I’ve played a fair bit on Dungeons&Dragons (all 5th edition), but I’d never taken on the role of DM before. (The DM is the Dungeon Master, i.e. the person running the game.) An opportunity presented itself for me to run a one-off game for a group of friends. I had already worked out a possible basis for a story a while back, so we decided to plan a date which forced me to work towards that deadline. Of course, I then postponed it, but only once :p
I managed to finish all important preparations on time – plus drawing some cardboard monster mini’s such as a giant octopus. Friends arrived, we played the game, nothing went horribly wrong and we all had a fun time. But I don’t think I’m going to do this again anytime soon. My main take-away: it was a huge amount of work to prepare.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t bother DM’ing a D&D game. It’s a very personal statement. First of all, many people would probably tell me at this point that I should have just taken a pre-made adventure to run. True, that would have been a lot less work, but I really wanted to make something of my own. I think I was less interested in running a game as I was in making one. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I obviously tried my very best to make something good. It’s not necessarily a problem, but it is a commitment.
Secondly, I’m a preparer, not an improviser. I spent a lot of time going through parts of the story in my head, and making sure that events had a plausible cause, and people had plausible reasons to do things. I went through possibilities of what the players could do, and figured out ways to respond to those things in advance. Maybe I’m not actually a bad improviser and I’m just worried about it. But I think it’s just not my strong suit: I enjoy a good puzzel or a challenge most of the time, but not under time pressure.
By the way, consider that this was a one-off game, a linear adventure. There were different possibilities depending on the player’s choices (and die rolls) on a small scale, but overall main events were fixed. It’s pretty impressive for DMs to manage an open-ended, long-term D&D campaing. If you want to work on your lateral and quick thinking skills, maybe that’s a good way to do it.
- It’s quite fun to be on the side of the monsters and watch your players fear for their in-game lives.
- I tried out using hex-maps instead of the traditional squares. I’ve never liked the clunkyness of the movement on a grid (even with a rule like alternating 1 and 2 steps for diagonal movement) and hexes solve that very elegantly. Large monsters took up three hexes instead of four squares, and a cone was drawn at an angle somewhat smaller than 90 degrees. I didn’t come across any problems so I recommend giving it a try.
- Fighting a group of undead pirates that outnumber the players was much easier for them than finding a set of keys. That would probably be different with newer players who haven’t done many D&D fights yet.
Some resources I used
- Kobold fight club for finding monsters and balancing encounters, this was great!
- Google translate. Part of the game was set in an Arabic-like culture and I used a lot of horribly butchered google translated Arabic to name countries, cities, ships, characters etc. Sounded convincing, and it was fun knowing that there were secret meanings behind some names. Also a shout-out to fantasynamegenerators for other names.
- D&D wiki’s like Roll 20, both for preparing and quickly looking things up during the game (I used my laptop).
- The actual player’s handbook, DM Guide or Monster Manual surprisingly little or not at all. I just searched for everything online, which was easy enough. Maybe there’s something in the DMG or Monster Manual that I should have known, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be an event hosted by me if there wasn’t any food provided. I do really enjoy cooking for people. To be honest, it’s also because I want to dissuade people form bringing in food with animal products, which makes me want to provide them with an easy alternative. I’m very glad I made dinner in advane though! The Spanish-inspired stuffed peppers were incredibly well received. From lunch we can also conclude that omnivores like tofurky slices as much as vegans do (which – to be clear – is a lot).
Next time, I’m just going to invite people over for board games or an MTG draft, make dinner, and in all likelihood have a comparable amount of fun for a fraction of the prep work!