30 Best DM
I’ve been lucky enough to have two ‘best’ DMs who show equally how different DMing styles can still make for a great game. Fred was my first long-term DM back in the early 90s, and was a technically brilliant game master. He knew every rule, had the adventure set in his head, and gave us a mathematical breakdown of the chances for every action we proposed. He was so good that I thought D&D a perfectly balanced and coherent system, until the 2000s when I went back and read my old RC to find it was a bit creaky in places. If Fred had any failing, it was that the gameworld as such was just a backdrop for the characters and the dungeon. Towns were nameless as were most NPCs, and served only to give us a place to procure or sell items and stash our booty. I am not sure if any of my characters even had names.
It was the 90’s, and we had no clue what we were missing. I knew lots of groups like us.
Last year I played a few sessions in Justin’s Vaults of Ur, and his style is almost the antithesis of Fred’s. Justin’s gameworld is rich and alive, every character has a name, and the actions of the PCs have repercussions on the web of power relations between groups in Fort Low, the Ruins and the Hive. On the rules side, Justin hand waves, or seeks input from players, or allows votes on houserules. He has also gone through a few rulesets for the same game – from a modded Labyrinth Lord when I played, to Stars Without Number by the latest reports. Justin’s DMing style immerses the players in his world – although I jumped in mid-campaign, I learned the party was intent on traveling to Orc Heaven to rescue the soul of their comrade-at-arms, Ripper. Since I had rolled up an orc, I immediately proposed my character as Ripper’s little brother, Digger, and joined the adventure (which inspired the art that graces this blog).
And I think that is what the OSR gives us (or rather asks of us) – to replay these old games, but add in the life experience and depth we missed when we were young. If you want to become someone’s best DM, know the rules without being a slave to them, and immerse them in a world grown from the seeds of your own imagination and experience.