Dealing with Imposter Syndrome as a Dungeon Master

Kung Fu Panda

Imposter syndrome can be described as doubting one’s self. I have heard many artists and professionals dealing with this phenomenon, including many game masters who sit behind the screen and wonder if they are doing their best, or even if they are worth the game.

In this blog, I have a few ideas to address imposter syndrome and help game masters move through it and onto the reward

First idea: imposter syndrome comes and goes in waves. I hope you can relate to this. Sometime you feel on top of the world in success and for some reason, another time you will be crippled with doubt wondering why you even try. Imposter syndrome is not something to be cured inside of you, but rather a storm to be weathered outside of you. Rather than doubting yourself, consider that the conflict of doubt originates from outside of you. In the same way, I wouldn’t blame you for getting wet while walking in the rain. The rain of doubt falls on the most amazing game masters as well as … you. If you start thinking of doubt as an outside source, then you will not blame yourself when you weather through this storm of imposter syndrome. And like the weather, this too, shall pass.

Second idea: imposter syndrome is just that – a syndrome. We don’t know why or where it comes from so we call it a symptom of something else. May I propose that at the moment you experience doubt, that you are on the precipice of something great? Remember as game masters, we design monsters before the treasure. The reward always follows the battle. In every struggle, there is victory. Doubt stands there to cripple you, but in reality, it’s only standing in front of the spark of reward. When you start to realize that reward always follows battle, you will find yourself actually getting excited the moment that doubt arrives in your mind. Roll initiative.

Third idea: don’t forget to look for the reward. Imposter syndrome, self doubt, anxiety, shame, and other monsters do not naturally grow within you and their goal is to cripple you as an artist, as a creator, as a game master. You will weather the storm, you will slay the dragon, but you may fail to look for the treasure after this storm of doubt.

Example: I love the movie Kung Fu Panda. If you haven’t seen it, it is a great lesson in dealing with imposter syndrome. Though he comes from lowly state, Po practices, serves and cares for his team. But suffers from one problem – self doubt. Along the quest to the treasure, Po had practiced with diligence, served with humility and cared with love for his team. By the end of the movie (spoilers!), Po, discovers that his own self is the treasure which he sought. He learned his generous presence already satisfied the team. After his doubt was weathered, he then took ahold of his skills and defeated the enemy with ease.

As a gamemaster, you are the reward. For the game, for the story, and for your players. After you have done all of your work, service and shown care for your players, the only thing that can really defeat you is doubt. And believe me, it will try.

So, to you game master, I see how you have practiced the rules, you have poured over pages of story and graciously set aside the time and energy to bring fun to those around your table. And notice this: they keep coming back for more fun. You are doing it right. The only weapon that can take you down now is doubt. Weather the storm, slay the dragon and be the reward.

May your story continue!

Team Building and Storytelling with Dungeons and Dragons – a dungeon master challenge

Dungeons and Dragons is a Team Game of Collaborative Storytelling

I encountered this question on @twitter the other day and wanted to write my response. In my opinion, challenge ratings in ttrpgs have nothing to do with the monster, but rather the play styles of those at the table.

First of all, great follow up as a DM for “talking to the player first”. This increases the flow of communication both ways.

For a refresher, let’s make up 4 play styles regarding combat

  • Problem Solvers – clever, prepared and calculated
  • Dice Rollers – loves to roll tons of dice and do tons of damage
  • Partyfacers – in it for the monologues and catch phrases
  • Plotfinders – wants to know “why” combat

With combat, I try to vary the reasons for combat to occur.

  • Monsters attack and we must kill them to survive – great for dice rollers!
  • Evil cultists attack, but some of them give clues they may be turned – great for partyfacers!
  • Predatory creatures in a lair with area effects, traps and environmental hazards – great for problem solvers!
  • A portal opens to another realm and out walks a deranged old wizard ready for combat – turns out he reveals a mystery right before dropping unconcious – great for plotfinders!

Starting out with that package deal for each table I recognize that individual challenges will arise as varied as the beautiful people bringing those challenges. So what if your player is off searching (for what???) during combat instead of laying down the damage, healing and support?

First off, I would have the DC of the search be at least higher than the monsters AC. This is because it’s hard to find something when blood and fire are spewing all around. Secondly, I would not have the item revealed until the end of combat. The player might “find” something but it will be as non descript as possible until combat is resolved. “You find a necklace.” That’s it. Thirdly, I would make it a hell of a challenge to get to the item. I’m thinking Indiana Jones reaching for a holy grail, in a crevice of rock WHILE goblins are stabbing into the player. Combat comes to you, because you FOUND the shiny item! Congratulations!

