log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D General The mentality of being a DM

Kodiak3D

Explorer
I just wanted to post and ask how different DM's view the "job" of being a Dungeon Master. I occasionally teach a class about game mastering, and I always find it interesting to see how different people think of it.

I've been running games for 28 years. Personally, I view myself as a "Warden of Fun." If you have taken on the responsibility of running a game, you have made yourself responsible for others having a good time. Now, I'm not saying that you are responsible for EVERYTHING that happens (you can't control what other players do), but you at least should create a situation for your players to play characters they enjoy and be part of a story where THEY are the main characters. It's the story of THEIR heroism, and it should make them feel special.

I do not take an antagonistic view of DM vs Players.

I try to avoid situations that are frustrating (in a bad way, not like puzzles or mysteries, which can be fun) or just annoying. I also tend to not let the dice kill players (but I'll let them come close). Honestly, I don't have many players deaths unless A) they do something foolish, B) it's a boss fight, C) the death would be meaningful/memorable.

So, how do you view the job of a DM?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
I largely follow your understanding of the role. I believe in removing what I have generally found to be frustrating obstacles to fun. For example, in a site-based adventure I do not require players to create their own maps based on my verbal description. I will always provide a visual map and gradually reveal areas as the players explore.

However, I WILL let the dice kill characters. One reason for this is that there is a thrilling tension that arises from genuine danger arising from choices plus abilities plus chance. I think the element of chance is important, and you lose something if you over-control it. It is after all a game, not a book or a movie.

In recent years I think my DMing has evolved a lot by virtue of developing a willingness to let go of the reins and let the game play itself when appropriate. As a result many amazing moments have happened that would have been missed had I over-curated the story to “make sure it went right.”
 
Last edited:

HJFudge

Explorer
I view my role as DM as very much a combination of referee and story advocate. I set the stage on which the players and NPCs together will tell their story, using both dice and decisions.

Yes, the dice can kill the players. In fact, if you are preventing the dice from killing the players via fiat you aren't doing your job and are stripping players of part of the fun imho. Not all stories have a happy ending. Not allowing players to die due to dice really robs them of a lot of the fun of the game and tends to lend toward cavalier attitudes. Why care what option you choose if you know none of the options will lead to actual danger? That said, I'll do my best to balance encounters in a way that there are multiple outs if the dice turn bad. But bad luck can make for an interesting tale.

The rules are there to allow some measure of non-arbitrariness to how the story progresses. The Players make decisions based on the rules and the NPCs will as well. Antagonist NPCs/Factions will always have a goal, a motivation. They will be striving to meet this goal regardless on whether or not they are opposed by the heroes. The story will progress, for example, if the players decide not to investigate certain goings ons or deal with the mysterious figures that robbed the temple. They are free to choose what they do: They are not free to choose the consequence of their choice.

Being the DM means striking a balance between letting the players drive the narrative while at the same time presenting them with challenging, interesting and meaningful options and obstacles. Place them in a larger tapestry and it allows both you and the players to cooperate to tell a grand tale.

Without that tapestry, I find I have less fun. Without those obstacles and meaningful choices, my players have less fun.
 

Kodiak3D

Explorer
I should clarify that I don't have a hard rule against letting the dice kill a player, but I don't let it happen often, at least with my usual group of players. After playing with them for 25 years, I know what their play style is, what they enjoy, and what frustrates them. For them, getting killed by an orc or bandit in a random encounter is a pointless death that kills off a character someone has put a lot of time into. However, if the encounter is something more interesting or meaningful to the story, then the dice are very much a danger.

I think this comes from our old days in AD&D 2e when things were much more lethal. Now with 5e (which we only recently switched to after a long time with Pathfinder), it's a little easier to stay alive. We've also been playing more online, not only due to covid, but one of our group moved away. I've been making my dice rolls visible, so if it happens...so be it.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Of course you should play according to what's most fun for you and your group.

As a counterpoint, though, I would say that I am currently in a campaign (as a player) that has four players who each put a lot of thought and heart into backstories, personal goals, etc and were really invested. In session three, one character, due to resource exhaustion and a string of hideously bad rolls on the part of the whole party, was killed during a not-random, but very much not-climatic or "key" encounter - a fight with four skeletons in a totally avoidable dead-end room in a dungeon.

My initial reaction was "this completely sucks that this player lost this character he really cared about in this pretty arbitrary way simply because we should have maybe rested one encounter sooner, and everyone just plain rolled badly (including the player himself failing three death saves in a row while the rest of us were blowing medicine checks right and left)." However, the aftermath of this "lame" death ended up being a huge character moment for the party and in some ways an unexpectedly pivotal early turning point in the campaign. That would never have happened had the DM prevented the character from dying in an "unsatisfying" way.
 
