One day I received this message from a Facebook friend:
To which I agreed, except it wouldn’t be a campaign, it would be a ‘one-shot.’ Primarily because I don’t have time to game regularly and with a group of strangers I didn’t want to make a commitment beyond the ‘test run.’ You know, in case it goes horribly wrong (spoiler alert: it wen’t terribly right)! They would also have to supply the venue since I lack gaming space of my own. (And no, DMing for novices is not annoying.)
“I WOULD NEVER CHARGE TO PLAY D&D. I DO IT FOR FUN”
I play music for fun, I can also get paid for it. I draw for fun, I can also get paid for it. And of course when I DM for my friends and regular gaming group, I don’t charge money. But what was asked of me is a very different context. And context is king.
We decided a rate – $80 for 4 hours. They didn’t ask my bona fides, but I’ll put them here in case it makes a difference to you:
I’ve been GMing since 1985. I co-wrote an award-winning RPG (Spaceship Zero). I’ve organized game conventions. I’ve run tournaments (at my day job) for about 20 different groups – each a mix of experience and novice players.
WHAT DOES A PROFESSIONAL DM PROVIDE, EXACTLY?
The players (3 of them in total) mainly worked out the characters themselves, which I checked and tweaked. In addition to the adventure itself, I provided dice, battle maps, dungeon tiles, player handouts (clues etc), miniatures for the Player Characters and monsters and Non-Player Characters.
BUT PAID DMS ARE RUINING THE OH-SO-PURE HOBBY!
What if I told you DMs have been receiving compensation for decades? Conventions and game shops have been recruiting people to run games for years. Sometimes that compensation is free attendance to the event, or store credit, but sometimes also cold hard cash or a combination of those things.
At your home game, do your players not bring any contributions? Do they not bring snacks or beverages for you to enjoy? Do they not chip in for any new books or peripherals (dice towers, minis, your D&D Beyond subscription)? I mean sure, this probably counts as ‘gifts’ rather than ‘payment’ – but all these things have value, and to my mind the DM does a lot of work for the players. There is a – perhaps unspoken – transaction happening in many (but not all) cases.
THE PERKS OF PAID DMING
One of the banes of group games like D&D is player cancellations can really upend an otherwise perfectly planned game night. Everything I’ve heard from professional DMs is that when the players have put up money, they actually show up and are fully present, rather than showing up 45 minutes late and dicking around on their phone.
For my own experience, when the first session had to be cancelled, they offered to pay me anyway for all the prep time I did. I told them not to worry about it, we’ll just reschedule.
ISN’T BEING A PAID DM LIKE PROSTITUTION?
This is actually a take that I read someone post on a Facebook group. Come on, dude. Somebody wanted to hire me and I accepted. Also, there’s nothing inherently wrong with sex work.
Raiders are terrorizing the wasteland, mainly on motorcycles with spikey bits. A hardened and independent Harmony (Deborah Rennard) flees a victimized town and meets Anderson, a reformed raider recovering from a wound. He convinces her they should travel together to find a hidden paradise, but all they find are cannibals, plague victims, and a man with a puppy who speaks like a Ren Fair employee (Orland). The two are captured by the raiders but before the lisping mask-wearing maniac leader can dispatch them, Orland and his flamethrower sew chaos allowing them all to escape. The raiders are defeated but paradise is neither found nor mentioned.
This movie makes me angry. It’s not the acting or the production value, or even the rote direction. This is the kind of movie where the characters act in direct conflict to their interests and statements, and nothing makes sense. Harmony states she doesn’t want a crippled companion slowing her down, then she continues to travel with Anderson despite him slowing her down and his constant leading them into life-threatening situations. She reacts with extreme violence to the slightest innocent touch from a history of assault and rape, then moments later doesn’t blink at being touched. Harmony is cold and bloodthirsty, while Anderson touts empathy and altruism, but when they see a settlers being massacred Anderson stops Harmony from helping. Not to mention they both have range weapons but do all their fighting with knives and fisticuffs.
Tropes: bad guys have spikes; man shoots a snake to save a lady; cannibals, things explode for no reason; bickering during a car (bike) chase; little people in robes (jawas)
1000 years after the Neutron Wars, nomadic ranger guide manly Kas Oshay and sexy blonde Deneer hang out in the wasteland riding horses, until captured by riders on their Death Machines (AKA dirt bikes with spacey-looking consoles) and brought back to the walled city of Helix. Tortured by the mad and dying Lord Zirpolo, and forced to partake in Deathsport (AKA a dirt bike track), they somehow break free and escape back into the wasteland, with former ranger guide and Zirpola lieutenant Ankar Moor in hot pursuit. After a brief encounter with cannibalistic cave mutants Kas and Ankar have a duel with clear plastic swords.
