Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Need a Dungeon Master?

So, you want to play D&D but there are no Dungeon Masters in your area. There are plenty of characters all dressed up with nowhere to go? Then it’s time to become the Dungeon Master yourself! For many people, just the idea of taking on this responsibility causes anxiety. I will be honest with you, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to step into that role for the first time. Studies have shown the only thing people fear more than their mortality is public speaking. Sure, you may be DMing for friends and family only, but it still involves putting yourself out there at the head of the table.

I’m here to tell you that none of that should dissuade you. Without a Dungeon Master the game simply cannot be played. Someone must be the organizer and do all the creative work to make the game come together. This is what happened when I was ten-years old, and I had no idea what I was doing. But let me tell you, wow was it fun! Thinking back to those earlier days, one of the reasons for my success was because we played with only a shadow of the rules.

A common theme I see in other blog posts about Dungeon Mastering is, “you must be an expert on the rules”, and I’m here to tell you that is a load of crapola. Please don’t let that stop you from taking up the Dungeon Master mantle. Without getting into edition wars, I recommend using a more rules light system for first time DMs. This will allow you to hand wave things more often. An important skill of a good DM is making rulings, not looking up rules. Furthermore, if you have a rules lawyer at your table, they are effectively disarmed in a rules light RPG.

Systems with complicated combat, or voluminous character options can end any fledgling DM’s career. Trust me, you have enough to keep track of with the adventure being played to worry about that sort of minutia. If those sorts of things appeal to you, they can always be re-visited later when you are more seasoned as a DM. Dungeons & Dragons is foremost a collaborative story-telling game. If you want work on an early skill, that is the one to focus on. Anyone can use charts, measurements, and roll dice. The ability to become any NPC, describe the environment, and shoot from the hip is what sets the great DMs apart from the rest.

Another valuable lesson I learned over the years is different personalities affect the ebb and flow of the game session. The one to be on the lookout for is akin to a jury foreman. They speak the most, are usually veteran gamers, and will play the session for everyone if permitted. As a fledgling DM, this personality may confound or exasperate you and the other players.

The best way to handle this situation is by establishing good DMing habits early. There will also be quiet or timid players at your table, or just less aggressive players then the jury foreman. It’s imperative to get into the habit of going around the table to ask everyone what their characters are doing. Don’t let the jury foreman speak out of turn, or rush other player’s decisions unnecessarily. Everyone deserves the spotlight, and it’s your job as the game referee to make sure that happens.

Foam dice make good stress balls...or objects to toss at players!
The final thing I would like to offer some advice on is criticism. Over the years, I have gotten into the habit of asking everyone what they liked or disliked after a session. It’s a good idea to take the temperature of your group occasionally to make sure everyone is on the same page. For the most part after several decades now I have found this information invaluable. However, occasionally someone will feel the need to offer unproductive DMing advice. Interestingly, the source is usually someone who has never sat behind the DM screen in their life. Or alternatively, you can count on two hands the number of times they have.

Don’t let these experiences frustrate you into giving up Dungeon Mastering. I will tell you now it can be a thankless job, but you are very much needed to keep the hobby alive. Just look at any of the big game conventions for evidence of DM demand. Every year they are scrambling to find people to run games. Why? Because it’s much more work than just sitting down to play the game. As a DM, you are the coordinator, designer, production crew, and ALL the supporting characters.

If story and world building appeals to you, Dungeon Mastering is something you should try. The early stages of your DMing career will have some bumps in the road. But like anything in life, with a little perseverance the experience is very rewarding. Don’t let any of the potential issues I highlighted keep you from running a game session. Rather be on guard for them, have fun, and keep the hobby alive!

If you are a veteran player who reminisces about the days of old, why not take up the DM mantle? I love talking about games sessions from decades ago also. Old characters are like friends and we speak of their adventures with fondness. That said, there is plenty of time for new stories and your player experience make you perfect for Dungeon Mastering. Don’t just read about RPGs on social media, get involved again!

Also, if you are that veteran player attending a session with a new DM, take it easy on them. Don’t be a hindrance or take advantage of their lack of system savvy. If you truly want to have regular sessions to play, then being supportive is very important. This is especially true in the public game arena, where the RPG trolls sometimes crawl out from under their stones. Don’t let a troll sour a fledgling DM into potentially quitting the practice all together.

Dungeon Masters, we salute you! Thank you for running the game on behalf of the countless players out there. Remember relax, and don't sweat the small stuff. You will make make wrong decisions, blunder rulings, and misread your group occasionally. All that matters is that everyone had fun, because that is what this wonderful hobby is all about!


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