An Update Long Overdue

It has been quite some time since I last posted here, hasn't it? A little over half a year, in fact. Truth be told, I've wanted to post here long before now, but despite having an abundance of things to write about, none of them really gave me enough motivation to do so. Not to mention in the last two months, my life has been so hectic that this is the first weekend I've actually been able to just sit down and rest. But I digress.

A lot has happened since the last time I made a blog post on this site: I've participated in four game jams (for one of which we won the best game award), I graduated from university (again), I made a great deal of progress on several of my personal projects, and perhaps most importantly, I got my first job in the industry. Though there are a great many things I could say about all of these things, the last one is the one I really want to talk about. After all, this blog is by and large about my professional development, and what bigger thing is there than my first position in my desired career?

Granted, it's only a 6 month internship, but being placed as a technical game designer at a major studio (Gameloft, if you're wondering) is certainly a huge step for me. It's quite potentially that foot in the door that I needed. Either I make myself invaluable enough to them that they choose to keep me on after my contract is done, or I have a very nice addition to my CV. And that's not even accounting for the connections and experience I gain along the way.

Experience. That word has perhaps been at the core of all of my challenges so far. As someone just getting into the industry, there's a fairly major issue with the fact that almost every single posting you can find requires some form of experience. You need work experience to have your application recognised, if even looked at at all (I know many recruiters deny this, but I've yet to see evidence to convince me otherwise). And even if you choose to go the networking route, that requires a certain level of social experience (in other words, useful contacts). On top of that you need the luck to be in the right place at the right time, and have exactly what they're looking for. Of course, all of this makes a certain degree of sense; a company has needs, and they can't just hire a complete unknown in the hopes that they'll turn out to be good. That's a huge risk. On that front, I had the good fortune of being at exactly at the right place at the right time and having both social and skills experience I could leverage to get in. After all as I've said before, I know I have the abilities needed to be a good designer. I just need people to know it.

And that's where my new challenge lies. I've gotten into a company, at least for a few months. I've been assigned to a project. A new one at that, with a much smaller team meaning I get to have much more input than I might otherwise have had. It's intimidating, but at the same time, it's exactly the kind of opportunity I should be hoping for. But there is a snag there. I can only prove myself if I get the chance to demonstrate my skill, and in order to do that, I have to get people to listen to me.

You see, even though I've gotten in, I have no authority, seniority, or rapport with the people I work with. In other words, I have no experience. Not in this context. As a technical designer, my job more or less is to figure out the structure of a given task, and then tell the programmers what tools or features I need to execute that structure. The problem lies in the fact that even though I can easily define a system, I have to get the programmers to go along with it. This is the part that is difficult. As of the present moment, I don't think the programmers on the team fully understand just what my role is. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure I do myself. What I do know is that on at least two occasions, I've noticed early on that an existing system I've been asked to work on was flawed and pointed out the thing that we needed, was subsequently told by a programmer that this was not the way things were built, and a week later found out that the programmer was told by someone higher up to essentially do the same thing I suggested a week earlier.

Now don't misunderstand. This isn't me complaining about my coworkers or even stroking my own ego for ultimately being right. At the time there were very valid reasons for building things the way they were built and not accepting my proposals. After all in these instances what I was proposing were akin to massive overhauls of how the existing systems worked. And I am a junior with no real authority after all. What would I know of how their systems worked? These guys not only have technical knowledge that I don't, but experience with the engine that allows them to know that certain solutions I might have taken as obvious choices to be impractical and unstable. These are fair criticisms that can be levied against me and my proposals, and I have no real defense against them. In fact, I can think of a lot of young boiterous designers who might come in and say everything is wrong and needs to be redone, when in fact they have no idea what they're talking about. There's yet to be any evidence that I'm not one of them (I mean, I know I'm not, but I do have something of a bias on the subject so its not like they can take my word for it). In the end however, the fact of the matter is that time was wasted, either by me or the programmers, on trying to force a system that didn't meet our needs to work. It's an inefficiency that has lost a modest amount of time and energy, and it's a problem I know can be fixed. After all, I've done it quite a few times before.

Something important to point out here is that I'm not entirely ignorant of how programming works. In all of the aforementioned game jams I participated in, I was the lead programmer. Part of what helped us get so far in those jams was the simple fact that being both a designer and a programmer, I could future proof and structure my code in a way that made it easy to build on as time went on. I could define the scope from both the perspectives of what we needed to make a functional game and what I could program in the time we had. But in the context of a larger company, there are way more things you have to consider. There isn't only one programmer, or one system. Sometimes the code defines the structure, and all the designers supply is the stats for it to parse. Sometimes even when both of things are working together, there's an element from another department that throws a wrench in the mix. I'd love to give more concrete examples, but I fear doing so pushes the edges of what I can say with my contract, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardise that.

Naturally, it would be easier if I had the authority to simply say "do it like so" and have everyone follow my authority. But of course, that's not how things work, at least not here. All of the problems I mentioned are natural in a team environment. One can expect toes to be stepped on, and for communication to lapse here and there. But these downsides are worth it for the wealth of benefits that having a dynamic team grants. It allows individual parts of the whole to be self sufficient and solve their own problems, in a way that's much more creatively liberating and efficient than it would be with a single dictatorial entity. The difficulty I see is when the communication between these parts is limited, and one side can see a problem than another can't or won't, either because they have a blind spot from their perspective or there are other implications that the other side might not even be aware of. How do I broach that gap to point out issues so that they can be resolved without being dismissed? Is it simply a matter of seniority? Is it a question of how I approach the subject? Or perhaps it's about whom I approach it to? Maybe it's just power politics? These are matters I still need to work on.

In the remaining month (almost exactly. The 26th of December is when I'm slated to have my first day of vacation, not including Christmas day and the weekend prior), things are going to be very hectic for me. A major deadline is looming and though the issues I've pointed out have by and large been resolved, it doesn't stop the fact that I'll have my work cut out for me rearranging things in light of these new structures. Somewhere in between that, I'm going to have to try my best to seek out an answer for that challenge of mine. If I do figure out what the magic recipe is, I'll be sure to let you know. Until then, I'm open to suggestions.

P.S. It isn't lost on me that the subjects of my recent game jams and how I got the position might also be a compelling subjects to discuss. I certainly have a fair bit to say on them. But that's probably best saved for future posts.

20 Tips for Becoming a Better DM: Lessons Learned at the Table

Tabletop Roleplaying is something many people know about, but only a few have truly dived into. Today there are thousands of games like Dungeons and Dragons where players take on the roles of heroes and go forth on adventures with the help of dice and stat sheets, all the while being guided by the all-powerful DM, or Dungeon Master. And yet, only recently has this type of game started growing into the mainstream consciousness.

As of my writing this, I have been playing Pathfinder for a little under 3 years. It’s not my first experience with tabletop roleplaying (I played Dark Heresy in University), but it is my deepest one. Admittedly on a relative scale 3 years of gaming is not very long, but my formation has been dense and accelerated. I’ve played in many games and even finished a few of them. But most significantly, I’ve been running a campaign myself (Hell’s Rebels, a Paizo adventure path) since September of 2015.

Even before that campaign, I had wanted to try my hand at DMing. I am, after all, a game designer, and what’s a DM if not the embodiment of a live action game designer? Hell’s Rebels was the first pre-made campaign that really caught my eye, as it featured themes and mechanics that seemed very much in line with my own style. And so, with wide eyes full of excitement I invited a bunch of my friends to join and set forth on my first adventure in DMing.

With modesty, I consider myself to be a fairly decent game designer, though I will wholeheartedly admit I still have a great deal to learn. I am, to be sure, still a junior. But my game has proven to be an intense crash course. My trial by fire was rough to start with, and I made many blunders that looking back on I should have seen coming. I’ve now just concluded the third book (of 6 in the entire adventure) and I’m still learning things with each session. The experience has had its ups and downs, with plenty of fun and fights. But this time as a DM has helped me immensely in learning to become a better designer.

It is for this reason that I’m writing this, a compilation of the key lessons I’ve learned on my adventure. I find that writing gives me a chance to reflect and properly formulate my lessons. At the same time, it is my hope that anyone reading this might learn from my experience. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it.

 

Tip 1: Know your inner DM

Sun Tzu has some solid wisdom, so I'll paraphrase from him: in war (as in all things), there are three things you need to know to win every time: yourself, your enemy, and the battlefield. My first three tips correspond to these three things.

You as a DM are a crucial part of the game. You need to know what kind of DM you are and by extension what the players will be dealing with. Are you merciful or cruel? Are you by the book or off the cuff? Do you focus on theatrics or mechanics? What are you willing to put up with and what a no go? Take some time to soul search and answer these questions to define your DMing style. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses. It will help you figure out what your campaigns will look like. Telling your players how you're going to run things allows them to figure out if you're running the kind of game they want to play, and what mindset they should be approaching the game with. If the players know their DM, it means they can cooperate with them to make the game go smoothly.

I’ve done an inventory of my own DMing style. My strength is organisation. I'm really good at setting up documents and tools for my players. I like to focus on intrigue and narratives over combat. I like making NPCs that I voice act and give distinctive personalities. I like using music and other tools to set dramatic tones. I don't tend to kill players, but I'll definitely have consequences for poor choices. I prefer interesting but suboptimal characters to optimised stat blocks. I'm generous with items and flexible with game rules of it can make for a more interesting story. I use a lot of DM fudge (DM fudge just means improvisation; I really like the term), but will generally try to stay within a loose script. My theming usually bounces between comical or psychological horror/tragedy. I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

This advice isn’t just applicable in tabletop either. The Art of War has been used in business classes for decades, if not centuries. This quote in particular strikes me as the kind that is truly universal. There are very few times when it is not valuable to know yourself. In knowing your skills, limits, room for growth, and failing points, you can not only better navigate the various challenges, but you can also uncover ways to better yourself as you go. It doesn’t matter if you’re a DM, a game designer, or anything else.

