Paul sat down with developers of Unpacking Wren Brier and Tim Dawson about their success, the inspirations for the game, development and what didn’t make the cut.
If you’ve heard of Dungeons and Dragons then you’re probably aware of the role of the DM, otherwise known as the Dungeon Master. The mastermind behind the game, the one who holds your fate in their hands, all-powerful, all-knowing, yada yada yada.
Here’s a secret. They’re actually just another player! Take a moment to absorb that. The DM might be guiding the game, and they might be managing multiple characters, and they do know what’s around the corner, but really they’re just another player. I’m demystifying that role now.
Dungeon Masters don’t know everything, they don’t have all the rules memorised, they don’t have everything planned out, and they absolutely do not have enough unique voices for every NPC your party runs into.
It’s understandably a rather intimidating role, but it doesn’t have to be. And hopefully by the end of Zahra’s Very Brief Intro to DMing, you’ll feel ready to take it on. Because really, you’re already ready, you just need a bit of prep.
So, quickly, what is Dungeons and Dragons? It’s a tabletop roleplaying game where a group of people create characters, and using dice and modifiers you play as those characters, overcoming enemies, solving puzzles, and learning about the world you’re in. It’s a lot of fun! It can be as dramatic or as silly as you want, it can be a single session or a campaign that lasts years, and it’s a collaborative experience, where all the players all contribute to gameplay and the story. It’s customisable, and unique to every party.
But you need a Dungeon Master. They’re the one who creates the setting for your party. They are in control of enemies and non-playable allies, they adjust the game as you play depending on the desired experience, and they often have a story that they want the party to play through.
This doesn’t mean the DM is in control of everything! They are also subjected to the same rules that the party must abide by. If their big bad evil guy rolls badly and trips over a rock, they can’t just say no, I’m not letting that happen. Likewise, if the party turns down the wrong path (that has loads of warning signs plastered all over it), and end up falling into lava, well, they can’t really stop that.
Every game is different, and every group is different. But you remember what I said about DnD being a collaborative experience? The DM may put you in a setting, filled with vibrant and cool characters. And they may have a story they want to tell, but the party also decides on where they want to go, what they want to do, and will influence the story in their own way.
That’s not always the case, you might want more of a Party vs DM kind of game, which can also be quite fun with its own unique challenges.
But at the end of the day the most important thing is that people are having fun, and they’re engaged.
So, now that you know what the DM does, just how do you DM?
Depending on your group and the desired experience, outline a world. It might just be a forest with little villages in it, could be an undersea city. Don’t get bogged down by details right now.
You’ll need to create various characters, some may be villains for your party to go up against. A lot of them might be allies, annoyances, just silly little guys. It’s up to you! Think about your players and your goals, and create obstacles to challenge them, and helpful folks to nudge them in the right direction. This bit is a lot like creating characters as a party member, and for minor characters you can just have the most basic sheet with their stats and attacks on it.
For more important, major characters? Making them is exactly like creating a party character. Feel free to flesh them out as much as you wish. Give them goals, strengths, weaknesses.
For longer campaigns, outlining story beats is helpful for me to do upfront, and then before each session I will flesh out that beat. I’ll give my players a quest or two that will either move them through the story or act as a way to round out their experience. How do I give them that quest? I might simply say ‘This ragtag group is on their way to defeat an evil wizard who has been terrorizing the local population! What will they do?’. It can be that easy.
Often though you’ll give your party a handy inn nearby with an innkeeper who knows about everything and everyone, and will have a quest or two on hand. It’s a bit cliched, but it works, and it’s nice for your party to have a homebase and an NPC who welcomes them.
And finally, make a map. Will your party be going through a dungeon filled with traps and dangers? Or a swamp where one wrong move will have them walking into the jaws of a monster? You’ll want to make a map, it can be crudely drawn it just needs to be clear, so then your players can more easily understand the space they’re in. You don’t need a map for everything, like the long boring walk between towns, but for anywhere where having a space visualised will be useful. And keep a couple of pieces of grid paper nearby for those unplanned fights.
It doesn’t sound like a lot of prep, right? And here’s where I reveal the biggest secret for DMs. It’s all improv! Think about it, you can’t predict what your players are going to do, who they’re going to talk to, where they’re going to go. You can make them a super clear path, but they may decide to just slash their way through the forest. They might decide that they need to help a little girl find her pet dog, or they might want to try to seduce the innkeeper. Give them some space to explore and do their own thing, improvise as you go, and when you need to give them a nudge then have a messenger run up to them with a request for help.
