Friday, May 15, 2015

Subtle Griping About Bad DM-ing

The Dungeon Master has easy, back-handed, furtive power. He or she can manipulate the players into doing certain things during the course of the game. If the dungeon is all that the DM has organized, then the DM can easily force his players to “choose” that dungeon. The real trick is to make it look like the players are still playing in a sandbox. I’m sure many would agree that this is ideal; after all, even a sandbox has boundaries.

Your game should be better than this.

Notice I made no mention of DM’s that blatantly state what choices the players have. I did not mention the DM that ONLY uses dungeons, where towns, the rest of the game world in fact, are only there for cashing in treasure and buying magic items. The action itself is pigeonholed. “Okay, which way do you want to go?” The DM might ask. “The path to your left leads into a pit of dragons. The path to your right leads toward a hoard of demons. But the path to the center looks pretty safe. There’s a cave off in the distance.” Of course, the center path leads to the dungeon that the DM has actually prepared, but the players do have the choice! Sandbox! But no, I am not talking about these showmen DM’s.

Do you as DM want to inspire and empower your players, gaining trust and long-term commitment? Or do you just want to have some fun for a while? You can run a company-published campaign for several months if that is all you are looking for. Have fun. Games come and go. Friends come and go.

If however you want to keep your role-playing friends, keep them role-playing in your on-going game, then you have more work to do. You must educate yourself. You must develop your world. Those cities that only exist only for the transfer of wealth, from your party to a store, need character of their own. How is one shop owner different from another? In between the cities, what are the roads like? How about the geography? Are the rivers brackish? Why? At the road’s end, why is there a dungeon? How do the dungeon’s life forms support themselves? Do the beings on the 12th level of the dungeon have the same provision as those on the 1st? But the big question is, what if the players don’t want to enter your dungeons? What if they just want to build a new city?

The players are responsible for their characters. The DM is responsible to respond to the players, always offering freedom. Do the players want to be lead around the map by the DM or do they want to do the leading? Do they want to explore their own fantasies or do they want to participate in what is prepared by another? Is participating in someone else’s story sufficient? When will they burn out or become bored only playing through content that a game company produced? In the same way that the players can accept a crap game, they can also get up from the table and refuse to.

The more work a DM does, the more immersive the game can be. It is my opinion that an immersive game allows for everything the players want: fun, action, story, a chance to develop their characters, and to live out their own fantasies. I’ve been told “no” by my DM before. I didn’t like it. Do better.

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