Content of the article: "Why I abandoned my campaign and what I learnt from it."
This thing needed a tag, so I put it as offering advice, but that seems terribly aloof. So take it as a case study of some things that went terribly wrong in my first campaign.
Last week I asked my players if it would be ok for them to stop our current campaign, which has been ongoing since 7 months for 15 sessions, start over and we agreed to do it. There were many things that didn’t work out in the way I wanted them to, or that just didn’t work out at all and this being my first DMing experience. In the end I couldn’t find any inspiration to continue to work on the campaign as fixing the issues seemed an impossible task to me and starting over (which will be curse of Strahd in a few weeks) seemed like the better idea.
In the following I‘ll just write down a few lessons I learned from my experience, most of which are probably trivial for most of you seasoned DMs out there, but might nevertheless help some other new DM like myself, identify some problems and fix them in time.
Start small. Every DM has these moments of inspiration, where you could sit down for a long time and just develop your own world and it’s tempting to start with sth like a continent in the beginning of the creation process. If you start too big however you‘ll eventually run into the problem that you don’t have the time or inspiration to do a worldbuilding marathon again and fill in the thousands of gaps you created. Focusing on a small area and really fleshing out everything within is the way to go. I went way overboard and started to create 3 different continents and you can probably imagine why I eventually drowned in prep work, that was irrelevant to what the party was doing, but necessary to create an immersive and plausible setting.
Tie your PCs together, before you start. Another big mistake, that has never stopped to bite me in the ass, is that I let my players make completely separate characters, gave them a reason to be in place X and loosely tie them together. This might work for very experienced groups, but for me it was an absolute clusterfuck. There’s always a chance your player won’t take your bait you‘ve laid out for them and abandon your A plot, that you‘ve developed solely to tie them together as a party (I‘ll get to that later). You potentially save yourself sooooo much trouble by having the players come up with connections during character creation or between sessions 0 – 1
Critically eye character concepts. You know what’s more frustrating than fucking up your campaign yourself? Having players make character that are a ticking timebomb waiting to explode. If you have the feeling that a PC might not fit into the party dynamic, setting or the type of adventure you‘re going to run for the next year or so, don’t be afraid to bring that up with the player and discuss it. If the character can’t be altered in a way that fits your campaign, the player can’t play it, it’s that simple. Ofc this needs to be done in a respectful way and with constructive criticism, but it‘s necessary. Misunderstandings and non curated character concepts play a part in why „that’s what my character would do!“ moments happen.
Create a sense of urgency. You need to give your players a reason to take action and the feeling that there would be consequences if they don’t. I thought throwing my players into a sandbox with rumors to chase was enough, but it lead to them feeling lost and analysis paralysis.
Your fun is just as important as theirs. The main reason why I hit such a hard DM block in the end and couldn’t find inspiration was, that I always tried to cater the campaign to my players. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but if you only cater the experience your players, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes DMing fun for yourself and DnD starts to feel like an appointment where you have to present your work all of a sudden. Your players will notice if you had fun creating the material for the session, they‘ll notice when your enthusiasm fades and when you create things, because you have to, not because you want to. It’s important to find a balance between these two ofc, but if you don’t have fun running the game or are not excited about your next session, it’s going to suck.
I could go on with this list, but it’s already too long for many to read it, so I‘ll let it be and make this the „top 5 things I somehow fucked up,even though I watched countless videos and read a lot of articles on how to be a good DM.“
If you made it through, thanks for reading my self-help-rant.
Good luck for your games.
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