But what about when you’re playing through the session and your players ask if they can do kickflips off the back of the enemy ogre but also they want to convince the ogre to let them do that? What skill check is that? What numbers do you need? You didn’t prepare for this, you’re feeling the pressure, is it persuasion or acrobatics? Both? Don’t panic! Here is my other secret.
You can just google it, look it up in the handbook, consult a cheatsheet, or you can even just go ‘this sounds right, does that sound fair?’ and make a decision. It’s fine! You can’t know everything, and it’s stressful being put on the spot constantly. Some DMs will have a ‘Rule of Cool’, where if a player proposes something extremely epic then you’ll do what you can to make it work. I like the ‘Rule of Keeping Momentum Going’. It’s more important to keep the game moving than it is to make sure every single move is perfectly legal. It really doesn’t matter all that much.
It doesn’t mean just do whatever you want, but you can just use your best judgement, and if it sounds fair then your players will be fine with it. Let’s keep this fight going!
And finally, you don’t need to create this perfectly unique, epic, homebrewed story with your own language and tonnes and tonnes of details and lore. You can just find an adventure or campaign that someone else made, and use it! There are adventures specifically for new DMs that will give you all the information you need for a successful session, gently teach you, and give you advice as you go. You can still put your own spin on it, introduce customised puzzles for that one person who is really good at moving tile puzzles, and make a friendly wolf character for your party to adopt. It’s all fine!
So let me just recap:
- The DM is just another player, just with a lot more paperwork.
- The DM does NOT need to know everything, they don’t need to know all the rules, they don’t need to plan for every possible decision the players might make.
- You can just improvise.
- You can just make up reasonable rules, or make a decision based on your own judgment in order to keep the game moving.
- You can use pre-written adventures.
- Maps are very important.
- Have fun! The party should have fun, but the DM also needs to have fun too!
You’re all playing make-believe. It’s not that serious.
You find yourself in a room that is 5m by 5m. It is empty, except for the people there with you, also waking up, and the long bench against one side of the room that supports 4 bundles of gear, including weapons. The room itself is made out of smooth stone tiles, off-white against the light coming from the ceiling. You see a door, it is solid and heavy. Next to the door is a hook, with a similarly heavy key hanging from it.
You find that you have no recollection of what brought you here. You don’t know who the other people are, although when you see each other you feel a sense of knowing that you SHOULD know who they are. It is on the tip of your tongue, but it doesn’t seem to want to leave.
A piece of paper falls from your pocket. When you look at it, it has a name. When you read it outloud, you know it to be your name. How could you have ever forgotten your own name? And as those familiar strangers stir, you wonder…
What do you do next? Open the door? Question those in the room with you? Grab the nearest weapon and start swinging?
In the world of Dungeons and Dragons, all that, and so much more, is possible. All that really limits you is your imagination. And some rules, guidelines, and mechanics to get you going.
First things first, what is Dungeons and Dragons? It is a tabletop roleplaying game, where a group of people all create characters to play as. A Game Master will control enemies, allies, and create the world and setting for the players, as well as guide the players through a story. But the players aren’t just witnessing a story, they are experiencing and changing it. Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D for short, is a collaborative experience. The experience might be a slapstick comedy, an epic heroic tale, or a truly tragic story of heartbreak and betrayal. That’s up to you.
Now, there is a lot to this game, but it’s a lot easier to get started than you would think. So here is Zahra’s Very Brief Intro to D&D!
First up, you and your group will want to decide on a setting. Maybe you’re going to be pirates on the high seas, or exploring ancient ruins at the top of mountains. Knowing where you’ll be playing is a good start. This is mostly up to your game master, but like I said, this is a collaboration.
Next, building a character! Ideally, you and your group will want to have a balanced party, with at least one healer, one tank, and at least one for dealing damage. You can be extremely flexible with this, there are so many classes to work with.
Tank types can be barbarians and paladins, spellcasters tend to be clerics, druids, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. Damage dealers may be fights, monks, and rangers. Choosing your class depends on what kind of character you want to build. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.
On top of classes, you’ll have to decide on a race to play. Humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs are probably the most recognisable ones, but you can also play as halflings, goblins, drow, tieflings, cat people, bird people, and so much more. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and can compliment and round out your character.
Finally, you can build the rest of your character, which starts to involve dice. Depending on your decisions, and the numbers you roll, you can build your stats. The main ones are your hitpoints, which is your health, and your strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. These numbers will grant you modifiers that you will apply to your rolls during gameplay.
You will also select weapons, spells, and equipment, best suited to your character and gameplay style.
