Dungeon Master Chris’ Complex Custom Content

One of my strengths as a DM is my ability to create customized, interesting content. I normally wouldn’t assert this because it includes a value judgment and is based on preferences, but part of the nature of customized content is adapting things to fit the interests of the people involved. It can be incredibly exhausting to do when the various players have very different interests (shoutout to my lovely but incredibly interest-diverse D&D group that meets no more than once every other week), but it is incredibly satisfying when it works out.

For this particular group, I did a modified version of the worldbuilding exercises and games that Friends at the Table uses. Since my players are less familiar with storytelling tropes from a narrative-building perspective, some of them completely unfamiliar with anything fantasy or sci-fi outside of pop-culture, I had to make a few adjustments to help guide them through it. Though it left me exhausted and drained to the point of being cranky, we came up with some incredible but incredibly different ideas for what we wanted to play. One of my players was leaning heavily into noir and cyberpunk, another was digging deeply into cryptids and social media, a third was creating really unique and interesting individuals, and another was tossing out ideas about inter-universal travel. Throughout it all, I was leading people to keep their ideas broad or super-specific as needed so that they could exist in a world with everyone else’s stuff and producing some ideas of my own that created problems and issues in the universe so there was conflict to explore as a D&D campaign.

And then, in a single week, I wove it all into a solid, singular world. To top it off, it even had narrative cohesion. There was a reason for it all. The only things I left out were things I had put into the world in order to encourage my players to take bigger swings, try more outrageous stuff. It is a world still under construction, of course, with new elements being added as we play this game and I tell people to describe the world they find themselves in. But it is a living world, a place that they all have an investment in, they all have a connection to, so it changes as they change. We’ve only played a handful of times so far, but as we get further into the game, I can’t wait to see how they change the world around them.

Throughout it all, I work in the background, laboring to maintain narrative consistency, figure out the details required to support the world they’re describing, and building on their ideas to give them all the story they want. After all, serial killers are unfortunately common place. Wanting revenge for the loss of your family at the hands of a serial killer is a great way to up the stakes. But what if the serial killer is not just the serial killer, but all of their imitators, too? What could explain how each kill happens with only a single stab wound? Why is it always abundantly clear that the killer sprang out of a suitcase?

If you’re given all of these restrictions, it can take a lot of work to come up with narratively consistent reasons this is the case and even more work for them to also be narratively satisfying. I think I’m up to the challenge. Time will tell, of course, but I think I have it in me to figure this out. After all, this is one of my creative strengths. Why would be writing a blog post about this if I wasn’t confident, or sure, that I could do it?

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