Going Pro: FLGS DMing
The sky is calm and blue. Birds chirp to the west, and a light breeze from the east tells you this is the beginning of a wonderful day. No wait…that’s not right. The sky is ten shades of amber and a low buzz can be heard from the west. To the east is a massive…hold on, I misread something. In fact, you are underground it is completely dark…
Who Am I?
I’m not the best DM around. I still have tons of improvements to make and a lot to learn, mostly about storytelling and managing people. That being said, I’m also one of the more prolific DMs at conventions and stores in my area. It should be noted I’ve only been DMing just over a year.
Dungeons and Dragons has always been a stable concept in my life. Whether I was reading about it as a kid or playing it as an adult, it was there. I loved the lore and the fantasy and the what-if nature of the scenarios that magic brought to the world. When fifth edition rolled around, D&D finally had the low entry curve I needed to jump in. I learned to play and loved it. Shortly after, I decided I wanted to tell stories in my own way by running games as the Dungeon Master (DM).
I figured missing out on decades of practice would bar me from entry. Was I even the type of person who should run a game? I’m a massive introvert. I have a hard time looking people in the eyes. I don’t like interrupting people who are speaking. I hate public speaking. I feel most at peace when I’m alone. It was surely only real “people persons” who did that.
Turns out none of those issues were stopping me from DMing. The only thing that was barring me from starting what would soon be one of my favorite activities, was myself.
I thought I had to have everything down perfectly before I could run a table. Know every mechanic. Be a master storyteller. Have the ability to work a group of people like a charismatic ringleader. All of those were obstacles I had contrived in my own mind. In reality, all I needed was the desire to give back to the game from which I had gotten so much, and that I had in spades.
So, what I did was just decide that I would never be a great DM until I was a not great DM at least 50 times. Then I just did it. I found a local store that ran games, which happened to be Gateway Games, the store running the most weekly AL content anywhere in the US. I asked if they could throw a game on their calendar for me and they did. I brought along a friend, so I’d know at least one person there, and hoped for the best. We started with Tomb of Annihilation as it had just come out. I read the first couple chapters and bought some supplies (map, markers, screen).
I was very nervous the first time, but I mostly aimed what I was saying at the friend I knew or a point over everyone’s head. I followed the book’s guidance and just tried to make sure everyone was laughing just as often as they felt their character was doing something cool.
The group was a hit and it filled up with permanent players quickly and we did the entire campaign. I started volunteering for conventions and special events soon after. Each time I ran a table I learned a bit more. Eventually the eye contact thing went away, and the speaking in groups issue followed. The management of the group started to pick up, as well.
So, I’m still not the best. I still have a ton to learn but I no longer have issues running a game, even impromptu. Its comfortable and it honestly took way less than the 50 games to get that way.
What is Adventurer’s League?
Adventurers League is the official sanctioned campaign for shared play. It allows you to take the same character to different tables without any issues arising from their history. You are somewhat limited as to what adventures you can play but there is a vast amount of material that is acceptable. You can play it virtually anywhere as long as you follow the AL guidelines.
What’s in It for Me?
For me the reason to DM was to give back to the community. I showed up for free games, so I wanted to provide games for others to show up to as well. In addition to that, you get some prestige for joining the DM circle, those who have elevated to running games not just playing them. You also gain a far better understanding of the game when you have participated from both sides of the equation. As far as mechanical rewards go, AL usually provides DMs with special rewards based on the time you spend and the content you play.
How Do I Participate?
You need to assemble your DM toolset. Mostly these are going to be documents. And you need to know where to play and what to play and who will be playing.
Rules. You will need a basic understanding of the Fifth Edition ruleset. Wizards of the Coast (WotC) provides those free here. You want to be sure to understand the overall game’s flow, as well as monster stat blocks, combat, ability checks, and conditions.
Guidelines. Adventurer’s League has its own set of rules and regulations to help the games run smoothly and assure the characters will transition from table to table seamlessly. You can download these guides here.
The DM and Player guides will show you how the league differs from the standard core rules. The changes are to assure all games are run in the same manner, and all characters are built to the same standard. There is also a content catalog which tells you what you can play and if there are any adjustments needed to make it AL-Legal. For example, the adventure might say to give the players 100 gp, but the content catalog says to ignore that entry.
Adventure The content catalog will give you a great list of what you can play. If you play at a game store, they likely already have modules you can use. You won’t’ be able to create your own content for AL, without a lengthy approval process from WoTC. I really recommend starting with the modules as all the information you need to run them is provided in the printout.
Venue. Somewhere to meetup and play the game. I recommend a local game store, as the people filtering in and out of it are already going to be gamers. If there is not one in your area, you can use a library, a public space, or even a private residence. The nice part about the game store is they will usually help advertise for players through a bulletin board or a web site.
Announcement. You will need a way for people to know to show up at your game. There are websites like Warhorn.net that you can use or Meetup or even Facebook. The wonderful part about going to your local FLGS is they are likely to have a bulletin board or network of people who are looking to play.
Lastly, show up with some dice and get to it. Your focus will be on having fun. No one knows all the rules. No one gets it right every time. I have yet to be at a game where some rule hasn’t turn out to be inaccurate.
That is the basic necessities the rest is going to be optional. There are battlemats, and DM screens, and handouts, and fancy bags. Even having a DCI number from WotC is entirely optional. The list goes on. Some people have been building their collection of tools for the trade their entire lives.
DMing has helped increase my friend circle, given me a fantastic hobby, and helped me feel I’m giving back to the community (both D&D and the world). It’s boosted my self-confidence, social skills, and leadership abilities. I’ve DMed for charity events and children. I still consistently donate my time to help add people to the community and return what I’ve gotten from it for years.
Chris Valentine is a creator of RPG content and runs a software company in his spare time. He is currently releasing content on DMsGuild, including his latest release Visions of Death taking players from Saltmarsh to Baldur’s Gate in preparation for heading to Avernus. You can often find him at Gateway Games in Mesa, Arizona or follow him on Twitter: @cryptwright