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.

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