Apparently a sort-of sequel to Death Race 2000, this movie is a lot of riding around on bikes with obnoxious sound effects while explosions happen close by, punctuated with some T&A courtesy of playmate Claudia Jennings. The only cast member with any charisma is Richard Lynch. Oh yeah there’s a kid that is thankfully relegated to the beginning and end of the film.
TROPES: vehicles explode for no reason; futuristic jargon; lights flash when torture is happening; exposition about what’s happening on screen; blowing on a gun; mutants only grunt
Season 16, 1979, 6 parts, Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)
The Doctor and Romana land on the planet Atrios and meet Princess Astra, her lover Merak, and The Marshall, the latter of which is war-mad about defeating neighboring planet Zeos in their ages-long war. Secretly Zeos is run by an AI, which is secretly run by a guy in a skull mask (The Shadow – he hates light) who also is secretly advising the Marshall through a black mirror. The Shadow is an agent of the Black Guardian and is hunting for the sixth segment to the Key to Time, which (spoiler) is Princess Astra. K9 is captured by The Shadow and reprogrammed, while Astra is likewise corrupted and transforms herself into the puzzle segment. The Shadow gains entry to the TARDIS while The Doctor is miniaturized by friendly Time Lord Drax (found in the bowels of The Shadow’s space base). The Shadow puts the Time Key together and starts monologuing so The Doctor returns to size, grabs the macguffin and our heroes get away.
The Doctor practically turns to the camera and says the name of the episode out loud, which is always fun. This is the final chapter in the Key of Time story arc which spans the entire 16th season. Overall, a disappointing climax to a fun season. This could easily have been 4 episodes, there’s a lot of chaff in the first 3. It only gets interesting when K9 becomes a servant of The Shadow and The Doctor bumps into Drax. Given how overpowered K9 is as an ally, he should be more of a threat to The Doctor, but he’s defeated easily and stupidly. Also it occurs to me that K9’s eyes are always red, so how can we tell when he’s good or evil? In a rare twist Romana upstages The Doctor when she clues him into the fact that the White Guardian is the evil Black Guardian because he’s unwilling to restore Astra to human form. This leads to the question, was there ever a White Guardian, or was it the Black one all this time?
Maybe we’ll find out in the next episode: Destiny of the Daleks
Took the high speed rail from Kaohsiung to Taipei (a 2 hour 20 minute trip) where I saw the mountains and farmland of Taiwan
We arrived and walked around the neighborhood of our hostel, and visited the National Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
I wanted to try Britshake, the British-themed restaurant, to see how it was in Taiwan. Unfortunately, not super memorable. So I won’t bother with pics. Anyway – here’s an interesting chart showing the ethnographics of Taiwan
A little park/mosquito breeding ground
Check out the space age 7-11. What happens in there? I don’t know
It’s a gas station just for scooters. They’re ubiquitous!
Your average Taipei commuter train station
We met up with two of Erica’s old friends, Frankie and Andy, at Kokoro izakaya (Japanese bar with food) where I had a cute little cumquat, deep fried bitter melon (yummy) and some nuts of some kind!
After that we went to a lesbian karaoke bar that I believe was called 7 Plus, but I couldn’t find it on google. It was…interesting, because the lesbians will try to chat you up for tips, which I found to be awkward, because although they were very nice and tried hard to make me feel welcome – I don’t really drink, and we don’t speak the same language. But there was some karaoke so not too bad!
I wanted to go to the poo-themed restaurant I had heard about years prior, but sadly they had permanently closed 🙁
Should you find yourself at Mitsui Outlet Park in Tainan, be sure to visit Gozen Kamicha!
Former fishing settlement on a forested island, with water sports & a beach with sunset views. Travel Tainan says “Yuguang Island, connected to the bustling Anping District by the Yuguang Bridge. Visitors can stroll along the beach or step barefoot into the waves to feel the caress of the sea breeze and the cool seawater lapping at their ankles.”
First thing on the island is the small area of vendors, and a temple of course.
A beautiful wooden path leads to the beach. Maybe to protect your feet from snakes? I didn’t see any snakes.
