D&D Player and Dungeon Master Advice From Ivan Van Norman


Todd Kenreck: Today, we're talking to Ivan Van Norman about his D&D player and dungeon master advice.

Ivan Van Norman: Just listen, man. Like, if you're a player, just listen to your fellow players and the DM. It's so easy, even for people who have been doing this a long time, to kind of turn your brain off and wait until you've been spoken to, so to speak. But just listen, and ... because even if the pacing is slow at the moment in the game that's going on at the moment, you can create an amazing moment by just listening and responding to your fellow players and the DM.

And that's how ... those are how the stories that you tell forever are created, is when you participate because you're actively listening to what other players are trying to do and to what your GM is trying to create in the story. So that is the best advice I think I could give for a player. And my favorite class ... right now, I'm playing a Kenku Cleric.

I specifically like playing Kenkus right now because Kenkus are so interesting as a player character. They don't communicate. They only do mimicry, and so communicating with your players is kind of ... for me, it's a new way to think about how to play, because instead of being like, "Hey, guys, we should go over there and ambush those goblins," instead, I have to find a way to communicate ambushing goblins with sounds and mimicry. So it could literally be like, "Aha flies up to a tree and looks at the band of goblins and starts making a small sound as if flying arrows were going by."

And then, on the player's side of things, that's a whole 'nother level of interpretation that kind of creates comradery in a fun and interesting way, because now, not only do they have to deal with the challenge, but they have to deal with like, the communication barrier that comes. And the Ranger who is like my buddy-buddy is like ... we've kind of got a secret code that allows the communication to be a little more streamlined if we're running into real problems, and it's fun.

Also, he's a Cleric, so he's got a shield of shinies, so ... because a Kenku's quest is always for the glory of shinies, shiny, shiny whatevers. Just dive in, man. Playing D&D is an art form, just in my opinion, that's synonymous with even doing things like drawing and sculpting in the fine arts. You don't get good by not doing it, and a lot of great artists ... their first recommendation is, "Well, what do I want to do if I want to be an artist?" Just draw, all right?

If you want to play D&D, and if you want to grow as a player or as a DM, just play. There'll be great games. There will bad games. There will be difficult days, and there's going to be great days. So just have fun. There will always be a group out there that wants to bring you into their fold. You just have to find them. They're out there waiting for you, so go and find your adventure.

I think D&D has started a revolution of the individual journey again. We've been in a place in media and entertainment where we are simply observing the story. Movies, radio, comic books ... all of these things is we are observing the story. Video games started to kind of break that, because you had an avatar. You were playing Mario, you're playing Zelda, you're playing Richter Belmont. You were an avatar, but you still had control over their destiny in the confines of the game.

But D&D is truly the interactive experience in which everything you say and do can affect the world around you, and it is the one reason why people are out there creating these amazing stories, because it is a personalized experience for them. And I think, without realizing it, D&D's been doing that for generations, obviously. But we are now in a place in our zeitgeist in which everyone wants to tell their story. They don't just want to look at somebody else's story. They want to be part of their own adventure.

Todd Kenreck: What tips do you have for being a dungeon master, and how did you get into it? Like, I got into it ... I initially didn't want to be a dungeon master at all.

Ivan Van Norman: Right. Right.

Todd Kenreck: And then, I played enough D&D that I got to the point where I wanted to make the campaign that I would want to play in.

Ivan Van Norman: Right. So in a similar way, I started Dungeons and Dragons and DMing kind of necessity. So first of all, believe it or not, I got into Dungeons and Dragons because I wanted to be part of the cool kid club. So everyone else was playing in my fraternity, and I wanted to do it as well, too. So I just bought into it. But I started being a DM mostly because I found a system that I really liked.

And actually, my first true DM experience beyond the fluke that I had when I was 10 years old playing the Palladium Fantasy Roleplaying Game System was actually World of Darkness. And when I played that, it was so intriguing to kind of do this chronicle story that ended up with me needing to play D&D, as well, too. And it kind of just evolved after that. And for me, I think it was just the need to tell a story. I wanted to tell a story, and so I just picked it up and bullied people into playing with me.

Talk to your players, and don't just talk to your players during the game. Talk to your players before the game even begins, manage the expectations of the type of campaign you want to play. And one of the best things I learned is that not everyone wants to play the same game. And when you ... especially if you're hosting multiple games or if this is a really important game, and if it's a game that you're crafting, you need to always remember that it's not just your story. It's everybody's story.

So everyone is committing the story into it to the same level that a DM is. So you should all kind of be on the same page about ... what kind of story do you want to tell? Do you want to play uplifting, hero-worship, go out on a grand adventure and conquer evil story? Or are you looking for something darker in which you're diving into the psychological despair of what it is to be heroes in this world? Are you not going to be challenging strong political elements that may come inside of the fantasy world that your DM has chosen? You'd be so surprised how much a little bit of insurance or how much you can gain by just having that conversation with your players before you even begin the game.

Todd Kenreck: Thank you, Ivan, for being on the show. I'm Todd Kenreck. Thank you for watching.




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