D&D General The DM Shortage

Reynard

Legend
A few articles have appeared recently that focus on the "DM shortage." Long story short: with all the people joining the hobby, there are apparently not enough DMs to fill need. This, of course, drives a paid-DM economy (work I have done but I found is not really for me) as well as a lot of online consternation.

One thing I see a lot of on reddit an similar places is groups of 3 or 4 or even 5 friends unable to find a DM. My first thought for this people is: duh, one of YOU be the DM. That's how this works. Then I think about how I learned to DM way back in 1985 with a Red Box that actually taught the skill, step by step, at the same time it taught the players how to play. D&D had "beginner products" but nothing (I am aware of) that actually handholds a new DM through the process from a to z.

The other thing I thinks is: Do you know how many non-D&D GMs are desperately seeking player for their Fate or M&M or STA or Cthulhu campaign? Try something besides D&D! But, i remember when D&D was the "only" game and so I understand the tendency for new players who got interested because of Critical Role to try some non-D&D game first.

So, what do you think is driving the DM shortage? How do you think we (the community) and/or WotC can or should address it?

Also: before anyone else brings it up, Questing Beast did a video on the subject and he basically said "Run OSR!" (unsurprisingly) and I can't say I disagree with him, but that is still advising to play a game that is something other than the D&D on the shelves that drew them to the hobby in the first place.
 

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Oofta

Legend
Questing beast's main argument was that OSR was preferable because it was site based not story based. According to their theory, that makes it easier to run. Which ... maybe? I ran encounter based stuff for a while when I was first starting but we got tired of it pretty quickly. It's not like there is anything stopping you from running encounter based campaigns in 5E, we're close to wrapping up a game that I've been playing that's like that.

I'm just not sure how much of an issue this really is though. If people are buying books and playing, someone is DMing. There has always been a lack of DMs depending on the group of people playing going back ... well pretty much forever. In other words, I simply don't think we have enough data to really know. The world is different now and, yeah, at one point if I could have afforded it and there were professional DMs available I might have given it a try. Doesn't mean there weren't other DMs around, but if I have a choice between amateur and pro? I'd check out pro just for the heck of it. I don't think the existence of professional DMs is proof of, well, anything one way or another.

There's a lot of things said about D&D, a lot of negative or controversial things are just there to get eyeballs. That doesn't make it true, or a trend. Maybe there's an issue, maybe not. I just don't see why it would be any worse now than it ever was. If it is worse, there's no reason to believe it has anything to do with the game rules (beast's apocryphal "data" aside), it could just be that people have too many things competing for their free time and being a DM takes more prep work than being a player.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I watched a YouTube video other day apparently the DM shortage doesn't exist in OSR circles.

Anyway I think there's two main reasons and there's not a lot WotC can do to fix it. They make starter sets.

1. Generational/cultural Everyone wants to play combine that with pick up and play open world games. Those games didn't really exist 30 odd years ago.

2. Shorter attention spans.

Apart from that WotC focus in dense heavy AP style books, a lack of quality fluff (to inspire the DMs) and things like lack of novels might play some indirect part but it's hard to say.
 
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payn

Legend
Here is what I do.

  1. Check out the local organized play scene. I know, I know y'all dont want to play with randos and by the organized play book. Thats not the point. Its a low commitment way to play, learn to GM, and find other gamers in your community.
  2. Go online. You can find games being run for just about any system. Id be surprised if you are not in a game by end of the week (5E/PF2 of course).
  3. Never join an adventure path or long term homebrew campaign with folks you dont know. Start with one shots, organized play scenarios, bespoke experiences, game of the month club, etc.. Work your way up to a long term campaign after you find the right group, not before.
If you are really worried about a GM shortage, get out there and run games. One shots, bespoke, game of the month, etc...
 

Most of my groups are mostly played-for-decades types, most of whom can switch-hit between playing and DMing.

