Have you ever had a bad session as a DM? Did you ever think your story was bad or characters were flat? This happens to even the most experienced dungeon masters. You’ll always have times that you’re not at the top of your game. And you know what? That’s okay. Because being a dungeon master is hard.
There’s a lot to do and keep track of when you’re running a game of Dungeons and Dragons. As a dungeon master you’re in charge everything: You maintain the story, arbitrate on rules, and ultimately a majority of the game rests on your shoulders. This can be a lot for anyone to handle and it’s important to remember that DnD is complicated and running it can be difficult.
Why Running DnD is Hard
When you set out to act as the Dungeon Master you’re taking on the lion’s share of planning and preparation for a game. This isn’t to say the whole game is only up to you. But as the dungeon master you need to be the guide for everyone else’s experience.
The biggest challenge is preparation. While it’s completely possible to run to a game of DnD without being prepared, this is much harder to do for more than one session. You really do need to know where your story is heading and have options set up for your players. Planning, writing, and preparing different options and paths all take time and your players might not know what goes into that. Furthermore, the deeper you get into a game, the more you have to keep track of.
Dungeons and Dragons has a really interesting way of building up responsibilities over time. When you introduce a character in your game, you have to keep track of them. Did a villain get away? Now you need to keep notes describing what they’re up to. Everything you do keeps adding to this, but what makes it even more difficult is that your players add to it too. The decisions that they make can unintentionally make a lot more work for you as a DM.
Over or Under Prepared
Another difficulty of DMing is the uncertainty of the session. You never really know how your players are going to interact with the story you make. Because of this you end up with a quasi-paradox: the more content you make the less of it you will use, and the less content you make the more you’ll need.
Overcoming this hurdle is one that you can only do with practice. There’s not really a way to cheat it or even a good rule of thumb to use because every group is different. Some groups cannot stay on a story line no matter how hard you try. Other groups stick to script and aren’t interested in diverging. Your group likely sits somewhere in between and leaves you wondering how much content you should prepare before a session.
The best way to overcome this challenge is acceptance. You’re never going to have prepared just the right amount of content. It’s better to be prepared to go of script than it is try to prepare every possible scenario. If you’re not ready for something your players throw at you, you can always stall. Throw in a random encounter to buy some time or end the session and be ready with that new content next time.
It Gets Easier
Like everything else in life, running Dungeons and Dragons games takes practice. You’re probably not going to be amazing when you start. And even after years of playing you’ll still have areas where you can improve. Don’t always try to be the best DM when you can simply be a good DM. Heck, sometimes you’re just going to be a meh DM, and that’s okay too.
You want to do a good job and you want everyone to have fun, but being a DM is hard. The most important thing is that you keep trying. Somewhere, sometime, you’ll run that one session that just goes great; your content will work out perfectly and your players will be amazed at how everything fell into place.
Being a dungeon master is hard, and that’s why those special games where everything works are so great. It’s because you put in the work, you did the hard thing, and you ran a great game of Dungeons and Dragons.