Dungeons & Dragons Online

Not All DMs Are Trash

I see a common thread of thought here and online. A player talks about the problem(s) or their feelings about their DM and ask us anonymous people for validation or about what steps to take. Inevitably, no matter the infraction by the DM a vocal group of people call for you to get a new one or that your DM sucks. My queries are as follows:

How are DMs suppose to improve if they aren’t allowed to make mistakes?

How are DMs suppose to improve without any feedback?

Most of us DMs take the mantle of responsibility because no one else will. Some of us are lonely and want to attract friends to play with. Some of us are motivated and stirred by creativity by watching other master class DMs perform and play, and we want to do that. No matter the reason there is a vein of callousness toward DMs that border along the thought of “That DM made a mistake; they are irredeemable; discard them and find another.” The major problems with this line of reasoning is that not only are there a finite and small number of DMs relative to the number of players that want to play, but this never solves the root problems of the issues (e.g. lack of communication, lack of expectations, lack of commitment, harming the social contract, etc.). We are all human (excluding the bot accounts), and should be afforded the benefit of the doubt, and the right to make mistakes and learn from them.

“Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” People learning new skills should be allowed to make mistakes. It is not only inevitable but a necessary function to learn. Even the best DMs on the planet make mistakes during their games, and yet some of us put unrealistic expectations of perfection on new DMs. If you are voicing this opinion and are engaging in the discourse here as such, you are causing more DMs to quit, which causes fewer people to be able to play, and I theorize greater rates of thoughts of imposter syndrome in other DMs.

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Now for you sticklers, “Yes” not all mistakes are equal. Some mistakes are so egregious that it is best to part ways, or that DM is doing more harm than good, despite their possible intentions. I feel that these individuals are few in number and not relative to the majority of online discussions or posts. Should some DMs “know” what they did is wrong? “Probably,” but everyone that should know something doesn’t necessarily mean that they do. What is obvious to one person may not be obvious to another. It is not like all DMs go to DM school to learn how to not suck. There is also the self perspective of the individual poster that is false to varying degrees. Do keep in mind that another’s post isn’t the whole story and is just a skewed (to varying degrees) insight into the totality of the situation. We can give our best advice, but we will never know all the facets of the situation on which we are offering our opinions. Like a court room judge we take the information we are given and try to framework a logical conclusion of events and how to proceed.

Now onto the next question; feedback is important to any task involving others that we do. Cooking at home, throwing a party (kinda what a DM does already), your work at a job, and many others require feedback for the individual to improve. Now this is where 2 major splits happen in this loop.

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The first being that social convention (at least in the US and I assume most other countries) dictates that honest feedback that is “Truthful can be hurtful” and should be avoided if negative. Lying in most social convention is expected or even considered good because most people want to be supportive and not discourage or diminish another’s hard work and effort. This however (moral implications aside) isn’t helpful to the individual or will lead to any real growth in that skill.

The second split is the feeling of obligation and conflict avoidance. I have worked in the restaurant business for years. A truth of human behavior in that field is that “Most customers won’t tell you that the food or service was bad. They just won’t ever come back.” Part of the reasoning as to why most people feel this way is that the person does not owe you any explanation; they have no obligation to you or your failings. (I could elaborate further on this point, but I feel that I am losing some of you. Wake up. We are almost done.) The other reason is conflict avoidance. Most people especially the “Zoomer” generation don’t want to argue, potentially get into a fight, or even spend their time doing so. A lot of players within this community feel this way, and it is a natural feeling for them.

The problem in both of these behaviors is the lack of “HONEST COMMUNICATION” that the DM gets which ultimately stunts their understanding of their failings and their growth. If we as a community want to be better for ourselves, for our players now and in the future, and bring others into the fold, then I believe that we must have a more compassionate outlook on how we judge other DMs. We as DMs must be open to feedback, willing to admit our mistakes and to learn from them, and respect our player’s time and humanity. Concurrently, we also need more honest communication and empathy from our players, other DMs, and from ourselves.

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Tl;dr: Just like villains in our imaginary worlds not waking up wanting to be as evil as possible, but still causing harm or hurt to others. I believe that most DMs try to do what they think is best or what they know how to do for their table and their game. None of us are perfect, and very few of us if any are irredeemable. Being a good DM is a lot of hard work, but honest communication and feedback, the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, and empathy for ourselves and others is a necessary step for us as a community and us as individuals to grow and be better.

For my personal feedback, I am curious about what did you think about this post? Was it insightful? Was it too long? Too short?


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