 

Tip 2: Know your players

Not that your players are enemies (nor should you treat them like ones; I'll get back to that), but they are the ones you're challenging. Having a group of players that doesn't mesh well with you, your campaign, or each other will almost always break a game, or at least make it pretty lame. When you set up a game, make sure the players well be well suited to it. Or if you're making a campaign for an existing group, make the campaign fit them. Don't take on players that won't mesh with your DMing style. Make sure you know the optimal number of players for your game (in most cases it's 4-5, but there are exceptions), and stay within those bounds. Make sure you don't select players that won't get along. Avoid all these mistakes, and it will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

I made several of these mistakes with my first campaign. I invited people from my various social groups, and it's obvious not all of them get along. I also have 6 players, which means everything takes much longer. I've managed to mitigate these problems with time, but it's obvious that these choices have made for a much tougher campaign for me to run and rougher for the players. By comparison, I play in a small group with two others and we all work well together. Our synergy is incredible, and the game is much smoother as a result.

Considering user-experience is not unique to tabletop RPGs. Video Games and most product-based industries hail the almighty user, and with good reason. As the target audience of what you’re making, it is imperative that what you make is tailored to their needs and/or wants. This is imperative for designers. That said, it is true of any interaction. The more you know about who you’re communicating with, the better you can respond to them to come to a beneficial arrangement. This is fundamental logic in theory, but it is all too often forgotten in practice.

 

 

Tip 3: Know your game, and be passionate about it

The DM and the players are important, but equally important is the campaign itself. It is the third leg of the stool; without one, the other two fall apart. You as a DM are the supreme master of the game world, and you should have the knowledge to back that up. It's important that you have a deep understanding of both the mechanics and lore you'll be using. These are your tools, and without them it's the blind leading the blind, and that doesn't end well. Even if you’re really good at improvisation, if you don’t have a solid foundation you risk going all over the place. The moment a player steps off the beaten path, and trust me they will, you're going to have to tell them what they find, or at least provide a good reason for why that doesn't work. It will also help you determine how to best advise your players when it comes to making choices that complement the setting.

Related to this, if you're interested in running a campaign that is in the process of being written/released I also suggest waiting until it is fully released before doing so. This saves you the risk of accidental contradictions. I made the mistake of starting the campaign before all the books came out, and so I lacked knowledge about some world aspects that would have helped greatly. One specific example comes with my friend having picked a character race that played a role later in the campaign (and had a settlement nearby), but because the race and their settlement weren't outlined, I couldn't propose ways in which the player might integrate them into his own story. As a result, his character lacks in the way of tangible motivations that could have really helped with immersion. But it's a lesson I retain for the future.

Now, knowing the setting and mechanics is all fine and good, but that's not enough. You need to be passionate about it. After all if you don't care, why should your players? There are hundreds if not thousands of game systems, worlds, and campaigns out there, and if you're ambitious you can make your own. There's no excuse for you to run something you aren't fascinated by. And if the one you picked has bits you don't like, remember that you're the DM. You can change them. Replace or alter NPCs, places, rules… You are allowed to do all these things and more to make something you're as eager to have your players explore as they should be to explore it.

I specifically picked my campaign because I was very interested in its basic premise and setting. When I started my lore knowledge was okay but as we continued I did a lot of research. Now when it comes to the city of Kintargo and its surrounding areas I could tell you just about anything. I also threw in many new characters and flavour for existing ones to give it more life, and it meant players cared much more about them than they might have otherwise. It was important that the players feel invested in the world, so I made a point to invest in it myself. I think that is my one biggest success with my campaign.

 

Tip 4: Leave no rules ambiguous

It's a fairly common for rules to be debated during a game. Either someone doesn't like the way a certain thing works, or someone's actively abusing a linguistic loophole, or the rules are ambiguous or contradictory. As the DM it's your job to be the final word on these things. Whether you want to listen to a player's argument and bend the rules or decree that that is not how that thing works no matter how much the player might want to empty the ocean by putting it in their bag of holding, the choice is up to you. But you do need to make sure you set that rule and set it definitely so that players know what goes and what doesn't. Players squabbling over mechanics take precious time away from playing the actual game. Of course some of these only come up circumstantially and can't be predicted, but for those ones just use your absolute authority as DM to sort them out as they appear.

I've seen this quite a few times, both in my game and others, and no example is more prevalent as the alignment system. Would torturing a cultist to get crucial information about an imminent plot cause a good-aligned inquisitor to fall from grace? Is violent murder evil, neutral, or good if the ones getting murdered were tyrants and bigots? What do lawful, neutral, and chaotic even mean? This debate can get quite heated, and since my game in particular was oriented towards CG freedom fighters combating a tyrannical authority, I knew I had to plug that hole before it came up. After all, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, and I didn’t want my group falling into the trap of thinking that any actions would be justified as “good” just because the villains were evil.

In my case, I laid out Good vs Evil as pertaining to the wellbeing of the local citizens, and Lawful vs Chaotic as being a focus on the written law (Lawful), the spirit of the law (Neutral), and the results (Chaotic) when defining Good and Evil. I also decreed that my judgements on any alignment shifts were allowed one appeal, but only one, and that my decisions were final. All things considered it has worked reasonably well. Admittedly my party does have plenty of moments of dubious morality (the quote “does all this blood count as difficult terrain” comes to mind), but I think through the NPCs and the party itself getting more comfortable with the setting, alignment in particular has gone from being a problem to a narrative factor. It was nonetheless a rough patch in my game that I’ll be more careful with in the future.

 

Tip 5: Set boundaries for your game

Where my last tip was about boundaries in the rules, here I’m referring to boundaries in the sense of scope of the setting. Too often it can be easy to think “I'll just give my players a rich world and let them find their adventure”. It's a nice thought, and if you're really prepared for it a sandbox can work fairly well. But most campaigns have a storyline or plot of some kind, and the moment there's a trail you need to make sure your players stay on it (with reasonable room for deviation, of course). A lot of this is done at the start of the campaign. Players need to know what type of game they're in, both in and out of the meta. Their characters should relate to the story, and the player should be in the right frame of mind. Otherwise you end up with absurdities where characters have no reason to follow your story's rules and suddenly you're left with all your key NPCs murdered by the “heroes” or players cracking jokes and refusing to take your horror scenario seriously. Certainly you don't want to railroad your players entirely, but they should be aware of what are and aren't good ways of approaching your game.

My players generally struggled with their roles in my campaign at first. I didn't have a full picture of the setting (I naively started once the first book of the adventure came out, not knowing what would come further down the line), and so understanding of the plot was somewhat rough. It meant that my players didn't go for the “fight for the good of the city” aspect the game narrative eventually tried to push, instead taking the “fight to kill the bad guy” approach. It meant the party of would be freedom fighters for justice and liberty were more akin to morally dubious assassins. The campaign assumed players would try using nonlethal tactics, but I hadn't given them much of a reason to even consider them.

I managed to pull this back a bit as time went on through NPC interactions and not so subtle hints that they might want to stop murdering everyone and start being a bit more “heroic” in temperament. Some of that did also involve me privately taking players aside to clear it up, which fortunately worked reasonably well. Next time though, I would definitely be very upfront about what your true objective and motivations are. For instance, the next game I'm planning is a horror game. As such, I'll definitely have to be adamant about not having the comical tangents common to the prior campaign.

 

Tip 6: Have a session zero

So much of what I've noted so far, and a lot of what will come for that matter, can be handled by simply having a session zero. A session zero is essentially a scheduled session in which the players build their characters together. It gives the players a chance to interact and come up with synergies and dynamics together. It's not called a “party” for nothing, after all. Even if they come from different backgrounds, the characters and players should be able to work with each other. It also gives you a chance to observe, clarify, and offer hints and suggestions at how to prepare for your game. Too many DMs will skip this step, and it's a pity. You can avoid so many major early pitfalls with it.

I had a session 0 for my game, but most of it was actually spent explaining basic rules of character creation to my players who didn't know the system well. Some players simply weren't there for it and I helped them with their characters separately. It meant that the rag tag bunch of freedom fighters were very rag tag. Character concepts clashed, and not in the good “this adds flavour to the party dynamic” sort of way. Characters had wildly different motivations that at times conflicted and lead to characters leaving the party to go on their own. A lot of the issues I had to work out over the course of the first dozen sessions or so could have probably been avoided had it been for a session 0.

 

Tip 7: Keep a rulebook handy

In the event that you don't know your game’s rules and mechanics by heart (and even if you do), it pays immensely to have an easy to pick up reference for yourself and your players. If you're in person, keep at least one copy (but preferably multiple) of the rulebook on hand. If online, keep a tab or window with them at the ready. This little thing can save you a lot of time. Players don't have to ask you for everything, you don't have to remember all those edge cases and special rules, and rule debates can be solved quickly.

That said, sometimes the rules can be a little much, and in those events I wholeheartedly support making your rules up on the fly. Personally, I like to balance both quite precariously. Since my game is conducted online, I always have a link open to the online Pathfinder guide so that I can quickly look up rules and details when I need it. However I keep an unwritten rule in mind: if looking up the rule is taking long enough that the pace starts feeling like it will be broken, then I’ll give up on looking it up and make up something that makes reasonable sense. Usually my biggest hint regarding the pace is that player’s will start talking about subjects outside of what is currently going on in the game. One other thing that can help is to have certain pertinent rule pages bookmarked or open already when they become relevant. I like to keep links to them attached to relevant tokens or notes so that I can quickly access them as needed.

