One thing that never quite leaves a person is worrying about how they are perceived. Maybe it's something that dissipates with age, or with experience, or maybe with confidence. I still consider myself to be a 'young guy', and I definitely still feel self conscious about myself. I worry about what other people think of me. I'm still driven by a yearning to impress others and to be thought well of by others.
This feeling doubles when I run a game of D&D.
You can listen to me run a session of D&D Encounters over at Dungeon's Master. I had the privilege of getting to run a session for the game store's usual DM extraordinaire, Derek Myers.
I don't think I did that great a job, but I'll let you be the judge.
Maybe it was because I wasn't as prepared as I could have been. Maybe it was because I was running a complicated encounter designed to be a big finale (to events I wasn't present for). Maybe it was because a seasoned DM was at the table, plowing through the encounter with ease. For all I know, I could have just been nervous.
I feel like I bungled up enough from the session to merit a quick list:
-Didn't have the 'flavour text' in front of me, so was left to wing it when describing the PC's entrance to the dungeon via a magical portal. I felt like I was spouting a lot of nervous nonsense.
-Gave the main villain (insane dwarf seer) a kind of Droopy Dog voice starting out, thinking the players would underestimate him a little. Problem was, that voice got lost in the shuffle of play, and I ended up speaking his parts in my generic 'raspy villain voice'.
-I could barely parse out the stat blocks of the multiple monsters. I ended up forgetting about a lot of their more devastating attacks. Derek was nice enough to remind me throughout the game.
-Played the encounter easier than it should have been. The villains weren't nearly as imposing or damaging enough. Most of the players shrugged their attacks off. Only twice were any of the players ever bloodied in combat.
-Had trouble with the initiative order. I stopped using hanging tags to track initiative, because I felt self-conscious about how long it took to doodle every one's characters. I'm regretting not using this useful tool now.
-Sped through the skill challenge at the end. At that point, one player had to leave the table early, and I was a getting antsy. I railroaded the players through it as quickly as possible, even though two of the younger guys at the table seemed eager to explore.
-Summed up the grand finale with all the enthusiasm of someone late for the bus: "...and you get back to town because of the magic portal, uh, everyone who was sick is healed now, and, uh, you win and stuff".
I find it useful to reflect on some of these 'mistakes', whether you're a new DM or a veteran. Before playing that night, I thought myself a pretty decent dungeon master. Now, I think my game needs some work.
Almost all of the above problems could have been solved with a little more preparation. If I'd practiced my villain's voice, I could have kept it consistent. If I had looked closer at the monsters' stats, I could have better remembered their attacks. If I'd felt a little more sure of myself, I'd have used the tools available to me to the fullest.
What I learned most from playing that night was this: my dungeon mastering style, such as it is, is not adaptive enough to suit a variety of players. Overall, it needs some work.
People play D&D for a variety of reasons; each person gleaning something different from the game. Some people like to treat the game as an interactive story, while others play it the same way they would a war-game. There's no wrong way to play D&D. There is, however, a wrong way to run D&D. My gaming style tends to take the piss out of a lot of standard fantasy tropes, which may not gel with a lot of player's sensibilities.
After all, from what I understand, most DMs present a serious fantasy world and play it completely straight, while it's the players who inject the game with satire and hijinks, not the other way around. Something I might try to keep in mind for the future.
The important question is this: How do YOU like your D&D to be played? Why not take a few seconds to answer the quick polls in the side bar. Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and it's always important to get a sense of how those new to the D&D community feel. If you've ever had trouble with the dungeon master role, post in comments.