Recently my friends and I shuffled our roles, affording me the opportunity to play in a campaign rather than run one. It’s been fantastic both from a gameplay standpoint along with freeing me up creatively to focus on other projects. Simultaneously another group of friends expressed interest in running a starter Dungeons & Dragons campaign, so being the masochist I am I obliged and started running them through The Lost Mines of Phandelver. And honestly, both games have been tremendous learning experiences that I desperately needed.
I don’t want to imply that I didn’t have fun running home-brew campaigns for my friends, but it did get pretty exhausting from a creative standpoint, which is ultimately why I needed to shift focus from running games to playing them. I agreed to run my other friends through The Lost Mines of Phandelver because I didn’t have to really prepare anything on a week to week basis. Everything is accounted for and fairly well explained, leaving little need for drastic improvisation.
Being a player again allowed me to experience how other people run their games, seeing what rules and mechanics they tend to enforce or cast aside. That’s given me a lot of perspective on just how much of my own campaigns I was glossing over in terms of rules and abilities, giving me more insight as to why they exist in the first place. Understanding the various resistances, spell components, move actions and so much more have made it really apparent as to how infuriating my DM style could be at times.
It was never something I did to intentionally upset or undermine my players, but I’m almost certain that my actions directly resulted in a lot of session to session disenfranchisement. Considering I’ve only been a player once or twice back in the very early stages of my relationship with Dungeons & Dragons, I didn’t really have any experience as a player and instead just became a DM when I had no business doing so. But everyone has to start somewhere right?
Being a player wasn’t the only thing that helped me gain some insight into proper Dungeons & Dragons gameplay, running the starter campaign has been infinitely more helpful than anything I was doing before on my own. Being able to see what a module accounts for and doesn’t has been instrumental in my better understanding of how to build worlds, maps and encounters. To see exactly what I should be accounting for when crafting my own adventures has been illuminating to say the least.
At this point I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for about 3 years or so and only now can I say that I’ve really made progress as both a player and a DM. When I first started running games, I was trying to emulate what I’d seen and heard from popular videos and actual-play podcasts, not really understanding that real games don’t work like that. As of now I can safely say that my style of running games has evolved to the point where I am taking the rules of Dungeons & Dragons more seriously, and I am more conscious and aware of so many more facets of the game itself. I believe that this will only lead to a more positive experience for whatever group I end up running games for in the future. And for the first time in a while, I feel really confident about my abilities as both a player and a dungeon master.
For anyone out there that’s aspiring to be a DM, I genuinely and sincerely recommend starting with a preexisting module and really understanding why certain things interact with others and why. Knowing and enforcing effects on moves and spells heightens the tension and importance of every combat encounter because everyone is aware of what can and cannot happen. I look back at my previous blunders and wince at how I behaved and ruled on things, but genuinely hope that one day I can give my friends the satisfying and fun campaign that they deserve.