Dungeon Mastering as a Service

“Remember; the GM is there to be of service―to make players shine. The more they shine, the better and more memorable the game is, and the better a GM you are.”

― Dan Clark, “Making Players Shine” - Kobold Guide to Gamemastering

This quote is a great one for DM’s to keep behind the screen. I think it is a very humbling quote, one that reminds the Dungeon Master that they are at the table to tell a story but also to provide fun for others. The article I pulled this from is a collection of articles composed by Kobold Press, and this issue, in particular, is very interesting, but we will come back to it in a bit.

Let me kick this article off by first describing what I think the Dungeon Master is. In my eyes, a Dungeon Master is a guide, and by that, I mean that they are a facilitator of fun. In my mind, fun should be the DM’s end goal; fun for the DM and fun for the players. This importance of fun is so key that I feel if my players are not having an  exciting time, not getting the experience they are looking for, then I as a DM am failing my players. This creates interesting problems to solve, and much like the player’s characters, the DM probably won’t know the “right way” to find fun. The Dungeon Master may zig when they could have zagged for more optimal fun. And that is ok! It is fine for the DM to stumble because as you fail you learn. I personally have had many failed campaigns, and a lot of times the campaign was mostly me trying to learn what is fun for my players.

I can usually tell when my players are having fun, but the harder part is knowing when they are not having fun and are not keyed into the story or their character. Reading your players as a DM will be a future post, so, for now, let's say you caught a cue from a player that for them things are dry. What do you do?

The fact is I am always looking to better my craft, and I am trying to make sure my players feel that the precious time they spend around the table each week is being spent on something fun. So I recently read the Kobold Guide to Gamemastering, in hopes to gain more tips and ideas to start using around the table. What I read in Dan Clark’s article was eye-opening to me. I found a new concept, one of those things that are super obvious so you never really thought about them. The idea of providing moments for players to shine at the table.

To high level it, Dan spends the article talking about something he calls “shine moments”. These shine moments are moments in which the player interacts with the story or the world and regardless of the outcome, the players are left with a positive experience. This experience does not mean that the interaction itself was positive, but is means that you as a DM have provided a moment to a player that resonates with their personal wants from tabletop role-playing. You could have a player at the table that loves to role-play more than anything in the world. And of the dynamic of the group, that player might not get to role-play as much as they would like. So as a DM, I can set up a situation where that character needs to negotiate a trade deal or talk their way out of legal repercussions. Whatever the case may be, that player got a chance to really flex their role-play muscles and that is what will keep them coming back to the table.

The “shine moment” can literally be anything. The article strongly expresses that it is your job as the Dungeon Master to make these moments shine, it even goes as far as to say that if you implement this properly that then a feedback loop will naturally form. The feedback loop is one of the players start working to do things that they think is cool, and the DM makes the world around that character’s actions react in a way that makes the player feel more inclusive and the table can see that and enjoy it. Rinse and repeat. This is a phenomenal mechanism to drive player interaction, keeping meta-thinking levels to a minimum, and keeping people coming back for more.

This, to me, is a pretty cool but obvious concept that I never really thought of. It can create memorable moments, and in some of the more “advanced” ideas of shine moments for players, it can create repercussions in the story. Since reading the article, I have changed my thinking at the table to be more proactive about creating these moments and have come up with a few tricks of my own in order to remember to get each person a shine in each session.

At my table, we use initiative cards, that hang on the DM screen. Throughout each session, if a character has a shine, I put a tick mark on the part of the initiative card on the DM’s side of the screen. My goal is to have more shines then the previous week and to ultimately try and make sure that each player gets a shine per session, and never goes more than two sessions without a shine. This way I can make sure that my players are having fun and keep coming back.

That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love.

― The DM