This question came up on twitter today: “What do you wish you knew before Dungeon Mastering 4th edition?” It was asked by someone about to jump into the DM’s chair for the first time, and he wanted responses from a few of us on there that have been DMing now for a bit.
The question made me think, and it sort of made me realize that in the beginning I went about my campaign the wrong way. In fact, I went about it in such a wrong way that now I’m thinking it may have led to the collapse I’m sensing is about to happen at any minute to my game… Let me explain why…
When I began my campaign, I started with a story that went way beyond the scope of what a first level game/adventure should be. I tried to introduce concepts that in my mind were foreshadowing future events in the story, even though these weren’t locked down in my story just yet. The truth is that in the summer of 2008, I was more interested in where my story was going than in learning the rules of the game and crafting interesting adventures and encounters.
And that’s where the problem lies. You see, I believe that stories and adventures are two different animals. While in the context of a D&D campaign, neither can exist without the other, an adventure and a story are not the same thing. And in my opinion, the adventure deserves the extra attention and care, not the overarching story that facilitates the adventures.
Now this may seem like heresy to many people. I’m putting story second, and placing adventures and encounters first. Some may ask “aren’t they the same thing?” I argue that they are not. Look at WOTC’s Dungeon Delve book for example. While there are some duds there, some of the adventures are pretty cool encounters. They are definitely capable of providing a decent night of gaming with absolutely no story to propel them. There’s just enough flavor text at the top to justify why you are about to jump into those three encounters, and off you go.
While there are many players that crave an in depth role play experience, there are those that simply want to kill monsters and take their stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think my players mostly fall into that category. Come to think of it, perhaps one or two of my players are overly concerned with storytelling, the rest just want to hang out and roll some dice while killing monsters. Fine. At the end of the day, I never had the “expectations” talk with my PC’s when our game first started, and I probably should have. (I wasn’t kidding when I named this blog “Newbie DM” when it began).
My answer to the question on twitter was the following: “I wish I wouldn’t have tried to be Tolkien. I concentrated too much on world building.” It’s this exact thing that is now biting me in the proverbial ass, and hurting my campaign. I am now forced to keep the storyline focused towards those things I planned and foreshadowed, while at the same time providing an entertaining game for my players. But what if the story is not entertaining? What if they are bored? More importantly, what if I am bored with it? The solution to these things would be to dissolve the campaign and start over, failing in my attempt to craft a story that takes my players all through to the end game of level 30. The other option would be to take the story in another direction, but the reality is that once you’ve painted yourself into a corner, it’s rather hard to come out of it without acknowledging that you are doing just that. There’s also my preferred choice: Forget epic story lines and do quick little stories and once shots. Yeah, I like that already.
So, after writing this weird article, I’m not sure what the moral of the story is. I do know one thing though, it seems I have some thinking to do in regard to my game.