The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781
My very first character playing D&D was the wood elf ranger, Zuria Xiloscient. She is the cousin of Riordan Xiloscient (who you may have read about in the campaign I am running). Zuria was created at the suggestions of veteran players. I had no idea what I was doing and so I asked others for help. They aided me in creating an extremely overpowered combatant. She was a powerhouse and a great asset to the team. However, she never really felt like she was mine because she was created by others. I could not write her a backstory in any relatable way, e.g. flaws, loves, etc. And so, I linked her backstory with another player’s character’s backstory (he did not seem to mind). Regrettably, Zuria remained hollow even after we had been playing for a year.
This group had a one-off some time towards the end of our time together. We were given random characters to play for only that session. The DM let me select first and I picked a tiefling warlock. I made her slender and physically weak with high charisma; she was a little ditzy but street-smart and had a soft spot for tiny magical giggling mushrooms. She had fire power in the quite literal sense. She used her magic and charm to win the day. I named her Gwendolyn Goodie – a nod to the Salam Witch Trials. I immediately fell in love with her. She was the one!
My DM said no when I wanted to introduce her to the main campaign. I was crushed. He did not want to have to learn about tieflings or warlocks. He offered me a second character – a human barbarian named Alana. She had belonged to a player who had to leave our group. I reluctantly said yes; at least it was something different. I actually really got into playing her and asked if I could have Zuria go her own way, but the DM still dismissed my wants. He wanted the original team to stick together. I said okay and we wrote Alana out.
Later I found out that another player wanted to create a dragonborn paladin; however, he was also told no. Strangely, the DM stated that people who played exotic characters like tieflings and dragonborn were relying on the interestingness of the race rather than committing to creativity. In addition, he pushed that player to also select a different class, even after he’d created a different character. It finally dawned on me. This guy was a poor DM – a poor leader. He did not care about us having high morale and a connection to our characters. He did not want to be put out by learning new things (all of his previous experience as a DM was with older editions of D&D, before those character races existed). His behaviors stunted us, and the team became one-noted – opposite to the creativity he had stated was so important. He did not listen to what we wanted to do during sessions. He shaped events to his idea of how things should be. It was awful.
We had high turnover in the group and people always seemed to have good reasons to leave. But then I realized it was because of our DM. He blamed it on the “fact” that D&D takes a commitment and they just did not have that capacity. There was no psychological safety. Props to the people who stayed for a year. Your commitment was extraordinary and was never truly appreciated or rewarded. Props to the people who left. I envy your ability to move on to better things. I miss every one of my teammates.
Lessons learned. In the end I am grateful for the experience. It taught me how I could be a better DM through watching teams build and fall for a year without a proper leader. It reminded me of how to effectively lead a team and how to be a supportive teammate. I learned to treat people and their characters with respect, how to listen to the group, and how to be inclusive. I learned to let people tell their own stories and be themselves regardless of the objectives. It was a lot to go through, but I learned a lot. That seems to be the key here – never stop learning.
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