As I mentioned in last month’s editorial, I spent some quality time sitting on the players’ side of the DM screen in the game I normally run. I gave up my DMing duties in lieu of a chance to roll up a character and ride shotgun with my group.
Well, we had another session, and everyone was a lot more bloodthirsty this time out, including the DM. Lots of combat. Lots of hilarity.
To set the stage, this game wasn’t a continuation of our normal campaign. It was always intended to be a one-off game, so everyone had new characters. At first glance, it seemed like a more viable way to conduct this particular experiment—handing the reigns reins of the group off to a new DM, but in the short term. But when we all came to the table, the first thing that struck me was the tone of the game.
Everyone knew this was a one-off game, so we all were a little silly when it came to character creation. Characters had ridiculous names, and ridiculous personality traits. For example, one player’s character had a name composed almost entirely of consonants, and my character, and another, playing a kobold, spoke as rapidly and as often as he could. The fun bit was that we all created our characters independently, but what we ended up bringing to the table was, well, a sideshow.
At first, I felt sorry for our interim DM. I thought she’d end up storming out after 15 minutes. But I was wrong. She embraced our zaniness and found ways to work our off-beat humor into the adventure. In fact, because this was intended to be a one-off adventure, the adventure had minimal story. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, by any stretch. Our quirky, over-the-top characters really created the story for the game. We took the story that was there, and embellished it with our personalities, and made it our own.
This got me to thinking about the value of humor in a D&D game. Don’t get me wrong—I like to make progress in a campaign. I like to gain XP, explore new places, learn about new story hooks, and, well, play the game. But I value the social aspect of the game intensely. And humor is probably one of the single-biggest bonding elements you could introduce into any social experience. I’m pretty lenient as a DM. I enjoy a good joke as much as anyone, and I’ll frequently engage in humorous back-and-forth with my players at the table during a session, which I know many DMs would poo-poo as a sign of a game out of control. What I hadn’t considered was taking a humorous, in-character outburst and spinning it right into the story of the adventure to get the group back on track. For example, at one point in our game, some read-aloud text described scratches along the walls and floor in a room, merely as flavor. One of our players made a joke about captives being held against their will, and our intrepid DM—once the laughter died down—immediately jumped on the joke and said that yes, in fact that was exactly the source of the markings. One joke, one laugh, one spin and we were once again back on track. I’m going to keep my eye out for instances like this next session.
That said, you need to know your group. If you’re stepping away from the screen for a session or two, expect that players won’t have the same attachment to their fresh characters, so they’ll likely treat the game with more silliness than normal. Most groups, in my experience, will relish the opportunity to crack wise a little more often. Just be aware, if you do this, that your entire group is on board, and ready to treat the one-off with the same gravity (or lack thereof).
The other thing I learned? A break is nice. I think that from here on out, I’ll schedule regular one-off breaks every few months with the group. Sharing the DM experience is always good; it gives me a break from DMing, I get to hone my comedic gifts, and maybe best of all, I get a chance to game with some players and friends I usually sit on the opposite side of the screen from. Sounds like a win-win to me.