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Golden Rules of Game Mastering

posted Wednesday, July 8th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

On Thursday, Brandan posted five ways to make your DM’s life easier. As a Dungeon Master, however, it’s incumbent upon you to repay your players’ efforts. Here are two guidelines for all Dungeon Masters.

Golden Rule 1: The game must be fun.

The Dungeon Master must ensure that the players enjoy the game. They must not become bored or unhappy.

Your role as Dungeon Master is to keep your players entertained. All else is secondary: rules, plot, and even game balance are only tools toward that goal. Throw any of these under the train if you think it’ll provide a better game experience.

Don’t be afraid to examine your dungeon mastering style for faults. For example, in my last session we took a full hour to get to the adventure proper, because as DM I wanted to avoid sacrificing the planned story to hurry things along. Although the story kept going, it meant that the players were bored for an hour.

Golden Rule 2: The DM is always right.

The Dungeon Master is the authority on the game. If the rules disagree, they are wrong.

Yax at Dungeon Mastering calls this his Golden Rule. As DM, you have authority to change, counter or ignore a rule to favour the game. The game rules are your tool and not the other way around. It’s also called “Rule 0″: a hypothetical rule pencilled in on the inside cover of the DM’s rulebook.

Here’s the catch: You need to know the rules first, so that you’ll know how to break them. Moreover, the DM’s only right because he’s responsible for the game. In other words, the first rule overrides the second. If your game is poorly received, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Anything else?

Feel free to drop a comment: What other “golden rules” of dungeon mastering are missing from this list?

Comments

  1. Anonymous

    July 9th, 2009

    #2 conflicts with #1 for a significant number of peoples.

    Fun is a shared responsibility. Your rule implies it is the duty/responsibility of the DM. Fun is not possible unless everyone is trying to have it.

    The DM is not always right. Your byline is a far superior and accurate statement. “The Dungeon Master is the authority on the game. If the rules disagree, they are wrong.”

    The one and only rule is “Treat your players (and your gamemaster) as you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.”

  2. Brandan Landgraff

    July 9th, 2009

    Funny you should say that…

  3. Eris C.

    July 9th, 2009

    Two things that play off of the first rule that’s helped keep the groups that I’ve played with going well have been:

    Firstly, run the game that you want to run. If you’re running a horror game because your players wanted you to, but you hate horror games, even the best GM is going to falter and probably not run up to his potential.

    Also on that same point, be honest with your players about what you want to run and what you want out of the game. The same thing applies – if the DM ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

    Granted, these may not be ‘golden’ rules, but they’ve certainly helped foster some excellent game times.

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