This week will be my D&D group’s fourth session. I’m starting to get the lay of the land a little better. I’ve learned that a plot won’t burst into flames if not kept on the rails the entire session. I’ve also learned that tacking it down in a couple of spots sure won’t hurt, and drawing a path in the dirt with a stick where you might like it to go isn’t such a bad thing. I decided to go back to my first article about starting a gaming group and look at the things I was concerned about with a few sessions under my belt.
I keep planning to try it, but every session I remember to do it as everyone is walking out the door. I think I am going to list out my encounters – combat and otherwise – on a sheet of paper along with a track to play. I haven’t been using a computer for anything (aside from Kmonster on my phone), so keeping Grooveshark open on my tablet with all tracks one press away shouldn’t get in my way much. Who knows if it will be awesome or annoying? Probably never me. I anticipate serially forgetting about this for at least another six or seven months.
I’ve been writing out the initiative order on a sheet of paper, trying to guess based on their rolls how much space to leave on the rows above and below. This is clunky, I don’t like it much, but to be honest it’s not really getting in my way too much. I plan to get some index cards this week to try, having the PCs write down their defenses, hit points and bloodied value, and other info on them. Then I’ll make enemy cards and combat order should be much simplified.
I haven’t once wanted to kill a PC. Truth be told, I don’t really like combat that much. It’s not really a surprise to me, I used to wish the combats were over so I could roleplay some more when I was a player. I’ve caught myself wanting to halve an enemy’s hit points just to get things over with a couple of times. Some of my players are really into combat, so I’m going to avoid that.
- Better DMing Through Technology
Maybe I’m just oldschool. Maybe I’m not using the right tools. But, as I said before, I hardly use any tech at all in the actual running of my game – certainly nothing I have to enter info into. I don’t have to fight notebook paper to record something really fast. I don’t have to open the right window, or enter things in any particular format. I scribble something down, possibly circling it. This surprises me a lot. I was half-expecting to look like something out of freaking Neuromancer while running my game – sitting motionless, speaking to my players only via voice synthesis, and updating a digital battle map. With my brain waves. I feel like a hippie or a luddite or something.
We’ve had to swap weeks a couple of times, and last week’s board game “D&D off-week” night found every last person with a scheduling conflict. Overall, though, I think we’re proving somewhat flexible. One of our group has his son’s soccer practice to go to on our D&D nights for the next month, so we’ll be doing some dancing around that. Keeping him in every week during this might not happen, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll be playing.
This has probably been the hardest to bear of the lot. You’d think after blogging in one form or another for nearly a decade would give me immunity from worrying that people will think what I come up with is stupid, but it’s more nerve-wracking for me when the people you’ll be attempting to entertain for the evening are mere feet away from you for hours on end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun. I love it. But it’s making those little insidious self-doubt demons come out to have a picnic in my brain a lot more than I’d like. They make me second-guess the story I’m writing and bring out my Anxiety-Fueled Perfectionist who doesn’t write things other people understand (in a bad way). They make me want to procrastinate. They make me worry I will be the D&D equivalent of Forever Alone. They must die.
It’s a little different than where I expected to be at this point, but I feel like I’m getting better and people are having a decent time. Now I have different concerns and goals to put into bullet points:
- Player Engagement
I have some players new to D&D who are somewhat shy at the table. I want to try to get them out of their shells. I realize there are a lot of different types of people, and that means there are also a lot of different types of players. This also inevitably means some won’t like the things I do, so I can’t just fire up the Master Roleplaying Computer and determine their optimal RP algorithm. Stupid free will. So, my task right now is to watch my players carefully for signs of delight, and to exploit these weaknesses in their psyche to… well, give them more delight. I am never going to pass the Evil DM exam at this rate.
I’ve also been considering several reward systems for good roleplaying or teamwork. One idea was to use Fortune Cards as a reward. Another is to give out story awards like I saw used at the Living Forgotten Realms events at DDXP. It’s been my experience that it doesn’t take much to light a little fire in a player’s heart. Or maybe I’m just extra flammable. We’ll have to see if my group is.
- Loot, Or Lack Thereof
One of my players made a point to remind me that they hadn’t gotten any loot yet. I’d forgotten about it entirely, what with my head being firmly up my precious story’s ass. In the interim, I came up with nifty Weapons O’ Light for them to use, the powers of which may scale with the players’ level. I don’t think this is enough. It’s a weird state of affairs when everybody has weapons made of pure light and I’m worried nobody is going to feel special. I need flavor for these items. I want offbeat things that make this story belong to the players. I used to do this with magic items all the time. It’s harder to come up with them, for some reason.
- I Prefer Rolling My Own
I’m starting to think I might be a masochist, or an egomaniac, or both. I have heaping mountains of sourcebooks and articles and other pre-made materials to choose from, but I want to come up with something brand new 99 times out of 100. I tend to prejudge pre-made material as a whole as “boring”, and I think this attitude needs to change. I know an awful lot of very bright people with excellent ideas waiting to be appropriated for the good of all playerkind. And it’s not as if I am a neverending fountain of The Best Ideas. If I hadn’t been introduced to the concept of reskinning, I shudder to think how combat might have gone these last few sessions. I think this problem stems from a few times in a previous campaign where our DM decided to drop in a pre-made module and we all couldn’t wait for it to be over. I also need to remember another campaign we were in, made completely from scratch, that was far worse. This is not really helping my anxiety.
- 4 x 2 x 7 x 1
The “fast and loose” approach I’ve been taking the last couple of sessions has rained cosmic destruction upon the delicate 5×5 plot diagram I’d made in the infancy of this campaign. I’m having trouble figuring out how to guide them where they “should” go without chasing them around with a horde of cement zombies. I tried to lay clues for them in our last adventure, but they didn’t take the bait. Upon complaining about this, the Internets graced me with the Three Clue Rule and the knowledge that players are neither master detectives nor inside my brain. I’m not going to feel so bad about gentle use of the Clue Bat or letting Leopold, the Dancing Plot Point earn his keep. I’m going to try sprinkling a little more structure into our game, and hopefully it’ll go somewhere. I think the trick is not to care exactly where, as long as you are still tracking it via DM plot-satellite.
I’m certain that, as long as I am a Dungeon Master, I will always have a bunch of bullet points in my head. There’s an old saying we have in karate. I can’t remember it, so it is possible that I will not have all my teeth this time next week. What I do remember is that it describes the search for perfection of one’s character as neverending; as being in a boat atop an ever-rising sea; as playing Pac-Man and never splitting the screen. So too shall I approach the mastery of my dungeon.
In the end, there is only one truth: don’t use dry-erase markers on a battlemat.