Some of my readers might remember that in the midst of all this fundraising, I'm actually running the very same 'module' that I'm using as a donation reward. The players coming tonight to play don't know what's in the module and they're honest enough that they don't want to know. Even my partner, who lives with me and has held my hand through this past month, doesn't know what the adventure contains. So just give that a moment's thought; many of my readers know something that the woman I love doesn't.
This is the first time that I have painstakingly written out an adventure since the 1980s. Like most other young players back in the day, I too thought it needed to be done the way that it was in The Village of Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands. As I steadily churned out my own adventures, however, session after session, year after year, I looked for shortcuts. I stopped writing down things like how many hit points everything had or precisely what treasure was in each room. These were things I could work out later, on the day of, a few hours before a session, while the players were high-fiving each other and so on. Slowly, I realized it was just as easy to draw out the game map on a battle mat (when I used to play with miniatures) from memory rather than having it pre-made up. It was better to add the rooms one at a time; then what was behind each door was a mystery until I drew it onto the map. It only took a moment to draw lines, after all.
Then, with practice, I stopped writing out room 'descriptions.' I knew what was in the room, I could 'write' it up with my words as easily during the game when the time came, so I stopped wasting time writing this stuff down ahead of when the game actually happened.
Finally, after decades, I just stopped all preparations completely. Now and then I would draw out something complex if there was a battle coming - a fort, a kobald nest, a stable, whatever (just look at that horrid art from just five years ago - who was that artist?).
This is where I had gone. Me, write out a traditional adventure in the form of a module? No, I'd stopped doing that. Why bother?
But the improvement in the artistic quality of my representations of people and things has been steadily changing me this last year. More and more I've wanted to spend time to give the players a better representation of themselves. Your character has a +2 Trident of Warning? Let's try to depict that. Your character is over sixty with grey hair - and has a silver wolf skin - and minimum armor? I'm game, let's make that happen. That arm isn't thick enough? Your hair is receding? Well, I'm not a great artist, but I can do my best. And so we get the image on the right, which was done while the player was watching me draw his character.
I began thinking that it might not be a bad idea to put a little more effort into the setting, too. Design some rooms that look more like rooms where places lived. Design some monsters that look scary or at least off-putting.
Then, beginning this online crowd-sourcing campaign meant actually writing out room descriptions, like I did back in my early days of play. So just now, as I write this, everything that I'm going to be running tonight is completely designed. I don't have to do anything.
It is strangely . . . comforting. I don't have to keep things in my mind; I don't have to make last minute preparations. Tonight, I won't have to draw any rooms or invent any room descriptions off the top of my head.
Acting as a DM is a fluid process of learning and changing and altering one's approach to this game. There's never a single, unfailing approach. We adjust ourselves, learn new skills, adapt, improve and then find ourselves reworking our worlds in ways that we never thought of - or even in ways we once did.
I can't figure out why anyone supposes I know the "one right way" to play this game. I don't even approach it exactly the way I did five years ago.
Maybe five years from now I'll have reason to write another book explaining how to run.