Thoughts of a New(ish) DM

A little foreword before I launch in to this post. I will be using the terms DM and GM interchangeably. They mean Dungeon Master and Game Master. They are pretty much synonymous terms. Dungeon Master specifically comes from Dungeons and Dragons and Game Master is kind of a catch-all term for all of the TTRPG (Tabletop Roleplaying Game) systems out there.

Please join me as we dive in to my thoughts as a new and inexperienced DM!

As you could probably tell from my previous post, I’m a bit of a TTRPG enthusiast. So it stands to reason that I would eventually get around to DM/GMing a game. It started about 4 years ago, I had just discovered Fantasy Flight Games’ ruleset for Warhammer 40,000. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer longer than I’ve been a fan of TTRPGs so it was a match made in heaven.

I went to my buddy, my partner in crime, and convinced him to help me start up a game with our friends in the Warhammer universe. It wasn’t difficult, he’s as big a dork for Warhammer as I am, if not bigger.

We roped together a few friends and sat them down for essentially a Session -1 where we taught them Warhammer 101. After that we set a date for our Session 0 and my foray in to GMing began.

The very first thing I learned immediately from Session 0 is you, as a GM, are a facilitator. Of course you’re there to have fun too but much of what you’re doing is ensuring your players are having fun and that you are providing them with an interesting experience. You facilitate this by being knowledgeable in the rules and able to get them answers relatively quickly for any questions they have. That isn’t to say you need to know every rule off the top of your head, although I wouldn’t mind if I could memorize them. In my opinion, if there’s a question about a rule and it would take you out of the moment you are in in the game, hand-wave it, house-rule it, with the expectation from you and  your players that it will be revisited if it doesn’t make sense down the road.

The second thing I learned is, as a DM, you should do all that you can to make sure all of your players are included and engaged. Even with the best intentioned of groups you will probably have one person, be they more experienced with the system or TTRPGs as a whole or simply a more outgoing personality, begin to dominate the talk-time in the session. Be sure to ask the other players directly what they are doing or if they have any input on the situation. It is a very easy way to give the player an in for dialogue and encourages them to contribute more often on their own. Encourage your players to embody their characters and become immersed in their story. They don’t have to come up with a voice for their character, they don’t even have to speak in the first person as the character, but I guarantee the more a person thinks about and as their character the more engaged they will be in each session. Reward it!

Thirdly, be prepared. But not too prepared. In my opinion there is definitely over-preparation as a DM. If you’re sitting down and writing up dialogue for specific characters you may find yourself weeping in your beer later after your players completely bypassed them or, worse, killed them without a second thought. Definitely get a story outline down, maybe a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal) to work toward if that’s your thing, and get an idea of how you want to start the session. I can tell you from experience that I’ve come to a session with a thought of how it’d go in mind and come out of it having to spin locations, creatures, and NPCs out of nowhere because my players took a right when I expected them to go left. Don’t be afraid to think on your feet and slap down an NPC that didn’t exist five seconds ago. 85% of the time your players won’t know the difference. The other 15% of the time they’ll be thinking how great it is that you came up with an NPC on the spot because they went in a direction you weren’t expecting.

This leads into my next point.

Fourth, realize that this is not only your story. You are bringing it to the table but your players should have a say as well! They have a hand in how the story plays out, they even have their own stories to tell for their characters which will weave in to yours. Try to take their threads and add your own twist as well, surprise them as you immerse them in their character’s background. Everyone loves to be the star every once in a while.

Fifth , and I really hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out after all those previous points, do what feels right to you and your players. You will always be learning and improving what you do. Your players will grow with you and I guarantee that they will think you are awesome as you weave your story out to them.

Last and most important of all. Have fun.





Tabletop RPGs: A love story

The whole torrid affair started way back when I was a youngster (Okay, I’m still a youngster. Just humour me). My brother and I begged our mom to buy us what I recollect as either a module of AD&D or the starter set for it. We had next to no idea what it was, we’d heard it was a game of imagination you can play with your friends. To be honest, it was the artwork on the cover that captured us, we needed it.

We got home and cracked it open, pre-made characters and a scenario spilled out and we were enraptured. I don’t remember us ever getting beyond that, it was super complicated for young kids like us and we didn’t have anyone to guide us through it so I was content just reading the backstory of the pre-made characters. One was a half-ogre or half-giant gladiator as I recall.

It was years from when we first discovered it until I played my first tabletop game.

In 2007 my best friend was working at a book store called Borders. I’d visit him pretty often to hang out while he was working and it was during one of these visits that we stumbled on D&D 4th Edition.

Immediately we were excited.

Both of us were humongous nerds but neither of us really had much experience with the game. We split the cost of the DM Guide and decided we needed to get a group together. Unfortunately it took a couple months or so to wrangle up people for a group but we got there. We had our session zero and everyone made their characters. Making your character is something magical, and Wizards certainly knows that. In 4th edition they were slightly more clinical about it but in the 5th edition guide they show you how to go about making your character and even give you an example of another character as you move along, a well-known and beloved character of the Forgotten Realms setting.

They know that a character you craft is one that will leave a mark. On both you and those at your table.

I love all of D&D so when I say that Session 0 is my favorite session I need you to know it’s not that I love it more than the rest necessarily, it’s that the uniqueness of the session is what draws me to it.

Everyone is learning together, some are new players who are delving in to this for the very first time with the help of the more veteran players. Everyone is learning what the DM has envisioned for the group, usually with some basic details about the campaign world and how your party may have met. The players are learning about each other’s characters, and learning about their own!

I love the feeling of open-eyed excitement that comes with embarking on a new campaign. The possibilities for your character and your party are before you. It’s the wide-view that you begin to lose as you dive in to the game.

As you get in to the campaign your vision narrows to the immediate. Your character, your party, the battle at hand, the drink at the tavern at the crossroads. It’s a different kind of feeling as the DM lays his story out before you and you add your own flair to it.

As you get deeper in to the campaign, you learn more about your character. Traits and backstory you’d never even thought of in session 0 begin to emerge and immerse you further. You learn more about your party and their stories and flaws as well.

You become attached.

You may have unexpected emotional sessions where your character has a heart-to-heart with another player’s. Or you’ll have to say goodbye as the campaign comes to a close.

Last weekend I spent my Saturday evening tuned in to a stream of a D&D game for a group called the “For Science Crew”. It was the swan song for their campaign. I’m not quite sure how long it had been going on but this was their last session and it was obvious how invested they were in their characters. As a group they wrapped up a few loose ends but the masterstroke was what happened after. The DM had epilogues prepared for each character. It sounded like the players each gave the DM an idea of what they wanted their character’s ride in to the sunset to look like and then she made it in to a loving farewell. Even though this was my first time catching their stream I was rapt. It was a four hour stream of emotion.

These are the things that draw me to D&D over everything else. I love killing the bad guy and getting loot, experience, and gold as much as everyone else but.. there is something about seeing the story unfold in front of you and watching your character take steps in to a wide world of possibility and become the hero (or villain if that’s your thing!) that is just unmatched by any other medium.

Nothing else out there allows you to completely live in the skin of a character of your own making like this.

Or to craft a story for others to romp through and delight you with their attachments, or infuriate you with their peccadillos.

D&D is pretty great.