I apologize for not posting last week, some personal and family issues came up, and I had no time to play D&D, much less have anything interesting to say about it. This week, things are looking better, so I want to discuss something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while.
In my campaign, we originally started with five players and myself. Only one of the players had any experience with D&D at all, and it was largely due to the excitement he and I shared about the game that we began. He and I both got DDI accounts, and he handled character generation for himself and one other player, while I took care of two more. One other player had a DDI account for a month or so, then asked me to handle his character for him when he switched from being a Knight to a Slayer.
Early this summer, the experienced player moved away, leaving me with the responsibility of managing the four remaining players’ characters, as well as doing DM stuff like, you know, running a campaign. While this arrangement does have a few advantages, and big ones at that, I think overall it is a detriment to the D&D experience.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to this system is that I as the DM have total control over what my players bring to the game. I can allow whatever sources I want. To keep things simple, I used only Essentials classes, and that has been a big benefit. This avoids many of the problem skills and feats that other DMs have discussed at length since 4E began. We don’t have big problems with severely overpowered characters, with the possible exceptions of the Thief and Slayer, both of whom are single target damage machines.
Another benefit to handling character creation myself is that I am also very familiar with the capabilities of my players’ characters, so I can build my encounters to showcase their talents, or to give them a tough go of it, depending on what I need for the campaign. An example would be using lots of minions to keep the Mage happy, while keeping the damage dealing prowess of the strikers less important.
I hesitate to mention it, but another plus to this arrangement is that we only need one DDI account. I’m not sure how other groups handle it, or whether sharing accounts is OK with Wizards, but in our case, we are able to use the Character Builder for each character for a relatively low price. I don’t see a problem with it, since I am the one making all the characters myself, but I do realize this may not be the intended use for DDI.
These benefits are certainly substantial, and I think any DM would see the value in them. In particular, having the final say in what feats and skills are available makes a lot of sense for any campaign. I feel like all DMs have the right to veto whatever they like, but in my case, I can do so without any bad feelings from my players. Having said all that, I’m not sure that having the DM handle all aspects of character creation is an ideal solution; in fact, I think it may be killing my game, albeit very slowly.
One drawback to the arrangement is that my players seem less interested in their characters. Leveling up is not very exciting when you don’t really know what cool new stuff your character can get. Though my door is always open, and I have made it clear to my players that I would be thrilled to sit down with them and discuss options for their character, no one has taken me up on the offer. I can’t tell whether they just don’t care, or they feel like it’s too difficult to handle on their own, or what. In any event, it’s frustrating for me.
Another disadvantage is the sheer amount of time required. Leveling up a single character isn’t that bad, but multiply it by four, and you will get tired of it very quickly. Using only Essentials classes helps, but there are still tons of options to wade through. And then I have to worry about making sure I get them printed, which is just one more thing to remember before game night. Running a 4E campaign is supposed to be easy, but to me it seems like a lot of work, and the additional responsibility of dealing with characters just adds to the list of stuff to do before each session.
Another issue, and perhaps the biggest one of all, is that there simply isn’t much for the players to do. All they have to do is show up with some dice, and I take care of everything else for them. This fosters a sense of apathy from the group. I’ve noticed we are playing less and less, and for shorter amounts of time. I fear that the campaign will not last much longer. D&D night doesn’t seem to be a priority for anyone except me. I still enjoy getting together with them to play board games and even an occasional Xbox night, but it’s still disappointing.
In the final analysis, though there are some advantages to having the DM handle character generation and leveling, the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits. I’m not sure where my campaign is headed right now; it may be time for me to move on to other ways of playing D&D. I have to wonder if by doing so much for my players, I inadvertently took away one of the most fun aspects playing D&D, that of creating a character. My advice to other DMs out there is to be very careful in order to avoid making the same mistake I did.