A Dungeon Master (DM) is a player who can orchestrate a campaign, able to control nearly every aspect of the game other than the other players. The role of a DM is traditionally supportive—acting as storyteller, advisor, or mediator—making the game more enjoyable and dynamic for the other players. Towards this goal, a DM can control and possess non-player characters, create objects, and otherwise manipulate the virtual reality in which the game is played. In one sense, the DM is near-omnipotent, but in another, the DM can do nothing significant without player characters to participate in the adventure. A successful DM is both master of the world and servant to the other players, to varying degrees.
A player becomes a DM by using the DM client instead of the standard client. This often requires a password, set by the host, as most people prefer to be selective as to who is entrusted with the powers possessed by a DM in their multiplayer games. Furthermore, not all game sessions require a DM, as many modules (including those of the official campaigns) are designed to be fully functional without a DM. On the other hand, multiple DMs are possible, and some of the larger and more complex adventures are directed by a team of DMs.
In pencil-and-paper, the DM is the head storyteller and ultimate authority, making anything happen simply by saying it is so. In Neverwinter Nights, this responsibility is split between the DM and the module builder (although often the same person fills both roles). The builder constructs areas, designs blueprints, and provides the scripts that make various aspects of the module work. The DM works within what the builder created, and manipulates the environment to accommodate players' desires and abilities. This can result in a much more traditional pencil-and-paper feel to the game.
The DM role can be whatever the player wants it to be. DMs can run a simple dungeon hack, but the tools at the DM's disposal are far more powerful and evocative than simply plopping down monsters and treasure.
DMs can interact with players on a one-to-one basis, to truly be the character the players are talking to. Through possessions of non-player characters, a DM can tell a tale of love lost, have a feared orc chieftain sheathe his sword in the midst of battle when he learns that it is his half-orc daughter who opposes him, and breathe life into everything. As the head storyteller, a DM can bring wit and emotion to the gameworld, enriching the roleplaying experience of the players. They can have a deep emotional impact on the players, filling the world with drama, and building mood and atmosphere in everything the DM does.
Alternatively, a DM could serve as a foil, manipulating the environment in ways that limit what players can accomplish. Obstacles can be placed that cannot be easily circumvented with the players' usual tactics. Opponents could employ strategies beyond what the AI can devise. Employed carefully, these powers bring a new challenge to experienced players. Used indiscriminately, these powers can make the DM appear to be a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood.
The powers of a DM are great, and so are the variances of how different people use them. A key to a successful DM is a matching of DM style to player wants, which often entails fairness and communication. A DM who makes the game rather unfun for other players will soon be left with no players, while successful DMs often have waiting lists of players eager to join their campaigns.
- Neverwinter Connections, a DM-player matching service
- Neverwinter Connections community guide to Dungeon Mastering @ NWVault
- Dungeon Master Friendly Initiative (DMFI), for DM tools, training, mod lists, and discussions