Having resolved to write a book about dungeon mastering, I have been contemplating for some months now about the legitimacy of becoming, and remaining, a dungeon master. Rather that discussing here how one does it, or for what motivations, I'd like to discuss the core idea of who is entitled, and who is not, to run a gaming group.
I would expect the gentle reader to bristle at the word 'entitled' ... the reply I would expect, voiced loudly, is "ANYONE!" But then, that assumes anyone with friends willing to participate, or the 'opportunity' to play. If, by chance, there are no players, there is no gaming group.
By default, and largely because of the need to sell product, I believe the gaming community has presumed that the final arbiter on what makes a game - and who defines D&D - must be, without question, the dungeon master. Gygax and crowd were dungeon masters. Dungeon masters create adventures. They know what will happen, what is happening, what ought to happen during the game. They do all the work ... and to those who do the work goes the respect, indeed, the humble gratitude of mere players who need only sit down and play. If there are no dungeon masters, there are no games - and the various foundations of commercial product know very well who it is that buys their shit. Players buy dice, they may buy a book or two ... but it is the DM, or the would-be DM, who enters and drops $500 in an afternoon.
And so the community has operated on this loose ideal that IF you're prepared to draw the dungeon map, and IF you're prepared to spend the money, and IF you have the space and IF you're willing to present a world in that space, THEN you are one of the elite, the dungeon master, the most important person at the table.
I can feel the bristling again, as I've very carefully written that so that it rubs in just the wrong way. Still, whatever your egalitarian indignation, it is impossible to present a world as a DM and not feel the gentle waft of adulation that arises from your long-time, appreciative players. Nor is it difficult to recognize the stiff, okay-motherfucker-prove-you've-got-what-it-takes from the occasional new, experienced player that steps up to try your world. The latter comes from having a lot of DMs preen and strut their shit like it doesn't stink, where you recognize that a DM having a few sycophantic admirers doesn't prove a quality game.
Have enough people suck up to your grandiosity and that shit will go right to your head ... and I have sat in on more than a few games where the DM was one amazingly pompous bastard, nevertheless with players whose mouths were surgically attached to that DM's anus (this is physically impressive where the number of players rises to more than three). The circumstance has made me - I must admit - physically ill. Nevertheless, we've all seen it ... except, I suppose, for that substantial portion of the community that is actively living it. I don't imagine they're the least bit aware.
All I'm saying is that, while the community pretends that its one big happy family, that every DM is of course a dreamboat and that no one could ever possibly be exploiting this power position for their personal emotional sense of superiority, the fact remains that there are many, many DMs who ARE. Exploiting their players, that is. Mercilessly.
We are meant to ignore this. The commercial elements aren't interested in discussing it, the convention atmosphere isn't interested in curtailing it (as is obvious to anyone with a brain who's been to a convention) and we are absolutely NOT to discuss it in any public forum, ever. We are to pretend that ALL players are exactly equal, that none have been duped into playing with DMs who actually know jack about fresh, exciting or imaginative ways of presenting the game, and that everyone who has reliable, loyal players has clearly earned them through being such a remarkable, spectacular DM.
Please, please, please pay no attention to anything we have come to know about psychology in the last century, behind that curtain there. Pay no attention to the fundamentals of dependency, or the social need for approval, or what we've learned about bullying or how group dynamics have been proven to favor the loudest, most aggressive person in the room. None of that is relevant to gaming, none of it has anything to do with a DM railroading his or her players, or those players piping up to say they "like railroading," or anything else about how the game MUST have a story or how players MUST be controlled to keep the game from descending into chaos and ceasing to be "fun." None of the people who play in a roleplaying game are subject to the forces, the pushes and pulls, of biochemical response, nor mental abuse, nor emotional manipulation ... because once a person begins to play a character, they are magically exempt from all the influences of every day social interaction.
Because, as we all know, the only way to do anything, ever, is the OLD way, because it is the only way. And we know that because all the people who have spent all their lives investing in that way just happen to know more than we do. It isn't because they're old and lazy and can't be bothered to change anything about themselves. It isn't because they're just barely bright enough to do what they've been doing for thirty years, and that a new way of playing a game is a blatant threat to their security or their stuffy pomposity.
Yes, that's right, the reason "we" don't want things to change is because they SHOULDN'T, ever, at least not as long as I, a DM for 30 years, am alive. And I don't say that because I have my head up my own ass and it's warm and comfortable in here. I say that because, well, I'm just older than you are. And you should respect your elders and stop trying to change things. Because I said so.
So let's have that straight. Everyone who wants to treat players like shit has a right to, and if the players had any problem with that, they'd say something, because there are no psychological forces that exist to make people accept a situation they think can't be changed. The game is about a story because that's the way it fucking IS, so fuck off. And DMs ought never to create anything except for module-like adventures, because I don't and I've never had to, and my players LIKE it that way.