“That’s it, you’re fired!” I scream at a poorly behaving d20 as I throw it against the back of my DM screen in a fit of total disgust. It has rolled three critical fumbles in this combat, and my players are giddy at how poorly my monsters have been faring. ”It’s just you and me now, day-glo orange die! May you roll true and leave the heroes bleeding in your wake.”
Some DMs fudge the numbers. Some DMs like to be the quiet rules arbiter. I like to flail about like a mad man.
Most DMs use drama as an effective tool for story telling, but what about its use in managing your game table? A DM with the right personality can help set the in-game mood of the table by setting to out-of-game mood as well.
I enjoy casting myself as the opponent of my players. I am not their enemy – I am just another player who has a different set of goals. Of course this is not really true – everyone has the same goal of telling a good story and having a good time – but I work hard to foster an image of the DM as a friendly adversary. I cheer when I roll a critical hit. I smile deviously and chuckle right before I announce that the party barbarian has stepped on a trap. When my dice begin to roll poorly, I curse them out and eject them from the table. I play the villain, handlebar mustache and all.
All of this said, I also use drama to soften the blow of potentially horrible experiences for the players. When I start rolling too well, I will look up apologetically from behind my screen and sheepishly announce that the dragon has scored another critical hit. I might tell the players to cross their fingers in the hopes that my trap will roll low for damage this round. I will call for a drum roll at the table when a player needs to make a life-or-death saving throw. I do not stop bad things from happening, but I can at least soften the blow when it occurs.
Together, all of this makes my table a loud one. The players will cheer when I mumble and curse that this was supposed to be a hard encounter. They laugh when I “fire” yet another die. They also gasp when I announce the damage done by a Brute in combat, and they lament I get giddy because another trap has been sprung. Playing up the drama makes the table more alive, and it is a technique that finds appreciation with both new players and seasoned veterans.
How do you use drama at the table? What do you do to draw the players into the game?