Sunday, September 23, 2007

Behind the DM screen again

Part 1 of a 2-part series about my experience dungeon mastering a game of Dungeons & Dragons after a long, long absence.

About a month ago I had an experience I can only describe as simultaneously terrifying, draining, exhilarating, and rewarding. After more than 17 years, I stepped back "behind the screen" and found myself dungeon mastering a Dungeons and Dragons game.

It was, frankly, a surreal experience. Staring over the top of a cardboard screen at four expectant players, an adventure module (pictured above) spread out before me, the time had come to finally run a game again. Not unlike a disc jockey at a wedding, it was my job to help deliver the night's entertainment, and either send everyone home happy or fail miserably in the attempt.

So how did I get there? Let me explain.

As I've stated in a previous post, D&D is my primary hobby and has been a big part of my life. As a 10-year-old kid, my parents bought me the basic D&D rules, and I was off and running. Being the official keeper of the game books, and one of (or perhaps the only) person in my group--which included some neighborhood friends and my older brother--to have read the rules, I became the de-facto DM. I didn't know what I was doing half the time, and I'm sure there's many rules we either misinterpreted or broke, but it didn't matter. We were all having a blast.

When I entered high school, however, my gaming slowed, and by the time I hit college, it had stopped. I was playing sports, starting to date, and D&D was no longer "cool" (aside--D&D never was cool, but until my teenage years, I never felt the need for it to be so). I kept all my old box sets and hardcovers, of course, and from time to time (under cover of darkness) I'd break them out and read them. But my playing days were effectively over.

Fast forward to 2001. D&D had received a shot in the arm with the release of third edition. I was married, working full-time, and thinking about having children, and the days of being "cool" were long gone. Naturally, the time was right to start up D&D again. Through the EN World Web site, an online community of D&D players, I located a gaming group in Southern New Hampshire, and for the last six years or so have been happily playing.

Let me rephrase that. While I've been playing for the last six years, it's been as a player only. With two committed DMs in our group, I was not required to DM. This had its perks, I soon discovered. All I had to do was show up with my character sheet, slip into and out of my role when I felt like it, and roll a D20 when it was my turn in combat. I was even free to get up to eat or use the bathroom whenever I wanted to.

But fun as playing was (and is), after a while I felt that something was missing. You see, when you're the DM, you own the game. The world is yours, so to speak, and you are its creator. You create the NPCs, their motivations and personalities, you map out the dungeons, pick the monsters, place the treasures and traps. It's a whole new ballgame from simply running a single player-character.

We were wrapping up one DM's campaign arc and about to switch gears and resume our second campaign with the other DM. There was a natural break in the action, and I opened my big mouth and offered to run a game. I pitched it as a one-shot adventure with pregenerated characters, and, much to my surprise, the group accepted.

Of course, with great power comes great responsbility, and I was about to find that out first hand.

No comments: