Tales from Behind the Screen

When it comes to DMing, I actually plan on having two ongoing series about what it’s like to be a DM and how you can improve your abilities behind the screen.   I am by no means an expert myself.   I am still learning new things everyday and am fully aware there are plenty of DM’s out there with both more experience and who are better at it then I can ever hope to be.   But I think that’s a good thing too.  I think every DM out there always has more to learn and there is always room for improvement.  Plus you have to keep in mind that every DM and every group is different and that there is no “right” way and “wrong” way to do it.  There are tips that can help people, but the bottom line is you have to do what works best for whatever group you are running.  However I do hope that some of the experiences and tips and I can share with you will help others.   I want to encourage current DM’s to always strive to improve and encourage players to maybe try their hand at DMing.   It always helps to know how to DM in case you have a chance at an impromptu game.  Back to the two series I plan on running here at For the Love of the Roll though.  One is simply going to be DM Tips and Tricks where I address some specific issues that come up when you DM and I offer suggestions or tips on how to address them and deal with them, or how to avoid them all together.   The other series will be this one you are reading now, Tales from Behind the Screen which will be more narrative in format where I share some actual stories about my own personal DMing and playing experiences and through that perhaps I can help out other gamers as they roll the dice both in front of and behind the screen.

I figured the best place to start Tales from Behind the Screen is the tale of my start.   How I became a DM for the first time.  The most interesting thing to me about this is that in order for it to happen a lot of separate events had to dovetail all at once for me to make this step.  It started when a good friend of mine started to try to to get my wife and I to play D&D.  I had dabbled in it before but never got too into it, and my wife had never played before ever.  One day we just bit the bullet and got a group together and all rolled up characters.   We were playing 3.5 at the time.  4th was out, but it was not very popular with anyone in the group.  Naturally we started to play and all had an incredible time as we learned the game and went on our first dungeon crawl.   We were hooked.

About this same time another event was going on that while it doesn’t seem to be related you will soon see that it all connects.   I have enjoyed various webcomics through the years.   A few of mine were coming to an end so I was looking for a couple new ones to pick up.   I came across one called PvP.  It’s written by an incredible artist named Scott Kurtz.  Now I have never met Scott or even talked to him through social media, but he was about to fire up my passion for D&D and simultaneously create a DM in the process.  One of the story arcs around this time was about a group of D&D players going through an epic dungeon called “The Mines of Madness”.  It wasn’t a long arc but seeing these adventurers go on this seemingly impossible dungeon made me more interested in the game and it helped lead to me finally deciding to get together with my friend and set up a game session.  At the time it was simply a fun story line in the webcomic.  I don’t think even Scott knew what it would lead to.

Now about this time Wizards of the Coast was play testing what they were calling D&D Next, which of course became 5th Edition.  In the course of the play testing they would release preliminary rules to test out and then they would get feedback and then tweak them and release the update and they kept doing this over and over.   Of course they had to release adventures too to play test with them.  Someone at Wizards of the Coast apparently noticed the webcomic and came up with what I think is a great idea.

See years ago there was an impossible dungeon made by Gary Gygax, the creator of D&D, called The Tomb of Horrors.  It has sense become legendary as being the ultimate “killer” dungeon.  It was designed to brutally destroy a party over and over.  I am pretty confident that when Scott wrote the comic about “The Mines of Madness” that he was making it in the style of The Tomb of Horrors.  Eventually Scott got together with Christopher Perkins who helped make 5th Edition and they wrote an actual module creating a real Mines of Madness for the play testing that was going on.

So, here I am reading this webcomic and I love the story arc (the whole comic is great though, not just this one part, I highly recommend it to gamers of all types, not just table top) and they are offering this free version of it.   At the same time I am starting to actually play the game regularly and getting really into it.   Naturally I download the PDF, which you can still find today.   I believe it’s even still free to download from the DM’s Guild website.  I figured I should get it while it’s free and hopefully one day if I ever got a chance someone could run me through it as a player.

After we had been playing a few times, I actually made this exact suggestion to my friend.  That we should look at the 5th edition set up and see if we like it enough and if so, if maybe he could run us through it.   Now this friend is very supportive and is the type to always believe in his friends and supports them.   His answer was not what I was expecting but it changed my experience as a D&D player forever.   He replied, “I think you should run us through it.”

This was something I never thought of.  I never thought I could actually DM a game.   Figured it was out of my league.   But the more I thought about the more I thought, why not?  So the download I got actually had all the play test files you needed to run the game.  It was a lot of huge complex PDF’s that to me, being such a new player confused me a bit.   But then 5th edition came out.  They released the basic players guide for free which made all the info much more digestible.  Plus the rules had been finalized finally and I knew that we wouldn’t have to learn one rule set only to have it changed.   I figured, let’s try it.   I got a group of my friends together, we all rolled up 5e characters (at the time it was only a few classes that they had to choose from) and we sat down to play.

There is more to this story, I want to share how the game went and what I learned from it.   I actually plan on using Mines of Madness as a reference point for several conversations about DMing and how to learn it and it’s usefulness both as a learning tool and as a fun night with friends.   But this writing has already gotten a bit long so I supposed we will leave that for another day.

So why share this?  Well for starters if I’m going to be here giving you tips and suggestions I figured it would help if you all knew where I came from, how I got into it myself, and what drives me as a DM.  Secondly, I wanted to give an example of how you may not ever plan to DM then suddenly, boom, you are behind the screen.   And third, I would love to start a dialog and here in the comments section how perhaps you got started yourself.   What made you want to DM.   How did you go about deciding what to run the first time.

Join me next time when we dive into part 2, where we learn what happened when I took my friends into, The Mines of Madness.

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