Sessions 1-5: Game Master Series

It’s been about two months since I started running Curse of Strahd for my new group of D&D players.

I feel like I can officially call myself a DM. I can buy the badges and the coffee mugs and the t-shirts and not feel a massive sense of imposter syndrome.

Okay, so two months, right? How’d it go, Audra? Um…

AMAZING.

I really, really, really like DMing. And I figured out why I like it more than playing. I like being in control of the world. This is totally a personality thing because I don’t like feeling out of control ever, and it translates to my game preferences too. (More on the correlation of personality and play-style another time.) I’m more comfortable presenting the story, being in control of the flow and the events, and seeing where things lead. Of course, I’m not forcing my players into a particular path or style or anything, but I like knowing where things will go. It’s way less stressful, despite how stressful being a DM is (with all the planning and whatnot).

I can’t tell you how my players are doing, except the bits I’ve heard. They seem to be having a blast. They’ve told me they love it, they’re getting creeped out by all the creepy stuff, worried about future encounters, freaked out by dreams and details…I think it’s going well, in other words.

On my end, I’m beginning to see where I need to shore up my weaknesses and what things I can do pretty easily.

Things I’m Good At

And let me clarify – things I feel comfortable doing and are “easy.” My players may have a different opinion on how well I do.

  1. Description – I like this part. I like picturing the environment in my head and translating it via theater of the mind using all five senses. I can do this pretty easily, for the most part. I think my extensive reading history has served me well here.
  2. Music – to me, music is a huge, integral part of the game. It adds that extra panache, that zest, that cherry on the sundae of atmosphere. It sets the mood and can subtly stoke certain feelings in your players…and I have some good stuff picked out. My players have told me they’re noticing, too. At one point the music was too quiet to hear and they thought I’d stopped it and all got nervous that something was about to go down. Delicious.
  3. Thinking of information on the fly – I had a character ask me what the books were about in a house, and the CoS guide didn’t say, so I made up something about the ancient history and myths similar to our Greek mythology. Brief, but I came up with something. Yeah, if you’re reading this, guys, I pull a lot of stuff out of nowhere.
  4. Encounters – so far I feel pretty confident in my encounters. I made a cheat sheet of verbs to use for battle (hack, slash, eviscerate, bisect, crush, etc) because I’ve found in the heat of things my ability to describe attacks goes down. But other than that, I think I do a pretty decent job. And last session, we used crackers as wolves and I made the players cronch them when they took one down.

Things I’m Not Good At

Again, things that don’t come easily or feel comfortable.

  1. Pacing – I haven’t quite gotten how to pace things comfortably. I want to end on a cliffhanger or decent endpoint each session, but I’m terrible at estimating how long encounters are going to last, how many I need and so on. I was actually underprepared for the first time last session, as opposed to way overprepared for all the others, so my estimates still need work.
  2. Speaking as an NPC off the cuff – I’m a much better writer than speaker, and I can make characters have unique styles of talking when writing, but not so much when I’m talking. I’ve never been good at improv, so this is really stretching my skills. I don’t think I’ve done terribly, but I really have to focus when I speak as an NPC.
  3. Encounters – yeah, some parts of this I don’t get. I don’t know much about all the monsters (there’s SO many), and I know I’m not giving my players the full experience, but I honestly think the plot deserves my attention more than the background information of a creature.

I mean, I have more good things than not good things. I’d put myself in the winning camp. I love DMing. I love watching my players interact with the story and get excited and wonder what’s going to happen next. It’s more rewarding than writing in many ways because you get to see their reactions as they come, and they also shape the story. That’s one of the best parts. I have this framework that they’re working in, but they’re making it their own, and other players will make it theirs, and so the story is never quite the same. The adventure never ends.

I. Love. Dungeons and Dragons.

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Session 0: Game Master Series

Guys, I have found a group to Dungeon Master for. We’ve had our Session 0 and I thought I would go over what I had prepared and how it went down. (FYI, I’m running Curse of Strahd – CoS – for our first campaign.) Excuse me while I GEEK OUT!

Prep Tools

After reading this article by Geek Dad, I decided I had to try using a Trello board. I actually made two, one for me and one for players. (I covered over any personal information or information I don’t want my players SNEAKILY FINDING HERE.)

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The one for me has most of the same elements of Geek Dad’s, with a few extra cards specific to CoS. It’s been ideal for planning. My brother, also a Dungeon Master, uses pen and paper for the most part, but I love online organization. I’m planning on still using paper during my sessions for notes and so on, as well as monster stat blocks and encounters (trying to switch between cards on the app takes up just a little too much time IMO), but for all my after-session notes and future plans, I intend to use the Trello board. I just like the way it lays out all the information clearly.

I’m also making flowcharts (whoa, what?) because CoS is structured in a way that isn’t exactly linear. You can do some hopping around, so I’ve found that making a chart that connects all possible avenues of travel is helpful. I’m not going to post a picture of that in case any of my players are reading…GUYS GO AWAY.

Finally, I’m using the Guide to Running Curse of Strahd found on DMs Guild. This has been insanely helpful in clarifying the story because the actual campaign book is…dense. And not super transparent for new Dungeon Masters. It was really overwhelming at first, and the guide does an incredible job of getting you to the fundamentals.