5e has not done the DM training part well, but I also think it's a bit unfair to it to compare it to 1985-and-before D&D. AD&D and the boxed sets did a very good job at teaching people how to become dungeon-crawl DMs (and to a lessor degree wilderness hexcrawl DMs). Obviously everyone didn't exclusively game dungeoncrawls and hexcrawls, but that's what the system taught well, and if you were ready to try something else, well then you'd best trust your DMing skills (or have players dedicated enough to stick with you through the rough patches while you hone your skills beyond those parameters). 5e is trying to capture a wider base, including people whom have no interest in that (and there were plenty of people I grew up with who ought to have been naturals for D&D, who bounced off it or tried it for a while and wandered off, specifically because of what it focused on). Teaching how to GM that wider set of play is challenging. AD&D 2E (post Hickman Revolution) had much the same problem, and much of the DM advice was very nebulous 'you decide what you want to do' style (as are lots of more open-goal non-D&D rpgs). I don't envy the developers this challenge (while at the same time really hope the 2024 DMG-analog really ups the game).
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
IME unless you are "in a gamer setting" (hobby shops, campuses, etc.), finding players has been more difficult. As older adults, I've lost players mostly due to conflicts such as family, work, moving, etc. At this point, my Saturday "group" is almost to the point we hang out, talk shop, etc. almost more than we play. One of the guys in this group also DMs as he wanted to try it and I've given him help with that. He's working out pretty well.

I was lucky to find my Tuesday group due to a younger co-worker that plays. He introduced me to their group, who had a DM, but for the last few months I've been DMing so the other DM can play and see some first-hand DMing from a much more experienced DM.



Anyway, as for a DM shortage, reasons why newer players are reluctant to pick up the DM mantle are:

  • they lack confidence / don't want to appear foolish
  • they don't want the responsibility
  • they don't have the time to commit to prepping
  • they are intimidated by videos they watched / stories they heard
  • they have more fun playing
  • they feel they don't have the imagination
  • they don't believe they can handle the story-telling aspect
  • and so on...

Having a mentor can certainly help, especially if they are willing to co-DM with the new DM. This is what I will typically do for a few sessions when a new DM is ready to run a game. I'll help with tracking initiative, running monsters, etc. and remind them of things they forget about or overlook.

Frankly, I would love to have a job as a full-time DM, but I am not a big person for online gaming and I've never found players around here who want/ need a DM badly enough to pay for one. 🤷‍♂️
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
My group rotates between three DMs. The real difficulty of late is that we're all in our 40s and our familial/work obligations sometimes interfere with being able to regularly schedule games.

If there is a GM shortage, then folks need to step up. The starter sets aren't bad, and there's a wealth of advice online. Not to mention that the current edition is more new-DM-friendly than older editions, IMO. I would think it's easier than ever to learn to DM.

My guess is that if there is a shortage it may have to do with the recent rise of D&Ds popularity. It could be that there are a lot more "casual" players who aren't willing to step up and DM, but still want to try the game. Whereas when the game was less popular, the player base may have been more "hardcore" gamers who were willing to do what they had to in order to game. But that's just a guess.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Most of my groups are mostly played-for-decades types, most of whom can switch-hit between playing and DMing.

5e has not done the DM training part well, but I also think it's a bit unfair to it to compare it to 1985-and-before D&D. AD&D and the boxed sets did a very good job at teaching people how to become dungeon-crawl DMs (and to a lessor degree wilderness hexcrawl DMs). Obviously everyone didn't exclusively game dungeoncrawls and hexcrawls, but that's what the system taught well, and if you were ready to try something else, well then you'd best trust your DMing skills (or have players dedicated enough to stick with you through the rough patches while you hone your skills beyond those parameters). 5e is trying to capture a wider base, including people whom have no interest in that (and there were plenty of people I grew up with who ought to have been naturals for D&D, who bounced off it or tried it for a while and wandered off, specifically because of what it focused on). Teaching how to GM that wider set of play is challenging. AD&D 2E (post Hickman Revolution) had much the same problem, and much of the DM advice was very nebulous 'you decide what you want to do' style (as are lots of more open-goal non-D&D rpgs). I don't envy the developers this challenge (while at the same time really hope the 2024 DMG-analog really ups the game).

I don't think it's a dmg problem. Shorter adventures at a reasonable price like the old 32 pop page modules might be a good idea.

Will it make as much mo no ey? Probably not but longer term vs shiny new book now.....
 


Art Waring

halozix.com
Its a good question.

