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“Agile Dungeon Mastering” – Genius, or Madness?

posted Tuesday, October 30th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

I imagine that as dreams go, mine can get pretty weird. Nowhere near as weird, however, as my fellow blogger Clinton R. Nixon, who dreamt himself in a meeting on applying agile software development practices to his D&D session. Nerdier still, he’s actually applied this thinking to D&D – and it actually makes a kind of sense.

Agile software development is a software engineering technique emphasizing flexibility and communication over strict, formal methods involving rigid planning. Since agile development involves a small group of people who can easily share ideas, it’s not entirely unreasonable that this might work in D&D. Long, formal documentation requires extra work and can be too inflexible to apply to as mutable a thing as a roleplaying game campaign, while the opposite, a quick yet disorganized state which some software developers call cowboy coding, lacks the group communication and collaboration that can ensure that everyone shares a common vision of the game.

Consider, then, the Agile Manifesto principles, as they might be applied to the art of Dungeon Mastery. Here are a few possible interpretations:

  • “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.” A roleplaying game can often take a turn in a direction you didn’t expect. Be ready to adapt to this – don’t plan too much or set those plans in stone.
  • “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” Take your players’ input into the game. Often, your players can come up with fantastic and inventive ideas that even work better than what you had in mind. Let them know that their choices matter.
  • “Working software is the primary measure of progress.” While some DMs enjoy writing lengthy histories and campaign worlds histories, these are irrelevant to your game unless the gameplay itself is handled well. Remember that you’re running a roleplaying game, not writing a novel.
  • “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.” Don’t just jump on the first solution you find. Always consider alternative options and decide on the best way forward before you commit to an idea.
  • “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” Talk to your players! Remember that it’s the players’ game as much as it is the DM’s. Encourage discussion, not just one-way feedback; hold regular sessions during which players can confer on how best to take the game forward.

Comments

  1. ChattyDm

    October 30th, 2007

    That’s Freaking Brilliant…. Good catch Jonathan.

  2. KasraKhan

    July 19th, 2008

    1. General story line, list of decision points and effects, and maps. That’s all you need, and saves a lot of wasted time. Once my players skipped an entire 20+ page adventure I had planned, I stopped extensive, detailed planning and instead adapted a more adaptable style.

  3. Quicksilver

    August 28th, 2009

    Good stuff Jonathan. I try to be flexible in my GM’ing… i’m just having difficulty getting the group to sing together.

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