Matt Mercer hosts Critical Role on YouTube, one of the many D&D online channels that have helped propel the game’s popularity into the stratosphere, and is arguably one of the best DMs around. A trained voice actor, he has a wonderful storytelling ability and excels at immersive and engaging story telling. And for the rest of us mere mortals, that can be a little bit of a problem.
I don’t get the chance to play that much, but when I do I like to observe how other DMs run their games. As one would expect, there are differences in style, the way some rules are interpreted, the way people manage their players. Some are good, some are average. Some are appalling. One aspect that shows up more often or not, however, is DMs trying to be Matt Mercer.
Now, I have the utmost respect for Mr Mercer, but the fact that he is so good makes it difficult for most DMs to measure up. Many DMs just don’t have the range and acting chops that he does, and sometimes it comes across like they’re trying too hard to be like him. Here are a few things DMs need to realise (especially beginners).
1. You don’t have to be Matt Mercer to be a good DM. Just be yourself and establish your own style.
2. Matt Mercer is a trained actor. He also does a LOT of preparation for each session you see. And while he was previously an unpaid DM, now he is employed to do that job. Many of us mortals have full time day jobs or are full time students or have full time family responsibilities. Remember you can still be a good DM, but you need to be aware of your own limits.
3. Long, drawn-out Matt Mercer-style descriptions during combat can be great and really bring combat to life, but they do slow combat down (which can be a long and sometime frustrating process to start with if you have a lot of players at the table). Include your players—let them take part in describing the scene. If you do everything it seems like the game’s more about you being the centre of attention than them.
4. If you want to be an evocative DM, don’t forget to learn how to narrate the non-combat scenes. This is an area that some DMs appear to struggle with.
5. You don’t have to do accents if you’re not good at them. Focus on telling a good story, and involve your players. Evoke the scene with interesting descriptions. Play to your strengths.
6. You shouldn’t focus on jokes if you’re not good at them. If they fall flat every time, it’s generally a sign. Adventures with a serious tone can be fun, too. And if you’re not a funny DM, your players will fill in the humour gaps.
Yes, Matt Mercer is great, and he has a wonderful style. But be aware you aren’t him. You can always learn from him, but be yourself and you and your players will still find the game rewarding.
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