DovahQueen: Bend the Knee
Since 2015, the DovahQueen has been taking your questions and giving advice to improve your games. Now the tables are turned in this DovahQueen series; Loren is asking the questions and a panel of three guests—an RPG-industry veteran, a Know Direction network staff member, and a fan—answers. It’s time to Bend the Knee!
First, let’s meet today’s guests.
RPG Industry Veteran: Adam Daigle
I’ve been writing material for games for just over 10 years, specializing in Pathfinder. I’m currently the Pathfinder Managing Developer at Paizo where I have the pleasure to lead a team of the most talented developers in the business. I like bugs of all sorts, particularly mantises.
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Vanessa
I have been creating games and adventures since I was 10 and raiding the family board games for dice while using her vast LEGO collection for minis and locations. My sojourn into TTRPGs properly began with the launch of D&D 3rd edition; I’ve been playing and running games in evolutions of that system ever since.
Today, I’ve authored several Pathfinder and Starfinder Society scenarios including an interactive special. I’ve also crafted adventures and encounters for multiple 3rd party publishers in addition to devious player options appearing in both Paizo and 3rd party products.
When I’m not writing, running, or playing role-playing games, I enjoy narrative-based video games, musical theatre, and spending time with my wife and our adorable cat.
Fan: Douglas MacIntyre aka ShadowsOverScotland
I have been playing rpgs for over two decades since a silly one off game of Attack of the Moonstruck Mutton (never has mint sauce been so effective) and now help with the organized play campaign for Paizo RPGs across Scotland. I have started branching out to GM online and on play by (discord) post. Outside of Gaming (tabletop, video, board, larp, anything else going) my social identity is as a IT developer.
“Your paperwork is set and ready to go. All the material is on-hand and ready. Sometime in the next hour, all of your friends will arrive and the fun will begin. Tonight, you’ve got something extra special planned for your gaming group; you’d be nervous if you didn’t have a wealth of experience under your belt.”
Are you more of a GM or a player? What’s unique about your style as such, and what’s your style look like when you go above and beyond in it?
Adam: I primarily enjoy my role at the table as a player rather than a GM. I’ve done my fair share of GMing in the past, but gosh y’all—that’s a lot of work! Kidding aside, people have found it odd that as a creator and game designer I don’t particularly enjoy being the one to lead the narrative. It seems that many of my peers are not only phenomenal GMs, but they also prefer to be the ones crafting the tale at the table or being in control of the experience. I feel like I get to do that enough at work and in my writing, so it’s relaxing to sit back and enjoy someone else’s tale. Maybe I’m just lazy?
As a GM, I’ve always tended to customize things for the individual characters so that they truly feel like the big damned stars. I don’t think I have any special style or whatever. I don’t use GM screens and roll out in the open most of the time. I also GM while standing, which I guess not everyone does. I like that it not only makes me more mobile at the table in case I need to move figures around or glance at a character sheet, but it also allows you to command the attention at the table better—something very important if you have a table of jackals.
All that said, as a player I tend to play helper characters. I’m often the bard or cleric, and my characters tend to have personalities that lend to helping out the rest of the group in one way or another. I’ve never had a taste for lone wolves, playing against type, or just being difficult with the party dynamic. Because of this, my characters don’t only lend aid, but I’d like to think that I aid the GM as well. I focus on keeping the narrative going and not “going left” when it’s obvious that the meat of the story is elsewhere. I also try to keep the story clear and remind people of hints and bits of the story that folks might have overlooked. Essentially, I try to foster fun and help tell a great collaborative story. That is what this hobby is all about after all.
Some of this approach has come out in my work. While I always aim to develop an adventure in a way that makes it clear and easy for someone to run it, I also constantly think about the player experience. While the GM is the one carrying the load, they are certainly outnumbered at the table and after all everyone at the table is a player, even if one person is leading.
Vanessa: I’m a very cinematic storyteller. Between my Film and Television degree and a penchant for being overly dramatic, I see role playing games very visually in my mind’s eye. When I’m running a game, I try and craft an imaginary experience for each person at the table with the hopes that they can feel like they’re watching their characters in a long-running series. The action is always dramatic, and time compresses or extends as it best fits the story.
There are times when I’ll describe the rogue slow-motion back-flipping over an ogre before stabbing them in the kidney. Why? Because it’s cool. Because as the GM, I’m sort of acting as the Director and Producer of this game and that’s the camera shot I’d ask my DP to set up for me. I’ve even described the arrow’s eye view as it sails through the air, past an ally’s head (who was creating cover), through a blade barrier (more cover) and directly into the eye of a target (critical hit!), all the way up until the reflection of the arrowhead in the monster’s pupil. It’s these moments that really extend the victories of the PCs in a game beyond “I confirm and deal 47 damage.”
When I set out to run a game, I aim for the epic blockbuster.
Douglas: For an age, I was a bit too intimidated to GM so I would play and throw myself into it, but over the last 10 years I have ended up behind the screen more and more until now I end up running the games more than I end up playing and even feel comfortable doing it. My GMing style has come from these roots, I end up trying to prep as much as I can to be ready for whatever I am running due to some strange overcompensating quirk. This ends up showing itself with constructing big lumps of scenery, having the minis or pawns and cards for any weird and wonderful spells the NPCs are likely to use as part of the session. The main reason for this is the same idea as taking 20: you go through the best and worst of it so I had sessions where I literally forgot the adventure and had to trek back home for it while in others have been prepped with all the cool scenery for a big battle and everything goes like clockwork.
Its tougher to pin down when my GMing goes above and beyond because it’s mostly due to great cooperation with the players where it really shines, the scenery and minis and all are just set pieces but when everyone feels that investment to what is going on in that moment of the game. I have never been one to stand over a table but it is always great when the game demands everyone’s attention without it; you get the big impressive scene or battle that gets everyone is tuned in as a group (without background off topic chatter or phones).
If one of the PCs happens to go down at the time though, it does help get everyone’s attention….
I’ve heard from my guest writers; now I want to hear from you. What’s your style as a GM or as a player? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.
Each Bend the Knee features three guest writers. One is from the RPG industry. Another is from the Know Direction network. The third guest could be you! Leave a comment on Know Direction’s Facebook, Discord, or Twitter, or you can send an email to DearDovahQueen@gmail.com for your chance to be featured on the next Bend the Knee or Dear DovahQueen.