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The Role of the DM(s) | Making an RPG

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This article was originally found on the Grinning Rat Publications Medium account. It has been brought over and made free for viewers. Note: Some ideas and considerations may be out of date.

Dungeon Mastering is hard.

Not only is the DM the adjudicator of the rules and gameplay, but they’re also playing all the roles that the players interact with. In any given campaign, they’re in charge of the setting, the NPCs the players interact with, the factions and their goals, the villain and their goals, the music and SFX of the session, and many other things that eats up an equal amount of mental energy.

In short, it’s a demanding job.

There are those out there who have made efforts to reduce this workload by focusing on minimal prep — Mike Shea (“Sly Flourish”) has made multiple books on becoming what he calls “the lazy dungeon master”, where you are prepping less for each session by only determining exactly what is needed for the session — no further.

While this fixes the problem of prep time, however, it doesn’t reduce the burden of what the DM is actively having to think about during the session. Regardless of minimal prep, the DM is still having to actively think about every facet of the game that is player-facing. And they’re more or less having to do that alone.

But what if they weren’t alone?

Multiple DMs: A History

It may come as a surprise that the idea of multiple DMs is not a very new one. In Dragon Magazine #217, Joshua Siegel’s article “Two Heads are Better Than One” talks about the potential of cooperatively DMing sessions and campaigns. It details multiple ways of doing this, from having an apprentice and expert DM, two equally-responsible DMs, or alternating DMs.

This idea of multiple DMs is a tantalizing one; after all, there are subreddits that see regular traffic for things like allowing someone else to run your villains. The very nature of subreddits like this implies an interest in sharing the load with others who aren’t the players.

Of course, the implication is that the DM is willing to actually do the sharing.

DM sharing information with someone who also may run an aspect of the game, 2020 (Colorized)

Getting it in Writing

As someone who worked a lot on their campaign (see: “Decision Paralysis” in my Retrospectives series), this idea of sharing the burden of DMing was one I thought about a lot. I made this clear to a couple friends after the campaign ended, to which I got: “What if there was a system that deliberately required more than one DM to run it?”

What if, indeed? What if you could codify the roles of individual DMs to a point that two — or even three! — heads were performing better than one? How would that affect the flow of the game? What sorts of improvements to the game would begin to appear? What sorts of problems?

Two friends and I are currently seeking that answer out. Enter: Role of Three.

Role of Three

We are still in the early stages of development, but my friends and I have met on multiple occasions to discuss the nature of such a system. In it, we do know a few things that are more or less locked in:

  • The system is classless (no defined player classes)
  • The system has de-emphasized combat
  • It is managed by three(!) DMs: the Fan, the Arbiter, and the Foe
  • Characters have six abilities and three saving throws
  • These six abilities and three saving throws are separated into three buckets representing Mind, Body, and Spirit
  • There is a strong emphasis on not developing plots, but situations

I plan on sharing our developments on this blog until we get to the branding stage of production; in which case further developments will likely be written on whatever website that exists on.