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!

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