Storytelling As a Game Master with Peter Warren

– [Brennan] Hello and welcome
to Adventuring Academy my name is Brennan Lee Mulligan I am so excited to welcome
our special guest today. Peter Warren, thanks so
much for being here Peter. – Thanks man. – [Brennan] Peter is a screen
writer, television writer, and a proficient dungeon master, and a friend of mine
going back many years. Peter thanks so much for coming by. – Yeah, thanks so much for having me. – We’re so excited to have
you on the show today, I want to talk a little
bit, well first of all I wanted to check in because
we’ve been hanging out for a second before the PodCast started. I want to check in, you
sent me one of my favorite ideas the minute I saw it I
was like I have to do that. Which was a cheat sheet
for continuing a table top roll playing game in character live-action at a Ren Fair. – Yeah, this is interesting,
you and I talked about it. And you, correct me if I’m wrong, have a background in LARPing. – That is correct, I, your boy
LARPs and has for many years. I was actually back at
LARP camp this summer and had one of the best days of my life, which was, I was LARPing in
a field in upstate New York at one o’clock in the
morning and later that day was at San Diego Comic Con playing TGRBG with the lovely Mackelroys
of the Avengers. – Amazing. – What a good day. – So I don’t know but, I
may have just accidentally invented LARPing. You would know and I wouldn’t. But yeah this started with, you know, I had my home game with my party and I am usually the
instigator of dragging us to do things including
starting this home game to begin with because my,
the people that I play with are all people that
were new to D and D. So I wanted us to all go
to the Renaissance Fair in upstate New York as any self respecting Dungeons and Dragons party should. So naturally I wanted
to sort of incorporate this into the flow of the game. So found a way to kind of incorporate a local festival into what
was going on in the story. But I wanted to have some sort of a rule set that could be used so we
weren’t just doing something like you know, sitting down at a table and playing D and D while we were there. Was there a way to encourage people to sort of keep in character
while we were there that wasn’t, that was
somewhere I think in between probably what LARPing
is, again I’m not someone who has LARPed, I’ve
not done the gentleman’s sport of LARPing or whatever it is. – Called the game of Kings. – Exactly, but, I wanted
to find a way that we could sort of have the
game on foot you know. It’s funny actually I
looked, so yeah I drew up this little simple
rule set that also found a way to translate currency
into real life currency. So like if you spent
money in the real world at the Renaissance Fair it was
deducted from your inventory there was a way to sort of do that. And also in general,
and this was just a fun thing to encourage role playing, I awarded experience points
if you did cool stuff. – That rules. – Which rules, it’s funny I
actually looked at someones like, they have some notes of
things that they had earned experience points for last
night and when I looked at it it just said Huzzah five experience points. And I was like what is
that and she was like I said Huzzah and you gave
me five experience points. (laughter) And I was like that’s
solid DMing right there, that’s what that is. So I do think I should
refine this rule set, and we could probably share it, I don’t know if you
have the means to do so. – Yes we do, we’ll share
it will Discord probably. – [Peter] So it was great and
it’s something I encourage people to do as a way to
sort of get your pasty sheltered nerds out of the
kitchen and into another incredibly nerdy sheltered environment. – I, and that’s what we’re trying to do is shuttle nerds from one
nerd environment to another. – Yes. – I love that idea, it’s
very fun too to think about like going on
these sort of adventures. It’s definitely, listen,
I would definitely qualify that as LARPing. LARPing, it can go from
the extremely mechanical and basically like border line table top, you like played the old
like vampire parlor games, which essentially cos
playing while table top role playing in three rooms
instead of one room right. All the way to LARPs that
are essentially poems. I’ve read LARPs where
it’s like here’s a LARP I wrote and you’re like
this is a beautiful poem. I don’t necessarily know
how I would play this but, I’m about to cry, this
is a very beautiful poem. So LARP is a big, wonderful,
all encompassing medium. But I think it’s wonderful
also to get your crew out in this situation, I love the idea also of spending real money. Because you said that
if they bought something that was feasibly in game that they, like if I dropped a couple
hundred dollars on a sword. – You got a sword in your inventory. Yeah absolutely, well I mean I wanted to also figure out a way to
do that that didn’t send things of the rails,
which is like of course a big part of DMing is
you’re like how do I introduce something cool
that doesn’t torpedo everything that’s going on. And so I wanted to like encourage people to interact with the fair
the way that you would in a game which is you know
includes things being sort of cost prohibitive. Like probably not going to
spend like 15 hundred bucks on a suit of armor the same way that you wouldn’t necessarily. – Spend a hundred gold pieces. – [Peter] Exactly, so figuring
out this currency exchange ratio was kind of tricky
especially for someone like me who has a BFA in screen writing and like currency exchanges
isn’t exactly my forte. But I figured it out and
it worked really well. And so it still encouraged
people to like utilize this environment the same
way that you are encouraged to utilize a cool environment in the game, when you’re like oh we’re in
a town we should buy shit. You know like we should go
get food or go whatever, so it was nice to see them
be like oh I have actually been needing a cloak, you know. – I love that, speaking
about a BFA screen writing I would love to hear, because. – Highly recommend it, maybe. – I also have a BFA in screen writing. – Do you, I don’t think
we’ve talked about this. – We, have we not. I have the, yes I have a Bachelors from SVA in screen writing. – Right. – And I did that in screen
writing and directing because I had enough
credits available to do both because I had done,
I had gone to school for Philosophy prior
to that at SUNY Ulster. – Got it, look at us just a
couple of screen writing BFAs. – How about it, everything I
needed to learn about life. – Everything turned out great. Sitting here next to a skull in a helmet. – What’s wild about it though is, I feel like cause obviously your career as a screen writer presages
your career as a Dungeon Master, which is flipped around for me
in terms of what came first. – Oh, interesting. – Like I was DMing before I
was screen writing, right. In screen writing it’s very interesting because I would
characterize screen writing as focusing tremendously on
efficiency of story telling, right, more so than series
of novels necessarily which there can be some
flexibility in terms of page length or how much story
you’re trying to tell. What is it like to go
from something as precise and with so many targets
it has to hit as a screen play to the type of story telling that you’re doing in a game of D and D, which is impossibly collaborative. And like you’re saying,
how do you keep something on the rails where you
don’t even have control over where the camera
goes, it follows the PCs that don’t know the story. – Yeah, I mean D and D in general but, DMing specifically is a really great thing from writing and
screen writing in particular. I think one of the things
that you and I have talked about this a little bit,
one of the things that makes DMing very unique is
its incredibly generous as a form of story telling,
meaning it’s wildly audience focused compared to other types of writing and story telling. Like when you sit down typically and I think other forms of story telling should be more like this,
and so I think as I’ve DM more I’ve become more like
this as a writer hopefully. But generally the idea