Last edited:

Li Shenron

Legend
I am the referee: I explain and uphold the rules of the game, resolve ambiguous situations and adjudicate where the rules do not reach. I do not let the players exploit the rules against the spirit of the game, I do not let them argue at the table as rules lawyers, and I am prepared to sanction disruptive players off the game (though I never needed to make it happen).

I am the storyteller: I provide descriptions, set the mood, visualize the scenes, and immerse the players as if they were in their characters' place. I do that with my verbal skills, but also with music and noise, by showing pictures and maps, and occasionally even by setting up the room better.

I am the mastermind: I design and provide challenges related to discovering the plot, revealing mysteries, solving problems, manage scarcity of resources, and combat tactics.

What I am not, is a movie director: I do not lead or force the story towards a predetermined outcome, and the characters towards a specific set of necessary actions. I do not fudge the dice or cheat. But I also let the players choose if it's time for their character's permanent death.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I provide the setting in which the PCs' stories happen and the instigating events that kick them off, and I provide antagonists and foils and such to help their PCs define themselves. I am the final word on rules questions, because it seems to work better when someone is.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I think provide an interesting setting and then to arbitrate the interaction with that setting in a fair and impartial way.

I think the job of providing fun is very much a group responsibility. Anyone can sink the fun. If you read "Arbiter of Worlds" by Alexander Macris, there is some discussion that should prove interesting if you are an old school type. So you might want to read that book if you teach classes. It's focused on one particular style but I think he does that style justice.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
I think provide an interesting setting and then to arbitrate the interaction with that setting in a fair and impartial way.

I think the job of providing fun is very much a group responsibility. Anyone can sink the fun. If you read "Arbiter of Worlds" by Alexander Macris, there is some discussion that should prove interesting if you are an old school type. So you might want to read that book if you teach classes. It's focused on one particular style but I think he does that style justice.
Anyone can absolutely sink the fun. But I'd rather be a DM with a bad player than a player with a bad DM in terms of the possibility of the game being any fun at all.
 

MGibster

Legend
I try to avoid situations that are frustrating (in a bad way, not like puzzles or mysteries, which can be fun) or just annoying. I also tend to not let the dice kill players (but I'll let them come close). Honestly, I don't have many players deaths unless A) they do something foolish, B) it's a boss fight, C) the death would be meaningful/memorable.
While I try to avoid situations that are frustrating, I've got no problems letting the dice kill player characters. And, yeah, depending on what game I'm running I can rack up quite a body count. Some players (such as myself) don't really mind too much when their characters die and I have a lot of great stories about my characters dying. Other players find it somewhat frustrating and especially so when the death seems rather meaningless.

So, how do you view the job of a DM?
My job is to keep the game on track and do my best to ensure everyone is having fun.
 

MGibster

Legend
And I will clarify that although I'm perfectly comfortable letting the dice kill players there are rare occasions where even I fudge the dice. My L5R campaign was coming to a close and the samurai archer PC was in a situation where he had one magic arrow with which to slay the oni (demon) ravaging the city. So the dude nocks his arrow and lets loose only to miss. Why didn't the player spend a Void point to increase the odds of hitting his target? I don't know. But as this was the end of the campaign and we wouldn't have any opportunities to tie up lose ends I just lowered the toughness to hit the target and said he hit. Hooray!
 

Stalker0

Legend
DM of 16 years. I define the job as "Ensure all players feel cool and special". If you do that, everyone will enjoy the game. Doesn't mean every moment of the game everyone has to feel on top, but they should get that feeling regularly.

One thing I have noted with the benefit of hindsight and a long time running games. As I reminisce with my old players from many campaigns past, in general I note that people don't recall the individual plots very much. Now they may remember the "grand plan" or the "villain's master plan", but a lot of adventure to adventure stuff they forget over time. But the key character moments, when a player does something amazing, or something terrible, or something hilarious....those are what players tend to remember long term.

Its also framed my view on character death. If you are more honest with your dice rolling, and players have a sense of "real stakes", then their moments of triumph will be more felt, and they will remember those moments years later. Now that means that you are also going to have more deaths, but veteran players learn to move on to new characters and new concepts, and fall in love with them all over again. So its better to have bigger stakes that generate key moments of triumph, than to keep everyone safe and reduce that moment of triumph. I didn't use to feel that way, I use to feel more protective of the characters, especially against "lame deaths", but I have changed my view over time.
 

I just wanted to post and ask how different DM's view the "job" of being a Dungeon Master. I occasionally teach a class about game mastering, and I always find it interesting to see how different people think of it.

I've been running games for 28 years. Personally, I view myself as a "Warden of Fun." If you have taken on the responsibility of running a game, you have made yourself responsible for others having a good time. Now, I'm not saying that you are responsible for EVERYTHING that happens (you can't control what other players do), but you at least should create a situation for your players to play characters they enjoy and be part of a story where THEY are the main characters. It's the story of THEIR heroism, and it should make them feel special.

