Content of the article: "I scrapped two months of campaign planning and it felt better than hanging on to it did."
I hadn’t ever played D&D for real until this calendar year. I had the starter set two years ago, and my friends and I played it and laughed about how silly it was that we were playing it in my mom’s basement. Fast forward to today, I’m actually playing and spending so much time doing research and character builds. It’s definitely my greatest hobby.
I played with this same group of two friends, plus one more friend, over the summer. Nothing serious, two or three sessions of Icespire Peak. My friend dm’d and we all acted as players. I played a wizard who’d stop at nothing to obtain wealth and fame. I quickly learned what “murder hobo” was and developed myself as a player. I pointedly acted like a better person in game to reflect my development.
Then, the same DM revealed he’d been working on a custom campaign—a home brewed setting with everything else RAW. Cool, we all didn’t care about Icespire Peak, no problem, so we shifted to that with new characters. It was good for, say, five sessions. I played a Dex-based Blood Hunter, and I had a Sorcerer and Bard at my side. With low constitution, I still had the most health, though the DM seemed to target me a lot more often than the others. Probably just that we have no tank, okay. But it was a bit more that that, it felt sort of malicious. I’m sure my friend wouldn’t do that, but that feeling was creeping up on me during play, so I started writing my OWN campaign where I could run a fair game.
This began around the quarantine phase, so I had, uh, two-ish months to write. And boy, did I write. About two hundred pages total of plot outline, enemy stats, items, and the module itself. I went all in, to show my friends that I really cared. Or to prove to myself I could do it. I’m not sure. The most important thing here is that I AM A NEW DM and a full-homebrew world is a pretty huge undertaking when you don’t even really know what a level x encounter should look like or how much damage a party will deal at level x.
So I wrote up through, say, level 15. I scrapped and rewrote, scrapped and rewrote, fixing and perfecting it for play. And then I presented it, and the current DM revealed he was burned the hell out of DM’ing and really wanted to be a player. So I thought, great, everyone will want to play. And they did! It was awesome, the first session went great, I got great feedback and we all had an amazing time.
After this session, things went downhill. The dm-turned-player seemed to have serious grievances against my campaign (certainly for good reason but it wasn’t evident to me at the time). Rather than constructively help me fix things, I would get quips like “oh I bet the BBEG is gonna do x” or “guys from a metagaming standpoint…” or “there ARE stats for x in the DMG, you know.” It hurt pretty bad. Maybe he should have been more constructive about it, but he definitely was telling the truth.
And I have another player, who’s seriously concerned with powergaming in D&D. He’s a perfectionist in real life, which is by no means a bad thing. But he wanted to play a strong moon Druid, and I wasn’t using the d&d monsters so I let him just use 5e wildshapes as usual. He put five sentences worth of backstory (Druid grows up alone and then goes on journey due to boredom) so when I wrote his backstory arc I made him 200 years old, believing his age was slowed by Druid powers when it was actually due to a curse. He hated this and decided three sessions in to re flesh out his backstory. We had a pretty good quarrel about this seeing as his prior laziness was something he wanted to ignore, even though it upset me. We mended this eventually and he even asked for some sort of homebrew way to turn into a weak dragon that fit his available CR so it wouldn’t be so bad.
My final player has pretty much been my confidant for advice with the other two. He’s pretty lax about homebrew but I could tell he wasn’t having just loads of fun—he introduced the nephew of his current character to try him out over her.
And me. I wrote this really good story, but I realized it just didn’t work for us. Besides the consistent complaints and snide remarks, I figured out that I didn’t even want them to play my story, because it was MY STORY. And I realized I was looking at it the wrong way. It was never meant to be my story, it was supposed to be ours. Writing it all by myself before even consulting them was a bad idea.
We didn’t even have an official session zero—they made their characters after I sent them a small quip about the new realm. That was a bad idea; I didn’t have the heart to tell them that certain things weren’t in this universe or that elves didn’t trance (which was a consistent source of ridicule; I just wanted to make elves more human rather than alien).
With all this combined, this weekend I just texted them and flat out told them I wasn’t having any fun anymore, that I’m aware the pre planning and lack of communication ruined it, and that I wanted to start a new one. Nobody seemed to object. I knew the dm-player hated the pre planned aspect, I knew the power gamer hated how screwed his class and backstory got, and I knew the lax player was probably looking for a more flexible story anyway. I outlined the ways it’d be better: as a new dm, I would create the setting myself and then use d&d concepts, items, enemies, et cetera pretty much to the letter. I will toss in homebrew here and there but not so much that it defines the game.
Yet it was two god damned months of work. And you know what? It felt great to ditch it. It was sort of a chore. I’ll probably recycle some of the concepts or finer plot points for this campaign, but largely I allowed the weight to be lifted. No more pressure on me. DM’ing will no longer feel like sitting on the hot seat. It’s as much their game as mine. Less work for me, less stress for me, and less pressure for me.
I do love to crunch numbers and make items and enemies and what have you, but honestly this works for me too. I’d rather it be collaborative and fun for everyone over just fun for me. It’s not as if I got bullied out of the campaign, though. My friends could certainly have been nicer about it and they did throw several fits, but it wasn’t without reason. I understand both sides of the struggle.
I’m not saying abandon your dreams, but if you feel like DMing is too much of a burden to bear, it can be helped by letting your players in. Not behind the scenes, just to help build your world. Pre planning can be fun but honestly as a first time DM I would recommend that you take it slow and let your party help you. It’s a cooperative and collaborative game—not a competition.
Anyway, sorry this was long, but I’ve posted on this sub a dozen times this week asking for player/campaign help and it culminated in this. I feel much better, so thank you all for the help.
- I just absolutely suck at aiming, I have no idea what I’m doing wrong.
- First time DM-ish?
- I got a call from “That Guy” in my game, and he apologized!
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