7 Habits of a Successful Dungeon Master

I was reading up on being an entrepreneur when I discovered an article with surprising relevance to Dungeons & Dragons. The entrepreneurial quality check by the UK government lists seven qualities of successful business owners, which I quickly noticed also apply to successful Dungeon Masters. Coincidence?

I’ll go through the list and you can tell me if you agree.

#1: Self-confidence. As a DM, you must be confident in your ability to run an entertaining game session. Don’t expect your players to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

#2: Self-determination. Always remember that the quality of the game is your responsibility. If your players’ interest is waning, you might not be doing enough to keep the game moving.

#3: Being a self-starter. The DM leads the game. It’s up to you to kick-start the campaign and keep things going - don’t expect your players to carry the game for you. You’re Dungeon Master, not Dungeon Assistant.

#4: Judgement. You might be the head honcho, but it’s equally important that you take in feedback from players. A good DM can sort through player input and decide whether or not it’s beneficial to the game.

#5: Commitment. It’s a game, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your role as Dungeon Master seriously. Dungeon Masters spend on average four to five times as much money on the hobby as players, whether that’s buying adventure modules, miniatures or campaign setting material. Be prepared to invest more time and money than you would as a player.

#6: Perseverance. Taking a group of player characters from level 1 to 20 and beyond is a time-honoured D&D tradition, and it’s certainly an achievement. When you start an extended campaign, be prepared to stick with it.

#7: Initiative. The Dungeon Master can’t be passive: he has to take the reins. That’s not to say you need to railroad your players in a fixed direction, but unless you take initiative there’s a good chance your players will wander aimlessly and get bored. You’re the Dungeon Master - take charge!

Comments (8)

The Chatty DM (June 28th, 2008)

I have always associated being a good DM to being a good Manager.

The Entrepreneurial angle is also very fitting. Maybe I should start my own business after all…

Jay (June 30th, 2008)

I have to agree with all of these statements. If you are a DM you need to be responible for what happens in your game and honestly maybe the last game I ran (3 months ago) died because I was putting too much blame on the players for the lack of escitement in playing the game out. Thanks for this it really made me realize that I took a lack position in my last game and next time I DM, I will be more prepared and not blame my players for a lack of a good game.

KasraKhan (July 19th, 2008)

I agree with all but #5. My players bought the PHP, a $30 investment. I have about 50 books, all 3E or 3.5.

Kyle (July 31st, 2008)

The money issues with DMing can be gotten around if you’ve got a tight group of people. We usually split the books we get evenly, so that way one person isn’t spending a bijillion dollars on stuff that’s really for everyone involved.

Lucifer Q. Prometheus (August 18th, 2008)

The fact that these seven qualities apply to both successful game masters and bosses/managers does not necessarily imply that the two roles are all that similar. Correlation is not the same thing causation after all. Upon closer analysis these seven qualities will make you successful in just about any social endeavor. This works both in more hierarchical and egalitarian contexts.

If the storyteller/referee role of the game master is to be compared to that of a manager or boss, then who are the ‘employees’ in the game? Why the players of course! In my opinion, this is where the analogy fails. Unlike the average employee, the player has an equal stake in the game’s success. Rather then simply working for a wage, the player is engaged in the game it’s own sake. The game is an end in itself, not a means to an end. Secondly, the DM’s position is based on the players’ consent- not an owner’s fiat.

IMHO the DM is far more like an elected and recallable manager in an egalitarian worker-run enterprise then any kind of ‘boss.’

Scott Choroba (September 23rd, 2008)

I agree with what you are saying, but most of the rules can be summed up into one. “Everything in mediocrity” To be firm, but not unmovable. To show the way, but not to force into corners.

Will (October 16th, 2008)

This is a pretty good list, although I disagree with something mentioned under #2, self-determination: “Always remember that the quality of the game is your responsibility.” The quality of the game isn’t your responsibility; it’s everyone’s responsibility.

The DM has a different role in keeping the game fun, but it is no more or less important than the players’. The best games I’ve been in have had very pro-active players who, when their interest starts waning, work with the DM to “go where the fun is.” The worst games I’ve seen have a very top-down, “DM as creator, player as audience” model, which does little for apathetic players.

I guess what I am saying is that it is the DM should keep the game moving because that is his role and responsibility. The determination to have a good game in the face of difficulties should be shared by the group and not on any one person’s shoulders.

Tryll (June 28th, 2010)

Wow, I seem to have arrived late… All the same, I’ll throw in my two cents worth:

I agree with Will. The quality of the game depends upon the quality of everyone, not just the DM. However, it is the DM who is “in charge”. I would re-word #2 like this:

#2: Self-determination. Always remember that the quality of the game is your responsibility. If your players’ interest is waning, regardless of the reason, it is your responsibility to restore it.

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