Being a DungeonMaster is Like Being A Teacher

Thanks to Dante and the StupidRanger crew for letting us in on their big secret of how to write D&D posts.  When I’m accepting my ENnie someday, I’ll be sure to thank you!

As you all know, I’ve started DMing recently.  I’m even writing a series of posts about it.

You might not know that my daylight job is that of a teacher.  I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescent and Young Adulthood Music.  (Yep, it’s a mouthful.)   What does that mean?  I know a lot about teaching and learning.

The more I get into DMing, the more I’m seeing the parallels between the two jobs.   Let’s check those out!

A Teacher Knows Her Subject :
A DM Knows Her Game

A good teacher has extensive knowledge of her subject area.   If she is thrown into a class that she is not as knowledgeable in, she takes steps to increase her knowledge so she is able to teach her students.   For example, I was asked to teach Piano classes at my former school.   My only piano training was two years of basic piano required of a Music major.  I definitely did not consider myself to be a pianist.  I worked to increase my skills at piano and read up on piano teaching strategies so I was better able to reach my students.

A DM has extensive knowledge of the game.  (This is an area where I am lacking!)  In the absence of extensive knowledge, the DM has players who are able to help in double-checking rules and such.   However, I will admit that games run much smoother when the DM knows all!

A Teacher Preps For Lessons :
A DM Preps for Game Sessions

The word “prep” is tossed around frequently in the education world.   “Prep” the noun refers to a particular class – so for example, someone who teaches English 1, Honors English 1, and Journalism 1 would say that they have three preps.   They need to prepare lessons for three different classes.

In preparing for a lesson, a teacher knows it is best to over-prepare.  Always have more material than you can possibly go over in one class period.  This serves a couple purposes.    First, it takes the pressure off you if something comes up and you can’t prepare before class one day.  Second, if your students really latch on to the concept and master it quickly, you have material to be able to move on.

A DM may have multiple preps if he DMs more than one game.   DMs also know it is best to over-prepare in case the players move quickly through the encounters.   For some DMs, this means having a few extra encounters from further along in the adventure ready.   For others, it means having some improvised encounters that can give the PCs some trouble.

A Teacher Knows Her Students :
A DM Knows Her Players

A good teacher knows her students.   She knows the general vibe of each class, but also the things that motivate individual students.  She can divide her students up into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.  While John may understand the concept the first time he hears it, Sue may need to see a photo, diagram, or chart to fully understand.   A good teacher is prepared with many different ways to teach the same concept so she is able to reach every student.

A DM knows the players.   On a basic level, the DM knows the strength of the party and is able to create encounters that are neither too hard nor too easy.  Beyond the basics, a DM knows what motivates each party member.  Is the party more into roleplaying or hack-n-slash?  Will they pick up on a tiny clue in a room or do they need a neon-flashing-sign clue?  Is the party ranger the one who always runs headfirst into danger?  Does the warlord’s player need a little nudge to really step into that Leader role?

A Teacher Sets the Pace of the Classroom:
A DM Sets the Pace of the Game

The teacher sets the pace of the classroom by feeding off the cues given by her students.   She is able to assess each student, make corrections when necessary, give feedback and praise.  When she feels the students have mastered the concept, she moves on to a new one.   If the students are struggling, she finds ways to strengthen their weaknesses, pulling from her knowledge of the subject and her students.

A DM sets the pace of the game.  As the storyteller, the DM is able to create smooth paths or rocky roads.  If the PCs aren’t ready to face the dragon, the DM finds a way to divert them elsewhere or perhaps lets them preview what’s ahead and decide on their own that they are not ready!

A Teacher Reflects on Her Lessons :
A DM Reflects on Her Game

After each lesson, a good teacher reflects.   What parts of the lesson went well?  What parts were enjoyable to the students?  What teaching strategies were most effective?  What parts of the lesson did not go as planned or were not received well by the students?   What parts of this lesson plan need tweaking before the lesson is taught again?  Whether this reflection is written on paper or stored in the teacher’s mind, the reflection process is the most important step to being a good teacher.

A DM reflects on the game after it is complete.   What parts ran smoothly?  What did the players enjoy?  What encounters were the most balanced for the group?  What parts of the session did not go as planned?  Did the PCs do anything that was unplanned?  What parts of the session frustrated the PCs?  For the next session, what needs more (or better) prep?

In Front of the Board or Behind the Screen

In front of the board, the teacher knows her subject and her students.  She prepares for lessons using this knowledge, sets the pace and tone of her classroom, and reflects on each lesson when it is done.

Behind the screen, a good DM knows the game and the players.  She prepares for sessions using this knowledge, sets the pace and tone of the campaign, and reflects on each session when it is done.

Whether it’s the ABCs of reading or the hack-n-slash of a great battle, it’s comforting to know that there’s someone at the helm, steering you in the right direction.

About e

Since 2008, E. Foley of Geek’s Dream Girl has been helping geeks from around the world find love. She writes amazing online dating profiles for her fellow geeks and guides them through the perilous waters of the dating scene and out the other side. She's totally proud to report that she's even caused a couple geek weddings! She lives in Maryland with DaveTheGame, her adorable cats, Mr. Peanut & Don Juan, and Titania, Queen of the Cocker Spaniels. (Email e, or follow @geeksdreamgirl on Twitter.)

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