Tonight, I’ll be running the third session of my newest Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I’m still learning as a Dungeon Master, so it’s nice that two of our players are new, one is my husband, and the other two have only played for a short time. I don’t feel so self-conscious about my DMing style. Even still, I feel disappointed at the end of a session, like I could have done much better. I always ask afterward if they liked the encounters, but sometimes I think they’re just being nice, silently ridiculing my encounters and judging me harshly. Sometimes, I think I’m too fragile to DM.
And that’s strange, because I take writing criticism really well. I’m like a writing rhinoceros.
I wasn’t always that way. When I first started writing, I was really eager to get others to read my half-finished work. After a general consensus of meh, I stopped letting other people read my stories. I lost confidence in myself, in my writing, and I suffered for it. For a long time, I constantly questioned myself, every single decision I made within a story. That led to timid, safe stories. I didn’t try to write anything I didn’t feel safe writing.
It seems that my DMing has taken this turn. I started out gung-ho about it, but when my players didn’t respond to my encounters and story the way I had envisioned, I lost my confidence. In an effort not to have anyone complain about my sessions, I’ve thrown in simple battles, a straightforward quest, and I’m even working with an official D&D low-level campaign. Personally, I find it all safe and boring.
The first campaign session I ever ran was nothing short of epic. I had level four characters fighting myconids, captured by fomorians and forced to do battle in a gladiator arena, struggling to escape a lattice of collapsed mines while fighting duergar clerics and a warlock devoted to Asmodeus. All in one weekend. This, I created with a more experienced group of players, players who role-play, know the game-mechanics inside and out, and love a good challenge.
With my current players, I feel like I can’t do as much. They aren’t completely familiar with the gameplay. They wouldn’t role-play if someone threatened to brand their backsides with a hot iron. And they seem to bore of the encounters and quests that I give them. It’s rather disheartening. For these players, getting together every week to play D&D is a social event. We’re there to eat and talk first, and play D&D second. With my other group of players, we’re there to play. Period. Everything else is a distraction. I wish that was the case with my current players, but I don’t have the conviction to demand their full attention on a Wednesday evening. I’m too non-confrontational.
On the other hand, I miss the immersion of playing with my old group of friends. To them, D&D is more than just a game. When we’re playing, we’re living it. We’re not just looking at dice on a battle-grid on the coffee table; we’re looking at real, deadly creatures. When we attack, we’re not just rolling a d20, we’re arcing our great-axe into a goblin’s jugular. And I think that’s the biggest difference between my current party and my old one. I just don’t know how to encourage that sort of immersion with my new players.
So, dear party, if you’re reading this, don’t think that I don’t like DMing for you guys. I do. I just want you guys to get more involved. Invoke the name of your patron god. Act out the death-blow to that goblin minion. Shout a battle cry. Let me know that you're having a good time by showing me you're having a good time. Role-play for gods’ sakes. Trust me. It’s so much more fun if you do.
For those of you that run RPGs, how do you get your players involved? Have you had similar problems? Any suggestions?