The Analog Gamer: I DM therefore I Am


Gaming is a great hobby, one I’ve spent most of my life enjoying as a whole while moving from system to system, player group to player group but in reflection I find that I can illustrate my past with RPGs in one basic role – Storyteller.

I’m one of the lucky few out there who seems always consigned to the role of preacher, and never groom or groomsman. What do I mean by this? Well its simple. In over 20 years of playing pen-and-paper RPGs I have almost always been the DM. Sure I’ve gotten to play in more than a few campaigns over the years, but by and large if someone gets excited about a new setting or rule system and wants to have adventures in it (including myself I might add) for whatever reason I end up the one tasked with learning the rules, building the world and running the adventure.

I guess it’s rewarding to be in this position of trust and pseudo-respect. (pseudo because players tend to only respect you insomuch as it benefits them over the long term – which is painful to admit but true). I’ve been at it long enough that regardless of the actual system I find it easy to weave together a story. I also  learned long ago that too much preparation is not only unnecessary to the fun, but can be detrimental to your mental health as a storyteller.

This month, Wizard’s of the Coast is really pushing the concept of Dungeon Master Appreciation month. A concept introduced within the monthly column by staffer/blogger/sorcerer Shelly Mazzanoble, the self-appointed D&D Player-in-Chief. Shelly’s column in last month’s Dragon Magazine discussed her realization that the DM in her colorfully discussed tales often goes unappreciated by his players, and from time to time it’s a good idea to thank the person facilitating the game you enjoy playing.

I see any role playing game as a collaborative effort. While I may frame and adjudicate story and rule points, I try and make sure my players are the real decision makers and storytellers in my weekly games. That said, sometimes being the DM gets tiring too. Being the one expected to judge and respond to the actions of the players, to play the roles of the various denizens of the fictional worlds not controlled by the players directly, and to help ensure that the needs of your friends are met during the campaign or session is a big responsibility for those of us who cherish it.

Players who really enjoy the game can easily forget that there is an element of work, logistics and planning to running a game and assuming the role of storyteller, and while the DM is a player, like the others, the nature of the role makes it a schizophrenic experience to say the least.

bunniesandburrowsMy suggestion is to keep this in mind as you play. Not everyone is a great storyteller or would want to assume the role of DM. Many players recognize their limits and also that they are not interested in the project management aspects that running a collaborative RPG require. The DM usually started out as a player in some game before they stepped up or were in some cases thrust into the role.

Let the DM play from time to time and you’ll find most of us are happier and better DMs.

Aside from giving your DM a break, consider how often you reward them for their good work. DM is by no means a thankless job. Most of us do it to gain the reward of being a part of a memorable campaign or to weave an interesting tale with our gaming buddies. Work with your fellow players to share your enjoyment of specific actions, remind the DM of a choice or twist or story detail that really grabbed or excited you. Tell them you enjoy their work.

Wizard’s of the Coast’s “DM Appreciation Month” activities center around using their excellent Twitter and Facebook team. @emilrodriguez and @betterwithmayo will be Tweeting using some new tags to draw attention to DM related celebrations. These tags include: #dnddm #worldbuilderdm #storytellerdm #actionmoviedm so do a search and keep out an eye for announcements alongside the normal #dnd tag.

I had planned to discuss the newly revealed Psion class for D&D 4.0 this week but at the risk of diluting the DM love I’ll leave you with a challenge dear readers.

Thank your DM, no matter what game you play in, no matter how long they toil and try to make the game fun. Then, if you have the inclination or interest – give them some time off. Pick up the cowl of Dungeon Master and try to tell the next story yourself. You might see your weekly or monthly game sessions just a bit differently from the other side of the dungeon.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

3 Comments on The Analog Gamer: I DM therefore I Am


On July 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm

I follow the same lines of being a DM for 20+ years. I will tell you one thing that keeps me going. As the article points out, being the DM requires a fair share of background work, story planning, encounter building, character and NPC management, personality building and, lord knows, all the other minor things to make a story good. That being said, how can you not, as a DM, pee yourself after your players state things like, “That was the best story ever”, “For a few minutes there, I was scared”, “Do you remember in that campaign, a few years ago, when?” and my favorite, “Wow, you really brought out some strong emotions in me during that story”. These are the true rewards of being a DM. It makes all the campaign work in the world worth it, and that is how players truly show their appreciation.
Now, make your Saving Throw vs. tears of joy. DMs, you know you’re about to cry.

Morning Toast

On July 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Thanks, DM. You’re appreciated.

Even though I’m strictly a player at this point (and a new one at that), I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t enjoy DMing better. Just as you said, all the preparation for stories, characters, environments…I like that stuff. Planning and then executing for the enjoyment of others is something I really enjoy. I think DMing is the great experiment – you plan and weave a story with certain expectations from your players, then they do something that makes you think on your feet – that sounds like reward to me…pushing you as DM. But that also sounds crazy hard if you’re not familiar with what resources/rules you have to build within, which is where I lack at this point. Maybe someday…

However, as a DM I would imagine the best reward would be your player group wanting to play again week after week. Coming back to the well for water can only mean that water is *really* good.


On July 9, 2009 at 8:10 pm

I lol’d at the GURPS. Back in my PPRPG group, we didn’t really have a most definite GM, although if no one wanted to do it at the time I’d have to step in and offer. But yeah, always respect the GM, no matter what. :P Great article, never stop with these!