D&D General The DM Shortage


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payn

Legend
Oh, absolutely. There's so much to be gleaned, I know that I've improved from such. But to try and carry this analogy, if the woodworker chooses hickory wood for the project, and doesn't go into why because teaching is not their goal, the amateur might run into constant frustration when they try to do the same thing with pine and don't understand why when put under the same pressure it keeps snapping in half. The issue isn't lack of perfection, it's not coming close to the desired result at all. They don't know what they don't know.
This is a good point to make. Culturally, we have become tactical learners. By that I mean we find exactly what we need to know, and nothing more. For example, say your dryer quits heating up. In the past, you called an expert or maybe you yourself learned about appliance repair. You may have taken classes, worked in a shop, etc... You leaned from an expert who had the entire experience to fix the problem. Now, you can simply pull up a video that tells a newb how to fix the heating element in the specific dryer they own. They didnt need to go to appliance school, or work in a shop, they got exactly what they needed from a mins long video.

Problem is there is no short cut to game mastering. Its a nuanced art that requires constant learning and practice to be good at. So, naturally folks here are saying WotC needs to put out a book and offer assistance to do it well. Folks need that bottom to top learning experience so they can handle myriad of game mastering situations. Problem is, nobody operates that way anymore so likely wouldn't use it if was available anyways. Best bet is to make a webpage with like a thousand 1-3 min videos on every aspect of game mastering. That would get tons of use that books wouldn't.
 

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.
To me D&D was always an intellectual game, and if I had to guess that is what drew most of us on this site to the game/hobby. I was drawn to the mystique of DMing, learning how to do it. So I just figured it out and developed my own style. Its a shame that there isnt a step-by-step product these days that shows players how to run games but I wonder if new players are waiting for that book to teach them "how-to" that has yet to come. Perhaps there should be a fourth core book that its sole purpose is to read as a walkthrough of a typical campaign. Two things that come to mind; 1) the section on alignment in the 2E PHB or DMG that runs down a scenario which describes how players of all alignments might react in the situation, 2) the 2E Player's Guide to the Forgotten Realms which follows the exploits of an adventuring company from a pseudo game play style narrative AFAIR. So I definitely think theres money left on the table by not releasing books like this. I'd imagine they'd be easily produced and an easy sell. WotC should consult Wu-Tang Clan and diversify their bonds.

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?
I believe it is just a supply and demand issue, more players than DMs. I havent read the 5E PHB or DMG through since 2014 so I can't remember how much it doubles down on the "one of the players in your group need to DM" factor. So it makes me wonder if a group of 5 new 12-15 y/o players (as an example) are looking for DMs externally rather than internally?
 


I think there is alot to be said about the correlation of this topic and how a player was introduced to the game. I.E., a friend/relative introduced me to the game, or those who came across the game alone with no prior knowledge such as, the old Red Box was under the Christmas Tree from Aunt Gurtie in 1983.
 


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?
Numerous factors. Game design can affect some, not all. Things it can't influence include:
  1. Reluctance about responsibility. All DMing entails responsibility.
  2. Extra expected effort. DMs coordinate stuff and remember information.
  3. Investment: books, tools, applications. Many DMs put $$$ into things. That's a barrier.
Intuitively: innate general human worries, inherent to the idea/structure of TTRPGs. Unavoidable.

Things design can influence include:
  1. Effort level to use the rules
  2. DM tools quality (how fast, intuitive, flexible, etc.)
  3. Ruleset effectiveness (does it do what most DMs playing it would want)
  4. Balance
  5. Advice quality & digestibility
  6. Amount of free apps/content
Intuitively: design, discussion, applications/tools. Only indirectly motivation; mostly execution. Hence, I push hard for...all these things. Because designers can influence them. Avoidable barriers. Ideal: low-effort, well-balanced rules that very effectively do what almost all DMs want, with fast, intuitive, flexible tools, all explained sweet and simple. Plus, robust free tools & ample free content to start off from. No game has ever been ideal. Better design lets us get closer.

Note, influence. NOT "determine." Influence. No rule, system, advice, etc. can determine. But influence still matters.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As such, for the hobbies entire history there have always been more players than DMs and probably at any time half the people in the hobby have wanted a game but had no one to DM. That's the nature of the hobby.

