Have You Hugged Your DM Today?
Good evening, children! Today I’m here to talk to you about something very important. No, it’s not zombies, although that is still an unimportant subject. I know, you’re shocked. This is two posts in a row that haven’t been about zombies. No, I’m not ill. I’ve just been having these really vivid nightmares about zombies the last few nights, and would prefer to not add fodder to the flames of my horror. I blame the horror movies and scary stories I’ve been partaking in right before bed.
But at any rate, I’m here to talk to you about something else today. Something very near and dear to my heart, something that we’ve had other posts on here about. Dungeons and Dragons. I loves me some D&D in general, but I’m here to talk to you about a very specific aspect of this glorious roleplaying game. The Dungeon Master. The single most important person at your gaming table.
Now, for the sake of writing this article, I’m going to assume that you have no working knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons. So I shall explain to you the task of the Dungeon Master, or the DM as he or she is generally called. The Dungeon Master is the one in charge. He or she is the one calling the shots of the entire world, crafting the adventure and determining what comes next. It is a difficult job, it is a time-consuming job, and it can be a thankless job. And I’m writing this so that all of you players out there will take the time and give your Dungeon Master a hug and let them know that they’re doing a good job.
A Dungeon Master spends their time lovingly crafting a world for the characters to inhabit. They create the cities, the people, the mountains and the seas. They do this all so that you will enjoy your time spent in their world. They do this so that you can test yourself against their trials, to overcome their dungeons, their traps, and their menagerie of monsters and villains. They have to take the time to make sure that the world makes sense, that your characters are motivated to do what they’re supposed to, and most important, to make sure that their players have a good time. They’re the ones that have to pore over the resource material to find the perfect collection of baddies and tricks to throw at their players.
Too hard, and the players feel like they’re up against impossible odds and will become frustrated. Too easy, and your characters will feel like they’re Gods compared to the mere mortals they are facing off against, which can be fun for a while, but trust me when I say that it gets old. Now, both of these can serve a purpose for telling the story. Sometimes you might want your players feeling like they are doomed, sometimes you want them to feel like nothing can touch them. But either of these things can ruin the story if they’re unintentional. And worse, they can ruin your player’s good times. So it’s up to your Dungeon Master to keep things balanced and interesting. And this can be VERY difficult. You have to take into account the levels of the characters,their classes, their skills, their equipment. Finding the right way to test them. You don’t want to pit them up against some ethereal monster when their weapons pass right through it and they have no way of damaging it. Unless you want them to run. But if they’re supposed to get past this section, and you’ve put up this roadblock without thinking? Then you will have some unhappy players on your hands.
But aside from just keeping the mechanics balanced, the Dungeon Master has to craft an interesting story. The players can’t be expected to do ransack this dungeon just because it’s there. Well, maybe. Depending on the characters. But put out a few rumours of a cave filled with gold, a mystical artifact, something interesting in the dungeon, and they’ll WANT to go exploring. Heck, you may even force them to go into it. One of their party members has been kidnapped (a great way to deal with someone who can’t make it to the gaming session one week), or someone wants something retrieved or someone inside killed. Give them a good reason to go in, and they’ll go in. This works for a lot of other things, too.
If you want to be a good Dungeon Master, you have to be a good storyteller. Knowing how to properly tell the story you want to tell, and how to tie your characters into it, will make all the difference. Give your players the chance to evolve and grow, and see what they’ll do. Make things open, and see where they go. Different players are going to find different ways around problems and puzzles. Nothing should ever have just one solution. If your players are going to face off against a group of Goblins, how are they going to do it? Face them head on, lure them into clever traps, negotiate with them? There is no wrong solution here if it gets the job done.
So let’s review what we’ve learned so far, shall we? Dungeon Masters are responsible for creating a balanced and even adventure, and for making the adventure interesting and bringing their players into the world through their storytelling. They’re responsible for anticipating what their players will do and preparing for all eventualities, which is a LOT of work.
For example, I was playing a game a few weeks ago. The Dungeon Master had prepared a dungeon for us to explore, gave us our story, and let us loose in his world. Upon entering the dungeon, we found two hallways, one blocked off with a large metal gate, the other was clear and open. I was content to go down the open hallway and see what was prepared there for us. But our Halfling had other ideas. Being the slippery tiny little bugger he is, he crawled through the metal gate. The Dungeon Master was not particularly keen on this idea, but allowed him to roll for me. He rolled a twenty and managed to slip through. All in all, we skipped past a good half of that floor of the dungeon, simply because we took a shortcut. Which means that whatever he had planned for the rest of that part of the dungeon was now wasted. And this is what a lot of players don’t really understand. They think, “hey, let’s go this way, we’ll get done faster and get more phat lootz”. The Dungeon Master, on the other hand things “Great, there goes the time I spent building those rooms there”. And it’s rough. It really is.
In a lot of cases, you can influence your characters one way or another. But if you do it too openly, they’ll feel like they’re being led by the hand down a long linear hallway. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been led down a long linear hallway by the hand, but it’s not the most exciting adventure. But, make the player want to go down that hallway on their own, and you’ll get the job done without them feeling like they had no other choice. Everybody wins! Except whatever unpleasant creatures happen to be in that hallway. They lose.
So all of this results in a lot of hours spent in preparation. Meanwhile your players tend to only need to crack open a book when they’re creating or levelling a character, or purchasing shiny new equipment for their character. Dungeon Masters, on the other hand, spend a LOT of time reading the books and sorting out what to do next. It’s long, it’s difficult, and sometimes it’s all for nothing. But that’s the life of a Dungeon Master. If that sounds daunting, it’s probably not the life for you.
That’s about all I have for now. So if you play Dungeons and Dragons, or if you have in the past, I suggest taking the time to thank them for all their hard work. For all the hours spent looking in books, drawing maps, creating plots and adventures. Thank them for that time, and for all their work. Thank them for creating the world that you go back to week after week.
This post is for all the Dungeon Masters out there. To Jordan Groves, heading up the forum D&D game. To Jon, hosting his Sunday night games (and for letting us watch!). To Jeremiah, the DM in my weekly games. And to all the rest of the Dungeon Masters out there. Thanks for your hard work. Keep it up.
Featured art by Luadrilae