Confessions of an Amateur Dungeon Master

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When I was young, I read a lot of science fiction. Okay, I read a lot of everything. But a lot of science fiction. Eventually, I also read a lot of fantasy, as did my wife, Andrea. As such, we have a considerable collection of sci-fi/fantasy in our library. Our oldest, Brandon, 23, plowed through the fantasy. I know he loves Raymond Feist, Joel Rosenberg and Christopher Stasheff because those are the most worn books. Colin, 19, also reads some fantasy, but he prefers sci-fi like Nive/Pournelle, Clarke, Jose Farmer, and Jack Chalker. What fantasy he does read tends toward R. A. Salvatore, and the D&D genre. Their online gaming follows that: in addition to Eve and more about which I have no clue, they’ve recently resurrected their interest in Dark Age of Camelot.

Dylan, 12, having read Harry Potter and Percy Jackson amongst many other books, has discovered Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. “Discovered” when I gave him “A Spell for Chameleon” to read. I had seven of the series (1-4,6,13 and 19), so went trucking off to Half Price Books to start filling in the gaps. Imagine my surprise to learn (I only read up to #4 myself) that there are 33 (so far)! Anyway, he’s devoured them, reading 11 in the past six weeks. And Drew, 11, also having read Harry Potter and more is on his third go around with Percy Jackson.

That establishes the framework for this post.

Colin, long ago, got into Dungeons and Dragons. He collected many, many of the books, and semi-eidetic-ly memorized most of them. Living on a small base in Korea made it very difficult to find players, though he and Brandon did have some exposure, but not very much. Dylan recently got into it as well, though not on the same level as Colin – yet. He’s focused on the Monster Manuals, but has at least read the others. He and Drew got to play a bit in their old homeschool group in the form of a writing program called Druidawn, which combines writing with D&D style adventures. When we parted from that group, we were faced with a D&D void, and two very disappointed young men.

Enter me.

Backstory: I’ve known of D&D since high school (latter half of the 1970s), when it was three small center-stapled books and a loose set of rules and friends were playing it every day after school. And not just geeks, but jocks as well. I didn’t play, but was intrigued. I went to one game night at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Student Union in 1979, but was more interested in crashing frat parties. Once they (TSR and later Wizards of the Coast) created that 3rd edition with a whole host of strange ideas like feats, the game was way beyond me. So, when the postings for D&D Dungeon Masters in our area came up dry, I stepped up and dove in. Never having really played, and certainly never having run a dungeon, I can tell you it is an adventure, pun intended!

With Colin’s assistance and participation, I ran a canned adventure for Dylan and Drew (some exposure), their friends Matthew and William (no exposure) and big brother Brandon (more than some exposure). I wasn’t too keen on the Eberon “campaign setting” so shifted to another packaged scenario when we were done with the introductory adventure, still with Colin helping me with the mechanics of the game. We were working Colin into a full time role and I had a brilliant idea: as Colin was already familiar with the “new” adventure and though he claimed he didn’t remember it (did I mention that semi-eidetic memory? ) , I shifted gears yet again.

I crafted a plausible exit strategy (see, it can be done!) and plopped the team of a dwarven rogue (Brandon as Korgesh Goldeneye), an elven fighter (Drew as Lucian Shadowsong), an elven wizard (Dylan as Warren Necrobane), a human fighter (William as Rodimus Bladerunner), a human cleric (Matthew as Shadoo Nightshade) into a completely new, yet still packaged adventure, introducing at the same time another human cleric to the mix (Colin as Ahumut).

Sidebar 1: Colin showed me a Dragon magazine from May 2007 a few weeks back that had an article about music in the game. Now I’m intrigued! I found the earlier article from September 2000 that had the definitive guide to music in D&D – soundtracks from Aliens, Willow, Braveheart, Darkman, tracks from Mozart, Queensryche, Enya and so many more fill the bill for battle, dungeon, wilderness, tavern, sorcery scenarios. Of course, the ultimate epic soundtrack for this game has to be Conan the Barbarian!

I culled my resources and put some on the iPod and was able to use them for our latest outing last Sunday, and will be adding more for the future, but the iPod is a clumsy resource. Still, it was pretty cool playing “Crimson tide”, “Conan”, “Aliens”, etc. while the team encountered goblins and traps in a dark dungeon. IPod limits aside, a laptop won’t be much better, unless…

Sidebar 2: back in that high school age, I was a computer programmer. Okay, okay, as nerdy as that (and yes, I played in the band) and I didn’t get into D&D??? Anyway, I coded Fortran, PL/1 and assembler for big mainframes. Many years later, I taught myself C++, but only barely. Still many years later, I learned enough Visual Basic for Applications to augment an energy calculation spreadsheet I developed in Korea for the base.

So I think to self: iPod=clumsy, no other application does what I’m looking for, why not write one myself?! I downloaded Microsoft’s free Visual Studio (actually Visual Basic) Express and a simple sample app that plays mp3s. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to trap keystrokes while a song is playing, to add my own sort-of-html-like tags, because not all of a particular track is suitable for the situation. The beginning might be fine for a dungeon, then it jumps into a battle, then back to a dungeon atmosphere. I’d like to tap a “D” key, capture the start time position for a dungeon sequence, maybe an “S” key for a sorcery encounter, “D” again to close out the dungeon clip, and so on. I’d log it in a database that would track the song, the start and stop points, and then load all the type clips for specific (pick and choose playlist generation) or random playback in another app that would play a segment when I tap a key for the particular encounter. That would make it a lot easier. Especially given that I’m such a noob at running a dungeon!

The DMing has sparked a programming re-interest, and what I have in mind is challenging for one so many years out of coding, but maybe I can share my experience with those in the biz of casual gaming.

As a DM, I’m still making a boatload of mistakes, but hey! I’m the dungeon master! Tick me off and roll a fortitude save! Doesn’t matter; whatever you rolled wasn’t enough…


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