From the DM’s Chair: How to Get Started

Image taken from: Geek Native. This is, sadly, not my DM chair. I just wish it was.

So, my friend, Dion, messaged me a few weeks ago about how he was sad he never got to play Dungeons and Dragons anymore. He sent this to me knowing I was, in fact, a D&D fiend. I love the game, perhaps more than I should, and I consider, out of all my hobbies, it’s the one that occupies my time and thoughts the most. As a writer and a fan of fantasy, taking on the role of the Dungeon Master came quickly when I started and I love entertaining my friends through epic stories. I was, at the time we talked, running three separate campaigns in total.

Now this might seem a lot.

It is.

However, due to scheduling, I was only running for my players about once or twice a month. One campaign was a complete home-brew I organised to do in-person with my local close friends, another was running the adventure module Storm King’s Thunder with a wider group of friends over Skype, whilst the third and final one was a one-to-one ‘unofficial’ campaign through Facebook messenger for a friend who rarely found the time to play.

So, in reality, I was really only doing two D&D campaigns a month. Only of these campaigns was of my own design and, usually, the campaign in question would take longer than a month to organise (oh, the joys of adulthood). This often left me unable to engage with my favourite hobby for weeks at a time. Needless to say, I ended up missing it. Despite everything else happening in my life, Dungeons and Dragons is something I find myself constantly coming back to. It’s therapeutic sometimes to plan and play with people. My only issue was that, with my main gaming group’s scheduling conflicts, it was too awkward to organise a game on a more regular basis. At the time Dion asked, I was getting ‘the itch’ to play again, and so I made a choice.

On a whim, I agreed to host a weekly D&D campaign for Dion and a group of our friends, to see how things would go. Since I’m starting up a blog again, and this hobby of mine is something I’m so passionate about, I might as well try and share it in an attempt to give you all a window into what the experience is like.

This is From the DM’s Chair, a new segment where every week or so, I will endeavour to recall my experiences with running this new Dungeons and Dragons campaign: the overall story, how the players reacted to certain events and, a few behind the scenes comments to explain how I DM a game and what D&D is about. With each instalment, I hope to impart a few tips and tricks and hopefully provide an entertaining time for all. I should note, despite the deceptive name, this segment is not about learning to play D&D (I have something planned for that at a later date) but more an approach to the craft of storytelling that goes into DMing a game.

So, with that all said, the first topic I’m going to be looking at is a simple one: how to get a D&D group started.

The instance with Dion was an example of a lucky break: I had a person come to me and ask me to DM a game for them. It never really happens like that. Usually, the situation is an aspiring Dungeon Master looking for players, someone who has bought all the books, has everything they need, and just need people to fill the seats. The solution to this is surprisingly simple, but something a lot of people interested in roleplaying don’t know consider.

Image taken from Teepublic. If you take anything away from this post, let it be these four words.

Your friends, your players

When I first started roleplaying back at University, I decided to run a Pathfinder campaign, a remake of D&D 3.5 edition made by the spectacular Paizo. The first thing I did was circle round and started asking my friends if they wanted to play. This is easy advice, but it’s something people who like playing games aren’t really keen on: engaging your friends about it.

Your classmates, your work colleagues, your family and any people you know are all possible players.

The worst response you’ll get is ‘No’, which doesn’t affect your situation, for better or worse. If they say ‘yes’ or, the far more likely, ‘Maybe, I’ll give it a go’, you have the start of something great.

Even if you’re short on like-minded geeks, I’d still recommend asking your friends about wanting to play. Most will be curious enough to give it a go as long as you don’t press the issue too hard and when they play, they should find themselves enjoying the experience.

One of the positives of D&D is that it has a way of appealing to a lot of different people. Does a friend of yours like feeling clever and being a brainbox? Advise they take a spellcasting class, like Wizards or Sorcerers. Do you have a colleague who enjoys spy thrillers like the Mission Impossible series? Recommend they play a rogue. Perhaps your friend doesn’t really care for plot but likes action movies with badasses like Dwayne Johnson, or is only used to first-person shooters or action games? Fighter or Barbarian. Hell, even throw a monk in there.

There’s no guarantee they’ll all enjoy the game, but if you’re playing with friends, the enjoyment factor usually comes a lot easier because everyone likes each other in the group already and is more willing to open up, go for broke and just have a great time.

I encourage all this mainly because, for me, friends make for the best players and game group. In all honesty, I’ve never considered running for anyone else. This is a very social hobby, so it makes sense that you’ll want to do it with people you enjoy spending time with.

Expanding your Circle

Of course, with that said, that doesn’t mean all friends want to try ‘your weird roleplaying game’. Dungeons and Dragons does have a certain stigma due to a bad time in the 80’s, and though series like Stranger Things are bringing it into a positive light in pop culture, it doesn’t mean that everyone wants to give it a try.

Additionally, not everyone who tries D&D might be able to get into the spirit of a cooperative game. If a person doesn’t want to play or isn’t having fun, don’t force it. In situations like this, you need to accept that D&D might not be their thing or, sometimes, the game you’re running might not be the one they want to play.

If your friends are more into Science-fiction than Fantasy, for example, there are various Star Wars and Star Trek RPGs. Do your friends love Horror? Call of Cthulhu might be a good place to start, or Geek and Sundry’s awesome Dread. However, if you’re certain that roleplaying isn’t their thing and the individual in question doesn’t want to play, don’t stress or moan. Just respect their feelings, let them go and just keep looking.

Image taken from: Forgotten Realms wiki. Because D&D isn’t a Spectator sport! Get it? Because…the monster…it’s called a…oh, never mind.

If the people in your social circle aren’t up for roleplaying games at all, my advice would be to check in your local gaming store and see if anyone is setting up any groups. It’s less preferable since you’re playing with strangers and haven’t really developed that closeness yet, but sticking your neck out there is still getting you a step closer to what you want. Plus, joining a gaming group is a great way to meet new people with similar interests, always a plus. One thing is certain: there is a group out there for you, even if it’s online.

The Social Part

If you do find a game group that doesn’t include your usual friends, my main piece of advice is get to know the other players and the DM in the group. Friendship is still a really important part of the game.

I’ve been in a few groups in my years where the people stayed together, not out of enjoyment of the company, but out of some sort of social expectation. Since they were the only group around that played, they had to play with each other. This, to me, is the wrong way to play.

When people like each other and enjoy each other’s company, you can feel the difference in the energy at the table, compared to the group who is just together because of circumstance. It’s particularly bad playing in a group where people don’t like or, even worse, hate other people in that same group.

How my party formed

As luck would have it, for my own new campaign, Dion chose a great group of players for the experience. There was his girlfriend, Beth, and two friends, Joey and Lukas (all of whom I asked if they wouldn’t mind being mentioned in the blog by name). Luckily, we all knew each other in the group and, better yet, we were all friends. Immediately, the campaign was off to a good start.

It wasn’t just a game, it was a way to talk and spend time with people I liked and wanted a chance to reconnect with. Settled with a good party and with the first step of my D&D campaign sorted, I dived straight into work on preparing for the campaign itself.

This would prove to be a harder step than the first.

That’s it for this segment of From the DM’s Chair. Join me next time as we dive into the nitty-gritty of preparing a campaign, what a Dungeon Master actually is, and the art of worldbuilding for a campaign setting.

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