The reason I took so strongly to D&D from the very beginning had much to do with my previously possessed fascination with all things Earthly and humanistic. Before I had sat down for my first game, I had already possessed a passionate adoration for geography and for all things in maps; I had studied and adored almanacs and statistics, and had gotten a World Almanac every year for Christmas beginning at the age of 8. I had once gotten into trouble in the 3rd grade for reading medical & biology books that the librarian felt were better suited for older children, and my mother had to come to the school and sort the administration out. I had read quite a lot of books about both world wars, my particular favorite being about the Sinking of the Bismarck. I was stunned and intrigued with amateur astronomy, and spent many cold, cold nights with binoculars and small telescopes staring at the sky. I had read everything by Asimov and most of the major science fiction authors I could find, my share of occult books ranging from Stoker to Stephen King, with abridged and unabridged versions of classics by Dumas, Tolstoy, Stevenson, Wells, Verne, Lew Wallace, Kipling and many others - I would return and find the unabridged copies of books I'd read at age 10 later in life. I would probably have read the unabridged book from the start, but they were not included in the libraries I had access to as a child.
What I am trying to say is that I already had mountains of stored, untapped knowledge that had been sitting in my brain for years, with nowhere to go, before I'd even heard of D&D. I played a lot of strategy games, Avalon Hill stuff like Panzer Leader and Squad Leader I mentioned yesterday, Tractics and various lesser-quality games, in some cases weekly with people I knew. D&D wasn't wonderful because it was so new and different and incomprehensible. It was wonderful because I could see immediately that there was so much I could do with a game like this. I only needed to plug myself in and get started.
Of course, it did not go well from the start. I was reworking this part of my Advanced Guide on Monday:
From the very beginning ... from the first time that I played Dungeons and Dragons ... I wanted to be a Dungeon Master.
It took months to pull together the courage to draw out maps and create a world, and to convince my friends to run through that world. It did not go well. I did not know the game as well as I should have. I did not have answers for all the questions I was asked. I was nervous, terribly nervous, so that my voice shook and I was easily flustered. My ideas were vague because I hadn’t prepared enough … and did not know how to prepare. I hadn’t committed the tables to memory and I scrambled for them through the game. I’d only been a player, after all—and at that, for only a dozen actual runnings. Heck, I’d only played two of the character classes. The monsters, too, were unfamiliar ... and of course, combat from the DM’s side was new. I think of all that now, and I shudder."
Initially I misunderstood it for the complexity the game possessed; and recognized as well as anyone how overwhelming it could be, how impossible it seemed to be on top of it all and actually manage the game. And now, when I see other people run, I possess a lot of empathy for their difficulties. Even someone 'great' like Chris Perkins ... you can hear in his voice when he gets past his quite clearly practiced script and is stumbling around for the right words ... "uh, um, you see ... I mean you walk into the room first ..." as he and any DM forgets for a moment where you are and what the party is doing and what should have been said first before already saying what should have been said second.
This is normal.
I was a really bright guy when I started playing this game, but I made a LOT of errors and misjudgements. I did a lot of the things that this blog rails against ... and it rails all the more BECAUSE I used to do those things, and I know from personal experience how shit they are. It has been much, MUCH harder to be a good DM that it has been to produce maps and designs and rules for the game, and to tell the reader the truth, I have no idea if I'm a good DM.
I know what a bad DM looks like, and what they do. I remember when I sat behind a screen. I remember when I couldn't stop grinning nervously while describing things. I remember when I couldn't keep a combat on track or when I pushed and pressed parties into adventures full of invisible walls. It was twenty and thirty years ago, but I remember.
I so wanted to be a DM when I first played, and I so think I was somehow preparing myself for it as a child. But sometimes, I think that it's only now, when I've become an old man, that I truly realize what was necessary from the very beginning; and now, as I write a book about it, it is goddamn hard to get that across. In a community where FUN is the watchword, the answer is that the DM shouldn't be having it. The DM is a sacrifice so the players can have an alarmingly good time ... compensated by a sense of satisfaction. I can get that through other artistic pursuits - a book, a performance, a job well done - but in every case it is WORK, not play, that produces that satisfaction.
It's a hard pill for a would-be DM to swallow. No, I'm sorry, it won't be fun. Don't let that worry you.