Last week, I talked about falling flat while ending a character. I also managed to start a few off on a sour note.
Let me step back for a moment. I got a lot of good comments on last week’s post (both here and from my players), and most were really supportive. I get everybody has bad weeks, and that I’m going to notice things far more than the players might.
On most other nights, I’d be more forgiving. This particular session, not so much. Why?
Of the campaigns I’ve played in, two stick out as my favorites. The first session of each was my absolute favorite — most of the night, we’d find ourselves with nothing super important to do but to meet the townspeople (and, in my case, get myself into some kind of trouble). They’d give a gentle tug on somebody’s backstory now and then, and the plot might show its face near the end.
I loved the adventures we had in those campaigns, but those first steps with a new character occupy a strange part of my mind usually reserved for stuff like early childhood memories. I get the details wrong about what happened sometimes, but bits and pieces of how those sessions felt are etched into my being. Those are the sessions I started to learn who they were beyond what I’d written for them, about how they’d act outside of a combat or adventuring context.
It’s here I’d get emotionally attached to my PCs. It’s the heart of why I love D&D. It is the very roots of the roleplaying tree that I hug so tightly.
….And I got too wrapped up in my narrative to remember to do it for my own players. Instead of time to feel out their PCs and a sandbox to explore, I staged a crisis and pulled the ol’ “WE NEED VOLUNTEERS TO COMBAT THIS THREAT. YOU TWO!” while winging it trying to figure out how to advance the story. This, even after a fairly in-depth backstory discussion with one of the new PCs’ players.
New And Improved New Beginnings
Fortunately, another week to stop kicking myself and actually process has given me an obvious answer. Put simply, um, I’ll just do it starting now.
Plenty of stories thrust their protagonists into danger before we get a chance to know them. Sometimes, that’s how we get to know them. It’s not my preference, but it certainly beats not fleshing out characters at all. I don’t think I’ve done anything too contrary to what I know about the new PCs, and I’ve even got a shiny new setting for them to explore (where they can learn how to be themselves).
When I first started writing this set of posts, I genuinely thought this was going to be me exploring the things I screwed up and ideas on how to fix them. It is, in a sense.
The reality is that I, like most of you running games, have friends that come over to hang out and have fun — not because I’m the best DM ever and I provide a superior gaming experience. They’re not gonna bail just because of an off night. They probably don’t even care nearly as much as I do about the stuff I’m putting so much importance on. Does a good start and end for a PC’s story matter? I think so, but it’s not the kind of thing I need to put this kind of pressure on myself to provide. Of course I’m thinking of this as the Worst Session Ever if I feel like I’m basically ruining the game for people. That’s just not the case — though that doesn’t mean I can’t try to do better next time.
When I think about it clearly, most of the things that make me really anxious when DMing don’t really matter in the long run. The stakes are really low, and it’ll be really easy for my players to forgive such things — so it’s probably OK for me to do it too.
Now that I’m not too far in my own headspace to see it, every time I’ve really felt in the zone, I wasn’t worrying about every little detail. I should, however, plan — both more and smarter. It’s there I’ll wrap this thing up next week.
Now, let’s see if I can relax a little and do it right this time. I feel like I’ve been down this road before. I guess DMing is just like everything else: you fall down 1d10 times, you get up 1d10+1.