or sort of the belief with writing is like you sit down because you’re like I got a thing I want to say or like there’s thing I want to do and it’s all about me and the
thing that I want to make. Like I’ve got a story and
I’m gonna tell it to you. And DMing just doesn’t work that way, like you sit down in a way
that’s highly cognizant of other people, what
are they interested in, what are they about to
do, what can I do to help them tell this story, what
can I do to make this story the best for them. As a TV writer, as a movie writer, it’s actually not that different
if you’re doing it right. You know like instead of
coming in and being like here’s the thing I got, I want to
do this, I’m gonna tell this story right into your
fucking face, you know, instead of being like what
is going on with an audience, where are they at. Which doesn’t mean that
we are kind of pandering or catering in that way
but, coming at it in a much more sort of generous spirit is something that I think we naturally do in D and D because we have to but carries over a lot into other forms of writing. – That’s beautiful, I
think that’s profound. And I think what you’re
saying is like the generosity of spirit you’re talking
about is almost as simple as just changing up in
your head almost what your goal is, you’re just
changing your motivation of like going oh right, I can’t divorce the story I’m trying to
tell from the experience of these people because they
are literally at the table with me, I can watch as they
get bored or invest in it. – Yeah. – Which is a, honestly
a privilege and a gift, – [Peter] It’s humbling. – That I wish was available
when you’re sitting at a computer by yourself trying to bang out a novel or whatever. – There’s a, it creates
sort of there’s like a bio feedback loop a little
bit too which I think can be sometimes challenging to people but, it’s also sort of the most exciting and best part is like you’re right in it. You know what I mean like
it would be the equivalent of me going and sitting in a movie theater with an audience all around me writing what’s going on on screen and there’s actually an interesting thing, and by interesting I mean horrific, which is when you create a pilot, networks do this more so it goes through a process called testing
which is after you’ve shot the pilot they will
take it and they will screen it for test audiences to
sort of see how they react and these are done usually
in testing facilities in different parts of the
country, they’ll do it in Vegas, they’ll do it in
Chicago, and they’ll do it in North Hollywood. And it’s an imperfect
system and it’s brutal cause it’s partly predicated
on like who’s free in the middle of the
day in North Hollywood and needs 50 bucks, so
it’s like the audience also can be like wild times you know. – It’s very selective. – It’s very selective an
you’re behind two way glass and you watch this go down
and they as they watch the pilot are given like
a little knob to turn towards like positive and negative. And it’s just like as
you like stuff you go up and down and it generates
for you behind the glass a sort of overlay of
your pilot with a graph. And you watch essentially like
the needle rise and drops, like they like that joke it goes up, now they don’t like this
character it goes down. It’s awful, it’s terrible
and it’s sort of a horrible system because obviously it’s
just not really reflective of how we consume story,
where it’s like that set up was boring but that punch line was funny. Can we make the set up funny, well that’s not how life
works, you know what I mean. – God, what a perfect
example of like you know we’d be getting a lot more
laughs if instead of set up punch line it was just
punch line, punch line. – Exactly, there’s a little bit of that. But at the same time in
some ways that’s kind of what D and D is like. Is like you’re right there with them feeling what people are responding to. You know you and I talked at one point that other forms of story telling, I think I said this to you
it’s like I’m gonna make something with pieces
that I brought from home and D and D is like I’m
gonna make something with pieces that you brought from home. – Yeah, absolutely, and I
think too there’s something interesting because the
process you’re describing in testing for a sitcom
which is obviously toxic is actually very healthy in improv and it’s always why sometimes
you’ll talk to people cause I’ll get people
saying do you do stand up, and I’m like mostly no
I don’t do stand up, I like doing improv. And I will honestly say
I have zero stage fright when it comes to improv
and a little bit more when it comes to stand up which partially that’s just due to lack of practice. But also there’s an
element where it’s like how could you be afraid doing improv. If I’m doing something that
they don’t like I’ll change it. And there’s an element
I think of being locked into something and
having that thing of like oh they didn’t like that character, they’re gonna hate the second act. You know what I mean, like
what do you do when you’re watching the first
screening of Phantom Menace and Jar Jar comes on and
people are like What the F, and then you’re like oh
he’s in this a lot more. As opposed to something about the idea of D and D being extemporaneous means that the feedback is
something that you get to incorporate immediately and feed back into the narrative. – And that’s very much an improv thing because I have an improv
background as well unlike you I have the
sense to be ashamed of it and hide it so that’s where you and I are a little different. But it’s very much sort
of like improv is a wildly generous sprit of story telling, like you have to come in
incredibly hyper aware of your partner and what
they are bringing in. You know it’s sort of a one on one thing to not sort of barnstorm or
like I got a thing I want to do. You know what I mean, and
instead of like oh you brought this, what is this, oh it’s lovely. You know what I mean, like
that sort of very excepting sprit is 100% how we
tell stories in D and D. When characters are
introducing bits of themselves or exploring parts of
your story you’re like oh wow what did you, oh
look at that over there that is cool let’s follow it. All of that is really is a separate path than the sort of typically path
narcissism of story telling which is like sit down, shut up, I got something to tell you. – I love that you keep talking about, there’s interesting dichotomy
that you’re presenting like the need for expression versus the generosity of what we call listening, which I think is kind of beautiful because I’ve never sort of applied that improv note to it
but yeah the better part of DMing is listening. It’s not about coming up with stuff it’s about actually
noticing what your players are doing and what they
want which requires a level of empathy that can
be a little intimidating. But there’s I think in that
thing of, I got something I want to say, like I
gotta express something. It connects in my head
to this old acting note that I love which I think
is one of most useful lessons of story telling that I’ve taken from DMing, is that ability
to center your point of focus on the other
rather than yourself. Because when I think of
DMing and think about like I’m so rarely thinking,
there’s almost something machiavellian or manipulative about it where I’m kind of looking at someone and being like I see
you, I understand what’s going on with you, how do
I make you feel something. Where it’s so other focused that I’m not really considering myself. There’s a great old acting
innovation we think of which was the idea of, it’s
honestly kind of a note about manipulation but, it
has to do with an amateur actor if they want to make someone cry will start crying, that’s
not what makes people cry. – Right. – [Brennan] Right, like if
you want to do a sad scene don’t start feeling sad. Like in other words it’s
something that might occur to people but, you don’t
get someone to feel an emotion by feeling
that emotion hard at them. – Right, yeah. – [Brennan] And I think
that same sort of acting principle is at work
when you’re DMing a lot and it feeds into all the story telling where you’re more hyper
