Except my wife, our first guest DM is probably the person with whom I have spend the most gaming time. He’s the player behind Mikau the Unwitting and Hadarai and the DM behind The Gods are Dead, Long Live the Gods, which I’ve called the Post-Ragnarok campaign a few times on here. He DMs with high amounts of preparation, research, and numerical game balance, and he’s opted to talk about that today:
Today, I’ll be filling in for your normal DM who runs with Charisma to bring you a different perspective and approach on things. I am a DM who runs with Intelligence, which now that I say that out-loud, makes me seem far more pompous and arrogant than I had intended. I guess it’s because I’m implying that DMing with any other stat makes you non-Intelligent, which certainly isn’t the case. Wow, that’s a bit of a loaded word there, then.
I’ve played with your normal DM, on both sides of the table, for over 10 years (my, how time flies), so I’d like to think that we have a good understanding of how each other works. The first conversation I remember having with him was commenting that I was the only “good” (as in alignment) character in the party. He interpreted that as “good” (as in overall quality), and so we’ve been friends ever since. I am also a consistent patron and victim of the Wrath List Wrath List. I started to DM after meeting your normal DM, so my style is heavily influenced by what he did and has done, as well as by certain campaigns that we have mutually suffered through as players.
Anyway, your normal DM did previously talk about DMing with Intelligence a little, but that was almost 4 years ago, so it never hurts to refresh.
He stated that:
Intelligence-based DMs are a step or two more comfortable with the hardest parts of the game. They treat a campaign as a thing to be built by one person more than a thing to be generated by a group, and they stick much closer to official rules and mathematical integrity than Wisdom-based DMs. It’s easy to think of them as uptight and distant, but my Int-based DMs always have a startling amount of internal story consistency, and they make sure that the gameplay is as fair as possible. Intelligence DMs treat the story as the most important thing; bad ones crush player opinion for the sake of the plot, but good ones integrate the players so they’re as involved as the DM is.
Your normal DM is, honestly, one of the smartest people I know, so I think an important thing to do, right off the bat, is to divorce the idea that DMing with Intelligence is about being smart or about actually being intelligent; DMing with Intelligence is about . . . I want to say it’s about the Plan, but I believe that most DMs have some sort of plan, and sometimes I have less of a plan than I let on (a fact that I’m sure does not in any way surprise your normal DM), so that isn’t strictly the difference, either. Everything I think of could be applied to DMing with other stats, so instead, I’ll describe what I do.
For me and how I approach the game, it’s about the details. I always build my world from scratch, because honestly, for me, world-building is the most fun part. I am a Simulationist first (I don’t know whether or to what extent that trait overlaps with my style of DMing), and so I want the players to feel as though they’re in a real place, I want everything to make sense and I want the players to be able to believe that everything is realistically connected to everything else, such that their actions matter and the world responds accordingly when they, say, blow up an important guard tower and its surrounding city wall. To me, the best thing is for my players to approach the world with the knowledge that it doesn’t revolve around them, that it will continue to exist and change (in general) regardless of whether they exist, but that it still does change because of them. There’s a reason that I like Majora’s Mask so much.
I’m at my best when I’ve made plans upon plans, both for the session and the setting, and at my worst when I just wing it. I am the kind of DM who made a small community of less than 100 people, and then used various tables to identify and stat out (loosely) every person in the village (and their relationships to each other), and then spent hours researching era-relevant population-to-acreage ratios so that the community was surrounded by a believable amount of farms. Now, I only did that because I thought every person might be relevant (it was a post-apocalyptic setting with strong survival elements at first), but that doesn’t change the fact that I still did it. That might say something about my time management, but to be fair, I did all of that before the campaign every started, so it never interfered with actual session planning.
So, the other thing mentioned is an approach to rules. I value consistency in the application of rules. I blame a family history of being lawyers, combined with my normal approach to world-building, as stated above. I maintain a WordPad document with house rules, including the date I added the rule (and whether it applies to a given campaign, or to all campaigns that I run), because I want to be fair in that application. Is it too much? Maybe, but it works for me. My extended interaction with my normal group has loosened me up a bit, and I try to be more flexible with allowing my players to do cool or interesting or amusing things, even if Rules as Written, they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. Law 0 is always in effect, after all, and I want them to have fun.
This entry may have gone a bit overboard. I think I’d like to believe that the very character of this post reveals as much as its overall content about the machinery underlying my thought process, and hopefully by proxy, into some of the approaches to DMing with Intelligence.