Granted, this is a lot, but thankfully you can use a step-by-step guide, or even dedicated character creators where you just need to make decisions, and it’ll take care of the technical stuff for you.
You’ve created your character, given them a name. Maybe they’re a tiefling bard, or a halfling cleric. It’s almost time to play, but first, a quick overview of the mechanics that’ll you’ll encounter as you play.
I mentioned stats. Your stats, class, race, and background will influence what skills you have. I’m not just talking about attacks and spells. You can get skills such as animal handling, deception, medicine, performance, stealth, survival, and so much more. You can also be bad at some of these skills. After all, if you’re in full plate armour, stealth isn’t really going to be your forte.
Spells and attacks are pretty self explanatory. Depending on your character, you will have a range of spells and attacks you can use. For magic users, your strength will be with spells. For others, you’ll be using weapons. You can get skills in both areas, but you’ll generally focus on one or the other.
Spell users, do be aware that you can only use a limited number of spells in battle. Some spells will have special requirements, like requiring you to concentrate for a minute, or you’ll need materials, like precious stones, or even skulls. So don’t just start launching fireballs everywhere.
Now, outside of combat you’ll be wandering around, exploring the world your game master has put you in. You might need to break out of prison, solve a murder, or find a rare book. You’ll talk to characters and your party, and this is your opportunity to roleplay, acting out as your characters. Are you the lone wolf type who doesn’t want to be part of a party? Are you trying to find your lost family, and you need your party to help you? Are you just tagging along to beat up baddies? It’s up to you, and don’t be afraid to act it out.
Uh oh, you’ve run into a group of goblins who have been robbing travellers! It’s time to roll for initiative. This will determine the order in which everyone will act. The goblins are also establishing their initiative order. The higher the number, the sooner you act. And when it’s time to act, you have a few things you can do.
Your turn will generally have three things you can do. You can move, how far you can move depends on your speed, you can perform an action, which might be an attack, casting a spell, or using an item. And then you’ll have a bonus action, which can sometimes be another attack, but is usually your opportunity to do something minor. Maybe yell an insult. Whatever you do, you’ll need to use your stats and abilities to see if you succeed or not. The higher the roll, the better… usually.
Each turn lasts 6 seconds, but you’ll have more time than that to make your decision. Not that much time though, other people are waiting their turns and you need to keep the game moving.
Thankfully, with the help of your party members, and some health potions, you have defeated the goblins, although one managed to run away. That probably won’t be a problem later. But you got some experience and some loot, and a cool story for later.
Actually playing is fairly straightforward, once you’ve got your character all set up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, like ‘can I try to swing on these vines to get across the ravine?’. There is usually a way to try to pull off what you want to do, but do keep your character abilities in mind. Vine swinging is usually easier for a ranger than it is for a paladin.
So, how do you get started?
You’ll want to find a group of people, at least 4, but you don’t want to have more than 6 people, not to start with at least. One person needs to be the game master, but don’t worry, we’ll be doing an intro to being a game master later. It’s not as intimidating as you’d think. You can find tonnes of adventures already written up, with story, characters and enemies, maps and dungeons, and any relevant information, online. Some for free, some for a small cost. Or you can even buy one of the official campaigns, such as Curse of Strahd.
Having the Player’s Handbook will contain all the information you need to build a character and play them effectively, but you can use online character creators to build your character. The D&D 5th Edition community wiki will also have all the information you need on weapons, armour, classes, races, backgrounds, spells, and so much more. Once you build your character, it’s a great reference.
Creating or finding a group isn’t hard either! Maybe you’ll have your friends who can join your party, but you can also look into local play spaces. There are tonnes of groups looking for new players, and many veterans who are happy to teach and guide new players. You can find an experienced game master to lead you through your first adventure. And really, the best way to learn is to just get started! This community has never been so welcoming and easy to get into.
After all, at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of nerds playing pretend. And it’s a lot of fun. So go pick out some dice, bring up a name generator, and get into it!
We asked the crew at Zed Games what their highlights of this year’s show were and they were happy to oblige.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderland: Gearbox Software creators of the famous Borderlands series have a spin off shooter looter that requires no prior knowledge of the Borderlands’ universe. I’m new to having a Borderlands addiction and the excitement I have for a spin off with a fantastic and fantabulous character like Tiny Tina is very exciting. Expected to drop in 2022 with BUTT STALLION!
Halo Infinite: Master Chief is back with what appears to be a ‘new Cortana’ and I’m so excited to see out more of his journey, fight more evil aliens and venture further into unknown threats. I’ve been playing Halo since I was kid on the very first Xbox this is my most nostalgic game drop AND IT’S ON GAME PASS! Expected December 2021 along with the free online multiplayer that also looks like a while ride with friends.
