A Game Master, also known as a Dungeon Master, Storyteller or abbreviated as GMs and DMs, is the individual (or individuals) who creates, controls, and referees a role-playing game. (The O.G.R.E.s utilize the term "dungeon master" or "dm" most commonly.)The Dungeon Master is the person responsible for keeping the game fun, fair, and active.
The Dungeon Master (DM) assumes the role of the game master or referee and describes for other players what they see and hear in this imaginary world, and what effects their actions have. As such, that person is responsible for preparing each game session, and must have a thorough understanding of the game rules for whichever game system they are utilizing. The DM is responsible for narrative flow, creating the scenario and setting in which the game takes place, maintaining the pace and providing dynamic feedback. In storyteller role, the DM is responsible for describing the events of the D&D game session and making rulings about game situations and effects based on the decisions made by the players.
The DM serves as the arbiter of the rules, both in teaching the rules to the players and in enforcing them. The rules provide game mechanics for resolving the outcome of events, including how the player's characters interact with the game world. Although the rules exist to provide a balanced game environment, the DM is free to ignore the rules as needed. The DM can modify, remove, or create entirely new rules in order to fit the rules to the current campaign. This includes situations where the rules do not readily apply, making it necessary to improvise.
The basic framework of responsibilities that a Dungeon Master has include:
- Creating the "game world", non-player characters ("NPCs"), and plot that the players will participate in
- Maintaining a fair and balanced game so that all players participate equally
- Ensuring that all players are having fun
- Arbitrate and game-specific discussions or arguments
- Enforce or ignore game rules
- Assist players in understanding the game system, rules, and any other items related to the game
The most crucial bit of information that every dungeon master needs to understand is that, regardless of the game and/or system being played, the rules don't matter. The only true goal is to have fun, and a DM is free to create, alter, or ignore any and all rules that get in the way of that goal. Once a DM understands this open secret of games, then that dungeon master will be able to feel more free to work with his players in any situation to help make the game more fun.
A few simple tips for successful DMing include:
- Don't be afraid to say No
- Don't be afraid to say Yes
- Work with your players, not against
- Avoid using an NPC to "save the day"
- Do not stop games in order to look up rules - write down a note and do it later, just make a split decision to move the game forward
The above tips can be used at all times. More subtle methods include learning to understand and adapt to the needs and "gaming style" of your group of players, so that you know how to work with them better. This can be as simple as understanding the game style they enjoy playing (i.e. action, horror, adventure), but experienced DMs can even understand when to allow sidetracking conversations, when to break for food, and when to start important encounters or combat to match the time the player's are most focused. However, these are traits that a DM (and the players, for that matter) will only pick up with over time.
Should ever a situation arrise, such as players arguing or disputing game decisions a DM may make or a DM needing help making his/her sessions better, then that DM's chapter Senior Dungeon Master should be contacted for assistance. This is a person with experience in dungeon mastering who serves to assist his chapter's DMs and games.