In the "fireside chat" thread, we find WotC apparently asserted that GMs account for about 20% of the market, but a vast majority of the sales. From this we can glean a couple of points:

1) Beyond time as a resource for GMs, there's a monetary component as well.

2) If you fill a bag with 80 white marbles, and 20 red marbles, there are enough red marbles to go around in theory, but in practice if you grab any five marbles, there's a goodly chance they'll all be white.

#2 there is a problem - because you'll frequently have local GM shortage, but not an overall shortage. But, raising the number of GMs may not actually help - because then you'll tend to have areas where GMs who go underutilized, and drop out of GMing, and you end up back where you started.
 
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Pretty much what @Paul Farquhar said. They taught me how to run a kick in the door dungeon with an adversarial attitude. Where my job was to try to get the players to tolerate a TPK just enough that they thought the next campaign they might lie through it and so they wanted to try again. Nothing about social interacting, or roleplaying. It was all about roll playing, tactics and stupid (to me) player puzzles and challenges that had nothing to do with the characters.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
I was struck by a bad case of DM burnout earlier this year, so much so that I'm really soured on the idea of ever running D&D again.

For me the issues were:
  • Prepping and running a campaign felt time consuming.
  • The investment in the game felt one-sided. Besides me, only one other player had bought a single book.
  • Rules competency was one-sided. The DM is expected to know everything, players can get away with knowing almost nothing.
  • Playing online felt bad. This was more of a COVID-related problem than anything. But none of the online tools I tried felt great.
  • I was the forever DM. No one ever expressed any serious interest in DMing.

We were all new players, with our group getting started in 2018. I'm not going to say my experience is representative, but I definitely relate to much of the talk surrounding the idea of a DM shortage.

I don't play online, everything else is part and parcel last 25 years+.
 

Digdude@1970

Just a dude with a shovel, looking for the past.
Probably unpopular opinion, but the lack of dms also reflects poorly on current dms not taking ownership to train others to dm. Despite my years of experience behind the screen, i still feel its my responability to be willing to show someone how to do it and even have one on one training sessions or whatever it takes to get them going.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Probably unpopular opinion, but the lack of dms also reflects poorly on current dms not taking ownership to train others to dm. Despite my years of experience behind the screen, i still feel its my responability to be willing to show someone how to do it and even have one on one training sessions or whatever it takes to get them going.
A good point. Part of why my group is all DMs is because we had people willing to not just talk about it, but to play in your first games and offer advice and critique instead of criticism and beratement and then we paid it forward with fairly quick turn around.

Buuut, that still requires an existing ecosystem that's in balance, not a burgeoning field of tons of new players with no existing DMs to teach people. People should be able to learn to run a game from the gaming books.
 

In the "fireside chat" thread, we find WotCapparently asserted that GMs account for about 20% of the market, but a vast majority of the sales. From this we can glean a couple of points:

1) Beyond time as a resource for GMs, there's a monetary component as well.

2) If you fill a bag with 80 white marbles, and 20 red marbles, there are enough red marbles to go around in theory, but in practice if you grab any five marbles, there's a goodly chance they'll all be white.

#2 there is a problem - because you'll frequently have local GM shortage, but not an overall shortage. But, raising the number of GMs may not actually help - because then you'll tend to have areas where GMs who go underutilized, and drop out of GMing, and you end up back where you started.
Indeed, the probability of drawing 5 white marbles is very close to 31.9%, meaning about a third of all 5-person groups don't have a DM among them. (Assuming you're drawing without replacement. If you draw with replacement, it's just .8^5 = 0.32768 = 32.768%.) For 6-person (that is, hoping for "5+DM"), it's very close to 25.2% without replacement, or .8^6 = 0.262144 = 26.2144% with.

Given the sheer number of groups of gamers hoping a DM will be willing to pick up their premise on various forums I've been part of, I don't think there's too much risk of DMs "going to waste." (As I've said elsewhere, I spent a full year on multiple sites hoping to find a game across several systems, only to strike out.) Even if there were, however, there's a better solution.

Make more pink marbles.

