BY NINA PIAZZA
I’m a newbie Dungeon Master.
A Dungeon Master (DM) plays the writer, producer, stage director, stagehands, and supporting cast in a game of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). It is roleplay, and we are the masters of our fantastical world… except for the characters, which the individual players control as they see fit. It is chaos, and it is as exhausting as it is addicting.
Most people who play D&D have been doing it a long time. In my current campaign, there are people who’ve been playing for twelve years, eight years, six years. They’ve DMed for most of that. I’ve played D&D going on five years now, and yet I’ve only DMed maybe a dozen sessions.
I look out over a room full of freshmen, and I do not think at all of myself three years ago, nervously kneading the hem of my shirt, sitting where they are now. They all bend their heads to look up at me, sitting on a desk, and I do not flinch. I see kids, nervous and eager and trying too hard to be something they’re not yet, and I know exactly what to say. I grin as I shout across the room:
Welcome to Syracuse University, Flint 4A.
A session needs a strong opening. A floor needs a sense of community. The freshmen hesitate for only a moment before they begin to clap and cheer. It is mid-afternoon, 4 o’clock on a Thursday, and I run through twenty-five slides in thirty minutes. I hardly close my mouth long enough to breathe. In hindsight, I will feel bad for my newbie coworker, who is doing a far better job than I did last year, but he is still unsure of himself. I make the kids laugh and that is important. I am here for you, I have to say, but I must keep you safe. I am something between a friend and a warden. They do not know the meaning of ‘mentor’ yet, but I do. I know how to weave a story in between words. Wink wink, nudge nudge, I laugh.
I don’t know what to do for my bulletin board, the newbie RAs say, and I suggest a dozen ideas off the cuff. I’ve spitballed entire paragraphs for player backstories, only for them to dismiss it at a glance. I need to think in advance, ever paranoid, and I collect stray ideas and inspiration like a goblin.
My coworker is an engineering student, and as brilliant as he is, he is not creative. I’ll just do the beach, he tells me, I’m from California. I can’t help but laugh at him:
Are you by a beach?
Are you by San Fran? LA?
I’m an hour outside of Napa Valley.
Wine country, then. Do something with wine country.
What, like grapes?
Wine, grapes, vinegar. What was that raisin brand, Sun Maiden?
Okay, okay. I see where you’re going.
He didn’t. He ended up making a bulletin board with colorful cars running along an ‘S’ shaped road. I couldn’t figure out how to make all those grapes, he helplessly admits to me. But that’s fine. People need to have their own visions, too.
I’ve played D&D for five years, but it’s different when you’re the DM. You have all the control in the world, and yet you have none at all. I open up Discord every Sunday at 8 and learn to dream with my eyes open, one week at a time.
Nina is a Linguistics Major and a TESOL Minor, and she’ll be graduating this Spring, a year early. She enjoys writing prose creative fiction the most, but following her participation in the TYSW Anthology class, she developed a new appreciation of creative nonfiction.