Last Saturday evening a closed a big cycle. I sat down to DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons for the first time in about 20 years. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to this childhood hobby again all this time. Perhaps because it was in a different country and a different life. Perhaps because it represented my dorky adolescence, which I fought against growing up. Perhaps because I was too busy moving around and survive in New York. I tried to play as a character in someone else’s word already recently, but DMing has always been my place.
My game setting was also different than what I’m used to. This time, I was an adult. The character playing in my world, Gedd, was hill dwarf paladin, played by a 10 year old. Dirk, a human cleric, was played by his 40 year old father. For about two hours, I took the two on a journey into a fantasy world I created in bits and pieces for months. I learned a couple of things.
First, Kids have no problem sinking into the game. Hell, I was 3 years Gedd’s senior when I started playing. While Gedd’s host was somewhat shy, I was surprised to see good teamwork and enthusiasm. Even when he missed a blow or got hit by an enemy, he enjoyed the description and took in the atmosphere. I found common ground with the kid. This doesn’t happen often: I usually stay away from anyone who isn’t allowed to drink coffee or beer. There’s something natural to me when I communicate as a DM and not as the “adult,” he as a player, not as a “kid.” I was his DM, and he was my player.
The second thing I learned: man, do I have to get my shit together. It was a mess.
I figured I’d jump right to the game with a general idea. I had the campaign planned out with some background, monsters and NPCs. As far as the game mechanics though, chaos was everywhere.
The worse thing was that I knew very little about my PCs. They didn’t even choose names yet. The spells, skills, equipment – it was all a mess of “do you remember…” “What was that thing that…” and “I’m a healer, don’t I have this thing that…”.
Then there was the issue of NPCs and monsters. I knew what NPCs I want in general, but I didn’t prepare them well. With no cards for stats, I had to search on my laptop during the game for basic things like AC classes and weapons. I didn’t even think of names beforehand. Back when I played as a kid and there was no Internet (yes, yes…) I would improvise so much our heads would spin. Maybe I should have done this here, too.
Third, there was storytelling, or lack of. As much as I don’t have issues coming up with details, I had problems with delivery. I’m naturally quiet, and it was hard for me to get into the DM boots. The story felt flat and boring coming out of my mouth. I realized I have to roleplay as much as my players do, coming to think of it, even more so. I didn’t come prepared for that. I underestimated the importance of being a DM, not just acting as one.
Finally, the biggest issue of them all: When to play. This has been my biggest problem for the last two years (ever since I bought the 5e books as an adult). Finding friends to play with is not always easy, even though it seems DnD folks are definitely around. While I could always try role20 or go to a local store to find people, I rather not. There’s something about being with people I know and those they bring with them. To me, part of the magic has always been about what’s going on around the table. The break in the middle to order pizza. the chats between meetings. Comparing real life situations to ability rolls and saving throws at work. As a person who seldom socialize in groups bigger than two, this game was always a natural social outlet — and I miss it. As an adult, I need to find time between friends with families and a demanding job that requires I go to bed at little-kid times.