A Quick Thought: The Benefit of DMing and Playing Simultaneously

In writing another blog post I mentioned that I was simultaneously running a game and playing a character at the same time. This is something my wife introduced me to as she really wanted to play but I wasn’t willing at the time to run a game. Wanting to also play in a campaign that I was running, I have adopted this strategy. I know to many this seems like a queer way to approach the game, but there is something I noticed that I don’t think is as obvious otherwise. This is a great way to teach yourself how to not meta-game.

Knowing what the direction the game is going to be going makes it quite tempting to fiddle with your character and what they might do. Despite this challenge, I have found it oddly satisfying being able to stop myself and redirect my thoughts back to the game and thinking what my character would actually want to do in this situation. Giving this a little more reflection I suppose there can be another benefit to this in becoming a better role player and learning how to dive deeper into a character you have created.

Class: DM Level: 1 XP: 25/100

I suppose an introduction is in order. This is a new blog department for my adventures as a brand new DM. I thought it would be fun to chart my experiences as a growing Game Director from day one. A little background for flavor, I am in my mid-thirties and a couple weeks ago I began my first campaign as a Game Master. I recently started actual play earlier this year. I had tried a couple of smaller campaigns and played for a few sessions before, once in high school and once shortly after my wife and I got together. I have been watching videos from many of the YouTube channels that talk about D&D and role playing in general. This has been a great help, and I want to add my own “voice” to this quickly growing ocean.

I started this campaign to act as a filler for when my wife doesn’t have much prepared for her own campaign. This creates an easier path for me to get into the Game Master aspect of the game. Also, I am set on making this more for my children (5 and 6 who also play in my wife’s campaign) and keeping it light and fun. Bearing this in mind, and pulling an idea from my bank, I decided to play my “Killjoys” idea. A group of random characters who take on “warrants” for people in various cities. I do not at the moment have a long term plan, especially since this is mostly supplemental play every couple weeks or so. Maybe one day I will advance it towards a more concrete story plot, but for now, it keeps things simple for me and the family.

I feel this approach is great for working with children who are being introduced for the first time without having to oversimplify the core mechanics. Bearing in mind, my children have been playing for several months now and started out in a similar fashion but with the most basic of rules to see if they would even like it (you can find information on that here) It is also good for the starting DM because there doesn’t have to be as much pressure to develop a year-long story concept that relies on the players doing certain things. I think this lack of pressure helps to establish the things I feel are important to develop a successful Director:

    • How to avoid railroading (at least too much)
    • Being able to play on the fly (as we some of us know and the rest will learn, that is going to happen nearly every game)
    • Being prepared (a little ironic from the last point but its does help to have some basic outline of what you want to accomplish, there must be a goal)
    • Finding your own flavor (interpreting the rules in your own way, home-brewing and house rules)

That is not to say there is anything wrong with the opposites of any of the aforementioned topics. Everyone has their own style and each group their own method of play and you’ll find yours as you go along.

One last thought on this point, a game of this style gives you the freedom to try all the different styles of play and game refereeing with very little consequence. If you have played games before as a player and wanted to try a different interpretation of the rules then go for it. The worst that will happen is that it won’t be as successful and you will know not to do it again or find out what needs to be fixed to make it a good mechanic. An easy and common place to start is critical success/fail. For example, I made up my own very simple table but I also play off of things that happen in the moment. Other people use double dice on damage for a success and kind of ignore fails or make it up as they play things out. The most important thing is to let your players know what you are doing from the start.

This was my jumping off point. I had put a little preparation into it…about 5-6 hours worth, maybe. I had figured on having a couple of weeks to prepare but everyone was so excited to play their new characters that I was kind of shoehorned into it. Most of the prep time went into designing the map for this world (yeah I’m going all in right from the get-go). This was unintentional but turned out to be the cornerstone for the whole thing, despite the fact that I am not developing a long-term game plan.

First I needed to develop a set of individual story ideas that each character could be doing. My wife and I did Session Zero collectively with the kids to develop the characters. Everyone got to start at a little higher than level one, but I set it no higher than level 5 and everyone made their characters (with some guided background). I used the information from that to start in the world building process. But, I needed a thing for them all to do, a reason to come together.

Along the way, I remembered a one shot encounter that I received through Dungeon Crate and thought it would be a great first mission for my group. All I had to do now was bring them together. Which meant I needed to know where they were all from so I could set up how they meet. So this is about the time I started looking for maps. I could not find any that worked out the way I wanted that did not involve me changing the map into something else altogether, so I decided to just make my own. On a normal sheet of paper, I drew out my island country and then scanned it into my computer. From here I blew it up and printed out a portion of it making it easier to do the cities. With this accomplished, it was easier for me to orchestrate events and build a sense of timing.

I had come up with plans for most of the characters. For things to be a little clearer I suppose I should give you the players; they are my wife (Ravel, a druid tanuki), myself (Nyx, a gnome ranger)(yes I am DMing and playing at the same time I have a thought on that here) and our two children (Bree, a halfling wizard and Audi, a dwarf rogue). Audi and Nyx have somewhat involved situations which required an actual kind of script. I had a basic outline for Bree and played mostly by ear. For Ravel, I had absolutely no idea what to do till I sat down to play, and her entire story plot was improvised for that night.

Since none of the characters were coming from the same place it was necessary to play them in a rotation. I started with Bree running short little errands starting from her mentor’s house and traveling around and she will come back to her mentor’s house. I knew where she was going but I hadn’t established any details about the towns or the people within, so that is where all the improve came into play. I also threw in bandit for her to battle who will return somewhat regularly for a short time and asked her for the details about how he looked.

Next, I went to Audi. I knew what I wanted her first mission to be and spent a good deal of time preparing that situation, but I need something for her to do to be in the loop of play. So, I had the “meet up” happen and she was hired to find evidence of corruption in the local government. This part was short but included my son in the play to keep his interest. Her next turn was to case the target place and find her way in and out. That part was unplanned but was easy enough to make up because I had a map already of the house and knew where things were.

I didn’t do any playing for myself just explained, for story’s sake, what my character was interested in and what she would be doing. So, moving on to Ravel. I had no plan for her other than bringing the plot hook that brings all the characters together. I asked her what she was doing and let it roll out from there. Being out for a walk, I realized she could stumble across a group of orcs attacking a merchant cart. This was to be the jumping off point and what leads to the group needing to be formed. This is also where my supplement from DC would come into play a little and it would be the jumping off point.

There was a lot that happened here, from the director’s point of view, that would help me to start finding my own method of play. I found a way to introduce things and to give those things context. The value of working with players to build the world around (since it was my wife I was doing this with it was better to practice). And, a little taste of how my own mechanics changes would work out.

I certainly learned a lot in this first sitting, especially since I had done so little to make myself ready:

    • It is okay to not know what you are doing. The players don’t know what you are doing either.
    • Making things up on the spot may be just as easy as putting the effort in weeks before.
    • Put in some effort to have some idea of what you want to do. Know the purpose, not the details.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask your players about their characters…you might find a way to justify a random action that won’t seems out of place.
    • Also ask your players for details about what they see (ie. The robes of an NPC, buildings, the road). It takes some of the pressure off yourself to come up with things and it immerses them more into the game.
    • Take notes when you or the players make things up to maintain consistency, especially if you plan on returning to a thing at any point with intention or without.

I’m certain there are more things but that is all I can recall at the moment. I’m sure they will come back to me later on as I run into them in later sessions.