6 Lessons You Learn DMing 'Dungeons & Dragons'
So, you're thinking of getting into DMing? Congratulations! You've got your Dungeon Master's Guide, studied up on the core D&D rules, picked out some low-level ghouls from the Monster Manual to test out your party on, and have the threads of a beautiful, engaging, narrative tapestry ready to be woven by your deft and thoughtful hands.
But there are some near-universal Table Truths you may not be aware of, and you deserve a warning ...
Affection (and Attention) Is A Fickle Thing
Try as you might, you cannot predict the NPCs your party will lovingly adopt as one of their own, stopping at nothing to keep them around for just one more session, desperate to solve their woes, large or small.
You may spend hours inventing the most pitiable creature: a lost child, a deposed princess battling a tyrant, a pegasus with a broken wing. But time and again, inevitably, your players will forget all about the kingdom overrun by Air Elementals in order to help the half-elf shoe salesman you invented in a panic two seconds ago, who offhandedly mentioned having a crush on the town blacksmith. Suddenly, all that matters is uniting Raymond and Randy in eternal passion, using all available Performance checks on performing "Bella Notte" from Lady and The Tramp as Raymond and Randy share one long piece of spaghetti.
A Simple Misspeak Is A DM's Worst Nightmare
"He offers you a warmhammer in exchange for 20 gold."
"A warhammer. Warhammer. Sorry. I misspoke."
"I don't want a warhammer. I want a warmhammer."
"There's no such thing as a warmhammer."
"Then I leave the store."
"(deep sigh) FINE. He offers you a WARMhammer for 30 gold. It's a regular warhammer, but the handle is always warm to the touch."
One session later:
"The inside of the cave is unusually warm ... "
"Warmer than my warmhammer?"
Three sessions later:
"I use the runes to divine what ancient, arcane magic keeps my warmhammer so warm all the time!"
Ten sessions later:
"I lift my warmhammer, forged by the god of fire and change -- Sirion himself -- high above me, and cast it down in a great strike upon the head of the Tarrasque."
"(sigh) The Tarrasque stumbles and collapses. Instantly dead. You are like a God among mortals, and I don't know how I let this happen."
Making A Good Impression
You may be familiar with some of the expected qualities of a good DM: adaptable, creative, empathetic, collaborative. But add another trait to this list: an America's Got Talent-level ability to do impressions and instantly develop unique, memorable voices for every character you dare introduce.
Does your party have a Druid? A Cleric? Can someone cast "Speak With Plants" or "Speak With Animals?" Congratulations. On any given week, you will have to realistically speak as a Dandelion, or Weevil, or Sewer Rat, or Writhing Tangle of Vines.
But it doesn't stop there. "Um, the Bartender sounds a lot like the Door Guard," teases your party Rogue, devilishly spinning a d10 between her thumb and forefinger. Suddenly, you need a new voice for the Bartender. The Door Guard was gruff. Should this one have a squeaky voice? Or maybe an accent? You can do Scottish, right? Oh boy, we're opening our mouth. We're about to try a Scottish accent in front of all our friends ...
Hosting a D&D game takes work. Aligning schedules is a nightmare, and the DM may spend hours preparing to run a session. So, once everyone gets in the same room, you LOCKDOWN. Clear the schedule for like five hours and hide your phones: it's time to dive into a fantasy realm where you can shoot lightning out of your hands. But what you may not know is that once you sit down to play, The Hunger strikes.
And oh, how it strikes. You have never seen a group of people destroy a bag of Fritos the way your seemingly innocent D&D party descended upon this poor bag of unsuspecting chips.
Something about playing D&D makes people the hungriest they've ever been -- or at least in need of something crispy, stat. You must have food on hand, or things will get ugly. If popcorn isn't readily available, you may find your bean bag chair ripped open and feasted upon.
Your Friends Are Secret Horndogs
I'm sorry, but it's true. Your friends want to bone down, and this D&D game has become an escapist fantasy in more ways than one.
You may introduce your players offhandedly to a Tabaxi bartender. "Meow," says Martha, who plays your party's Gnome Druid. "Is he tall?" Innocently, you shrug and reply, "Tabaxi are taller than the average human -- standing between six or seven feet -- so, sure, he's tall." Next thing you know, the next 20 minutes of your campaign are dedicated to wooing the Tabaxi bartender upstairs, with the rest of the party assisting in the seduction.
And Gygax forbid you introduce a villain as "brooding" or "strangely alluring." You will never get that party to kill that Bad Guy. Not ever. I hope you were planning a big wedding at the end of your "Curse of Strahd" campaign, because that's where it's heading, like it or not.
And last but not least ...
To You, They Are Rules. To Your Friends, Merely Suggestions.
You're a good DM. You've done your homework. You understand the rules. Studied up on proficiency bonuses. Know the difference between area of effect and single-target spells. But what you have accepted as Law, your players see as merely a suggestion, ready to be bargained.
If you as the DM have deemed that jumping across the river is an acrobatics check based on dexterity, your players will somehow find a way to argue that actually, it should be a performance check: because I'm only jumping to show off to the rest of the party, so, really, shouldn't we use my +6 bonus to Charisma?
Or, sure, the spell is specifically called "Charm Person" -- but isn't a Dragon a person, in a way? What, are you trying to imply Dragons don't deserve the rights and respect of a person? They have brains, do they not? Feelings? Impulses? Dragons are People Too! And I think my spell should work on them!
Have any Table Truths you've stumbled upon in your experience playing D&D? Shocking ways your players have twisted the rules? Unexpected objects or NPCs that became imbued with immense importance? Fire away in the comments. And as a Party troublemaker myself, let me just speak for all of us and say: I'm sorry. But not sorry enough to stop.
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