I DMed for the First Time and Actually Loved It | Big Daddy Digest

Now, I know that this might be a bit of a weird thing for our website to talk about. You see, we normally talk about video games here, not tabletop gaming. The two are very different beasts, after all. However, I think that the experience of being a Dungeon Master really has actually given me a little more appreciation for all the work that goes in behind the scenes of the storytelling of my favorite games (especially those with branching pathways). So, I want to talk a little bit about it and what it’s like to be on the other side of the screen in these sorts of games.

You see, I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons (fifth edition) a small handful of times. I had a new friend who dragged me into it but the small group that we had gathered fell apart. With the pandemic, we moved online with a few other people, but that eventually slipped apart as well thanks to there being 3 different time zones between the group and life slipping everyone’s schedules to no longer line up properly for a long enough session to get anything done. 

The Suggestion

So, I hadn’t played DnD in about two years when my roommate and I were planning a trip out to a cabin out in the woods with two other friends for a miniature summer vacation for all of us. Of course we planned to do a little hiking, swimming, and exploring, but one of the other reasons to get together with very little cell phone signal was partially just to hang out and enjoy playing some board games together without any risk of interruption from anything else. 

Well, one of the people in the group had casually brought up that she had hoped to try out some DnD as someone with an interest in the game but no avenue that she could usually play it by. This caused my roommate to look directly at me one night int he apartment because she knew full well that out of the four of us, I was the only one who had a decent amount of experience with the game. (My roommate had done one short session at a museum event, but that was all.) I pointed out that I had no idea how good I would be at DMing as I had only been a player and that I really had no idea where to start, but given that at the time I had a month until the trip… a little pushing and prodding got me to agree.

The Pre-Prep

One of the big things I had to consider was how to plan things as someone who barely had much of a grasp on the rules myself, knowing that I would have no internet access at the cabin and thus would not be able to look things up on the fly if I needed to. Now, I didn’t want to go spending too much money on things since we weren’t sure how much the group was going to end up liking the game and if this would end up going long term. I owned a single copy of the Player’s Handbook from when I had played, but that wasn’t enough to build things out.

That was when I discovered my greatest blessing, my local library system had at least one or two copies of just about every DnD book that I could ever need. I went a little wild, requesting 7 different books to be put on hold. I was reminded that there were modules that I could run, greatly cutting down on my concern for building out a world for my three players and giving me something of a guiding hand to work with. I consulted with my friend who had my dungeon master a few years back and had a vaster knowledge of the game than I did about what module she thought, of the ones that I had pulled from the library, would be the best to run with my squishy little first time players. We ruled out a few, including the one that I had most highly considered (Curse of Strahd was deemed too difficult for first time players), settling eventually on Princes of the Apocalypse as the one that would be easiest on the players and myself as all newbies to our roles in this role playing game.

The Actual Prep

Once all that was decided, it was time for me to actually do some prepping.

Funnily enough, I enjoyed the prep far more than I expected to. Since I was running a module, it was more about getting myself familiar with the content that was already written out in the book, filling in anything that seemed like a gap, and translating that content into notes that were easy for me to reference quickly when actually playing the game. All of that went easier than expected. 

The majority of my prep time happened outside of my apartment to keep me free of distractions, almost all of it done at a library where I was able to spread out all the books in front of me on one of the nice big tables that they had. It was quiet enough to be free of distractions, but with just enough noise from other patrons to not feel like I was in some kind of a sterile environment.

I spent much of this time just slowly picking through the books that I now had my hands on and translating that content into the notes that I would use for the sessions. There were obviously things that I couldn’t account for, but I tried my best to have notes of everything that I thought I would need. I was also concerned about preparing enough content for my players since I wasn’t sure of the pace that we would go at. There was some starter content int he book that was meant to bring players from level 1 to 3 (as the campaign was meant to be run starting at level three) so I decided that I might as well prep all that.

The Campaign

Well the day finally came. It was seven at night and we had finished dinner. Instead of starting a board game, we ended up dungeoning some dragons. I set up the table with our materials (half mine, half borrowed from my DM friend) and my DM screen with “World’s Okayest DM” scrawled on it, just so they wouldn’t expect too much of me. 

The next three hours were chaos.

That’s what happens when your players have crafted a team that ended up being:

  • A halfling ranger with a cooking theme. She wanted to use cooking utensils for her weaponry, was assuming that the first sign of a strange smell meant someone was hiding dead bodies, and to top it off, by the end of the first session her player may have had just one too many drinks.
  • A gnome rouge played by my roommate. She referred to any creature the size of a regular human as a “wholeling” along with her halfling party member, was not above climbing on top of people to reach things, and had a habit of starting to steal things or cause trouble if her character was momentarily bored.
  • A half-elf Sorcerer. While she was having just as much fun as the others, she had the vibe of “the exasperated dad” of the group at times. She was the one climbed on top of by our gnome.

Honestly, it was a ton of fun and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. They were great players and I was able to feed off of their energy in a way that I think really allowed me to provide a good time for them. In that first session, we ended up only getting through about a quarter (at most) of the content that I had prepared. With enough left to keep going, we ended up having two more sessions during the trip and set a date for us to play more online in the future (something I’m prepping now).

The Chaos

For fun as I leave you, with the encouragement to give DMing a try if you’re a perpetual player, a list of some of the shenanigans that this merry band got up to:

  • After finding out a little girl had been scared out of a cave due to some strange sounds, they determined that securing her ability to go and find cool rocks was of upmost importance compared to a nearby bandit camp.
  • Upon investigating the cave and finding a tomb with a ghost inside, they proceeded to attempt to gaslight the ghost into letting them towards what he was protecting. They weren’t successful and did leave them, but my roommate was consistently itching to go back to the tomb and find out what was in there.
  • Upon actually dealing with the bandits, attempts at stealth were met with failure. A bear attack may have been involved.
  • My gnome rouge rolling intensely low to try and climb a 25 foot high rock, trying again while starting climbed on top of the sorcerer and rolling a 20. I couldn’t say no to that.
  • Finding a necromancer’s lair, trying to start a fire to stop skeletons, failing at that, and proceeding to use bottlenecking tactics the whole rest of the encounter.
  • And finally, after our three sessions while we were on our way home from the cabin… my party openly wondering if they could go back to the ghost and gaslight it enough to come with them out of the tomb that it becomes some sort of summonable pet… I don’t even know how to begin to stat that…