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How Being a DM made me a better D&D player

If I was suddenly made King of the World and was allowed to enact one sweeping law change, it would be this: at some stage, every player of Dungeons and Dragons should DM at least once. I know, I probably should have tried for world peace or to tackle inequality or something. Sorry everyone - I kinda dropped the ball here. Still, let's aim for something achievable.

Honestly though, getting a view from each side of the DM screen is massively important. It can be an easy trap to fall into to think that as you're playing the same game, the role of player and DM is roughly equivalent - but in reality, the distribution of effort is massively skewed.

Seeing how much work DMing is really makes you appreciate the DM in any games you're playing in, and will often change your play style as a result. So, for any D&D players reading this, here is how DMing has changed me as a player, and a few ideas for ways you can show your thanks to your own DM for the work they put in.


The most important perspective shift that DMing has given me, is knowing just how much prep time goes into running the game. This varies a lot session by session, but often this is a massive undertaking that the DM is doing - principally for the benefit of others. This is particularly the case with one-shots that I've written from scratch - some of them I will spend 10-15 hours on, before we ever sit down to play.

Knowing how much work goes into DMing makes me more appreciative as a player. Showing this appreciation can come in different forms - offering to host or schedule the D&D sessions, bringing snacks for the group - even just thanking your DM at the end of a session to tell them how much I enjoyed it. Sounds simple, and it is. But it can mean the world to your DM. We all have lives going on outside of D&D, so sometimes prep can be a chore - so knowing that your hard work is appreciated can be the difference between going the extra mile, and feeling like you're ready to pack in the whole campaign.

Explore more

Another way of showing your appreciation for your DM is to explore a little more and engage in the session as much as you can. It's an unavoidable part of DMing that you will spend ages creating something that your players walk straight past - but it can be really dispiriting! Sure, sometimes you can recycle the shop or dungeon that you've created and shoehorn it in somewhere else in the campaign - but sometimes you can't, and you just have to watch your players walking straight past the set-piece that you spent 3 hours prepping.

As a player, I try and watch out for things that my DM seems excited about, and try and engage with them as much as possible. If they give you a foreboding description of the abandoned house across the way, I'm definitely gonna go check it out, rather than steer well clear. You won't get this right 100% of the time, and you'll definitely miss out on stuff your DM has prepped - but by trying to meet them half way, they get the chance to share all their fun ideas with you. You can be sure that they'll appreciate you for it!

Take notes

A common problem for DMs is that they're way more invested in the story than their players. It's easily done - you probably spend hours worldbuilding every week, imagining all the connections between the various actors in your world, and you're excited to drop the tiniest hints about the developing story to your players in the next session. The only problem - your players often don't pick up on these hints - so when you try and reintroduce an important NPC a few weeks later, you've got a bunch of players looking confused and asking who he is. As a DM, this can be pretty crushing.

While as a player you're not going to pick up on every little hint the DM drops, it's good to try and be meticulous with remembering the ones you do. Bring a notepad and pencil, and keep as comprehensive notes as you can. Discuss your theories with other players to keep the salient points fresh in their minds too. Showing that you're genuinely engaged in the story is one of the best ways of showing your appreciation for all the work your DM puts in (and, you know, makes the whole experience more rewarding for you as well!)

Give your DM something to work with

When I DM, I love a good player backstory. Used well, they give you so much to work with! If I know some of the PC's hopes and fears, the things and people they care about, and the places they come from or want to get to - then it is so easy to draw these facts into the game and give the player dilemmas and in-game problems to solve. There's nothing worse than a terrible backstory which gives you nothing to draw them into the story (the D&D starter sets are particularly guilty here).

When I'm playing in a campaign then, I make sure to write a good backstory, which gives my DM plenty to work with. Not sure how to create a good backstory? Here is the best place to start.

Know when to take the lead

When I DM, I love to see my players take the lead a little. When they go out of their way to chat to various NPCs or (even better) chat to each other in character. It shows me that they care about the story and the characters within it, that they want to try and gather more information about various plot threads - or just that they're having a good time playing the game!

A massive added bonus of when my players start chatting with each other in character is that it often gives me valuable breathing space to figure out what the heck I'm gonna do in response to whatever batshit crazy idea my players have just come up with.

When I'm playing in another DM's campaign, therefore, I always try and engage my fellow players in roleplay or discussions - to show the DM that I'm enjoying what they've created, and also to give them a bit of space to figure out what's coming next.

But also know when to sit back

As with anything though, there can be too much of a good thing! When I'm DMing I always try to be conscious of which of my players are engaging (or not) in the session. Sure, how much a player wants to engage will depend on a myriad of things: how much they enjoy roleplaying, how well they know the rest of the group, what kind of day they're having etc - so you can't expect all your players to engage or roleplay equally. That said, if there's one player who always wants to be the centre of attention, and others who have spent most of the session sitting silently, I see it as my role as DM to try to rebalance things a little.

As a player then, you don't always want to be the one to engage with the NPCs and drive the plot forwards. Sometimes you want to sit back and give others a time to shine. You might even be able to help the DM out a little by prompting other players who haven't been joining in so much. The rogue in your party been keeping quiet? Maybe suggest a plan which is gonna play to their strengths so they get a moment in the spotlight.

Sure, this will take a bit of sensitivity and experience in reading social cues - but the more you can make the game enjoyable for everyone, the more fun it will be for you as well. And the more fun it is for everyone, the more likely your DM is to keep running these sessions for you!


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