Interlude: The Benefit of Hindsight

Last week I shared some advice about where to find players for your game. Of course, that’s just the first part of finding your group. This week I thought I’d share personal experiences of the potential pitfalls to watch out for once you do get your party together. I also included some recommended viewing.

Detail from a Darkest Dungeon screenshot, showing four characters exploring a dungeon
First, You Must Gather Your Party.

My first experiences as a GM made me realise something: you need to make sure you’re a good fit for each other – not only as a group of players, but also as players and GM. And while I loved being the GM for one group, I was much happier as a player in the other.

Two vastly different experiences

The first time I ran a TTRPG, I had an idea for a story arc that would last a few months, maybe. I had a location, I had established players and characters with links to the game world, and a vague idea of the conflicts they would be walking into. Everything went splendidly.

The next time, I was much more ambitious. I planned important NPCs who could steer the players in the right direction if they lost the plot, a long-boiling mystery to solve, and tantalising hints to drop along the way. It almost immediately derailed, because the players headed straight for the first, most obvious clues and wouldn’t let go until they had stomped those leads into dust, making lifelong enemies of the NPC and essentially ending the storyline before it began.

That’s how it goes, sometimes.

C’est la vie, or You live and learn

My first campaign succeeded for many reasons, including the makeup of the group. But I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and headache by running a few test games with the group before launching head-first into the metaplot. I would easily have seen that the metaplot was a bad idea. In fact, so was DMing for that group. We weren’t at all a good fit. And that’s fine – or it would have been, if I hadn’t been too stubborn to admit that things weren’t working.

Recommended viewing

I’ll be posting a few more articles about the perils of long, complicated campaigns, but I wanted to give you some good practical advice, too.

Matt Colville has done an entire YouTube playlist with videos full of good advice about running a tabletop RPG game for the first time. He covers a wide range of topics, but I wanted to share one particular video with you. This one focuses on different types of roleplayers, but he starts off by making some very valid points about the idea of “failing” as a GM or as players. Even though Matt Colville is using D&D as his example of a game, what he says applies to TTRPGs more generally.

When you start GMing, you may not be able to tell who in your group belongs to each type of player, and that’s fine. It’s worth keeping this in mind, though, when you think about your first few games. Can you start figuring out what kind of players you have, and how to help them all play together?

A final note:

From time to time, I’ll be sharing some TTRPG-related resources I particularly like or found especially useful. This is partly to acknowledge that I’m not reinventing the wheel, or saying anything absolutely unique or new. I won’t always agree with everything they say, but the main points will reflect my personal view of things, at least for the most part. Generally, I’ll be posting links or videos where I want to share some great advice. That said, please don’t take any mention of people or properties to be personal endorsements.