A lot can happen only 120 feet away given ranged attacks. From what I know of predatory wildlife, they like to gang up on loners, wounded and the young, so bring that element of world building into the combat.

The other consequence of leaving the group is that your player story is PAUSED during combat. You step away from the main scenes, then you are off scene and we will get back to you after this situation is resolved.

It’s ok to directly confront a player who seems to be dragging the game down. Whether they are combating during exploration, or exploring during combat, both are wrong time/wrong place. D&D is certainly a collaborative storytelling game requiring a hive mind of teamwork. When you have a “rogue” player who plays … well, a thieving rogue, the flow of the gameplay is thrown and believe me, everyone feels it. As the DM, it’s ok to say, “hello, for the sake of the gameplay, I would like you to contribute to the overall team goal. There is always a time to run away, but make sure the team is on board before doing so.

Dungeons and Dragons game highlights stories of the magic that happens when we work together. Read more on Sharing the Spotlight!

At the end of the day, I would attempt to find a way for the player’s actions to directly affect the outcome, even if it’s a poor outcome. Dungeon Masters connect the dots of player’s actions into the larger story.

Dungeon Masters and Burnout

Creativity in our life can become stifled for many reasons. I do believe that sometimes professional collaboration is exactly what you need. If you are a dungeon master who feels like your adventure campaign is going nowhere, then please contact me for my Dungeon Master Guidance Course. I provide one to one guidance and opportunities for inspiration on how you manage time and energy at your table. Before you burn out, get in touch with me!

May your story continue!

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Dungeons and Dragons as a Homeschooling Supplement and Enrichment

Sojourners seek to understand life from the road of adventure

In this age of Do It Yourself, people are diving into gardening, starting businesses, and learning an instrument. The “DIY” culture helps a community grow in its knowledge. The RV community is another good example.

Homeschooling is the mother of all DIY projects. Now, more than ever, parents are looking to homeschool their children, by choice, or by obligation. The modern homeschool family has a wealth of resources at their fingertips via the internet. And along with these resources comes the famous roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons.

I like to use a Growth Mindset when planning my games.

While some parents might consider the themes to be too violent or include magic, I would have you consider that D&D can be used as an endless resource to supplement your child’s education and enrich their experience.

How does D&D supplement education?

Now, when I say supplement, I am indicating that D&D, while not necessary to be present on your child’s transcript in order to pass to the next grade, does strengthen the natural intelligence of the child. Howard Garner’s Multiple Intelligence divides intelligences into multiple categories such as musical, logical, kinesthetic and linguistic. His theory surmises that each child, while having access to all forms of intelligence, usually drills down on 1 or 2 in development. While topics in school are sometimes isolated to draw upon one or two intelligences only (Math-Logic, Writing-Linguistic, Music-Musical) D&D draws upon all of the forms of intelligence. This means each child’s experience is different, although they are playing the same game.

This learning is natural and holistic. The child flexes their brain without knowing they are doing so. That is the power of playing storytelling games in the school place.

Read how to develop a growth mindset while playing Dungeons and Dragons

Worlds come alive with learning to narrate a story

How does D&D enrich the experience?

Besides math, reading, writing and social studies, can you think of other topics we might use on a daily basis? Think of systems thinking, critical analysis, risk-assessment, workplace collaboration, and conflict resolution. As adults, we might be familiar with some of these terms and have sat through seminars explaining what they mean. But I don’t see these taught in any textbooks, because education is primarily information download.

Memorization, Study and Test. Now, I’m not wanting to revamp the education system, nor do I know how you homeschool. But what I do know is that within the game Dungeons and Dragons, a high level of energy goes toward using each of those features that children will eventually use in the workplace. D&D enriches the educational experience of the child by potentially preparing them for real life situations in a safe fantasy simulation.

One of the reasons I love homeschooling is that I get to build my child’s education, and often we do it together, as a family. While incorporating multiple intelligence theories in our learning, I can justify any activity as educational! This includes playing such a wonderful pastime of dice and storytelling. 

So, next I will explain exactly how to incorporate D&D on a weekly basis using your current curriculum. And so, our story continues!

Enriching your life and your games with a Growth Mindset.

There are many reasons TTRPGs like Dungeons and Dragons have been lauded for their ability to simultaneously grant us fun and growth. Part of that reason, I think, involves all of the tenets in the the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.

In the book, the author explores tons of research involving human motivation and success. I liked this little chart here and thought how similar the growth mindset is to how we play our characters in D&D.

Unlike real life, our characters are simulations of our imagination, and often we expand our exploits way beyond how we would behave in our own life situations. But now look at the markers of a growth mindset and see how often tabletop roleplaying games match up with this mindset driving us to success in life.

