Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Nicole Jekich2
Rocks Fall, So Now What?
What I Learned as a First Time Dungeon Master
In January I ran my first ever rpg in Fate Core with a great group of friends. It was only 2 sessions long but was an important milestone in my life as a gamer. My weakness as a new DM is understanding dice-rolling and stats and when to apply them to situations, conflicts and monsters. I chose Fate Core because of its engaging character creation, simplistic gaming mechanics and easy application to any setting type whether generic fantasy, space exploration, wild west, etc.
My group of gamers were part of a five month rotating rpg meetup where every 2-3 sessions a new DM would step in and establish a brand new setting. We created characters and did a short story arch and then handed the reigns to the next person. This casual introduction is a great way to wade into the giant, intimidating pool of roleplaying and DMing.
What setting did I choose when I volunteered to DM? The Adventures of the Island of Misfit Toys: A group of reject toys go on a dangerous mission to find the Good Elf’s workshop, convince him to return to the island and fix all the toys so that they can be played with by children once more; however, the workshop is located on the other side of a toy-kidnapping town ran by the evil Burgermeister.
Is was an amazing couple of sessions and I learned a lot to make my next campaign even better. I wanted to share with you a couple things I learned and encourage you to take that big step into the world of DMing!
Be Involved with Character Creation:
It isn’t common, but I have heard DMs say that their players are free to create their characters, send them to the DM for final review and then the DM will set up the campaign based on those submissions. So boring! Be there during character creation to answer questions that further build the world you are trying to create. Your players will also surprise you and often reveal motivations of their characters and give you stories, characters and places that you as the DM can revisit in the campaign. Fate Core has great character creation which involves collaborative storytelling between your characters which is a lot better narrative than casually meeting in a bar. It sets up relationships between characters and potential conflicts in a way that is enjoyable.
If you are curious what characters were in this campaign, I’ll happily share them with you. I had a creative group of players that came to the table with:
Y.S.A.L (Young Action Science Lab): a shoddily-developed science kit for children that was recalled due to the dangerous chemicals included in the kit, mis-labeling and an incorrect conversion chart that lead to multiple accidents.
Road Apple: a My Little Pony scratch and sniff doll that instead of smelling of hot apple pie, smelled of poop. This character had no sense of smell and an unusually high motivation to make friends with everyone.
Leader One: Yes, this is the cheap knock off of the Transformer toys that actually existed. Leader One was a perfectly constructed toy but ended up on the island still in his original packaging because no child wanted to play with this imitation toy.
Ayn Rand Action Figure: She was the Buzz-Lightyear of this story as she didn’t understand that she was a toy. Ayn made fervent speeches, set up a monetary system on the island and consistently urged other toys to become “self-actualizing”.
You Can’t Plan Everything:
Every person is a jumble of different experiences and people use their past experiences to approach issues, conflicts, a dungeon or NPCs differently. For the first session, I came ultra-prepared in my mind. I have paragraphs of story, a couple long monologues and speeches to rally the characters but quite early on in the game I realized the players weren’t heading in the direction I thought they would be. For a moment I panicked BUT I remembered one of the most common ways to carry on a game-keep calm and make it all up! Talk to a couple experienced DMs and they’ll tell you that a lot of the story driven content comes from the players and making up details on the fly.
To help keep your characters somewhat close to the story path, make sure to have a general outline of where you want the story to go, keep some NPC names handy (because a character WILL want to talk to everyone) and make that carrot your players are chasing look as delicious and enticing as possible. IF that doesn’t work…
It’s Easier to Say “Yes, but…” Instead of “No”:
There will be a time during the campaign where a player will ask that question: “Can I do this?”. My immediate reaction to many of these questions that could potentially change the story is “NO!” but I have learned from great DMs that it is better to say “Yes, but you sustain an injury” or “Yes, but now that merchant is going to tell his guild that someone is looking for a golden crown.” You should encourage curiosity within your story but a curious adventurer may gain an unintentional reward or setback.
Playing RPGs is all about collaborative storytelling. Let your players add to that story but not derail it or set it aflame. As much as the DM has complete control over the story progress, it’s best to keep in mind that a DM is a guide in the story and not the gatekeeper.
Learn from the Shortcomings and Try Again:
Towards the end of the last session I was getting frustrated because I felt that the players weren’t “getting it”. I put an evil-spewing crown on top of the Burgermeister’s head that was glowing black and purple-and I thought that would be enough to convince the team to go after the crown. I was wrong. My players did what I always did with my axe-wielding barbarians- they attacked. Of course they attacked. When faced with an evil force who has been sucking the souls out of toys for the last 20 years, the easiest, most passionate reaction is to end that evil. I froze and quite shoddily explained their attacks knocked off the crown and revealed an old elf that had been under the spell of a wicked artifact. The end.
It was an anti-climactic end that I wish I could have drawn out a bit more; but I had assumed way too much and wasn’t prepared to take the story to any other conclusion. Just like players have altered the course of the journey I realized that it is possible that they change the outcome and ending of the story as well. This another important lesson I learned while DMing and now I feel more prepared for my next campaign (or am better prepared to make a return to the Misfit Island).
Adventures of the Island of Misfit Toys wasn’t perfect but it didn’t need to be. I was a DM for two days. I did it. I was on the other end of the DM screen and it felt so good.