Kobold Press

The Lost GM Scrolls: Mike Mearls on Stepping Up and Taking a Poke at the World

Lost Scrolls

What irks the guy in charge of D&D Next? Below, Mike Mearls, who is the senior manager of the D&D R&D team, vents a little about dead weight at the gaming table and puts in a good word for all those “little details and mannerisms” that make roleplaying fun.

Mike Mearls: [One of my pet peeves is] a group that doesn’t want to bring anything to the table. I love it when players step up and poke at the game world, whether they decide they want to start a kingdom, take down the head of the assassin’s guild, or just figure out what’s at the bottom of the deep, dark pit right next to the dungeon entrance.

One of my favorite moments in my City of Brass campaign was when the gnome bard, Ysidris, decided that he absolutely needs to figure out what’s in the strange box crafted of shadow that the PCs found in the hold of a boat they stole. There was a great in-character argument between the players about it, and he hasn’t (as of this writing) opened it yet. I can’t wait until he manages the task, provided that the rest of the party doesn’t stop him.

I think it comes down to the players’ ability to roleplay their characters. A group that doesn’t have any capacity for that doesn’t appeal to me, as a player or DM. Even if the game is wall to wall combat, I love the little details and mannerisms that a player can put into a character to make it really come to life.

4 Replies to "The Lost GM Scrolls: Mike Mearls on Stepping Up and Taking a Poke at the World"

Morgan Boehringer

July 23, 2012 at 9:05am

As a GM, I like “shades of grey” – difficult moral positions that don’t make “sides” easy to pick or back. It makes the landscape – political, social, religious, etc much more unknown and varied, and engenders greater immersion on the part of the players as they navigate the difficult shoals of the campaign’s people and organizations.
I also don’t mind a bit of misinformation – there’s nothing like a wild goose chase or a red herring to get the players investigating out of the way places or snooping around locations they ordinarily wouldn’t.

Finally, when all else fails, I have someone force the PC’s through a portal to parts unknown. (apologies to Raymond Chandler, and thanks to Steve Winter for introducing me to this concept….)

As a Player, I want rich and mysterious environments laden with intriguing hooks and foes with names, motivations and credible backstories. I’m fairly specialized in my likes and dislikes, but I roll along with whatever the GM throws at me – I’m really not there at all, my character is, and I always try to go with what my character would do, regardless of how I feel about certain developments.
If the other players are taking “long blinks” (yes, a true story) or just not that interested it can spoil the entire game – I always try to inject humor as well as creative expression into the adventure to spark a bit of shared enjoyment….
Unfortunately, my gaming crew is fairly inexperienced at the current time, I don’t really get to play that much, it’s pretty much a life behind the screen for me. NPC’s (or to use the cool kid’s term GMPC) are fun, but it just ain’t the same…..

Martin Franklin

July 23, 2012 at 4:11pm

I too enjoy players that want to get involved and do cool things. Too many players these days think it’s the DMs job to entertain them, so they sit back and wait for adventure to find them. The secret to a great roleplaying session is that each player (including the DM) does his or her best to entertain everyone else at the table. If everyone works toward that goal then great fun will follow.

Part of the issue I see as players being far too inward focused on their characters and the mechanical capabilities they possess.The game world serves as just a backdrop to doing kewl stuff rather than being an interactive setting to explore and discover. It is sometimes difficult to get players focused on exploring the world when they are too busy fixating on what feats, abilities, magic items, and powers they wish to aquire over the next few levels.

When there were much less in the way of fiddly bits for characters there was more focus on the adventures and situations. After all, if you just roll more hit points for your fighter after leveling up and keep on chugging along there isn’t going to be a lot of time wasted pondering metagame minutiae.

Morgan Boehringer

July 23, 2012 at 7:42pm

+1 to that Martin Franklin! Very nicely said – possibly the best argument I’ve seen against the peril of disinterested-in-the-world-except-as-it-gives-me-powr gamrz and a nice historical view.
It is nice to build a satisfying character, who is as thematically consistent as mechanically….