In February of 2017 I started playing Dungeons and Dragons™.
For those who have no idea what it is, here is the official 411. Basically, you create a character on a piece of paper using many, many sided dice (up to 20 sides) and a pencil. That sheet contains statistics and weapons and some back story. Then you go on a fictional adventure with other characters – all being lead by a (hopefully patient) Dungeon Master (sometimes known as a Game Master). This adventure will have you searching for treasure, killing monsters, and if you’re travelling with anyone like my current group you’ll probably end up working your way to turning evil. All in the name of sugar-fueled imagination and fun.
These days a lot of resources are online, and the Wizards of the Coast (owners of D&D) have a whole heap of pre-generated character sheets and nicely laid out blank ones that you can pre-populate with your own information and print. While any changes you make in-game can be done on a laptop, most players will prefer to play old-school – with lead pencil and an eraser – to make any changes and log anything as the story continues. This includes things like treasure found, items gained or used, or death saving throws. Most players will have the Players Handbook, and everyone will have their own dice set, pencils and erasers with them.
A few months ago I got it in to my head that I would love to DM a campaign of my own devising. I wanted to get some friends together and run a campaign built entirely from my mind. I wanted to build the world, generate characters, monsters, and treasure. I wanted to completely build a word which no one had ever explored and probably never would explore again. I wanted to write my own campaign and inflict it upon (semi) willing friends. I had big plans for this world, this adventure. Having heard stories from other players about games they’d been apart of, the level of detail their other DMs had gone to, I wanted to leave that kind of legacy. To build a world that would be talked about and remembered.
Then I started prepping. It was mind-blowing how much I didn’t know. I already knew there was a lot I didn’t know, but oh my word. There was a LOT more I didn’t know I didn’t know. Ya know?
Dungeons and Dragons™ – and games like it – are not easy to write. There is so much involved. Stats you need to think about, mini adventures you have to be prepared for, finding ways for your party to level up, and seriously: you really have to be prepared and flexible enough for your characters to ruin your plans. You can outline a story, but the players will do what they will; and often you cannot predict the actions of 4-6 different people role playing characters unlike themselves in a fictional world where magic is allowed. Reading through the award-winning story Curse of Strahd has just been eye-opening. There are mini adventures sidling off the main plot. There are character nuances taken in to account, there is atmospheric building story prompts… It’s beautifully written and designed to be fantastically creepy. I have zero expectation of my world being even a tenth as prepared or well written.
After a bit of reading, I decided the easiest way to go about starting my world would be to map the setting of the adventure. Give the world a visual representation first, so I knew where the adventure would be set, where the party could travel to and have an idea of terrain. It would allow me to start generating names for places and see if mini stories or adventure arcs would spark from the names. Some did, some didn’t. But for the names that sparked other ideas, I was able to start generating plot, appropriate monsters and so on.
My map started off very basic, but it blossomed in to a three page spread. I’ve yet to delve deeper in to the history of the land, and I’m yet to go too deep in to back story and plot, but a skeleton is starting to appear, and that’s really exciting. There’s so much to factor in and learn. By building my own world it’s forced me to start learning game mechanics I otherwise wouldn’t have known about and it’s given me resources I never thought to look for. Unfortunately, the world building began to get a tad overwhelming though as I was trying to build this world before my birthday – which happens to be this week. I didn’t want to roll out the world until I knew what I was doing with it.
I’ve had to deviate and lay my world aside while I learned a certified, tried and trusted campaign from the Dungeons and Dragons™ catalogue. I’ve been having a lot of fun asking questions, trawling forums of Dungeon Masters who’ve run Strahd or are currently running it. It lends a lot of idea on making the story creepier, on ways to mess with the players, and a plethora of tips and tricks for new DMs who may be freaking out a little (which I am). I’m enjoying the prep though, and I’ll be looking at running Curse of Strahd with a second group at work (that’s right; I’ve convinced enough co-workers that D&D is cool enough to make them want to play).
While running the same campaign with two very different groups I’m exceedingly interested to see how the story changes with different players, characters, plot points, and to see how I develop as a Dungeon Master. I’m hoping the experiences lend some more creativity. I’m hoping to roll out my world slowly, possibly starting early to mid 2018. I’m looking forward to testing myself and those around me as we go on a crazy adventure, in to the mists…
Until next time, stay silly. xx