Hello everyone! Today a gaming friend of mine Christina has graciously offered to write a guest article for my blog. I hope you enjoy here insights and check out her own blog, Happy Couch Panda (happycouchpanda.wordpress.com)!
Salutations everybody! I am a friend of Jake and a fellow DM. We’re friends from PUCLpodcast.com, a Pokemon fansite/podcast, where we were both on the content creation team (you should check it out if you like Pokemon, but back to D&D). You can call me Novice DM Christina.
About a year ago, I became very intrigued by Dungeons and Dragons and have been trying to wiggle my way into the pen and paper RPG world. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, seeing as the tabletop community was (and still is) very scarce in my area. I was always jealous of Jake for being lucky enough to have a D&D group of his own and living in an RPG-rich world. In August and after a lot of searching, I met a few people from work who played D&D on our breaks. They were gracious enough to welcome me with open arms. Unfortunately that game has fallen to the wayside with a majority of our group still finishing school…
So I decided to take a stab at DMing! I somehow convinced my regular tabletop gaming group into trying out D&D, and now I’m two (and a half) sessions into our campaign. Jake thought it would be a great idea to talk about my experiences of being a new DM, since that is an experience so far away from him these days.
First off, it was an incredibly daunting task. The days leading up to it, my stomach and brain were the equivalent to nervous and anxious mush. With the uprising of D&D games being broadcasted on YouTube, Twitch channels, and on podcasts, I felt some pressure to measure up to these examples. These were the things that got people into D&D, including myself. If it weren’t for things like these, I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue trying to find a gaming group in general…
I was lucky enough to find a group of players that hasn’t watched ANY of these.
Well it’s a bittersweet kind of luck. Because my players had no idea what to expect, that alleviated a lot of pressure to create a huge elaborate storyline that would have all of these nuanced “disconnected” events that were actually very much connected and end with a huge climatic event. Or at least I don’t have to think about that until much later. I didn’t have to be a Matt Mercer (DM for Critical Role), or a Wil Wheaton (GM for TitansGrave), or a Chris Perkins (DM of Acquisitions, Inc./Story Writer for D&D)… Mainly because they didn’t know whom any of these people were. They were happy and even impressed with the simple fetch quest in a cave.
My group also gave me a lot of empathy because they were also learning how to play. They completely understood if I needed to look up a rule or if I didn’t have an answer right away. It was a great feeling to know if I mess up on rules (which obviously happened) I could easily apologize and move on, or take the time to look up the rule. There was a lot of patience on both sides of the DM screen.
The other side of this “luck coin” is I had to explain everything from square one. And I mean EVERYTHING. Things that seemed obvious to me, such as Initiative or Character Alignment, needed to be explained and brought back to its purpose in the game. I made the novice mistake of not having a session 0, or anything remotely close to one. We did all of the explanation, learning, and character creation right before playing our very first session. A part of me believes that my friends didn’t know exactly what they agreed to so there must have been an overwhelming amount of me just throwing information at them and talking about “game rules”, followed by the “but if you want to do something different you probably can”. So to all of my fellow new DMs: no matter what, DO A SESSION 0! It would’ve been a great chance to go through rules, ideas, character creation ideas, and even bounce backstories off each other, and as a DM it would’ve informed me on what kind of things my players would be interested in.
I was also nervous about being the first experience my friends would have with a pen and paper RPG. My main concern was, “What if I mess up so bad that my friends won’t have fun, and they won’t want to play anymore, and then I won’t have a group anymore?” That is always the risk when you share something so important and special to you with someone.
I wanted to sell this experience to my friends. I wanted so badly for my friends to enjoy the game that I spent hours on forums, listening to podcasts (I would recommend the Dungeon Master’s Block) and watching YouTube videos about tips on being a good DM (and I still ingest these things on almost a daily basis). The best piece of advice I got from everything I’ve listened/read/watched, and I’m sure Jake would agree to this as well, is start small (Too True! – Jake).
I started with one city (maybe I could’ve started with something smaller than a city) with one guild. I thought about the purpose of the guild. Okay, so they are a mercenary-esque adventuring guild, usually paid to run the more dangerous errands for people of the city and the province, but they have an emphasis on the act of helping the people instead of just doing it all for coin. So I asked my players to come up with reasons for joining the guild – essentially a reason for why they want to become adventurers. And then I made the first session into an entrance exam. I created a test that the guild would have for aspiring fledglings.
What I loved about this “test” was it was an easy way for me to add and preview a lot of mechanics of D&D into one session. I was able to put in different traps (the classic pressure plate and pitfall), combat encounters, magic doors, an ending puzzle, and even got to show off the awesome Druid ability Wild Shape. It was tougher to put in things like social interactions into this test, but it’ll be coming in later sessions when everybody has a better grasp on the minutia of general gameplay.
I would say that overall, despite how overwhelming it was to have session 0 and session 1 in the same day, my first session went very well – well enough that my friends wanted to play again! They are still learning how to play the game, reading their character sheets, and the endless options open to them in an encounter. I think the biggest selling point I made for the game was when I explained, “You can do (almost) anything you want, you will just have to roll for it”. I’m looking forward to see where our campaign goes in the future.
If you want to check in with how our group is doing in our campaign, I will be posting campaign updates on my own blog: Happy Couch Panda (happycouchpanda.wordpress.com), along with my experiences playing D&D. I also write articles about things that I am reading, watching, and playing, so be sure to check those out too!
Thank you again to Jake for asking me to write an article for The Room Fills With Water! I hope that you will all see me on here again in the future!
Thanks Christina! That was awesome, I especially like the idea of a “tutorial” first adventure session, I can think of several parties I have played with that could have used that!-Jake