Becoming a DM can be really scary. As the DM you are in charge of a world, organizing games, planning a story, creating characters, judging rules, and all sorts of things that can be really intimidating for someone who has never done it. Today I want to share the stories of my fellow DM’s, and how they got into D&D and DMing. I want to show people that it is ok to make mistakes and give people the push they need to become DM’s themselves.
I first discovered D&D in the library. I was browsing the sections when I came across a dark blue book with a world on it. I checked it out and started reading the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide. This book was revolutionary to me and taught me that not only can you create your own worlds, but you can play games in them. I barely understood the book, as I needed the Player’s Handbook to go along with it, but the seed of roleplaying was instilled in me.
A few years later I went back to that same section of the library and found the Core Rulebook for Pathfinder. All of my memories of the DMG flooded back to me and the book finally made sense to me. I quickly gathered all of my friends and started a game. We stumbled through the rules and had to make several new rulings on the spot (most of them wildly imbalanced) but we had so much fun it didn’t even matter. 5 years later, and I still do my best to DM as much as possible. Nothing compares to how rewarding it is when you can get the entire table to cheer in excitement.
TT: I found this game online in which people could do whatever, which weirdly was an attractive quality for me at that time simply because I played some PC game and was annoyed with the invisible walls and the lack of clever strategies that could be applied. So I did my research, found there were half a dozen options, went for Pathfinder because of the clear ruleset and character customization options. Bought the books on a whim. Searched for people that wanted to try. Got my first game behind the screen.
Went all out for the first session. Designed the first part of my own world for it, because I didn’t want to spend more than I already did (didn’t even start in a tavern btw., was equally bad though). Drew a map (on tea-ed paper with burned edges and everything), devised some clever obstacles and ran that session with surprising success. Was all downhill from there, but never stopped having fun and throwing my players for a loop.
My adventure began out in the wilderness. No, like literally, we were camping out in the wilderness. The first time I experienced DnD (ad&d 2e) I clutched my character sheet tight in my grip as I sat on the edge of a seat I fashioned out of an unsplit log of firewood. I was playing a cleric, who only knew one spell (heat metal) because in 2e you had to find somebody to teach you spells and that was the only one I found so far. Determined to prove my worth, my group ran into a treant near a lake, I yelled to my brother at arms to douse the monstrosity with lantern oil. Then, on my turn, I heaved my grappling hook into the oil and cast my spell. Ignited, we quelled the threat and slayed the beast. My glory was short-lived as soon after I was slain; my face ripped to shred as I got entangled in rusty chains fleeing a wyvern. That first adventure entangled me in the world of DnD. It was 1994, my dad was driving our suburban to another weekend campout for Boy Scouts and I had 4 friends in the back. We folded down the seats so we could all face each other with a flat surface in the middle. We had agreed to each get a different book in the set. We had a player’s handbook, an ultimate thieves guide and I had a DMG. As the holder of the DMG, I was elected to DM so I flipped to the 2e table for npc personality, rolled up the general storekeeper they wanted to buy equipment from and the rest is history.
Why I became a DM
It all started back in 1997. I’d been playing D&D, basic rules, then AD&D 1e, for a few years by then. Id never DMed though, and my grasp on the rules was tenuous at best. My neighbor and several friends in the neighborhood wanted to play, and they brought me a fuckton of dice, mostly d6s, to start our game. Sitting in my next door neighbor’s bedroom, going through the AD&D 2E DM’s guide, trying to figure out how to play, I started with a terrible, homebrewed d6 test system. My friends played a wizard, a dwarf fighter, and a human rogue. They fought a lamia and killed it by pinning it to the ground and chopping its head off. In mechanical terms, it failed against all their rolls, and it was just basically me making shit up and telling the story. As the one kid that had read Lovecraft, Burroughs, Doyle, and Tolkien, I was the natural choice to build the world and describe the adventure.
We may as well have been playing a diceless game, at first. As long as they had fun, I didn’t care. I eventually bought every Forgotten Realms splatbook, Monster Compendium, and sourcebook that I could with my job money and allowance. I became the one friend everyone knew that could run games from memory. Everyone wanted to play, but nobody knew the rules or cared. They all wanted to play “Yermomsuhoe the Elf Ranger”, or “Frank The Barbarian.” Murderhobo-ing was the game, and D&D was its name.
But we were young, and it was better than drinking, smoking pot, or dealing methcathinone. We were free within our imaginations, and it made all the troubles of being young and poor just fall away.
I always wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons, but my religious parents would never have allowed it. In college, my boyfriend invited me to join a 4e game he was starting up. During the summers, we would all meet at his parents’ house play for several hours (literally in the basement). My husband and I went to Gencon 2014 for our honeymoon. 5e was being debuted there. We got nostalgic for our old college group, but my husband absolutely did NOT want to DM. I agreed to sit in the DM chair, so we picked up the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook and Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Our 5e group has had several player rotations, but we have met nearly every week since 5e was officially released (except for ~4 weeks, following the birth of my son). I’m currently a #ForeverDM, and I don’t really mind it. I love running the show and planning the adventure for my best friends.
