meaning and definition

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    What is a DM?

    DM stands for “Dungeon Master,” a person who organizes, runs, and referees a roleplaying game (RPG). The DM guides players through the story and determines the results of their characters’ actions.

    In text-based online gaming, such as in chatrooms and MUDs, the DM is responsible for creating the narrative, controlling non-player characters (NPCs), and enforcing the game rules.

    NOTE: In online and chatroom contexts, DM can also stand for “direct message,” a private form of communication between users.

    The role of a DM has been a cornerstone in tabletop and online roleplaying games since the advent of Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s.

    Over time, the term has expanded beyond traditional tabletop games to include moderators and game masters in various online text-based roleplaying formats.

    Dungeon Master FAQs

    What responsibilities does a DM have in a game?

    The DM is responsible for the overall narrative, setting the scene, and acting as the referee for the game. They control all aspects outside of the players’ characters, including the environment, non-player characters (NPCs), and story progression.

    The dungeon master’s goal is to ensure an engaging and cohesive experience for all players.

    How does one become a DM?

    Becoming a DM typically involves a deep understanding of the game being played, including its rules and world-building aspects. It often starts with experience as a player and progresses through learning storytelling techniques, game mechanics, and player management skills.

    Many DMs start by running small sessions and gradually take on more complex scenarios as they gain confidence and experience.

    Can a DM participate as a player in the game?

    Typically, a DM does not participate as a player within their own game since they have knowledge of all game aspects and secrets. However, in some informal or less traditional settings, a DM might also manage a character, but this requires careful balance to avoid conflicts of interest and to maintain fairness.

    For example, it’s considered poor form for a DM’s character (or DM-controlled NPC) to take the spotlight away from players or to be the clincher in a tough situation. See these tips on how to be a better game master.

    What is the difference between a DM and a GM?

    The terms DM (dungeon master) and GM (game master) are often used interchangeably. The main difference lies in the specific game being played. DM is traditionally used in Dungeons & Dragons, while GM is a more generic term used across various types of roleplaying games.

    Myths about dungeon masters

    One common myth is that the DM is the players’ adversary, aiming to defeat them. In reality, the DM’s role is to facilitate a challenging but enjoyable experience.

    Another misconception is that only highly experienced players can become DMs; in truth, anyone with a passion for storytelling and an understanding of the game can take on the role.

    Lastly, some believe DMing requires extensive preparation, but that’s not necessarily the case. While preparation can enhance a session, many DMs successfully lead games with minimal planning, focusing on improvisation and player engagement.

    Dungeon master examples

    • In a Dungeons & Dragons game, the DM describes the dark, misty forest landscape and controls the actions of the lurking goblins.
    • In a chatroom-based RPG, the DM directs the story’s flow in real-time, responding to players’ actions and decisions through text.
    • In a play-by-post game, the DM writes detailed scenario posts and adjudicates the outcomes of players’ actions based on predetermined rules.
    • In a MUD, the DM might script events or encounters, creating interactive, narrative-driven experiences for players.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."