I do not take an antagonistic view of DM vs Players.

I try to avoid situations that are frustrating (in a bad way, not like puzzles or mysteries, which can be fun) or just annoying. I also tend to not let the dice kill players (but I'll let them come close). Honestly, I don't have many players deaths unless A) they do something foolish, B) it's a boss fight, C) the death would be meaningful/memorable.

So, how do you view the job of a DM?
My view seems pretty similar to yours, like really similar. Sorry if that's unhelpful.

I've been DM'ing since 1989, so 32-ish years.

I've had this attitude since the beginning, because it was expressed to me by the DM who taught me, an older female second-cousin.

Since 4E/5E I no longer tend to pull punches re: killing PCs, because I almost never have to. Both games are designed in such a fashion, that, in order to die, usually you have to have monumentally messed up, or the party has, or both. I would if a player clearly didn't want to die and had been let down by the party, but I have yet to see that happen. I don't have much truck with people who do stuff like attacked downed PCs to cause death saves on a routine basis because I feel like it's a peculiar species of cheap metagaming in most cases (and often the same people are literally the first to write threads complaining about players metagaming, so I find it hypocritical). Players seem to be pretty happy with the rules on death/dying in my experience in 4E/5E, so of the PCs that have died, I haven't heard any complaints (unlike 1/2/3E where it could easily be total bullshit lol).

I didn't use to feel that way, I use to feel more protective of the characters, especially against "lame deaths", but I have changed my view over time.
I feel similarly but I honestly think the system is a big part of it. In 2/3E, there was a ton of save or die, or big one-shotting hits (esp. given vast HP variances between PCs), and a lot of it felt cheap, boring, and dumb, like, PCs could just die at random in some inconsequential encounter and there was literally nothing to be done except res them which was a PITA if it was even possible. In 4E/5E that almost never happens, so deaths tend to be more earned and more interesting.
Anyone can absolutely sink the fun. But I'd rather be a DM with a bad player than a player with a bad DM in terms of the possibility of the game being any fun at all.
This is very true. I've had fun DMing games with a bad player, or playing in games with a bad player, but with a bad DM? That rapidly strangles the fun out of a game.
 

hopeless

Explorer
I try to run games that fun for everyone involved, but I still make mistakes.
It maybe more due to me being unable to get across that this is a two way process and when I ask them questions about their character its not about me screwing them over, but trying to give them something to be invested in other than kick in the door, kill the monsters and loot their bodies.
Sorry but I can't help feeling I still have a lot to learn both behind the screen and as a player.
As daunting as it is, I still try I'm just not getting the feeling they're as into this as I am or perhaps I'm just not understanding my role as the dm?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I view myself as setting the stage, providing props and actors for the players to interact with. So events are happening, NPCs are vying to achieve their own goals and the PCs have multiple potential story lines (typically 3-5) dangled in front of them and then they decide what they want to pursue. Then I have the world react to their actions or lack therein. Sometimes subplots that I thought would be cool don't grab the party's interest for it either fades into the background or I just figure out what the logical outcome would be.

I don't do a 100% sandbox, there are typically large obvious signs that something would be a good thing to pursue. They don't have to do anything even if there is a big flashing neon sign. :) Being in a pure sandbox where you don't know which way to go or worse, it feels like random choice to go left or right, to me isn't much fun.

I also look at it as my job to entertain the players, as far as lethality. Killing PCs is never completely off the table but I do ask during a session 0 what the player's preferences are. I also try to make the stories personal and meaningful; I'll have an overarching plot but individual mini-arcs have more to do with personal goals. Personally I've never cared for puzzles so if I do them I let the players lean heavily on PC skills to help resolve them if they're getting frustrated.

There's a bunch of other stuff but ultimately we're just playing a game for entertainment. We all want to have fun, I try to give different players a moment in the spotlight but recognize that some simply don't care. Every once in a while I set up anonymous polls to get feedback and adjust if necessary.

So my mentality/goal? Set up a world with a bunch of toys and let the players loose and see what kind of mayhem they can get into.
 

MGibster

Legend
I try to run games that fun for everyone involved, but I still make mistakes.
Of course you still make mistakes! We all do. Even players make mistakes. Hopefully we learn from them and move on to making exciting new mistakes in the future.

It maybe more due to me being unable to get across that this is a two way process and when I ask them questions about their character its not about me screwing them over, but trying to give them something to be invested in other than kick the door, kill the monsters and loot their bodies.
I feel as though some players suffer from a sort of Post Traumatic Gaming Disorder related to previous negative experiences they've had with other groups or DMs. In my experience, this most often manifests itself with the loner PC with absolutely no social ties be it family, friends, ex-lovers, or former organizations they belonged to. I've seen players suffering from PTGD turn the most mundane tasks into over complicated bore fests out of fear I was going to screw them over somehow.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Parent.

