Q&A with a Dungeon Master
Ever wondered how a real tabletop role-playing game rules expert goes about running his games? Do you think there is a rite of passage to become a great game master? From the outside, looking in, the role of GM (or DM if you play Dungeons & Dragons) can seem like the most complicated pastime ever. Fortunately, it becomes a lot simpler once you start and, to be frank, we've all been beginners at something before. As intimidating as it might seem, the only way to learn is by doing, even though some days will be more glorious than others. You keep going, you have fun and that is how great stories are told!
This month, I sit down with Daniel Coolen, a very experienced Dungeon Master who runs games in the real world and is also the instigator and moderator of an active online community: The Harp & Hearth Tavern.
Hello Daniel! how long have you been a DM?
I have been a Dungeon Master off and on since I was 12, so about 28 years.
Do you remember how it all started for you?
Yes, my father was invited to play 1st Edition with some of his friends and had so much fun, that he bought me the Advanced Dungeon and Dragons 2nd Edition Handbook, when I was 12. I ran a game for my friends that summer.
What is you favourite aspect of running a tabletop role-playing game?
What I really like is how you get to create a narrative and make this collaborative story together. I really enjoy engaging my players and having fun.
Do you find it difficult to explain pen & paper role-playing to newcomers?
Not at all. It was harder in the past, but now you have a lot of pop culture references to use as examples, such as The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and even Stranger Things.
Do you prefer running home-brew campaigns or published adventures?
I prefer running my home-brew game because I remember it a lot better. I honestly get a bit nervous reading a published adventure because I worry I’m forgetting an important plot point.
I understand you also run games online, which tools do you use?
Yes, I have created an online community on Discord. It started off as me teaching new players to play online and then grew from there. Many of the players in my community have even started DM’ing themselves for the community. Getting back to your question, we use Discord and a Dice Bot called Avrae in conjunction with D&D Beyond. Some of our DM’s have used Roll 20 as well, which is a great tabletop simulator.
Besides the social aspect of sessions in real life, what other qualities of the game do you enjoy most?
I like being able to come up with a problem or obstacle and see how my players overcome it. Not all obstacles can be overcome with brute force.
Do you ever wish you could take a breather and play a character?
I do, and now that some of my players are DM’ing, I get to. The nice thing about being a DM, is you get to take all those fun character ideas and make them into NPC’s.
Any words of advice to somehow who is on the threshold, looking in and wondering if they should come into this new world?
Absolutely, come join in the fun. Find out what format works best for you. Online vs Offline. There is a really great online TTRPG community and they are very friendly and accommodating.
Do you have a favourite set of dice?
I do! I have a set of purple and gold Kraken Dice that I adore.
Does the road really ever go on?
Haha, usually there is a destination. A good DM will be able to circle the players back to the plot point without railroading their players to badly if they go in an unexpected direction.
Anything you would like to add?
As a new player, I would say just have fun. There is no wrong way to make a character. You are only limited by your imagination. I will also watch for red flags at a table, to avoid playing in a toxic game or with a bad DM.
Thanks for your time, Daniel. It was great to hear your thoughts on running & playing tabletop role-playing games!
That's all for this time! Until the next one, be well and remember: why you play is more important than what you play!