In D&D, the Dungeon Master or DM constructs a complex story and leads the willing fantasy party into the fray – without ever looking back (at least, not without a grand spell or two). But great DMs are rarer than a “nat 20” or perfect roll of a 20 sided die and they are always in high demand because they make their games (and teamwork) fun, fast-paced and full of adventure. Here are 8 best practices and leadership lessons from a few of the most interesting Dungeon Masters out there – all who will teach you how to be a better leader today.
1. Be Compassionate
One of the most recognizable traits in a great Dungeon Master (and leader) is the ability to read the room – to be compassionate about your team and your community. “The moment you place the Dungeon Master screen everyone opens up, handing over their imaginations along with all of their vulnerabilities,” explains Satine Phoenix, Community Manager for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast and Co-creator of Maze Arcana.
“You become responsible for guiding their cooperation to develop the story, walking the group through emotional storms and bringing everyone safely back into reality. You become their leader – learning less about control and more about compassion, patience and how to truly listen to those around you.” In short – you, as the leader, are ultimately responsible for the well-being of your team’s success – and that includes taking leadership feedback well and gently pushing your team members to their limits and beyond.
2. Be Assertive
On the other hand, being assertive is also an imperative skill to develop. “Not every solution will have an outcome that benefits every adventuring-party-teammate or company department. As the creative director of Critical Role’s digital content, playing this game has not only taught me to be much better and quicker at decision-making but to also be assertive as a leader,” notes Marisha Ray, D&D fan favorite and Creative Director for Critical Role, one of the most watched D&D shows on gaming platform Twitch as well as YouTube.
“If you are stalwart in your assessments with reasonable explanations, the respect for your leadership will follow. After all, just like a Dungeon Master, someone has to make the final call!” It’s easy to lead with a popular decision – much more difficult to enforce a decision that’s for the greater good but may be off-putting to one or more team members. Having a firm grasp of what is the right decision at that moment in time makes for a much stronger leader and a better-led team.
3. Be Weird
Personal branding and leadership can be intimately tied together – especially when that leader has a dash of weird or a unique selling point. “I’ve always found that my strength lies within strangeness. I am a mixture of glittery eccentricity, with a dash of unapologetic honesty and expressive loudness,” reveals Kelly Lynne D’Angelo, animation writer for TBS’ Final Space, Hasbro’s My Little Pony and American Indian D&D DM, “I love playing make-believe, whether that be in my comedy writing, musical theatre, animation, or Dungeons & Dragons. And as for leading, I allow those truths to carry me home. I’ve found that there’s confidence around every corner if you just believe in yourself.”
D’Angelo’s uniqueness has helped her excel in a variety of functions and industries and also learn to lead effectively – being different has strong advantages in the long run.
4. Be a Mirror
On occasion, the best tool to help your team learn is to be a mirror that reflects their desires – good or bad. Taliesin Jaffe, talented voice actor and cast member of wildly popular Critical Role says it best, “There’s a moment when your game transcends all the stats and notes you’ve prepared and veers at dangerously high speeds towards the unknown. The players mock your plans, ignore your subtle hints and instead unearth something far more interesting that was hiding within your story: a mythic reflection of everyone assembled that awaits a storyteller to give it a voice at the table.”
In layman’s terms – when your team ignores or pushes back against your direct leadership – let them lead “the game” or the strategy for a conservative amount of time. It may be very telling what your team truly wants to accomplish and what they only said they wanted to do.
5. Be Welcoming
Leaders so often hire and retain staff and teams who look, sound and think like themselves. However, there’s are incredible benefits in being more welcoming to a diverse team. “Most recently at Hyper RPG, we’ve taken a close look at how we can use that dialogue to share genuine stories from underrepresented groups of people,” begins Malika Lim, Chief Executive Officer of Hyper RPG, “As a Dungeon Master and a queer woman of color, I know how powerful a welcome seat at the table can be, especially to those who we don’t see frequently in traditional media.”
It’s not easy being a female DM (or a female leader) and D&D has started to whole-heartedly embrace diversity in a similar way to the onset of more welcoming action in the corporate world. Bringing in a fresh point of view can offset stale “yay-sayers” and push brands (and teams) further.
6. Be Trustworthy
If they don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. “If you are going to lead a group, you have to inspire them with your vision of where you are trying to take them,” points out B. Dave Walters, writer of Dungeons & Dragons: A Darkened Wish, professional DM, and streaming personality. “That’s storytelling. Storytelling is a sacred trust. If you can use that trust to guide them towards something great or show them something brand new, then your table and your appointment book will always be full.”
The more your team trusts your leadership abilities, the more willing they will be to follow you to the ends of the proverbial Earth. As Walters tied powerful storytelling to naturally creating trust, as a leader, you’ll need to make sure that the story you’re telling is worthy of that trust.
7. Be a Listener
While trust from your team is deeply essential, so is listening to them. “Being a game master, much like running a business, reminds us that the stories we tell are not our own,” says Rob Manuel, Content Strategist for Amazon Game Studios. “Our audience brings their own perceptions, desires, and experience to the table. Only when we work with our audience and respect their stories, can we create epic adventures (and brands) that stand the test of time.” So while having breathtakingly fun gameplay is important in D&D, a DM must always remember to listen to the players at his table. Similarly, leaders must find a way to move past their own opinions to hear other opinions that are present at the same table.
8. Be a Cooperative Guide
The very definition of a leader includes the idea of guiding a team – but how does one do that effectively? For this thought, let’s turn to the two experienced DMs and ex-Disney puppeteers, Danny Montooth and Art Vega of Perception Studio.
Danny: “Running a game of D&D is a great exercise in catering information and story to different styles of learning while also leading the party, or group of players, toward a common goal.”
Art: “Leadership in DM’ing is essential, and it’s more of a servant leadership role. You are not in charge of their adventure, you are their guide through it.”
Danny: “The cooperative storytelling that D&D is built upon can solidify camaraderie and teamwork between players each taking advantage of each other’s characters’ strengths, and compensating for each other’s weaknesses, in a positive and engaging manner.”
Their Twitch channel has a cult following based on the interactive nature of both their puppets and their shows. They take in sometimes brutally honest feedback and alter the way their games are run based on it.
Both being a strong Dungeon Master and being a strong leader, in general, takes many traits – the ability to listen, trust, cooperate, mirror, accept, be unique, be assertive and be compassionate. Most of these skills involve truly listening to and believing in your team – two ideas that are not often focused on when the word “leadership” is initially brought up.
This article origially appeared on forbes