DM for the night: What I learned standing in for our D&D table

All in all, I think we’ve been pretty lucky through this whole pandemic in terms of D&D. We did have to stop for a while as we figured out how we could play remotely, and as we tried to balance shifting schedules, but things have definitely settled down now!

A couple of weeks ago, though, Shane had a long week at work. His job as a millwright means he spends all day around extremely large and deafening industrial presses, so it’s no surprise that he ends up yelling a lot.

And this particular incident, he ended up losing his voice. Which isn’t super great when you want to DM a table, because you have to talk a lot.

So he asked if I, a self-proclaimed utter noob, would stand in as DM for the night.

Obviously, I was pretty nervous, even though it was a group of our friends. I mean, being a DM has always seemed to me like something you need to know a lot about the game to do!

All in all, though, the night went pretty well, and I think I came out with some new tidbits by the end of the night.

So without further ado, here’s what I learned being a stand-in DM for a night.

Being a DM is 95% making things up.

Yes, you have a book and a campaign. And yes, you’ve prepared all day so you know what’s going to happen.

But no matter how much you plan out, how much you’ve prepared, or how interesting the story is, your players will not care. They will inevitably become unfathomably fascinated with one rock that’s a slightly different shape than all the other rocks, and will demand to know why.

And you will need to be the one to come up with a reason for it.

Actually, though, it’s not all bad. I found that it was a pretty fun mental exercise, because normally I’m horrible in role-playing situations, and the next game I played as a character was a lot more fun.

Sometimes, the things you make up will create plot holes.

Although he had lost his voice, Shane still wanted to be able to participate in the game in a role that would involve less talking—so he made a character to go along with the party. And in one of the above situations (there were several in our game), I had to invent a way to introduce said character.

I came up with something pretty quickly, just to bring him in as soon as possible, but it ended up creating more questions than it answered.

As the night went on, the party kept coming back to how he’d ended up in a barrel in a room they were in and had already killed all the bandits in. It got to the point where I had to roll a percentile to see whether a certain other bandit had been responsible for him ending up in the barrel, and it came up as a no.

Which then meant that a pair of bandits they’d met earlier, who hadn’t recognized a giant lion man and were surprised that he roared, had somehow gotten a hold of him and stuffed him into a giant barrel, because that makes so much sense.

Luckily, that was not one of the things the party got stuck on, so I could gloss over it and move on!

It’s okay if you don’t know all the rules.

I will admit, of the systems we play, 5e is my weakest. And it’s not for the fact that it’s complicated, because it really isn’t. It’s just that I don’t have enough experience with it to really know things.

I was a little worried about that going in, but honestly, it was barely a problem. What I didn’t know, I looked up—and what I couldn’t find, I made up based on what seemed logical. Even though I know it annoyed the players at least once!

There will be times you need to put players in their place.

At our table, we’ve always had something that Shane calls you-suck damage. And it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

If you challenge the DM or peek behind the screen or generally act like a butt, you get you-suck damage—sometimes in the form of an enemy who mysteriously keeps getting critical hits, sometimes in the form of a meteorite flying out of the sky and blinding you for a certain number of turns.

See, it sounds kind of mean, but the way we play, the DM creates and runs the world. It’s not a matter of DM versus players—but we do have some strong personalities who can make it hard to stay on top of a situation as a DM, so it’s good to know you can, well, encourage them not to break our table rules.


Have you ever run a table as the DM? What did you learn?

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