Confessions of a DM

"A Major Problem" | Art by i-am-knot. Used with permission.
I had what I thought at the time was a brilliant idea. To solve the conundrum of adding a fourth player into the party midway through a campaign, I would make the new character a spy.

He would be offered a substantial amount of money to keep an eye on the original three characters. Then the agency he worked for would betray him, and he would end up working with the three as a double agent. I had high hopes for this plan, and was rather proud of it.

The day of the session rolled around and I put my scheme into action. Everything was going fine, until the dice betrayed my spy and the other characters found out he was following them before I’d had time for his employees to betray him. The other players’ characters—a wary paladin, a druid with guarded emotions, and a warlock with a penchant for distrust—were, naturally, suspicious.

The poor new character was caught, searched, interrogated, and tied up by the others. The session ended with him sitting alone in a tavern, unsure what to do next, and the other three players leaving town.

If I see my life as a tug-of-war, I will always lose, wishing I had put more points into my strength attribute.

Things certainly did not go according to plan. If there is one thing I am learning as a Dungeon Master, it is that whatever plans I make, the players will find a way to spectacularly ruin them. I try to plan for how my players will react to what I throw at them, but I cannot prepare for everything, and they will most likely pull something that hadn’t occurred to me. The consequences are often interesting or hilarious, but it means that I am always on my toes adjusting to their decisions and trying to keep everyone alive.

Sometimes being a DM feels like a tug-of-war between what the players want and what I want. It is at these times I need to remind myself that Dungeons and Dragons is a game, and it is supposed to be fun for everyone, including me.

I am still not sure how I am going to clean up this mess and convince my players to work together. I need to have a plan in place, but a part of me is hoping that my players will do what they are so good at and come up with something crazy that I haven’t considered. D&D is all about actions and consequences. I tell my players that they can try anything they can think of. Whether those actions succeed or fail, and what the consequences are, is up to me and the unpredictable roll of the dice. Then we all have to live with it. Or die, if the dice really hate us.

D&D may be a fantasy game set in an imaginary world, but it often reminds me of my life. I make plans every day, and every day my life takes those plans and ruins them spectacularly. I could go through my days and attempt to assert absolute control over what happens, but I would constantly be frustrated and would not have any fun (and neither would those around me). Alternatively, I can roll with it and remember that my life is ultimately in God’s hands regardless of my best-laid plans.

I try to plan for how my players will react to what I throw at them, but I cannot prepare for everything.

I don’t think that making plans is a bad thing, necessarily. If, as a DM, I went into a game session with no plans, the game would have no direction and I would be scrambling to pull interesting characters and engaging storylines out of thin air. I know from experience that this is a very difficult thing to do. Having a plan is a necessary component of the game and gives the players a framework to start with. If I see my life as a tug-of-war between what I plan for and what the world throws at me, I will always lose and get dragged along, wishing I had put more points into my strength attribute.

Instead, I can choose to shift my perspective and see daily challenges as new adventures, opportunities to learn, and a chance to experience something spectacular. I am left with the advice of Bilbo Baggins, who is well-versed in unexpected adventures ruining his best-laid plans: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I know that I can step out my door with the confidence that all my plans may be spectacularly ruined, but it makes living more interesting as I advance in the spectacular adventure of life that God has given me.

Sheela Cox

Sheela Cox

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Sheela talks to horses, loves to dance, and adores making fancy outfits. She lives with a handsome young man in her cozy home filled with books and the smell of fresh-baked cookies. (Photo by Don Nowicki)
Sheela Cox

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