I am Dungeonmaster!

(and so can you..?) (too obvious?)

I’m going to chalk this post up to still being sick combined with reading a lot of Old School stuff recently…

The. Dungeonmaster.

So… This guy.

Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m a big advocate for a strong DM presence at the table. I believe in the traditional role of the DM as storyteller and judge rolled into one and I think the best games (I think) maintain a strong partnership between the DM and the PCs.

But that guy up there? Wait, so I’m a youngin’ just getting into D&D and my role-model for being a DM is a super weird lookin’ little gnome who speaks in riddles, inserts himself into the adventure all the time, seems determined to do his best to get the PCs frustrated, and just — overall — is kind of a D-bag. That’s who I’m supposed to model myself after when I sit behind the screen? Seriously, no wonder we got a generation of D&Ders which spawned so many bad DMS. No wonder the perception of the DM is so low.

This guy was a Master at being a jerk. He led the PCs around with vague promises they could find their way home (even though he had no intention of EVER delivering), pushed them around by often being the quest-giver (in his own voice), and effectively taught an entire generation of DMs the meaning of railroading.

Forget what I said above. I’m not the Dungeonmaster. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m lucky that I was young enough when I watched it that I didn’t really get the whole “DM schtick.” I wanted to be Hank and date Sheila… though I was also young enough not to understand “dating” really. Also a good thing.

But back to DM-Weirdyjerk. Seriously. Don’t be that guy. We have — as D&D fans — a perfect case-study of how not to be a DM preserved for us in the D&D Cartoon DVDs. Watch, and learn.

Thanks, as always, for reading. (Don’t want to be sick no more!)


7 responses

  1. And it could be that those of us who have suffered under those bad DMs thought that the answer could lie in rules that empower the players. Which is also not the answer.

    In the end, the most fun games I have played in have had the loosest rules (I assume), which were not necessarily communicated (in whole) to the players at all. The players had a good DM, they trusted him or her, and they let their imaginations run.

    Unfortunately, the “good DM” part is not very repeatable, and like public office, DMing attracts a significant number of the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Good DMs are discovered, usually amongst introverted players with a love of story, and encouraged into taking the next step by supportive players.

    To take this a step further – a good DM can run _any_ game system well enough for everyone to have fun. A bad DM can ruin any game system.

    1. A good DM can make just about any system work. Same with a good group.

      However I am a process guy – and One of the key tenets is that if you have to depend on awesome individuals to make a process work the process is borked.

      So the question is how do we get a system that supports and guides a table to making great things? Mike and I have much different views on that; however I think that is the core question that I ask myself when I read a system.

  2. I think that all it takes for players to take an absolutist anti-DM, anti-railroad, anti-story position is one really bad campaign. I have to wonder how much the philosophical player-power, GM limited, improv-only approach comes from a philosophy about gaming and how much from bad experiences with GMs like the Dungeonmaster.

    1. In my case, very little as I AM the game master much of the time. My desire comes is rooted in wanting the system to support what I wanted to have happen at my table where it was baked into the reward mechanics not tacked on.

  3. I skew toward the view that much of what we call “modern gaming” is a response to bad GMs more than a philosophical view of gaming. I see this in “story” games and in encyclopedic rules-“balanced” games like 4E.

    Both answers take something wonderful and make it far more awkward for the sake of some bad eggs.

    The way to deal with a bad GM? It’s very simple. Don’t play with him/her. That’s my whole process. (That’s a lie. I am willing to try to work it out first… because by my definition a “BAD DM” is really someone who won’t be willing to work it out).

    *shrug* too sick to philosophize.

  4. I’ll take a stance less voiced:

    There are no Bad DMs per se, just DMs yet to be enlightened in (and embrace the concepts of) the ways of fostering a great shared story.

    1. Oh, and for the record, I can be as bad a DM as the next super weird lookin’ little gnome who speaks in riddles. But at least, in retrospect, I notice when I’ve done so… and players at my table have an open invitation to point such episodes out.

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