Recently, I embarked upon my first Dungeons & Dragons campaign, along with my wife and three good friends. I was arrogant/foolish enough to put up my hand for the role of Dungeon Master, which I’ve found to be both extremely labour-intensive and extremely rewarding. Because I am not one to do things by halves, I’ve been creating a homebrew world for the players’ characters (PCs) to move within, although I’m sticking as closely as possible to the 5e rules, and basic (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide & Monster Manual) races, classes and monsters.
I don’t consider myself a spontaneously imaginative person. I generally describe my creating process as picking up my mind and thrusting it at a question I want to answer or a person/place/situation I want to invent. Because of this, the highly improvisational nature of D&D doesn’t come naturally to me. I feel quite at home while doing hours of world building, when I can work at my own (slow) creative pace, but when I’m actually sitting at the head of the gaming table, I am far from my comfort zone. The role of a good Dungeon Master is to facilitate a story that the players create, which means coming up with non-player characters (NPCs) and locations on the fly and responding to the in-game questions, actions and motivations of the PCs. It’s not something that comes naturally to a person who likes to have everything in life thoroughly scripted-out in my head before I encounter it!
At this point in the campaign, the PCs are only at level two and are thus very squishy. This means that I have an excuse to script things out a little more than would usually be appropriate for a campaign. Right now, I need to make sure that I don’t accidentally kill the entire party with an overpowered random encounter, so a lot of the play has been introducing the characters to the campaign via a limited chunk of the universe. Centring things on one small town has allowed me to create NPCs ahead of time, so that the improvising was at least guided a little by point-form character traits.
Soon, though, the adventurers will be strong enough to venture forth into the greater world, and this will prove the real challenge for my nascent improvisational abilities. I’m hoping that I can continue to overcome my insecurities about acting and storytelling, because I think it’ll be a great learning experience, as well as a super-fun social experience, if I do.