 

Tip 8: Keep notes for yourself

If the rulebook covers you for mechanics, your notes should cover the roleplay. Even if the campaign comes from a premade book, it's always good write things out yourself. Your notes should be naturally easier for you to read, and you can include details the source might not have. I keep dialogue scripts, scene descriptions, instructions on what songs and actions to do certain moments, and other details in here, and I have to say since I started using them I've found it immensely helpful. It’s very similar to a design document for a game or a screenplay for a film: these will allow you to prepare scenes in advance so that you can play them out faster and easier while in the game.

Needless to say these ones are just for you, so no player peeking. But of course you can always provide a codex of sorts for their benefit that you fill with info as they go. I started making these after a game where I played as the knowledge bot and had trouble remembering all the NPC names. Fortunately once my DM added a journal it made my life (and the DM's) much easier.

 

Tip 9: Use secret modifiers

Often times, there are situations where the dice just don't what you want them to do, and it messes up the game. Say you keep getting critical hits on one party member, and end up killing them early on without giving them a chance to fight back. Say the party keeps failing the check to open a door that's necessary to continue to the next area, with no real alternative path. Here's the thing, you're the DM. You hold absolute power, and therefore bend the dice to your whims. Don't show your players your dice, and it you must, wait until after you've decided they have a result you deem acceptable. Consider adding modifiers based on the situation, even if the rules don't strictly call for it. If someone contests you, remind them that you have the right invoke DM fudge (or fiat, or whatever term you want to use for making stuff up; you're the DM after all).

I am a big supporter of DM fudge, in case it wasn't obvious. I use it often. Not so often that I completely take away the chance of the game, but particularly for situations where one result is significantly more interesting than the other. If the players are trying to get past a door and simply can't get a decent role, I decrease the difficulty so that they do. If an enemy can't for the life of them pose any threat to the players because of poor roles, I change them. If a player really should be able to pass a certain check but the mechanical likelihood of it working is minute, I give them a bonus that accounts for their background.

In many tabletop systems fudge is the simplest way to balance a situation. No system is perfect, and DM fudge is what allows the DM to carry out their job of converting the theoretical rules of the game into practical enjoyment for the players. If that means twisting the rules to suit your needs, so be it. In fact this sort of emergent design is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of tabletop RPGs compared to other types of games, because these things can be done both easily and discretely. In truth I don't always tell them that this is what I'm doing, but in many cases they don't need to know.

 

Tip 10: Give your scenes flavour

This one is perhaps a bit more subjective, since it applies more to narrative focused games, but nonetheless the application of narrative flavour can do wonders for a game's tone and feel. A well placed voice accent, dramatic reveal, or impromptu description of a scene will help to immerse your players in a way that raw dice rolls never will. You don't have to be an actor either; there are loads of ways to do it. Get some background music, use different tokens, make physical letters or objects as handouts, and encourage your players to get certain mechanical boons for roleplaying. Some systems have the last part baked in already.

Personally, I use several of these techniques. Bosses get special boss music, and I try to decorate my scenes when I can. Anytime a critical roll or particularly special event occurs, I try to narrate it (usually to comical effect). I write session summaries that include pertinent gifs and quips. I give every NPC a unique voice and accent. I write scripts for much of my dialogue. The last one is a bit tricky since players rarely follow your dialogue expectations perfectly, but I solve that but keeping it vague and including branching responses. I can tell you from experience that these things make my campaigns so much better. My players have come to know these characters and will even joke about them outside of the game. Some group favorites are Neddus, THE MOST HEROIC, BRAVE, AND LOUD PALADIN IN ALL THE LAND, AND ALSO NOT THE SMARTEST, Setrona, the sassiest and crudest little Irish tavern owner you ever did see, and the stern Octavio, who in Setrona's words “has that polearm o’ his shoved so far up his arse I figure his sharp tongue's just the blade stickin’ out his mouth”. I was pretty proud of myself for that line.

 

Tip 11: Have a plan, and be prepared for it to derail

One of the big advantages tabletop RPGs have that other games often don't is the flexibility to alter the game on the fly based on how the players interact with the world. A DM is a person, and this means they can be more interactive than any other game system. That said, foolish is the DM that thinks they can improvise the whole thing and actually produce a decent story and progression. I'm not saying it can't be done, but let's be honest: it's never going to be as good as a well-planned scenario.

However, the only thing as certain as the value of a plan of that your players are going to break it. That's just a reality of design: users will always find ways to subvert your expectations. So, don't make a plan with the assumption that your players will follow every little step you give them. They'll jump to conclusions, they'll try things you didn't account for, and they’ll ignore hints. Sometimes it's not even the players, but the dice or some other factor you didn't prepare for. Say your players just really can't hit one particular enemy or don't have a key item they were supposed to get. At one point or another, it will happen, and in those moments, you need to be able to handle it. There are a couple ways to do that, and realistically you should use both of them.

The first is to make sure your plan has contingencies. When I'm writing my session plans, I always include little notes for “what if” situations. I try to include simple details like how the buildings are constructed, basic personality traits for minor NPCs, and the like. I also have standardised values for dice roll difficulties. For example, players must pass 15 on their check to do a basic thing, 20 for a challenging thing, 30 for a very difficult thing (these should be adjusted to match what your players can get on average). Conventions like that are useful for when I quickly need to come up with a check, which leads me to my second solution.

Improvisation skills are your friend. When the plan and backup fail, you need to know how to respond. Knowing your lore is a big part of that (see Tip 3), but some of it is purely on you. I tend to practice a lot on my own scenarios. I'll think about how NPCs would respond to an event and kind of blather it to myself. I’ll consider their comments of shock and confusion, how they'd give advice, and other considerations. I use the same technique on the mechanics side. I think of the feasibility of more outlandish ways to act, and how I'd run them. Some of is intuitive, but thinking on your feet is a skill that can be learned. Take up improv if you can. Or barring that play in games and practice your logic from the other side (how would you deal with your party). And if you don't know whether to let something slide or not, you can always use your dice. Sometimes when a player asks me if something would work and I'm not entirely sure, I'll to a dice or flip a coin to see if I'll allow it. This works pretty decently more often than not.

 

Tip 12: Check up on your players (and their sheets)

As a DM, checking up on your players is crucial for two reasons. The first is for feedback, the second is to make sure your players are actually up to speed.

There's a general lack of appreciation for feedback in the design world. That's a mistake you as a DM must not make. Talk to your players regularly. Observe them constantly. Find out what they like and don't like about your game. What would they like to see? What are their goals with their character? Do they understand what you're trying to do with the campaign? Get as much feedback as you can, and use it to make your game better. And a quick note: don't just go by the stuff your players tell you either. Actions can tell a great deal more. You need to be observant. Notice when players repeatedly make the same mistakes or regularly avoid or pursue certain aspects of your game. These behaviours can be telltale signs of how to adjust your game to make it more enjoyable.

Then there's the matter of sheet checking. While players should be keeping their sheets up to date, I can tell you from experience they often won't, or they will but not give them to you. While in some cases it's fine to leave it be, in doing so you leave yourself open to some problems. Sad as it is, some players will exploit your lack of oversight to do things which can ultimately be a detriment to the game and their fellow players. Other times they'll make mistakes or forget things. I had one player give themselves a powerful ability they shouldn't have for another four levels because they didn't notice the prerequisite, while another hadn't given himself feats or skill points for the last three levels because he was still learning the system and didn't know what to add on his sheet. It's these kinds of things that can easily be fixed by having your players give you regular sheet updates.

I make sure to demand sheets before any major encounters. Not only does it let me check for these sorts of issues, but it also gives me data on their strengths and weaknesses that I can use to enhance encounters. One rule I plan on using in the future to ensure compliance for games where these details are important is this: “As far as I'm concerned, the last sheet you gave me is the one you have. If you have an item or ability but it's not on that sheet, you don't have it.”

 

Tip 13: A DM’s words are powerful; use them wisely

There is a reason you are called the Dungeon MASTER. You hold the keys to the game. You know everything there is to know about the game (or have the power to make it up). You are effectively the god of this realm. Don't let that get to your head, but appreciate it. Like they say, with great power comes great responsibility.

Your words can make or break a situation, so you need to act like it. Be prepared to offer advice of a player needs it, and to stay quiet if they need a lesson. The players should care about what you have to say, but at the same time they cannot rely on it alone. Definitely don't tell them what to do (except for very special situations), but instead give them choices (“you could do X or Y”, “do you want to do this thing”, etc.), and occasionally mention likely consequences (“you could do X, but NPC might not be happy”). In drastic situations where a “total party kill” action is about to be undertaken, you also have access to perhaps the most powerful phrase a DM can utter: “Are you sure you want to do that?” Use that one carefully, because it should bring a party to an immediate halt.

It can be pretty intimidating too, I understand, to hold all that influence. There's a trick I use for that. Often times, I'll give NPCs a great deal of wisdom. They'll have plenty of advice on how to deal with various situations. But they will only offer this advice if the players ask for it, or are evidently stuck. As such, I can restrict my advice to “you have people you can ask”. It takes some of the pressure off of me and means I can even toss in the occasional misdirection (after all, an NPC might not know what the DM knows). NPCs are almost universally better guides than the DM, but the DM’s voice is a tool like any other, to be used when you want your players to take what you say as an absolute.

