Every other week or so, my group of friends meets to tell stories and throw some stones.


There are a lot of different variants for these games. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got the basic combat sims where there is just the barest bit of story for the pretense of playing a dice game (think Descent or the recent Ravenloft board games) and, all the way on the other, you’ve got games like Mouse Guard or the Amber Diceless RPG where the emphasis is on story to the exclusion of the randomness imposed by dice. Somewhere in the middle you have stuff like the Dresden RPG or the White Wolf World of Darkness games. (We shall not talk about Dragonraid.)

In the weeks to come, I’ll probably delve into reviews and stories of these various games and talk about the ones I think will be most accessible to folks just starting out and maybe getting into arguments with old-timers who want to explain how Mage was so much better than Vampire because Mage always ended up with people bee-essing about philosophy while Vampire just had folks all nihilistic at the end of the night/crack of dawn (Vampire was, of course, better… for one, it had much better music!).

I’ve got some (mostly failed) experiences as a GM, some (mostly successful) experiences as a player, but my best experiences all center around the lovely moments between getting your blank character sheet and handing it to the DM. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. The daydreams about what’s going to happen are always soooo much more fun than what eventually does.

Now, I’m not talking about going crazy and writing a four page double-sided 9-point font backstory for the character (“no, you can’t read it”) where you’ve got an artifact-level staff that you can’t use until you find your parents who have been kidnapped by Trollkin and they give you the command word (preferably around level 4). (Yes, we had that guy in our group. No, he was not me.) I’m just talking about the putting together of a decent thief character, maybe chaotic neutral (NOT chaotic stupid), decent charisma, spectacular dex… hey, this is going to be fun.

And then you realize that he has 6 hit points. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m not here to talk about that (though I am currently working on a 4th Edition Rogue for Saturday’s game). The thing I’m here to talk about this week is one of the pitfalls from being a storyteller that I call: The Dumpster.

You’ve got this great story, right? The group is recovering and regrouping after getting their butts kicked by an initial encounter with the Big Bad and they, of course, ask where they are.

“Oh, you’re in an alley.” (Safe right?)

“What’s in the alley?”

“Nothing of interest… a dumpster.”

“What’s in the dumpster?”

And, suddenly, the dumpster becomes a TALISMAN for the game. “Let’s meet at THE DUMPSTER.” “If we need a safe drop location, let’s use THE DUMPSTER.” “You know where would be a good place to hide a body? THE DUMPSTER!” and so on. Dudes, it’s an alley. It’s generic! Get back to my game!!! …but, no. The best story is the one that the players want to tell and not the one you want to stuff down their throat. If it really bugs you, have someone paint a skull with a lightning bolt on the dumpster the next time they go there. That’ll show them.

Anyway, any of you guys playing anything? (Don’t worry, this isn’t a weekly question.)


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. Yes! I am going to be playing in a D&D 4th edition game! I will be playing Legolas with boobs! It will be AWESOME.

      • If you were wondering, the answer is “No, they don’t let Jay and Marianne sit next to each other on game night.”

  2. I run a couple games. When I crave structure I run D&D 3.5 (4th edition gives me hives; if I want to play World of Warcraft I turn on my computer). When I crave wild creativity I run my own bastardized version of the Marvel D10/color feats system that the players have dubbed Atm&Eden. In that one they’re playing ordinary people (themselves in fact) who were inexplicity scooped from their everyday lives and dumped into a primordial world and gifted both with vast (but limited) powers and an instruction that they own the whole place and do with it what they will. They’re happily building a game setting for me from scratch.

    • Have you checked out Pathfinder? I haven’t spent too much time with it but, for example, I read the section on “Smite Evil” and thought “they not only fixed it, they made it good!”

      Pathfinder is, like, 3.75. It’s addressed a *LOT* of problems and inconsistencies.

      I have an essay coming on 4th Edition.

      • I enjoy Pathfinder but haven’t bothered buying the books. I’m still waiting to determine sufficient utility to merit shelling out more cash on Wizard’s newest iterations.

        I love D&D, but sometimes I want a game that’s more free form.

  3. I have been GM’n for over 20 years. I have GM’d 1-Pathfinder, Warhammer Fantasy, Cthulhu, Cthulhutech, Robotech, Mechwarrior, Palladium Fantasy, TNMT RPG, Rifts, and Dresden RPG. I have found that some games are more like combat sims and other are more like choose your own adventures. Even with all this variety, I think I have had a Dumpster in all of them. Player want to do their own thing from time to time and they find the oddest things to do it with. I wish I could say I handled all for them well, but there are time when I have not. I like the term “Dumpster” and will have to remember it.

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