Updated: Aug 20, 2021
There is the old saying that practice makes perfect. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, goes as far as to state it takes 10,000 hours of work to become an expert.
However, that can be completely turned on end by merely practicing smartly. When I first started, I never recorded my games. Instead, I lived session to session, believing I was doing well and improving. However, I always had a nagging suspicion I wasn't doing as well as I thought.
After watching more hours of Critical Role, I finally realized I needed to record myself in some capacity. Doing so would allow me to play back and review how I was really doing. At first, I started thinking of a production studio. I planned on getting multiple microphones, some high-quality video cameras, the whole 9 yards. So I whipped out the wallet, fired up Amazon.com, and then realized that was not the goal of what I needed.
I had been looking for a way to record myself and my table to identify areas I lacked and how I could improve and not spend thousands of dollars.
With this new mindset in front, I went to work on how I could do this. I first used my laptop - which was pretty bad for sound quality and couldn't even capture me sitting in front of it well. Then I moved to my Logitech camera mic, which was better, but still not what I was looking for as the table I was responding to wasn't being heard on the audio. Finally, what I landed on was the Blue Snowball USB microphone.
link: Blue Snowball
I picked this product because of the omnidirectional capturing of the room and the ease of setting up. It also stopped the need for purchasing multiple microphones to capture the room. An expense that can quickly lead to $500+ in purchases. It is an excellent gateway product and serves the purpose of simple recording for self-improvement, which was the goal.
It was easy to set up - it was just one flip of the switch for the omnidirectional pick-up, followed by the plug-and-play connection to the laptop. For my table of seven, having the mic sitting next to me, I can hear everyone's dialogue, my responses, and the chatter at the table when I go back to listen. Goal achieved.
Now, you're probably thinking, "That was a long intro, but what is the point?"
Don't worry. We are finally getting there. ^_^
So why go through all of this? It is because the goal is to grow and learn as a DM of your game. To improve, to remember details, and wow your players.
So here are three quick reasons why recording your game is going to evolve your style.
1) You Get to Hear everything You are Saying
This one is completely straightforward. Mic = Record = can playback sound later. However, allow me a moment to unpack this rather obvious statement.
Having your session readily available allows you to hone in with player ears and not with DM ears to hear how you sound.
(Please note, if you think your voice is annoying, it isn't. You would not have a table of friends, family, or strangers long if you had an annoying voice). :)
The first time you do this, I recommend pulling up a document or a sheet of paper to make your own notes on your presentation. I will provide some quick questions for you to write but don't limit yourself to these. These are only to spark some creative thoughts on how to analyze your own growth goals.
A) How is my tone?
"Tone" here is defined as how the scenes you are setting feel. If you are trying to create tension, does your voice carry this Tone? If you are setting up a scary Halloween story, did you sound scary, or did you sound happy and crushed the mood?
B) How is my pace?
"Pace" is the tempo or cadence of your game session. Did it sound like you were rushed while you were reading anything? Did you allow for too many moments that ran far too long?
C) How is the table responding?
After listening to the entire session, did it sound and feel like the entire table (including you) had a good time?
2) Recalling Session Notes
For me, I run 4-hour session windows. That is my optimal time frame for keeping up my DM pace for the entire game without showing too many signs of getting tired. There are also Dungeon Masters that can run sessions over eight hours long. No matter how long you run, there is a lot of information being thrown around the table.
Here is an example.
I currently run a group of 6 people, with the 7th being me. We spent a 4-hour session covering 4 hours of straight role-play. No daggers thrown, no spells slung, no combat. 4 hours of heavy character development, plot moves, and city-affecting decisions being made. That is 6 people making the entire world move in ways one little Dungeon Master in prep could not anticipate.
Because of this, I record my sessions not only to improve my performance but to keep my world right. This helps keep PC story elements up to date, major plot devices moving forward, and helps you go back when you are improving to make sure you kept the details right.
3) Creating a Podcast
Ok, while this one is not a direct improvement tip, with the rise in popularity of live shows and podcasts, this might be a future (or current) goal for you. Not only that, but if you are going to put the table out there publicly, you will improve simply by being motivated to create better content for the audience to tune into. Trial by fire can be some of the best ways to learn.
If your table is onboard and would like to create a podcast, you could check to see how you all sound individually to see if this is something of interest the group wants to pursue. This is a major conversation that could span another article later, but here is my quick point:
The Blue Snowball will allow the group to be recorded at a lower entry cost to see how the table sounds and feels rather than purchasing one-directional microphones, pop filters, and mixers for every player. If the table feels that this might actually be a possible thing to share, you can then make the necessary upgrades to proper recording equipment for your future podcast. Sound is key for podcasting.
Final thoughts on Recording
While it is clear that I really recommend the idea of recording for improvement, that does not mean it is for everyone. It also does not mean that everyone at your table wants to be on a recording. As such, before ever considering clicking the record button or making an investment, you, the DM, need to clear it with each member at the table and provide an environment where each member could respond. That means they have a chance to respond in a group setting or private if they so desire. Should you get even one, "No," do not record your sessions, period. This also goes the same for uploading any media of your table that you do not have permission. Be safe and clear it with your table. Not doing so is a violation of trust and privacy.
Until next time... Keep Creating, keep thinking, keep wandering.