5e is much easier to play in as a player, where my previous experience back in the day with 2e was pretty bad to be honest, and GMing for me would have been a nightmare, as we didn't have access to the red box or beginners kits and the internet wasnt't yet a thing. Not to mention the local players had little interest in teaching kids how to poke stone walls with ten foot poles looking for traps.

The problem might reside on the GM's side in terms of perceived responsibilities.

IME, 5e is potentially more heavy on the GM side than the game first appears. It is a simplified version of d&d on the surface, but for a new GM, they have their work cut out for them if they lack experience with d&d.

I almost think that solo play might be one solution for GM's in training. Let them learn to run a game on their own, learn all the rules as you go along in a stress free setting without pressure from players. Get comfortable with the mechanics, then move onto roleplaying and social encounters with a group of players.
 


Reynard

Legend
Anyway I think there's two main reasons and there's not a lot WotC can do to fix it. They make starter sets.
Those starter sets don't necessarily teach how to DM, though -- at least not in the way the 1983 Red Box did. The only comparable product I can think of is the Pathfinder Beginner Box.

DMing is hard and a weird skillset. Teaching people to do it, step by step, is a real thing. Advice videos on YouTube about how to better use goblins doesn't really help.

I think WotC needs to do more, as far as creating new DMs is concerned. The hobby depends on DMs. there is no game without them, and they are highly undervalued from WotC's perspective apparently -- putting out relatively little DM focused products and not putting together DM "training" materials -- videos, publications or otherwise.
 

Reynard

Legend
Its a good question.

5e is much easier to play in as a player, where my previous experience back in the day with 2e was pretty bad to be honest, and GMing for me would have been a nightmare, as we didn't have access to the red box or beginners kits and the internet wasnt't yet a thing. Not to mention the local players had little interest in teaching kids how to poke stone walls with ten foot poles looking for traps.

The problem might reside on the GM's side in terms of perceived responsibilities.

IME, 5e is potentially more heavy on the GM side than the game first appears. It is a simplified version of d&d on the surface, but for a new GM, they have their work cut out for them if they lack experience with d&d.

I almost think that solo play might be one solution for GM's in training. Let them learn to run a game on their own, learn all the rules as you go along in a stress free setting without pressure from players. Get comfortable with the mechanics, then move onto roleplaying and social encounters with a group of players.
I think the real solution is a starter set/adventure that walks them through it, step by step. That's what we got in 1983 and it really did teach the basic skills of DMing in a relatively short period of time, and you built on top of that with modules and just playing.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Anyway, as for a DM shortage, reasons why newer players are reluctant to pick up the DM mantle are:

  • they lack confidence / don't want to appear foolish
  • they don't want the responsibility
  • they don't have the time to commit to prepping
  • they are intimidated by videos they watched / stories they heard
  • they have more fun playing
  • they feel they don't have the imagination
  • they don't believe they can handle the story-telling aspect
  • and so on...

As a DM in the DM shortaged NYC who mentored a couple DMs, I agree with this.

The biggest issues I've run into s that either people don't want to DM because they are afraid to disappoint the group OR they tried it and due to lack of guidance it was awful.

And a lot of it is due to the higher standard of expectation players have of DMs. Most due to the grand expectations player-turned-DMs put on themselves of how they want to DM and either:

  • scaring themselves out of it
  • attempting things above their skill level
  • getting stuck on one of the DM skills
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Those starter sets don't necessarily teach how to DM, though -- at least not in the way the 1983 Red Box did. The only comparable product I can think of is the Pathfinder Beginner Box.

DMing is hard and a weird skillset. Teaching people to do it, step by step, is a real thing. Advice videos on YouTube about how to better use goblins doesn't really help.

I think WotC needs to do more, as far as creating new DMs is concerned. The hobby depends on DMs. there is no game without them, and they are highly undervalued from WotC's perspective apparently -- putting out relatively little DM focused products and not putting together DM "training" materials -- videos, publications or otherwise.
Return of the Lazy DM has a lot of great stuff. It’s not a full how to DM onboarding, but it covers a lot of ground. If you’re of a more linear or railroading bent, Tracy Hickman’s X-Treme Dungeon Mastery is quite useful.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Same old problem as when I started, different decade.

