I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I have recently returned to tabletop role-playing after a long period away. In that time, things really changed. 23 years ago the thought of playing remotely with people all over the world from the comfort of your own home was unthinkable, or if it was thinkable it would involve poring over telephony manuals working out how exactly to do a 5 person conference call without re-mortgaging your house.
Back then, dungeons were simpler. Players rocked up at random dungeon entrances and once inside encountered random monsters and traps, often with no care given to issues such as narrative consistency. You know the kind of thing I mean, an Orc Guardroom beyond which is a water filled room full of sharks.
Now though, we DMs have to concern ourselves with “story arc”, “factions” and “recurring villains”. All of these things are familiar to anyone who has played D&D in the last 20 years but for me as a 2nd Edition dropout from circa 1994, they take a bit of getting used to.
One of the weaknesses of my DMing “game” is the ability to create sweeping story arcs. My campaigns still tend to feel like a random collection of quests one after the other with only tenuous links between them. While this is not necessarily something that a wandering band of swords for hire would encounter, I noticed a definite creative dip when we finished Lost Mine of Phandelver and moved on to my own homebrew content.
I’m not disheartened though. Like anything, it takes time. My players seem to be enjoying themselves and I’m getting caught “flat-footed” less often each week. This past week however, I did get caught out when a player cast detect magic on a magic necklace which was a major plot hook in my adventure and wanted to know what school of magic it was from. I really stumbled over that.
In terms of writing adventures, I’ve nailed down a pretty good approach but I still fall foul to rookie mistakes. Recently I “borrowed” a battlemap of a mansion house from the internet for one of my adventures. While the map looked great, it was very detailed and as a rookie DM, I wasn’t prepared for just exactly how closely my players would scrutinise it (we played on Fantasy Grounds). If you borrow a map from the web and there are grates with glowing green slime under them on the map then you had better know what that is, because damn sure the players will ask. I didn’t and I didn’t do a great job of the subsequent improvisation.
Speaking of improvisation, I also have difficulty with NPC conversations. Firstly, they all sound like me. Or if they don’t then they sound like me trying to sound like a woman. Being Scottish, I’d probably be good at dwarves but given half of the party is Scottish then the “Gimli” approach holds less sway. It’s something I need to work on, particularly given that my party contains a fabulous voice actor who puts me to shame.
The other area I have difficulty with is knowing all of the abilities of the character classes. The party have reached level 5 and this brings with it some new abilities. Given that I am almost exclusively a DM and have only played 5e for about 6 hours as a player, I’m less familiar with each character class than I would be if I played. This leads to a lot of frantic rulebook checking during sessions or more commonly just relying on the player explaining the ability to me and me taking them at their word. My players are honest and I’m not suggesting for a minute that they would do anything untoward, but if they misinterpret a rule then I’m not necessarily going to be 100% on the ball and spot it. I guess time will help with this one.
Combat is getting easier but I still often struggle to track ongoing conditions and damage. I’ve also been known to miss out an entire attack from a creature because I’ve either missed it in the stat block or misread it.
All of this aside, I’m starting to realise that from session to session I’m growing more confident, both in the role of DM and also with the ruleset. I think the greatest boost to my confidence was watching other DMs on Twitch or YouTube. It’s easy to fall into the trap of watching Dice Camera Action or Critical Role and then end up feeling inadequate because Chris Perkins and Matthew Mercer are so slick. Watching other “amateur” DMs really reassured me that everyone makes the same mistakes and that the players enjoy the game regardless of that.
We have a great hobby and it’s great to be a DM after all these years away. After a year back in the saddle I’d probably grade myself as a C-. That’s OK, because I know that eventually I’ll have what it takes to be A+.
Image courtesy of http://www.deviantart.com/art/Truth-the-Eye-and-the-Beholder-426601524