focused on like cool what actually makes someone sad, what actually makes someone afraid. – I think that’s where we
sort of come in as opposed to cause where we sort of
back off of the extreme of just like we’re here to
see what they want to do so let’s all just show
up, sit down and be like I don’t know you got any
ideas for adventures, is providing people with the
structure to be creative. Like everyone who’s done a project knows that like the worst you can do is you can do whatever you want, it’s fine. And obviously that in
someways is the beauty of Dungeons and Dragons
but one of the best things we can do for people is bring enough structure for it to be stimulating. You know like we’re building something with the pieces that
they bring but our side is being like hey want to put those pieces in this box or do you have any ideas for pieces that are based
off of this you know. And start to sort of give them the air space to do something cool like create a sort of structured and safe environment for that creativity. So it’s sort of like a dance of like meeting people where they’re at and seeing what they
bring and also bringing enough to like spark that. – Well I love that because it is true like nothing is more
terrifying then a blank page and a lot of what you are trying… – I mean it’s my whole
career and what I do everyday but, yeah definitely, totally, yeah, awesome, it’s not paralyzing
or problematic, cool. – It’s that feeling of like it’s you know, the sky is not the limit,
even in terms of anything can happen, no not anything can happen, you guys are gonna be some adventurers with a given number of
abilities in a world where there’s many more people
than you probably, right. Like there are these
limitations that get put in and the weird balance of
trying to give that ceremonial opposition of like yeah
your powers and abilities and creativity matter more to you when you’re encountering resistance. – Sure. – Which is always the thing to, I don’t know if you’ve
ever had this experience, so Peter and I actually
met through the auspice of Strong Female
Protagonist which is the web comic that I worked on. – Right, it’s an amazing
comic go read it, fantastic, Brennan Lee Mulligan, Molly Ostertag, two people, six names, all
the feelings in the world. – Sadly on hiatus right
now, we are going to return it and finish it. – Never mind don’t go
read it it’s on hiatus. (laughing) – But we would constantly get comments on that of like oh like I
hope they let the characters be happy after a certain amount of time. I hope they let them
feel some kind of way, there’s a lot of hardship
the characters go through. And I always remember hearing that and this is like the worst
like villain part of me but I was like you’re
a liar, you don’t want these characters happy. – Totally, I mean if
you spend a little time in network television development a note that comes up a
lot is wanting to see people be very successful at their jobs on the premise that success and happiness you know like can they just be sort of a rich, successful, good looking, that this is very empathetic. The reality is like no, first of all, everyone hates that guy you know, like everyone hates that guy. But it’s exactly what you’re talking about which is like it’s seeing people struggle through opposition and the structure of opposition and the problem solving unit that is incredibly engaging from the player side as well, right, whether you are reading a comic whether you’re in a scenario in a game whether it’s a television thing whatever. It’s like meet this guy, he’s doing great and everything’s fine, this
summer on the big network. – I mean no one would watch it. There’s an incredible thing too with like something that I think you have to face up to at some point if you are a writer in any capacity is the deep sadism because bare minimum with a story is you approach a group of people that are maybe going to listen to you or consume your story
and you go like hey I made up a guy and I’m
gonna make you like him and then I’m gonna hurt him. Like that’s messed up. – Yeah, totally and I think
sometimes where people, DMs in particular get a little bit stuck is like so am I trying
to beat the players, am I trying to kill them, like this idea that we are you know we hate the players. Like oh I’m gonna come up
with something terrible and wait till you see it. And it’s like no that’s not the point. Like I never ever see myself
as playing against them, like oh I’m gonna fuck them good. At the same time you
don’t do, I think someone, I heard a great piece of
advice I heard somewhere is we are trying to make them into heroes and you do that through creating challenge and opportunities for heroism which is naturally, mortally terrifying and lethal but, you know
I always consider myself on their side, but they are only as good as the epic journey
they are able to go on. I’m responsible for that journey or the opportunities for those journeys. But it’s not that I’m here to be like oh man you know. – I love that and I think
that there’s an excellent point there of, my like hottest take about D and D and stuff
like this is fundamentally I would argue Dungeons and Dragons is collaborative story telling with a game expertly stitch into the fabric of how that story is told. But I would say that the larger element of the two is a shared story and the reason I feel that
way is there is nothing in the rule book that says
a dog can’t play basketball sorry, there is nothing in
the rule book that says a. – You haven’t read the
dog basketball extension, by the way I’m sure
somewhere out there someone was like we’ve figured
out the dog basketball. Here’s the deal free throws
are ten and up you hit the rim, pugs only, pugs only. – I love that. There’s nothing in the
rules that says a Dungeon Master can’t take a first level party and drop ten ancient
dragons onto that party and just fucking roast
them, nothing in the rules that says you can’t do that. So what’s the thing preventing
a DM from doing that, an understanding of good story telling, that’s the only thing stopping. So there is an obvious compact between Dungeon Masters and players to collaborate and no matter how
aggressive the DM is the DM is fundamentally on the PCs side unless they are an actual mean person playing a trick on you to like kill your characters in which case don’t go back to that DM again. But there is a, because
if it was pure actual competitiveness in the game the DM would win every single
time because there’s no limitations on their ability
to present challenges. The only limitation is
self imposed from an idea of supporting a narrative. – Yeah, I mean I think you are, what you said is right
that this is fundamentally shared story telling
first, the reason I think that we incorporate dice and randomness is A-as adults we don’t feel comfortable sitting around a playing just pure pretend without rules because we feel like dildos. Two, I think it gives us the ability to surprise ourselves, like DMs included. Like there’s something that we don’t love about being like so do I die, do I kill it, and you’re
friend is just like yeah. Like it feels filtered
also through our emotions and our relationships of
like you know I’ve kind of been fighting with Adam and as a result this game kind of sucked. This objective feeling, but
the feeling also that the game can have this independent
sort of wigi board spirit where we’re like none
of us touched the dice and they rolled and the
number came up on it’s own allows it to take on a life of it’s own. There’s this phenomenon that happens when you write a lot and
have done so for a long time is you have, you might know this, I will sometimes pull like an old script and read it and I don’t
remember how it ends. And when you go through
it it feels like you are telling a story to yourself which is so rad because it’s like exactly a story that you would
love but without the part where you’re like I know
exactly what happens and then how it goes. But so you read through it
and it’s like the aliens come in and you’re like
oh I fucking love aliens, You know what I mean. It’s literally like you made it for you and you get the pleasuring
