Welcome to the beginning of the ongoing documentation of my new D&D group. My name is Melanie and I will be your dungeon mistress.
This is my first time DM’ing a game, and – with the exception of a single awful lone-character one-shot that was DM’d by a friend with a power complex (SilverSong never had a chance) – I have never even played the game.
My husband, Chris, had started playing D&D when he was about 6. Growing up a single child but with older uncles who were of the right age in the mid-80’s to be wholly into playing RPG’s, Chris has fond memories of an early introduction and long relationship with D&D. When we met, he had not played in a good number of years though. We had both discussed, off and on, how we would love to be in a game again (or rather, for the first time, in my case).
But the right group of people were never found, and neither of us were interested in the long-distance online game option (once that was a thing) for various reasons.
We have, however, watched HOURS and HOURS of other people playing. I can thank Wil Wheaton and the Titans Grave crew for reigniting a love of RPG’s in general, and helping to expand the notion of what a fantasy world and storytelling could look like. Remember, my one and only experience was in High School with the DM doing all in his power to make sure I died before the session ended. Titans Grave was amazing, their actions really altered what was going to happen. You felt the tension as they negotiated obstacles. You invested in the characters being portrayed. I wanted to be in a game like that.
In 2015 we went to our first GenCon – having been long-standing watchers/supporters of TableTop and now total board game junkies we decided we should hit the game mecca. We also went to specifically check out the Titans Grave panel and get the newly published guide book. I was thrilled to get Laura Bailey’s autograph. I loved how vividly she played Lemley.
Thoroughly enjoying GenCon the year before, we went again in 2016. There we bumped into a work friend who was attending not for the myriad of games and panels and all that the con had to offer – he drove down specifically just to watch Critical Role live. We had heard about the show prior to this a few times but hadn’t gotten around to checking it out, despite adoring Titans Grave.
That fall, we decided to finally start a D&D game. There were multiple people at Chris’s workplace who had played or were interested in trying and they had all commented at some point that “we should really get together after work and play sometime”. I volunteered to take up the mantle as DM and we coordinated a day to sit down and make characters together.
The first session we played was awkward. I hadn’t yet learned that it’s better to establish a reason for the group of adventurers to band together, or have already been together, or some kind of thread or hook because if you throw a bunch of people “in a tavern” there will be a lot of uncomfortable silences and semi forced interactions. Oops.
Like a growing number of people right now, I thank Matt Mercer and crew at Critical Role for instilling an unquenchable desire to play and/or run D&D. Don’t get me wrong, I’d decided I was going to continue DM’ing / playing with the work group as long as they wanted to continue. Despite all the flaws, all I could think of was how I wanted to improve. How I wanted to make the next game that much better for them to experience. I decided I needed not only some more DM specific advice, but some kind of baseline of what a game really looks like. Enter Critical Role.
Let’s be clear, Titans Grave was great; it was polished and crafted and beautiful to watch. We eagerly refreshed the Youtube Tabletop page for the new episode to become available. Just, there was something different with watching Critical Role, though. Not to dismiss the wonderful story-weaving and deep NPC character development that Matt does, but watching Critical Role you could feel the moments where things went off the rails, where plot points were burnt to the ground and new ones built on the fly; they were game sessions that were attainable, doable by anyone. Outside the voice work, it felt (rightly) like just a goofy bunch of friends hanging out and playing and it could have been anyone sitting there, in a sense. That could be us. I could make a game like that.
Chris and I spent the rest of the year obsessively binge watching the now massive backlog of episodes. Critical role started in the spring of 2015. We started watching in the fall of 2016. Entire weekends were lost watching 3 or 4 episodes, which average 3 hours each, in marathon sittings. It was fantastic. I was a Critter and I was a D&D gamer.
I mentioned our first game was awkward. It must have been pretty alright in the end, because everyone agreed to meet the next week and do another one. “The Adventures of Pete (and some other guys…)” has been going once a week, every week, excepting a few holidays or vacations, since that first session. Yes, that is the official title of the group, and yes, they chose it themselves just the way it is written. With the the ‘other people’ besides Pete being thrown in as though they were an afterthought. Pete has a healthy dose of self-esteem.
I’ve been keeping a story journal of our sessions so we can all enjoy going back over what’s happened. I also started recording them so I can listen to myself and keep improving.
I’ll be posting my story write-ups, with the occasional “what I’ve learned” here and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we have playing it.