We Are OFK: A making-of-the-band series & Interactive EP about dreaming, dating, and paying rent in Los Angeles.With colourful animations that give me Spiderman Miles Morales(the movie)visual vibes.A coming together making music kind of story, as a lover of interactive narrative games this is my biggest hype for indie releases fromE3this year.Developed by Team OFK and expected Spring 2021.
Woodo: A 3D puzzle game with heart. It’s everything you could want in a wholesome puzzle game. I’m excited to sit back and piece together wonderful little wooden rooms filled with cute animations. Looking to release in 2022.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2: Breath of the Wild is a stunning, immersive game,and I loved exploring, finding my own trails, puzzle solving, and uncovering the events of the past. And Breath of the Wild 2 builds on from that beautiful foundation, with a tantalising peek into the adventures and trials that await, while promising to be bigger and better, with new enemies and abilities to face and conquer.
Redfall: A 4 player co-op game with cool characters, each with unique abilities, personalities,and fun banter? Count me in! The trailer seems to indicate dynamic gameplay, with lots of opportunities to pull off cool attacks, while assisting and backing up your crew.I can’t wait to see more, and to find out more about this world with vampires, magic,and student debt.
Riders Republic: I have far too many breakable bones to get into extreme sports IRL, but extreme sports in a video game where I can participate in massive races, events, and game-modes where doing the most the best is the aim of the game? That I can do.And the fact that there is a lot of customisation,and that I can play it in my own style just makes it much more appealing.
Trek to Yomi: Just look at it! Taking notes from samurai cinema of the 50’s and 60’s this gorgeous looking game, I mean. Just look at it. Geez. Anyway this game looks pretty sweet which is unsurprising as it come from Leonard Menchiari who developed the incredibly cool and vastly under exposed The Eternal Castle [Remastered].
Warioware – Get it Together: Every WarioWare game is a classic which means this game has a lot to live up to but also an extremely strong base to build on. It’s a real twist to the formula (not to be confused with WarioWare: Twisted) where for the first time you interact with the microgames by playing a character that moves around inside them. Also it’s designed to include 2 player in the games. Boy I am excited and nervous!
Somerville: Inside is one of the best games ever made. Some might call that an opinion but I believe it to be a hard fact. While this isn’t Playdead’s new game it is the new game by one of Playdead’s founders who split off to start a new studio (Jump Ship) but the sensibility of Inside and Limbo are plain to see in this extremely evocative trailer. A family living surviving in a world gripped by and alien invasion? Get ready for feelings!
Elden Ring: I wasn’t hyped. Now I am. Open world. freaky designs and a horsie. Thank you From Software.
Honorable Mentions: Death’s Door, Replaced, FAR: Changing Tides, Metal Slug Tactics, Battlefield 2042, El Paso Elsewhere
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
Trek to Yomi
Honorable Mentions: Elden Ring
Anacrusis: Nothing quite like a good co-op shooter, plus this game shares some of its team from Left 4 Dead. That and Anacrusis’ aesthetic make me pretty confident this will be a fun ride.
Slime Rancher 2: Maybe it’s cheap to pick the sequel of a game I really love but how can I not be excited for more slime. They’ve got bunny slimes this time!
Bear and Breakfast: I’ve known about this one for a while but seeing the new trailer got me excited all over again. It’s a cute, cozy, management game with spooky sinister undertones? Sign me up!
Book of Travels: This tiny multiplayer online RPG (TOMRPG) aims at creating a new online community with high stakes. The aim? Shaping your own journey and finding your own story in the vast hand drawn world of Braided Shore.
Despot’s Game: Because a game with premise of creating an army and watching the outcome in an auto-battler tickles both the idler and the sadistic warmonger in me. ATTACK PUNY HUMANS!
WarioWare – Get it Together: With a new kid flailing on the floor the ability to play this alone or in multiplayer with over 200 minigames and multiple playable characters just clicks for now… and for future battles with the bub.
Honorable Mentions: Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, Silt, Haunted Space and a heap from the Wholesome Direct (Venba, Dordogne, Hoa and Letters – a written adventure)
All the hottest events to check out over this year’s E3 period!
This list will be updated whenever possible.
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Who doesn’t like a good laugh or at least something somewhat adjacent to one? That’s where April Fools day comes into play. It’s not quite a joke, not quite a prank but boy it sure is something. To save you an unnecessary bother, below you can find a wide variety of foolish posts from the day. Is it responsible to just link all these thing on one page? You tell me!
