This summer I’ve been DMing a Pathfinder campaign for five friends. It’s about three years since I last did any tabletop roleplaying and though in the past we had fun, this summer I’ve seen a huge difference that is presumably just a result of the group getting older and also having got to know each other better. The sessions have been very enjoyable and we’ve decided to attempt to continue the campaign over the Internet once I go to Korea and three players go (back) to university. We’re hopeful this will work well because so many people now play DnD this way, so though it won’t be as good as meeting up around a table, it surely can’t be that much worse. We might find it impossible to schedule in sessions but I’m hopeful at this point that we’ll be able to.

DMing is a huge challenge for a number of reasons, but I think it’s a role that suits me pretty well with this group. What I most enjoy doing is being involved in the process of telling the story of adventurers solving adventuring problems; I like coming up with cool descriptions and cool things that happen. Very much secondary to this for me is character development and the group dynamic. This is the player’s responsibility for the most part; while I try to angle the campaign to allow them to flesh out their characters, I only do this in response to their indications of where they want to take the characters.

Our group is really well constituted for exactly this. The fact that I’m setting up the problems rather than being directly involved in solving them doesn’t prevent me from being involved in the group effort of coming up with cool solutions. For example, when a player smashes a monster, and they don’t describe it in much detail, another player, or me, is free to come in and say that their sword went straight through the skeleton’s rib cage, ringing as it hit the stonework behind. Further, my preperatory notes can be very minimal, because this group of players are very willing to fill them in. (This wasn’t so much the case when we played in the past, where stunting had to be requested, whereas now it can’t be avoided.) They’re doing worldbuilding. The party arrived at a temple of the paladin’s goddess, so I left it to him to describe the temple and a few of the NPCs inside. I become anxious before a session that I have either under- or overprepared, but so far the players have brought things together effectively. This is good because I don’t consider myself particularly creative, but that doesn’t get in the way of me making adventures that are fun for the group.

Pathfinder, or Dungeons and Dragons version 3.75, is also well-suited to the kind of play I’m interested in. There are common complaints about it that I’ve made before myself. The simplistic alignment system of law vs. chaos and good vs. evil. The importance of dungeons, with all their traps, which are totally unbelievable (what is keeping all the traps in working order and the monsters fed?). The fact that the game is 80% about combat and that combat takes a really long time. I now believe that most of these complaints do not get in the way of a really fun game. The combination of rules, dice and roleplaying somehow manages to make it feel like you’re not just making up a story, but really working to beat an adventure; I’m not sure quite how this happens. I’m not so interested in roleplaying yet another stereotyped individual; I want to be involved in an adventure. DnD is actually really, really good at this.

So much for what I find interesting about this game and why the group is well-constituted for my enjoyment. The other members of the group are after different things, and the challenge is to balance this all off against each other. One player is particularly interested in conversations with NPCs and other party members with the goal of developing his character. The others are less bothered by this. There’s a dungeon crawl coming up, and I really want to make it so that everyone can enjoy it to the full; I think I can put something good together, but it will require proceding slowly.

One problem with the group is that four of the six of us have a tendency to get bogged down in looking through rulebooks every so often. Though we know third edition DnD very well, there’s a lot of spells, feats and special abilities in the PHB; these tend to be the things we keep having to look up. Two of my players are experienced DMs who are in the habit of evaluating every decision I make about how to resolve a part of the adventure, and every rules adjudication, through the eyes of a DM, thinking how they would have done it if they were in charge. This can be really useful input since they’ve DMed Pathfinder more recently and extensively than me, but it can bog things down and I struggle to balance their interests with the interests of the three other, quieter, players, who would probably just go along with my initial judgement almost every time if the more argumentative players weren’t there. Got to work to achieve a balance of what everyone wants to get out of the game.

Finally, one thing that’s been inspiring me to work hard at my DMing is that I’ve started listening through Critical Hit (first episodes), a 4th edition DnD campaign run by the fantastic Rodrigo Lopez. Listening to 4th edition combat in podcast form is fairly dull, but the roleplaying episodes are so rich with ideas and cool little descriptions which I love. I couldn’t do what he does: his group contribute much less to the storytelling and I don’t have the creativity in me to come up with as much as he does, it seems. I would like to get better at this over time.