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On Being a "Good" DM

There has been a proliferation of DM advice columns across the digital universe in the past decade or so, and some of them are quite good. There has been a deeper and more thorough description offered in all of the major D&D rulebooks of how to address the many issues facing the DM in the game. Also, a very good thing in my opinion. We have seen the rise, as well, of the streaming game casts such as Critical Role, and live game sessions such as the PAX Acquisitions Incorporated sessions. These, even more than the columns and rulebook advice, have given DMs and players alike the chance to see good DMs in action. These live & streaming events have done something even better for hard working DMS--they have helped us realize that even the great Chris Perkins and Chris Mercer stumble at times, stall, wing it, are caught unawares or with their plans down. Let's face it DMing isn't a science and rarely goes perfectly.

In point of fact much of the advice online and elsewhere for DMs is about what I call "good enough" DMing. They bottom line identifiers of how to know when you are doing just fine and when you need a course correction. These tips often refer to "everyone having a good time" and "giving your players what they want" or "it's not about you it's about the players". These are fine pieces of advice and should be somewhat of a baseline for play regardless of what else you might be focusing on. However, these are often the results of good DMing, not the way to be a good DM. However, the technicalities of tips range the gamut and often depend on playstyle and personal preference. The fact is being a good DM is alot more about charisma and wisdom than they are intelligence or creativity. Don't get me wrong intelligence and creativity are certainly important and these two factors tend to be present in abundance in most DMs. But the ability to DM in a way that everyone is having fun and that entertains as well as challenges the players (i.e. gives them what they want) is about how you apply that intelligence & creativity (wisdom) and about your delivery (charisma). It is interesting to note here that the famous nature of Critical Role has alot to do with the fact that the players are all famous voice actors.

In that vein I would like to recommend two unusual sorts I have come across recently that I feel do a good job of communicating these elements of DM character in rather unconventional but clearly stated ways. The first I mentioned before: Matt Colville.

Matt is a game designer and author and other cool things too, as well as what appears to be a great DM. I love his channel and especially his Running the Game series of videos. Not only does Matt give great advice, he also talks through his failures and successes in such a way as to model what works and what doesn't and why.

The second I just came across recently, and I'll admit at first I was uncertain. Runehammer admittedly first struck me as an out of place viking looking for a tavern, not a game table. But after watching his first couple of videos, I was hooked. I'm not sure if it was the mead flowing or inspiration, but he has a take on DMing that is original while being right at the heart of the artform at the same time.

I mention these two, there are certainly others because they do something the pdocasts, live streams, rulebooks, and columns don't do. They break down what's going on in the game and talk about why it works. We can read about it in columns and rulebooks, we can watch it in action on livecasts, but then we can watch someone explain it all with passion, drama and expertise after the fact. I think all three are helpful, but these types of game commentators (Colville and RuneHammer) have made me excited about DMing. And they make it seem accessible to even the most thick headed of us Grognards.

Being a good DM is a journey not a destination and like most performance arts every session is different. But one of the best things about it is that you get to come back to the next session and try it all over again, and if we're lucky we have good partners with us at the table helping it all come together.


This post first appeared on Classic RPG Realms, please read the originial post: here

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On Being a "Good" DM

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