Behind the Screen: Are Two DM’s better than one?

2007 September 9
by Dante

Lately we have been experimenting with two dungeon masters in our group. The benefits and difficulties that arise when running “dual-headed” are many, and I hope by outlining some of the experiences that we have had in our group that we can better prepare for others hoping to take the plunge.

Definition of Tasks is important

One of the most important steps that helps co-DMing work is the clear definition of tasks. In our group, we have had two experiences with co-DMing now and they have both taken the form of “one guy writes the sessions, the other guy runs the sessions.” This may not be the breakdown that you choose, however I highly recommend being extremely clear with who does what, and how to handle situations where liberties must be taken with details.

Preparation and communication is key

In both instances, we elected to arrive an hour and a half early for each of our sessions to prepare what we’d like to have happen for that night. During the week (we play on Fri or Sat most times), my co-DM and I would instant message each other with ideas and concerns, and we would generally have most of the plot details out in the open PRIOR to this 1.5 hour cram session.

Heavy communication and clear understanding of character motivations, plot progression, and the player experiences are key to making this partnership work. Often, we would have conversations outlining our thoughts on how everyone was responding to our campaign progress so far.

“They seemed disengaged, lets ramp up the battle this week. They’re eager to hear what happened to our NPC wizard, lets get them to plot point A by the end of tonight.”

Discussions like this led us to some very successful sessions.

There were some scenarios where the extra communication (or lack thereof) provided some difficulties. We use instant messaging to do “live” chatting about developments and plot points, and as previously mentioned this sometimes irritated our players because they felt that my focus was not on them when they were asking about events in the heat of battle. Also, there were a few instances where I just plain screwed up in my interpretation of the communicated plot, and we had a little conflict between the two of us as to how to proceed. This got resolved and everything continued smoothly, but trust me when I say that over communicating is better than under communicating in this space.

Leverage your ability to be in two places at once

One of the best things about having two DMs is the fact that you can literally be in two places at once. In fact, some of most exciting sessions were engineered in a fashion to allow us to divide the group and have our other DM take the split off group to some other location and run them through their scene while we would do the same. The suspense of not knowing what is going on in the other group, but knowing as a player that something IS going on in the other group is true roleplaying gold.

This setup also gives a very unique opportunity to have a fully fleshed out NPC in the other DM. Our last short campaign had Vanir as my co-DM and he also played an NPC character at the same time. He was able to use the extra focus that he could bring by knowing the plot to flesh out this NPC in a way that was enthralling, plus he had the time to commit to the character fully. This is sometimes difficult to do when acting as a single DM and is a major benefit to having an extra “man in the know.”

Two heads are better than one

In my experience, having a two DM setup is generally better than having to haul the whole world around by myself. I found gains in character development, plot development, and player enjoyment comes from the addition of a second DM. We are about ready to start the second act of our first experiment in co-DMing, I will provide further insight into our successes and difficulties as they progress.

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