You are a Servant, not the Master

You are a Servant, not the Master

by Blackrook

Your GM style should be like a friendly innkeeper who wants repeat customers

Every role playing book ever written, with few exceptions, calls the person who creates the campaign either a "Dungeon Master" (DM) or a "Game Master" (GM). The "Dungeon Master's Guide" then describes your role as the person who creates the campaign, runs the session, plays all the non-player characters (NPCs), acts as rules referee, and generally what you say is law.

While all this is true, there is an unfortunate tendency of some DMs to take the word "master" to heart, and believe that it is their role to dominate the players, decide what will happen in the adventure, and make sure nothing happens that he doesn't want to have happen. This is especially true with novice DMs, who haven't yet learned what a DM is supposed to do, and what he isn't supposed to do.

And when you play with a DM like that, players get frustrated with all the limitations imposed on them, and they quickly lose desire to play in that campaign. Some call this railroading. It's the feeling you get that what you decide to do doesn't really matter, the adventure is going to play out the same no matter what, and the DM is going to make sure of that.

It's not about you

So, I would like people to see it from the opposite direction, the DM is not a "master" he is a "servant." Imagine yourself as an innkeeper at your typical inn in a D&D world. The players come in, so you jump out and make sure they get the best table you can find for them. You quickly take their orders for food and drinks, and you constantly check in with them to make sure that their glasses are full and they are satisfied with their meals. You make sure there is good music to entertain them. You hire serving girls who are friendly and eager to please their guests. You make sure the rooms are warm and have comfortable beds. You make sure their horses are watered and fed. You are at their beck and call from the time they enter the inn until the time they walk out the door, and there's not a moment of rest for you, for they may even need something in the middle of the night and it is your job to get out of bed and get if for them.

That's what it is to be a good DM. It's not about you, it's not about your power, it's not about getting your way, and it's not about having monsters that can defeat the players. Your job is to serve, and serve with a smile, and during combat, it is your job to lose, and lose gracefully. It's about making sure your players are having fun, from the time they sit down at the table until the time they go home.

If you insist on being the "master" and not the "servant", players will get frustrated with your campaign and won't want to play. It's that simple. I have seen this happen to DMs who made great plans with their campaigns, they played one time, but no one ever wanted to play in their campaign again.

Motivations and side-quests

I think I knew this rule unconsciously from the very beginning. While I make adventures ahead of time, and a lot of it is carefully planned, I usually motivate players with carrots rather than sticks to undertake a particular quest. I make sure to reward my players early and often, starting the adventure with a low risk combat like a tavern brawl or fight with giant rats in the cellar, and then giving them experience for it. Then, the players will at this point find out what the main quest is, and having just recently been victorious in combat, they will be eager for more action.

I try to avoid too many side-quests, I find they de-focus a group and make it more difficult to understand what the main goals are when there are too many distractions. It is important to reward players with experience every time they defeat a monster, find a clue, solve a puzzle, or advance the story. Usually, I grant story experience which far exceeds monster experience to keep the players leveling up. A first level party should quickly advance due to D&D's extremely low experience point requirements to obtain third level, it should take only one session to get there.

When it's too late

It's too late to implement this idea when your players have decided that they do not want to play in your campaign again.

It is hard to recover if you've been an oppressive DM because your players may never get over the first bad impression. I would say, talk to your players, admit that you acted inappropriately, and promise to go in with a totally different attitude.

If you are a "bad" DM and you alienate your players, they will not want to play in your campaign world again, and your campaign world is effectively dead.