First Time DM: Episode Two. Best Laid Plans…
Last time, I talked about the initial collaboration between Eugenio and me, how we started developing a season story document to keep track of our ideas, and the actual first episode and how it went.
This one is partly about remaining flexible. If you watched Episode Two, you might have noticed we were down two cast members. Things happen all the time, and we were prepared for one person to be away, but not two. It did cause a little bit of last minute scrambling.
It’s also about falling victim to one of the classic blunders. I now have my gazebo, my chair, what have you. I now know to never write a throw-away gag. The innocuous immediately becomes the ominous. 😅
The first episode went great in terms of content and time and getting back to the table, and at the very end of the episode, we teased a bit that I wrote, admittedly excessively — because it was my first time writing a scene. I added a description, various narrative hooks we could pull from if need be and even some skill checks because I was trying to assume how the cast of players would react.
However, in the back of my mind, I still thought it wouldn’t merit much of a mention. I didn’t hide any secrets in it, it had no bearing on the overall story arc for the season, none of that. And they latched onto the idea far more readily than I had anticipated. Which made it good that I perhaps went overboard in putting it together.
I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. So go watch it! The event was a bit meta as it’s something that our cast is likely more familiar with than the characters. And it all sprung from a one-line note in our very early stages of writing.
I have to hand it to the power of an episodic actual-play show. The story element fit, in my opinion, perfectly with the situation we had before us. Eugenio and I had a chance to read over this scene, so it was in our heads. The cast leaned into it, so it made up for the fact that it was just four of us talking, 2 DMs, 2 players. And we got to have a lot of laughs with it.
I would not have been mad if it had gotten the 2-5 line mention I originally envisioned and was never revisited, however it was nice to have on hand. (And again, in my opinion, it seemed to go over extremely well with the cast and viewers.)
Oh, one more thing. Scene transitions are hard. After the scene, we got the players together to tease another narrative hook where they would need to travel to it. And to credit that we’re all very much, “No, now you go/speak,” with each other, it does cause a moment of silence when we’re like, “So are you leaving now?” Because you don’t want to give me montage powers, believe me.
You know what else is hard? Combat is hard. I don’t even like it that much as a player, but trying to run a combat encounter with monsters you aren’t too familiar with from their stat blocks took me a moment to really get into. I also had to remember that I was supposed to be fighting the players and not taking it too easy on them.
We had re-balanced the encounter to accommodate two players instead of four, so it wasn’t too bad, but once I got the hang of playing the monster, it was pretty formidable. As the DM, I know how many hit points the monsters/enemies have. I can’t see how many hit points the players’ characters have. I’ll admit, I was worried about being too mean! (Also maybe killing them.)
But another lesson: trust your players. We pretty much set up a, “Do you want to take the sunlit easy path, or this dark wooded thicket that might be a shortcut?” choice leading into the combat encounter. And, of course, the players chose the thicket. Thank god. Not that we couldn’t have steered things that way as DMs anyway, but it’s nice to know when players are 100% fine taking the bait.
I confess that I was more than a little panicked during the episode because we really had not planned to have 2 cast members out, and essentially their characters shuffled offstage the whole time. Watching the episode again, I can see where I was fumbling for things to say and thankfully my Co-DM had my back.
Next up is character work and not having to control every aspect of a scene. 💖