A few months ago, I started watching Critical Role. It’s a show where some voice actors (some of whom you know) play Dungeons & Dragons live on Twitch. The recordings are then uploaded to Youtube. I started with episode 1 and got hooked very quickly. It didn’t take long for me to want to experience the game for myself. I bought some D&D materials and found a game to play in every Sunday via Discord. It’s been fun!
However, my ambitions quickly grew. There was a one-off episode of Critical Role in which Matt Mercer (the Dungeon Master of the show) spends an hour giving advice for how to DM. As I listened to this, lightbulbs starting flashing above my head. I had a realization: I was born for this.
I have always fancied myself a writer (I wrote my first short story when I was like 7). I have been a gamer most of my life as well. My obsession with video games has given me an interest in game design as a whole. As a teenager, my fondest dream was to work in game development. But, I can’t program and I can’t draw, so that’s not a realistic proposition for me (and that’s without even talking about the toxic work environments that game publishers have). So how would I satisfy my yearning to make games? I’ve tried to develop a couple of card games, but didn’t get far (it’s hard to get groups together to regularly playtest). I’ve contemplated other avenues, but I haven’t come up with any way to scratch this itch. Until now.
A couple of months ago, I decided to try my hand at DMing. I made a post over on qtoid, asking if anyone would be interested in playing through a One Shot with me. Several people signed up, which surprised and delighted me! I whipped up a Discord server and we were off to the races. We had 7 players, which is too many for one game (at least for me). So we divided in two groups. The first group had 4 players. We got together and played quickly. The second group had scheduling challenges, so we only finished our quest last night. Let me tell you about it! (also, apologies for the lack of pictures in this blog, I have no patience for the blog editor these days)
I wrote an original story. Our heroes start in a tavern in the city of Leilon, in the Forgotten Realms. Prior to the story, they saved the tavern from a goblin infestation. The next day, they are now a party of adventurers and they go out on the town to find quests. Before long, they see a child arrested by the city guard for stealing a piece of bread. The players soon learn that several children have gone missing over the last few months. Upon further investigation, it is revealed that someone is arresting these children and then selling them.
The first group of players staked out the jail where the child was taken. In the middle of the night, a creature waltzed into the jail. He emerged a few minutes later with a child in tow. The followed the creature for several hours. Eventually, he entered an ancient tower, standing alone in a clearing of a forest. The players entered and looked around. After some exploration and investigation, they found themselves activating a trap. This unleashed a Gargoyle upon them, which they quickly defeated. They then proceed into the top room of the tower and found a Warlock. The ground was littered with skeletons and corpses in varying states of decay. The Warlock raised a Skeleton to serve him and he declared battle against the party!
Unfortunately for him, the party acted very quickly. The Warlock was standing atop a pillar at the far end of the room. One player rushed him and pushed him off his pillar. He fell to the ground and was knocked prone. Our heroes very quickly disposed of him while he was stuck in this disadvantaged position. After exploring the basement of the tower, the party discovered the missing children. They had been imprisoned and experimented upon by this monstrous warlock. They returned to town and all was well.
All told, it was a 5 hour event for this party to play through the entire adventure. This was my first time DMing. My biggest mistake here was that I had fixed in my mind the idea that a so-called One Shot had to be completed in a single sitting. We played too long. I think most were worn out by the end. I should have paused the game halfway through and set a second date to play. (I apologize if any of these players read this, I’m sorry!)
The second group took longer to schedule. This time I decided to be much more direct and efficient. I had a child from the town approach their characters almost immediately after the game started. They learned of the quest very quickly. However, their investigation process took much longer. They invaded the jail and attacked the Warden (who was the person ultimately selling off the children). Three hours in, we called it a night. The players hadn’t even found the tower yet! It took a few weeks, but we finally played a second session. After an hour and a half, we had to call it a night once again. The players had made it to the tower and found the children, but they hadn’t encountered the Warlock. Finally, a few days later, we played for the 3rd and final time. This party was only 3 players, and they weren’t nearly as lucky as the first. Their battle with the Warlock was much more difficulty. But ultimately, they vanquished him and suffered no casualties.
So here we are today. I had an absolute blast DMing for these fine folk. Firstly, thank you players. You gave me a great gift in lending me your time and energy. You worked with me to tell a compelling story full of thrills. You even took up my challenge to hand-draw your characters, which was an absolute delight! Thank you Roager, hlarge4, LaTerry, MeanderBot, Parismio, Rocketknight, and Trevlyn. Gentlemen and scholars, all.
What did I learn? How will I do better in the future? What can you take away from this for the day when you have the chance to play the role of Dungeon Master? Here’s a few takeaways:
• Do not hesitate to call the session for the evening and schedule another session. It is better than wearing out your players (and yourself).
• Be aware that players will behave wildly differently from each other. Each party will approach a situation in their own way. Don’t try to force them to go about things a certain way. Embrace that they will bring their unique strategies, tactics, and luck into the game.
• Make sure every player gets their time to shine. Ask each player what their character is doing or would like to do. Be prepared to step in if one player speaks over another. Everyone deserves a moment in the spotlight.
• Don’t be afraid to give your players very explicit information about what is going on in the world. It might not be “realistic” for an NPC to approach them and ask them to do something specific for them. But there’s a reason that this is how NPCs work in video games. It gives the players the information they need to find the fun in the game.
• Let your players fail. Some of my favorite moments from these adventures happened when players and NPCs rolled poorly and things didn’t go as planned.
• Don’t fudge your dice rolls. This is a contentious topic I gather, but I have a firm opinion about it. You are the player’s friend and ally. The dice are the enemy. Let that be reality.
I can’t wait to DM again in the near future. I have a campaign set up with a few players and I am eager to start. It will be great to see how they react to situations when there isn’t the time pressure to finish in one go-around. It will be fun to see their characters grow and evolve over time.
In summation, I can’t recommend enough that you play tabletop roleplaying games (doesn’t have to be D&D specifically, there are thousands of games available to play). I definitely think you should give DMing a try, especially if you are interested in game design. Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to answer them.