I feel that the decision to take the role of DM/GM in a role-playing game is made because of one of several reasons:
- You’re creative and feel you can create a world for others to enjoy.
- You’re the only option because no one else will.
- You’re narcissistic and, outside of a career in politics, this is the closest you’ll get to fulfilling your God Complex.
(Source – Butters “Professor Chaos” Stotch from South Park via Wikipedia)
…I can’t really help you with the third one, but I’d like to take the time to discuss the first two and see if I can offer some advice.
Through either an overpowering creative drive or unbreakable patience, you’ve decided to take charge and lead a tabletop adventure. First of all, kudos to you. There’s a reason why there are TONS of players and a small pool of DMs/GMs in most areas. Now you’ve got to plan a plot, wrangle your players, help create characters, and build an enticing story line that offers a piece of something heroic to all those involved. Simple, right?
Wrong. Well, kind of wrong. Some of these aspects are going to be incredibly easy for you, and others are going to be fairly challenging. There are players that gravitate strongly toward the storytelling aspect of the game, and others that understand the mechanics of the system flawlessly.
Here’s some pointers to help out DMs in both camps.
1) Focus on Your Strengths
(Source – Arnold Schwarzenegger)
I know this is a no brainer for most, but it needs to be covered. If you are a great storyteller, focus on your story telling as the primary drive. If you are mechanically inclined, focus on awesome combats/encounters to bring players to the table.
Starting a campaign, or even a one-shot, is a daunting task at times with all the prep work that will need to be done. By relying on your strengths, you’ll be able to dominate that part of the game while giving you time to build your skill set in other areas.
As a story teller, I will admit that my campaign fights are usually fairly easy compared to some of the ones I’ve been put through as a player. I typically aim for a fight that will challenge, but rarely kill a player. However, out of the DMs I’ve played with, I’m confident that I’m in the top tier of plot makers. That ability gives me plenty of game time with various players to work on my encounter game and practice how to get those nail biting moments that we all treasure.
(Source – “Community” Television Show by Dan Harmon)
This is why number 1 was so important. Where you may falter in areas, others excel. Get in touch with previous DMs, or use social media to touch base with others to help you bridge the gaps in your game.
Like I previously mentioned, I’m a storyteller at heart. That means when it comes to combat and encounters, I pitch my ideas to other DMs I’ve had in my life. While I might consider having one BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) as a boss fight in my game, another DM might suggest having that AND a squad of his henchmen in order to spread the combat out on the field, preventing the players from cornering my villain and pummeling them to death with their greater numbers.
Alternatively, a DM might have difficulty bringing the players from Point A to Point B on their plot line. That is an area where I am very comfortable with, and I am able to help construct motivations and plot twists to lead their players down that path (willingly).
At its heart, D&D is a community game, and there are infinite perspectives on all aspects of the game. Get out there and buddy up.
3) Expect to Fail
You will eventually have a bad session.
You will eventually have an upset player.
You will eventually back yourself into a corner for plot.
The most important tip is that, regardless if you fail or not, you keep trying. Sometimes you will hit a hot streak and everything will work perfectly, and other times you will hit every speed bump in the parking lot of gaming.
Get up, dust yourself off, go back to the drawing board. It is okay to have these moments so long as you grow from them and better yourself for it.
4) Get Feedback
(Source – Dancing With The Stars)
Successful session or failed session, I always request feedback from my players at the end of a game. I usually use the “Good, Bad, and Ugly” method:
- Good – Tell me something you enjoyed
- Bad – Tell me something that you thought could improve
- Ugly – Tell me something you hated
Leaving the table open for these discussions will help create open communication with your players, better you as a DM, and even better you as a person. Criticism is an Achilles’s Heel for most people, inside and outside of the game, but being able to turn that into a positive experience will be amazing beneficial to the entire table.
Be careful about being overly critical of specific players though as a DM in these segments. If you have a major issue or problem with something at the table, make sure to discuss it with that person directly and privately. While communication is great as a group, it is natural to feel on the defensive if multiple people target the same error or mistake that was made.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to catch part 2 next week where I aim to help those that seem to have been thrust into the role of DM instead of volunteering! As always, keep it real.
…I desperately need to find a better sign-off.