Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On DM'ing and Being a Writer

It's been a few days since the last session of the Se'Kai campaign, and I've had some time to think about my experience running this campaign and how it reflects my skills as a writer and as a DM, the things I do well with, the things I don't do as well with, and what previous experiences I had as a writer.

Something not a lot of people know about me is the fact that I was actually an English major for around a year in college. I always enjoyed writing, and of all the various forms of art it's the one I always felt decently competent at, and as I've said (or at least implied) elsewhere in my posts here, I really enjoy analyzing stories and trying to find what the author might have been trying to say and how it could apply to the world of the present day.

Ah, but you're noticing that I said was, so...what happened? 

Like anything else, the answer is a bit complicated.

The main reason I swapped majors to International Studies is the fact that I was completely unsure of what I wanted to even do after college. A problem I'm still working on figuring out to be frank, but as an English major I was super unsure of what I could do with it as a career, assuming I didn't want to be an English teacher and wasn't sure if I could make it as a writer or editor.

I know that sounds rich considering how many people constantly ask me about what I'm going to do with an International Studies degree, but I get the feeling that no matter what I chose I'd have people badgering me about it in one way or another.

Another reason I quit the major is a bit more on the petty side, and in hindsight I think it was severe, untreated depression rearing its ugly head. I'd just gone through a bad breakup and was going through a bit of an identity crisis as I'd spent so much time doing things that other people asked me to or wanted me to that I didn't really feel like I was my own person, a feeling that was really exacerbated by the relationship I'd just broken up from (for clarity, she broke up with me, though to be honest it was probably going to happen eventually).

The fun thing about a depression-fueled identity crisis is the fact that it really opens you up to questioning your own talents. In my case, I started really buying into the feeling that previous teachers only passed me because they didn't want to deal with me anymore. This is something that was made worse by feeling like I just couldn't keep up with my classmates as a writer. I was failing a class taught by the head of the department, and it wasn't looking like I'd enjoy any of her other classes.

These are the kind of doubts I deal with as a writer and more recently as a DM. I've finished a handful of homebrew campaigns and one prewritten campaign, and in all of them I've felt like I've struggled with the same problems, but I feel like, for better or worse and in varying degrees, I've recognized them and started figuring out ways of dealing with them.

As I mentioned in the final part, because I tend to write things as I go, I feel like I struggle keeping focus and writing endings, and I'm not really sure how to address that. On the one hand, having a decent idea of where you want the story to go can help you plan and keep things focused throughout which minimizes filler time, but it could also sacrifice worldbuilding, or you could get what happened with Game of Thrones where the plot outpaces the logic of the story, or as a more family-friendly comparison, How I Met Your Mother where the ending feels unnatural given plot developments that were written after the ending was already filmed.

This was a problem I had with my Curse of Strahd campaign as well as the Se'Kai campaign to a lesser extent, where I feel like my swap from mid-story worldbuilding to endgame wasn't the most graceful, though in both cases I noticed that the story tended to work out better if I took a more reactive role to the storytelling and let my players do the heavy lifting (what, you thought it would occur to me that they'd spare most of the imperial fleet and use the admiral as a Trojan Horse? Foolish reader).

I guess that's the primary difference that I didn't seem to grasp in the other campaigns I've run (which could have been troublesome in this campaign as well). As the DM, it's everyone else's story just as much as it is your own. You may be more or less omnipotent, but that doesn't deprive your players of agency, which has positives and negatives. It can be difficult to predict what ridiculous stuff the party will pull out of thin air, but at the same time, you don't have to make their decisions for them. Even if the multiple choices you give them lead to a similar outcome, they'll still probably come up with something you didn't (or couldn't) expect.

I've rambled quite a bit here, so what's my main takeaway. I feel like I could structure my campaigns better. Some improv is necessary, but expecting to BS each session could become troublesome quickly (though considering Doncaster became so important when it was just a throwaway city for a sidequest, I got lucky).

I didn't talk about this before but I want to be better with individual characters. I introduced a lot of characters in Se'Kai but I feel like they just kind of came and went without really serving much purpose besides having people in the background. For the life of me I couldn't tell you what a lot of characters' personality traits were (heck, I wouldn't even have names for half of them if Karin didn't ask their name so often).

Hopefully nailing down character traits is something I can do in the next campaign while I'm not a DM. Stay tuned for A Paladin and 3 Criminals' Descent into Madness, otherwise known as our version of Descent into Avernus. Prologue/character profile post comin' down the pipe.

No comments:

Post a Comment