Developing as a DM

Okay, Okay – I need to start of by premising this waffle by stating that we all make mistakes. Sometimes these are taking the wrong turn when heading towards an unknown destination, sometimes it is just picking the wrong letter in the multiple choice test. Sometimes it saying something when you ought to keep quiet and other times it is pushing for what you believe just to discover that you are wrong. Well last week I made a bit of a mistake in the Dungeons and Dragons game which I DM on a Saturday night at 20:00 GMT on Twitch. In my vision of dramatic and epic battles I forgot that the characters were only 3rd level and also to multiply my challenge rating but the number of monsters which were attacking, rather than just adding up their experience. The result – carnage! As character after character hit the dust, I realised that something was not correct and stopped the session early. Although some players thought it was something to do with the terrain, it was purely that there was too many harpies attacking the party. As the dust settled I started to wonder what kind of DM I was/am and what my role/job description would be if there was one actually written down.

As my long suffering brother will vouch about, I am the sort of person who takes the blame for everything and instantly identify all the negatives about my approach, skill and ability. I think it comes from being a teacher and always having to reflect on your ability or being criticised by others. As the aforementioned dust settled, I went through the usual – “I’m never ever going to DM again” phase through the “I’m rubbish at this role” to the eventual “How can I get better at this”. Since I don’t know any other DMs personally in real life I took to the next best thing – Twitter – and asked well established people on there what their view about the job of the DM was and then decided myself whether I agree or not which, in turn, allowed me to decide somewhat of an answer to the initial question – what type of DM I am. It would be impossible to put all the comments I am using into complete context and so I am not going to say who said them and yes, before you ask, I am taking the ones which I want to engage and ignoring others – mainly because I want to write a good waffle! – well, at least I am honest!

  • “But it sounds like you’re a bit stubborn” – This is one of my many flaws. Ever since being a young child, I remember people saying how stubborn I am. I always think that the word stubborn has very negative connotations and therefore tend to replace it with the word determined. I’m not sure whether there is a difference between these two words or whether they are almost interchangeable. When it comes to applying either of these words to my DMing I have to be very careful. When I create an adventure I actually play through the encounters within my head, identifying the points which need either further explanation or maps. I do actually create a rehearsal of the adventure and this can lead me to be too prescriptive with what might or is going to happen. I do accept this wholeheartedly and often think I should be less ‘stubborn’ although this can lead to sessions when the way forward is not clear and silence descents on the group. I guess it is a fine balance between showing the way if needed but being prepared for adaptation if the party decide to go in a different direction. I like high fantasy, characters embarking on epic quests, supporting and protecting the common folk and bringing themselves great glory. Often, when players don’t appear to be bothered about this, my stubborn streak kicks in and I almost become frustrated that they are not progressing through the campaign how I planned it. This leads me nicely onto my next point – who is the campaign/adventure for?

  • “Create opportunities for your players to look & feel awesome.” – One day I think I would actually like to sit down and work out the number of hours I actually put into running a D&D campaign. I actually did this with the amount of money I plough into my radio station which was so scary that everyday I try and justify its upkeep! I had to think long and hard about this comment made to me, and I seem to find myself disagreeing with it. I see my role more that I have created this world which I encourage the players to interact with. If they don’t ‘fit’ into the world, then of course I would ask them to leave it, but generally they can adapt to the overall feel of the world. Although it is not a privilege to have me as a DM, I do see it as a privilege to participate in the campaign. It is almost as if I am allowing people to enter my thoughts and creation – a bit like writing a book and then letting people read it. One think I like about any role playing game (RPG) are those moments when things happen which are very memorable. Yes I do like to support these moments, but I don’t think it my role to create opportunities for players to look and feel awesome, if anything I think they are more responsible for this than me. I create the adventure and their create the opportunities themselves. Something which initially I might have provided no detail about at all, a player can take and make an awesome moment. I see my role as a communicator, someone who allows the world that as been created to be transferred to the players’ imaginations. As I do this, I need to assure that everything remains fair and balanced. Really and truly after this I think it is down to the players to create those opportunities to be awesome. Indeed that is why they are role playing in the first place.

  • “But if you CHOOSE to play with that group & run a game for them, you do so expecting to provide a game they will enjoy.” – This comment was the one which really did hit me for six. As well as ‘stubborn’ and ‘dedicated’ I am also very much of a provider. In many situations of my life I am the one who is providing things in order to make other people feel happy – wait that sounds a bit ‘wrong’ but please take it in the non innuendo way it is meant to sound! I found this comment was almost as if it was the DMs job to provide something for the players and that there was little or no capacity for the DM themselves. When I am playing MMOs I am always amazed how much grief healers and tanks get. They are, within the raid situations, greatly sought after and yet when, I as a newbie tank or healer joins, I make mistakes and get blasted by foul comments from the rest of the party for my inefficiencies. I can imagine that many people instantly leave the tanks and healers and play DPS in order to avoid the nastiness. You would have thought that people would be supportive of new healers and tanks so that they actually remain ‘in post’ to support future escapades into the dungeons/raids. I’m not sure how many DMs are out there, but I am guessing that there are more people who prefer to play than DM? I do worry that it is my job, as a DM according to this tweet, to provide a campaign which others enjoy and that since I have chosen a group then that is my job to provide this. An alternative way of thinking about this would be that if the players do not enjoy the campaign then they should leave rather than expecting a DM to change. In a similar way, I would never try and alter a game which I was playing in which didn’t actually match my way of playing. I think this comment comes down to one important point. Campaigns and games are not solely the responsibility of either the DM or the players. Everyone has an equal input to the scenarios and also have an equal responsibility to accept when things are not working and leave and/or stop participating.