In 2005 and 2014 I adapted episodes of the 1983 TV series for my gaming group. I’ll tell you how…
If you want an overview of adapting the series check this blog entry – keep in mind that was written for 3rd edition D&D.
Where to start? First, get familiar with the episode
Have your players create human characters that are children from Earth. They could be from the ’80s or they could be from modern times. In the cartoon the ages ranged from 9 to 15, so that’s probably a good range to choose from.
Each kid should have a phobia. For example, fear of crowds, fear of fire, fear of drowning, fear of growing old, fear of germs, fear of thunder and lightning. This will be important if you want to run them through the Quest of the Skeleton Warrior episode.
WHAT ABOUT MOTIVATION? In the tv show, the kids were motivated to get back home. They found the monsters of the Realm to be scary and weird, whereas your players will look forward to slaying evil dragons etc. Check with your players if getting home is a good ‘final quest’ for them, or, if not, figure out what is actively moving them through the story.
NO MURDER HOBOS PLEASE Stress to your players before the first session that all the kids are friends (and/or relatives) who care about each other (even if they may not admit it, like Eric). Decide what your tolerance for ‘lone wolf’ characters are and stress that to the group. Also, while I personally don’t use alignment, I recommend all the PCs be Good for purposes of motivation. In the cartoon the kids defeat, but do not kill, many monsters. Usually they fend off foes and one side or the other runs away. Will your campaign be similar? Will your kids slay some orcs and take their weapons and armor?
THE WEAPONS OF POWER Work with each player to come up with a Weapon of Power. You know the ones from the cartoon, and if you watch the episode The Dragon’s Graveyard you will see some additional ideas. Here are ideas from my players:
A wand that had a random effect (we put together a table of 20 effects, similar to presto’s hat, they were not all particularly helpful and sometimes they were very unhelpful like duplicating a foe). A musical instrument that could cast certain spells. A lump of clay that the character could sculpt into something that would animate. A horn which projected a cone of force and sonic affects.
Other ideas – maybe an amputee who gets a magic gauntlet to go on her missing arm? A mirrored shield or weapon which can temporarily blind foes and perhaps scry? A cloak that can transform the wearer into a woodland creature?
As dungeon Master, you will have to think carefully about the implications of each Weapon of Power and how they could be used to circumvent certain challenges or even entire scenes important to the plot.
ANIMAL COMPANION – YES OR NO? We all remember Uni from the cartoon, and usually not with fondness. But if you want a creature in the party this can be memorable and help with player motivation. Remember Freddy the dog from the episode The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow? When you want the players to go somewhere, having the beloved pet run in that direction helps.
On the other hand, one of my players wanted to play a baby owl bear and I allowed it. However, be mindful about how restrictive playing an animal can be in terms of verbal communication and general role-playing.
STARTING THE ADVENTURE!
The first time you have a session, run the actual opening intro scene from the cartoon — they go through the amusement park ride, emerge in their new garb, and encounter Dungeon Master who gives them them their weapons, and are attacked by Tiamat and Venger.
Probably you will want to start everyone off with Inspiration or some kind of cheat dice so they can get out of impossible situations and don’t die from random bad rolls. Dying from stupid decisions is fine. But this first encounter, which seems ridiculous, sets the tone that sometimes they will have to run away. They are after all just kids and not seasoned warriors. Also, don’t play Tiamat and Venger smart. Tiamat is indestructible but is easily avoided and baited. She is ponderous and takes her time. Venger has powerful magic but prefers to just make threats and monologue about how great he is, how foolish and weak Dungeon Master is, and how the kids are doomed to fail. Play the villains creatively, not efficiently.
Please take a look at my blog entry at the beginner’s guide to the D&D cartoon. This will show you which episodes I believe are friendly to game adaptation.
The narrative begins as the group wanders through the woods. Dungeon Master has told them “you will find a clue to the way home in the forest with no trees.” On cue, they encounter a talking tree which introduces itself as a “know tree.”
Before it gives the clue for the characters to go home, it worriedly reports that Dungeon Master is in great danger, and reverts back to a normal tree. Optionally a character who has a good Perception score could hear some combat coming from some distance away. At any point they are attacked by bullywugs! Have one or more PCs see Warduke as he disappears into the woods, just as a preview to who the villain is that they will encounter later.
