August 31, 2011

d&d night

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?


  1. I had the same problem! They didn't seem interested or at least I thought that. I felt I wasn't doing a good enough job. Then one session I decided just to be the em and not worry about them roleplaying. I figured they were new (heck we all were) and would warm up to it. Which they did.

    Now that may not work for every one. I say give it some time. Give them a good mix of different encounters and see what works best for them!

    Also, if you haven't already you might want to check out its a great site for a wide variety of table top rpgs. Very helpful people in the forums and a great player registry for finding games!

    Good luck with you campaign!!

  2. I know that a big problem with this particular campaign (is that the right term?) is that you don't get to play for very long, because of time constraints. Have you considered playing on both Monday and Wednesday nights? Maybe with it being twice a week, the players would keep it more fresh in their minds, and you would be able to get a lot more accomplished, and get more of what you desire as a DM out of your players. I certainly wouldn't mind if Justin had to go twice a week, it would give me more of a chance to eat my unhealthy dinners while he's gone, and we can certainly afford the gas now. I don't know what might keep the other players from being able to do that, but I feel like if the majority of your campaign buddies can do it, maybe that might be a good thing to do. Like I said, I don't know, but there's my suggestion on how I would fix that particular campaign.

  3. Evidently, I really like the word certainly. Hmm. That bothers me.

  4. When I get criticism back on something I'm writing, I have to set it aside and come back when I've had a chance to prepare myself for disappointment. The funny thing is that it's always good feedback and given very sensitively (other writers know what it's like and usually show mercy), but I still have to prep myself. Then, after I've read through the criticism, I have to set it aside again and let it stew, so I can get passed my instinctive "That's not true! This is perfect!" reaction. Once I can swallow my injured pride, I can get on to revising with gusto!

    Great post! I've never played actual D&D before, just the computer games based on it. But everyone says the real thing is a lot more fun.

  5. There are two things you have to consider: the campaign is somewhat boring (to you) because we're not leaping onto your story yet. But those of us new to the game have to get the rules down first. Once we have the basics, we can go crazy. But until we understand all the different turns we can take and options we have, we're going to seem a little withdrawn and timid.

    You should also consider that today is only going to be the 3rd day of the campaign, and the 2nd day that we've all been there. Things start out slow in the beginning. Many of us have never hung out before. D&D is a roleplaying game, but we're still playing it IRL, so we have to get used to people we've never met before.

    Also, because we're constricted by the amount of time we can play--3 hours is pretty short in terms of campaigning--we hardly have time to do anything. By the end of the night, I'm concerned about getting home and getting sleep so I can go to work the next day.

    And one more thing you should consider: you're story is fine. Your characters are fine. Your encounters are fine. But this game isn't a story you're writing. You're creating a backdrop for us to interact with and in. If we don't act exactly the way you plan, your job is to either let us get there eventually, follow us to see where we go, or adjust the game to ensure we continue on the path you have specified. You can't use mind control. We're real people.

    All in all, I genuinely enjoyed myself at the last game, and I've been looking forward to this all week. But there's a LOT going on besides just a game. Real Life, jobs, and just meeting new people all can throw kinks in the game. Give us time to learn the basics, get to know each other, and really get to the meat of the story, and you'll have me thrashing around RP-ing like a madman.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! Last night's session went a lot better. There was a bit more role-playing, and I think our newest players are starting to get the hang of the game. We have talked about maybe doing weekend-long sessions every once in a while and possibly doing twice during the week. Hopefully, next week goes just as well. I'm looking forward to more of John's silly Australian accent, Shandi's licentious Dragonborn, and Justin's Sean-Connery Dwarf. Now if only I can get my husband to RP...

  7. You can't beat having my fellow peoples snuggling up close so their attacks reflect off my scaly boobs to do more damage... Well, perhaps you can, if you enjoy my tail snaking around some unsuspecting legs... ;)