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!
If I were you, I will use Dungeon World. You create your world in session 0, it’s more rule light and campaigns are short.
In DW your meta plot would be in a multiple campaigns. You’ll have a full campaign by Act. Remember, in DW there are only 10 levels and it’s quick so after each Act, your Players have choice of creating new characters, creating Protegee of their PCs or changing Carreer of their PCs.
Has a GM you will be less stressed. You are in full creativity right now and it’s WRONG, if you were a writer it will be super but you are a GM and you must NOT script your full campaign and each Act ahead. Your players will always make unexpeted choices!
Use DW mantra, start with a concept that you share with your Players un session 0, if they are Ok with it make your Fronts and create and adjust after each session. Don’t plan to much, it will bleed you of your creativit y and if your PCs don’t use that you have created you will feel sorry (been there done that).
If I were to mastered a non PBTA fantasy rpg, I think I will try “The Shadow of the demon Lord”. It look real interessing.
I have thought about DW, but in this case I prefer D&D. It’s also a system I am more comfortable with at the moment than any PbtA system. And don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a meticulously planned out script. I have an idea on what the setup will be and what certain factions will do. If the players make unexpected choices I can easily change things around. That’s why – even though I have an idea what would be cool for the later acts – I will only plan for the first. I’ve learned from previous mistakes.
Shadow of the Demon Lord is awesome and looks like the perfect combination of two of my favorite fantasy RPGs: D&D and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. But I currently have an D&D itch I need to scratch first…
DW doesn’t scratch that tactical itch that’s a big part of the game for me and a number of my players. Mind you, I’ve only played it once, so take that for what it’s worth
Anyway, like Stargazer, I’m not a D&D guy. I haven’t been able to get into the Critical Role actual plays, but the other Matt, Matt Colville, has been getting me interested again. The guy has great observations and an engaging manner. Mind you, most of his comments apply to almost any fantasy RPG, so I’m not quite ready to switch back to D&D yet.