 

Tip 14: Player agency is an essential thing; handle with caution

By player agency, I mean a player’s ability to control the actions and choices of their character. In any game, agency is critical, but especially so in an RPG. Those characters represent the players. They are yours to manipulate, attack, support, influence… But not control. The moment you take away the player’s control, they aren't playing the game. At best they're listening to your story. There are few things less fun in a tabletop RPG than not being able to do anything in a given situation, be it because you took over or they are in a situation where none of their actions work.

That said, taking away agency from the player isn't completely “verboten”. In fact, it can be an excellent way to instill fear or very threatening situations. Players naturally won't want to lose agency, and when it happens it can be devastating. I think the tensest situation I've ever been in involved one of our party members getting hit with a magic jar spell and getting possessed by a powerful creature. It was scary as hell, but quite fun.

And there's more ways to take advantage of agency as well beyond simply taking it away. Making it work in ways they don't expect (think of how you might adapt something like the Psycho Mantis fight from Metal Gear Solid into tabletop format), mismatching what the player knows and what is happening (a cursed item that does the opposite of what the player thinks it should, for example), giving players different information, messing with basic mechanics… There are some creative things you can do by playing with player agency. To toss an example in, I have one encounter that involves an enemy disguising itself as another player to cause confusion. In Roll20, I do this by making a second character token for that person. The player in question doesn't know which one of the tokens is actually his, and I don't tell the other players either. In fact I don't even tell them the impostor's there. That's for them to notice, hopefully before it's too late.

 

Tip 15: Give meaning to character deaths

Some systems, campaigns, and even DMs boast about being player killers. I am of the opinion that that is generally dumb, at least in the context of a roleplaying game. Systems that work around the concept of frequent death can work (the game Paranoia uses this to good effect), but what's important to recognise in most RPGs is that players will usually put a fair bit of personal investment in creating and developing their characters. There are exceptions of course, but I'm talking about in general. Death in a system like D&D or Pathfinder doesn't come with an easy respawn until fairly high levels. You need to come up with a new character idea, build that character from the ground up, and even then they might lack the investment of the previous character. It can also be a pretty huge bummer for some people who have long term plans for their character.

Now, having said all that, I'm not against PC deaths outright. What I'm saying is that it's a big deal. It can be an extremely potent narrative tool if you want it to be. But in order for you to make it so, you have to make the death significant, both in cause and effect. There are few things I hate in a game as much as a “save or die”. For those that aren’t familiar, this is the concept of a situation where the player must roll a dice and the life of their character is decided almost entirely on the outcome, with very little the player can do about it. Make sure your players stand a fighting chance, and that if they're dying, it's because of their own poor tactical choices or dangerous risks. You may be the cause of death, but the player must first enable you to do it.

And furthermore, when a PC death does happen, be sure to give them a suitably dramatic send-off. Tip 10 is particularly relevant in these sorts of situations. Let the player have their character go out a blaze of glory. Make it like one of those scenes where a main character gets offed in spectacular fashion. Make a show of it. The more weight you as a DM put on the death, the more importance you are placing on the character's life. It's a good way to further your player's investment in the game universe. The party should feel like they just lost a comrade in arms in a fierce battle, not like Jimmy rolled a 1 so now he has to make a new sheet.

 

Tip 16: Know what your players are comfortable dealing with

You know what I said about knowing your players? I know it was 14 tips ago, but hopefully the lesson stuck. That lesson goes doubly so for sensitive subjects. Players play games to have fun and enjoy themselves. Things that pull them out of the game by making them uncomfortable just aren't cool. Take note of phobias, touchy subjects, and the like. As abused as they might be in some cases, there's nothing wrong with content warnings either.

Really, this rule just boils down to “don't be an inconsiderate jerk”. If one of your players recently put down their dog and is feeling depressed about it, maybe don't send a pack of zombie dogs after them. If your party isn't into ultra-dark humour, try keeping it to a minimum (or better yet don’t have it at all). Like most things that tread along the edges of depravity, consent, be it explicitly stated or implicit, is important. When it comes to questionable content, some people won't mind if you shove it down their throats, and that's great. But don't do it without getting permission first.

 

Tip 17: Yes it's their story, but you're still the one telling it

At times, the job of a DM might seem selfless, but if that's the case then you probably aren't doing it right. The DM, while they aren't a player character, is still a player in the grand scheme of things. To borrow a term from business, they're a stakeholder, just like the ones “playing” the game. As such, it's critical that the DM also enjoys themselves while running the game.

Well known game writer and DM Matthew Colville once said that the way to determine whether or not a DM has fun depends on whether or not their players have fun. I'd go a bit further than that. Yes, a DM’s enjoyment of the game should be predicated on the enjoyment of their players, but likewise the players’ enjoyment will rely heavily on the enjoyment of the DM. That might sound convoluted so I'll try to simplify: player and DM enjoyment are and should be a symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other, and if either is missing then the game will inevitably fall apart. This is why while many guides about being a good DM talk about improving the experience for players, it's important not to neglect the DM's experience.

This ties in quite heavily with Tip 3. After all, if you aren't passionate about the game, crafting the story within it will seem tedious, and that will rub off on your players. Quite simply put, you won't be a good DM if you aren't enjoying the story you're telling.

Fortunately as of yet I haven't found a situation in my game where I've lost interest in the story. I'd like to think that's a big reason for why my game has continued successfully for as long as it has. However I've certainly seen it with others. There are many times that I've seen a DM lose sight of their campaign's vision, and as a result the game rapidly withered and died. Playing in games where the DM seems to view it as a core just isn't fun, and as a player I wouldn't want to stay in such a game.

 

Tip 18: Steal good ideas from others

To steal an often misattributed quote, “Good artists copy; great artists steal”. It's an idea that any artist or designer should keep close to heart. After all, it is also said that everything has already been done. So, by extension, anything new is just a really cleverly crafted combination of previously had ideas melded together.

This is particularly true for storytellers. The human experience only has so many divergent paths, including in fantasy. After all even if it is fantasy it should be relatable to your real life human players. There is a great deal of material in the human database, and many great ideas that haven't been fully exploited. Taking these good ideas and making them your own is just being efficient.

That being said, note the wording of my last sentence. “Making them your own” is important. This is the difference between “borrowing” and “stealing” (and by extension the difference between a good artist and a great one, if you follow the opening quote). While taking something cool from somewhere else and transposing it into your adventure is fine, it's even better if you can identify what about that thing made it cool, and rebuild it as a part of your game.

Allow me to offer an example. Though be advised, this is the part where I spoil a rather significant part of the Hell's Rebels adventure path, so if your intention is to play in it I strongly recommend doing the rest of this section.

Recently, my players attended a masquerade ball being hosted by the villain of the campaign. The players knew this event would be a trap, but didn't know what sort of trap it would be. The trap in question, as laid out in the book, is that at the end of the night the villain locks the doors and has his minions slaughter everyone in attendance while disguised as good-aligned creatures so that he can blame it on the heroes.

However, this plan has some plot holes. If the villain doesn't intend to have anyone survive, why bother with the disguises? If that's a fallback in case anyone survives, then why would he make a long winded speech to the crowd just before the massacre begins calling them “necessary sacrifices”? His attempt at plausible deniability is notably flawed in this regard. Additionally, the villain was supposed to have a bodyguard who would appear only if the party didn't kill them earlier. My party did, so the villain was down a minion, and my group is strong enough that losing that powerful foe would make the fight much too easy.

Fortunately, while going through a forum for DMs of this adventure, I came across a few ideas. For the minion, someone had proposed an alternative that I ultimately used in my game. By this point, the players had thwarted the villain multiple times. The idea was that his bodyguard at the masquerade was his former bodyguard that had failed him in the first book, and was subsequently tortured and upgraded to be threatening to the now much stronger players. Since that one was dead in my game she could not reappear. However, this other DM had pointed out that there was nothing stopping the villain from doing the same thing to any of his other minions that had failed him, and it just so happened there was a foe my players had deceived, rather than fought. For her failure she was turned into the new tortured bodyguard, and served the role very well.

The events leading to the massacre was another proposed alternative I took from that forum. Since the players had done so well to thwart the villain before, it was unlikely that he could kill all 300 people at the masquerade without anyone escaping. Since the villain was in fact a clever strategist, this other DM suggested that the villain conduct a final ceremony that would get interrupted by someone disguised as a player or ally character, so that the lure of the players being the ones responsible seemed more plausible.

I took this idea, but I also fashioned it to suit my group even better. Up until this point, my players had developed a reputation for foiling the villain, but also for using fairly violent means to do so. Many of the villain's subordinates were killed quite brutally. One character in particular, a former slave turned assassin, was known for his violence against those that had wronged him. And so my solution was this: during the final ceremony, certain members of the audience would be brought on stage as winners of the masquerade’s “best mask competition”. Among them was the leader of the noble house most loyal to the villain, who incidentally was the former owner of the slave character, and someone disguised as that same character. During the ceremony, the one disguised as a player leapt at and killed the noble, and was subsequently put down by the villain, but not before claiming his kill in the name of the player characters’ organisation. This served as the panicked pretext under which the massacre began.

The beauty of this solution was twofold. On the one hand, it used the party's own reputation against them. Because they were known for brutally assassinating those loyal to the villain, it seemed perfectly plausible that such an attack would take place, so even if people did escape the massacre (which was likely given the sheer numbers), they might still believe the players to be responsible. On the other hand, because the players were not all together at the time of the ceremony, some of them also believed, briefly at least, that their ally and fellow player had just committed the act, leading to confusion among the party that rendered the whole event that much more chaotic (I made sure with the player beforehand of course that he would be okay with the temporary ire until things were cleared up). The end result was that a scene that otherwise would have made the villain seem foolish now appeared as a much more devious plan that played to the party's faults to give them a greater challenge and a more visceral experience.

