I am sat writing this waffle as usual in Costa (other coffee shops are available). Last night I DMed Starfinder, Paizo’s space faring RPG. The party started their search for a new pilot, meeting a hooded figure who attacked them, three gullible space goblins and The Sisters, a group of three Shirrens who buy and sell objects focusing on Gap or pre-Gap artefacts. Throughout the game, I try to go with the flow of the adventure making up rules as I go, recording anything I need to check up on my trusty notebook which forms part of my setup for the RPG games/streams. After the dust as settled, i.e. the next morning over coffee in the coffee shop, I check a whole load of rules and post updates to the Discord Channel. Although I’m sure that few actually read them, I do value doing this since it improves my understanding of the rules in between the sessions. It was while doing this job this morning that I started to get an indication of what sort of a DM I am and, because I am quite an open guy – I decided to share with you my thoughts…
Despite all the hard work which accompanies being a DM I do love it. There are many times when I am so busy creating adventures, clarifying rules or mediating discussions that I feel that I would have more spare time without it all. However, when we miss some sessions for a few weeks and I don’t need to engage with the games I am actually quite bored and suddenly find I have nothing to do! The more sessions, and indeed games, which I DM/GM the more I am starting to get a feel of the sort of DM I like to be. I’m not saying that there are certain types of DMs although I am sure that there is a Youtube video somewhere detailing these in an ironic manner, I’m thinking more of what is important for me as a DM and how I hopefully communicate this within my sessions.
DMing an Atmosphere
Yes, before anyone says it, I know I probably like the sound of my own voice. In my job I spend the majority of my time presenting and interacting with learners and so the role of DM is quite natural to me. But rather than talking about anything or indeed nothing, I like to try and create an atmosphere within the game. When describing a setting/encounter, I like to tell the players what it looks, smells, sounds and often feels like. I try to make comparisons to ‘real-life’ to improve the description. To me this is so important in allowing the players to visualise the setting and, even though I doubt very much whether their vision matches mine, it is just important that they are immersed in the game and almost feel that they are there. I can’t imagine a game where this is not important or achieved. Because of this, I tend to only use floor plans when they are needed for tactical purposes or to increase the atmosphere.
DMing a Background and Personalities
I tend not to engage with one-shots in my games. I have nothing against them and actually do use them as one off or ‘special’ sessions when we only have a certain period of time for a game. I much prefer the campaign model because of several reasons. I love the background of the settings within a campaign. I often engage with this, and actually feature periods of dialogue or even ‘tests’ when the players have to listen to me waffle on. I like developing the world as a whole and making the players aware that they are actually engaging and interacting with a dynamic world rather than just a ‘session’. History is important in my worlds and I like to remind the players where they fit within this timeline and how they are actually journeying along with it. Coupled with this journey is the people that they meet. NPCs are so important to me. It is the only opportunity which I get to create characters and I rarely just place random NPCs into the game, preferring to develop their personalities so that the party interact with them over and over again. NPCs like Mistletoe the Talismonger from Shadowrun and Sylvester from the Mythras campaign are definitely my favourites although the newly formed Sisters from Starfinder have a lot of potential.
How I DM Information and Mystery
Yes, you guessed it. I’m not really a combat DM at all. Yes, I do include combat in my sessions but I much prefer a good role play and social sessions where players use their skills to interact with the world and progress with a mystery or puzzle. I do get told off sometimes because things that appear very obvious to me are not, apparently, obvious to the players, but this doesn’t deter me. When I am creating plot lines, I actually write down the information which is available from a scene rather than specifying specific rolls which will be needed. If they want information, they are going to have to work for it, it is not just a case of walking up to the first person asking them a question and expecting the answer – what would be the fun in that! I also like to keep in my mind time and consequences so if someone wants to check every bar on a street for the rogue, then that is going to take time and if someone hits a guard, then the guards will definitely hit them back in more ways than one! Very hard to buy things at a good price in a town when you have annoyed the merchants!
I’m not saying how I DM games is the right or wrong way and I am sure that I can be very frustrating for my players at times as I make them work for information and the next piece of the puzzle. Sometimes I can sense that they have given up and, when this happens, I throw them a carrot as a treat so that they can get back on track. I realise that I might be the sort of DM which you actually hate. If you are a player who prefers to see those high dice and damage rolls which kill enemies in a blink of an eye, then I’m not the DM for you. If you are the sort of player who likes a challenge and has strong resilience and perseverance then sign up, because in my honest humble opinion you might actually enjoy my campaigns.