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Giving Players a Peek Behind the DM Screen

We were a newly formed game group, in our fourth game session (second session with me DMing). I was running a basic dungeon crawl in a moderate-sized dungeon. The Players seemed to be enjoying the play, but we were still getting to know each other’s play style.

As a DM (and as a Player) I prefer to let the dice fall as they will – I don’t like fudging for or against the PCs. I explained this to the Players before I started DMing.

The PCs (five 3rd level characters) had delved pretty far into the dungeon, battling through orcs and ogres and wolves, and a few other critters. They had left a path of death through the dungeon. Once the more organized denizens of the place discovered they had invaders, a large force went through the place looking to kill the adventurers.

The PCs had just battled a couple of ogres, and they were hurt and expended. They decided they either needed to head back out of the dungeon, or they had to find a safe place to hole up. They stepped out of the ogre room, intending to backtrack through the corridors.

They heard a lot of commotion down the hall from where they had come. It sounded like a lot of orcs. The orcs were following the trail of bloody battles through the dungeon.

The party had to get away, but they hadn’t explored further than were they were right then. In their worn condition, they didn’t think they’d survive a fight with a bunch of orcs, so their only option was to try to move through the unexplored halls to hopefully get somewhere they could evade or hide from the enemies coming.

They opened a door across from the ogre room and found a long hallway. They hustled through the door and closed it quietly behind them. They moved down the hall, coming to the end where they found what looked like a one-way secret door – secret from the other side. They heard the door behind them open and orc voices wondering if the invaders had gone this way.

The adventurers opened the door before them, and found it lead to outside the dungeon. They hurried through the door and out of the dungeon.

I could see in every Player’s expression that they thought I had just orchestrated – fudged – their escape. It was too perfect a set up, and too perfect an escape route – right where they needed it for the most climatic escape scene. There were even a couple of groans about how it was too perfect.

“Here, look,” I said. I used a couple of pieces of paper to cover parts of the [printed, not hand drawn] map they hadn’t explored yet, and showed them just the part they could recognize as the ogre room (a unique room with a pit trap in the center), the corridor where the orcs were coming from (with a penciled X where they had left a dead orc patrol), and the hall with the one-way secret door at the end.

The Players looked at the map and saw that I had not fudged any of it for their escape. They laughed, one hooted, and a couple high-fived. The escape scene had happened naturally, and fairly.

That was a critically important moment, for me, as a DM. For those Players, and for me, that was a very fun scene only because it wasn’t orchestrated to be cinematic. It defined our relationship as DM and Players – they knew things in the game would happen naturally and fairly.

Strangely, I’ve met Players who don’t want to “see behind the DM screen” at all, ever, even to prove things are “fair.” I’ve met Players who want the DM to roll dice behind the screen so they can’t see the results. I’ve actually had another DM tell me that showing the map to the Players in the game above was wrong.


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