I tend to get a little overzealous when I have an idea. Deciding to build a tiered vegetable garden, I went out and bought dozens of seed packets without having actually built anything yet. I wanted to start a gaming channel on YouTube, so I bought a recording program without considering the effort it takes to talk to yourself for a half hour straight. So, when I decided to start playing Dungeons & Dragons, my first step was dropping $200 on supplies despite the facts that I 1) didn’t have a group and 2) knew nothing about the game.
Armed with expensive hardcover books and a set of pretty purple dice, I set about to find people to play with. My first two attempts were both web-based, and neither panned out due to scheduling issues. With one, I got as far as making my character—a pansexual half-elf sorcerer with a habit of picking pockets and seducing enemies. The other group never even made it to the character creation stage. It was clear I needed to find an in-person group.
The problem? I live in a small town. The population is about 2,500 people. Finding a group of people around my age who were interested in tabletop roleplay wasn’t going to be easy.
Except that it totally was.
My first step was contacting the only person I knew who might be interested. We weren’t friends at that point so much as friendly acquaintances, but given that all my close friends moved away for university several years ago, my options were limited.
As it turned out, she was interested. She even knew other people who might be interested. Within a week, we had a Facebook group with six members in the area who wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons, all of them women in their twenties. We set a date for a character creation night, and we were off. We only had one problem: none of us had ever played Dungeons & Dragons before. Who was going to run the game?
Hesitantly, I volunteered. Of all of us, I had the most experience with Dungeons & Dragons, if only because I had seen a few episodes of Geek and Sundry’s Twitch show Critical Role. Was that enough knowledge to successfully run a campaign? Probably not, but I was going to do it anyway.
A few days before Christmas, the women gathered at my house for character creation night. I was excited. I had my fifth edition Player’s Handbook ready, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the campaign book we were using, Princes of the Apocalypse. I made photocopies to pass around. I set out snacks. And then I helped everyone make their characters. For five hours.
Of the five people in the party, four of them made their characters female. We ended up with two Elves—a druid and a wizard—a Genasi ranger and a Tiefling rogue. Our token dude character is a Dragonborn paladin, hilariously named Meepo. He exists largely to carry heavy things for the ladies.
Being the incredible procrastinator I am, I waited until an hour before our next meeting to start preparing. I hastily gathered info for the places the party might travel, the people they might meet, and the enemies they might encounter. I scribbled little note cards to help myself remember things, printed off the stats for any enemy mentioned in the first few encounters in the campaign book, and bought maps to help the party visualize their locations. For doing such a hasty job, it turned out okay. Besides, none of the players knew how to play the game, so if I screwed up there was no one to call me on it.
It took no time at all for my players to go completely off the rails. If there was one common theme among all the tips I read when Googling “how to DM,” it was not to force your players into anything. A good DM lets them go where they want and doesn’t try to steer their actions. That first session, it was difficult. “No,” I wanted to tell them, “you’re not asking the NPCs the right questions!”
But I kept my mouth shut. Our Genasi ended up in bed with a skeevy guy she’d found in the local tavern, trading him sex for info. One of the Elves—a dainty noble—conned the paladin into buying her a leg of chicken while they waited. When the coupling was over, the info the party had gained was poised to lead them to a level 3 encounter, and given that they were all level 1 and had never fought anything before, I knew I had to distract them somehow. So I had a couple of small children tell them about nearby bandits. Success! They were distracted.
Veteran Dungeons & Dragons players know that combat (and most other things) all comes down to the dice rolls. That became increasingly apparent during my party’s encounter with the bandits. The Elven noble tried to flash one of the bandits to distract them from her sneaking cohort and ended up knocked unconscious with her shirt over her head. The Genasi tried so hard to use her longbow, but kept accidentally poking herself in the eye when she was trying to shoot. Luckily, the bandits didn’t roll much better; one of them ended up tripping over a fallen comrade and landing in their bonfire.
The bandits were defeated and their captive bear set free, but it was a close call for everyone. Our rogue was missing that day, so they were down a heavy damage-dealer, and I had neglected to gift them any health potions. Thankfully, no one died.
We’ve met twice more since then, and, to my great surprise, my party has largely kept their clothes on. They’re all approaching level three and will soon be able to start the main campaign quests. They’re all getting the hang of looking before they leap and using stat rolls to their advantage.
I still have no idea what I’m doing, but nobody seems to mind.