Writer’s Note: This editorial is more like a journal entry. I just wanted to talk about tabletop gaming for once from the perspective of a person who has never DMed a campaign, and obviously it’s a bit of rambling.
I host a Dungeons & Dragons game every Saturday with friends, and stream it live on Twitch. The campaign is named Era Moderna and is set in a modern fantasy half a century after a devastating tragedy. My players are among all walks of life; primarily 20-somethings, with a varying series of classes that are, usually, homebrew classes.
See, I was always kind of bored when it came to medieval fantasy or high-fantasy as D&D is a part of. But I love the idea of that fantasy being more refined, or more industrialized. It’s not unusual to see a flamethrower in my realm as much as a pyromancer would, basically. It’s basically the Shadowrun approach, but without making it cyberpunk. Realistically, our time period – the 21st century – is the cyberpunk of high-fantasy. It’s just past steampunk and centralized. Vehicles are powered by gas, but there are airships powered by the arcane and there are cities with skyscrapers that pierce the clouds. That’s what I would imagine this world is like. But it’s extremely hard to explain this in words vocally to people.
My problem is that I’m not an inventive speaker. I can’t come up with voices on the fly, and it’s more difficult for me to put my words together. I was always more of a typist, and writing stories was a strong suit of mine. But conveying those emotions and strong voices is something I’m not experienced with. Any time I’ve sent voice lines to people, it’s been just me; no real fluctuation or retention of a voice. This applies exactly to the campaign, too.
I may also be too creative for my own good. And that’s not to say I’m a savant or anything, I just constantly think of new things. I keep creating these ideas and eventually they start spilling out. So I write and design. During the Era Moderna campaign, I also wound up making a tabletop version of Parasite Eve, an Action RPG with gear-based progression. This is to prevent blending, because I tend to try and inject things into stuff where it wouldn’t work.
Needless to say, for someone like me, making a D&D campaign sucks. And it’s really the fault of none of my players. I’m just constantly thinking and planning, and sometimes I think too much. I think so much I get paranoid and adjust things on the fly. There have been several instances so far where I’ve intentionally nerfed an enemy’s damage mid-fight, only to make the enemy get crushed that turn. I’ve even killed a character on accident because after so many quick battles, I threw what I thought they could handle. Turns out they could, but my roll was great and theirs wasn’t.
This adventure is my first time DMing, and I have no regrets throughout, but I can’t help but feel like I could be doing more. And that comes with communication. This experience is very worth it regardless of how long it takes to get right, however. I’m much more comfortable with Era Moderna right now because of how everyone understands the mechanics. At its core, the Era Moderna module is injectable. It will work with D&D 3.5e without any major changes. So players will feel less confused with new mechanics.
Now about that other module. Parasite Eve is a homebrew adventure I’m working on during Era Moderna that adapts the dynamic combat of the PS1 game to a d20 turn-based system. To my knowledge, I’m probably the only one that has done this. And while I imagine the game would be a ton of fun, the issue comes from the fact that it’s 100% homebrew. There are no resemblances to D&D at all in this; every system is from scratch, with the most simple d20 systems in place. And that is nerve-wracking right now as a DM of something that at least still plays like D&D.
To have an idea and build an entire game out of it is incredibly terrifying. As I’m pulling the strings in the back while my players, unknowingly, trod along into some crazy adventure I have planned for them, I’m constantly afraid of their judgment. Is this fun for them? Are they bored? Very simple questions that race through my mind as one player guesses the next plot point, or compares it to a myriad of other video games which, honestly, did inspire the concept. This adventure has been a spot of turmoil as I try to keep them guessing, and I’m constantly learning how they play and what they expect. It’s a tightrope walk as I work on stuff mid-session and put it in place mere minutes after they do something I wasn’t planning.
This world I’ve built for them is pretty much a giant sandbox. I watch them play around and I adjust as I see fit, and for the most part, it works. The party knows that all of this stuff is new, and all it takes it a full example of the power of a new weapon to make me adjust it. I can create all I want, but the only thing that will present results is when I can use those creations and have them fit neatly in the universe.
So I build and tinker, and I gradually find small quirks that I can exploit. Not even character flaws, actual player quirks. I like seeing how certain players react to certain events. Sometimes it’s accidental. When a player asks if something is doable, I just tell them to roll to find out. Thankfully, the tinkering is pretty much done at this point. But every so often, there’s a tiny thing I forgot to factor in, and that’s when it gets fun.