Today we’re trying to step into a Game Master’s shoes. I’ll ask Diona, an experienced GM, The Mistress of the Props, with millions of creative ideas per minute, how this profession works, and what’s the fun in making a bunch of (oftentimes) strangers squee-ing and bouncing. How does being a GM relate to being a leader? Why does Diona purr? And how playing DnD can slow the aging process? Dive into the lecture and find it all out!
Kharie: What does being a GM mean for you? Something you live on? Or maybe something you live for? What role does it play in your life?
Diona: The role of DnD in my life is huge. All my social life revolves around it, all my friends are involved, and a lot of them are my players (either started because they are a friend or because they played at my table). I don’t think I would ever want to become a professional GM, this is my hobby and as such, I can ‘select’ my players, say no when I don’t want something and the choice and decision lies with me, always. If I would do it for my job I would have to get involved with paying customers and answer to their demands.
Kharie: As I’ve mentioned before, being a GM connects strictly to being a leader, doesn’t it? You need to gather a whole group of people around you, bond them with a mutual cause, weave a story and take this kind of responsibility for their fun and satisfaction. That’s big! And, most importantly – you LEAD. All the time. I don’t think there’re many so engaging occupations, honestly.
Diona: Yes it is, but it should not feel that way, because again: the GM should also have fun. So yes, that is what I do and take on but it does not feel big or heavy. When it starts feeling like that I know I need to find another hobby. Then again, I have always been that kind of person, organising parties, doing volunteer work. When I started LARP I became involved in the organisation within months. I do not think all GM’s need to be like me and ‘devote their life’ to DnD, this is just the way I enjoy and do it. There are different types of players and different types of GM’s.
Kharie: Speaking of the preparations… What about diversifying the sessions? You’ve mentioned recently on our Props&Beyond Discord about the puzzle your players had fun with. Could you tell me how you came up with that idea and how you’ve weaved this puzzle into the story (the Tome one)?
Diona: When I start making a story I either start with the question ‘what if’, or with something that demands me to use it. That “demanding thing” doesn’t have to be a major part, but it has to be in there so the story-creation starts with that. The Tome made the demand, though the earlier demand was made by the hand-eye prop. My first question for the Tome was ‘who would have used a locked book, and what would they use it for?’ It turned out to be a storage for important scrolls, and from there on the story-ball rolled on into the shadowfell.
Kharie: If the props are useful when you build and develop your adventures? In what way?
Diona: I love using props, because I love making things ‘real’. Some years ago I was a great promoter of the ‘theatre of the mind’ kind of game, but during the demos, I discovered that a lot of people have a hard time theatre-ing a room that is just described. So when I got my 3d printer I printed some furniture, floors, and walls, and did a demo with a real room and real furniture and all of a sudden the bookcase was dragged through to the room to block the door, the chair was thrown at the orc, and so on. So I use a lot of 3d terrain and ‘things’ because it really improves the game. I still do theatre of the mind and have the grid and markers, but I look a bit more to ‘what would help this encounter?’.
Kharie: Yes, sometimes it’s really difficult to accommodate, to memorise all those ideas and scenes in your head and remember it at the same time to figure out what you’re going to do later. So it’s great you arrange some materials!
Diona: The props are great for that too, having a little card or note with the magic item is nice but gets overlooked. Having the actual thing in front of you helps a player remember that they have this item they can use.
Kharie: What else do you do to make your sessions even more interesting and atmospheric? Is there music at place when you’re playing? Any other tricks?
Diona: I am not very good at creating a mood in the game room, I tried something with lighting (I have color-changing lights with a remote above the table) but players can’t read their sheets anymore. I do have a huge tv on the wall next to the table and I used that for small clips to introduce some plot, which was nice. I am looking into getting a soundboard, because I do have a sound clip that is extremely disturbing and it haunts one party in their nightmares and that is awesome.
Kharie: [laughs] I got your point!
Diona: The props are very useful for me when I think up stories because they give me also a ‘real thing’ to touch and think about and it helps the creativity get started.
Kharie: I’m just curious – what are you going to use those Mines of Maznar tracks for? I assume it’s about mines of course, but maybe you could share something specific? Unless it’s a secret!
Diona: It is no secret at all: I have a homebrew airship campaign + setting, and the players are in the region where the dwarves live. They have visited a mine where there were rails and carts, found dead dwarves, and killed some monsters. They are obviously going to visit more mines because those are all over the place and things are happening, so these rails and carts are a great addition to the table-stash. I am going to print a bunch and one of the players is going to help paint it all. My players all know (all 3 campaigns) that I have these now, so they are all expecting at least one mine-cart Indiana Jones-like adventure dungeon now. Which I will definitely provide because it is fun to do.
Kharie: I have one last question. Quite deep but I think it matters. You’ve mentioned that playing and being a GM is very important for you. I wanted to ask – has it changed you somehow? What’s the best thing you take from playing for yourself and what playing can give to others?
Diona: Being a GM is important to me because I get to make some kind of friendship commitment with people I care about, and that commitment will last (because we have the adventure that keeps going on), and we meet each other because of it. There is no real pressure or ‘this must be done’ and it is all for fun, but still there is this commitment that the group makes (and the GM is part of that group). I think as adults you rarely have the chance to do that. Children in the school playground do it often; they have a certain commitment to their friendships that adults tend to forget because work, family, and adult-life demands so much energy and attention.
Kharie: Sometimes I feel that as adults we’re somehow stripped of our primal right to play. Like, hello, you’re 18, grow up and stop messing around. Whereas that’s what we all are – the playful creatures. And I think we all need it to grow and to be happy. It’s never been only about financial stability and getting by.
Diona: Playing DnD brought that in a way back into my life, and I really value that. As a GM I get to be able to facilitate that for others too. It has definitely changed me, I learned so much about my own value through players letting me know how much they love being together with friends more often, and me being the one who made it possible because I have skills I took for granted, or even considered not relevant.
Kharie: Yes! I agree that we really need those bonds and games! As you’ve mentioned, playing DnD allows us to meet each other in totally different, new circumstances. To bring some magic into reality. To see each other from a different point of view. And I think it’s priceless. Thank you for passing it on!
Diona: Thank you for allowing me to write this all to you!