The Joy of DMing
I’m going to talk about my home campaign here, so players beware — spoilers within!
A recent post on Grognardia on the referee as player really speaks towards what I’m trying to do with my current campaign. I have a tendency to plan a lot in advance in my games, and I’m trying very hard to break from that. My hope is that by making my role more of an active player than performer it will help keep the game exciting for me and stave off burn-out. The only campaign that I ever played that lasted more than a year was our round-robin game, in which each person took a turn (3-5 sessions or so) being GM, then passed on to the next guy. I think one of the reasons this campaign was so successful was because no single GM could plan very far in advance, and behaved more like a player (heck was a player) far more often than he was a “performing” GM.
So, recently I saw some of the pay-off, and I’m really excited and want to talk about it, but I’m afraid of doing so in front of my players for fear that it spoils some of the fun for them. Is this wrong? Should the illusion of omniscience be maintained, even if I as GM am playing more by the seat of my pants and making stuff up as we go? I’m not sure. Anyway, here’s what went down.
Early on I included the first level of the module Idol of the Orcs in my campaign. One incidental detail of that dungeon is a room containing loot the orcs stole from nearby merchants, which includes among other things, “20 complete liveries of the nearest army”. It’s just idly mentioned in a list, but it caught my attention, and I decided at the time that they would actually be liveries of the town guard of Bridgefair, a large city a week’s travel away that the player’s had not yet visited (though were planning to eventually).
The players never actually saw those liveries, they didn’t open the box they were in, but I described the box as being branded with the same emblem they would find on the liveries. Well, the players left the loot behind for a while to return to town and get some donkeys to haul it back. Interestingly though, while they killed all the orc warriors within, they failed to find or kill the women and children. Just an odd coincidence there, when the players had barricaded themselves into a room to rest for a while, I decided the orcs would send their women and children packing to the nearby hills for safety. A wise choice as it turns out. Anyway, while the players were off obtaining some transport, the women and children returned, buried their dead, and hauled off what they could of the left behind loot, including those liveries.
Many sessions later, the party is on the road to Bridgefair at last. I rolled a random encounter on their first or second day of travel, and the chart claimed there were 9 acolytes. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with this result, and was about to re-roll, when I remembered the liveries. I decided the group were actually hobgoblins, as I knew there were some in the hills nearby, who were trying to sneak into Bridgefair for some unknown nefarious purpose. Some of them wore acolyte robes, while others had obtained from the orcs some of those liveries. They were hoping their disguises would get them into the city, and from there, honesty I have no idea what they would have done. Of course, their plan did not survive contact with the party, who wiped them out to a man. Not being able to speak hobgoblin, they killed the only captive who could have explained their odd disguises. The players completely forgot about the box they had previously seen with the same emblem on it, even though I described it many times.
Finally the players arrive at Bridgefair. One more piece of background — when I first described the world to the players in an email before we started playing, I mentioned there was contention for the throne of the local kingdom between two princes, however, the small town they began in was too remote to be much affected by this. Bridgefair though is another story, and I mentioned to the players that one of the prince’s armies is camped out just to the north of the city. Also, at some point during play it came up that the order of paladins is aligned with this particular prince, and one of my players is playing a paladin.
That player, for whatever reason, has decided he doesn’t trust his superiors completely nor the prince they’ve aligned themselves with. This was entirely his decision, as I’ve only given vague information about the paladins and the prince, mostly because I haven’t really made anything up about them yet. Yesterday, that payer confided in me that he suspects the prince is actually in some way untrustworthy, and may be behind the whole hobgoblins dressed as town guards plot. He knew as DM I couldn’t comment on this, but I think just wanted to share his suspicions with someone and so told me about it.
I was delighted. All this from an incidental item of loot in a module and a random roll on the wandering monster chart. When the player told me of his theory and said “I can’t wait to find out if I’m right,” I wanted to shout “me too!”
I’m still not sure if it would be wrong for me to admit to my player that I have no idea if he’s right or wrong, nor do I want to know until it’s vitally important. Finding this stuff out is just as exciting for me as it is for him, and is just what I was hoping for out of this campaign. Should the fact that I’m an active player in the game in this way be my dirty secret, or should I revel in it in front of the players? I’m not sure, so I’m taking the cautious route. I couldn’t hide my wide grin from my player when we had this conversation, though perhaps he took that for a knowing smile, as if I was delighting in knowing the answer rather than the exact opposite.
Either way, this campaign is really getting fun for me. I hope it’s as much fun for the players. It sounds like it is for at least one of them. I’m pretty sure at least that both of us are really excited to find out what happens at the next session.