Articles & News >> You are DMing Wrong (Part 1)

You are DMing Wrong (Part 1)

In the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, the two main characters are in a car going the wrong way on a highway. The driver of another car, traveling parallel to them in the other lane, yells to them, “You’re going the wrong way!” John Candy’s character says with derision, “How would he know where we’re going?”

Sometimes, when I am giving DMing (or other GMing) advice, I feel like that guy in the other car. I honestly don’t know where all DMs are going, but I can see that many might be going the wrong way. And, to be honest, sometimes it is I who is going the wrong way.

Paradoxically, often when we are DMing wrong it is because we are so used to DMing right. Why? Because there are so many variables into what makes a good session: player type, session type, game type, and a variety of other situational elements and preferences. What is good DMing for one group of players in one environment is absolutely wrong for another group in a different environment.

When we DM for the same gaming group in the same environment running the same type of game, the best DMs quickly discern the preferences of the players and the rhythms that work best. We hone our skills to match those very specific needs. DMing for a different group in a different situation can make all that previous training and constant reinforcement a hindrance rather than a boon.

Over the course of the next several blog posts, I will pick one particular aspect of DMing per post and look at it through the lens of situational and preferential elements. On Thursday I will look at pacing. If you have different aspects that you would like to suggest or comment on, let me know.

Shawn Merwin

Shawn Merwin

Shawn's professional design and editing work in the roleplaying game industry has spanned 20 years and over 4 million words of content. His Dungeons & Dragons work has ranged from 3rd to 5th edition, showing up in sourcebooks, adventures, articles, and Organized Play administration. He has been a driving force in several Organized Play programs, and has written material for Wizards of the Coast (Dungeon Delve, Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress, Halls of Undermountain), Pelgrane Press (Dracula Dossier), Modiphius Entertainment (Star Trek Adventures), Baldman Games (as Content Manager), Kobold Press (Creature Codex, Book of Lairs), and countless others. Find his adventures here:


  • Avatar
    Rob Koper02 March 2015

    The Universe is big; I mean it is *really* big. Huge in fact. But even the Universe has some simple rules – axioms. They apply 99% of the time (because of the aforementioned bigness, nothing is 100% true in the Universe). So, there are some universally applicable rules to something as relatively narrow as being a GM. Here are mine:

    1) Have Fun, But Keep Things Moving.

    2) Don’t Forbid Actions; Describe Consequences.

    3) The Written Adventure Is A Roadmap, Not A Railroad.

    4) Keep Things Moving!

    5) The Rules Are Your Servant, Not Your Master.

    With thanks and apologies to Troll Lord Games, Greg Costikyan (Designer X), and Shane Hensley.

    • Shawn Merwin
      Shawn Merwin02 March 2015

      Thanks for taking time to post, Rob. I get your gist. If it was actually 99%, I wouldn’t bother to look at the 1%. I would say it is more in the range of 71.9%, so it is worthwhile to look at that other 28.1%! When I look at pacing on Thursday, I’d love to hear your reaction.

    • Avatar
      DMSean02 March 2015

      I have a similar #5, but mine is The Rulebooks are guidelines, not Commandments.

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