This Hobby Is Not a One-Way Relationship
With regards to WotC promotional content for 4e, most attention is given to the tease content for D&D insider, the podcasts, and recorded features of actual play sessions. However, WotC recently posted a half-hour special on the joys of DMing called D&D Dungeon Masters/Five DMs. It’s an interesting watch and the first bit of promotional content where a spotlight was cast on the challenges faced by DMs.
Granted, some attention to these challenges is given within the pages of both Dungeon Master’s Guides, but for the most part the book editors lean towards copy that represents a feel-good laidback attitude towards gaming, wilfully ignoring the problems of keeping the party going. “Don’t know the rule? Make it up!” “Say yes! Indulge your power gamer, actor & explorer!” “Player got a lore question not covered by your monster manual? Well, what do YOU think?” “Gave too much loot? Talk it over and then GROUP HUG!” You get the picture.
Not that I can blame them: tabletop role-playing is already a niche hobby. The audience isn’t going to grow with books that talk about how hard it is to get more than two people together on a regular basis, collaborate on That Make Believe Story in Which They Are Heroic Orcs and Elves, not bicker constantly and somehow agree on how to split the cost of pizza. However, I think many will recognize that one big obstacle to growing the audience is the shortage of people willing to run games. As James Leiver of the D&D NYC Meetup.com group notes, sometimes the only way one can guarantee a game is being prepared to run, unless you’re willing to force the issue:
[…] I don’t think any amount of normal “encouragement” is going to make people DM. You need to force them. As part of the NYC D&D Meetup group, I came up with all these ways to discourage people who just want to be players only. It’s really easy for people who just want to “play” all the time to come and take up all the spots at the tables. With our points system we basically don’t allow that to happen. If you don’t earn points by DMing you don’t get priority RSVPing.
Call me callous, but I am of the opinion that people who refuse to GM/DM are patently selfish. This is not an entirely uncommon view. My former roommate is a good example of this. There was this one time where he ran a game of Star Wars SAGA Edition at the insistence of his friends, one of whom has the burden of running a majority of sessions for long stretches of time. Little can be said about his approach to such a responsibility save that it was one filled with indifference and begrudging.
Interestingly enough, I later learned that this guy paid the full retail price to order the 4th Edition Core books – which in the Third World currency my countrymen call “pesos,” is a really big chunk of money – but had no intention of ever having to run it. He was trying to convince all his friends to play it with him, which was met with reluctance. Instead of facing this as a challenge by offering to be the DM, he simply let his books become over-priced door stops. He had the books in his possession for over a year, and never EVER read up on the rules.
Simply put, he bought the books and flat out expected someone else to run the game for him so he could play. As if somehow his investment would obligate someone else to do the work for him. So when I say DMing is a means of giving back to the hobby, I’m not trying to get all touchy feely. I mean that if you have any interest in sustaining it, then sometimes you have to step up and DM. I’m not even saying that everyone should DM or is good at it. I’m saying is that if you don’t even give bother, because you just want to be a player, then you’re being a selfish prick.
It doesn’t matter if you DM an epic-long multi-session campaign (which is awesome on herculean levels) or you only DM when you have an experimental one-shot you want to try, or you sporadically DM because you have to take one for the team in the face of an absent DM. When you’re do it because you – consciously or unconsciously – recognize that the hobby needs more DMs, or you just want to give your current DM the reward of playing, then it means you aren’t a selfish prick.