How to move from DM to Player Character…

2008 August 6
by Dante

This past weekend marked our triumphant return to D&D! This time, however, our sessions are being run by the other husband and wife pair in our group which finds me in a role I haven’t played for a long time: that of a player. This is how I made the adjustment!

It’s not all about you… well, ok, maybe it is.

One of the lures of being a Dungeon Master is the fact that you, for better or worse, get to be the center of attention. Many people don’t like playing the role of a PC after they have run the game for awhile, as the extra attention tends to feed into a very critical part of our nerdly personalities that yearn to be “The Cool Kid.”

Luckily, this was not my case this time around. My co-DM and I were lamenting that we were very close to the point of burn-out by the time our last campaign ended and he was right. We took a much needed break, nearly a month, before we even considered gaming again.

Now that I’m in “player mode” it dawns on me that while you’re not the center of attention as a player character, your actions tend to be a lot more relevant to the dynamics of the rest of the group. As I have reflected here in the past, the players hold a great deal of power over the DM to craft the story and change the course of events. To me, that is some pretty satisfying stuff.

The time is NOW to roleplay!

To steal a quote from one of my favorite Simpsons episodes (bonus points if you can figure out which one): “The mind is always chattering away with a thousand thoughts at once.” This is the state of the Dungeon Master. When I played, I was generally more focused on servicing the needs of my players and my plot than I was on actual meaningful roleplaying. There is a lot to track in an average session, and this load is dramatically reduced when you only get to worry about one character.

This is one of the obvious, yet great things about being a player character again… you get to roleplay! Not to say I didn’t do this for my NPCs, but I really like having a tangible backstory for my character and the breadth to grow his personality through his actions. I have a sense for where I want my player to progress, what is going on inside his head, and an idea of his motivations.

It could be argued that this is a function of being the DM for so long is that I’ve gotten good at quickly having a spec sheet on how my NPCs would act, and now I just get to execute this approach on a more grand scale. Regardless of how this cropped up, it is very satisfying to get to join Vanir on all of his crazy exploits.

Don’t stress so much, you’ll live longer!

The lack of direct attention and the relative simplicity of managing only one character seems to make a large difference in the amount of stress you have to manage as a player. Granted, things will still try to kill you, but you don’t have to look up 7 stat blocks for monsters while Vanir is busy crafting some event that will render the last half of your session completely invalid. You get to show up, roll dice, and have fun.

The fun you get to experience as DM is a little more high pressure. As a player, kicking back and enjoying the ride is key! If you acknowledge that your focus can shift internally a bit and now you can get back to serious roleplaying for theh sake of having fun, you’ll find the transition from DM to player a very satisfying journey!

4 Responses leave one →
  1. madbrewlabs permalink
    August 6, 2008

    How I yearn to only be a player.

    In my group, we only truly have two DMs, myself being one of them. A couple of other players have tried to run games, but they never lasted more than 3-5 sessions, because no one wants the responsibility.

    So whenever the other DM and I have an opportunity to play, we jump on it. Thank god for GenCon & the RPGA! While I love the creativity involved in world-buidling, I can (as you did) begin to burn out. Sometimes I really just want to be concerned only with my character.

    Both positions have appealing qualities, and I like sharing time under both titles.

    Oh yeah, you were quoting The Coyote (voiced by the man in black, Johnny Cash) in the episode, "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer." I loved watching Homer trip on the hallucinogenic Guatemalan peppers.

  2. ChattyDM permalink
    August 6, 2008

    To be perfectly honest, I forgot how to be a player.

    In my 25 years as a DM, I must have played as a player less than 10%.

    I am not comfortable as a player and I chaff at the perceived restraints. That’s why I took so many GMing duties at Gen Con

    Plus, I’m an attention whore… as my readers will attest to.

  3. Bartoneus permalink
    August 8, 2008

    Oh man, now I’m trying to brainstorm some way of duping Phil into playing in a game Dave or I can DM for him. 😛

    I personally love being both a player and a DM. I’d say so far in my gaming history I’ve played 80% and been a DM 20% of the time, but that number is slowly becoming more even with my current game (hopefully running all the way up to level 30) and not being a player in any other games at the moment.

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