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Pen and Paper: The Types of Dungeon Masters


The Dungeon Master

Where would a game be without a Dungeon Master? This is the friend who sacrafices his own desire to play in order for others to enjoy themselves. The DM doesn't get to level up, he doesn't get to find the nearest tavern and chat with other players. He gets to watch as others laugh and adventure.

Worse, the Dungeon Master is often seen as the enemy. He keeps the quests, brings out the monsters and hides the treasure. His is the voice of the enemy. While the players look to each other as allies, they look to the DM as the cause of all their woes.

But, it's not a thankless job. Often, the Dungeon Master likes his role. There's something rewarding about creating a challanging quest and something even more rewarding about seeing your players becoming victorious over it. The DM wants to be defeated, or so he should.

But, roleplaying games attract all sorts of people and the role of the Dungeon Master is one that can bring in the strangest of them all. Some people like certain DMs, others don't. But when a group finds the perfect synergy between players and DM, it's a wonderful experience.


The World Builder

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
-Genesis 1:1

The World Builder is a creator. The world the players inhabit has gone on long before they got there. There is a history to the world, full of adventures and war. This world will go on even after the players leave.

This DM has pages and pages about his world. He might have an encyclopedia he's been working on regarding npcs. He has a lot to say to you about this world, even if you don't want to listen.

As a player, our biggest hurdle is going to be trying to play the game without offending your DM. Odds are, he's hoping you appreciate the amount of work and thought he put into this world. Sometimes, when you fail to acknowledge the intricacies of the world's political system, you might find yourself in the middle of adventure that requires you to take notice. Dungeons Masters can be that way about politics.


The Michael Bay

"A thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!"

There's little talk going on around the table. Almost every player is rolling dice. People are dying and the deaths are vary from the heroic to the ridiculous. Your Dungeon Master has brought in the action.

This is the DM that might like the quiet moments, but it's not why he runs a game. He doesn't want you to engage in diplomacy; otherwise the massive army he has planned is all for naught. He's read the Monster manual more times than any of the other books and he's ready to see you guys fight.

He's not out to kill the players, but he wants to make them sweat. Fighting, chasing and escaping are the themes. Not only that, but it's going to get big. A quick kerfuffle is just preview for the massive war coming to town. Get ready for problems that are solved by swords and explosions and make sure you've raised your character's constitution.


The Improvisor

"Well, I'm asking YOU who's on first!"
-Abbott and Costello

He hasn't planned much. He just flipped through the book and picked a few monsters. He's drawing the map as he comes up with it. There's a sense of chaos in the air. A typical exchange may go as such;

"You guys are now on the hill and you can see the orc army below."
"We didn't hear them?"
"Okay, how many are there?"
"Like ten."
"That's a small army."
"Okay, so it's like fifty or something."
"So it could be ten or five times that?"
"A search party finds you and attacks."

Now, all Dungeon Masters need to improvise; it's the whole point. But, it always helps to have some kind of plan. These DMs can be incredibly helpful, however. If you and your friends suddenly want to play a game without any waiting around, this is the DM who can put a game together in ten minutes. The world might not be incredibly thought out, but you'll get to play.


The Killer

Do you want an empty life, or a meaningful death?”
-Iron Man 3

Imagine if Freddy Krueger was sitting behind a gaming screen. He's made worlds and adventures, monsters and treasure and it's all there to kill you. Just remember; it's not your fault.

A Killer Dungeon Master is out to get you. While others want to challenge your characters, the KDM wants to see them die in ways that you remember in your dreams. You might get great rolls and natural twenties nonstop, but it won't matter. Teamwork won't do it. The game could last all night but in the end, the DM is going to kill you.

Some players might like this. It gives them a chance to play along with closure. People who like playing a new character every game would have no problem with this. Players who grow attached to their characters, however, will have little to cheer about. Your DM is a murderer of character sheets.

Which Are You?

I'll admit, I like to world build and it can get out of hand sometimes. My superhero universe didn't become detailed for the players but because I wanted to see it grow and change and become a great place to come back to for a while. I've had to improvise or change my tactics for the players, but at heart, I like to world build and let the players loose.

But, everyone is different. I have friends that plan games that will last for hours only to find the players solved it within ten minutes. Suddenly, the DM is an improviser and action choreographer, looking for a massive force to keep the game going. A Killer DM might be spending hours a day planning new traps and monsters to help characters bite the dust. All DMs might touch each of these categories but at heart, they have a style that is their own.


Jacob on March 02, 2018:

I am a mix of world building and improvisation . I come in with a big map with secret tunnels , and I know what monster types are in there, but I come up with how MANY on the spot . Also sometimes we finish the map before we are out of time , so I think for a couple minutes , switch to other characters (we have multiple parties set in the same universe) and have a mini adventure , and my long ones and decent but good , and the improvised are short and sweet . I do not kill players (unless it is at the end of the campaign and it would be suitably epic) but I do make them sweat and put them at death's door a decent chunk of the time .

Porshadoxus from the straight and narrow way on April 07, 2013:

Great question and self-evaluation.

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