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What Does It Take To Be A Balanced DM

“Don’t take this way, don’t take that way, straight down the middle until next Thursday, Push to the left, back to the right, Twist and turn ’til you’ve got it right”

This is one of the lines from my all time favorite band – Depeche Mode (another type of DM). In the song, they focus on balance in one’s life.

It’s not much different when it comes to DMing not just in your home campaign, but also at your store games and DMing at conventions.

Whatever version of Dungeons and Dragons you are playing, it’s key to be balanced when challenging your players and when story telling. You need to know your players and gauge their play styles, since this will determine how successful your game will be. Are they power gamers or hack and slash, are they actors, story tellers, or something in between (DMG page 34)? Next, you need to determine the best way to keep them involved during your campaign. Let us take a look at several areas where balance can help keep the game fun and interesting for everyone.

Balance During Battles

It can be relatively easy to be balanced during combat, usually everyone has something to do. Yet, there are times when keeping everyone involved can present a challenge. For example, during my home campaign, the Human Barbarian ran through the tunnel taking down one Lizardfolk after another, while the Halfling Bard stood in the background just hoping for a chance to throw a javelin. By the time she was able to do so, there weren’t any monsters left for her to engage. The point is, when players regularly do not get the opportunity to be a part of the battle, it can be discouraging and leave them feeling unfulfilled and bored. Whenever possible, ensure everyone has a hand, or weapon, in combat.

Another part of combat is the challenge level. One of my supervisors used to tell us: “I’ll never hang you. But I’ll give you just enough rope to do it yourself.” This means that the decisions we make decide our future success or failure. You do not want to overwhelm your players by making it impossible to overcome their situation. It needs to be challenging, even extremely tough at times, but not impossible for them to achieve victory. Unless it’s part of your overall scheme, do not try  to achieve a TPK (Total Party Kill). It’s our job as a DM to make it fun, interesting, and challenging, not to just simply kill them off. However, if they happen to get themselves killed, that’s whole other matter.

Balance When Role Playing

Role playing can be fun, it adds flavor and flare to your game, and it’s a fundamental part of Dungeons and Dragons. Heck, it is even in the name RPG (Role Playing Game)! The fact is, role-playing is intrinsic for a successful adventure. However, it can also be tedious and overbearing if they go for long periods without combat or some sort of challenge, like facing an ominous trap. Your players can start to lose interest and their attention will wane. I have had instances where they start playing on their phones, or messing around on their tablets; at one point, they have even started reading comic books right there at the table! This happened simply because I was solely focused on one or two players for an extended period of time. At first I was upset and offended! To me, they were being rude and thoughtless for tuning out, since, after all, I put a lot of time and effort into this adventure! Then it occurred to me, it was I who needed to make it more interesting and get all of them more involved. Again, as DM, everyone’s involvement is your responsibility.

Balance With Time

Being on time is one of my pet peeves; whether it is me, my family and I, or what I expect of others. So, if you have a set time for your game, do your utmost to stick to it. Believe it or not most of us have lives outside gaming such as families, jobs, school, etc.; shocking I know! Therefore, setting a specific time can help your players arrange their schedules to make it to your game. Being balanced with time also includes being understanding with your players. In regards to the said non-gaming life activities, since they generally are of greater importance, try not to berate your players for being late. My players are pretty good about being considerate and communicating regularly if they’re going to be late. If I know one or two players are going to be late, I’ll try and wait. However, if they are going to be later than is acceptable, for whatever reason, I will go-ahead and start without them for the sake of the other players who were on time. Additionally, if there is a player who is habitually late, you will have to decide how to address that situation depending on the circumstances.

Balance With Individuals

This can prove to be one of the most challenging aspects in being a balanced Dungeon Master. Different people have different personalities, each with different ways they things should be done in the game, after all one person’s perspective is their reality. There are those those who like to take charge, and there are those who are passive or quiet. Try and get everyone involved some how, and make sure everyone has an active part. Don’t let “Rules Lawyers” bog the game down with unnecessary semantics. Make a ruling, then stick to it, then if need be discuss it at another time. If a person is quiet, ask them questions on how they’d like to see something accomplished or if they have an idea they’d like to try in the game. Most of all, be persistent, patient, considerate, and consistent in your efforts.

Be Flexible

If you are a player reading this article, keep this particular point in mind regarding your DM

Avoid unnecessary distractions. At someone’s home it can be the most difficult since there is an air of comfortability. If you’re playing at a store or larger arena, you may see people you know, even ones you haven’t seen in awhile. Remember, your DM is a volunteer, they do not get paid to run these games/events. They have taken time out of their busy lives to prepare for your enjoyment. They may even have used money out of their own pocket or taken time away from their families. So please be considerate, appreciative, and respectful… and as much as possible be on time.

Remember, you’re the DM and your word should be law. However, remember these are your friends and fellow gamers. Don’t be regimented or stiff in your rulings. Instead, try being open minded to suggestions; they may have an idea that could be valuable or something they’d just like to try for fun. From time to time, if it’s reasonable and as long as it doesn’t hinder the game or hurt other PCs (too much), let them try it out. On one occasion in my 4e home campaign, the party wanted to leave The Seven Pillared Hall and head back to the town whence they came. I was mortified! They actually wanted to leave the dungeon and go back before continuing. Absolute madness I tell you! It was a two week trek in game time, back to the town. How inconvenient, it was putting a large kink into the plan that I had prepared for two weeks in advance! How dare they! Yet, I was intrigued and therefore acquiesced. In short, I had to make up something on the fly and it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences in any of my campaigns. As you can see, being balanced, as well as flexible, can have a rich reward!

“Be responsible, respectable, stable but gullible. Concerned and caring, help the helpless But always remain ultimately selfish”. This is another line from the same song mentioned at the outset. It drives home the point of being balanced in life. We hear this time and time again: “The most important thing is to have fun”. The rules are guidelines, not absolutes. Try to stick to them as much as possible, since they are fantastic and sensible guidelines. It may take some time to become balanced, so don’t get discouraged. Instead, keep at it, learn, and be persistent. Eventually you’ll get the balance right!

Timothy Adams
Travel here

Timothy Adams

VP and Chief Product Officer at Geek Corps. Productions
Geek Corps Productions is the brain child of Carlos Alvarez and Timothy Adams.Between the two of them they have over fifty years of role playing experience.They have been friends since 1975 and have been role playing & gaming since 1978.They both cut their role playing teeth with Basic Dungeons and Dragons™.From there they have played various gaming systems.

Starting in 2011 they created Geek Corps Productions and since then they have been working on different ideas.While ideas seem to be a dime a dozen between them, most were not feasible.They continue to refine their ideas and have focused on original role playing content.
Timothy Adams
Travel here

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Author: Timothy Adams

Geek Corps Productions is the brain child of Carlos Alvarez and Timothy Adams. Between the two of them they have over fifty years of role playing experience. They have been friends since 1975 and have been role playing & gaming since 1978. They both cut their role playing teeth with Basic Dungeons and Dragons™. From there they have played various gaming systems. Starting in 2011 they created Geek Corps Productions and since then they have been working on different ideas. While ideas seem to be a dime a dozen between them, most were not feasible. They continue to refine their ideas and have focused on original role playing content.

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