If you spend some time in the dungeon master community you hear a lot of complaints. All the preparation, knowing the rules, players who always try the unthinkable, ... It’s easy to start wondering if being a dm is any fun at all.
You should not underestimate the amount of work it takes to be a DM. Being a DM, as with all things in life, takes practice. But with the necessary practice, being a DM can not only be a very fun experience, but also an extremely rewarding one.
With over 20 years of dungeon master experience, let me give you a number of reasons why I think being a DM can be a whole lot of fun!
As a DM you get to build worlds
If you are running a homebrew campaign, you get to decide everything about the world your adventures take place in.
Do you want your world to have 4 suns and 3 moons? Done. Do you want the world to be 90% sea? Done. Always wanted to explore the hollow center of your world? Well, if you create it, it can be done.
Next to the physical elements of the actual planet, you also get to write its history. Has an alien civilization ruled over your world ages ago? What happened to them?
Are there still some remnants of alien artefacts left? If so, that could be a great quest for your players.
Then you get to name and create all the cities and villages. How about that smuggler’s port being run by an undead pirate captain?
Or the independent city-state where nobles fight for power, while the merchant guilds plot the downfall of the local clergy?
And don’t be afraid to create a mix of genres either!
If you take a look at Golarion, the world that was created for the Pathfinder roleplaying game, it has all the fantasy tropes, but horror elements are sprinkled in, and you can probably walk into a robot or two while exploring too.
The sky's the limit. And even that is not true! Why? Because there can be whole cities located up there between the clouds.
The only limits to your world are the ones you allow yourself to put in place. Let your imagination run wild! That’s where all the fun happens!
As a DM you get to portray all the NPCs
Have you always wanted to play an undead pirate running a smuggler’s port? If you put him in your world, you can!
And not only that, you get to portray whole communities from the local baker to the innkeeper all the way up the pecking order to the high priest of the sun god.
While doing this, you can also create a great vibe.
Are your players entering a mining town on the outskirts of civilization? In that case the adventurers might encounter some curt and foul-mouthed NPCs.
Or maybe a majority of the inhabitants of that town suffer from a serious disease that originated underground in a tunnel they shouldn’t have dug.
A great example comes from Murder’s Mark, where the town of Ilsurian is a left-over of an invading army. The current population of the town are descendants of soldiers in that invading army and are thus not ‘native’ to that location.
They do however, look down upon the actual native Varisian population. Dropping your players in a setting like that where the racial tension between NPCs could be driven to a peak with a wrong look, is great for the atmosphere.
As a DM you can create even more atmosphere (music, light, candles, …)
Talking about the atmosphere, to get your players in the mood you can use a soundtrack full of heroic or creepy music.
Dim the lights and light some candles. Whisper your descriptions.
Appeal to all the senses of the characters. Describe not only what they see and hear, but also their smell, or the touch of the musty, wet underground wall in that dungeon they’ll inevitably end up in.
All of these are great tools to create atmosphere and believe me, nothing is more fun than seeing your players on the edges of their seats, fully engaged in the story.
You know the story
Your initial reaction might be: "Where’s the fun in that?! I love it when I’m a player and don’t know the story and have to try and figure everything out".
From my own experience I can tell you: I LOVE hearing the players talk about what they think is going on.
They will often offer ideas that are way out there, not even close to what is actually going on. And actually, it’s quite fun seeing them explore a red herring that you delicately dropped in somewhere.
“That ancient golden key we found, must serve a purpose right? The DM wouldn’t have given it to us if it wasn’t important!”
Another thing that’s just awesome is if your players come up with this amazing and complicated way of solving your adventure.
Originally you, the DM, were planning something completely different but their ideas were so cool that you decided to use them.
And congratulating your players afterwards for solving such a complicated scenario and taking full credit for having created such an elaborate plot… Now THAT’s fun!
You get to improvise your way out of pretty much every session
No matter how much you prepare, your players are going to come up with ideas that you didn’t think of. No need resisting this, it’s going to happen.
And to me, that is one of the greatest things about roleplaying games. You are creating these stories together with your players.
