Mary Jane and Old Tom at The Table: A Dungeon Master’s Perspective
A couple of things to mention: I’m not an advocate for alcohol/drug use at the table, and my players and I are sometimes reprobates.
Shall we begin?
There is a rule above all others when approaching the game table and that is to have fun. But how much fun can one have when at the table, and what effects can one have on the game whilst enjoying a cheeky tipple or a toke?
Read what the DMR community said about the issue. Here is my brief quest to ponder such lofty thoughts.
A game of D&D is built on merriment with friends; you kill some Goblins, steal from the blacksmiths and forget about daily life for a few hours. Though sometimes life finds a way, and it isn’t easy for a DM or Player to slip quickly into an environment where you are lucid and playful enough to join in the collective theatre of Dungeons & Dragons.
On a fundamental level, any sort of performance is an agreement between performer and viewer. You go to the theatre, if you enjoy it, you don’t think about the ticket price, if you didn’t, you’re going to want your money back. The agreement is: “I will pay to watch you if you will entertain me”. That’s what D&D is, it’s theatre. An audience of a handful of Players, a performing DM that inhabits a world with the Players through their voices and other aides along the way.
There is a way to help this agreement along and gel into a cohesive experience between DM and Players: Have a beer.
My players and I enjoy a beer together, especially on Wednesdays when we play D&D. We convene and catch up before we get into a game. This sometimes involves a beer or wine, or a toke of the Old Toby, or both, (usually both). In my experience, I see my players swiftly loosen up after a beer/toke and jump straight into their characters from the moment I ask “shall we begin?”
Of course, you have your opinions on drinking and smoking, of which I do not disregard, I am here to stand on this proverbial hill and say there is an opportunity to be had, should You or your Players decide to imbibe in booze and bud.
Firstly, If you know your Players well, having them enjoy a beer/toke before you start the game can make things much more fun for everyone. There is the potential responsibility of babysitting and ensuring moderation, the obvious caveat to having Players such as these. But creatively, it gives you, the DM, the freedom to throw your notes out, get up from your chair, and really run a game of Dungeons & Dragons and see what both you and your Players are really made of.
I am lucky to run campaigns for some eclectic groups of individuals. They are courteous and engaging as they proceed to get blasted over the course of the night. These guys thrive regardless of how much they drink/smoke, they make smart decisions, follow the story and I reward them. They also make some heinous mistakes and misrolls so I punish them, but they revel in their failures just as much as successes while demolishing a bottle of wine and a big fat spliff. You are the sculptor and they are the clay, so get stuck in. Hijack their high/buzz and use it to your advantage.
Have the intensity of a fight really come at them if they start to flag, put the fear of death into their characters when they’re making stoner decisions in crucial moments and elate their victories when they’re in the groove and they do the work for you. It is a question of how to navigate such a landscape when a DM or Player imbibes.
(This is assuming the group is unanimously comfortable with drinking and smoking and the game table)
Knowing your Players helps, but being a good listener helps more. When you cotton on to the deep desires of the PC’s, (not just what’s on paper but what you see your Player grapple within a narrative), when you find out what elements of the story or aspects of the game really hooks your Players, you have an opportunity to capitalize on this information and work it into the narrative on the fly. With keen ears it is easy to learn the Player's intentions and wants and you can make the experience far more tangible and meaningful for them after they’ve enjoyed a quick puff/beer.
Find the game, play the game, realize the game's end, find another. Those are the motions you go through when improvising, especially when You or your Players are pissed.
I tend to use a d4 mechanic that, if they decide to smoke before or during the game, their characters do too. Roll 1d4: 2-4 gives them a buff of strange significance, maybe they're feeling chatty (adv. on Cha. Skill Checks) or they’re feeling a bit more stalwart (adv. on Wis. Saves). A 1 being a terrible trip for characters, they're slowed or frightened, or they're just forced to drink whatever water they find around (they got that cottonmouth, Son). You can change it up as the hours pass during the game and their highs change for better or worse. I use a d4 because I’m lazy, but allowing the Player’s imbibe as a root to affect the narrative has shown to be a way to enhance the story whilst the Players are inebriated.
I roll with it when my Players decide to crack open a beer and spark up before the session, it’s usually when I decide to throw my notes out. It's a dangerous game that requires no small amount of patience and imagination, but there can be a lot of fun to be had should you decide to go all-in on a session that could get a bit weird. I enjoy punishing my players in the narrative for being too high and making dumb decisions but I reward their victories or whatever they’ve earned equally, of which we have mutual respect for, and that I think is where it lies. I think my own personal ruling would be "if you're going to drink or smoke at the table, you better not be useless", as long as the players respect that, you're in for a good time.
(Insta:) @diydungeonmaster is a professional Voice Actor, Dungeon Master for hire and Artist based in Cardiff, UK. The DIYDM Studio will open in mid-August 2021 and bring a space for an immersive Dungeons & Dragons experience to Cardiff. Virtual and physical sessions available soon.