and actions, but they roll, you roll and they fail. However, that’s not the end of it: the creativity of the players should always should be rewarded. Just let them succeed or do some accidental good to the players. Why? Because speaking out is brave, trying things is daring. Creativity already is stomped upon way too often in this world of ours.

Again, let me compare this to the bad manager that sits you down at a table and asks for ideas, yet somehow every idea gets ridiculed and mocked. How many ideas would you like to share with this person? None. So it’s vital to reward people that share thoughts, give feedback, offer suggestions and so on, because once that flow of information stops, you might end up having to do all of the work by yourself. For a D&D game, that would suck. For any work endeavor… well, what do you think? Always show grattitude for the input of others and reward the courage to stand up and say whatever you have in your head.

5. You could treat any project like a dragon

Ok, so I kind of added this one for fun, but also to wrap it up. If you spark the interest, engage players and manage to provide that environment where people feel cool and feel that they can be creative, you can do anything. Seriously, ANYTHING! You’d be surprised by how often you see a D&D party beat the odds with daring ideas, out-of-the-box thinking and the creative madness that is born out of the excitement.

You might think: well, yeah, but they’re beating paper dragons… Well, isn’t most of the work we do all just paper dragons. Paper dragons are, at their core, problems that need to be solved. If you can make your team feel like they are facing a dragon and if they get as pumped and inspired as my D&D party, you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve. Really, they might just slay it in a way you had never thought of.