Ah, Dungeons & Dragons . . . what can I say that hasn't already been said? What's the best thing about it? Is it playing a character? Running a campaign? Roleplaying a quirky gnome illusionist? Creating an epic 20-level dungeon filled with ghastly horrors and deadly traps?
Well....that's no easy decision.
How does one gauge his response?
Dungeon Mastering would be my favorite role if I couldn't be a player character. And roleplaying a player character definitely would be my favorite if I couldn't run the game from behind my currently useless Curse of Strahd DM shield (useless, but it looks so cool).
I'm sure you see my point. They're both great - DMing and PCing - but in different ways and for different reasons. I'm involved in two campaigns at the moment. In one, I'm a player. I am Connal Mistrivvin, wood elf Monk of the Long Death. I can catch arrows in my hand and hurl them back at my enemies, run more than twice as fast as anyone else in my party, and I'm damn creepy. The other characters are constantly giving me sideways glances. They must think it spooky when I'm sketching the eviscerated orcs and dismembered owlbears, but it's my way. I study death.
That game is with a bunch of guys who all DM. The idea is we take turns running the game, so there's no overarching story. I'm going to be last, because I don't feel quite ready to run a game for a bunch of veteran DMs like that. So, there's no persisting narrative, like I am keen of, but you know what? It's damned fun! Our party finds trouble and takes it out, and we have a blast doing it.
On the other hand, I'm running a home game with my wife and son, which you can read more about here. In that game, I am the sole DM. Dani and Christian are both brand new to roleplaying (not counting WoW, in which I think even most cave-dwelling troglodytes have at least gotten a few characters to max level by now), so being new, neither is capable, or even desiring of, DMing.
What I have done for them is, I have written the foundations of epic, compelling backstories, based on what I know of them and their likes, and twisted those stories together so that no matter what, they're in it together. I'm only doing whatever I can to try and engineer player buy-in with my family, and I plan to continue to do this in whatever games I run in the future.
Now, before you go pointing that Cheeto goo-covered finger at me, telling me you don't have time to write no stinking novel, realize that what I did not do is create a new plane, world, continent, or kingdom. Didn't write a novel or even a novelette. That stuff takes time. Time I don't have, because I have to write actual novels, because that pays. Not many adults with families and jobs have the kind of time it takes to do that kind of work for a game. And let's face it, as much as we love it, D&D is a game. It's awesome fun and it gets us to stop looking at our phones for a few hours and spend time with each other, building relationships through collaborative storytelling. It's great. Yes it it. It's a great game.
So, what I am doing is using a world (Toril of the Forgotten Realms) and campaigns that someone else has already done all the hard work putting together (currently, Lost Mine of Phandelver) as vehicles for the stories I'm writing for my players' characters. I'm piggybacking my narratives on someone else's adventures.
That's the big tip. I hope you didn't blink, nod off, or flip to Impractical Jokers while I was feeding it to you, because it's easy to miss. See, I hid it in the already running narrative of this blog entry. Kind of meta of me, I guess. I illustrated my big tip by actually illustrating my big tip!
That phrase is starting to sound weird. I'll go ahead and cease using it.
Anyway, I know, it's kind of a no-brainer, If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say lots of DMs are probably already doing this, but for those who aren't already using this strategy, or those who are, but maybe would like to see how a professional writer goes about it, stick with me. I'll give you examples, and show you how I've been doing it, and hopefully, you'll find something that will help you with your campaigns.
Or maybe you have some better ideas you can offer up. I'm always up for hearing better ideas. Leave them in the comments.
Feel free to hit me up, too, if you want a second set of eyes, help with story, or anything else you need assistance with, so long as I am capable of providing assistance. Just remember, I may have been writing fiction for a while, but I'm new to DMing, so don't go asking me to deliberate rules or anything like that.
All that and more, next time on . . . Running D&D: Engineering Player Buy-In!