of not know what happens. D and D is like that feeling all the time where you like create
a world and present it and then these people start running around in it and like doing things in it that you never imagined or opening, like oh I want to go into the basement and you’re like there’s a basement. It’s literally feels like your story is now telling itself to you. It’s genuinely it is kind of magical, it’s really really cool. And I think the dice in
game element augments that of being like oh my god he pulled that off or like he died, that’s crazy. Like this story has
genuinely taken on a life of it’s own beyond what
we could just think up. – 100% and I love that
and I think also what I want to address there
is, well yeah that magic is so profound and so powerful. I love it, I also want to
ask a question before we move on to audience
questions which was looking at all these different
forms of story telling and I love hearing especially
who has been as prolific a writer as you and then
has come to this game and taken off on it, I
would love to hear like what is something that you
took from screen writing, both screen writing for
television, screen writing for film that you were able to take
kind of like off the cart and immediately apply to Dungeon Mastering and is there anything
that you’ve been able to take to Dungeon mastering
back to your profession. – Yeah, I mean the second
part first for sure, as far as D and D making
me a better writer. Which sounds a little bit
like D and D has made me a better writer but like D
and D has made me a better writer and I think it’s
a little bit the stuff we touched on before of
being incredibly generous in terms of, and I say that
as far as really thinking about less like what do I have that I want to get off my chest
and more thinking about an intense focus on character
and and intense focus on an audiences experience of this. You know like that really
coming edit of what can I do for you, you know how can I
help, that sort of feeling. As far as things that I take
from TV and film, a lot. I am someone who’s got
a fair bit of experience in film and television and
I’m still like kind of a novice, intermediate Dungeon Master. So I 100% DM like a TV writer, you know, and bring a lot from that. The things that I can think
of is like really coming with me sort of wholesale
are I tend to end sessions on a big twist because I want you to come back for the next episode. I don’t if most people do that. – [Brennan] It’s a great piece of advice. – I don’t know if most people do that, I do it because it’s sort of natural to me of like we just had a great episode of TV and I want us to sort of
push into the next one. I tend to sort of think
of things in parallel story lines that we’re tracking. Like keeping those things
and being like it’s a while since we sort of checked
in on this relationship. That’s very much a sort of TV
and show writing mentality. I also I think where my TV
and film side sort of kicks in is I tend to be like
emotion and drama focused and a little rules light
and I’ve said this to you. Like one of the things
I’m working on as a DM is like getting into
some of the nitty gritty of all of the mechanics
that this game has. One of the beautiful things that I love about D and D is there
so adamant about you don’t like a rule, change it, keep it fun, do what works for your group. I think I definitely embrace that sprit, that being said I like try and force myself to really stay
on the deep mechanics of the game but the TV and film side of me is like if this twist is baller I’m gonna make that happen over being like well actually, you know what I mean. Like that part will always yield to me that’s like but guess what
you guys are brothers. (laughter) I think that’s where it sort of kicks in. – I love that, I think that’s great to because I think every DM
if they’re being honest, should admit to, unless you’re playing a very particular kind of game, the game affords you a lot of ability to move narrative in the direction. Now if you want to be super honest and above board and I try
to be that as much as I can, I never want to force a story move but, even legally within
the confidences of the rule there is so much you can do as a DM. It’s almost like on a skateboard like you can’t actually take a 90 degree turn on a skateboard going very fast. – Maybe if you’re Brennan, you suck. – Wow, fuck. But you can not on a dime
but you can like stear actually good skateboarders can do that, I’m bad at skateboarding. – Yeah, see. – [Brennan] But the idea
of like there’s a little bit of lean to it to where
you’re like okay I can’t jerk and hard turn or else I’m gonna crash and ruin the mechanics of the game. But there’s so a DM can do,
you can grant advantage, – Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely – You can grant disadvantages. You can like, in terms of
like, oh there’s something there’s a really cool
brass ring over here for us I’ll grab if we without breaking the rules steer in that direction,
which I really love. And I think too there’s
something, I think taking that idea of a love for the dramatic and understanding that
that’s what’s gonna make the game the most gratifying from writing to there is such a beautiful thing. I think for me, similar
to what you are talking about of that generosity of spirit, I feel like one of the biggest things to take from D and D into regular writing is also you do not forget,
I’m thinking about like, spoilers but I’m thinking
about like the last season of Game of Thrones
and the idea of how character motivation is handled and I feel like a couple sessions of
DMing you will not fuck up how important motivation is anymore because man is that the
heart and soul of the game. – Absolutely and I think,
the other thing to is it really depends on who your players are. I am the worlds greatest
perfect Dungeon Master in history for my players and my style really works for that. I have a group of people who hadn’t played Dungeons and Dragons
before, I think also if you have a group of new players
this might be something that’s helpful. Chances are if you have
a people that haven’t played D and D, they probably
have watched film and TV. So they tend to be responsive
to drama and emotion and character and twist,
they’re not gonna be people that are bumped or
bothered by being like I think you might have skipped a mechanic there or you know what I mean, wait I was supposed to have a reaction, it’s not gonna matter frankly. What’s going to matter,
especially in the early days right, when people are
acclimating, is the engagement with the story and the play style. So when you have people
that are really accustomed to binge watching shows and
those kinds of narratives, you know my play style works perfectly. People are used to TV, that’s
what I’m used to doing. And so there’s a little
bit of a hybrid there, over time as people become
more accustom to the game mechanics are introduced, you
get a little bit of a deep dive, you level up so you’re
in control of more mechanics personally, it becomes a
little bit more detailed. If I were to go DM for
a very different group it might pull them out of the game that certain things that
they are very tuned to aren’t necessarily being incorporated. So again it’s like you
have to sort of come to your players where they’re at. I would probably shift my play style a little bit for high level players that are very your know like mechanics and combat driven versus
someone that might be a little more character
and heart and fun driven. – I totally agree with
that, I mean every complex system of rules requires adjudication, like there’s a reason that
you can’t just have laws you need judges, you need
people that are there, and entire systems to like interpret, like okay how are we
going to interpret this. And especially with D
and D that’s the role of Dungeon Master is to
interpret those rules. And a lot of that is serving
the community at the the table. Look I love a hard, strict,
aggressive rule keeping when it serves the tenor at the table. If we’re playing some grim, dark, hyper lethal campaign
