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A Dungeon Master in Notts

17 April 22 illustrations: Toby Anderton

Our regular feature takes a deep dive into the world of Dungeons & Dragons to find out what it's really like being A Dungeon Master in Notts...

Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are like a halfway point between telling a story with a group of people, and playing a game - it’s the point where those two meet. Each member of the group has a character that they play. They choose what that character does and how they respond to different situations. And then one person at the table, typically the Games Master or Dungeon Master - depending on the game - describes the situation those characters find themselves in, depicts the world around them, and makes decisions on behalf of all the non-player characters, those who aren’t controlled by other members of the group. For people that are familiar with video games, the Dungeon Master is essentially filling the role that the computer would do. But the advantage of a DM is that they’re a living, breathing person who can improvise and make things up on the spot. So whenever players are in a situation where there's doubt as to what's going down, where there's risk or uncertainty, the Dungeon Master steps in to interpret things and move the story along. There's a lot of improvisation involved. It's not a scripted story - nobody knows where they’re going to end up, even if you had an idea of where you wanted to go when you started. 

The main skills you need as a DM are a good imagination and the ability to deal with unexpected developments. Running role-playing games is often seen as this big challenge, something that can be a little bit daunting. I suppose it is at times, in the same way that public speaking can be. But a lot of the time, I’ve found that once you're in the flow of it, you don't really think about being nervous or uncertain. It's helpful to have a head for numbers as well, because you will be the one dealing with the in-game mechanics, often more than the players will be. I would say that a lot of the skills that teachers have fit very well into Dungeon Mastering - I've met plenty of teachers who are into role-playing games because they can transfer those skills quite well. Coming up with fresh ideas is probably the toughest part of the role. Writer’s block can be a challenge. Sometimes you'll spend a week or two between game sessions for a longer, ongoing campaign, and the ideas just won't flow. 

I’ve always had an interest in gaming. From the age of eight I was playing games like Warhammer 40,000, and I’ve been into the ‘choose your own adventure’ books ever since I was a child, so I think I was quite primed for role-playing games from a young age. Eventually I came across Warhammer Fantasy role-play - I was in a bookshop and I was already a fan of those worlds, so I took the plunge, picked up a copy of the rulebook and read it cover-to-cover, as is my inclination. I then proposed running a game for a group of friends and, with no prior experience, I threw myself in at the deep end and have never looked back. That was about twenty years ago. Because I was writing my own notes and coming up with my own stories, I started putting stuff together - a huge Word document and notebooks full of ideas. It got to a point where I started sharing those with people online, and that got me noticed by a publisher for one of the games that I was playing a lot, and they offered me the chance to do it for a living. That was thirteen years ago and, again, I haven't looked back since.

The best feeling is seeing players’ eyes light up as they realise they're the ones in control of their story. They've got limitless possibilities to explore, and when they succeed, they get a real rush of excitement

The thing I enjoy most is being able to create a challenge or an interesting puzzle, a situation that players can't see a way out of immediately. All they know is it’s going to be difficult, and then they have to find a way through that. And when they do, they come out the other end feeling like they've achieved something, like they've beaten the odds and succeeded. The best feeling is seeing players’ eyes light up as they realise they're the ones in control of their story. They've got limitless possibilities to explore, and when they succeed, they get a real rush of excitement.

Generally, there seems to be two broad groups that take up role-playing games as a hobby. You'll get people that are coming at it from a gaming perspective, where they've already played other tabletop games, maybe they play lots of board games or war games and so on, and they're more focused on the mechanics and the harder details. And then you get people that come at it more from a creative background, where the storytelling comes first and the game mechanics are just there to facilitate that. That said, I don't think there's anything stopping anybody from finding enjoyable aspects to role-playing. The way I see it is that human beings have been telling stories and playing games for as long as they have existed, so it’s possible for everyone to get something out of joining in. 

Even after doing this for years, it doesn't get boring, because every time I run a campaign, there's a different group of four to six people around the table. And they will always approach situations differently, bringing their own particular quirks and trains of thought. This means that even if the starting point is exactly the same every time, the end result could be completely different. Honestly, I don't think there's enough time in the world to run out of things to do with a role-playing game.

I'm in a really good place because I get paid to do what I love, which was the dream for a while. I've already contributed to some of the biggest settings that shaped me as a young geek during my childhood and teen years. So at this point, I'm trying to figure out where I would like to go next, what I would like to accomplish next - and Modiphius, the company that I work for, is very good at supporting those kinds of ambitious projects. Once I've got an idea in place of where to go next I know I'll have all the support I need to get there.

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