Interview with a Dungeon Master

The life of pencil and paper gaming, from the perspective of the DM. I sat down with my dungeon master recently, and performed a small interview.  The intent is to bring the perspective of running a pencil and paper game directly from a man who does that very thing.  There are a great number of people out there that have never played, or never wanted to play.  I think, in some cases, the reason people don’t play, or have the desire to, is because they just don’t understand it.  So to bring some more understanding of the world of pencil and paper gaming, I bring to you, an interview with a dungeon master.

AR: For those tuning in for the first time, what is a pencil and paper game?

DM: P&P gaming is nothing less than the most amazing group make believe session that adults are capable of. You sit down with great people, and impress your mind into an alternate reality, where you get to be the hero and make the world-changing events happen.

AR: What does it mean to be a Dungeon or Game Master?

DM: Being the GM isn’t for everyone. It means a great deal of work, caring about whether others are having fun, and dealing with group conflict when it happens to arise. You have fun when your players have fun, but you shouldn’t have the mentality of me versus them. You want them to succeed, but you also want it to be challenging so the victory has meaning. They invest their time and heart into their characters so when a player loses a character it may have some emotional ties that get the player right in the feels. And prep work. No matter how good you are at running something off the cuff, if you want to be a good GM you should expect and be willing to put in the time.

AR: Why do you find these kinds of games so much more fun than their video game counterparts?

DM: My friends and I get to create a world together. We are the heroes, we are the villains, and we write the story. The most dynamic video game will never give you the freedom to write your own dialogue. At best it will give you four options to pick from and perhaps a few alternate endings. Nothing in comparison to pencil and paper.

AR: Do you ever think there will be a time when these games are no longer around, or played?

DM: Honestly I don’t have the foresight to answer definitively. Time moves on and nations are brought up and destroyed. If you asked a cave man if he thought that fire wouldn’t have to be carried from one cave to the next, he would have grunted at you. But even if he understood and could reply he would have thought the question unreasonable, because of course things will continue the way they have. I hope not, I hope they are around forever. But as long as I’m alive, I know that they will still have a foothold and who really cares after their own passing?

AR: What is usually involved in playing?

DM: Dice, imagination, pencils, paper, geeks, some nerds, a few dweebs. Depends on the group. You roll stats, and create your character. The GM usually helps with getting the first session started or introducing characters. From there it is a balance of what is called “crunch and fluff.” Crunch are the game mechanics while fluff is the story line. There needs to be a balance in most cases because a group will generally have differing opinions on which they want more of. One player may want the game to be very story heavy, while another wants non-stop combat. It is the job of the guy running the game to keep everyone happy.   

AR: What does it mean to “Role Play” in these games?

DM: It means that you get inside your characters head, and you speak with their voice. When at the table I try to get my gaming groups to use some sort of common symbolism for speaking out of character, and any other time they communicate with each other it means that their character is to be understood as saying what they say. Often players will grow a different voice for the character, much like an animated character will have a special voice that the actor voicing it creates.

AR: Is that any different than going full LARP?

DM: Yes. Absolutely. You will never catch me swinging a foam broadsword around in the middle of some god forsaken forest that somehow hasn’t been cut down even though it is in the heart of Seattle. Many people do enjoy LARPing but it is not nor will it ever be something I am interested in. They are very different worlds of the geek kingdoms.

AR: What do you prefer doing more, being a player or being the DM (GM)?

DM: It isn’t a matter of which I enjoy more, its a matter of when. I do enjoy running a game, or I wouldn’t do it. But sometimes the workload gets a bit burdensome. As a GM I have to develop a whole world full of characters so none of them ever get my full attention and they grow their personalities as players run into them. As a player that is all someone elses problem and I just get to create one character that I can develop and put 100% into making him three dimensional.

AR: Do you have any advice or encouragement for our followers who may have not ever tried a pencil and paper game, and might want to give it a go?

DM: Yes. Read the books. Maybe not cover to cover but understand the basics of how combat and skills (in whatever system you are going to play in) work. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, people don’t learn without them so just find a good group and get started. Pay attention to the more experienced gamers and try to understand what makes them veterans. Then don’t emulate them exactly, but take their style as a lesson on how to figure out your style.

AR: Of the many types of pencil and paper games out there, which one do you feel is the best? Why?

DM: I started in D&D 3.5, which was good but had major flaws because of the amount of material they released. If you had all the books, you could break the games balance mechanisms very easily. 4.0 was good if you were playing with children in the group, as in my opinion it watered everything down. I personally play Pathfinder RPG right now, and it could be described as 3.75. They fixed a great deal of the issues with 3.5 and kept the good stuff. I have been trying to get a group to play Mouse guard with me for a few years now, mostly because getting a group to try it would be an accomplishment. So ultimately it depends on what you are looking for. If you want to play as Anime super heroes, there is BESM. If you want core stuff I would say Pathfinder. If you are catering to children for some reason, go 4.0.

AR: Do you have any parting thoughts on the subject you would like to share? DM: Nowhere else will you be able to personally take your vorpal sword and chop the head from the great Lich King Azengroth with your allies at your side. If that isn’t reason enough to play, I don’t know what is. Now Paladin summon your celestial steed and ride!

Reaching the end of this interview, I hope we have shed some light on the pencil and paper gaming genre.  Given some better insight to why we do it, and maybe some of you will give it a try.  As always, if you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of your choice.  Whether it be here on the website, or on one of our social media pages.  You can contact me directly at andrew@drakkarium.com.

Find more information:

Dungeons & Dragons Pathfinder