That is, make more marbles that can work as the red marble in a group of otherwise all white marbles, or a white marble if the group already has a red one. E.g., let's say we take your example, but we make it 70% white, 20% red, 10% pink. That cuts the chance of a 5-person group not having any DMs from the aforementioned ~31.9% to ~16.1%, nearly half (with replacement: 32.8% vs 16.8%.) For the 6-person group, it goes from ~25.2% to almost exactly 11% (with replacement: ~26.2% to ~11.8%), a reduction of more than half. Despite only altering one-eighth of all "never DMs" into "sometimes DMs," you drop the proportion of potential-groups-lacking-DMs from one-in-three to one-in-six for five-player groups, and from one-in-four to one-in-nine for six-player groups. That's a pretty major impact despite being only a small shift in the overall population.

The questions then become: What constitutes a pink marble? How do we encourage some white marbles to become pink ones? Will some red marbles also become pink marbles? How would either of these affect sales?

I'm of the opinion that well-designed, well-explained, well-balanced rules, which are made for a clear and useful purpose, are one of the best ways to encourage more pink marbles. Pink marbles are folks who have seen that it isn't that hard to be a DM, if you can make a bit of time and become comfortable with improvisation and not needing to plan everything to the nth degree. That it is possible to create accessible, well-designed tools (both in the game mechanics sense and the digital applications sense), and either sell them flatly at a reasonable price or make basic versions free and feature-rich versions reasonably priced.

Serious design, which pursues what works under conditions of actual playtesting, and not just faux-playtest-as-marketing-gimmick, can get you a good portion of the way there.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Probably unpopular opinion, but the lack of dms also reflects poorly on current dms not taking ownership to train others to dm. Despite my years of experience behind the screen, i still feel its my responability to be willing to show someone how to do it and even have one on one training sessions or whatever it takes to get them going.
As a person who'd trained DM, there are 2 problems.

1) The people I've trained have never been in my games. It's always been DMs coming from other tables via WOM.
2) Not everyone can teach the DM style that a DM might want to run. I'm a very considerate and open fellow so Ican do it. But everyone isn't like me.

There are 10 flavors of D&D, 3 styles of D&D, and 4 tiers of play. That's a lot to teach.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Probably unpopular opinion, but the lack of dms also reflects poorly on current dms not taking ownership to train others to dm. Despite my years of experience behind the screen, i still feel its my responability to be willing to show someone how to do it and even have one on one training sessions or whatever it takes to get them going.
I have no doubt this is a problem. I am happy that two players who were newbies when they started at my tables have at least dipped their toes in the GMing pool and at least two others who were more experienced also GM. I hope they learned as much from me as did from the GMs I've played with.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
In my experience, new DMs are created when players are exposed to lackluster games. "I can do this better!" and off they go. In my gaming circles, we call this "rage prepping" because you've just experienced a boring game of shopping or whatever and you're fired up to make a better game. When someone is suffering from writer's block, we just watch a couple of low-viewer Twitch streams and, hoo boy, the fires are lit again.

So, following that, if we just all agreed to run crappier games, the DM shortage would go away. WHO'S WITH ME?!
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Probably unpopular opinion, but the lack of dms also reflects poorly on current dms not taking ownership to train others to dm. Despite my years of experience behind the screen, i still feel its my responability to be willing to show someone how to do it and even have one on one training sessions or whatever it takes to get them going.
Yeah. When I introduced my nephew to D&D, I really encouraged his creativity and shared basic ideas of DMing while I was running games for them or driving him somewhere. A lot of my gaming friends are DMs already, but I try to take a little time each week to answer questions of fellow DMs on Discord/Reddit/ENWorld. It's a small contribution – not enough time for gaming these days – but I definitely agree it's worthwhile having conversations with new DMs, meeting them where they are at, and offering discerning support.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Serious design, which pursues what works under conditions of actual playtesting, and not just faux-playtest-as-marketing-gimmick, can get you a good portion of the way there.

We are talking, in largest part, about designing and playtesting the game to be easy to learn.

That means people who already know the ropes are not valid playtesters. You need a large playtesting population that doesn't already play RPGs to do "actual playtesting" for this design goal.

That is not a small order.
 

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