A fixed mindset avoids challenges where a growth mindset embraces them.

WOW. If that isn’t D&D, I don’t know what is. In life, we avoid challenges when we are laced with shame, fear or frustration over the potential for failure. In a growth mindset, we embrace that challenge, because those three toxins are not worth the embrace that a challenge can provide. The main reason is that a growth mindset seeks to experience and learn wisdom. A fixed mindset stays home when the wizard comes knocking at your door, but a growth mindset says, “I’m going on an adventure!”

A fixed mindset gives up easily where a growth mindset persists in setback.

Again, wow! In the game, the player’s role is to determine a team goal and pursue it. But you didn’t think the villain was going to hand you the keys to the fortress? In the game, the dungeon master’s role is to provide setbacks that the players so they can practice persistence in accomplishing their pre determined goal, through all the setbacks. What I think is wild is that because the players and dungeon master agree that these are the roles, no one gets upset when the DM throws a curve ball the players’ way. It’s expected. Setbacks are encouraged and like the person who thinks with a growth mindset, they thrive off of the experience that leads to wisdom.

A fixed mindset sees effort as fruitless where a growth mindset masters

Part of the fun of the game is taking a level 1 character that begins an adventure and using the rules of the game to level up after completing an experience. Some tables use experience points, some tables use checkpoints to level up the characters, but all understand that the purpose of the game is to do better at playing your character by granting that character bonuses, rewards and features. A fixed mindset would remain static in their levels of mastery because they don’t believe it would make a difference. But then again, the fixed mindset is already avoid challenges and running away from setbacks, so why would they attempt to master their craft? The growth mindset, as you can now see, builds upon itself like a series of interconnected muscles. The growth mindset believes that every experience adds up to reward and therefore, they look for that reward. Seek and you shall find, it has been said, and when players defeat the long awaited villain, they indeed look for treasure and lo and behold, it is there. I wish to gather that gumption in my own life, that I look for the reward.

A fixed mindset ignores criticism where a growth mindset learns from it

So much can be said about criticism. When to give, where to give, how to give and more importantly how to receive. We cannot control another’s opinion, but we have agency over our reception. In the wonder of D&D, as a player, you can have a metagaming view of your character, watch them, learn from them and even criticize them from a 30,000 foot view. Yes, the player brings the criticism and not afraid because they have power to learn from their character’s weakness, flaws and mistakes. In our own lives, I believe the reason a fixed mindset avoids criticism is that we feel powerless to do anything with it. A growth mindset apprehends the criticism and uses it as a resource, for everything is a value of energy. Sit around and think about that for a while!

A fixed mindset feels threatened by the success of others where a growth mindset celebrates and becomes inspired by the success of others.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

At it’s heart, D&D is a collaborative storytelling game. The rules create a party balance in which not one character has every tool and resource to beat every challenge presented by the dungeon master. Therefore, the collection of the players must celebrates the collective success because the party moves as a unit. There is no room to feel threatened, because the healer’s spellcasting might bring you back to consciousness before the axe falls upon your neck! The warrior’s rage might shield you from flying arrows! The inventor’s brilliance might bring about the answer the entire party needs in a split second. A growth mindset is required to play the game well.

Those who continue to operate in a fixed mindset eventually see their fate as determined and their agency stripped to a life of doom. Flipping into a growth mindset is the answer to bring about the agency, the free will and the empowerment one needs to achieve and succeed. By playing Dungeons and Dragons, with a growth mindset, we can simulate real life situations with imagination. In doing so, I think we will find ourselves “leveling up” in real life, because lessons are transferable. It’s that easy. May your story continue.

Ideas that nourish us

photo of smiling woman in black hijab standing in grass field with her eyes closed
Photo by Akhmad Wirawan on Pexels.com

People fund their livelihood by perpetuating ideas in the garden of their minds. These ideas feed us. We need them. We need to believe. But the idea that feeds me may not be your nourishment. I taste another idea from your garden and consider it’s taste. After a day or two, I consider its effect on my body, my mind and my soul. I sell your ideas that grew from a garden in your mind connected to another’s garden. Another tastes. Another is nourished. Over time, we perceive whether or not the idea not only feed us, but also regenerates the minds from which it grew.

We move. We live. We have our being.

Ideas are like seeds. You hold them in your hands to plant in your mind. Be aware of what grows. Not all that holds sweet heals and not all things bitter poison. Sample all the flavors of nature, both bitter to heal, sweet to laugh, sour to cleanse and salty to incite. Balance ideas and grow many samples, allow them to nourish each other from within and your practice outside will produce wholeness.