Inside the Mind of a Dungeon Master

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned how Dungeon Masters or DMs are essentially gods when it comes to D&D. So, what is it like be in such a powerful position? I interviewed the DM of the D&D campaign I am in currently, in person, in order to find out.

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Her name is Meredith Brookins and she is a twenty year old former student of Meredith College. She is a proudly self-proclaimed nerd who loves to play video games and tabletop RPGs. She’s also a very good friend of mine (she’s the one I mention as introducing me to D&D in the About section). This is more or less how our interview went, though some of it has been edited for space and clarity.

How long have you been playing D&D or any other Tabletop RPGs?

I’ve been playing tabletop games for the past three and a half years. I started playing with my older brother who is nine years older than me, and he just came over and said “Hey, you like video games. Me and my friends need an extra person for our game since a person moved away,” and I was like “This sounds fun!” I went and bought a whole bunch of stuff because I thought we were playing Dungeons & Dragons…but we were playing Mutants & Masterminds instead. It wasn’t too hard to adjust, though. From there, we played a whole other bunch of stuff. Eventually, I settled on D&D being my favorite.

How long have you been a Dungeon Master?

I’ve only been a Dungeon Master for a year and a half. I decided I wanted to play with a group of people my own age, so at the beginning of the school year (2015), I decided, “Hey, I’ll tell my friends about this because I’ve been playing it for two years and it’s fun!” It started as me and two other people to nine players, some of which don’t go to the school, *One of those is yours truly* and everyone just got on board with it.

What goes into running a D&D campaign, in terms of planning before the players even enter the picture?

You have to figure out how many people are playing. Without knowing what characters they’re going to pick at all, you have to start by figuring out who is your main enemy. What do you want them to start off with? I build off from there. I’m very story based. I don’t like hack n’ slash because I like to have character development with my players. I like to give them a world that they can see very clearly and build upon each week. I ask the players before they start building, what the character reflects in them? I also like to have them make up a couple secrets about their characters and their background so it can be twisted into the story.

What is it like running a session with players?

With a smaller group, it’s very quick paced. However, with a bigger group, it’s a lot more difficult because you have to even further think, what are they going to do? You have nine completely different people plus an owlbear, and you have to try to anticipate them. I work for about a week on story. After our session ends, I sleep and start writing the next morning. I make three paths they could possibly go on, all kind of different. I like to give them options, and as a DM, you’re supposed to say Yes…unless it’s something really stupid like “Can I kill my friend?” But, you really have to put the story in the player’s hand, build off of it, and let them think that you’re in control.

What are some of the highlights of being a Dungeon Master?

The biggest highlight for me is knowing everything. Because I’m so nosey. When I’m DMing, it’s a constant “I know what’s going to happen and I can’t wait!” and I try not to show it on my face. Versus when I’m a player and I’m thinking “Where are they going with this?” and I’m trying to fill that puzzle. I know everyone’s character secrets, and I have more knowledge about the game and the monsters in it.

On the flip side, what are some of the disadvantages?

The downside to it is that your story never ends out how you want it to. You can start a campaign being like, “Okay, we’re going to go to that mountain!” and you end up on an island somewhere because that’s where the players wanted to take it…and that’s ok. But, it’s a little disappointing when you’re writing down the story and then the first five minutes of the campaign doesn’t go where you want it to. You have all the power and none of the power. You have to rework stuff and that’s why it’s an ever changing story.

What do you like most about being a Dungeon Master? About D&D in general?

I like being a DM because I can make the story. I don’t have to rely on someone else to make the story interesting; I can do that myself. My favorite thing about D&D is the fact that you can be whatever you want to be, and it will make sense and you can build a world around that. You can go and beat up monsters, be a hero or whatever, but you can also just build up a personality in a game. I like that. D&D is so open to play with the newer editions. You can be just about anything and homebrew (custom make) classes as well. If you want to be a homeless thief who climbs up walls like Spiderman, you can do that.

Lawful Good, Not Lawful Nice

Once during a D&D session some time ago, I got myself into an interesting situation which came to define my character. I play a girl by the name of Severa Winddriver who is a human monk (essentially a kung-fu fighter who lives a life of isolation and piety). During a heated argument, she ended up punching in the face and knocking out one of her fellow adventurers who was getting on her nerves. Afterwards, Severa was asked by her party why she, who had lived in a holy monastery all her life and held herself to a strict code of justice, would do such a seemingly evil act. She replied, “I’m lawful good, not lawful nice.”

In previous posts, I’ve gone over different elements of building characters such as class (read more in last week’s post), but another important aspect of any adventurer is their alignment. Alignment is what determines a PC’s behavior and personality as well as their moral/ethical standing. According to Wizards of the Coast, there are two axis that determine alignment.

