I have often heard people describe what kind of DM they are, or what kind of DM’s they dislike. At the same time, I’ve heard many people proclaim, wizards staff employees included, what type of character they are, as defined by the new combat roles in the 4e of Dungeons and Dragons. Why not try to define some DM types by using these combat roles as well.
When you play Dungeons and Dragons, you have everything worked out before hand, you know exactly what is going to happen and you exert yourself well around the table to keep things on track and under control. You know how to deal well with people and keep the game environment fun and relaxed… however, as a DM, you are very much into your story and your plot, so much so that you often find yourselves railroading the game in order to get your players to do the things you want them to do. When you have combat, you force your players to do what you want them to do, giving them usually a single method for success, but even if they manage to kill the big bad villain guy, you will probably say that he escaped to live another day in order to advance the campaign you are playing in.
You know how to play, and you know what to do. You are a by the book DM. You are there to let your players enjoy their time, so you aren’t very much into house ruling or doing things outside of what you are supposed to do. Your players have fun in the game because they see that you are impartial and practical and you make judgment calls based on logic and a need to protect the game, but you are also flawed by making things to easy on your players at times and keeping them alive even when their stupidity should have whipped out the entire party. If you don’t get this under control, your players may end up not really learning anything about strategy or tactics, and thus they may suffer if they attempt to play in a different campaign which requires more thought, skill, and less, how should I say this… child support.
You love to homebrew. You are adapt at building your own races, classes, and campaign settings. You love to set your characters free in your world and let them roam about doing as they want, supporting them and giving them what you can as a “bribe” to explore your world and try new things. When you have combat, you tend to give the players obvious hints and advice on how to beat a certain scenario, making things overly easy on the players. They don’t necessarily appreciate your constant giving, but they like to see their characters empowered and thus, don’t complain. They may feel less rewarded when good things happen because of your constant generosity.
You relish combat and making your players suffer. To you, the game is about the Players vs. The DM. You relish challenging combats and love putting your players up against villains which are tougher than a player should have to face; you also like to do this more than the number of recommended times per day, often exerting both your players and their characters to feats of massive heroism. In actuality, the constant danger your players face has made them the stronger for it; they have probably united together, studied tactics and begun optimizing their characters… if they didn’t leave you game after you killed them for the second time. In terms of story, you’re not interested, but if there is story to be involved, it has to be twisted and smack at both your player’s and your PC’s emotions. If it isn’t profound, you’re not interested, but as stated above, this all takes second fiddle to your combats and encounters. Skill challenges are just another way to show your players how they can fail!
Shinobicow the MC Bard / Wizard DM
I find myself falling into a mix of the leader/controller roles. I often hand out items or levels simply because I want to advance the flow of the game to a more fun and interesting spot, and I often find myself writing back-stories for other peoples characters. My villains never die until they are supposed to die; I’ve been accused of railroading on multiple occasions.
How do you DM well?
Like any good party, the DM has to have a balance of the above roles. Good DM’s should at least be able to dabble a little bit into the better sides of each of these, and then emphasize on what he or she tends to enjoy. In other words, a good DM, like a balanced party has five parts. Maybe he is 2 parts striker and 1 part everything else, liking combat, but not being afraid to write up some homebrew, manage the table well, or give his players a hand when he knows he has made something a bit over the top. You can use your imagination from here.
As always, I’d appreciate your comments and critique. If you think something I said here is off, I’d love to hear your opinion. If you have something you think you should be added, I’d be glad to consider it. Finally, what role do you think you play as a DM? To which of these roles do you find yourself leaning?