This will be my first post in a three part series: the Role of a Dungeon Master. In this post, I will be tackling what a DM is, and in the following posts I will tackle what a DM is not, and finally, what a DM frequently is, but should not be.
- Player – First and foremost, a Dungeon Master is a player. I think this is something people forget: that at the end of the day, a DM is looking to get the same enjoyment out of a play session as a player. They’re not getting paid, they’re there to imagine. Their imagination may encompass a slightly broader scope, they may be imagining kingdoms instead of heroes, but they’re players all the same.
- Storyteller – The DM, in the greatest abstraction of his role, is a storyteller. A bard, preferably one level higher than his players. The DM is responsible for maintaining the narrative of the game. The DM must be a master, an artisan, of all the things that make good writing – plot, character, dialogue, pacing. They must be able to make jokes, and references to high and pop culture, and use their campaign as a commentary on a greater theme, all while making it relevant to the other players. And the DM must do all of this, all while keeping the players engaged in the story they are collectively constructing.
- Creator – In order to support his role as a Storyteller, the DM must also be a creator. Sure, it’s possible to just buy a campaign setting, and buy an adventure, and run said adventure, but without a little authorship, he’s not really a DM. I’m not saying don’t use published campaign settings, and I’m not saying don’t buy adventures. I’m just saying that if a DM adds nothing of his own invention to a campaign, then he’s more of a Dungeon Facilitator than Dungeon Master.A DM needs to take his campaign, published or original, and make it his own. There has to be something in the campaign that speaks to the players, be it a villain or a village, a monster or a magic item. More importantly, there has to be something that the DM brings to the table every night that speaks to him directly. A good DM takes ownership of his campaign. Even if you’re just adapting the Marvel Ultimate Universe to a Champions Game, you need to bring something new and fresh to the table to surprise your players.
- Arbitrator – Last, but not least, unfortunately, is a Dungeon Master’s role as the arbitrator. The DM facilitates questions in regards to both the rules, and to the players. While there may be better at the table better suited to the role of a diplomat and a mediator, the ultimate responsibility falls to the DM. Why? Because any serious disruption of play can lead to a disruption of the story, and it maintenance of pace falls under the DM’s responsibilities as a Storyteller. It may not be ideal, but never forget that this is part of your role as a DM.
I doubt I have many readers to comment on this post, but the role of the DM is something I feel strongly about, and expect me to come back to this subject again in the future.