I'm planning to make this blog not just about stuff I've learned in my years of running games, but also about the things that I am continuing to learn about running games. This is one of those things.
I've had the pleasure of sitting at the (virtual) table of the Angry DM. He runs fun, immersive, and challenging games that are a cut above the Typical "you see goblins, roll for initiative!" fare. In a conversation a couple of months ago, Angry talked about his DMing credo, a sort of manifesto of how he runs games and why he runs games. He called it a contract between himself and his players; something the people at his table can point at to hold him accountable for the gaming experience he is providing for them.
I thought this was a great subject and was trying to decide how to write about it without stepping on his toes, but then he went and wrote a post talking about his DMing credo so now I feel free to start writing about mine. While I'm not as strict as Angry is about being the "DM", I'm using that term as shorthand for "Dungeon Master, gamemaster, Storyteller, or whatever my RPG of choice calls the person running the game."
What I offer my players
My goal as a DM is to give the people sitting at my table an enjoyable and memorable experience; this is even more important when I run sanctioned events or judge for a convention. People make the effort to come out to a store in their free time, and can spend hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars to attend a convention. Why give them the same thing that they run for themselves at home?
As the DM, it falls on me to be the teacher and guide to the players. If they are tripping up on rules, or get lost in the plot, then it's my job to get them back on track—especially in sanctioned play, where there is often a strict time limit. No one likes arguing about the rules or the plot (and even if you do, it's a safe bet that the other players at the table do not).
This also means that, as the DM, I am the ultimate arbiter of what is acceptable behavior at my table. This doesn't mean that the players' opinions don't count; it's just the opposite. I will strive to make sure that everyone is having fun and is invested in the game whenever possible. Obnoxious, offensive, and disruptive behavior will not be tolerated, and players who cannot abide by reasonable requests to change their behavior will be asked to leave.
When it comes to running the game, I will never intentionally withhold information that the players should rightfully know, whether it's rules knowledge or in-game knowledge. The rules apply at all times to everyone; I will strive to rectify any situation caused by ignorance or misapplication of the rules, provided doing so does not overly complicate the game.
My players should be able to make informed decisions for their character. This means that I will strive to make players aware of unanticipated or catastrophic consequences for their choices. I will never let a player attempt to do something that is plainly impossible without informing them. When it comes to tactical scenarios in RPGs, I will assume that characters take the most reasonable course of action when possible and warn them when it is not possible. I will allow my players and their characters enough time to discuss their plans and strategies whenever possible. When it comes to scenarios with strict time limits or other aspects that may go against these rules, I will inform my players of those limitations.
When I distill this down to a list of principles, I get this so far:
My DMing Credo
- Everyone is welcome at my table if they can play by my rules
- The rules apply at all times to all players, including me
- I will always portray the game rules and game world in an even and consistent manner
- I will never withhold information that the players or characters should rightfully know
- I will never allow a player to attempt the impossible out of ignorance
- I will never allow a player to make a risky choice out of ignorance
- I will assume that characters take the safest reasonable course of action whenever possible
- I will give my players the opportunity to discuss their options whenever possible
This seems like a good place to start; I'll give this a try the next time I run a public game and see what kind of feedback I get.