Transitioning from player to (dungeon) master…

Recently I got to experience Dungeons and Dragons from the other side, so to speak.

A few friends and I have a group that meets every month or two to play D&D. We started in earnest once 5th edition came out, and our friend George acted as dungeon master,  putting us through the introductory adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver. It was pretty fun, especially since I’ve learned that my best character class is a cleric (namely, the party healer).

As we played, though, I started thinking about maybe running an adventure myself. I was pretty hesitant at first, considering the last time I ran an adventure myself was for the old World of Darkness system, and it was twenty years ago. (Christ, has it been that long?) That adventure turned out to be an out-and-out disaster, as I hadn’t planned it very well and wasn’t willing to let the players make their own decisions. After that negative experience, I wasn’t sure I could do it again. There was also the small issue of not having enough time to create a campaign of my own.

What made me firmly decide to go ahead and give it a try was that Wizards of the Coast announced that they were releasing a new updated version of the classic Ravenloft module called Curse of Strahd. Before I had gotten into D&D in earnest, the Ravenloft campaign setting had interested me the most, and it was also the setting I was most familiar with. So, I went ahead and purchased the three core rule books (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide) and the Curse of Strahd campaign rulebook. After studying all four as best I could, I felt I was about as ready as I could be.

We started the campaign two weeks ago. I don’t think I was as ready as I could have been.

My biggest issue was that I hadn’t studied the campaign rulebook as well as I thought I had, so there were a few times where I had to request do-overs because I had missed something. Thankfully, everyone was patient with me while I went through those learning curves.

To my credit, I was better about giving my players free rein where needed. I also tried to act out the characters as best I could. As my group is less about “role playing” and more about “hack, slash, get loot”, I had to remind them that Curse of Strahd is a fairly story-intensive campaign and that I would be taking character role playing somewhat seriously (which they all agreed to).

One of my main challenges was that our group’s schedule is rather hectic. While we started at around 2 or so, two of our group didn’t arrive until after 5. In addition, another member had to leave unexpectedly at 4. As a result, I had players who were playing multiple characters and had to adapt to the changing player group. As I don’t handle those kind of changes that well, I felt I kept things under control.

I also realized too late that I didn’t have anything to map out encounters, locations, and combat. To my relief, George lent me his dry-erase grid mat and cardboard tokens. I’ll probably hit Montag’s (the local Pearland game store) for something of my own before the next session.

More than anything else, though, I think Jennifer put it best when she observed that I was probably happier as a player figuring out the challenges than as the person actually running the game. It was pretty difficult for me to keep the player side of me quiet sometimes, and let the players figure out where they needed to go as opposed to me simply telling them. On the other hand, it was nice seeing the players figure out where to go and what to do without me explicitly needing to tell them.

All in all, though, I think it worked out well. Like I said, I need to beef up on the particulars before the game days and I need a mapping system of my own as opposed to borrowing George’s. Still, while I would rather be a player, I think I’ve learned and matured enough to be a capable DM. I’ve even considered running online campaigns for those friends of mine who don’t live in the Houston area.

We’ll see if they survive the Curse of Strahd campaign, but for now, I’m happy that I was up to the challenge of running it.