There are many men my age who worry about what life will be like once children enter the picture. They fret over whether they will be able to raise them properly, whether they will be able to provide for them and support them, on how they should interact with them, and a multitude of other concerns.
I have no such weight on my shoulders. Though I have no offspring I have a glut of experience with parenting. I practice it weekly in fact. You see, I am a Dungeon Master.
This isn’t to say that I see my players as whiney, needy children, though they do have their moments. Rather it is the act of administrating and running a game which is very analogous to parenting, not merely in the need to keep things organized and running smoothly, but in the mindset behind it.
A parent so desperately wishes all the best for their children, for them to live a rich and fulfilling life, complete with all the dreams mommy or daddy has for them. For a time this desire to mold and control is both effective and needed, when the child is young. It is the same with a new player. Like toddlers you have to guide them and feed them as they lack their capacity to do it naturally. They don’t yet understand the rules or how to act in these new situations.
However this time does pass and, as with children, it becomes the parent’s job to gradually let go, to allow their children to be who they are, and become who they desire themselves to be. They must be given the freedom to explore and grow, and not confined by your narrow view of how things ought to be.
As a DM this mindset is crucial, in order for your players to feel a sense of involvement, of immersion, they must be given the freedom to completely wreck everything you have painstakingly planned out for them. You must let go.
When I was a younger ‘parent’ I would often spend weeks and weeks developing a campaign, with fully fleshed out NPCs, an intricate and engaging story, a lush and immersive setting. I confidently strode to the table ready to take my ‘children’ through one of the best stories they had ever experienced. I had such high hopes and goals for them, knowing they would appreciate all my hard work and would praise me for how well I had led them through the adventure.
After two hours my favorite NPC was dead, the mansion I had envisioned as their headquarters and had hand drawn accurately to scale burned down, and the party was sitting in a bar, miles away from the famed “Jewel of Nightrend.” I was furious. “Don’t you know how hard I worked? You screwed everything up! What is wrong with you? This isn’t how I taught you to play the game!”
It took some time for us to be reconciled after that, and some wisdom imparted to me to realize that trying to get one person to bend to the desires of four was much easier than four bending to one. I realized that my role wasn’t to tell the players what they should be doing, to force them through what I thought was best for them, but was instead to provide them the freedom to be their characters in a world worthy of their efforts.
I realized that the more I tried to force them to play the way I thought was best the more they would fight against me and, ultimately, our relationship would disintegrate. I had to let go and simply let them be.
About the Author
Sir Andrew of the Strong Arm, not known by this name to anyone, combines his passion for adventure, theatricality and education to offer an out of the box view on just about everything. He was once quoted as saying ‘I don’t even know what the box is’ as he wandered away with a confused look on his face.
Andrew lives in Colorado Springs where he divides his time between educating the next generation and devolving the current one. He best enjoys Fantasy settings when around the table and is currently running Pathfinder. Outside of gaming he also dabbles in voice acting, music and video production. Much of his “work” can be found on his YouTube channel, layered amidst his ramblings on gaming topics and videos of his tabletop group LARPing Monty Python.
For more from Andrew, check out the Dawnforged Entertainment channel on YouTube!