Being a Dungeon Master can be a lot of work. You prepare your game and hope to impress your players with a well-crafted story. But things don’t always go as planned which can be frustrating. So, is being the Dungeon Master worth it?
Being the Dungeon Master is not for everyone. But being the Dungeon Master is worth it if you enjoy: Leading a group, crafting the story, surprising your players, coming up with solutions on the fly, and playing multiple roles in the game.
Of course, there are lots of ways to draw fun from the game as a Dungeon Master. And there are some ways you can burn yourself out. So let’s look at some ways you can prevent DM burnout and get the most out of your games.
1. The Cardinal Rule
As a DM it is your job to do whatever you can to make sure everyone at the table is having fun. THAT INCLUDES YOU! Being a DM can always be worth it because you get to organize your own fun. And having fun starts with doing things your way:
Every seasoned Dungeon Master has their own personal set of rules and convictions that almost seem to outweigh the published rules that are printed in those not-so-cheap books.
Whether it’s house rules, homebrew content, or just personal preference, we all have our own codes of conduct. In any situation, whether it’s a level one encounter with a goblin or an epic-level campaign-ending boss fight, I ALWAYS defer to rule number one of gaming: Have Fun.
It’s just that simple! Do whatever it takes to maximize fun across the table. You as the Dungeon Master are the most powerful entity in your game – you’re so powerful you don’t even have stats! But as our favorite web-slinger says: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
You have an obligation as a Dungeon Master and world-builder to host an adventure for your friends at the table that leaves people breathless. It’s your job to ensure that everyone feels validated, gets the spotlight when it’s their time, and plays the role they want to play.
This can require some sacrifice at times, as players almost always manage to derail your painfully crafted story. It’s important to remember even at these times, that the whole purpose of your game is one simple goal: have fun.
The rules can be bent, the dice can be interpreted, and the story can be put on hold or rushed. There is no proper precedent for having fun. So remember, no matter what challenges you or your players run into, always default to the cardinal rule: have fun. If it isn’t fun, don’t do it. If it is fun, keep doing it!
Your capacity to enjoy the game as the Dungeon Master is imperative to the rest of the table having fun. So share the spotlight. Tell some jokes. Be serious when you have to. But no matter what, always prioritize fun.
2. It’s All About Prep-Time
Our favorite argument to have in sweaty comic shops: who would win? Batman or Superman? In this situation, your player characters are Superman. They have unimaginable powers. They may have some class feature combo that you never saw coming, or they might have an item that they’ve held onto for fifteen levels that you forgot to write down all those months ago for this exact moment.
You, as the DM, are Batman. You have access to an UNBELIEVABLE wealth of resources, from published source books to online communities devoted to running your respective rule set. One of your obligations as a Dungeon Master is to simply be prepared.
Read, read, read. DMing is an art form. Any artist will tell you, if you want to put out quality art, you must also consume quality art. If you’re a musician, you listen to music, if you’re a painter, you go to galleries and study centuries-old portraits. You should do the same! Surround yourself with amazing content about your rule set, whether it’s streams like Critical Role, or interviews with your games’ creators. Fill your mind with amazing content.
But for most DMs the best place to start is simply by reading the DM Guide again and again. It is filled to the brim with great content. In fact, we’re such fans that we even did a whole article about the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
When it comes to your actual game, I personally advise new DMs to prep for one hour for each half-hour they expect the session to last. So if you have a three hour session planned, you should spend six hours that week prepping. This may seem difficult in concept, but it can be as simple as taking time to bookmark monster stat blocks, jot down NPC dialogue lines, or even just polling your players individually about their goals for the upcoming session.
If you really hate prepwork, having to prep can make you feel like Dungeon Mastering is just not worth it. Of course, there are many styles of play. You can work on your improvisational skills instead. There are some great DMs that don’t prep any of their games! But improvisational DMing is also an art form. It takes lots of practice, but it can be a lot of fun. Also some games – like Dungeon World – are geared toward not preparing anything before hand.
3. “Yes, and.”
An old acting exercise is an improvisational tool known as “yes, and.” As a Dungeon Master, you’re expected to wear many different faces. The players have their characters. You represent the rest of the world. It’s your job and joy to play any and all characters that aren’t player-piloted, from the peasant milk-maid to the big bad evil guy.
You don’t necessarily need to be able to do all of those funny voices or accents that some DMs do, but you DO need to be ready to go with the flow. You might have an NPC planned as a guiding force for the party for the next two story arcs- and then they kill him instantly because they think he’s a doppleganger.
These wild, out of the blue, situations are where you say “yes, and.” “If this is true, what else is true?” Be prepared to conjure a response to any action the player takes. Learn to have fun rolling with what the players do.
This is definitely a skill that takes practice, but if you master it you can avoid those long, awkward pauses of frustration when the players derail your carefully crafted story. In short: Once you get comfortable with saying “yes, and” your story can evolve in wonderful ways you didn’t expect. For many those kind of surprises absolutely make it worth it being the Dungeon Master, because you are weaving player decisions into your story!
4. Tell the Story Together
At the end of the day, you’re the Dungeon Master. Your word carries more weight than anyone else at the table. Your judgment calls reign supreme. Your game originated from your mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
Instead of just slaving away for hours, ask your players what they’d like to see in the world. Offer them the chance to design a city, or a faction, or even a new race. Give them the opportunity to spin some of those ancient legends that inhabit your world.
D&D and games like it are cooperative story-telling experiences. While the world may start with you, it ends with your players. Without players to breathe life into our stories, they would just collect dust on our shelves. One way to give players and their character’s backstories a more prominent place in your game is by using prophecies. We created the Deck of 101 Prophecies specifically to give players more agency.
Of course, do what you need to do to balance the players’ ideas with the world. Make sure nothing is too crazy or out there. But if you afford your players the chance to build the world they play in, you’ll get to watch the sparkle in their eye when you introduce a cult they designed months and months ago. And to me, putting that smile on your players’ faces, makes Dungeon Mastering worth it.
Build a world together; tell a story together. Most importantly:
Have fun together.
Do You Need A Dungeon Master? Yes, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons requires a Dungeon Master. But there are RPG’s that don’t require a Dungeon Master such as the Dungeons & Dragons Castle Ravenloft board game. You do not need a DM when playing the Fiasco or Archipelo RPG.
Who is The Best Dungeon Master in The World? Every year, the best Dungeon Master in the world is chosen in the Iron DM Tournament. The winner is presumably the best Dungeon Master in the world, and can defend their title the next year. Of course, there may always be a better DM who has not entered the tournament.