Art of the Genre: The Art of the DM

Art of the Genre: The Art of the DM

Me at right, Murph in middle, and my personal DM Mark to left, circa 1990 as we prepare for a Shadowrun adventure.
Me at right, Murph in middle, and my personal DM Mark to left, circa 1990 as we prepare for a Shadowrun adventure.

Yes, it’s true, I’m posting a day late on my Art of the Genre blog, but hey, when you’ve been the Gamemaster for six straight days of 14 hour gaming, I think even the great John O’Neill can cut me a little slack. I’m mean, this is my vacation after all, so I think having anything, even this odd article, to post should show how much I love my readers!

Still, it was kind of tough, amid all the chaos of gaming, to settle in on a subject for this week’s AtoG. However, the more I sat around the gaming table, the more I began to understand the Art of being a Gamemaster and how that translates into something cool.

I mean, I’ve been doing this since I was a tween… well actually before the word tween even existed. Even early on I would sit at a table, screens before me, and paint pictures with words that are vivid enough to keep my friends coming back for more. And when I say coming back for more, I mean really, truly, coming back, no matter from where, for more story spinning than I’ve the right to foist on you here.

I’ve gamed with the same group of friends since middle school, and it’s not like we all live three minutes from one another. Nope, we are now stretched from Maryland to California, but one week a year, we make a sojourn back to the Midwest to roll dice like we did when we were twelve.

We are all in our forties, with wives, children, jobs, bills, houses, and headaches, but by God we never, ever, miss ‘The Week’. Some folk have fishing weekends with the boys, some golf vacations, Vegas trips, camping, hunting, and all other manner of manly diversions to escape life, but for me and my five friends, we game.

It’s just what we do, and right now, as I write this at 2 AM after another grinder of Nat 20s, character deaths, incredible happenstance that can’t be explained by anything other than RPG fate, and side-splitting laughter, another day has slipped into the past only to be repeated tomorrow. This marks our 22nd ‘The Week’ since we graduated high school and started making treks to game even though we attended different colleges.

Same position, same place, with Pathfinder... 'The Week' number 22 and we can't imagine stopping.
Same position, same place, with Pathfinder… \’The Week\’ number 22 and we can\’t imagine stopping.

That, my friends, is the practice of true artistic expression. This is The Art of DMing, the Art of Gaming, and The Art of Friendship.

Before I travelled thousands of miles to be here, I struck upon a strange thought, ‘Who is the DungeonMaster of the DungeonMaster?’ In other words, who creates for the creator? Who paints those pictures with words? Who makes fantasy worlds come alive?

I’ve DM’d since I first started playing because I love telling a story, but even I have a DM. If you’ve read my work over the past years, you know Mark, my old school DM. This week he’ll be my DM again for Deadlands and Stars Without Number. I’ll take a step back from my creations and enjoy the ride from the other side of the screens.

Still, when the thought struck me, I couldn’t help but wonder who DM’d for THE DM, Gary Gygax? Well, I called up Ernie and found out. When his father wasn’t behind the screens, he’d been inspired by Dave Arneson in Blackmoor before Rob Kuntz had the pleasure of being his DM during the TSR days. It might not have been full time, much like I shoulder the bulk of DMing responsibility among my group, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important and that even artists can enjoy others with similar talent.

The sense of wonder, the ability to tell a story, is an art so incredible, I dare you to tell me it doesn’t have power when it can still bring grown men with children of their own across the nation to roll dice together.

Art is always subjective, but it doesn’t require a visual additive to exist, at least not around the gaming table. Ask any role-player who has had a DM worth his salt and they’ll tell you of a time well spent, when characters came alive in a world spun of well placed adjectives and odd vocal characterization.

Now whether you choose to agree with me or not, I’ll do you the great honor of enjoying images from the past and the present of my artistic journey. How the time does fly, and yet even as this current week edges toward its end, I can’t help but think about the next one and what Art I’ll get the chance to bring to the table.

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Sarah Avery

My first GM painted images I can still see with perfect clarity two decades later. Most of my college gaming gaggle will be at our 20th year reunion soon. I had a lot of great friends, but the ones I gamed with were, and still are, by far the closest. I went to classes and meals and poetry reading with my other friends; I went to all that AND the Land of the Frost Giants with my gaming buddies.

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