where it’s like this is, you will all likely die, then
I’m like let me get every harsh rule clarification that I can. But I think that if your
community at the table is saying we want this
to feel like a fairytale or we want this to feel
like an epic, a saga, then I think as a DM
you go cool we’re going to adjudicate the rules, they aren’t all out the window but we’re adjudicate them with a bent in the direction of what we’re all looking to achieve. – Totally. – I love it, I’m gonna grab
these audience questions. If you’re watching this
episode of Adventuring Academy you could have seen it earlier if you subscribed to dropout and I don’t know why you
haven’t done that already. If you’re watching this on dropout, hey way to go. Also, all of our questions are submitted on our dropout discord
server which is available to our dropout subscribers. So thanks for submitting. This first comes from
Dani Doodles, hey Dani, Dani is one of our
communities many incredible fan artist, thanks for all
the awesome fan art Dani. Adventure Academy question,
I volunteered to DM a one shot for two friends
who are new to D and D, the catch is my friends
are Twitch streamers and they want to stream the game live. Obviously we’re not pulling in critical role levels of viewership
but I’m still super nervous that my standard way of DMing won’t be enough for the audience. Is there anything I need
to consider while DMing for an audience to make
sure things run smoothly? Are there ways we can prepare
to be more entertaining? Dani, thank you. – No, honestly, like I
wouldn’t change your style at all, the whole point is
if you’re going to share this with people you
want to share what you’re doing authentically. I think if you try and
like make it entertaining, you’re gonna end up doing
something that’s going to feel inauthentic and off and
people will sense that. I think if anything it’s
sort of the opposite which is you want to
fight the urge to feel self conscious or self aware. So I would just set up in way that you feel really comfortable with. Also like he said these are people that are new to the game,
you are going to be Dming for new players so
regardless of what they’re used to streaming in their
like other gaming life you know they’re new
players so they’ll need to be acclimated and
made to feel comfortable. So I would just worry
about setting up a session that makes new players feel excited and at home and I think as a result an audience will too. – I think that’s perfect,
yeah that’s correct. Authenticity and people, like
I don’t know if here has, I’ve worked a lot as like camp counselor and as a tutor with young kids, and without fail a kid
being like who wants to come play with my toy that I brought. People are like no, a kid
just playing with a toy on their own it’s like oh
this is fun I’m having a good time, whoosh, nothing is
as intriguing as somebody just doing their own thing. Like it is a bizarre
phenomenon how attracted people become to someone just doing
their own thing authentically. I think like you’re saying
the more you try to like jazz hands, you may smack, – Smack other people
with those jazz hands. – Funny story I did
actually give a childhood friend a concussion and he
had to go to the hospital because I did jazz hands
and I leaped through the air and I hit him with my elbow. – This is why you shouldn’t be
giving skateboarding advice. (laughter) One thing I would say too is
you’ll probably have seen a lot of different versions
of peoples first sessions or sessions zeros or that kind of thing but don’t be afraid to throw people in in a way that sort of explains the rules or explains the characters
as you go along. That’s how I was first
indoctrinated to the game, way back in fourth grade, I sat down, there was a new kid in
school, mysterious stranger, sat down with me and someone
else on the playground and was just like okay you are suddenly jumped by a couple orcs,
and we were like wait what. And he just got us started,
we didn’t role up characters, I don’t think we even had
dice, he rolled for us. We were just thrown in
and people will acclimate and react naturally and then as they need to learn bits along the way. You can do it, sometimes
that’s a really good way to get going because it skips the part where you have to, there
can be a lot of kind of red tape in getting set up that
you don’t necessarily need. People will learn things in the moment and it’ll stick a little bit better. – 100% and I think to, less we forget, part of the appeal of
watching shows like this is to feel a part of
something that is for lack of a better word intimate, is personal and shared between people at the table. I used to talk all the time about one of the reasons that
I loved again preforming improv which again I
feel zero shame about, improv rules, one of the
things I loved about it was the feeling of improv,
people talk about a connection to the audience and you
really need that when you’re doing something like stand
up or you really need that when you’re speaking
directly to people. One of the things that felt most freeing to me about improv and I
would tell my students, they would say what about the audience what about the audience, I
would be like with as much respect as possible and
I mean this from a place of deep love, fuck the audience. You’re not there for them. The most freeing thing about improv is I go out on stage, I’m just here with my scene partner, there is
nobody else in the entire world other than the
person that I am sharing eye contact with and I’m
there in that moment. And the audience if they
want to be there and watch if they want to be voyeurs
to that interaction that’s their business they’re invisible to me at least. I know that sounds aggressive,
I have all the love in the world for anyone
that has watched any show that I’ve ever been but in the moment I can’t be thinking about people behind the camera when I’m
there with my player character. You are just, everything else melts away. – Yeah, the other thing too
is DMing is kind of chaotic and crazy and you’re
not going to be thinking about it after about four
minutes, the fact that you’re streaming for people because you’re gonna be so busy like spinning plates with your players and engaged with it. So don’t stress and worry
instead about what snacks you’re gonna get cause
that is the most crucial thing and if you don’t get them right then this will all go down in flames. You won’t be friends anymore, it’s true. Sorry, listen to Uncle Peter he knows. – Dani, you will keep your friends, Uncle Peter is having a hard time. (Laughter) CameraNaNanNa, CameraNaNanNa, thank you so much for the question. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about a session zero where
players get to explore their character a bit
before running with them, we just mentioned this, I love this idea but I’ve never seen it done. What should I know as a
DM to make and implement a session zero. This is a great question CameronNaNanNa, thank you for asking it. Session zero, first of
all, we do session zeros for dimension 20 which I
think is extra important if you’re gonna be doing a kind of like campers dream D and D to
take some pressure off to have a session where
people are able to explore. It can be tricky I’ve played D and D thousands upon thousands
of hours of D and D every time you start a new campaign it’s a little squeaky
it’s a little like okay we’re getting into a new
character, new world. – Yeah, first gear is a little rocky. – Yeah, always, so session zero allows you to find character voices, to find the rhythm and
beats of relationships between PCs and a lot of what I recommend with session zero is if
you’re doing a streaming thing don’t have the cameras on, if you are not even if you’re
just doing a home game. I think it’s important for session zeros to be potentially non canonical to say like I think that’s a good, it’s helpful to be like hey
we’re gonna work this out, if after this you want to change a feat, change proficiency, this
doesn’t have to be set in stone, this can be volcanic, we
don’t, we can at the end of this decide this is canon or decide that this didn’t happen, that we’re gonna change a character voice up or we’re gonna change
