For me, one of the most fascinating things about Tabletop RPGs, particularly of the Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder variety, is how ultimately different, unique, and diverse the games can be from table to table. There are a million ways to run and play an RPG, and most of them can be successful. There is no right or wrong way to approach the game (sort of), because, in the end, whatever works best for each group is “the right way”.
That is what makes these games so dynamic and exciting.
I’ve been DMing now for just shy of 37 years and almost from the start I have viewed the games I run as collaborative storytelling adventures. I’ve just never been a fan of adversarial DMing. I used to use the analogy of my games being like a novel, but it’s really more like a television series.
I view my job as being the campaign’s showrunner, director, and lead writer, with the players taking on the roles of co-writers and lead actors. I have the task of intuiting the characters’ desires and work that into my vision, my story, while remaining flexible enough to alter course at a moment’s notice.
Of late, we have been transitioning from massively world-shattering, epic campaigns to more modular stories. Think Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber as opposed to J.R.R. Tolkien. Our group gathers once or twice a month, so this new way of approaching the game affords a more visceral and immediate means of telling a story, usually within a single session.
Not that I don’t run overarching subplots… they’re my bread and butter, after all. I have always tended toward the George R. R. Martin, Tolkien-esque melodrama, intricately plotted campaigns, but a good DM adapts to the players and situations at hand, and these smaller stories set against a bigger world is what serves us now.
And that is the biggest key to being a successful DM, the sort that keeps players invested and campaigns alive for years on end — adaptability.
Look, the name of the game is having a good time. Whatever works, right? A DM cannot be rigid and inflexible. They have to address the game as a whole, being the crucible by which the rules, players, venue, and situation come together, creating an epic game night, time and time again.
But like I said, there are a million ways to run and play an RPG and that’s the beauty of it.