It’s funny how things never develop how you expected. When I decided to start running a D&D game after going to DDXP this year, I was reasonably certain things would never get off the ground. I knew a couple people might be interested, but with schedules being what they are (especially with several parents in the mix, myself included), I wasn’t sure the stars would align sufficiently to get the first session of the ground – much less a multi-year-spanning campaign like we used to run back in the day.
As it turns out, I have no problems with finding players for my group. Quite the opposite, actually.
And Then There Were X + 1 (REPEAT)
We started out with five. A friend from work and his wife, who I’d played with for years before. Two more friends from work, and a guy I used to work with. There’s a theme here. We played our first session, it was rad. Everybody was excited. Then, one day, we talked about it at lunch with one of the new guys at work. (Theme, remember?) As I was riding the high off not crashing and burning through the first session, I asked him if he wanted to play with us. The invitation was genuine, but I was honestly surprised he said yes. Usually, people just sort of laugh nervously and politely decline. (Maybe I shouldn’t talk about my characters right out of the gate?) One of my players was with me at lunch, and she was very happy about this new development. I was equally happy. He was cool.
I was a little surprised at the response when I got back and asked the rest of my players if it was cool if we had a new member. Everybody thought the new guy was great, but there were a few reservations about the group getting too big. Worries that there would be too many scheduling conflicts. Concerns that scheduling would become more difficult. My last group was pretty big (8? 9? I forget…), and we all seemed to get by, so this was a little bewildering. The invite was already out, so I decided just to see how it went. It went well.
Two days later, one of my players tells me her brother (who had expressed interest in playing, but had scheduling conflicts), was no longer under said scheduling conflicts and wanted to play. The little monkey running the controls in my brain began pacing around anxiously. The screaming was nigh. So, I did what any noob would, and immediately consulted the Internet. Fortunately, in my case, that meant IMing Dave The Game. (Who, as we all know, is the living embodiment of the Internet.) He gave me the following subtle and nuanced advice:
Hard limit of 6 players. Any more than that and they will hate playing and you will hate running it.
Not understanding Dave’s cryptic message, I then consulted Josh and Eric, two of my former DM’s. I figured, they used to run our giant group. They will know. 6 seemed a good number, they said, if all your players are quiet and organized and well-behaved. I wasn’t exactly sure if my group qualified. Most were reasonably reserved, but we’d only played twice. I couldn’t base it off previous experience because, well, I was one of several forces of chaos in our old group. It was fun chaos, but I cannot count the number of times I had a great idea and saw the “aneurism” expression cross my DM’s face – and these were DM’s with years of experience. Suddenly, I realized the hidden cost of my antics, and I became afraid – that lurking somewhere at my table, someone had a big barrel of antics a-brewin’.
I asked the Internet what to do, and he recommended something that seemed a little strange – namely, a waiting list. That seemed kind of elitist, but upon closer inspection it made more sense. The regular players have a guaranteed seat – but if someone can’t make it, the next person on the waiting list gets called to make a guest appearance with a pregenerated PC. It’s a way to let some different people play, and a band-aid for those times when you’re one player down. I’d already decided to run player absence in my campaign as if that character vanished and/or took the day off, so this fit well – at least on paper.
As to whether or not it worked in practice – well, unfortunately I still had to frustrate yet another work friend (there are apparently legions) who wanted to play. He had a night off from his regularly scheduled WoW raiding on account of his guild getting their drink on IRL in another state for St. Patrick’s day, and wanted to make a guest appearance. I told him no, because I had 6, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle another. I still feel bad about it. I probably could have handled it, but I am not very practiced at saying “no” to people in general, much less when it’s regarding something I would love to share with them. I still don’t know if I made the right call, but I suppose at least I made a call.
Upon A Troubled Brow
I’ve been trying to run this group as a democracy. I’ve been in groups where the DM gets to decide everything, and it works sometimes but there’s a lot of potential for things to get weird and unpleasant. I didn’t care for it. Even with this in mind, though, I’ve tried to take point on putting everything together from scheduling to location to getting group communication going and putting the adventures together and answering player questions. It had not occurred to me until now that, even a group run by all its players still requires leadership – and the DM, for better or worse, is likely to have the job.
These clothes do not fit comfortably yet.
It is so damned easy to get caught up in trying to make everyone happy right now, even with a very low level of drama. (Hooray for low self-esteem!) I take my role as DM to be the guy who makes it possible for everybody to have an evening of fun. (I took it down a couple notches from “the guy who makes everyone have fun”. My you’re-going-to-give-yourself-an-ulcer filter doesn’t trigger often, but I’m happy when it does!) I don’t know specifically what I’m worried about. Maybe that everyone will be bored and frustrated and never want to play again. That I’m going to alienate all my friends who aren’t allowed to play and be considered a thunderous turbo-douche for the rest of my natural life. That WotC will send a representative to my house to repossess all my D&D sourcebooks and give me a season pass to a sporting event because I can no longer be a nerd. Yes, that about sums it up.
I have good players, though. One of them, when I expressed such concerns to her, replied simply with “We’re your friends! That won’t happen.”
Oh yeah. So, I guess I’m back to just trying my best to put together something exciting and simply enjoying a night with friends. Doesn’t make a very interesting story, but I’d much rather have expectations I can live with.