Circa 1989. Many wanted to play D&D. No one knew the rules so no one wanted to DM. So, yours truly fearlessly asked for the "Red Box" for his birthday. Yours truly read it and it had a 1-person dungeon crawl. Yours truly had already read many AD&D "choose your own adventure" style game books that came with a d10 for randomization. These gave yours truly a lot of ideas and inspiration. Eventually, without watching any podcasts or YouTube videos because they hadn't been invented yet, I invited a few folks for a game. I don't recall much of it. I'm sure it was terrible and non-memorable. Then because no one else knew the rules, I was volunteered to try again, and again. And eventually, I got the hang of it. And I'd freak out then and now if someone proposed live-streaming our games. Hell no.

Personally, I moved states and found a new group of novice players. Their desire to play D&D largely sprang from podcasts. They were seeing professional actors "doing it better" than normal folk could and it looked fun. Since gaming with others in person, they watch a whole lot less of it. I like to think it's because they're realizing our game is pretty damn fun and they don't have to experience D&D vicariously. It's my belief that watching others play D&D is a really BAD way to inspire someone to become a DM because they'll feel pressured to "perform" in a way the professional actor and their professional crew who are wanting to be recorded and displayed to the world do.

Personally, I think new DMs would be a whole lot better off if they learned from doing, and trial and error, and without pressure to perform a certain way. It doesn't mean the DM shouldn't look for inspiration, but they can do it without living up to a standard. I know for a fact had I watched the "pros" and then were asked to DM, I would've declined because at the time I was the type of person who'd feel pretty intimidated.

Conclusion: aspiring DMs should take advice from "old school" DMs...just go for it. If you're with friends, they'll love the fact you're trying hard, and you'll get more confident and better as you go. Don't look for your inspiration by mimicking other groups.
 

Reynard

Legend
Return of the Lazy DM has a lot of great stuff. It’s not a full how to DM onboarding, but it covers a lot of ground. If you’re of a more linear or railroading bent, Tracy Hickman’s X-Treme Dungeon Mastery is quite useful.
I think you are missing my point: WotC needs to reproduce the techniques of the 1983 Basic Set if they want to solve the "DM crisis."
 

Reynard

Legend
Same old problem as when I started, different decade.

Circa 1989. Many wanted to play D&D. No one knew the rules so no one wanted to DM. So, yours truly fearlessly asked for the "Red Box" for his birthday. Yours truly read it and it had a 1-person dungeon crawl. Yours truly had already read many AD&D "choose your own adventure" style game books that came with a d10 for randomization. These gave yours truly a lot of ideas and inspiration. Eventually, without watching any podcasts or YouTube videos because they hadn't been invented yet, I invited a few folks for a game. I don't recall much of it. I'm sure it was terrible and non-memorable. Then because no one else knew the rules, I was volunteered to try again, and again. And eventually, I got the hang of it. And I'd freak out then and now if someone proposed live-streaming our games. Hell no.
"Yours truly" didn't read the book, that had a full tutorial in DMing, from the fully stocked 1st level, to the mapped but not stocked 2nd level, to th conceptualized but unmapped and unstocked 3rd level.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I think you are missing my point: WotC needs to reproduce the techniques of the 1983 Basic Set if they want to solve the "DM crisis."
It might keep but it won't solve the issue.

Thereal issue is 5e's audience doesn't want to be basic DMs.

Basically to remain excited, most 5e DMs wont to play the DM the way thay dream of. And this is beyond basic DMing.Or in layman's terms:

Modern DMing for Modern D&D is so advanced that no one is willing to do it if they can't get to the advanced stuff they like.

AKA No one wants to crawl before they run.

People want to do their wacky GOT clone or anime hero setting or grand fantansy plot but it takes a long time to learn DMing. And they either get too scared to jump, burn out before they learn the basics enough to transition, or drown in a quick plunge in the deep end. This is why a lot of DMs are ex4e and ex3e DMs with rings on their trunk.

DM tools need to not only teach how to DM but how to modify your game and effects of each modification. This way you start knowing how to shift the game into something you are excited about after the initial rush.
 

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