The Arias Chronicler – Session One
A behind-the-scenes, slice-of-life series based on the trials of a new Game Master.
Think back to your first Dungeons and Dragons session, the one that started your journey into the worlds, relationships and memories this game provides. I’m sure we can all remember having feelings of awkwardness, especially if we joined in with experienced players. Eventually, we figured it out, got comfortable with our characters, our companions, and our Dungeon Master. And then, if you’re like me, we fell in love with D&D.
Dungeons and Dragons is truly a game of passion, creativity and dedication. I can’t think of another game so dynamic and user interactive, and that’s what drew me in. From incredible maps to fantastical stories, Dungeons and Dragons is a world apart from other tabletop games. Whether you played the game for months or years, eventually, some of you took a leap – from player to Dungeon Master. What a huge leap that is.
When I made the leap not even four months ago, I had played a total of two dumbed-down sessions of D&D – but I was hooked and determined. I wanted to create my ownstory from scratch. Excitement and passion aside, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work that goes into crafting a story, a world, NPCs, and encounters. Even though there is more than ample advice for writing a campaign out there, I’m sure there are a lot of you out there like me, still just bumbling your way through. I want to provide a hopefully helpful guide (of sorts) that will be useful to you as you work to flesh out your own campaigns. Week by week, I’d love to take your questions and cover topics you are interested in – but for this first post, I’m going to focus on my own most prominent mistakes when writing and DMing my very first session of D&D. I started with a vague idea, a first draft, and went with it. I knew there was probably going to be a high level of improvisation, so I tried not to overthink it. I literally went with the first idea I came up with. I wrote a few pages of world history, drew a map, and wrote up the first session. It began with a straight forward search and rescue mission that took the players into the lair of some bullywugs. It was simple, easy, and I believed a good way to get my players started. Like me, my players were relatively new to this game, and we had a lot of figuring out to do. (11 weeks later and we’re only just now getting into the swing of things.
I still think this was a great starter mission, and I really believe it was decently good for a first time DM – however, I made a bold decision. I added in a twist element that I decided to implement as the main plot of the ENTIRE campaign. Keep in mind, I had nothing else written. Absolutely nothing. This was my first big mistake. When you are writing a campaign, I can’t emphasize enough actually knowing where your party is going. I’m not saying you need to have every encounter, every NPC, and every conversation or plot point planned out. However, the most helpful thing I’ve found since this first session is preparing a brief timeline of events – a list of things that have happened and things that are yet to come. Some of the best advice I’ve received is that, even without your players, your world continues on. You can start by taking your main conflict/villain and write out the timeline from its birth to its conclusion. This way, as your players make decisions that effect this timeline, there are actual consequences to their choices, even if they don’t immediately feel the ramifications. Take your timeline, see how their choices effect it, make adjustments as you believe your villain/conflict character would, and continue. When you’re trying to create a narrative based story, this is crucial to keeping your world and story on the right path.
My second biggest mistake was not consulting my players after the first session for feedback. Even if they give me just a few words of advice here and there, a lot of heartache on my part could have been saved if I had asked after the first session what they thought. At the end of the day, it is a game and it’s about having fun. If your characters aren’t getting some of what they want out of your sessions, what is the point? See how you can implement their feedback into your story. Do you have a rogue who feels their skills aren’t being utilized? Give them more opportunities to be sneaky and quick witted. Do you have a character who wants to bash heads in? Try and provide your party with ample encounters. Every party is different and as DM, it’s our job to try and cater to those specific needs. But remember, this is your game too, and you should be having just as much fun as your players.
If I listed out every mistake I made that first week, this would be a full on book, so I’m going to leave it here. I’d love to hear about your mistakes, how you learned from them, and any suggestions you have for creating better campaigns.