There are jobs monkeys can do, and then there are jobs you can’t give to a monkey because the soul-smashing tedium would be considered a form of animal cruelty. Scanning the items on supermarket shelves to make sure they all have the right price was one of those soul-smashing tedium jobs – just empty aisles and buzzing fluorescent lights until nine p.m. rolled around and I could go home.
On the walk home I normally didn’t see anyone. But on this night the lights were on in a home entertainment store where a friend of mine sold expensive car stereos and huge TVs. He was still in there, working late on the books when I went in to say “hi”. Too busy to talk, he said he had something to show me and shoved me into the back room and out of his way. There was a projector hooked up to a PlayStation back there, and a new game I apparently had to try. Then he went back to his books.
That was how I played Silent Hill for the first time. Head fuzzy from a job that used such a small slice of brain the rest shut down in despair, alone in the dark, holding a controller that burred and thudded in time with the heartbeat of the game’s protagonist as he ran through the streets of an abandoned town. The locations were ordinary – a school, a hospital, shops – the kind of public places it feels wrong to be in when the rest of the public aren’t.
Afterwards, I walked the rest of the way home flinching at every flicker of a streetlight.
Two years later I bought my own copy second-hand. I immediately caught the flu and spent the next three days lying on the couch, coughing and sneezing and playing while not sure what was real and what was feverish hallucination.
I remain convinced Silent Hill dislikes being played in a normal frame of mind.
There’s a popular Skyrim mod called Frostfall I’ve had installed for a while. It takes all those background weather effects, the snow and rain and fog, and pushes them into the foreground where you can’t help but notice them. It achieves this by letting them kill you. You know that expression “a little rain never hurt no one”? Yeah, forget that.
Somebody at Bethesda put a lot of effort into modelling the climate of Skyrim in the regular game, but apart from that one area near the top of The Throat Of The World that can chill you to death, it normally doesn’t affect you. Frostfall, on the other hand, models temperature and exposure and dampness, and will slowly freeze you to the bone if you wander off without adequate protection. To prepare you for that, Frostfall also lets you craft cloaks and sleeping tents, makes eating soup and standing near fires grant warmth and dryness, and also lets you take that wood you chopped just to watch the animation and light an actual fire with it.
I’ve been messing about with Frostfall on a savegame where I’m playing a Khajiit – one of the catfolk – named Hunter. He’s a hunter, yes. I’m imagination personified. Thanks to another mod called Live Another Life, Hunter S. Tomcatson isn’t the Dragonborn, hero of prophecy. He’s just an ordinary catman with a bow and a cloak who has been tooling around for nine levels shooting wildlife, skinning them, and selling the bits. That’s literally it. Sometimes he gets attacked by bandits, but since I didn’t initiate the main questline, Hunter lives in a Skyrim that doesn’t even have dragons in it.
The main supernatural occurrence in Hunter’s Skyrim is fast-travel. Memories of slogging through the ash wasteland in Morrowind, or being funnelled by those tedious mountain passes while Cliff Racers swooped down like broken pterodactyls, have made me rely on the fast-travel in more recent Elder Scrolls games (and ride horses a lot too). But to get the most out of Frostfall you need to see it on foot and you need to see it continuously.
To that end I’m going to spend an afternoon travelling across the country, and I’ve banned myself from fast travel while I’m doing it. No carts or boats or mounts either. I’ll visit all the capital cities of the various Holds and see if I can do it without freezing to death. How long will that take? Let’s find out.
The Elder Scrolls games have always strived to deliver – largely with success – expansive, open, fantasy worlds and the ability to explore them in your own way. For me, this epitomises the function of video games in my life: the ability to temporarily leave the day-to-day troubles of my life behind and enter a crafted world full of wonder.
Several times while I was playing Skyrim, I caught myself actually saying (yelling?) out loud “Wouldn’t this game be even more awesome if it was an MMO?” So when The Elder Scrolls Online was announced, I was struck by a severe case of “the hypes”. This condition, which affects every gamer at some point, is marked by symptoms which include tunnel-vision, episodes of mania, and in my specific case a wee bit of mouth foam. Thankfully, two weeks ago I rid myself of this illness. If you are still affected by the particular strain of the hypes that was induced by The Elder Scrolls Online, read on.
It’s fairly odd that one of the Xbox One’s exclusive launch titles is a new Zoo Tycoon game – but not because the Tycoon franchise isn’t popular, and the games are certainly fun. Zoo Tycoon’s biggest flaw, and what makes it questionable as a launch title, is it’s seemingly blatant disregard for a very basic and important marketing technique – the target market.