I’m feeling less than pleased with how our Thursday night D&D sessions are going.
I’m finding that I’m not nearly as mentally agile as I need to be in order to run a game. The first and most important rule of DMing is “be flexible”, because the DM isn’t dictating a story to the players; he’s providing a framework for the players, and is then responding to the actions of the players. In order to do that, a DM has to be able to present the setting, take the input, and return the results in a consistent and interesting way. It’s one part mechanical: you pull the lever, the door closes, and one part artistic: you pull the rusty lever with all your might, and suddenly the steel door slams shut with a clang, darkening the room. I can do the first one, but the second one is just not coming to me.
I thought that with the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module that 90% of the work would be done, and I could focus my preparation time on the other 10% of “flavoring” the framework. It’s turning out to be not that way. It’s been something like four or five sessions and we’re still in Greenest. I need to watch some recorded play-throughs from other people, but I’m pretty certain we’re way behind. It feels that the game has been nothing but combat, which is what I had hoped we could avoid (not combat, just combat all the time). Last week, I tried to send the players on a non-combat side-mission that I had created, but the players opted to skip it entirely until I forced them back to that track, and it ended with disastrous results.
When I step back and assess the way things are going, I’m getting a strong sense of deja vu about how things are playing out. The game is playing and is being played almost like a CRPG, where the computer provides limited and predictable content that the players can easily adapt to in ways that save them from having to inject any meaningful thought or presence. In a way, I DO blame our decades of online gaming for this; I think it’s difficult for all of us to think outside the box, to react as characters instead of reacting as people PLAYING characters, and to provide a sense of place and ownership using just the imagination. We’re all so used to limiting our understanding to telegraphs and ability rotations that we’ve lost interest or the ability to act and react within a world that we’re making up as we go along.
I’m not sure that the players are really having fun. I’m not sure that I’m really having fun. Combat is too frequent, and takes too much time (we’ve already broken the first edict NOT to use tactical combat, and I think we’re suffering for it). The role playing opportunities are being bypassed either because they’re not recognized, not interesting, ill-prepared, or just because of standard meta-game thinking. At this point, I’m ready to conclude Episode One just to see if Episode Two is tighter and easier to focus on than the “choose your own adventure” potpourri that is Episode One.