 

Tip 19: Play in games

Technically speaking, there is no rule that a DM has to have ever been a player of the game they’re running. All they really need is a decent understanding of the rules and a campaign to run. That said, it should come as no surprise that playing in games can be immensely useful for any DM. It is by playing in other games that you can see how the game feels from the player’s perspective, but also how other DMs run their games. These offer excellent opportunities to learn by observing others. Countless times I’ve taken good ideas from other DMs I’ve played under, or learned from mistakes they’ve made in their games. By seeing experiences I as a player enjoyed, it gave me a better idea of what to offer my own players. Being on the other side of the DM wall can offer a great deal of perspective, which leads me to my last piece of advice…

 

Tip 20: Have a life

Tabletop games are immensely fun, and offer a massive array of experiences and opportunities to learn and engage with others. That said, it is only one of many mediums through which you can experience the world. Vast as it might be, it can become possible to get too wrapped up in it, and for it to suffocate your creativity. To refer a little to Tip 18, many of the greatest artists, particularly in the realms of fantasy and science fiction, drew inspiration from other mediums. Isaac Asimov uses his knowledge as a scientist to enhance his stories. Frank Herbert drew heavily from Arabic culture and religion in Dune. George R.R. Martin has an affinity for the history of the European Middle Ages. There’s an entire Wikipedia page covering J. R. R. Tolkien’s influences.

What’s important to recognise is that all of these renowned writers that so often have influenced the domain of tabletop RPGs took inspiration from other sources. To be a good DM, you must be a good storyteller. To be a good storyteller, you must know good stories. And to know good stories, you must look to the world and all it has to offer. Better yet is to live out stories of your own. Go outside, meet different people, and see interesting things. By cultivating experiences first hand, you can draw from them something much more personal than anything you could conceive through pure imagination alone. In fact, I would dare to say that raw imagination is unusable. It can morph and bend things into wonderful shapes, but it needs raw materials to work. These materials come from the outside world.

It would be all too easy for me to shut myself in my room and spend my entire time doing tabletop games. Perhaps if I had, I would have much more experience under my belt than just one game. But I know with absolute certainty that if I were to have sacrificed my life to make and run games, they would be nowhere near as good as what I can produce now. Taking experience from all over the place is what allows me to craft the best work I can, and continuing to have experiences that push my boundaries will only make me a better DM and designer with time. That, quite possibly, is the single most important piece of advice I can offer.

 

Conclusion

And with that, I’ve reached the end of my lessons so far. As you might have noticed, some are much more practical, others more abstract. But one thing I hope you’ve observed is that all of them, in one way or another, apply not only to tabletop roleplaying games. In truth, any piece of advice I’ve offered here can be just as valid in just about any other domain, be it video games, business, relationships, or anything else. You may need to tweak the terminology a bit of course, but it’s all there. That is something I’ve taken great pleasure in observing in my life: that everything is connected. There are through-lines, universal truths. Systems will often remain consistent from one place to another, and there are a great many transferrable skills that aren’t always known by the same names. To truly recognise this fact, I think, is a key step in being a more complete individual. I won’t be so grandiose as to say it’s the path to enlightenment or anything like that, but I wouldn’t discount the notion.

In conclusion, allow me to offer one final piece of parting wisdom from someone who no doubt has a great deal yet to learn: to be a great DM is to truly understand people. A great DM can touch the hearts and minds of their players and open them to a world of experiences they could only dream of. There is great potential in this role, far more than what might be recognised. I think anyone who has truly been a DM can recognise that. I ask that you hold onto that, and cherish it. Being able to touch others in such a way is an incredible thing, and I really do believe it can bring us together and better us as people. I know that might seem rather lofty for a game, but sometimes the greatest things do come in the strangest of packages. This is, after all, why I chose to pursue the path of a game designer.

 

Homestuck's Conclusion and Or8Weaver's Evolution

On the 13th of April of this year, Homestuck concluded after 7 long years of being one of the longest and most popular webcomics out there. It's easy enough to look up this monolith of an internet cultural icon, so I won't go into detail about it. Instead, this is about my relationship with it.

I was a fan of MSPaintAdventures and Andrew Hussie's works since quite a long time back. Before even the Problem Sleuth days. However, it's with Homestuck that I actually started getting into the fandom. In fact it could be argued that Homestuck is what brought me into the world of fandoms to begin with (I wouldn't really count my time in the Playstation or Ratchet and Clank forums as such). It started with the old Skaianet Imageboard, then I began roleplaying with Trollmegle. Later I moved over to DeviantArt and the Pesterchum application for art and roleplay respectively. I had a lot of fun with the Homestuck fandom. I learned a great deal about internet culture, the very concept of roleplaying (which in turn helped me with my writing and character design skills), and it pushed me to draw and create various things. It's also what prompted my exploration into the concept of crossovers, which until then I didn't really know to be a thing. And the fact that all of these stemmed from one fundamental source was awe inspiring to me. That something so mundane as a cleverly written comic could fuel such a microcosm was baffling.

Then of course, there were all the friends I made from it. Between friends I made through RPs and art collaborations, I actually amassed a fairly high number of online pals. I still keep in touch with some of them, though most I've since lost contact with. However one person in particular I still keep close with, as our interests shifted over to include video games and other hobbies. But alongside those other hobbies, there was always our collaborative RP project: Or8Weaver.

Now, Or8Weaver has been going on for over four years (since the 16th of December 2011), and is still going strong. In fact I'm literally writing it in another window as I type this. Or8 has served as a testing ground for a lot of concepts for me, both in terms of mechanics and narratives. However, despite how much it's deviated from the original source, the fact that Or8 is a derivative fanwork has always loomed over it. Evidently, there's not a whole lot I can do with it in any practical sense that wouldn't breach copyright. This is something that up until recently I was never particularly bothered by. After all, Or8 itself is more of a personal thing. But then there was FateWeaver, the game I had been converting the setting to be used in. And as I've gotten deeper into my plans for that game, this particular issue has come to the forefront of my thoughts.

Just a few days before the end of Homestuck, I had one of those thoughts one gets as they're laying in bed trying to sleep. It was an idea about how to convert the hemospectrum aspect of troll society into its own unique system using the seven deadly sins as bases (admittedly, I might have an anime I watched recently to thank for seeding that particular thought). Over the following few days, I fiddled a bit more with the concept, and though it's still a good ways from completion, I get the feeling that I can very feasibly proceed with converting the entirety of the Or8 setting to remove any references to Homestuck. Most of the content was already of my own creation, with only some nomenclature and core elements coming from the original material, so in truth it's actually not all that much work for me.

All that to say, though it won't change anything for now, I've begun an alteration to Or8Weaver that will allow me to convert a fan project into something of its own. Really it already was at this point. I just needed that little extra push to change the label. In time, as I continue to make the modifications to the Fate system and the Or8 setting, my hope is that some time in the future, I might soon have a full tabletop setting of my very own. It's a project I'm very much looking forward to developing further. And while I have Homestuck to thank for being the catalyst that brought about its conception, there's a sense of great accomplishment in knowing that with Homestuck's conclusion, Or8 will be reborn and live on.

I've gotten a bit rambly, so I'll leave you with this sketch I doodled recently. It's a rendition of my Pathfinder version of Astrea Maryam (who is an important character in Or8). Not much else to be said there, other than playing a spellcaster has proven much more fun that I thought it would be, and that I've thoroughly enjoyed playing her in all her renditions.

DMing A Tabletop Game: First Book Post-Mortem

As of the time I'm writing this, I fairly recently completed running "In Hell's Bright Shadow", the first book of the "Hell's Rebels" campaign for the Pathfidner Roleplaying system. This is a retrospective on my involvement with tabletop, my views on the game itself, and how it's helped me better understand game design.

Tabletop

My experience with tabletop RPGs is fairly limited. I started with Warhammer 40K's Dark Heresy back in University back when some of my friends were in a small group. It took some getting used to (it didn't help that I knew next to nothing about the 40K universe at the time), but the experience itself was great and I got some fantastic stories out of it (the butter story, the sacred oil tale, and the self-destroying boss are some of my personal favourites).

Come August 2014, I tried getting back in touch with an old friend of mine from high school, and got invited into a Pathfinder game (Mummy's Mask) that he was running through a site called Roll20. We got to the end of the 2nd book before our party was wiped out, but it definitely made firm my interest in the game. After that, I researched and dabbled with some other systems (5e and Fate primarily), though most of my gaming has been with Pathfinder. According to Roll20, I've clocked just over 700 hours of time in-game. I've played in about 10 games (though only 6 of them got past the first couple sessions).

Pathfinder

The System

As I mentioned, Pathfinder has been my primary game system. I had the good fortune of having friends that knew the rules fairly well, because I can safely say that many of the rules for that game are rather opaque. It's generally said that between Pathfinder and D&D 5e, Pathfinder has significantly more content, but also a great deal more bloat in numbers and systems.

Overall, Pathfinder is a great system, and if you have someone willing to guide you, it's a fantastic way to start playing tabletop. It's built on the D&D core, so a lot of its ideas are very classic fantasy and therefore easy to recognise. I've used Hero Lab (another great tool) to make the character creation process easier to deal with. And gradually I've been stepping out of my comfort zone to explore more technically challenging aspects of the game. Notably, I recently started playing my first prepared caster (an arcanist), which is a big leap considering I don't usually play magic users (rogues are more my style).

