When I DMed a second time it was getting incredibly close to my “debut” session, the birthday session that I had been planning for months. I had spent hours and hours creating the scenario, working on the world, and helping my friends and family create their characters. I was nervous, and ready as I could be. But a few days before that I ended up doing a whirlwind improvisational session for my family to get the adjusted to the game.
My dad had suggested running a quick one-shot to get everyone familiar with the game. Even though I had been playing for nearly a year at this point, my dad and my sister had only had brief experiences with the game, and my mom had never played before. After hearing my dad’s suggestion, I did some quick googling and found a game mechanic that inspired an entire scenario, and so the Wednesday before the big game, I ran my second improvised session.
My dad, mom, and sister had all rolled up level three characters for the big game, so we dug out their character sheets and I presented them with their dice sets. For my father, he had decided to play a human bard named Solomon Sollew, a man who is just as skillful with his magic and his quarterstaff as he is with his words. Eli, my sister, had chosen a moon elf cleric of war named Caileth. Originally intended to be a snobbish girl, Caileth has since involved into something more. (If you’re with my blog for the long haul, Caileth and Solomon will become quite familiar to you). Finally, my mom chose to play a nature-loving wood elf druid. Although Caelynn never joined the group in any other adventures, my mom enjoyed using her powers of nature to defeat the obstacles I threw in their path. Together, they made an interesting team and created an encounter that serves as a fun prologue for two of the members of my current campaign.
For this adventure, my players came into a simple town, on their way to meet up with others for the events that were to take place for the birthday session. While in the town, they came across the mysterious disappearance of the town leader. The three believed that they had stumbled upon a kidnapping, and so followed some tracks deep into the forest. Eventually, they ran into a group of men that were resting in a cave. A mysterious bundle at the back of the cave seemed suspicious to the players, so Solomon, Caileth, and Caelynn did their best to make friends with the men. Through some smooth talking, arguing, and a near attempt to trade Caileth off to the strangers (much to Caileth’s anger) led to the men allowing the newcomers to rest in the cave with them. While the vagabonds were asleep, the PCs attempted to sneak out with the mysterious bundle. Alas, the men awoke, and thus the players had to vanquish the foes in battle in order to free the town leader. Once they made their way back into town, they were rewarded handsomely, and the adventurers set off to meet the rest of their party in Goldcrest.
Although the session was entirely improvised, it went surprisingly well, and my players not only had fun but learned a lot about how D&D (especially 5e) works. I myself learned a few things during this session.
- It’s 100% okay to change your plan mid-session
I mean, I’m not saying do it all the time or be completely drastic about it, but if you find yourself needing to adjust something in the session and you can do it reasonably, perhaps because you know your world and your characters enough or you’re very aware of the mechanics of the game, you can totally do it. The mechanic that inspired the improvised session was actually a chase scene down a river involving boats and some bandits. While the plan was for the bandits to escape with the town leader down the river in a rowboat, I knew about halfway in to the session that the chase sequence was not going to work. The session was already taking quite a bit of time to complete, and I knew that a boat chase, no matter how interesting, would make us go really late, which is something I wanted to avoid. Additionally, the mechanics were a bit complicated as far as keeping the boat upright while still being able to attack the bandits. Since the system was new to my players anyway, I did not want to complicate things further and confuse them. To adjust for this, I simply had a battle in the cave. It was nothing too extravagant or hard, just something to teach them the basics of rolling to hit, initiative order, and action versus bonus action. But in the end the players still felt victorious for rescuing the town leader and defeating the bad guys, never knowing that things could have gone a very different way.
- Moments between characters can come at any time
Since this was the first time any of my family had played their characters, they were still quite unfamiliar with their names. My dad and my sister in particular were somewhat antagonistic towards one another in game, as Solomon believed that the bundle in the back of the cave was the town leader and they should rescue him, but Caileth was cautious and thought that perhaps it was just camping equipment. Aggravated, Solomon offered to trade the elf in, but in his rage he couldn’t remember her name, and thus the nickname “Moonbeam” was born. In the sessions since, the antagonistic nature has subsided somewhat, but that initial relationship between Moonbeam and Solomon was born. I think it surprised my dad and Eli; having such a distinct character relationship so early on was unique and different. To me, however, I am very proud of this element, and I am so delighted that the two characters were able to have something that bonded them going into the official first session.
Although the session was completely improvised, the four of us still had a lot of fun. It served as an excellent way to introduce my family to the world of Dungeons and Dragons, and gave them an opportunity to work on their characters and familiarize themselves with their abilities. Having two sessions of practice also made me feel a lot more comfortable for my first official session as a Dungeon Master. While I don’t recommend doing short improvisational sessions often, the occasional one can be fun, freeing, and educational for DMs and players alike.