SCENE 2: MOUNTAINOUS CHASM After the battle, or if things are looking grim, a sprite flies to the group and tries to enlist their help to rescue Dungeon Master. The pixie leads them into a mountainous area and along a cliff ledge, but there is a gap in the ledge that the characters must cross. If they can’t work out a way by themselves, or if a failed check leads to someone falling, have lammasu come and help them across, as in the cartoon.
SCENE 3: CAVE OF THE EARTH ELEMENTAL The pixie leads them into a scary cave with lava rivers inside and they are attacked by an earth elemental, and subsequently, orcs. If you want to keep the characters from escaping, you can have the earth elemental collapse the entrance through which they came. The orcs take the weapons and enslave the kids in the Slave Mines of Daramorn (this will be tricky, players dislike having their agency taken away).
SCENE 4: SLAVE MINES OF DARAMORN It’s ok to split the party at this point if only some kids are captured. The kids meet enslaved dwarfs who explain that this was their (silver?) mine before the orcs took over. They offer to help the kids rescue DM if the kids help the dwarfs escape the mine. As an option, introduce random tremors throughout these scenes, maybe even some lava leaks – this might inspire the players to come up with their plan.
A dwarf (let’s give him a name – Balzad) tells the kids that Dungeon Master is just on the other side of a mine wall. The PCs should have an opportunity to reclaim their weapons and get through the wall of the mine into the chamber where DM is held by Warduke. Before they can rescue Dungeon Master, Venger shows up. This is the climactic battle with Venger, Warduke and the bullywugs. The The key to surviving this encounter is to free dungeon master from the magic of Warduke’s ice sword.
You can find Warduke’s game stats online, but they usually give him a flaming sword. Don’t use that – give him the ice sword which freezes whoever it hits. And can shatter the magic ice it makes!
DM turns Venger’s evil magic against him and Venger explodes! DM warns the children that he’ll soon regain his form and they must flee the mines as the intermittent tremors are now shaking the place apart. And don’t forget the dwarves! In the chaos of the quakes, the baddies are scattered and that’s the end! Huzzah!
DENOUEMENT: WHAT ABOUT THAT KNOW TREE?
This is one of the few episodes of the cartoon where the kids don’t find a portal home. Why can’t the PCs go back to the Know Tree and get their clue now? No reason I can think of. This was a plot thread left dangling in the cartoon. If this bothers you, you can edit out the tree encounter altogether, or think up some clue to give the PCs that will take them on their next journey.
Just for fun, here are the stats for my players when I ran the game:
MC, age 10 (Khodi), HP 10, STR 9 DEX 17 CON 11 INT 13 WIS 14 CHA 15 SKILL: Stealth, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Performance, Athletics, Search Phobia of crowds Weapon of Power: Whip
GILBERT, age 12 (Gibby) HP 12 STR 9 DEX 11 CON 13 INT 15 WIS 14 CHA 17 SKILLS: Performance, Sleight of Hand, Insight, Perception Pyrophobic Weapon of Power: Horn (short burst = cone of force (save vs STR), long blow = cone of sonic damage (1d6 dmg, save vs CON or temporary deafness), melody = drowsiness (save vs. CON)
MADISON, age 12 (Louise) HP 10 STR 13 DEX 15 CON 11 INT 17 WIS 9 CHA 14 SKILLS: Acrobatics, Performance, Intimidate, Deception Phobia: doctors Weapon of Power: Clay
LORI, age 12 (Toni) HP 11 STR 11 DEX 17 CON 13 INT 14 WIS 9 CHA 15 SKILLS: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Deception, Perception, +______ Phobia of drowning Weapon: Boots
MARTY, age 10 (Carl) HP 13 STR 15 DEX 13 CON 17 INT 11 WIS 9 CHA 14 SKILLS: Deception, Intimidate, Athletics, Stealth Phobia: growing old Weapon: Crossbow (Bolt of Piercing 1d10+1; Bolt of Fire 1d6 + save vs DEX or catch on fire; Bolt of Poison save vs CON or be sickened; Bolt of Tether 100′)
BENNY, age 11 (Mike) HP 12 STR 13 DEX 14 CON 15 INT 17 WIS 11 CHA 9 SKILLS: Search, Acrobatics, Athletics, History Phobia: germs Weapon: Staff of Random Weirdness
OWLBEAR, age 1 (Tomoko) HP 12 STR 14 DEX 11 CON 14 INT 7 WIS 12 CHA 12 full attack: 2 claws + 1 bite (+2 to hit and 1d4+2 dmg each attack) Fear of thunder and lightning (brontophobia)