September 2014
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The DM’s Point of View


Argyle is out of town this week and so he’s asked me to write a guest post in his absence. This will not be your usual fare of video game reviews and editorials, but I hope that my offering is just as beneficial.

First, a bit about me. I am, of course a gamer like argyle. I own a PS3, Wii, DS, PS2, PSOne, my PC is a gaming rig, and my laptop has a sufficient video card to run most of the modern games. I hope that satisfies my gaming cred with the masses.

However, since I’ve gotten married and have one kid and another on the way, gaming has taken a bit of a backseat to other activities. While I do manage to get the occasional random bout of Diablo 3 or Borderlands (and boy am I looking forward to Borderlands 2) there is one game for which I make an effort to carve time out.

That game is Dungeons and Dragons. And that’s what argyle has asked me to write about. Specifically: “What makes a good game of D&D to the DM?”

Like everything else, Dungeons and Dragons means different things to different people. For some it’s just a time to spend with friends. For others it’s a time to weave an epic story that will be remembered throughout the ages. Ultimately, and I’m sure all but those special few jerk DMs who see the game as a us vs them session (and I hope their players realize this and move on) agree that the most important thing — The one question that should be asked above all is: “Are we having fun?” You can know all the rules, have a thousand page plot written, and be able to wing dialog on the fly complete with voices and props, but if your players aren’t having fun, if YOU aren’t having fun, then you’ve failed as a DM.

I suppose that leads to the question: What constitutes fun? Though I’m not a seasoned DM by any means (I’ve been running games in D&D for several years, but if I average it out over the years I might be able to say I’ve run maybe 3 sessions a year.) I think I have a grasp for how to entertain my players and be entertained by them as well.

Know your Audience Players

This is probably that corner piece of the puzzle that helps you discover where all the other pieces lay.

First, find out their play style and determine if it meshes with what you’re looking to run. Do they view D&D as a gritty, survive by the skin of their teeth dungeon crawl? Or would they prefer a lighthearted silly romp with almost cartoon-like gags and jokes? Or maybe it’s supposed to be a thriller with deep plot twists and political maneuvering. Most likely it will end up with a little bit of it all, but it’s important to know this before you start running the game, or else you’ll just ruin the game.

Second, if you can’t get along with your players in person or if they don’t trust you — you won’t get along with them in game. A good group of players is like a carefully pruned bonsai. Don’t be afraid to ask disruptive players to leave.

Don’t be afraid of Failures and make Success Heroic, or…
Make Certain they feel both the Risk and the Reward

This applies to both the players and the DM. Let your players know just how badly the goblin swung, or how close of a call it came to actually striking critically.

A lesson I learned from another blogger, The Angry DM, is that in order for any fun to be had, failure HAS to be an option. Don’t fudge rolls, take them as they lie. Failures in D&D are often some of the most memorable moments.

For instance in our last session our intrepid group of heroes had to get past a fear rune that triggered on touch. (For those interested, we’re a group with several relatively new players so I’m running Keep on the Shadowfell for them.) The cleric in the group who has an abysmal athletics skill decided to try and run and jump across the ten foot symbol — while holding an eight year old boy. She rolled a three. Needless to say she fell flat on her face with the boy pinned underneath her. The fear effect of the rune caused most of the party — and the boy trapped under the cleric — to attempt to flee in panic. Much amusement was had by the results of her one failed roll.

When death comes, (and if you’re running the game right, it will) give it a sense of gravitas.

Another of our games involved a kender (a kleptomaniac halfling with an immunity to fear from the Dragonlance novels for the uninitiated) that stumbled upon a mine cart full of gold. His first reaction was to leap into the pile of gold and begin stuffing his pouches. Unfortunately for the halfling, this mine cart was really a monster (mimic) in disguise. A few rolls later and the poor hero was dissolved into nothing. He died as he lived, stuffing his pockets. A tragic tale, but one that has been remembered and will be told fondly by the player for years to come.

And because I knew the player, I didn’t have to worry about a repeat of Black leaf the thief.

Nooooooooooo Black Leaf!

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