a back story element. I think session zero is also a great place to discuss boundaries, to
discuss topics that you’re not comfortable with
coming up in the session,. We talked about this with
in Erika Ishii’s episode of like setting up like
hey we’re gonna have a safe word for if a situation in the game feels uncomfortable for people
or we’re gonna have a card you can put up just like
slide across the table or flip up to just be like ah this went to a place that like bums me
out in real life too much. For any reason whether
it’s uncomfortability with this like graphicness
or the intensity of a scene for whatever
reason you just be like, this is a no go for me. – Yeah. – But I think session
zeros are really helpful for those reasons because it is nice to dip a toe into the water
and ease into that hot pool. – Yeah, I love a session
zero, I think it’s great to sometimes give a
little bit of structure if you can do a session zero. Especially because people
are finding their character, finding sometimes like
literally physical voices and things like that so what we would say sort of like in an acting context, giving it a little bit of business, like giving people something to work with. So avoiding the trap of
like yeah I don’t know you guys are all in a
tavern and you hang out. Cause that can sometimes
put a lot of pressure on people to create an
improv seen around it but instead to find a way to structure this a little bit you know give them something to do that is like you said non canonical, not necessarily part of it but a way to sort of find
their footing as a party or a team but put something on the table that has to get done
whether it’s literally the assemblage of the
party and finding lodging. Like it can be dumb but
giving them something to do that takes the pressure
off of just the classic sort of sessions zero of like we all sit around and talk about our past. – It’s really, I think
something that’s is a weird phenomenon that I’ve seen with games too that people might
not expect is back story, like written back story for a character is great, there is an
actual necessity for lived memories of a character,
meaning logged play experience as a character
before they kind of come online as fully human. There’s no replacing
the power of a character actually having a depth of memory from real life play and
so in early sessions as characters are coming
to life they need, going back to what
you’ve been talking about which is structure,
it’s really hard to know what you’re character wants
to do when you have no memory of them. So much of our desire is also
wrapped up in our memories of our past desires and
past selves of who we were once upon a time. So like you know momentum and velocity require trajectory, they
require like the idea of where you came from
and so it can be really challenging for people
to make in, like if you have brand new players and
you just go what do you want to do, they’re like
um I’m a fake person so I don’t know. – Exactly, you and I talk
a lot about railroading and avoiding it or whatever. This is a time where I
would railroad a group into something, like
this is primarily because it’s not gonna matter,
right, like we’re not railroading them into story we’re not railroading them into a quest, we’re not, this is not the campaign but I would feel very comfortable throwing something in
that’s very concretely mine in terms of story,
that’s just like the D and D equivalent to they brought the characters I’m gonna chuck them in a escape room and that’s gonna serve a session zero. You know it’s not quite a one shot but it almost is you know. If they’re gonna have
them all like the classic session zero of like you
all meet up at a tavern, figure out how you got
there, whatever I’ll set it on fire, let them work it out. That would be maybe a
little bit more than I would want to do with
a new party once we’re actually into the campaign because I want them to be picking the direction and doing their own thing and what not. But a session zero,
they might need a little bit of that from me to allow it, let them meet each other
as they pull each other out of the building and
then they can go camp and talk and whatever
but sometimes you gotta, the campaign I’m in now that I’m running, they, we started it with them coming to consciousness, like waking up like chained up in a jail in adjacent
cells with no memory of how they got there. – You gotta in medias res
folks, you gotta start – Look at that that’s
that BFA in screen writing paying off right there. – No I truly believe that,
I think what can happen is a lot of times you’ll be
like well it’s the beginning so it should feel like a
beginning and let’s start soft and slow and ease
in and I think that can be a mistake sometimes,
I think it doesn’t need to be crazy although it can be but, a beginning kind of should feel like a middle in some
ways, you drop people, boom, and we’re going,
whether that’s something a little bit softer like oh we’re starting by establishing what the character wants, rather than being like hey you’re starting and you’re a little kid on a farm and you want adventure
starting with like the whole town like coming out and being like don’t go Jimmy we don’t want you to go on this big adventure, like
it’s already happening. Because I think it helps
people get into character to be like oh people are already reacting to something going on
and I mean fuck it if you want to go, I think my
friend Conner Gillespie that I play with my whole life, one of my favorite introductions, he was playing this
like orc squash buckler and we started his scene,
I started his character introduction with a successful
attack role against him, the first line of narration
was in the pitched deck of the ship on
the middle of the storm the wrestling reaches
out and slugs you across the face and the captain
says, Shatar make sure they don’t get the amulet
and he’s like got it. – Great, well also it’s
like one of the questions we always are like telling people, just ask yourself what
would blah, blah, blah your character, what would they do. That only works if there is a situation that kind of necessitates
that question right. It can’t be like you sit down at a table, what would Brennan do,
I don’t know fucking sit at this table, you know. So you do sometimes have to
provide a way to get there, that can be a great
session zero that really has people amped for session one. – I love it, last one,
this is from Blashly333. Thanks Blashly. – Hey Blash. – I had a regular problem with players inviting friends without warning. Play group has been up to 12 before and because I didn’t
want to leave them out I let them play. – You’re nice. – Well that’s very generous
as we were talking about. I have on a few occasions asked my friends to stop bringing people
to the D and D nights because it makes it much harder for me to create interesting, fun stories with that many people, they have listened but the people who have made characters still come occasionally and this makes it hard for me to manage the people and find ways to bring people in and out of stories in a way
that doesn’t break immersion. Do you have any tips to make
more adaptable scenarios for the number of people present? Now Blashly we’re gonna
answer your question which is there in the very last line, Do you have any tips
to make more adaptable scenarios for the number of people present but there’s a lot of stuff earlier in this that we should address too. – Yeah, there’s a whole
bunch going on here. I feel for you first
of all, it’s cool that lots of people want to
come play by the way and it’s cool that
you’re letting them play. It is tough, my first
instinct and you should feel free to disagree
with me on a lot of this, and I have a feeling also
that you’ll have some cool solutions cause
you’ve helped me with some issues that are sort
of similar in the past. One is you want to put
some of the onus of solving this problems on your players, not in a fuck you way, in a cool way. Meaning if you’ve got people
that now have established characters in this world
but aren’t consistently playing, they’re showing
up and they’re like hey I want to play I haven’t
