DMing and the Dao

This is a repost of an article I wrote a while ago on the forums. I never wrote the follow-up, but it was well-recieved and I like it. As such, it’s included here.

Besides, I may write the followup some day.


I was looking at one of my favorite sites, and I realized that it has some good DMing advice contained within.

And if any of you doubt it, well…

Ordinary people think the “Great Tao” is actually useless. That everyone thinks it is useless, is proof of how great it is. If it was the kind of thing ordinary people thought was useful, it would have disappeared long ago.

So, our first quote:

Heaven and Earth last and last. Why do they last so long? Because they are not self-serving!

Now, what may we take home from this?

Lesson #1: A Campaign is NOT All About You!

This is a pretty basic lesson, and most DMs here know about it already. It’s worth repeating endlessly, though: if you’re in it for your enjoyment alone, you should’t be DMing. A DM who makes a storyline for his own enjoyment and forces the characters through it exactly the way he wants isn’t a DM, he’s an auther — and a cruel one at that.

Which brings us to quote #2:

Living plants are flexible; in death, they become dry and brittle.

Therefore, stubborn people are disciples of death, but flexible people are disciples of life.

Lesson #2: Be Flexible

This is related to lesson number one, but is important enough to be its own. A game without flexibility is a game without fun. This is true of everything from plots to houserules: if you force a player to play with rules that they don’t like, they won’t have much fun at all. Likewise, if no one’s having fun with the current story, it may be time to think about a change of pace.

However, I’m not saying let the players walk all over you. Indeed…

The more regulations there are, the poorer the people; the more weapons there are, the greater the chaos.

Lesson #3: Be Flexible, But Don’t Be TOO Flexible

Now, I’m all for allowing things in a campaign. Even if it doesn’t fit, work with your player to find a way to adapt it. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should allow every mechanic into a game — some just shouldn’t be in there. I’m not going to list what I think they are, because nothing is more a matter of opinion over what’s broken and what isn’t, but I think everybody reading this thread has at least one thing in mind by now. I give you permission not to allow that in your games. 😛

Finally, the simplest and most important:

If you don’t trust people, people will not trust you.

Lesson #4: Trust Your Players

Normally this maxim is thrown around in Op vs. RP arguments, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Trust your players not to do things inappropriate to the game, and they’ll trust you not to ban things they bring or do outright. This goes back to lesson two, but again, it deserves its own. A game that lacks trust quickly becomes DM versus players — the players don’t trust the DM to play fairly and the DM doesn’t trust the players not to wreck his campaign.

And there you have it. I’m considering making a list for players, too — Lao Tzu had some good advice to those who say “I must have this in the game or I shall PERISH!” If this gets a good reception, look for it over on the “What’s a Player to Do?” boards soon!

Published in: on October 15, 2006 at 12:04 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well said– they are the lessons we’ve learned and repeat. We repeat them because they’re so easy to forget or loose in the heat of passion.

  2. […] A little while back, TT reader and frequent commenter tsuyoshikentsu wrote an article about useful GMing lessons that can be learned from the Dao (or Tao): DMing and the Dao. […]

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