What Do You Do?

Who says blogging can’t change things! Nobody? Probably nobody.

A few weeks ago I wrote about wanting to play a tabletop RPG with a group, and because of that post one fell into my lap. Our first session is tomorrow, and we’ll be playing Dungeon World with me as Game Master, which at first I didn’t think I wanted to do? But this opportunity is too good to ignore. The group is actually the fellows from the Whatevertown podcast, a super fun show I’ve guested on nearly three times. They came across my post and got in touch, because it turns out, they were looking for an opportunity to play and weren’t sure where to start.

Our first session is tomorrow night, and I’ve wanted to write about the experience of preparing for a little while. But also, I mean, I didn’t want to, because I know that my soon-to-be players might read this and I did not want that. When I examined my resistance, I thought at first it was because in D&D tradition (which is where I’ve spent the most time) the Dungeon Master doesn’t allow players to peek “behind the curtain”. The dungeon master’s screen — that bit of foldable cardboard that the Head Nerd sits behind — is there to keep players from seeing future story information, prepared surprises that you’re about to drop on the table, or even just that you’re fudging the results of your dice rolls (always for noble reasons of course). There is always a veil of secrecy, and DMs often try to come across as aloof, mysterious, all-knowing, and ready for anything.

Thus, writing about my excitements and anxieties in an open way, that my players might see, first struck me as being a very bad idea. I can’t drop the veil because it would make me vulnerable to the players, and thus ‘weaker’ somehow. But Dungeon World is very different; the game is much more of a back-and-forth conversation between players and the GM, and while there can still be surprises, there’s much less to keep hidden from players because we’re making things up together. In DW, the game master saying “I don’t know — what do you think happens?” is a valid thing to do when stuck for a good answer, which reduces pressure significantly on the person in that role.

As I thought about my resistance to writing about my experiences, I realized that my problem went beyond the idea of vulnerability with players into a more common, not-RPG-specific issue; I don’t want them to know that I’m anxious because I don’t want them to feel guilty about “making” me feel anxious. What I mean is that…at various points while getting to grips with the rules and getting supplies ready for tomorrow’s game, I’ve had to tell off Marvin the Low Self-Esteem Creature. Marvin has been trying to convince me that I won’t be ready, that the goodness of this game is entirely on my shoulders, and if it isn’t Perfect, I will ruin tabletop RPGs for the group forever. I know these things are not true. I’m in a good place about the game tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it, but I had to work through that stuff first. And in my typical way, I want to keep all my struggles to myself so that nobody else is burdened by them or made to feel in any way less happy.

If you’re an Enneagram enthusiast, this is probably a super typical ‘9’ thing to do. Anyway, I will probably write more next week, once the first session is under our belts. Now I just have to stop myself from trying to ‘cram’ between now and tomorrow; we’re all learning to play this thing together. Perfect is the enemy of good, after all. 

Thing I Saw: Some pretty gorgeous and elaborate dungeon master screens while googling for that image I linked earlier. Gosh, people really do go to lengths for their hobbies. It’s cool!

Thing I Learned: The children’s show The Backyardigans draws from a wide variety of musical styles, including Highlife, a super upbeat kinda African dance music that I have been jamming on for a few days. This is a good Spotify playlist!

In case you don’t have a Spotify!