Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dungeon Mastering Role Players

The second seminar I attended on Friday was billed as a discussion of encouraging role play as a DM. It was more of an ol' timer telling tales of the good old days.

The best I can find for info about Don Prust besides the web site in the schedule...

From the Schedule
Game Code: SEM0901974
Gaming Group: Infinite Imaginations, Inc.
Title: Game Mastering Role Players
Description: Explore the interaction of GM and RP gamers. Presentation of roleplaying styles, discussion of GM's that encourage role playing. All experience levels welcome.
Presenter: Don Prust, Kelly O'Donoghue
Web Site:
The Talk

Like all the other GM'ing experts I heard or talked to at Gen Con Indy 2009, Prust sounded the chime for saying "yes" to players as a GM. He encouraged GM's to let, even encourage, players to try things that the rules don't explicitly allow or are not the character's strength. He regaled us with a stories, like of his favorite gaming session with a kid who had never played before, and he as a GM tossed out the rules for a session in order to let this kid work straight out of his imagination. The result involved a summoned 300' ladder, a feather turned into a 12' long spear, and a death defying dive off the ladder to stab an indesctructible boar.

Prust also did a very good thing to encourage DM's in the room to demand that each player at their tables identify a significant weakness or drawback for their character. He told us that if they don't give a real, significant deficit then DM's should go out of their way to hinge a character's ultimate success on whatever lame excuse they did manage to offer. Players should include and play as part of their character, their character's flaws. If they don't, destroy them.

Paying attention to your players and playing a game they will enjoy is always good advice. His story about one game night where all his players had had a rough day or week and were in a foul mood so he sent them up against four black dragons and contrived to let the players cast more spells and have more hit points and hit more often than they had any right to, just for his players' catharsis, I thought was a good story.

It was a little interesting to hear this probably lifelong and long lived D&D'er talk about the game from a perspective that solidified back in the days when AD&D was new. It did remind me of how I thought of D&D in the days I first started playing, and it was good to be reminded. That was the nuggety goodness of the presentation, but I have to say that on balance the presentation was not good.

He meant well, that's clear. He has some valuable insight. It's just that he wasn't able to translate his insight and intent into an engaging presentation. The room was packed at the start, and less than a dozen people left before I did, but we few did leave before the end and for me it wasn't exactly that I had another event to get to.

Prust had the halting speaking style of a guy who hadn't prepared very well, or else it was an ill conceived device. He had a lot of ticks, and they annoyed me.

If it was just that, I could have forgiven it, maybe. What he lacked in polish he made up for in confidence. The problem, though, was he was a little too confident and full of himself. He name dropped Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, which maybe he has rights to or doesn't, either way he did it low class. What he was saying about them wasn't germane and served only to prop up his bona fides. Then, there was some discussion of how few women or african americans typically come to Gen Con, although there were a bunch of girls in the room he noted. He didn't mean anything by it, obviously, but it wasn't important to his point so even mentioning it was a little awkward and offputting.

Then he had some notion that he was the only presenter we were likely to see who was not attached to a particular game system or game company pushing a product. That was annoying because I had come from just such a speaker's presentation, which was a good presentation, and which had been given the previous year as well. I suspect that in spite of what Prust thinks, there are more than a couple people giving presentations for Gen Con attendees for nothing more than because they can and want to give back to the community. I don't think there nearly as many corporate whores as Prust imagines.

I thank Mr. Prust for giving the talk. By the audience reaction there were clearly some who really enjoyed the talk and who benefited from it. He told stories about other people who had liked previous years' presentations as well, and I don't doubt it. So, I don't think he should give it up, but maybe he could just walk through it with a more lively step and omit the self aggrandizement next time, to keep those of us with a hangover a little more on our toes.

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