Contemplating The D20 – The Writer Becomes Dungeon Master

By Christine Marie Vinciquarra


Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) has been expanding imaginations since the 1970s, but I didn’t encounter it until a few years back. As an aspiring author of the fantasy genre, I found it very easy to connect with the creativity of the game. I started out playing the game as an Elf, but It didn’t take me long to realize that the real fun of the game was playing the role of Dungeon Master (DM). For those of you who don’t know, the DM is the game organizer and storyteller. I had been contemplating what it would be like to take on the role of DM for a while, but my insecurities prevented me from diving in.

Part of me wondered if it was because I was a girl playing with a bunch of guys, although I am a huge advocate for girls being just as skilled at games, video and tabletop. Another part of me feared being surrounded by a bunch of experts while I was still reasonably new to the game. I imagined myself sitting down to start the campaign and being bombarded with questions, or told I wasn’t playing the game right. Despite my worries, I knew that I could create a world and a story that my friends would enjoy. So, I put my metaphorical cape on, pulled the hood over my head, held tightly onto my D20, and walked into my imagination attempting to be as confident as Tony Stark. (Wait…Tony Stark and D&D? Good or bad combo?)

For those of you who don’t know, there are many different versions of D&D. I had originally planned to follow the 3rd edition core books, but later decided to use the 5th edition. The 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons has been in the play testing stage for quite some time now, but began its staggered release last month. I spoke to a few people about their experiences with D&D to explore the different ways DM’s handle their campaigns. Some of the opinions were very rule heavy, while others leaned more towards the “you can do whatever you want” side of the game. Can you guess which one I chose? It seemed more appealing to focus on the creative freedom I had while keeping the rules in the back of my mind. I’m not saying I neglected the mechanics that are required when playing, but my main goal was to orchestrate a campaign that would be unique and adventurous with a side of organized chaos. What a hilarious notion it was to think that I could control the story, but more on that later.

While some of the D&D books I read through offered pre-planned worlds, characters, storylines, etc. I preferred to start from scratch and make my own. I sat down and tackled the planning process the same way I would when preparing to write a book. I have found that a lot of research and preparation is necessary when writing fantasy. It’s an essential part of creating a world that will make your readers, or in this case players, feel like they’re actually experiencing the things in your imagination. Having this type of background made it easy for me to plan a setting that felt real. I got a little crazy and drew up a map to go along with my plot. This is something that I have done before when writing, and I found it to be just as helpful when planning a campaign. Once that was done, I came up with a rough outline and a couple of characters that I would use to help move the story along.

When the day of the campaign finally arrived I felt nervous but reasonably prepared. I decided to play with a small group of three people. I had heard that it was easier to play with a small group, especially when you’re a new DM. Luckily, my husband was there, because he is a seasoned player, and I did need a bit of assistance with some of the dice rolling rules. Besides that, it was a really successful campaign. I think the best thing about playing is the creative collaboration you go through with the other players. Even though I had mapped out an outline for the campaign, the players took the story in directions that I could have never planned for. While this might make some DM’s peeved, I loved it. I had to give up control and be spontaneous. Being able to think on my feet and react to things in ways that would surprise the players really helped exercise my creative brain. Never did I think I’d find myself in a café run by fairies, who hand out cupcakes that make you explode into pieces of blue goo when consumed, but I did. It was hilarious! Guess you had to be there. It’s safe to say that it was one of the best experiences I have ever had playing the game.

As a writer, I sometimes find myself sitting alone in front of my computer typing away, writing stories that I don’t receive immediate feedback for. Sometimes, depending on how open I am with my critique partners, I won’t receive feedback at all. This can be frustrating, and can lead to a lot of inner demons and doubts coming out of the woodwork. Playing Dungeons and Dragons as a DM allowed me to have an immediate experience with the players. I got to see their reactions, and they in turn interacted with the story. It was fascinating to see the things I planned unfold into something completely new and the different types of crossroads the story came to. It was ridiculously fun to control the fate of the players, but they did all survive my crazy obstacles. In the end, the story left off on a note that kept the players wanting more, which is my idea of a good story. I concluded that the recipe for a successful campaign was quite simple. Be as organized and prepared as you possibly can, and play with an open-minded group of people that are ready to have an epic time. I’ll leave the rule heavy campaigns to other Dungeon Masters, because this writer is all about creative freedom.

For more information about the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, you can find that here.

Christine Marie Vinciquarra is a writer and bibliomaniac with a love for all things creative. Some of her favorite things include: Batgirl, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Saga, Game of Thrones (the books and the show), Johnny Depp, and all things Disney. She spends her weekends feeding her competitive side while she plays tabletop and/or video games with her husband and friends. She is currently working on a series of young adult fantasy novels. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @AWritersWay or on her blog

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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