I made the mistake of looking closer into Matthew Mercer’s Critical Role videos. If you haven’t been living under a rock you probably have heard about Critical Role already. In this series of videos you can watch Mercer and his friends who are actors or voice actors play in Matt’s homebrew D&D campaign. What I really love about Mercer’s GMing are his elaborate descriptions and his excellent portrayal of NPCs. The players do a pretty good job as well, and you can clearly see that this is not scripted like some other D&D shows out there, but a group of friends enjoying themselves while playing D&D.
So why do I call watching Critical Role a mistake? It triggered my “GM attention deficit disorder” again. Just when I was looking into running one of the many PbtA games, watching a couple of minutes of Matt and his friends playing D&D, made me excited about the prospect of running the game myself again. I am currently also playing in an online game of D&D (a friend is running “Curse of Strahd” for us), so this might have been another contributing factor.
This will also put an end to my GMing hiatus which has been going on for almost a year now. I actually think D&D 5th Edition is the perfect game to get back into the saddle. The fantasy genre has always been the easiest to run (at least in my opinion) and is highly popular. A lot of people know D&D or know at least the common tropes so it’s pretty newbie-friendly (especially in its latest iteration), which means finding players should be quite easy. Of course I have already asked around among my friends if they are interested, and got only positive feedback so far.
In order not to set me up for failure again, I have decided to start small. The player characters are all level 1 and just begin their first steps towards adventure. The area the game starts in will be small in scope, but have enough adventure opportunities to keep the players occupied for a couple levels. I have already thought about a meta plot which should tie all these adventures together and everything should lead towards an exciting finale. If we wish, we can stop there and move on to something else, or if we keep playing, Act Two of the campaign begins. The new act will raise the stakes and have a larger scope, while continuing the story from the first act. While Act One was focused on a small county, Act Two will cover the whole realm. Like with Act One, this act can be the end of the campaign, or things can move on to the last act which will have a world shattering events, the setting will open up once more, and the player characters will have the chance to influence the future of the whole world.
By slowly expanding the scope, the players and I can explore the world together (as I create it) and the way I’ve designed the main plot, it’s easy to stop at the end of each act and still have a complete story with a hopefully great ending. I don’t want to begin another game which eventually fizzles out without a proper finale. At this point I can either try to find a place in the Forgotten Realms where I want the campaign to be set, or I can go full homebrew and create my own world. The latter might be more work initially but in the long run it may actually be easier. By creating a totally new world I can also incorporate my players’ ideas and wishes better into the campaign.
I have to admit I am pretty excited about taking on the GM’s mantle again. I also think that I have a pretty good plan for a campaign. This time I want to do proper preparations before diving head first into the campaign. In too many games before I relied only on my improvisational skills which was a pretty bad idea. When I am at the top of my game, I can basically improvise a whole session without my players even noticing, but if I am tired or not feeling well, things crash and burn pretty quickly. So, more prep it is. I am confident that with some preparation I can also avoid getting burned out too quickly (which has been a problem in the past). Having notes, maps, plot hook, ready-to-use encounters, and NPCs ready will probably help with my anxiety issues. It’s much easier to be confident if you know you don’t have to rely on your improv skills all the time. Sometimes it’s comforting to know that you’re well-prepared.
Do you have any further advice for me? Or do you want to know more about my plans. Please post your questions and comments below!