All that said, as I've played more of the game, some of its flaws are becoming more readily apparent. Combat manoeuvres are something that bother me, since they are implemented in a way that makes them generally much less advantageous compared to just using a standard attack. They require a great number of feats to be usable, and even then they use an additional set of rules that mean the table more often than not has to stop and pull out the rulebook when they occur. Grappling is apparently better than it was in 3.5e, but still requires a flowchart to understand. I remember the first session I ran, one player tried to play a weapon sundering-based character, but the system made this very obtuse and generally less effective than just hitting the guy instead. Considering how cool these sorts of actions are, it strikes me as sad that performing them is so much more difficult.

Another gripe is the feat taxes in general. I played a rogue my first time, and because I invested a lot of time in my character, I really didn't want to let her die. Ranged fighting therefore seemed like the way to go. But it took ages just to make that bow useful. Same with weapon finesse. There are many other "feat taxes" that have been brought to my attention since. Fortunately, most of my DMs have simply used this solution, and it's worked out. Many of my other gripes, such as the limitations on actions, alignment, and the lack of balance for certain classes (notably the rogue and summoner) have been addressed in the Unchained rulebook. Nonetheless, it's a topic I could easily spend an entire day rambling about, so I'll move on.

The Setting

As for Pahfinder's setting, after the first couple games I made a concerted effort to explore the wikis and learn the lore. I was very pleased to find that there was an impressive database of information. There is a lot of good work that has been put into Golarion. The setting is rich and interesting, even if some of the parallels are a bit obvious (Vudra, you mean Fantasy India; Kelesh =Arabia, Osirion = Egypt, and so on). The writers have done a good job of providing ample setting information with which to run the adventure paths, while still having a system that is general enough to not rely on the setting entirely. Plenty of the games I've played are homebrews that do a good job of replacing the setting.

One aspect in particular I've taken an interest in is religion. Pathfinder has an established pantheon with major deities, minor ones, demigods, and everything in between. Lately I've been having a lot of fun reading about them and seeing how the story accounts for the existence of actual gods. In fact, one of my latest projects has been to go through the major pantheon and create "iconic worshiper" characters that represent their assigned core deity's aspects. It's proven to be an excellent character development exercise, and it's led me to produce some rather interesting personalities that also serve as functional characters. Incidentally, expect those to appear on this site some time in the near future.

Hell's Rebels

Hell's Rebels is Pathfinder's first "Chaotic Good" aligned game. It sets players as revolutionaries in the cultural city of Kintargo against the oppressive devil-worshiping Thrune government, that due to an ongoing invasion is getting all the more vicious and totalitarian. I like to simplify it for my players as "you are the French resistance in occupied Paris". The campaign starts off primarily as an intrigue and base building game, then eventually escalates to a full on rebellion and combat. However it's easily the least combat-oriented campaign that I know of.

Prior to this Hell's Rebels being released, I had wondered about DMing a game. However at the time there were no campaigns that really struck me as ones I'd particularly want to run. My greatest interests were political intrigue and an emphasis on tactics and strategy that would not necessarily be combat-oriented. I had actually started developing my own campaign using the Fate system and my Or8Weaver setting with those ideas in mind. However, when I learned of Hell's Rebels, needless to say I jumped on it.

Having now run the first book and read the others, I can say it is definitely my favourite campaign by far out of those I've seen. However it does still have plenty of flaws. There are some instances where the game outright states that there is a right way to go about certain things, and sometimes it conflicts with itself in terms of whether it wants players to be non-combative or not. The game clearly has the idea of allowing for different tactical decisions, but at times it feels as though the system itself doesn't make it particularly viable.

The Game

The Rules

Now, I started my game with a lot of preparation, and with story heavily in mind. I looked into and implemented several variant rules and extras with the intention of making combat smoother and easier (variant action economy and the feat tax fix being the main ones). I gave everyone a custom item that would level up with them as they progressed, the idea being that they would act as a kind of indicator of story progress (I also didn't use XP, for reasons that will be apparent soon). I also tried very hard to ensure that everyone's character fit the campaign and the setting. Because at least two of the people who planned on joining were completely new to Pathfinder, I wrote documents to simplify many rules and aspects of the game, like classes and religions.

All in all, I spent a great deal of time on that prep, but I was careful not to overdo it. I know the rule that players will inevitably mess with your expectations, after all. Most of what I did after that was emergent: I added characters based on quips or funny events that occurred. Eventually, I started writing scripts for dialogue and streamlined the information in the book (because sometimes I had to spend a solid few minutes flipping through pages to find out a small piece of information for a particular room).

The Players

I was prudent about people I didn't know mucking up the game for the others (since I had certainly seen it in the past), so I stuck to people I knew. Most were people I played with previously and people I knew outside of the game. A couple were friends I had who were interested in trying the game for the first time. I was fortunate in that three (later four) of my players knew the rules well, much better than me in fact, so I could rely on them to explain how something worked when need be.

Admittedly, the party did not mesh particularly well initially. Some of them had very different play philosophies, and it resulted in characters and players clashing. Fortunately that has since calmed down for the most part, and as they've gotten used to each other and I've discussed things with them personally it's been largely smoothed over. However it is always a concern.

There was one last factor to mention that I think in hindsight was a mistake on my part: I recruited six players. I learned a bit too late that four players is what Hell's Rebels was built for, and I now understand why some DMs don't allow for more than that. Juggling encounter difficulties to reflect that has been a constant challenge.

Most of the party came in from the upper side of the map and used nonlethal attacks. Hagger took the other route and asked if pools of blood could be considered difficult terrain.

My Experience

Technically speaking, Hell's Rebels is the second game I've been the DM for. Last summer, I briefly ran my Or8 game with a couple friends to test it out and see how I enjoyed DMing in general. It turns out I absolutely loved it, and now that I've gone through a whole book, I can safely say that I genuinely enjoy DMing even more than playing. I suppose that is as good a testament as any for why I want to become a game designer.

I should probably preface that as far as DMs go, I'm extremely lenient. My philosophy is that, at least for this particular game, the characters were more important as figures within a story than as statblocks with which to solve problems. Some dungeon runner games seemed to put more of an emphasis on making optimised characters largely for the purpose of surviving. I didn't want that to be what happened, so I was much more willing to let players twist the rules a bit in order to make adjustments that fit the characters. As a result, I allowed for some rather broken characters (I let someone play a Synthesist Summoner; that should more than explain how lenient I was to anyone familiar with Pathfinder).

As a result of giving the players several boons and allowing for six of them, I found that encounters were rather trivial at first. It led to the first few sessions having a lot of back and forth as I adjusted the difficulty of enemies to account for the team. It's something I still haven't mastered, though I've definitely gotten better at regulating encounters to match the players.

As for how the players have been addressing the game, I'd say it's been bumpy. From the start, players have on a few occasions clashed. I've had players nearly sabotage the efforts of other team members, or kill characters the rest of the group planned on sparing. The term "murder hobos" has come up. However, initially a lot of this had to do with the fact that I did not make the consequences of these actions very clear. It occurred to me that while the book does state that in most cases killing enemies is a bad thing, Pathfinder does conform to the standard game rules of "enemies are things you kill for XP". And even then, some characters, bosses in particular, are stated to fight to the death, and have no details about how to deal with them if they are simply knocked out or captured instead. It's a lack of internal consistency (or at the very least a loophole) within the narrative of the books that I've had to navigate.

One thing this had led to is a lot of improvisation on my part. I've gotten into the habit of claiming to "invoke DM-fudge" in order to simplify rules. Given the way I run my game (which involves actively encouraging less traditional means of dealing with problems and using tactics and the environment), I fudge a great deal. Often times when discussing the game with my players, I'll mention some aspects that I've altered, and they find themselves agreeing that they preferred this method for the most part (usually because it's in they're favour, if I'm to be fair).

What I've Learned

The main takeaway that I have from this game is just the extent to which players subvert expectations. Not only in terms of the players versus the game itself, but also relative to each other. Team dynamics are often complex and illogical, and when they are presented with a loose set of rules, it can often lead to chaos.

I find myself bouncing between giving players more agency and less. In the first book of this campaign, there are a multitude of missions that can be completed in any order. However, I found myself having to limit this, since I couldn't fully craft each encounter for them to all be ready from the start. Were I to redo this game, perhaps I could, but given my player's feedback, it seemed like something more linear would have been preferred. In fact, since I've started scripting scenes and sequences, players seem much more willing to go along with my story and at least attempt to follow what they believe to be the ideal path. I think it largely had to do with the fact that no one wants to "lead" the party and make decisions about how to proceed for all of them.

Now, I don't know if I could say it's convinced me that linear narratives are better. I am still more inclined towards giving players choice when I can, and hard railroading still strikes me as bad practice. However some of these factors may be circumstantial to this campaign (after all, the game itself seems to suggest a correct or ideal path), so I've tried to consider what my experience means in context. What I've determined is that while choice is generally beneficial for players since it gives them agency, it has to be very clearly outlined, and the consequences have to be evident from the very beginning. Moreover, this is rendered even more important than usual the more players you have working together.

Those statements are of course self-evident when stated out loud, but it's amazing how often their forgotten or not fully appreciated. I'm guilty of that myself. But with this game, I'm getting better at learning how to recognise good and bad game gameplay decisions of that kind.

Another important lesson is the importance of balancing challenges for the player. Between balancing the player's equipment and levels, as well as the enemies they face, I've created many instances of "enemy AI" that I built to challenge the players without being unfair. I got into the habit of rolling enemy dice manually rather than in roll20, so that I can decide when to adjust the numbers (mainly to avoid the enemy getting a nat20 on a character and killing them off on a fluke). It's made me appreciate the significance of randomisation in games.

