Four Questions with Robin Laws

by Mike Shea on 27 July 2009

Recently I had the great opportunity of asking Robin Laws four questions about running 4th Edition D&D games. Robin is the author and co-author of many roleplaying game books including the D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide 2 and the upcoming 4th Edition DMG2. He is also the author of the excellent short book, Robin's Laws to Good Game Mastering. If you have never read it, it is well worth the $8. Robin graciously accepted my invitation for an interview and what resulted are the following questions and answers. Enjoy!

Mike: What is your favorite tip for running a 4e D&D game?

Robin: With D&D it's all about speed, especially during fights. Players tend to tune out when they're not acting, so you've got to pour extra energy in and keep it moving. Hone your initiative tracking system so that you're hardly pausing at all between participants' turns. I stand up during fights in an effort to control the focus.

Mike: How do you feel D&D 4th Edition changes the player archetypes you wrote about in Robin's Laws? How can DMs work with these changes?

Robin: I thought James and crew did a solid job of condensing the types into the space allotted, and renaming them so they all have active, similar names. My section of the 3E DMG2 focused more on impulses than types, and in a way the new adaptation of that material we see in the 4E DMG brings it more into line with Robin's Laws.

It's pretty easy to see the parallels between the types in either of those earlier pieces, though they don't line up completely. So if you get ahold of those you'll find the broad advice you need in an expanded treatment. It all comes down to knowing your group's tastes and working to meet everyone in the sweet spot in the middle.

Mike: What effective tips have you found for running skill challenges?

Robin: I have been messing with skill challenges in my own game in an attempt to make them more suspenseful and am still not 100% happy with the results. As far as narration is concerned, I adopt a very player-driven approach, asking each in turn to describe what his character is doing to contribute to a solution to the problem at hand. Players are very free to describe what's going on in the world.

Mike: How can DMs bring more roleplaying and cooperative storytelling into a battle-tactics-rich 4e D&D game?

Robin: I hate to end with a cop-out answer. But on the other hand, I love to end on a plug. So if you pick up the DMG2 when it comes out in a few months, you'll find a lengthy chapter by yours truly that answers this question in meaty detail. It presents an array of cutting-edge narrative and collaborative techniques to hipsterize your D&D campaign. So rather than repeat myself here (or run afoul of my non- disclosure agreement) I'll direct everyone's attention to that impending release.

Thanks to Robin for taking the time to answer these questions. The Dungeon Master's Guide 2 is due out September 2009.

Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.