What makes you a good Dungeon Master?

This is a difficult question to answer with any sense of modesty. I apologize if it comes across as egoistic. I think I am a good DM for the following reasons:

  1. Commitment. It is important to have a DM that is committed to the campaign, both in terms of work and time. I have no interest in playing different games or starting new ones. I love the developmental aspect of games and find this sense of longevity one of the most enjoyable elements. I want players to realize that this is not a game like most, that will come and then go. I want players to realize that unlike players at times, I will not get bored, or frustrated, or throw a temper tantrum and quit. The Game and I are here for the long haul so build and develop away…
  2. Referee. I am a natural referee. I have a rather authoritative personality and am a “leader type”. I am an organizer. I can handle players at the table and can impose order and authority when necessary. Players can question calls and they do; I can be wrong at times, and they point this out; I will always listen to everything players say. But once this is done, I will make the call and we will move forward.
  3. Imagination. I have a creative imagination and I am able to translate this to the campaign. I am a story-teller and the campaign has a deep, well-developed plot line. I am “quick on my feet” when it comes to imagination and I am able to create effectively “on the fly”. All of this imagination is essential if I am to keep over 50 players located over vast distances, or 10 players at the table for 5 hours, committed to the campaign, excited constantly to play, and willing to fly in to do it.
  4. History. My training as a historian provides important context to the world I have created. The historical aspects of my world provide a deep base of information for The Game. My knowledge of history allows me to build in aspects of social, cultural, religious, and political developments.
  5. Rule Balance. I have a strong sense of balance when it comes to rules. I am able to develop new rules with an efficient sense of what will work and what will not. I am good at anticipating the results of rule changes so as to head off problems.
  6. Pace of Play. I am good at establishing a quick pace of play at the table so the session does not become bogged down and players do not get bored.
  7. Role-playing/Acting. I can act. But it isn’t simply acting. Players don’t want “cheese” and they don’t want to feel embarrassed for you or themselves. Only go over the top when the situation requires it. The best acting comes when it is natural…and those observing aren’t even aware you are acting.
  8. Emotion. It plays such an obvious, yet under-rated and not discussed role. The fear and response when a character dies; the sense of jubilation over a victory; the anger when confronting atrocities; the sense of injustice at what the Gods throw at you. More than others, role-playing inevitably involves emotions. This is a responsibility as well as a tool. It should be wielded with caution, understanding, empathy, and restraint.

What level is your campaign?

The Game has no level. I have never followed the idea that a campaign must have a set difficulty rating. While I recognize why this restriction is placed on modular adventures (set for certain levels) and is used for video games (difficulty levels), it does not seem realistic to me. Therefore, I have sought to avoid such restrictions.

From what I can tell (and I am no expert on any edition of D&D rules), in official D&D, a low-level character simply could not survive travelling with higher level characters or facing more powerful creatures. The rules (saving throws, automatic damage, certain powers/abilities) simply don’t allow it. By not following that system, I have not fallen prey to that trap. A 1st level character could roll super high and save vs a powerful creatures effects, and he/she could shoot that arrow that finds that chink in the armour of that great beast. It does happen and it should. What level is Bilbo’s adventure to Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit? What about the adventure to destroy the One Ring? The Fellowship surely consists of a variety of ranging levels yet they all go together. This is how it should be.

Therefore, our campaign has level 1 characters adventuring with level 30 characters (level 15 in standard D&D). It poses no problems. I don’t set out consciously to select encounters that are based around a certain level. Instead, I always seek realism and to produce encounters that make sense based around locale, etc. Granted, this means that at times the Party deals with an encounter easily or faces an encounter that is extremely difficult. Such is life.

How do you deal with some of the more controversial aspects of life at the table, such as sex and violence?

While D&D is a fantasy game, a sense of realism is essential. Again, I point to H.G. Wells quote: “If anything is possible, then nothing is interesting.”

The Game is an adult pursuit. I do not shy away from any topic in my campaign. The Game reflects life. While I remain empathetic to player sensibilities, I will not censor the game.