Trello Board for Players

Geek Dad seems to use his board just for himself, but I decided to take it a step further and create one for my players as well. My hope is that they can use it to consolidate notes, keep tabs on each PC, and keep party funds information there. I like the idea of having a shared board because in my experience as a player, information that should be shared is often kept by one person and it causes a lot of confusion or time-wasting having to ask over and over again. Also, when you learn something about a PC, like appearance or a bit of backstory, it’s easy to forget after the first introduction, but it’s nice to keep it in mind for RP purposes.

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I also thought it would be good for my players to have a place to type up their notes. I know some DMs can be a little precious about PC note-taking, but I think players discussing what did happen and plans for the future is just fine. That’s part of the fun.

We’ll see how it goes down. It may turn out that not everyone uses the board and so it’s not incredibly useful.

I also put the table rules and campaign setting on the board. I take Table Etiquette and Rules very seriously, so I wanted it to be accessible to everyone. Since I have new players as well (never played TTRPGs before), I also put a basic overview of what Dungeons and Dragons is and what my DMing style is. I like that my players can have these references on hand at any time, rather than me telling them at Session 0 and everyone forgetting at some point.

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Session 0

Session 0 is generally where players make their characters, roll stats, ask questions, and generally reconcile any background information to the world. It’s a lot of fun, and there are some great videos out there that explain how to run it.

This is my favorite:

 

Now, I had prepared for my Session 0 to turn into a Session 1 if time allowed, but it didn’t end up working out that way, and that was fine. I actually had two Session 0s, technically, because both times not everyone could make it. So the first one we did a few of the characters and the second we finished up everyone else’s.

It went really well. I was quite nervous going in, partly because I only knew one of my players and partly because I had never been THE DM before, meaning all questions were directed at me. I did a lot better than I expected (turns out I’ve absorbed a lot more about rules and information than I had thought). I also feel that my players felt pretty comfortable making their characters the way they wanted, and most of them even rolled really good on stats (I’m totally taking credit for that).

Most of the questions I got were on the technical side (what does this spell do? what is the difference in domains/circles/etc?), and it was a blast to go over all the options and explain why you might take this or that and how to use it.

In summary, Session 0 (both of them) went amazingly well. My players are excited and ready, I’m excited and ready, and everyone feels equipped to start playing.

(Still working on the eyebrow though…)

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If you want to hear more about my experience running Dungeons and Dragons as a new Dungeon Master, check out the series here.

Starting Out: Game Master Series

 

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The art from the Dungeon Master’s screen for Dungeons and Dragons. Image cred.

 

It’s theater/radio/improv/imagination/story-telling in an oral tradition that goes back millennia. It’s D&D y’all.

I’ve decided to become a DM (Dungeon Master). This is not an altogether well-thought-out decision, as being a good DM or GM (Game Master) means an awful lot of time alone spent creating and planning and memorizing rules for a few hours of fun that WILL be derailed and will NOT go as planned and MAY make friends hate each other afterward…or not.

I’m still going to do it. It’s a bit like saying you’ve decided to be a poisonous frog catcher in the Amazon or a tornado-chaser in Oklahoma. Everyone’s like, “yeah, that’s super cool, you should totally do that!” and everyone is also thinking “that’s cool yeah, but also insane, and I’m so glad I have a normal hell like customer service or nursing. I’m definitely the smart one here.”

I’m not bitter. I’m insane. Probably.

My brother put down world-building as one of his skills. He’s also a DM. A far better one than I will ever be, also being a voice actor. I can put world-building down as one of my skills as well because apparently, that’s the kind of thing to run through families, or over them, and I’m a writer, so there’s….that. Which may or may not make me a good DM. It may mean I wax eloquent in my descriptions and my NPCs will say “er…um…great!” a lot because I’m not so good at the improv or actual real life conversations.

I don’t know yet. I’m just starting out. I haven’t even finished reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I think I need to sleep with it. Okay, not with it, obviously, but like, under my pillow so I can memorize rules by osmosis. Dream about it. Some people put pictures of loved ones under their pillows to dream of them. Ha, amateurs. I’ll be over here dreaming of monsters and people staring at me waiting for me to deliver an awesome story. Wayyyy less embarrassing/awful. Play me a tiny violin. *tears*

I’m not a complete noob at this point though, if I have to be honest (and everyone’s honest on the internet). I did run my aforementioned amazing DM brother through the opening of Curse of Strahd, which took like eight hours. It gave me a pounding headache and a sore throat for a few days, but it was so awesome. He was in America and I was in Korea, so we had to Skype, and I called him when I was ready wearing a black paper raven mask and playing creepy vampire music. Oh yeah, it was epic. I even lit a candle labeled “Dark Woods” or something, but of course, the smell was only metaphoric for him.

I decided to blog about this because I think it would be cool to see how it was starting out after I’m a very good DM who is semi-famous somehow. I will definitely have my own website with a picture of me holding the tips of my fingers together and one eyebrow up as I look over my DM screen.

Step 1: Learn to raise one eyebrow.

I’m going to be so great at this.

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