The moral axis has three positions: good, neutral and evil. Good characters generally care about the welfare of others. Neutral people generally care about their own welfare. Evil people generally seek to harm the others’ welfare. The ethical axis has three positions as well: lawful, neutral, and chaotic. Lawful people generally follow the social rules as they understand them. Neutral people follow those rules find convenient or obviously necessary. And chaotic people seek to upset the social order and either institute change, or simply create anarchy. (Wizards of the Coast).

Choosing one from each of these two axis creates nine different choices for alignment: Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. If that explanation is too wordy for you, maybe this chart will help.

Disputes over alignments, however, arise when players who see each category as a cut-and-dry archetype that can only be played one way argue over what is keeping to a PC’s alignment or deviating from it. For instance, Severa who I mentioned earlier is Lawful Good which “acts as a good person is expected or required to act…She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice,” (Wizards of the Coast). In other words,many players, like those in my group, consider a character who is Lawful Good to be the perfect goody two-shoes who never strays outside of the confines of the law. Such a one dimensional character would be pretty boring to play, but many players believe they must adhere to such archetypes if they play certain alignments.

If you are a D&D player confused about alignments, I may have found just the thing to help! A youtuber named GuildMasterDan has done a series of videos on his channel called Alignments Done Right which had a unique perspective on the alignment system and, I felt, did a far better job of explaining how each alignment should behave. Instead of Lawful or Chaotic and Good or Evil (which lend themselves to certain stereotypes), he referred to the alignment axis as Principled or Unprincipled and Selfless or Selfish (Alignments Done Right). Essentially, a Principled character holds fast to their values and beliefs while an Unprincipled character merely goes with the flow or doesn’t know what they stand for. Selfless characters put value on helping others over themselves while Selfish only care about themselves with little consideration for others. When described like that, none of the alignments are inherently good or bad; they just put value on different things.

For his segment on Lawful Good/Principled Selfless alignment, GuildMasterDan’s example of a Lawful Good/Principled Selfless character was none other than the caped crusader, Batman (Alignments Done Right).

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Source: 2nerd.com

While Batman is far from a light-hearted or friendly character, he follows a strict code he never deviates from (he doesn’t kill or use guns) and he will always fight to protect others even at risk of his own health. Batman may work outside of the law in order to uphold justice and may be far from a shining role model like Superman (another example GuildMasterDan used), but he is still a perfect example of the Lawful Good/Principled Selfless alignment (Alignments Done Right). Looking back at Severa, she would fit comfortably into Principled Selfless. She has a code she adheres to loyally therefore being Principled, and she tries to be virtuous by defending the weak whenever possible therefore being Selfless. However, she is not required to be friendly or even polite to others because of her alignment which, like Batman, explains how she could do something more aggressive like KO’ing a teammate when frustrated. She’s Lawful Good, not Lawful Nice.

You can check out GuildMasterDan’s video on the Lawful Good alignment below. His whole Alignments Done Right series is one I highly recommend to any D&D player (or anyone curious about where well-known characters like Darth Vader or Deadpool would fall on the alignment chart) so be sure to check it out!

 

It’s All About Class

In its 40 years of history,   Dungeons and Dragons has featured a large amount of different classes for people to play as. Each new edition and supplement handbook brought new archetypes for adventurers…though not all classes were home runs as blogger Rob Bricken can attest to. In his article The 24 Most Embarrassing Dungeons & Dragons Character Classes, he went over some more…inspired classes from older editions of D&D such as Beggar, Clown, or Fetishist which really are better left forgotten. While he mostly tears apart these useless classes, he does reaffirm that despite this D&D has far more well-made classes than it does bad.

From the beginning with the 1st edition of D&D, this tabletop RPG’s classes can be grouped into a few main categories: Fighters, Wizards, Clerics, Rogues, and Rangers. According to Wizards of the Coast, the distributor and current owner of D&D, these are the “five key classes to the game” which, despite evolving to suit the times and current player demographic, have stayed pretty much the same since their inception and remain staples of the series. But, did you know that these classes are actually inspired by real-world people and jobs?

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Fighters are based off your standard militia man or even tavern brawler in some editions, Wizards of the Coast states. All around balanced units with many versatile fighting skills and proficiency with every weapon and armor type, Fighters embody a heavy-hitting melee combatant. In 5th edition, fighters are now more of a jack-of-all-trades with the Barbarian class taking its place as team powerhouse.

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Wizards and Clerics, sometimes lumped together under the common title of Mage, can cast spells with any number of reality-warping effects and generally stay off the front lines due to being unable to wear armor. Wizards, based off witches or alchemists, appeared first in 1971, but Clerics, based off of clergy men or women, did not appear until 1974 in a later edition of the game (Wizards of the Coast). While many other spell-slinging classes have been introduced by 5th edition such as the unpredictable Sorcerer and the devious Warlock (a personal favorite of mine), the Wizard and Cleric still remain the most iconic.

