Tuesday, April 15, 2008

D&D Balance

A recent post by a fellow OD&D fan brought me to the realization that at 41 years of age, I had better get off my arse and start Dungeon Mastering again, seriously and soon. As I have already discovered with my recent plunge back into D&D this past January, the creative process is much more demanding on my day to day schedule than it ever was back in the early 80’s. Couple this with the fact that as one get’s older, actually running a game session as a DM becomes much more taxing. This is something I had not considered at all recently. I knew the design process was much more difficult what with a full ‘adult’ schedule including work and family, but I hadn’t given any consideration to the demanding process of Dungeon Mastering itself, running the game, and doing all those little referee duties which at one time were second nature.

As best I can recall, it’s been ten years since I ran a D&D session with more than two players, and eight or so years since I ran one with anyone other than my Wife and 13 year old Son. Not only was the creative process much easier when I was a teenager, but I am assuming now that as one gets longer in the tooth, that refereeing a several hour D&D session would be much more demanding, as well. Call it my DM biological clock, and it’s ticking away.

I’m not insinuating that 41 is old, no. I think what I am hinting at is that the past ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye. I too could be that 67 year old DM who can’t handle more than a few hours behind the screen without becoming crotchety. Our esteemed Mr. Gygax stayed fresh by refereeing sessions on a consistent basis, and I think that’s the approach one needs to take in order for the task to become second nature, such that even in one’s later years the demands of Dungeon Mastering aren’t demanding at all.

Flashback to 1982. Air Florida Flight 90 crashes into the 14th St bridge, killing 78; The 49ers defeat the Bengals in the Super Bowl; The Great One goes on a goals scoring spree; The Falklands War erupts, and ends; Cal Ripken plays his first MLB game; The Tylenol Scare hits Chicago, and the Nation; University of California Berkley beats Stanford with “The Play’; Sony releases the first CD player; Kirsten Dunst is born; Sham is playing a regular D&D campaign every Saturday for 10 or more hours.

My campaign and my gaming back in 1982, and the years just before and after that, was second nature. Knowing that each weekend I’d gather together six or seven fellow teenage D&D players and entertain them for 10 or more hours kept me in a constant state of designing and refereeing. Somehow, between it all I was able to still lead a normal teenage life, get into trouble, play pick up sports, and get my homework and chores done. It was a healthy pastime, with both a creative and social aspect. It taught me a lot about schedules and responsibilities, in hind sight (of course at the time I didn’t view D&D as such). Back then, I probably played 40% of the time, and created 60% of the time.

The result of so much actual time spent in game sessions certainly resulted in a different ‘feel’ to my campaigns back in those days. Things were looser, less defined and involved a lot more free form gaming. I used a lot more published material, and incorporated these elements into my games, things like Arduin and other booklet style supplemental sources. I’d toss a TSR module in here and there, like D3, S2 or C1 (a few of my favorites). Now I shudder to recall the way I ran D3 back then, but it was a fun source of D&D gaming goodness, even brutally mishandled by me at that time.

I used constant influences from my favorite pulp authors that I was reading at that time; Moorcock, Howard, Lovecraft. Amazingly enough, I actually read ten times more often back then than I do now. I wonder now, in retrospect, how I even had time to sleep in the early 80’s.

Would I want to return to those teenage days? No, I’m a very lucky Man now, blessed with a loving family and two healthy boys. Would I want to, if able, warp back to those Saturdays behind the screen at the Rec Club? You bet your sweet ass I would. And Boy would those kids enjoy the campaign of their lives. Of course, things would probably be a bit too tame for them now, what with no Mu-Meson Filament Edged Blades, Mar-Vexian Magi, Critical Hit Tables, Karenghi Devils, Wombats, Swords of Opposition, etc, etc.

Which brings me to the notion that I need to play and referee more, and balance my D&D time a little better. Certainly now I think a lot differently than I did over twenty years ago. I feel as if I go overboard in my campaign prep. Sweating the details, as it were. The results are fantastic, from my own perspective, the best I’ve done. Who knows if the players would agree, though, since no one has experienced anything I’ve created recently. I’d guess I have enough created at this point to keep a gaming group busy for a dozen long sessions, maybe more. Even at a rate of once per month gaming, this would end up being over a years worth of material. Toss in the inevitable obstacles both in game and in real life, and this material could conceivably last twice that long. If I continue to design at this pace, I’ll end up creating material that will never be encountered. I truly want to avoid this scenario.

The only way to avoid this is to spend more time playing and less time designing. As a hobby, the thing that has always kept me entertained with D&D is the actual design process, but, it’s an empty feeling if I can’t actually enjoy running a band of adventurers through the material.

If I continue at this rate, though, I will end up as the 67 year old DM, rusty and unable to sit behind the screen for more than a few hours at a time, with a mega dungeon that no one has seen past level three. Screw that. On the other hand, designing fits into my schedule so easily, an hour here, 90 minutes there…it’s no wonder this aspect is basically all I do lately. Hopefully, things will be changing in the near future.

~Sham, Delinquent DM

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