I’ve been playing D&D for over two years now, and let me just say, playing D&D is excellent! Someone else does all the hard work of creating and describing a setting and a story, and you can march your character into the middle of everything and make whatever kind of mess you want! You have total freedom, and it’s up to the DM to be quick on their feet and weave a story out of the chaos.
I never really wanted to be a DM for that very reason. But Rachel led our group for over a year and inevitably got tired. I agreed to run a one-shot (aka a mini-story that lasts only one session) and it was meh. It was fine. I never felt particularly talented at it, and when I stepped away from pre-made material into my own (“Okay, so in this Christmas adventure you can’t cast spells without singing Christmas carols!” “But we don’t want to.” “Well THAT’S HOW IT’S WORKING, ENJOY YOUR CHRISTMAS CHEER!”) it didn’t go well.
For my birthday last year, Rachel bought me The Curse of Strahd, a classic D&D campaign that was subtitled ” horror classic or cheesy B-movie?” in a not-very-favorable review. It is both, and that is why I love it! It took me several months before I actually started DMing Strahd (back in those precious few months when we were allowed to hang out with up to six people!). I found an incredibly well thought out Reddit thread that fleshed out the characters, deepened the plot, and made me anxious to get started!
My friends and I have now been wandering the foggy, sunless lands of Barovia for four months (we’ve transitioned to playing online, which technically works because it’s all theatre of the mind, but is far less enjoyable), and I am having SO MUCH FUN! I’m not necessarily good at running a gothic campaign, because I got jokes and earnestness running through my mind 24/7. But I did manage to haunt a couple characters (texting “you are haunted by a 7-year-old boy who is scared of everything” and then watching a grown man live for it was extremely delightful) and I ended one session by crushing their little souls. “Wow, we made things worse for Vallaki. We…I feel really bad.” “Heh heh heh,” I cackled. “Tell me more of your misery!!” “You made me feel real emotions, and they’re bad.” I continued to cackle, thrusting my arms into the air with the power of a person who can control inner worlds!! Anyway, it was great, and I’m super normal when it comes to stuff like this.
It’s not all darkness and hopelessness, though it probably should be. After a couple sessions, Rachel told me that she wants her character to start a small business. I was stubborn and cold toward this idea, because it did not fit into the story I wanted to tell. However, all the D&D podcasts that I listen to say that the DM is only one storyteller amongst many, so I lightened up, and WOW am I glad I did.
In the midst of this story of ultimate good and evil where a vampire overlord sees all, my group has…written a business contract and made an accord with the city leader, rented a building, spent an entire session running around town buying knick knacks for the gift shop and making deals with local businesspeople, passing out flyers for a grand opening, commissioning a sign for “Mist People Adventure Corp: Museum of Oddities” and then decorating the place for first day supporters. I was a good “yes and” DM by this point, so I made up a roll chart for how many people came each hour, and how they felt about the exhibits based upon how much the characters hammed up their tour. We spent four hours doing this. D&D!!
It’s been four months, and we have barely gotten started. There is so much more to this world, and I am going to TRY to wrestle everyone back into a gothic mood whenever I can (we are here to FIGHT EVIL, people, not run successful businesses, oh wait that was pretty great!) but I find that there is something really fun about being on the other side of the chaos, watching people stomp all over the plans I made and then together creating something that’s even better than I came up with on my own.
I can’t wait to see what happens next!