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.