DM me! (Part I)


Last weekend, for the first time in maybe 15 years (and possibly – gulp – more), I DM’ed me some Dungeons and Dragons.

All decked out and nowhere to pillage!
All decked out and nowhere to pillage!

This may come as a surprise to some folks, given the roleplaying cred of my comic strip, Dork Tower. It sure shocked the heck out of me, once I did the maths.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been rolling plenty of D20 bones over the last decade or two. Often with my current favorite gaming gang, “Six Guys in a Dirty Basement.” (Better by far than “Six Dirty Guys in a Basement,” I’ll hasten to add.)

But it’s always been as a player. To actually take position behind a hallowed Dungeon Master’s screen? Nope. Not for far longer than I could have possibly imagined.

Years ago, I would run games DMing games for the Pegasus Gameratti group that took me under their wing. I’d run GURPS, or Traveller, or Call of Cthulhu – or sometime all at once. (“What’s making that noise in the cargo bay?” “YOU DO NOT WANT TO LOOK, FREE TRADER CAPTAIN!”)

Other RPG loves at the time? “Pendragon,” “Space 1889,” “Deadlands” and “Paranoia.”

Before that? I was the main DM for my college group, and before that, I was the guy whop introduced roleplaying to Millfield School, Street, Somerset, England. So hells yeah, I was their DM, too!

But life got busy, fifteen- to-twenty years ago (Gasp! Choke! Wheeze! The Dork Tower comic book started doing well. Very well. At the same time, “Apples to Apples” was becoming a bigger hit then we could ever have imagined. To cap it off, I had just started drawing this little project for Steve Jackson Games called “Munchkin.”

Roleplaying had been my main gaming gig for much of the 1980s and 90s. While I loved historical miniatures, such games were harder to find, in college. And board games has not nearly achieved the critical mass they enjoy today – you’d be lucky if you could find someone willing to try “Cosmic Encounter” back then, let alone “Mystic Wood,” “Talisman” or “GEV.”


(As big a goober as I was for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in school, the late 80s/early 90s was AD&D 2nd edition era: not my fave. I’d switched to running GURPS, and enjoyed the hell out of its antiseptic mathematical joy. Fun fact: most of the early Dork Tower strips from SHADIS magazine that people assume are D&D-based were actually inspired by my many GURPS campaigns.)

Anyway, skipping ahead: my early 2000s convention schedule was brutal: some years I’d be on the road 80, 90, 100 days or more. The constant travel made it impossible to run any kind of regular roleplaying campaign myself. I believe the very last RPG I ran was Deadlands: I was on the verge of mashing some Space 1889 elements into it. You should have seen the scenarios I had planned! It was Firefly-iffic, ten years before Firefly!

So what got me back in the saddle? Or should I say “behind the screen”?

(1) My pal Mike Mearls sent me a Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition care package, last year. I read it, and I loved it. And the new D&D starter set came with a neat little campaign called “the Mines of Phandelver.” My interest was piqued.

(2) What took me from “piqued” to “I MUST RUN IT,” though, was listening to the Board with Life gang podcast their Phandelver misadventures.

IMG_6850 (1)
Paint or perish!

and (3) Thanksgiving was coming g up, and I really wanted to run a game for my brother, my nieces and my nephews. I had a timeline, and I had a deadline!

So I started painting minis again (SO much fun), buying spell cards and wet erase mats (SO much fun), pouring over the new rules (Did I mention “fun”?), and catching up with other podcasts running the same scenario (SO much fun).

Schnick and Schnack lead the way!
Schnick and Schnack lead the way!

I was pretty certain I’d be rusty, but I was ready to run D&D 5th for my brother and his kids over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

And guess what?

It was SO much fun!

I let my nieces and nephews roll up new characters, irather than use the regenerated ones in the starter set.

In part I believe this gives players an immediate vested interest in a game. But also, it let me familiarize myself with the mechanics a bit better. It took a while – but each character generation went smoother and and quicker than the one before (“Oh – that’s why hit dice are listed along with hit points. I SEE NOW!”)

I let the kids roll 4 d6 (saving the best three rolls for the stat), six times, and assign them as they wished to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma.

I was going to let them roll a seventh stat, and discard the lowest, but the resulting party (a Wizard, a Barbarian, a Fighter and a Druid) was tough enough already. I almost felt sorry for the gobbos in the first encounter.

I'm a fan of Phandelver
I’m a fan of Phandelver. (Velociraptors substituting for Wolves, Orc substituting for Bugbear).

On the “Law of Averages” side, this ain’t the prettiest or most well-spoken group of adventurers under the rangy-russet sun. Together, the four of them have a combined charisma modifier of -2. Bygones

Anyway, “Rusty”? No way. We ran a couple of sessions, and if anything, listening to the podcasts has made me a better GM than I ever was before. Or, at the very least, more willing to tackle silly voices. Just ask Schnick and Schnack, the goblins the party intimidated into being their servants. (“SCHNICK HAS NO MASTER! SCHNICK IS A FREE GOBLIN! Oh. No. Wait. Is cool…”)

We’ll resume the campaign over the Christmas holidays when we’re all together again. But bad news: in looking for other files, I stumbled across my old GURTPS/D&D campaign maps. And I started adding to them.

Not only and I DMing, again…I’m world-building, too.

My new time-suck is my old time-suck.

Fortuntely, there is no “Will” saving throw in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. Because I ‘ve just failed mine.


Now where did I put that Bugbear mini that needs painting..?



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