I Ran a Game, and I Liked It!
Anyone who has ever heard me talk about GMing knows that I don’t GM.
I tried GMing both a Dungeons and Dragons game, and the Dragon Age TTRPG for the first time pretty early on in my TTRPG experience. My players were mostly veteran players, and the one who wasn’t a longtime player of D&D was a Dragon Age lore expert (not hyperbole at all, she really was).
The whole experience was… ugly. Instead of getting support from the people I thought would help guide me, I found them ripping apart the stories I tried to tell, and just generally made me feel inept and stupid. It really destroyed my desire to ever want to try running games again. I spent probably the next 10+ years thinking that I was terrible at TTRPGs in general because I felt so disheartened by the whole thing. I still loved to play, but I didn’t think I was able to be creative enough to pivot as fast as the players.
Fast forward to my steps into the online TTRPG community. I discovered a group of highly supportive individuals who made me realize that I wasn’t “bad” at TTRPGs, and eventually even helped me get to a place where I thought I might want to try running a game. One person approached me about doing a “starter group” for people who wanted to try their hand at DMing. I thought it sounded like a fantastic idea and was on board immediately.
We had one other person who wanted to do it as well, so three of us met a few times and talked about story concepts – really loose ideas of what we might want to do. We started just talking a little about the ideas. Our second get together, we talked about encounter building – how to make a balanced fight. This was always a huge challenge for me, so having someone hand me tools and walk me through how to use them was incredibly helpful. I almost hate to admit it – but I had no idea what the different Combat Ratings meant, only that the lower the number, the easier the enemy. But I didn’t know if a level 2 party should be fighting a CR ½ or a CR 5, and what would happen if I tried to put a level 2 party against a CR 5 (hint – the enemy would probably mop the floor with them).
I was fairly confident in my story idea, but I needed to figure out how to make it work in a DnD setting. It was nice to have a few people to bounce the ideas off of for types of enemies, without having to give up the entire plot, since they were also going to be the ones playing. Additionally, Jason was hugely helpful as a sounding board for ideas and supporting my goals in trying to step back into the DM chair.
My experience running a very short (1.5 hour) session was mostly positive. The players were level 2, and the story was very loosely based on an Oregon Trail idea – they are explorers heading out to explore untapped land that was recently discovered. They played just prior to reaching the edge of the known territory, starting in setting up a camp for the evening. The camp was attacked by what the party thought was a bear, but it turned out to be an illusion that vanished with a fog grenade appearing in the camp. They ended up having their food and any potions they had on hand stolen by bandits – one of whom had the ability to cast Programmed Illusion, hence, the bear. Long story short, the next town they went to, South Pass, the bandits had also raided. They restocked their food in town, and got a lead to go to Ol’ Jake’s place; he was the ferryman down by the river.
When they got there, they discovered the boat had been stolen – and they could see it on the other side of the river. They had to figure out how to cross the river, and I left the puzzle open so they could resolve it in whatever way seemed to make the most sense to them. There was no correct answer. There was whatever Ol’ Jake had laying around, the building materials for the bridge that was in the works there, or they could choose to skip crossing and travel a half day north to a bridge, but they’d have to travel back a half day to get to the fort they were trying to reach. If they opted for the bridge, they were going to encounter wolves. They instead opted to tie their ropes together, then tie the rope around the strongest swimmer, who went across the river (about 200 feet wide), and retrieved the ferry, tied the rope to it, and helped steer the boat back while the others pulled it across. Ol’ Jake then ferried them across.
Upon a successful check, they found wolf tracks leading south, and a trail slightly off the main road to the north. They decided to investigate the trail in hopes of finding the bandit camp – which they did. They fought four CR ⅛ bandits, three who carried scimitars, one who had a crossbow. They easily dispatched one, and had a good fight with the others, they took a few solid hits, but took the others out fairly handily. They were able to recover their food, as well as some additional food items that the bandits had looted. It would be more than enough for a few days of travel, and they still would be able to stop at Fort Hale.
Here’s where my challenge crept in – pacing and time. I really wanted them to fight a bandit leader, but I was too nervous about going long, so I ended up cutting it out all together, and having the bandit leader yelling at the guards at the gate when they arrived. When the party showed up and told the leader what they’d done to his group, the leader took off, and they ended by arriving safely at Fort Hale. The end.
The feedback I had received was good, and they enjoyed the story for the most part. I was disappointed in myself in how I handled the end, but I guess that part just takes practice. Next up will be for me to run 10 Candles. I’ve been dying to do it!
What advice do you have for new DMs, whether from the DM chair or as a player? Leave a comment below with what you wish you knew as a new DM/GM, or what you would suggest for a new one!