Tabletop Highlight: Running the Game

During my current break from running any Dungeons and Dragons, I’ve started following a YouTuber/Author/Game Master named Matthew Colville. I’ve followed him on twitter for a while, because I love what he has to say, but one of my good friends encouraged me to start watching his videos on YouTube. She’d started following him because she’s working on plans for running her first D&D campaign and he has an amazing video series called “Running The Game” focused around encouraging new DMs to run a game. As a moderately experienced DM, I can definitely say that these videos are amazing and everyone who will one day run/currently runs/or once ran a D&D session should watch them.

When I was first starting out as a DM, I only had half a dozen D&D sessions under my belt as a player. I had an amazing DM as my role model, but I still knew almost nothing about running the game. Since I was a quick study, I read the books, found some online resources for rule adjudication, and took it to heart when the everywhere I read told me that I was the final arbitrator of rules. Things only ever happened because I allowed them to happen that way. Unfortunately, none of these resources prepared me for the way story-telling changes because writing or speaking a story and running a campaign with a story. I was unprepared for the way my players would insert themselves into the narrative I was trying to create, I didn’t have a firm grasp of how I should be running sessions from an administrative point of view, and I was woefully unprepared to manage the social dynamics that sprang up as a result of the campaign. I learned by making wrong choices and it almost scared me away from running games entirely.

Nowadays, I’m a much better DM. I’ve learned a lot of tough lessons and while I still am not great at keeping all of the gears and wheels hidden from my players, I can do it well when it is important to. Still, those two years of campaign and the year of avoiding new games kind of hurt and I wish I’d had a resource that taught me not just the rules but all of the stuff you don’t think of until the shit has hit the fan and you’re wondering what you did wrong. Matthew Colville is such a resource.

His first few videos establish what he’s planning to do with the series. He also sets up the basics by creating a first dungeon and the handful of encounters and sessions that would encompass getting the party together and running through the dungeon. He covers the basics of the rules and how to manage a group of people, along with everything you’d need to know in order to start your own campaign. All of the videos after that are focused around particular topics like the use of maps, how to modify monsters, how to create your own adventure, managing player dynamics, and pretty much anything you might want to know as a DM.

He is a bit of a fast-talker in his videos, but not so fast that he is difficult to understand. His videos go from eight minutes to over forty, so he has a lot of ground to cover and slowing down would almost double the length of most of his videos. He uses a lot of specialized terminology, but he does an amazing job of explaining it as he goes along. His editing skills are top-notch and he keeps the flow of information going constantly, except when he’s working in a few jokes or anecdotes to give examples of what he just said or to show that even thirty-plus years of experience doesn’t mean you won’t still make mistakes. He likes to emphasize that he isn’t a perfect DM and that even he forgets to make use of the advice he’s giving in these videos. All he wants to accomplish is to encourage people to play D&D and to share some of the knowledge he has gained and traditions he has been a part of since he started playing in the eighties.

These videos are incredible. Even though I’ve learned most of the lessons he’s shared so far (I’m still working my way through the videos), it is an incredible aid to have them formally delivered in a way that makes me think about recent applications or how I can do better in the future. Even though I’d be hard-pressed to pick out even on thing specifically that I’m going to do better as a result of these videos, I’m really excited to get back to playing regularly with my group so they can see just how much I’ve improved. So much of it was just a sort of settling-in of what I already knew so it feels more natural. It’ll take a lot less effort to run well, once I start again, and less effort to prepare since the videos have a ton of great tips for stream-lining the process.

If you want to run D&D or know someone who does, I suggest checking out his videos! They’re so accessible that you don’t even need to have played D&D before to understand them! Like Matthew Colville, I just want to be a river to my people. Go, learn to run, and then share it with your friends!

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