What’s the most important part of being a good DM?

Every Dungeon Master (DM) is different and their style and craft grows just as their players learn and grow together. A lot has been said online about learning to DM, including Matthew Colville in his introductory video on his YouTube channel.

There are many skills DMs can improve and hone over time, such as story-telling, improvisation, characterization, learning and adapting rules as well as diplomacy with a party of players who aren’t getting along.  It can be exhausting building worlds and frustrating swapping out plots they made for new ones the players choose to follow.   But it can also be very rewarding.

So what is the most important part of being a DM?  A sense of humour is important, for sure.  Patience is definitely a virtue.  Imagination is very important and adaptability vital.  But to outline what I consider the most important factor in being a good DM, watch DM Matthew Mercer in the following classic clips from Critical Role:

Grog and the toilet

Another clue is this scene from Episode 3, where the group is planning 

My personal answer to this question is simple; It’s listening.  It’s giving the players the space they need for their characters to grow and be creative.  The DM facilities their adventure, he does not control the players.  This means that the characters have room to interact and have brilliant moments such as those highlighted above.  It also means the DM doesn’t have to be a full-time performer, actor, comic; that would be exhausting!  Let the players play and then there is a healthy balance between player interaction and adventuring.

Cooking Tips for DMs

What does cooking and D&D have in common?

Although a meal that has been made as instructed in a cook book might be perfectly good, the experience can become dull once we’re used to it. And what if you are catering for a group of friends and you want to surprise them? This is the same problem Dungeons Masters (DMs) encounter when running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. How do they keep things interesting for players and avoid repetition?

“The dish always tastes better when you do it like this…”
This is the homebrew option. If you and your players agree that a certain rule variation makes the game more fun, then you are effectively customising it for your group the same way you might add more salt or take out an ingredient from a recipe. One example might be the old D&D 3.5 rules for a grapple. They were cumbersome and slowed down the gaming. Much easier to agree a workaround with the players to keep the action flowing. Another important area to agree on are the rules for reincarnation when a creature dies. For example, should the players have to do more to prevent the soul of their comrade from leaving the material plane?

In this example, the DM Matt Mercer of Critical Role combines the Revivify spells their cleric used with a group-assisted roll. Critical Role’s Resurrection Rules can be found here.

“Wow, I didn’t expect that!”
This is the sense of wonderment option. This is when the DM customises a monster or item to surprise the players. In catering terms, you might change the ingredients or appearance of dishes the guests are used to in order to make the meal extra special. See Satine Phoenix’ video exploring this option with Luke Gygax. For the DM, this is especially useful once the players have experience and know what to expect when facing certain creatures or finding magical items. For example, have a cold-weather hybrid of a lizardman, have tactical goblins, a giant, mutated kobold, create a monk character but make their race (or simply appearance) a dryad. As for magical items, the Wand of Wonder is a lot of fun but what about varying it with a bag of means that on a roll might provide you with what you need or could backfire and give you something useless or harmful instead

So happy cooking, whatever you decide to create next! And don’t forget that not every meal or gaming session is perfect, but with work and creativity they’ll continue to be memorable and sometimes they’ll be wonderful.