Monday, June 8, 2020

The Ground Zero Effect of Dungeon Mastering & Playing

In mapping the effects of an atomic bomb, such as on the city of Hiroshima here, concentric circles are drawn centered on the point below the detonation and numbered at radial distances of 1,000 feet (305 meters). This point below the detonation is called "Ground Zero". And this kids is a part of my gaming & dungeon mastering  

Back when I was a kid in the Seventies the world seemed so much more weird & dangerous. Over the last couple of months of 2020 that feeling is back in spades. But my imagination got me through the rough spots & thanks to some good people I'm coming up on Fifty. But I wanna talk about the 'Ground Zero' effect of dungeon mastering. This is a philosophy of gonzo OSR gaming mostly when the shite hits the fan. Sure there's action going on but this action right at the PC's pay grade level & in their faces.
I first started noticing this trend in table top OSR games with Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures. How the company & its author's worked the PC's into an adventure. Time & again this was done with their adventures with twists & turns.

Yeah we've seen this time & again, I'm not saying its predictable far from it. With the right group of even experienced players the dungeon master can 'rope a dope' em without strong arm rail roading dungeon mastering.
The ground zero effect is where the PC's need to be & where the DM puts them in the most danger. Sure they might be killed but it could even be a random roll on a classic D&D module's encounter table. And that's something to be expected. Learning to expect this as a dungeon master comes with time. A classic example of the ground zero effect is in B2 Keep on the Borderland by Gary Gygax.

The encounters with the humanoids highly the dangers & consequences of the events surrounding the Keep & the 'caves of chaos'. Make no mistake the PC's are in danger as they should be. We see this because the PC's are not the heroes to start out with but circumstances through play force them to be.. This ripple effect comes with play & over time their efforts spread out because rumor tables work two ways. That's right make a rumor table about the PC's add it into the campaign.
I recently two years ago used this tactic in a Lion & Dragon rpg mini adventure after the PC's killed a bandit warlord.  The rumors became like a game of telephone & the players took full advantage but they were almost killed when authorities wanted answers. 

Ground Zero can also pick up after a long hiatus of sessions which brings me to my Godbound/Cha'alt hybrid game. The PC's are going to be on the receiving end of some major crap when their exploits reach back to them. Their is going to be a major explanation or two that provides some solid ins & hooks for the PC's to entangle themselves in.

Death of a viking warrior
Charles Ernest Butler Oil on canvas

Death has major fall out for many communities & there's gonna be some investigating or trailing the PC's. This came to be a major revelation in some of my post apocalyptic game sessions & the fall out from communities can turn very violent. This was also suggested in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide.

Yes that's right I often used the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide for Gamma World. Many of the tables, charts, encounter tables were & are damn useful for Gamma World first & second edition. This is also a good book to crack out for Mutant Future and I've used it with Cha'alt multiple times.
There are multiple reasons why the Ground Zero effect works: 

  1. Get the game started off with a bang & combat! Work the players hard, fast, & quick. Snap decisions can be adventure hooks later on. 
  2. The PC's are central to action but not every encounter is gonna be on their pay grade. Let them squirm for a bit and then cast them out into the encounters again. 
  3. The play is the thing when it comes to table top gaming. So let em play & have fun while doing it. 
  4. Action doesn't happen from talking but bring in the dice, the monsters, & the module but not necessarily in that order. 
  5. Random encounter the PC's & have them deal with the unexpected then use that as a filler for adventure plot as it happens. It drives experienced players nuts if a module goes off script. Because modules are outlines anyways. 
  6. Think on your feet as the DM & keep things moving. 
  7. Hook em in, line em up & sink em down into the module or campaign's events. Don't think too much & actually play. 
  8. Punch up that play & punch it again for your sessions. 
  9. Let em rest when necessary but get things like down time for the down time. Here's where the DMG comes in. 
  10. Bring the action to the player's PC's with encounters but make it seem flawless. Works every time. 

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