Your players are your kids. You create wonderful opportunities for them and relish watching them explore those opportunities. You get to be proud when they figure something out. You feel sad when things go wrong, but know you can't just make it all ok if you want them to have their own experiences. You think you know what is in store for them, but they're going to make choices you never expected, that take them to places you were not prepared for them to go, and you scramble to keep up with their moves. Still, you're always rooting for them to overcome all their challenges, even though you put the hardest challenges in front of them intentionally.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm reading this without reading any replies as I don't want to color my first reaction.

DMing isn't a job. It's just a different role within the hobby itself. Just like some characters might be a tank or support.

Everyone at the table is responsible for everyone's fun, so yes, you have an equal share of that as everybody. That said, the role you've picked does have more opportunities to increase both your fun and others.

As a DM, I am a cheerleader of the players. That doesn't mean going easy on their characters - player goals are to have fun. Character goals are different. They are often conflated, at least partially because in a combat-oriented game, the penalty for failing (character death) also leads to player losing (reduction of fun). Depending on the group, the opposite is true - pushing the characters hard so they feel the tension and overcome the risk leaves them the best reward. Plus good stories to tell others. So I may prepare deadly-deadly scenarios, but I'm also there ready to "say yes" to ideas and adjudicate if your cleverness will work. I'm not affraid to kill characters and roll in the open, but it happens very rarely. Last campaign I completed had one death, out of combat, as a martyr sacrifice to save another character. And that was because the player wanted to retire their first character.

Another comment on being a cheerleader of the players. I run the rules fairly and consistantly, but I would never descibe an important part of my job as being a "neutral arbiter". A referee in a sports match needs to be neutral and not favor either team. However, as hobbyists sitting around the table we are all on the same team. With only one team, we should all be on each other's side working for fun. The characters are working to overcome challenges, and there I will be fair, and often what I design is mean or deadly. But that's nto because I want the players to not have fun, it's because I want the players to have loads of fun trying to overcome them. Character failure just leads to another branch of the story, and all of the branchs - with character success or character failure - should be fun for the players and the DM.

I provide challenges, I listen to the players for what interests them and put more of it in. I let players add to the world and the narrative where it doesn't not cause issues with other parts, and craft a world and a story together. Many stories, actually - I make sure there are arcs for all of the characters that I wind around the other parts.

As an example of this, the first page of my "session prep" document is a list of the characters with notible skills, interests, etc. I scan it before plannign sessions, seeing if there are things I haven't fit in for a while that would work in this session. "Hmm, there hasn't been any traps or locks for the rogue recently, and we really haven't seen the elf's hatred of giants come up. What can I do with that?"

I do feel responsible for the world and preparing adventures. I do it completely homebrew, because that's a large part of the fun for me. I don't enjoy running a module nearly as much. I have so many world ideas I have a file with just setting after setting - I'll never be able to run all of them. At the beginning of a campaign I'll have ideas up through Act II - which may or may not be realized depending on the player's interest and the characters actions. I don't play "here's how I want it to end" - the players should have such an affect on the plot and the world it's hubris or railroading to try to work that out besides in the most general terms. I practice "Schrodinger's Plot" - nothing is true until it actually hits the table and everythign that hasn't cna change as long as it doesn't invalidate anything. I'm not afraid to kill my darlings if they won't work out, or rather leave them to wither on the vine if you'll forgive my mixed metaphor.

Every campaign I've run since 3ed came out has completed, with the shortest being four years. Before 3.0 I had run but nothing as coherent as a campaign - maybe a summer long superhero game here and module or homebrew adventures for friends.

Because I like to weave player interests in so much, I do not feel like I do my best work crafting one-shots. I'm uncomfortable with it, and also not accustomed to telling a full story in just a few hour. Just like writing short stories has it's own challenges and skills that only have partial overlap with writing a novel.

When players are learning or of different levels of skill I take as a responsibility to help them, even more than I do as a player.

I'm open to my rulings and calls being challenged. If it's slowing down play too much and not to dire (e.g. character death), I may tell the players I'm making an ruling for now to move on and we can address it out-of-session.

I've DMed some at conventions and it was a real learning experience - especially in seeing how players could enjoy different parts of our shared hobby than the groups I cut my teeth with. That said, I find I prefer running for heavy RP groups that treat the game seriously even as they joke and have fun within it.

I see the DM as having full authority inside the game world - as granted by the players who can revoke it if I abuse that trust. Outside the game I see the DM as one hobbyist among many.

So to conclude, as DM I voluntarily take on a role with more homework, but usually of the creative and fun type, where I work to present a living world with interesting arcs to the players so that together we can create something memorable through enjoyable sessions.
 
Last edited:



An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top