  • I think it is really important at this point to say that I am not angry or annoyed at anything or even about to ask my players to change or adapt or even leave. I always mention within this blog that writing these waffles actually allows me to clarify my thoughts and almost reset my confidence as a DM. I am more than happy to reflect on my DMing and admit and move on from my mistakes just as I hope that players are as well. DMs put a lot of time and effort into creating and DMing games and players should be matching this as well. Whenever you put a few people into one room, everyone has to adapt and this is even more important within a campaign. I would never want to, as the DM, have to talk to player and say – ‘I think you should leave, as this campaign isn’t suited to you’. I would hope more that the player would recognise this themselves and move onto another campaign and world. In this way, everyone is happy and both campaigns benefit from the player’s input.

    No doubt many people have comments about being the ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ DM or even what they consider to be the role of the DM in a campaign and, as always, if you have any thoughts or comments on this post then please add them below or send them to me via any of the social media sites I frequent. You can keep up to date with my content by following me on Twitch, Twitter and Facebook. If you are interested in joining or playing Minecraft, then please check out my Minecraft webpage for details of joining the server. Of course any subscribers to my YouTube channel are always appreciated.

    Have fun and I’ll catch you all later and, until then, consider yourself waffled!

    2 comments for “Let Me In! – Simon’s Cat – YouTube

    1. Profile photo of Longshanks
      February 19, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Would be cool to play an one off, one of the dungeon crawls you made! Maybe the 8 level one!!!

    2. Profile photo of David Thompson
      March 21, 2017 at 12:05 am

      I miss those early days so much. The current state of rpg’s , the rpg xubculture if you like, doesn’t feel like it did back then. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

      I was introduced to Advanced D&D 1st Edition, by my sisters boyfriend (the BEST boyfriend of the many she had IMHO..), who showed me S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module after discovering I enjoyed computer based adventure games, I was hooked immediately and it wasn’t too long before I was hanging around the local game shop, Games Gallery, from which I was invited to join in a game run by the assistant manager, who was to become my long and good friend Steve, who was coincidentally, the reason I got to work at the local branch of Games Workshop for a time. Working there, in those days, before it became a Warhammer only shop, was amazing. It was the proverbial kid in the sweet shop!. Staff discount made it even sweeter – 50% off GW’s own products, and 25% off everything else. We also ran a great rpg club, with about 60-80 members at its peak.
      I was always the GM for my main group as no one else had the time it took to prepare a game properly, though after a few changes to the group, and people from the club popping up, I eventually got to play. Games by a company called Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU) were very popular in all of my groups. FGU sold games such as Bushido, Aftermath,Space Opera, Chivalry & Sorcery, Freedom Fighters, and Bunnies & Burrows, but there were many many more games, by many different companies, covering all sorts of genres – and I still have them all. Many were, as was the style back then, table and chart and rule HEAVY. We loved that. Comparing themto the current crop of “rules lite” systems, I would certainly go back to the old games instead. We played these games sometimes 5 days a week, as for a time we were all unemployed. It was all we did.
      I often spent days creating scenarios, making maps, creating player characters as well as npc’s. I found it quite therapeutic, as is miniature painting – thousands of the little buggers packed away testify to the time I spent doing it. My “toy soldiers” as my brother in law calls them…
      I used to get quite attached to my favourite characters, and whilst one or two died over the decades, most did not.
      For almost all of my characters I would go overboard by most people’s standards. I like to have an image for my characters, whether a photo or artwork. Sometimes I will see an image and that is the base for the whole character, built around the image.
      I always believed as a player, that giving the GM a detailed background, list of goals, motivations, friends, contacts and enemies, will help the GM bring my character into the game more, by using some of what I have given him in the game. As a GM I like to see what players come up with for their characters, and will often use it in the game. It involves the player more, makes the game more personal if part of the game is suddenly about them, and it can help the players become more invested in their characters.
      For myself, I would often map out the characters home, create a family tree, siblings, etc.
      For our Star Trek RPG (by FASA Corp), I created the whole crew of a 500+ personnel star ship… All as detailed player characters. Unnecessary and a bit OTT I know, but it helped bring every department on the ship alive, every member of the landing party was a person not simply a red shirt.

      I am often bemused whilst watching streams when I see the gm of a streamed game pull some “new” idea out of his box of tricks, and the players are like “wow!”, “that’s original”, “I would never have thought of doing it that way!”, knowing we did it 30-40 years ago.

      The games my most recent group and I played/ran, were very detailed games with a lot of depth. Quite dark games too, mature themed, and often very emotional and intense. Having played with the same people for nigh on 20 years, you create a bond, a closeness and familiarity that allows you to communicate in a way you couldn’t, with people you don’t know very well.
      I have been brought to tears several times in recent years during the last (decade long) game we played ,as some scenes were simply too emotional or powerful, overwhelming (GM was a bastard – but an EXCELLENT GM).

      Sadly the group folded, but the GM offered to keep the game going for just me, which he did for a few years, which to be honest I really needed, as it helped me through a bad depression at that time).
      Over the years I have experienced a lot of things because of rpg’s, and made some great friends, too. I have a lot to be grateful for, regarding rpg’s. I was discussing with my brother in law, my collection of rpg’s and miniatures. When he realised how much they are worth, (some regularly sell for £100’s!) he always tells me to sell sell sell. He doesn’t grasp what they mean to me .
      Yet I won’t. Part of me hopes and prays that I will get a local group together (even some of the old group!) and start using them again. But aside from that, as my memory fails, little by little each year, these boxes and books and miniatures on the shelves are my constant reminders of happy and sad and exciting moments, and great fun, and more importantly, great friends.

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