The players are at the table to win. The DM is at the table to entertain.
The statements above seems stark and cold, but – for me – it rings more true than false. I have often wondered about the role of the DM, and how Dungeons & Dragons is referred to commonly as a cooperative game. I struggle with the cooperative definition, because I find that playing D&D is laden with competitive overtones. The role of the DM is quite complicated and in many ways – contradictory. During any given session, I am engaged in the following:
Encouraging players to develop their character by setting goals in the campaign world.
Deterring players from achieving their stated goals with a litany of hazards and enemies.
Rewarding players for taking risks and engaging in creative storytelling and roleplaying.
Punishing players with penalties, including death, for taking risks and engaging in dangerous behaviors.
Improvising to match player interests in the campaign world.
Railroading players to keep them (and the gaming session) on track in the campaign world.
In addition, the game features a major resource imbalance between DM and player away from the game table. The DM spends time creating a quest and a set of challenges that must be overcome before the players can achieve the quest. If the DM creates a challenge that is too difficult, then the game either stalls or the players die, which results in more work for the DM and players since new plotlines and characters need to be built. The DM is responsible for creating challenges that are properly balanced for the players.
The players are there to win. The DM is there to entertain.
Below, I discuss how I have executed the mental gymnastics to ensure my own happiness as a DM while running a campaign during the past two years. I present how my chosen profession – psychologist – grants me an intriguing perspective on facilitating a roleplaying game like D&D, and contemplate why the bulk of hand-wringing about editions, rule sets and “the future” of the product(s) is conducted primarily by DMs and not players.
Today’s installment of Iddy Approved highlights a product that can be purchased for a reasonable amount, which will make the owner the talk of any gaming group. I am speaking of a Player Character Sheet designed by illustrator, James Stowe.
In recent weeks, I have fallen into a new hobby of commissioning artists to illustrate the blog’s mascot, Iddy the Lich. After Grant Gould created the original design for Iddy, the next person to draw Iddy the Lich was Brian Patterson from d20monkey; as a side note, if you’re not following his webcomic every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then shame on you! Most recently, Cat Staggs tackled Iddy with greater realism and exchanged the original design’s “cuteness” factor with a healthy dose of horror.
I commissioned James to create a Character Sheet for Iddy the Lich in his DND for Dads style, which has been retitled Sidekick Quests. I gave him full reign in terms of design and only provided a few minor suggestions for possible loot; I mean, the d6 Staff has to be featured in the loot! The result of his fine work was posted earlier today at his site, ART by STOWE, as the conclusion to the Undead Week for his Advent Calendar of EVIL. If you are unfamiliar with his work or the Advent Calendar of EVIL, then please check out his site. Each character sheet is a blast to read and the art has a fantastic whimsical quality. Read on below to see his take on Iddy the Lich and learn more about his commission work.
My monthly column for This Is My Game has posted for December. The column, No Assembly Required, features a monster that can be inserted into a Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Each monster in the series includes comprehensive information including Origin, Lore, Combat Tactics, Power Descriptions and Stat Block. Visit This Is My Game to review this month’s monsters, Hoarfrost Goblins.
Merom Hoarfrost and the rest of his goblin clan are Heroic-Tier monsters who can be used at the very start of a Level 1 4th Edition campaign. The Origin of the goblin tribe and their current need for relocation and conquest can set the stage for a multi-level campaign arc for DMs that are inspired by the possibilities presented in the backstory. As always, the chill artwork is provided by Grant Gould.
Visit This is My Game for the full description of the Hoarfrost Goblins, including their history of exile and the events that led them to remain in an impassable mountain range until recent developments changed their plans of isolation from the civilized world.
Enjoy the new monsters, and let me know how Merom and his tribe play at your gaming table. Please post any questions or comments about the Hoarfrost Goblins here or at This Is My Game, and come back next month for another ready-to-use monster.