been here in a few weeks, make it up to them to figure
out where they’ve been and why they’re back in a way that doesn’t like you said break emersion. If feel like, oh my god they’re back and I have to figure
out why that makes sense because the party has moved
to a totally different geographic location and
now they want to show up and I have to figure that, no you don’t, it’s their character,
it’s okay to be like, that’s great come play,
you have to figure out your showing up and tell
us where you’ve been and how you got here and
make a really cool thing that’s where that piece
that we’ve been talking about of like you’re building something of pieces that they brought so have them bring pieces and tell you. That’s sort of the first bit. The other part is how you coral a game of a large amount of players
which is a pretty common DM issue because it just
brings up issues of initiative. Like large combats and
those sort of things, that’s sort of a separate problem which is just a big table and that’s hard. – It’s really hard and
also here’s the thing you’re players all know,
they all know that there’s a problem because nobody wants to, if you’re players are what 9-12 players around the table, if you’re
doing a regular combat people are probably
waiting like what an hour to like 90 minutes between turns. You know what I mean. If you have 12 players at the table, if players are waiting
for a turn for 90 minutes no ones probably thrilled
about what’s going on. So I think you can approach
them and say hey guys our table is a little
too big and there’s a lot of logistical solutions for that. You can say hey our table is really big we might want to restrict this to people who are really committed and can be here for more than 50% of the sessions. If there’s always someone
coming in like once or twice a month you can
be like hey I love you, you’re a pal maybe we can
figure something else out because I don’t think
this is working, right. I think what you can
also sometimes do is I only have so much
bandwidth this is too many players for me to handle,
everyone needs to be chill with that because you’re doing the work as a Dungeon Master and
you need to be able to set your own boundaries, this is
not a situation where you’re like Bill beau and a
bunch of dwarfs show up and you have to feed them
all out of some weird sense of politeness. – You’re no Bill beau. – Bill beau needed to set boundaries and you can succeed
where Bill beau failed. But I think what you can do is you can say hey I can’t run for this many players at once, we’re gonna
split up into two groups so we’ll do alternating
weeks, know what I mean. – Totally, you should
definitely feel comfortable like running things scheduling wise and at least people
should be able to give you a fair heads up on if they’re planning on bringing someone or
those kinds of things, like that’s a fair adult ask. Again it’s cool people
want to come and whatever but it’d be nice if you sort of knew. One thing I would throw out, I don’t know if you’re having this problem because it’s not specifically in there but if you are having trouble with people showing up and then needing
to like role up characters which takes forever and
bogging things down, something that’s not a bad
solution is to have a stack of like pre rolled up, pre
gen characters that you can have that you can
just slap out to people. So when there are guests
of a manageable size that you’re into you can be like cool you’re gonna be this person,
here they are and go, so that you don’t have the additional time of someone showing up
and then wanting to build a character for forever
and having a million questions, they can even hold
onto it and be consistent. Character creation is another
thing that can bog it down. You can also do and this
is something that Brennan taught me a while back was really helpful is have them play an
NPC or a side character that you’ve been running
or again that sort of goes back to like offloading a
bit of your work onto someone don’t feel like everything
is your responsibility to figure out for them. Find a way for them to sort
of work with you as well, it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of like long combat turns and everything but it will I think help you feel like you’re spinning plates a little bit less. – Absolutely, to answer your actual end of paragraph question
other than addressing the sort of issues we see with your situation in general. I would say the simple
solutions to what you’re talking about is to potentially, starting a new campaign is rough, but maybe restructure your campaign to be more of what we call
a west marches campaign. Which means that it’s
structured to allow players and their characters to come and go. The originally west marches
was sort of like a mercenary company or something like
that so it was like oh so and so is not here, yeah
they booked a job up north and now they’re back down here. I ran a west marches style campaign because I was running a game at a summer camp where any staff
member that was working that week I wanted to allow them to play. So geographically it
all happened in one city and was focused on crime. It was focused on here’s the
heist, we’re all done, right. In those instances, I
think, so in other words the best way to make it easy on yourself is to structure the story
around the logistical situation, you can’t do
the fellowship of the ring if you’ve got 15 fellows in the fellowship and the line up changes every single week where it’s like how did you get to the Bridge of Casa dooms. Like wild man, I fell
in a barrel back in Brie and I guess the river wound up here. – Have we met, have we
met, we haven’t met yet, oh yeah this is gonna be
great you’re in here too. – Yeah, exactly. So I would say you can
make a single location quest where it’s all in
one city or one place and you can design the adventures around the idea of what’s
a type of adventurer where the line up changes
all the time and that’s cool. Mercenary company is a fun one, thieves guilds another fun one, magic police force if you want to do like a arce and law and order. – Love it. – What allows that kind of thing to happen but, there’s a bunch of solutions there and I hope you find one to your issue. – I think also and this
is sort of the last thing I’ll piggy back off of
that is it’s good to get a sense also of what your players are into, they might
like this kind of flowy not necessarily hyper immersive style and you might be looking for something that’s a little more
for consistent players and it never breaks emersion and so you might be on a little separate pages with that and you might need to meet them where they’re at in terms of exactly what Brennan is describing which is like the type of campaign it is and structuring it to allow the type of players that you have or also
then playing with a group that has a little bit of a different style so sometimes you just need to sort of take the temperature of what
people are also looking for in their game. – I think that’s completely accurate is getting on the same page with them and I’d say the other side of that coin is no DM is like an indentured servant so if you are in a play
style because of your players that you really do not
enjoy, you can express that and be like hey if we’re
gonna do this sort of looser style, if someone else wants to DM, I have a hard time coming up with stories in this type of play. – Sure. – That’s legit, or if
you have four friends in that 12 person group that are also kind of itching for like
no I want a more committed game, it is not wrong
for you to be like hey we’re looking to get a more committed game if that’s not what people
are into that’s okay. You do not owe people
running a weekly game for them, unless they’re
paying you, in which case. – In which case. – You unite with with
other DMs in your area and get a good contract. – Also, great friend group you’ve got, let me know where that’s at. – Guys this has been Adventuring Academy, this has been my guest Peter Warren. Peter thank you so much for being here. – Absolutely, thank you
so much, it was awesome. – [Brennan] We’ll catch
you guys next time, whoo.

