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🧙🏽♀️ The secret power of digital Dungeon Masters
Forming community, one quest at a time
I’m thrilled to be back here at New_ Public as our new Head of Editorial. We have grown tremendously since I was here last. I can’t wait to share some of what our teams are working on and to brag about our amazing partners and community-members.
What a moment for digital public space! I don’t need to tell you that social media as we know it is very much in flux. But there’s also so much vibrant and collaborative creation happening right now. So many new prototypes and spaces are in the works. I’m very excited to introduce you to amazing builders1 and stewards2 in the ever-expanding New_ Public community.
This week: Exploring the stewardship of Dungeon Masters and their incredible fan-made tools
Maybe the Real Adventure Was the Friends We Made Along the Way
The half-elf barmaid turns to you and hands you a flagon of amber-colored ale. She says she’s never heard of the abandoned mine Southwest of town that you asked her about. What do you do next?
What is a moderator really? Or an admin? We use the term “community stewards” for community leaders, facilitators, and moderators who both:
A) invest ongoing care into ensuring the health of a community and cultivating, protecting, and evolving community norms and B) lead with a sense of civic duty
But maybe there are stewards in places we’ve never thought to look before, like behind a tri-fold screen perhaps …
One fascinating example of the relationship between community and steward is a group playing online tabletop role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons, and the person facilitating the gameplay — the Dungeon Master, or DM.3
If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing anything like this, it’s important to note that while the DM typically helps establish the world of the game, they aren’t directing what actually happens. The action is determined by the players’ choices. In this way, tabletop RPGs, especially the ones played remotely over the internet, are often beautiful examples of how stewards can guide community members' decisions by setting the tone and norms.
Here’s New_ Public’s Digital Content Producer, Esther Abosch, with a deep dive video. I’ll be back after you’ve watched with some extra links to dive into the topic:
👾 Esther mentioned Discord, a fascinating platform with a history in gameplay. We’ve explored Discord twice before in this newsletter, both as a private social space, and as a space struggling to combat compartmentalized hatred and even terrorism.
🎲 Roll20 stands as an independent, Kickstarter-launched competitor to D&D Beyond, an official product of Dungeons & Dragons’ publisher Wizards of the Coast. It’s not exclusive: users can play the latest D&D adventures on Roll20, but also many other games.
Builders might want to peek into the nuances of the various subscription tiers offered by both Roll20 and D&D Beyond. Stewards should review Roll20’s Code of Conduct. They get points for the plain-language guidelines, but how prosocial is it to prohibit discussion of moderation decisions in public forums?
📍 If you’ve seen any fictionalized portrayal of a TTRPG,4 it’s obvious that a lot of the play happens in the group’s collective imagination. But increasingly, there are amazing tools to create a companion experience that feels as vivid as a professionally-made videogame, like One More Multiverse. Some coworking platforms like Gather and Topia, which I wrote about previously, have similar interfaces.
🧭 We’re no strangers to fantasy games and the beautiful communities that can spring up around players. Here’s Erik Nikolaus Martin in New_ Public Magazine on queerness and digital liberation in World of Warcraft.
🎁 Finally, in addition to some of these more polished tools, the internet has loot-chests worth of free resources for both DMs and players, lovingly created by volunteers. For example, here are different character sheets intended for different kinds of players, including sheets for dyslexic and visually-impaired players or for children. Here’s a random adventure name generator.
Make an investigation check: check out Esther’s Are.na board she created in the process of putting together the video
I want to thank everyone who worked on the newsletter in the last year, especially Paul, who created some great newsletters and helped grow our audience significantly. I really enjoyed being a reader and occasional contributor, and I’ve got an amazing foundation to build on. Let’s get started!
If you’re not subscribed, now’s a great time to get on board this Substack.
Drawing my quarterstaff and readying the spell “Wall of Fire,”
Individuals or teams of engineers, designers, product managers, etc. who design and build online spaces
Stay tuned: there’s more about stewards below. But this is the term we use for community leaders, moderators, and facilitators who do a great job, both online and off.
Often, the term Game Master, or GM, is used instead. This is more multi-purpose for games beyond DnD, but also, it’s just less… kinky-sounding.
TTRPG = Tabletop Roleplaying Game. Keep up Newb!