Gotta Have Your Own Fun
When someone thanks me for the time I spent to create our game sessions, I like to reassure them that the planning is part of the fun for me; it’s not like I’m doing a chore so that they get to play. I also like to reassure my players that running the game is just another role I take as we play together; like a pitcher having a different way of playing baseball than an outfielder, we’re still playing the same game together. That being said, I think that it’s only fair that a DM get to have their own fun.
I’ve talked about how a DM needs to say no to players, and put their own personal restrictions on a game from the start. What I did not talk about was how DMs should be adding, or focusing on, aspects on the game that they love and prioritizing that as much as they do the content meant for the players. For example, I have a real love for any situation that requires a random percentile roll. I give my characters a Rod of Wonder, and when activated, has one of several different useful and/or useless effects. I love when a player’s shop has a chance to make or lose money each month, the roll being modified by business decisions they make. My favourite part of combat is when I get to roll the random treasure afterwards. There are so many different game aspects that a DM might love. For you it might be the presence of certain kinds of spells, or maybe it’s including plenty of cursed items, or perhaps you love lycanthropes and want to see how different animals might manifest as monsters.
Another way that I create my own fun is to add a “signature” to my games. I like to carry over details from previous games into current ones, even if the players don’t understand the reference. My own character from years ago, Captain Madrick, often gets a cameo in my campaigns, his story continuing in the background of my mind as he is encountered in different places over time. I have decided that my “signature” game feature is hags, which are found in the kitchens of evil lairs. A night hag might try and convince the party to sample human flesh, or a green hag might be an enslaved chef. Getting to put yet another hag into another kitchen in my games gives me my own secret satisfaction, a reminder that these are my worlds, and that I can do whatever I want in them.
The one thing that DMs have to watch out for is the dreaded DMPC. This NPC, added to the party, controlled by the DM, usually ends up being really (and unfairly) effective in combat or exceptionally adept with their skills. A DM who considers a member of the party as their own risks taking away a key aspect of the game that is solely meant for the players. I would recommend that a DM only put an NPC in a party that will never (I literally mean never) outshine the other members of the party. Just like you wouldn’t want your outfielder running up to the mound to throw balls while the pitcher is trying to do their thing, you don’t need a DM stepping in to take away the job of the player. There are so many other things a DM can do to shape the game into their own customized experience.