I’m on vacation this week, visiting with the parents of @MrsKillerRoo and it’s been great! Besides enjoying the beautiful weather and great company (I love my in-laws, none of the old in-law tropes apply — they’re some awesome people with whom I enjoy hanging), I’ve enjoyed some time catching back up on the old 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.
I’ve always been a player, enjoying the game from the vantage of having NO FREAKIN’ CLUE what was going on. Knowing only what the DM was willing to share, and making lots of terrible PC choices (often causing character death) along the way. Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of playing for some great DM’s. With really only one exception, they’ve all painted an environment that was fun, detailed, full of possibilities, and fairly run — Even in the face of my character’s deaths.
I know some of the PC’s along the way wouldn’t agree — but most of the rage-quits that happened were more about the player’s skewed expectation of what the game is, and the DM’s role and responsibilities were and less about the appropriateness of the DM’s rulings (“But why couldn’t my character make that ridiculously OP weapon/magic item?” “What do you mean it’s going to take several game years and hundreds/thousands of GP to research that high level information that my character wouldn’t have any access to?!” “WHAT? The party won’t pay for that overpriced and inappropriate item for me? That’s it, I’m out of here.”).
Being a DM really seemed like fun, if extremely difficult. Knowing the world, everyone in it, and how each of them would react to any situation our spastic and chaotic (despite our alignments) group would throw at them, and handling all of it with patience, aplomb, and an even hand… it always felt magical and not in the “I’m casting a spell” kind of way.
My favorite DM and game world of all-time was a home-brew world by someone who had been DM-ing since the earliest days of D&D, and really stuck with the Original D&D ideas of role-playing, and 1st/2nd edition AD&D rules. Death was a common outcome for player character mistakes in decision making, and great (sometimes AMAZING) character rewards were given freely for creative role-playing, good/solid decision making, and working together as a party. I loved this setup — And he made it clear from the outset that foolish decisions were harshly punished, and staying in-character, role-playing appropriately, not using information known out-of-character when it would be easier to skew character actions anyway were all greatly rewarded. To me, this is how it should be done. I probably killed 5 or 10 characters between 1st and 3rd levels before I really started to “get it” and be able to have a character stick around for more than a couple sessions. But once I did, what a character! To this day, some of my best character stories are from that campaign, and even the early deaths were interesting and made some highly memorable moments for me. I’ll probably never again make a 00 roll for a familiar… And I managed to kill that Faerie Dragon familiar off on the first adventure. Poor little guy… I’m sorry I was such a terrible role-player at the time!
After college a few folks from work and I started a gaming group and while we had a consistent DM, he eventually wanted to play as a player character to get a break, and have some fun from the opposite side of the table, so a couple of us took an adventure as DM from within the campaign world. This made it more fun for the PCs since they “knew” their characters pretty well and didn’t have to roll up a one-off disposable character, and gave those of us who wanted a low-pressure DM try-out a chance. I took several weeks leading up to my turn DM-ing preparing a part-Arena fighting, part political intrigue adventure based on my character’s background, and it actually went WAY better than I expected it to go based on the overwhelming amount of work & knowledge I thought I needed for it. I made tons of mistakes, of course, both in the story and some rulings/decisions, but the beauty of it was that the player characters only really noticed the “procedural” mistakes which were easily correctable or twisted back into the story in another way.
Since then, I’ve been interested in running my own campaign from 1st level. There are innumerable options for running campaigns, just from a pre-generated standpoint. The idea of choosing a campaign setting, reading enough of the background material to make it “live & breathe” was pretty overwhelming at first.
- I want a campaign that feels familiar, and very “Old-school D&D”
- I don’t want to create my own world from scratch — despite how much fun this could be, I barely have the time to read the background information I need to understand the world let alone create it for myself!
- I DON’T want to run in a campaign world as ubiquitous and popular as the big heavy hitters like Forgotton Realms, Dragonlance, etc. — I don’t feel like I could do those worlds justice as a beginning DM, nor do I want it to be so familiar to the characters that they try to call out the DM on changes made to the setting (which is bad form, by the way — the world is the DM’s, even if based on a large body of existing works)
- However, the setting should have enough ready-made materials for me to be able to pull what I want/need for the campaign but not so ubiquitous as to be too easy for the players to easily find every word ever written about an area/character/dungeon (I’ve known many players who attempt to read everything about an adventure or NPC available beforehand and use that knowledge unfairly in the campaign)
As such, I’m learning about the ORIGINAL — “The Known World”, later dubbed Mysteria! Starting the adventure in the very first Original Dungeons & Dragons adventure town, Threshold. This seems to be the best blend for me — Lots of established works (The Gazetteers are great, and still somewhat available), existing pre-made adventures that are actually relatively obscure, but familiar to old-school players. Most of the players I’ve talked to have some vague memories of playing an adventure or two in the old Known World, but not clearly enough to know/care about the difference between the campaign I end up running and their distant memories.
I’m coming close to having all of the knowledge needed to start a campaign — The next steps include coming up with a schedule, gathering a group of adventurers, and starting! I’m hoping to have a good mix of players. One or two experienced and proficient at D&D or general role-playing, and one or two completely green/novice players who don’t really know what they’re doing but are excited to play the game. I’ve found some novice players to be the most in-game creative thinkers, as they’re not worried about whether or not some rule covers their situation, they just want to have their character try something and see what happens.
Anyway — this is kind of a big undertaking for me. I’m not an Alpha personality, and I don’t typically think of myself in terms of being in charge or the arbiter of anything so running a Campaign with the idea of being the steady DM is a step outside of my comfort zone. Personal Growth FTW!
I’m sorry if you’ve read all of this — I really just wanted to spend some time rambling about my ideas for future reference for myself. If you have suggestions, though, don’t hesitate to contact me!