I play Warframe at a high tier so I'm acutely familiar with farming and "RNG". There's obviously a balance between giving players moments of gratification at achieving an unlikely success and presenting frustrating lack of success due to consequences they can't control. Evidently giving players perfect odds of success can lack engagement, but make it too hard and it's just annoying. So I've taken to putting much more of an emphasis on "circumstantial modifiers" as a way of balancing that out. Things like small bonuses for using an environmental factor, or planning ahead, or even simply based on how well the party is doing. I could easily see that as translating to "enemies do less damage when a player loses most of their health in a single attack" in some games. Honestly, it's a concept I think many games would benefit from.

Evidently, all of that is part of a game designer's normal job. It's a balance that needs to be found and struck, and it's unique to every game (and never quite perfect). What Pathfinder so far has been teaching me is how to do it on the spot. It's sharpening my instincts and in the process showing me the kind of designer I am. I understand my biases, my habits, where I need to reinforce my skills and where my desires as a designer can conflict with a player. For those reasons, I consider this experience invaluable (and very fun, for that matter), and look forward to continuing on with it as part of my journey to become as great a designer as I can be.

A Note On Fate

I mentioned it briefly, but I feel like I should mention it a bit more. Fate is quite simply my favourite tabletop system I've ever encountered. It's significantly more free-form than many other games, and allows for the sort of gameplay experiences you simply don't find in a more rigid system like Pathfinder. It does so by stripping down a lot of the numerical complexity and putting an emphasis on player and DM generated content.

Evidently its greatest drawback is that it requires a lot of creativity on the part of the DM and the players. The rules are vague, so people have to resort to just saying what they want to do, and the DM determining what sort of roll that translates to. It's also heavily skewed against players who want a more structured system. That said, for a designer like me, It's ideal, because it's pretty much all fudge. The core is so basic that from there, anything can be crafted by the DM, and the sorts of dynamic adjustments I was mentioning before are a matter of course. I think that in the one instance that I tested out DMing a Fate game, it taught me a great deal about how players act when given very little guidance. It results in something that's a lot more organic and fluid, and by observing those trends, it becomes much easier to build more sophisticated mechanics, rather than constructing a whole lot to begin with and watching it crumble when players break expectations with what they want to do.

Honestly, I would strongly recommend trying many different types of systems out. Each has their own unique traits that make them a very different experience. It's easy to think of all tabletop RPGs as being fundamentally the same, and to a degree it's somewhat true. But the slightest nuances in how each system is approached makes a huge difference, and understanding the implications of these decisions is a very compelling thing for any designer.

My Design Strengths and Weaknesses

Since I was in high school, I've always been told it's important to be able to answer the questions "what are your strengths and weaknesses" during an interview. While that certainly is true, I'd go one step further and say that it is always worthwhile to know where your abilities lie and don't lie, as well as those of your team. To paraphrase Sun Tzu. knowing yourself is one half of the key to victory, and it's the one that's easiest to do on your own.

I like to think I know myself pretty well, and considering this is the one place dedicated to me speaking about myself, it seems natural to talk about my strengths and weaknesses as a designer (and in general). If anyone reading is a potential employer, then this is a chance to save you the trouble of asking these questions. Now then, without further ado:

Strengths

Organisation

This is perhaps the one that is the most commonly known about me. I am an extremely organised individual, or at least I aspire to be. Sorting things into systems and structures comes naturally to me. I like to build things up in an orderly manner. Schedules and documentation are things that I actually enjoy doing (ask anyone that knows me about my reputation with documentation), because they give me consistent systems to work within. One of my favourite pastimes is finding ways to make systems more efficient, and information more accessible.

This does have an influence on my design preferences as well. I tend towards clean ordered systems, more akin to sleek science fiction rather than grunge and the like. Cleanliness and precision definitely do more for me than chaos or the grotesque. That's not to say I'm incapable of dealing with disorder, but in my mind even the most chaotic thing has an underlying structure to it, even if it isn't readily apparent. I hold this view because of my next strength...

Perspective

I spend a lot of time observing. Not just in the literal looking at things definition, but in the sense of considering a subject and its various connections. I had a great deal of alone time during my younger years, and I spent a lot of it thinking about something, then trying to figure out the underlying components of that thing. Physics is my favourite science simply because it involves the most fundamental building blocks of the universe, ergo it is the base upon which all connections are built. Mechanics are incredibly cool to me because it gives us a glimpse at how a set of parts can create something greater than its sum through their interactions.

As a designer, seeing how art, code, and interaction can come together into a fully crafted experience is something I really like to contemplate. It's a large part of why design appealed so much to me in the first place. It's also part of why I find code quite easy to read, as it is simply a network of cause and effect systems. It particularly helps when it's well structured and transparent code for that matter, because then my organisation skills can further supplement that ability.

More recently, I've taken a particular liking in applying my perspective to social spheres of inquiry. Why do people behave a certain way in certain contexts? Why do social structures form so consistently across history and geography? What are the cause and effect mechanisms that drive society? Contrary to what a lot of people say, I like to think that society has a lot of inherent order within it, through its most fundamental building blocks. Figuring out the nature of those building blocks is something I actively pursue.

As should be evident by now, the implications of how things are interconnected is something I love pondering about. Those ideas are something I would like to play around with more in my games. As a designer, I really want to place people in situations that force them to reevaluate their assumptions of a game and/or make them consider the underlying structures that form the world. If I can get just one person to think about the inter-connectivity of the universe as I have, I will have achieved my dream.

Working Within Boundaries

Part of that inter-connectivity I just mentioned is understanding limitations, and how despite the presence of a boundary, there are immense possibilities for creativity within it. I actually quite like working within boundaries. Perhaps that's my orderly nature speaking, but they strike me as an excellent way to push towards getting the most out of what you have. Depth will always trump breadth in my opinion when it comes to the subject of making something good. I'll almost always choose quality over quantity.

Something that may have become apparent through my artwork is that I do a lot of crossovers. In fact, I adore taking things from one context, and finding ways to adapt it to another. Figuring out what "X subject would look like in Y context" is something I do for fun. So when I'm tasked with adapting something to fit new different boundaries, I can honestly say that I consider it an enjoyable challenge.

Likewise, this strength applies to most real world work contexts. After all, in an industry like games, even the highest ranking designer has limits being imposed on their vision, be it from above or below. Fortunately, that's something I'm prepared to deal with. I've proven in the past that if I'm given a task but with some limits imposed, such as figuring out how to make a game while keeping to a subject or buzz word (game jams being a perfect example), I have very little trouble coming up with ideas. In fact, the more restricted I am, the better I am at fleshing something out of it (the flip side of this will come up again in the weaknesses section). Part of my ability to work through limits comes from this next strength...

Versatility

Though I specialise in video game design (namely character and system/mechanics design), I was trained as a generalist, and I consider myself competent enough to do well in art (concept, graphics, sound effects, 3D modelling, animation), programming, testing, and just about every other task involved in a game. Heck, I can even do some half decent voice acting if I really try. I do have all the skills to make an entire game on my own.

I know the tendency of a lot of large companies is to shun generalists, and to a degree that does make sense to me. After all in a big company, people aren't jumping between different positions. Better to have someone in a dedicated position that focuses specifically on the tasks they will actually be performing. But when it comes to designers my logic is this: a designer, by virtue of their position as the one that must bring together all the individual elements of a game into a holistic experience, should have a good understanding of every aspect involved in making a game. They may not be as deeply entrenched in these other tasks, but I think it's important that they be able to understand them well enough to know the technical boundaries they can push towards through their design. Otherwise you end up pissing people off by building unrealistic designs (and trust me, I know a thing or two about non-technical individuals attempting to drive design).

Though I may not excel at many of these secondary tasks, I'm not a slouch either. Part of why I did so well in my program is that I was fairly quick to adapt to wildly different contexts. With a couple exceptions, my grades were almost universally in the 80%+ range, and that's across wildly different subjects (and even if you don't believe in grades, it's hard to argue that someone who gets such results on a consistent basis isn't doing something right). What's more, I'm perfectly comfortable making those jumps. In my senior project, I would switch hats multiple times everyday without blinking. I had to, and thankfully I was good at it, or we never would have gotten as far as we did (I'm speaking with complete humility here).

Communication

Speaking of speaking, communication is another thing I consider myself to be particularly good at. Part of wearing many different hats is that it forces you to see things from different perspectives (I guess the hats all have goggles? Steampunk hats, perhaps?). During different times, I've had to communicate to teammates, friends, enemies, professionals, laymen, developers, artists, testers, clients... You name it.

One of my first jobs was with QNX as a technical writer for the Blackberry 10 Native SDK. Something I learned quickly about technical writing is that you need to be able to simultaneously understand complex technical material and developer jargon as well as simplify it so that complete laymen could understand what you're talking about. This leads to two things: one is that technical writers are easily the best at working with the tools they write about (even better than the developers that write them, since they only have to understand the intricacies of their specific elements, without understanding how they relate to everything else; take that specialists), and two is that they will spend most of their day going back and forth between techno-babble and simple explanations (and the rest of the time digging into code documentation that hasn't actually been written, because they're the ones that have to write it). It's an extreme exercise in communication skills.

Thinking back on it, I'm very thankful to have had that job, because it taught me a lot about how different groups of people communicate. I remember one instance where a developer would never answer more than one question at a time, and would only ever answer in "yes" or "no". Generally speaking, I found that programmers are a lot more linear and direct in their communication. Contrast that with the subjective analysis artists require, the filtered diplomatically-minded talk of marketers, and the unabashed emotive speech of many gamers. Designers have to interact with pretty much all of them at one point or another. I like to think I'm pretty good at doing so, mostly because I can understand each of these groups, and see where they're coming from. After all, not only do I have my skills in perspective, but I've been right there with them in the past.

