So you wanna be a DM?
I have the pleasure of being a DM/GM for most the games I play, only ever playing a few times throughout my role playing ‘career’. I do wonder why I have taken this role on and it was while I was thinking about this that I suddenly realise that the points actually would be classified as my top personal tips for being a DM! These are personal traits which I think help me and probably every DM do their job well.
1 – Have the Passion
Being a DM requires hard work. Although it is very rewarding, it is important that you really like what you are doing. I’m sure that players do do some work in between the gaming sessions, but as the DM yours is actually essential. If you enjoy doing this work then it is a bonus. A lot of people might suggest that you need to know a lot about the system, but this I don’t think is necessary since I encourage players to become experts of their own areas of the system. But if you don’t really want to DM then it will become a bind to do and then this will have a negative impact on everyone involved.
2 – Be able to keep organised
If you are going to run anything from a small one shot adventure to a multilayered campaign, then it is important that you are organised. There are plenty of programs out there to help you with this, but you can achieve this by using just a A4 folder or Google Drive. There are so many things to keep on top of from characters passions to magical items and those random NPCs which you make up on the spur of the moment. I have seen some groups encourage the players to provide a synopsis of the previous adventure but I actually like to do this. This allows me to focus in on the important parts which I will constantly identify as key plot line points. I actually use a program called Realm Works for my big campaigns. Once say a NPC is included in the people section it actually links back to this sheet everytime I use the word from then onwards. It is very useful. Plus there is a storyline flow chart and a place for key items and monsters.
3 – Be able to paint a picture
Before you all give up reading, I’m not talking about actually painting a picture! If this was a feature of being a DM I would never have started on the career path! The players are going to encounter a range of people and places within your sessions and it is important that you have the ability to make these come to life. Although some people are voice actors I possess a limited voice repertoire but still cope. It is about seeing the scene clearly in your mind and then relating it to the group. I always imagine myself as a player stood in, for example, the middle of a dungeon room and then describe it to the players as I look around. My own personal trick is to think of the room in terms of the first five senses, sight/sound/smell/taste/touch – although taste rarely makes an appearance! Another aspect that I actually include rather than taste is emotions – this really gives the ‘feel’ to the encounter.
4 – Be able to multitask
This is a skill which I am so grateful to have. So many things are happening while playing a game, even more if you are actually streaming it at the same time. There are individual players actions, the main plot line(s) of the campaign, the rules and the NPCs/Monsters. On top of this is thinking about where the players are going next and what you need to make them or yourself aware of. Maps need to be introduced, tokens moved and combat actions tracked. If you are also streaming LIVE then there is the broadcasting software to keep an eye on, the chat on Twitch and the Zoom connection. There are also times when the party decided to split up or separate throughout an encounter and you need to ensure that everyone has a ‘turn’ and that they go roughly in ‘turn’ order. Multitasking is definitely a skill which we need to have and implement if only to make our lives easier!
5- Cool, calm and collected
Players are an interesting breed of people. Although few are actually out to cause issues with the session/DM there are times when rules or actions will come into discussion and you, as the DM, have to make a decision. This is when calmness is important. I always view every situation as up for discussion. Yes the player might want to make the character do something really special, which would look great in a film, but they still have to do this within the boundaries of the rules. I encourage players to tell me which skills they want to use, what they would want the outcome to be and what would happen if they fail. Then I make a decision. I’m sure that these decisions are not always what the players want to actually happen, but it is important that the decisions are thought about and made. Sometimes DMing can be frustrating, but it is important to keep calm and have the patience of a saint!
And there you have it! Five tips/skills that I hopefully possess which help me do my job of being a DM well. I guess many of these skills I’ve actually developed as I have practised the role but if you have the first one, passion, then I am sure the rest will come and you will be a great DM!