How Much Should the Dungeon Master Actually Control

“I want to shoot a fireball at the villain’s face,” we’ve all heard this at some point in time, whether it be in the position of a DM or player. An argument ensues, half saying it should be allowed, the other half saying it shouldn’t be allowed, the deciding vote sits in the DM’s lap. Do you allow it? Do you deny the action? If the character is physically capable of doing the action, why not? If you allow it though, it could ruin your plans. In every single instance of this, I chose to allow it, unless the players would absolutely die to the villain. If it was a fight that they would certainly lose, I would strongly urge them not to commit the act, but I avoided saying no. At the end of the day, I was running the game, but this was no longer my story being told.

The job of a DM is to run the game, but not necessarily to control it. They may have crafted the world with their blood, sweat, and tears, but at the end of the day, the world doesn’t come alive with the DM. The world is given life when the players first step foot into the boots, or hairy feet, of their characters. From that moment on, everything in the world starts to take motion and your seed of an idea starts to grow into a tree. I understand that when a campaign is made, generally you have an idea of how you want things to go, but laying out a whole plan is pointless. The players have free will, and there’s no reason to restrict it too much. Let them play, lightly guide them, and adjust the story as needed. See yourself not as the hand guiding the pen, but the pen itself. 

I understand that it’s a massive risk to truly let the players do what they want, I’ve been there myself. I wrote an incredibly convoluted campaign where the roles of the world were flipped, with the monsters having massive cities and the humanoids were barely surviving. At the time of writing it, I considered it my magnum opus, and the ending I considered to be set in stone. The players would fight the big bad and right as he was about to die, a vision would be given to them, a vision of our world. I wrote almost 2 pages where I described the world we live in, the lives of each of the players in the game, and the atrocities that have been committed by humans. Unfortunately, we never got to see the ending. You see, because gold was basically useless to the players, due to humanoids being at the bottom, I decided I would introduce an alternative currency. I introduced an NPC that gave each of the players a special item that would absorb the souls of those they killed, and they could trade the souls for equipment and such. Naturally, due to a few morally questionable characters in the party, the party ended up deciding that it would much more entertaining to stick with the new NPC, condemn the humanoid races, and just start collecting souls. Instead of leading them in the right direction, I scrapped my original idea and created a new concept that was more in line with what the players decided they wanted. The route I chose was an extreme one, what I should have done was allow the players to take that path and work my original story into it, giving the players the feeling of free. It’s similar to the concept of Fate vs. Destiny, where fate are things that will happen regardless of choices and destiny are things that will happen based on your choices. 

Railroads are for trains, they are definitely not fitting of stories. The next time you have a villain monologuing and a player tries to interrupt, ask yourself if it’s really worth it to stop them. I believe that any idea you come up with on the spot will lead to just as much fun as what you had planned. DnD is a game at the end of the day, and games are meant to be fun. If they go too far though, then you can always throw a Bearrasque or two at them. Happy hunting!

Tell me what you think about the Dungeon Master's role.

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