One last thing about my skills in communication that I think is worth noting is my patience. I consider myself an extremely patient person, and most people I know agree with me. I've also developed a reputation for being fairly easy to get along with (if nothing else, I don't make many enemies), as well as for being quite trustworthy. It's a set of personality traits I've often used to help others through tough times, but it's also helped me greatly when it comes to this last strength...

Stress

I work well under stress. In fact, I tend to excel while under stress. I like to joke that I'm always busy, but the truth is, I am because I set myself up to be. I'm at my best when I have a lot to do, because the rush of accomplishment I get from doing it fuels me ever further. I even set up my recreational activities as tasks, because it pushes me to relax more effectively (I realise that probably doesn't make sense to some people, but I challenge you to find anyone who doesn't feel more satisfied than they would normally be when they have a tangible checkbox they can cross at the end of a task, even if that task is just "watch a movie").

While I can't always sustain it indefinitely (especially if say, an unexpected event puts me well behind schedule), I can handle very heavy workloads without too much trouble and am able to sustain long hours for extended periods of time. I know my own stress limits very well, and I've organised my life in a way to be able to handle unforeseen circumstances without too much trouble. No matter how hectic my life gets, I'm usually able to make time for new things and still find ways to balance it out. Snapping under pressure isn't something I do. And given the field I'm going into, I think that alone is an extremely valuable asset.

Weaknesses

Stagnation

And now I show the other side of the stress coin. While I do work well under stress, when the opposite is true, I tend to wilt. I energise myself through deadlines and clear tasks to accomplish, so a lack of those things is as detrimental to me as an engine without fuel. 

I call myself a "creature of momentum". So long as I'm going, it's very hard to stop me. However, when I am forced to stop (or never started in the first place), it can be hard to get me going. I can genuinely say that I'm at my worst when I have nothing to do. Without a clear task to motivate me, my energy levels decrease rapidly. I'm the kind of person that has no trouble getting up really early in the morning when there's a good reason to do so, but without one I'm just as likely to wake up in the mid-afternoon.

My solution for this over the years has been fairly simple: always keep busy. Even when I don't have a job and I've taken care of my chores, I keep a large list of things on my to-do list. My watch lists are huge, as are my reading, writing, drawing, and other lists. So long as I keep myself preoccupied in a way that seems meaningful, I can sustain my energy levels.

However, there are times when this isn't enough. If, say, I've been forced to do a task I see as completely useless (like say something that involves sitting around doing nothing for long periods of time) without having the means to do something in the meantime, I'll have a hard time motivating myself. Repetitive menial tasks can suffice, but not if they involve a lot of waiting (for example 3D modelling is fine, but rendering will get me restless if I don't have a book or something to do while I wait). Another great example is when I'm stuck waiting on someone else to deliver. I'll touch on this later, but few things annoy me as much as being completely gated by someone else and having nothing else to do.

Blank Slates

As I mentioned my strength when working within boundaries and building from existing premises, the reverse is also true to some degree. I am admittedly someone who doesn't like working from a completely blank slate. If you were to ask me to come up with something while providing no restrictions, I might have trouble dealing with overchoice. I'll usually come up with something eventually, but it will take me longer than it might for someone else. It will certainly take me much longer than if I were given a restriction at the beginning of the exercise.

I attribute this weakness mainly as a by-product of my perspective. In my mind, nothing stands completely independently; it's always connected to something. That, accompanied with my tendency towards order, predispose me against spontaneity or true randomness.

I have a few ways that I work around this particular weakness. The first is to use my view of connections to my advantage by creating simulated randomness. Thanks to that strength, I'm able to leap from one connection to the next fairly fast. It's almost like doing a Wikipedia run from one entry to a seemingly completely unrelated entry simply by clinking the links within the articles. I usually use this in conjunction with the context I'm working in to set up the restrictions from which I can build. For example, if I'm playing a game like Quiplash (where you are asked questions and prompted to give answers that other players will vote on), the first thing I will do is try to read the room: what sort of sense of humour would these people have, and what pop culture references are they likely to be familiar with? From the basic premise of these questions, I can filter my thoughts sufficiently to come up with an answer.

My other primary way of dealing with this weakness is to come up with answers ahead of time. Some questions come up often enough that I have default selections. That's not unusual. But in the cases of things that are more nebulous, what I do is keep track of a list of potential items, from which I filter. A good example of this is how I coordinate with my friends on the ever-challenging "what do you want to do" question. I have a list of video games, a list of collaborative writing projects, and a list of other activities. All of them I've mentally tagged with factors which might make them more appealing or less appealing depending on the circumstances. The person is inclined to write something and I'm not feeling too energetic? I'll check through my list and find a possible subject that requires minimal concentration (usually this is associated with the characters involved, which makes it easy for me to filter them). I have lists for basically everything, so it's not hard for me to come up with answers to many questions that would otherwise require random responses. I've done what I can to plan for as many contingencies as possible.

I will say though that this weakness does manifest in another way that is a little harder to avoid. When it comes to development, I have a notable dislike of setting up a new project. This is partially an issue of momentum and my general dislike of the somewhat esoteric project setup requirements in a lot of development software (Visual Studio comes to mind). Fortunately, this isn't something that comes up too often for me as a designer (it only really applies for programming tasks), but it is still an annoyance. My usual solution for that is generally to just take an already set-up project, adapt it for my needs, and build off that.

Trust/Reliance

This is perhaps my biggest weakness, since it's the one that is most likely to actually come into play in actual work situations, and it's one of the ones that is a lot harder for me to find simple workarounds for. That is why I've left it at the end. That weakness? I have a hard time relying on others.

I consider myself to be extremely independent. It's a value I put a lot of emphasis on and it's something of a defining characteristic for me. I expect independence and high levels of competence from myself, and I wish to see it from the people I work with (and people in general). Seeing sloppy or ineffective work bothers me, especially if I am in a position to do it better. More often than not, if I'm not convinced the person working on the task can do a better job of it than me, I'll have a strong urge to correct it myself (I'd be lying if I said there weren't any projects on this site I want to go back and correct).

Now, in an ideal world this wouldn't be a problem, because everyone I would be working with would be competent. I would never receive a model with misaligned vertices, or files that were incorrectly formatted, or text that wasn't run through a spellcheck. In school this can be unavoidable: sometimes you're just stuck with the group you have. In a work environment, consistent incompetence will usually get you fired (unless you're in the public sector, zing! I kid... Mostly), but it's not something that can be banked on. In reality, there will always be situations like this.

As might be apparent, I've been burned several times in the past. I've often ended up in group projects with people who don't or cannot pull their weight. I definitely have a few horror stories. The worst situations are ones where the lead programmer would misreport (or not report at all) their progress and leave us without a working prototype by our presentation deadline. More often than not, I've found myself taking leadership and editorial roles for this reason. The moment it becomes clear that someone cannot deliver, I'll usually take it upon myself to redistribute tasks to other more reliable team members or sometimes to myself. I've made it a habit of requesting submissions well before the due date so that I can curb these situations.

Then again, they do still show up. Sometimes, despite all my requests for communication, I don't get a response. It's something that can genuinely frustrate me, and it can permanently sour my perception of someone's competence. In fact, I would go so far as to say that seriously gating me on a task without keeping me informed on the matter is one of the easiest ways to get on my bad side, because not only does it slow the project, it personally wastes my time (at least if I was given a forewarning I can find a way to solve or work around the delay). I do have a lot of patience, but this will drain it rapidly. This issue isn't exclusive to a few bad apples either. It's happened with people I previously considered to have excellent credentials.

As a result of these situations, it's become very difficult for me to simply entrust someone with an important task, especially if it is a key component of the work. Furthermore in some cases where I take the initiative to do the work myself, I have upset others. This is especially true if pride or "doing things by the book" are involved; these aren't usually things I prioritise over the bottom line. That said, I have gotten better at dealing with such sensitivities over time.

Fortunately, my trust hasn't completely eroded; I can still view people as innocent until proven guilty (or competent until proven otherwise, as it were). If someone has proven themselves to be dependable and consistently capable, I'll have little problem leaving it to them. Additionally, with time I have gotten better at dealing with many of the other scenarios I mentioned, particularly ones where the problem lies not in outright incompetence, but in a misalignment of skills.

One such example was in a fairly recent project: one team member who had previously been very reliable suddenly encountered a great deal of trouble with certain tasks. As it turns out, while he was a very fast worker when it came to simple executions, he was much more prone to giving up when he encountered technical challenges. My initial solution was to teach him to perform basic troubleshooting, but the problem persisted. Fortunately there was a large number of simple but tedious tasks that needed to be done, and he completed them in a much shorter time frame as a result of his talents.

In cases like that, where I might previously have simply left that team member to complete the initially assigned task and overwritten his work later, I've learned to become better at identifying alternate ways of optimising the project workflow. As I've learned to notice people's individual strengths and weaknesses, I have become more at ease with trusting people with tasks I've found them to be well suited to. It's a skill I fully intend to develop further, so that the frustrations I've encountered in the past won't come back to irk me. I'm not all the way there yet admittedly, but steady as she goes.

Conclusion

And so, there are my primary strengths and weaknesses, at least as I see them. With time they might change, but to tell the truth, I think they are in large part born of my core personality traits. I'd like to think that it's a good distribution, and it allows me to work well in my selected field. I've gotten myself this far, and I know that I've improved in many ways over time. Hopefully, with the right experience, that trend will continue.

To anyone who read this, I hope you found it interesting, and that it helps you understand me just a little bit better. Rest assured I'll be writing quite a bit more about myself here soon enough.