Dungeons Dragons Point Counter Point
Being a good Dungeon Master is a mix of intellect, wit, and your intelligence. Practice and knowing the rules don’t matter, so long as you follow those four general guidelines.
The Dungeon Master.
The most important person in the room, and the keystone of any D&D session. Without the Dungeon Master (DM), there is no session, campaign, or “one shots.”
As we all know, any great DM is always prepared. This means coming into every single session with a rigid plan, completely set in stone and immovable. The players would rather go off script, or do side quests? If you’re even considering listening to the players as a DM, you’ve already failed.
Everyone knows the DM is always the smartest person in the room, and therefore, always the one in charge. The party always follows the story arcs and plans. Being prepared means never listening to your players, or letting them do something “new” or “innovative.” Changing your plans at the drop of a dime is a campaign killer. The party is there to do what you want, afterall. To that end, sometimes you’re just going to need to micromanage or nudge players in the right direction.
Just remember, there’s absolutely no way to recover from an event the players themselves have come up with, or connect it to whatever you already had planned. If you go off-script even a little bit, the campaign is over. It’s time to flip the table and scream at everyone to get out.
Another thing that makes a great DM is remembering that your power is absolute. You’re the one in charge, because let’s be real, the players themselves don’t really matter. Nevermind reading the room, or watching how players are reacting to your events. The only thing you may have to pay attention to are the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Not that the latter matters that much.
Characters are interesting because of their strengths. Not because of their flaws and handicaps. We love Anakin Skywalker because he looks super cool while chopping up Battle Droids, Younglings, and dueling Obi-Wan. Audiences–and party members–like seeing lightsabers and cool weapons swung back and forth. Party members are going to have the most fun solving easy puzzles and steamrolling the campaign. Internal conflict and actual characterization doesn’t matter, so long as the characters are cool.
During a session, players might try to state that their character is going through some internal conflict, or have some kind of debuff that should weaken them. When this happens, it’s best to firmly remind them that you are in charge, and magically solve their problems. Characters can’t be cool while they’re suffering.
And if you’re playing with that cute, special someone who just happens to be there, watching you be the extremely cool DM that you are? Well, no one is going to hold it against you if you give them just a little bit of an advantage. They’re taking time out of their busy schedule to play with you, after all. Make sure they’re never actually punished for any low rolls, getting the best loot, and first input in any setting and event.
If the rest of the party starts getting annoyed or anxious, remind them once again that you are the one in charge. Besides, it feels really good to play the game and get treated as a second class citizen. It makes the game more challenging, and feelings of frustration encourage party members to play better.
The next thing that makes a great DM is being confident. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve ever touched D&D before, or whether you really understand all the rules. You can figure it all out on the fly! It can’t possibly be that hard. It’s just a nerd game anyways, and one of those nerds is bound to have a handbook you can flip through. If not, you can always just take out your phone and Google the rules.
Ignore any potential complaints or insults about this from party members. Remember, confident people don’t compromise. If the party members want to throw a fit, or unjustly call you out, they can leave. It’s as simple as that.
But most importantly, remember that being a DM is a serious business. Don’t make light of it. To get the full effect while playing the game, keep your party distant and in the dark.
Playing with your best friend? Not anymore, you’re playing with Dally the Dwarf. Your sister? That’s Ellie the Elf. You can no longer afford to see them as your friends and family. It might lead to weakness, favoritism, or worse, compromise. Favoritism is only a good thing if it’s your crush or significant other, and compromising with the players otherwise is weakness. It distracts us from what really matters.
Which is taking the characters from point A to B, and watching dice roll. It’s important to remember, the party is ultimately here to grind the campaign. Fun is an afterthought when it comes to Dungeons and Dragons. The party members are here to save your imaginary little fantasy world, no other reason.
Are players bored by the main story, and want to go on a bunch of side quests? It doesn’t matter. Remind them that they’re here to advance the campaign. How else are you going to get to the super cool ending of the session that you have planned, if the players don’t want to work towards it? Players can’t possibly be getting bored because there’s something wrong with the ending or story itself.
Just remember to be prepared, extremely controlling, confident, and serious. Being a good Dungeon Master is a mix of intellect, wit, and your intelligence. Practice and knowing the rules don’t matter, so long as you follow those four general guidelines.