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Ever wanted to play a character who was a complete scoundrel or perhaps a notorious thief stalking through the shadows of night? Enter the Rogue class, based off of the assassin and pick-pocket (if you couldn’t already guess). The Rogue was a favorite of D&D’s founder Gary Gygax’s who “liked the concept, creating his own thief for Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #9″ in June of 1974 (Wizards of the Coast). Like Clerics, Rogues oddly enough did not grace the D&D stage until a few years after the initial game was released. While other archetypes like the Mage have been reworked and expanded in newer editions, Rogues are pretty much the same as they’ve always been and remain the best class built for stealth…though the Monk class can come a close second depending on certain choices made by the players.

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The last class archetype I’ll be covering is the Ranger. Rangers are based off of Robin Hood, traveling archers at home in the outdoors (in that regard you could say they draw some inspiration from park rangers as well). Like Fighters, Rangers are physical attackers except with an affinity for long-ranged combat. Rangers were introduced the latest at 1975 and remained somewhat unnoticed for many years more, though they are an extremely popular class choice now. This class even drew on concepts from another popular fantasy series: Lord of the Rings. “This primeval ranger was likely influenced by Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), as its 2nd level title was “strider” states Wizards of the Coast. Like Rogues, Rangers haven’t changed too much over time though they have gained some major advantages such as the choice of having a beast companion (who doesn’t want a panther as a pet?)

D&D gives players so many options of what kind of adventurer they wish to be. Every class tells something different about the player. For instance, I play as a Monk, a holy kung-fu fighter, in my current campaign. The widely popular tabletop RPG masters of Youtube, Nerdarchy, said in their web series that playing a Monk often means the player likes to have a more balanced playstyle as the Monk class specializes in speed and versatility while also being a decent melee fighter (which is entirely true for me). They covered every class and I would highly recommend checking them out on Youtube if you want to learn more about pretty much anything D&D related.

 

A Guide to Not Dying: 5 Tips for Players New to Dungeons & Dragons

Just last week during our usual D&D session, my group received a new player to fill a hole in our party left by a player who had moved away. She’s enthusiastic but completely green to D&D. As one of the more knowledgeable people in our group, it was decided that I would mentor her on the ways of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and help her create her adventurer. So, in honor of her and all the other newbies out there, here’s a few basic tips for being a better role player.

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Source: reddit.com

  1. Respect the Dungeon Master

    The Dungeon Master (Game Master in other tabletop RPGs) is god. Their word is law. DMs put a lot of effort into building the story and world as well as managing both PCs & NPCs (often having to improvise when the party decides to go in the exact opposite direction of where the DM was leading them). Listen to your DM and don’t argue with their rulings in the game. An annoyed DM can make an adventurer’s life very, VERY difficult if they so choose.

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  2. Know Your Role

    While 5th edition is simpler than previous editions, D&D has a lot of rules which can be overwhelming to new players. Learning as you go is fine, but I recommend doing some research on the character you plan to play before jumping in. Learn what your class’s strengths and weaknesses are. Study your race and its unique features. Find what your role will be in the group such as scout, tank, or healer. Write out your character’s motivations, backstory, and personality to remain consistent from session to session. Keeping these things in mind will help bring out your adventurer’s full potential in the game.

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    Source: imgur.com

  3. Stay in Character

    Being “in character” is putting aside all thoughts of yourself to take on the persona of your character. While in character, be aware of what is happening in the game world and avoid “breaking character” by bringing up real world chatter like some funny post on Snapchat. These distractions disrupt the flow of the story and can turn game play into a drag. Everyone has set aside this time to play the game, so don’t be rude and waste it by forcing the DM to repeat things because you weren’t paying attention. Keep your personal feelings about the other players separate from your character’s feelings. Conflict made in game can interesting or exciting. Conflict made out of game is not.

  4. Teamwork!

    I’m all about playing well-rounded characters, but no race or class can do it all. That’s why there’s an adventuring party. Talk to the other members of your group if you are stuck in a situation that seems unsolvable. Maybe you can’t bust down a door through brute force, but another player can pick the lock. Work together and pull upon the skills of every PC. Communicate. Don’t withhold information just because your character is “untrusting.” Everyone trust each other enough to be travelling and fighting together. Unless completely necessary, avoid splitting up or trying to be a lone wolf. You will always be able to accomplish more as a group than alone.

  5. Roll with it

    Remember, D&D is just a game. Everyone comes together to have fun and bond. Don’t get ultra nitpicky on rules. If your character dies (which can happen, sometimes very easily), don’t sweat it. Roll up a new one and keep playing. Don’t let role playing intimidate you. Odds are no one there is a professional actor so play out as much as you are comfortable. Be free to be silly or stupid. Laugh at yourself when you get that natural 1 (a critical failure) and whatever you were trying to do goes hilariously wrong. Have fun!

For more tips, check out a few of these sites (all of which helped inspire my list!):