I still remember, very fondly, my first session as a dungeon master. Well, the first one where I had an idea of how the game was supposed to be played.
The two friends who had introduced me to the wonderful world of roleplaying games, were both experienced players and game masters and had the bright idea to put me in the DM chair.
Mind you, this happened very, very early on in my roleplaying ‘career’.
So I had a story prepared. Prepared is actually an understatement. I had a whole story written out.
I was going to describe X, and they were going to do Y, and then Z would happen. Without exaggeration, I think I brought about 10 pages of written out story to that first session.
About 5 minutes into the game, the characters were doing something completely different than what I had expected and I could pretty much throw away those 15 pages.
I was very lucky that my players were very experienced DMs themselves, so they could ‘coach me’ through the session by the actions of their characters.
But I loved it!
Granted, improvising takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it!
As a DM you can create your own rules
Not only can you create whole worlds, you can even invent your own rules! In fact, I would even dare to say that a lot of DMs have some sort of ‘homebrew house rules’.
The great thing about roleplaying games is that the rules as printed in the books are guidelines. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to use them.
And sure, there are players and DMs alike who relish ‘playing by the book’. And that’s totally fine. Just remember there’s more than one way to play the game.
The important part is that everyone enjoys themselves!
So if you encounter some combat rule that you think would work better with a few small tweaks, go ahead and implement them.
Everyone got tired of those encumbrance rules that just slow everything down? Consider them ditched.
Just try to be consistent with your rule tweaks. If they happen to work against your big bad guy and in favor of the player characters, so be it. Improvise!
It’s fun to create your friends' fun
As the DM you are responsible for leading the story into certain directions. As a consequence you are (not solely but) directly responsible for your friends' fun.
There’s no greater praise for a DM then hearing a player tell you they had a good time!
Here’s some quick and easy ways to ensure your friends are having fun:
- Give each of your players their moment in the spotlight. Make sure that you slow down the more socially dominant people in your group and give your shy players a chance to shine too. In combat, play often changes to a turn-based approach. It’s good practice to remind yourself that even when you are not in a combat encounter, that you should ask each player what they are doing regularly.
- Give your players a hard time. That might sound very counterintuitive but struggle makes for great stories! Your players are much more likely to remember the game where they managed to defeat the big bad evil by the skin of their teeth with two party members rolling for death saving throws and the other two share 3 hit points amongst each other, one of which is a temporary one. Those are the stories they will be talking about for years to come!
- Use elements of their backstory. This goes back in part to giving them all a moment in the spotlight, but it’s really cool if a player notices that the DM has made the effort to include their backstory into the overall story arc.
Your word is law
When you read GM horror stories on the reddits and quoras of this world, they are often about either railroading an adventure or going on a complete power trip.
So tread carefully with this one.
Yes, you get the final say on any rulings. And yes, you can even overrule anything written in the rules book. And that sure sounds like fun to me!
Just keep it fair and inclusive alright?
DMs can cheat
This is probably my favorite one!
So first of all, you don’t have to follow the rules. Second, you can create your own rules. And even after you have created your own rules, you can still cheat!!
I myself often say “I don’t care about the rules”, and “I’ll break any rule in the game”. And sure, that is to get some kind of reaction.
Let me include the important unspoken part in those sentences. The part that I think, but don’t say when I want to get some kind of reaction.
If it makes the story better!
If there is any moment in the game where a rule will conflict with creating a better story, the story wins.
If that means fudging dice to make the bad guy stronger, or saving a player character so their story can get even more heroic, I will not hesitate to do that.
Why? Because that’s my job as the DM. I want to create amazing stories. I want to make my players feel special. I want everyone to have fun.
And if I need to cheat here and there to achieve that, I will do so without blinking an eye.
I hope this list gives you an idea of how much fun it can actually be to be the dungeon master. Does it take practice? Sure!
But don’t let anyone scare you away from the role of the DM. It’s an amazing part of the game and I hope to inspire more of you to try it.
Which other things do you think are fun about being a DM? Sound off in the comments!