21 thoughts on “Storytelling As a Game Master with Peter Warren

  1. D20 is the only reason why CH has come back swinging and why I subbed to dropout! Fucking love D&D content from the masterful Brennan

  2. I love this channel, I love the cast & crew so much, and because of Brennan, college humour and the guys over on NADDPOD, I have fallen so in love with this vehicle for amazing story telling. But I loathe bad video mixing! I haven’t been able to watch the Siobhan Thompson or Jack Covell Episodes because of it. Please D20/DO/CH make a change, we all love your content and we want it to be the best it can, just like I’m sure you do too ❤️

  3. Subscribe and ring the bell to catch all new episodes and other surprises!
    Come hang with Brennan on our Discord! Sign up for DROPOUT:
    Not in in CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND or the U.S.? Sign up HERE:

  4. Honestly one of my favorite podcasts right now! I can just turn on an episode and chill. Thank you Dimension 20. 😁

  5. I think the most important difference between GMing and writing is that an author poses dramatic questions to their audience which the author then answers, while a GM poses dramatic questions to the audience (the players) which the audience themselves answer.

    The story that results from an RPG isn't "told" by any one person at the table; it just emerges from play.

    And yeah, definitely agree about the importance of some kind of structure in most campaigns. Absolute sandboxes tend to require highly invested, unusually proactive players.

  6. I’m glad this episode is finally out on YouTube, I have a Dropout-less friend who’s a new DM and I’ve been dying to send him this episode full of very helpful advice.

  7. I have a multi-dimensional big bad that steals the characters whose players don't show up. They end up working in his mines as slaves.

  8. The talking about starting in the middle brought me to fallout and elder scrolls. Starting with a bomb dropping, or about to get your head cut off

  9. I really like the vod of the podcast – but – why isnt the camera on the speaker??? I've noticed this in pretty much all of the vods, its a little strange, no?

  10. I've started a Harry Potter campaign and SO many of my friends were interested but thankfully with a school setting you can just be like "oh Hermione can't make it, she has too much homework" or "Neville caught Dragon Pox and went to St. Mungo's for the week."

  11. Like I've seen others say on here, you guys need to work on you're camera selections. You'll show one person sitting, listening to the other, not reacting, just listening. Which is really boring to watch. Either leave it to one camera, or get a better editor. Because, seriously, it's really annoying watching these videos where the person selecting the camera angle doesn't seem to care AT ALL about what they're doing.

  12. The "too many players/westmarches" question towards the end of this episode has a lot of different answers.

    I've been planning a campaign setting where all or most of the party are "students" at an "Academy" for adventurers. No not the one from the first season of Dimension 20.

    The Academy is set up similarly to the SeeD Gardens from final fantasy 8 and the hunts from final fantasy 12. There's a magic job board network that different teams of students can use to sign up for missions/quests sent in by npc's all over the game world. The students then use a network of teleportation circles set up by the Academy to travel wherever they need to go for the mission. If a player doesn't show up to a session then they didn't sign up for that mission. If they did sign up/show up at the start but miss any one or more sessions while the other players are out on a mission then their PC was teleported out of the field by the Academy's headmaster or a teacher so they could help on a different mission or serve detention or whatever. If they show up mid mission then they were teleported in to help after completing other missions.

    One of the homebrew quirks of this setup I came up with was to ban variant human and have each player pick "student" or "non student"in addition to race class and background. Students of any race get all the benefits of vatiant human plus 1 or 2 skill and tool proficiencies. Non students, even at level 1, get a single +1magic weapon, +1 armor, or uncommon magic item. Any player that really doesn't want to work being a student at the Academy into their backstory can be some random adventuer the party bumped into on a mission and brought back to campus. After 3 levels of missions, auditing classes in downtime, and hanging out with the students the non students become students and get the variant human junk. By level 4 everyone should have at least one +1item from the campus store as a reward for missions completed.

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