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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