by Kevin Pettway on December 23, 2005

Check this out, and see if the situation seems at all familiar.

Your gaming buddies, the Players, have been traveling north for the past two weeks in search of the Crystal Bouncy-Ball of the Chalky Wizard. At the end of the last gaming session, they capture a warship of the Sticky Bun Empire. You spend the week plotting trade routes, possible encounters, and the political ramifications of the last leg of the Heroes’ northward journey to the Crystal Bouncy-Ball. You consider the moral implications of having the Player Characters suddenly being looked at as gods, as well as the larger plot impacts the sudden influx of power will have on the overall story of your game. Perhaps you even go so far as to construct new overarching campaign goals based on the eventual shift that such a development would have on your world as a whole. You’ve gone deep, and all the PCs have to do is throw. You’re ready.

Then it’s Friday night and someone asks to search the Sticky-Bun Ship for anything interesting, maybe even specifying that they’re looking for charts or maps. Wanting to reward their efforts to find the Bouncy-Ball, you oblige, filling in details such as where the Chalky Wizard’s tower is, the location of the Sticky-Bun Empire’s secret base of You-Don’t Wanna-Go-There Nastiness, and where the best fishing in the Kingdom can be found.

And then it happens.

This asshat you’ve been inviting into your house every Friday night for the last three years decides that the FISHING is the adventure hook and turns the whole thrice-damned cavalcade to the SOUTH where you have exactly NOTHING planned; and suddenly your entire week of work is worthless, because you’re stuck winging it on how many ounces the party’s main fighter’s bass weighs — and then you realize — this game isn’t about you.

Many comparisons have been made between writing and DMing. I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. The real comparison is between DMing and herding gnats. Characters in a story you’re writing don’t suddenly decide to run away into some other story entirely. They might have their own ideas about how this story should end, the best characters do tend to lead the writers, but they usually stay in the book. Player Characters (especially the good ones) will jump the page entirely.
So how to deal? Well, my way is take over both roles. Imagine, if you will, a fantasy role playing game where the Player Characters always do exactly what you tell them to. Imagine setting up a time-line an entire year in advance, and then having the players follow it! I’m getting excited just thinking about it!

Okay, so by now you’ve gotten the idea that for me writing an adventure comic is an exercise in OCD — and maybe you’re right. But truth to tell, that isn’t the real motivation. I just want a game about me. The DM. Some of you may think that this is stupid. Many of you may think that this is selfish. You are all doubtlessly correct. Yet who hasn’t thought about having things BOTH ways? Being both player and DM? Well now I get to try. Not only that, but I get to see if I can make people laugh at the same time. Honestly, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.


MisterMollusk February 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Hail and well met! I’ve just started playing D&D and I’ve jumped in as the DM. I’ve already felt the hopelessness at trying to get the players to follow some epic story line I’ve created. My thief character decided to steal something from the lord of a village so all the PCs ended up running away from the village where I had everything planned out. Oooh well. I’ve decided that the best way to run things is to just have a bunch of mini situations and quests planned out that I can implement in any place they choose to go to. This way, I can lead them on some over arching story while still providing them with choice. Wow, that kinda sounds like how to justify the coexistence of fate and free will. I should be a theologian.

Kevin February 16, 2009 at 11:45 am

Good choice MM! And while they are doing these minor quests and dealing with the consequences of their other actions, don’t be afraid to allow your bigger story to unfold around them. If it unfolds without their input, so be it. They probably will sit up and notice at some point, not wanting the real action to continue without them.

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