Becoming a DM: The Road Most Stumbled Upon
I thought I’d start with a little background on my experiences with tabletop gaming and how it eventually led me to try to craft my own stories and delve into the world of indie writing.
If you have the chance to get involved in some form of table top gaming (RPG, not Munchkin or another one of those card games. They’re great but this is solid RPG gaming), virtual or actual, I think when done right the experience is a valuable tool. Old stereotypes set aside, pen and paper RPGs can throw endless hours of entertainment your way and enable a creative outlet beyond comparison. World building, instant feedback on your creative content, character development, and so much more…
Here’s a little background of my roleplaying experience leading up to now, which happens to be some of the best D&D I’ve ever had the luxury to be involved in.
I’ve played tabletop RPGs for close to 20 years now, give-or-take, and only ever saw it as a great time to creatively release some of the bottled up imagination that if not freed, will allow the voices to visit. The last year and a half I’ve gotten to jam with some amazing gamers, from all corners of the country, who also happen to write science fiction.
My first adventures in pen and paper gaming were ones that never seemed to get anywhere. I was in 8th grade and made some friends I still have today, but I think we often got distracted and just fooled around, never really accomplished anything. I don’t even remember getting beyond third level. We played many titles, Star Wars, Rifts, Shadowrun, TMNT the roleplaying game, Middle Earth, of course D&D, the list goes on and on… I dabbled in DMing back then, I think mainly because no one else wanted to do it. A trend that I see happens over and over. The DM’s job is a tough one. You get to control the entire world and all its inhabitants, adventures, and so on, and have the primary creative control. The players are about all you don’t get to control (kind of). As Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker though, with great power comes great responsibility.
This is true. It’s the hardest job at the table.
You spend hours coming up with amazing scenarios, adventures in a world you potentially have made from scratch (the lore, the world’s creation in its entirety, the day-to-day of the entire populace of regions, even universes, down to the seedy political underbellies of corrupt cities), only to have a wrench thrown in when a player doesn’t want to go left, when you planned on them going left. All your hard work can get tossed out the window. Not many actually realize the work it takes and they take it for granted. If you have a good group of players, they understand the work that goes in to setting up any RPG. If you don’t, it could frustrate you so much you’ll never wear the Dungeon Master’s crown again.
My roleplaying experience really took off when I was in 9th grade. I was playing with a group of older kids, one of which was a very close friend. I’d stay over his house and we’d play all night. So of course the next step was to start playing with his friends, the older kids. Some I knew from around school, most I didn’t. Being a semi-shy kid I was nervous, mostly about the roleplaying part. I was typically quiet until I got to know people (still am), then I eventually let the freak flag fly. The posse of older kids were great for the most part and would rotate DMing duties. Each would DM a specific world within TSR’s D&D verse, my favorite being Ravenloft. I loved gothic horror instantly and the DM was the best, descriptive, all the voices, all the acting. I was enamored with the DM thing. The game’s uber-banker. He did it well. All of the game’s finery at their fingertips, from behind a piece of cardboard with beautiful fantasy art the side facing the players, and hidden secrets on the other. We would gather in one of our high school English classes (I remember it well). On the end-of-school-year days, when you could stay home or go to school, we’d be stuck at school and sit in that class all day playing. Eventually I got the chance to play in the Ravenloft campaign. I was so excited. It didn’t last long. I was told after one session that I wasn’t allowed to play because I wouldn’t get into character. Damn insecurities. Bad move (I see this now. I got a bad taste in my mouth The first step to really wanting to DM, myself). Rolling dice is an invitation to all types, no discrimination, and the goal is fun. Not an overload of requirements. I played with those guys for years after, and I got to play Ravenloft again, but never at that specific table, with the perfect DM holding the reins. I was bummed, still am bummed.
I went through a phase shortly after when my folks moved the family from Georgia down to Florida (my years of punk rock infused rebellion) where I dropped roleplaying. Being a nerdy role player wasn’t cool at the time. I had no friends and sorely desired to be cool. I needed to be cool, I would become a bass player in a punk rock band (my lack of understanding of what cool was and dropping the creative outlet was a mistake I’d come to regret later in life).
Eventually I got back into roleplaying, I was 19 and landed a job as a dishwasher (eventually cook) in a Tex-Mex restaurant. I lived in the garage at my chef’s house and almost every other night was a roleplaying extravaganza. As many as 12 people at any given time would come to the house to play. All kinds. Where coolness wasn’t even thought about. Just having fun. It was here I learned what pen and paper was really about. Creative comradery. A non-judgmental allowance to let out the overflow of imagination trapped inside. I learned another valuable lesson during this time. I sucked at playing Dungeons and Dragons. Sucked bad. My characters would constantly die.
Maybe I owned cursed dice.
This was when I decided that I’d give DMing another go, and this is where the writing bug first hit.
This was short lived. I fell in love with a waitress… that story is for next week.