A year after playing my first tabletop RPG (Deadlands), I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the possibilities ttrpgs could offer. I had only played video games, and the range of possibilities ttrpgs offered blew my mind. I thought about how great a zombie apocalypse rpg could be. You could craft makeshift weapons, use creative tactics to get out of situations, and have that constant dread of the undead hoards. The ideas didn’t stop, and I started writing them down. I teamed up with a friend and made an RPG to best fit the ideas we thought we be the most fun to use. I ran that campaign for 2 years. I wasn’t sure I wanted to GM, I just knew I wanted to make that game. And who else would run a game I made? But as I got over my fears of GMing, I learned how fun it was. I wanted to run more games, and I wanted to make more content. And I haven’t stopped since.
I became a DM simply because I wanted to play. My parents had played in their high school days and even now do so once every few months (which I DM’d the last session of that) so the books always sat on the mantle at our first house. I loved looking at the Monster Manual (AD&D 1E) with my dad and learning about the monsters. The Bullet, Beholder, and Purple Worm being my favorites. However, like most US families both parents were busy a lot so we never got to play just look at the books. I was on a vacation at my Grandmother’s in Georgia when I found a used Red Box kit for AD&D for 10$. I bought it with the little money I had as a 13 year old and that night starting reading the book front to back and did the little adventure in the book on my own. I wanted to play but everyone was too busy so it was just my brother and myself the first few times. I DM’d because I read the books. So I asked if my friends could come over on a Friday and I ran my first campaign with the mesh of books we had. 2E PHB, 1E MM, and DM’s guide and custom made character sheets my Dad made on the computer for us. After it went so well my parents decided we could have people over every Friday and that continued till I moved out after college. Eventually, I wasn’t the only DM my brother and some other friends learned and we switched around. Since then I’ve come to learn I much rather be a player than a DM but I do LOVE world building and figuring out Monster Behavior. I would say the best thing that came out of all of it though is one friend who thanked me for running it all those years since it gave him something to do other than to party on weekends. I don’t know how much of it was him being sentimental but I liked the idea that I someone helped someone.
Two of my best friend’s were brothers. One was a year ahead of me, the other a year behind me in school. They had an older brother who is ~10 years older than all of us. He lived in the basement. Not only was he my first DM, he was a literal cellar-dweller.
After 2-3 sessions, I hacked out a simple ruleset using only 6-sided dice to play with my younger siblings and some of the neighborhood kids. They were all younger. It was around the time 3E was released, so I picked up the new rulebooks and we never looked back.
But back to the cellar-dweller… my first character was a half-elf rogue named Talon. The first piece of treasure that I picked up was a jagged, poorly-made shortsword that I looted from a dead orc. The cellar-dweller ran a DMPC kender who just fucked everything up, alerted Strahd we were sneaking around the grounds of Castle Ravenloft, and Talon got himself blood-drained.
It all began when my parents took me out of the Lutheran school I grew up in and sent their plump, sensitive idiot boy into the wolves’ den of public middle school in the mid-90s. Okay, the late 90s. I forget why, but rather than taking the bus home, I ended up following one of my few friends (of similar constitution) on a bus that dropped off near the public library. In the basement of the children’s wing, one of the librarians’ son invited me into a haphazard but still weekly game of AD&D, 2nd Edition. I played a thief named The Flying Baccarat before I knew what Baccarat was. After sufficiently mocked by older nerds who grew up playing card games with their parents, he became the Flying Mandoo, former circus acrobat and not at all total Robin ripoff. His adventure was into nothing less than the Nine Hells themselves and his misadventures with a magical golden coin invented by a DM who just read about King Midas in school left him with a permanently, uselessly gold hand. Good for thumping people about the head, I guess. The DM, who would go on to work for the NSA after having gotten a PhD in mathematics (on purpose, weirdly) did his very best, but in all my pubescent arrogance I found only frustration in that library basement. He was terrible at improvising. He didn’t do the voices. The sessions were WAY too short. On and on my complaints went, first with him, then with everyone after. Oh, not to their face, no. I was doughy and weak and didn’t enjoy confrontation. But eventually, I learned a lesson I find myself re-learning every few years or so: I’m the only DM I like. So now, I DM pretty exclusively, unless I’ve once again mistakenly convinced myself to let someone else behind the screen and inevitably find myself counting the sessions until it’s my campaign again. (I promise I’m not as terrible of a player as you would be justified believing.)
I played D&D for 12 years before I became a DM in 1990. I hadn’t played for a few years, and my friend mentioned wanting to play, so we did a short little thing and while it was fun, my friend didn’t feel comfortable DMing, so I volunteered. I asked about where they wanted to play, and they said “CITY!” – so now you know why I’m obsessed with them, as I had to draw the damn thing, populate it, and we spent nearly a year there. This was in 2e. I was pretty terrible. I’ve told this story before, but my first group literally flipped a table over on me due to my extreme railroading, power-mongering, and general asshole-ishness. Totally fair call. I was all those things. And I wised up, got better real fast and vowed to never stop learning. I’d like to think that I haven’t. I’ve had maybe 150 players over the years, some great, some bad, some forgettable, and it’s the deaths I remember the most – the amazing ones, the silly ones, the sacrificial ones, the random ones. I play this game because I want to know what happens (I don’t write plot), and I like feeling the mystery unfold before me. When you are at the table, and the synergy is sparking, and everyone is dialed-in, you cannot beat it. Magic.