The DM’s Challenge


RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmallScot, the Keeper of the RPG Blog Carnival, has asked us to think (and post) about what we would like to know. I must admit that I felt slightly confused at first, but the more I thought about it, the more things came to my mind to write about. As Scot himself said, «this month is all about starting the conversation and hopefully, some of those asked for topics will become a theme or two for the Carnival as it rolls forward». I consider myself a sort of latecomer to the RPG Blog Carnival: it started in 2008 but I just found about it when I changed my personal blog (with chronicles of my campaigns in Blogger) into a full website in 2016 (with DM tips and reviews on WordPress), as I re-settled back home (working for 5+ years in the cruise industry kept me from playing regularly… I could only play during vacations at home for a few weeks).

So let’s get to it. These are the three things that usually I ask myself about other players and DMs.

  1. What are the most popular elements in the game? What players and DMs prefer in their campaigns?
  2. What is your most memorable moment from playing D&D?
  3. How do you become a better DM?

Regarding the first question, I’ve always wondered what are the favorite races, classes, archetypes and every other mechanical element in the game. Just out of curiosity, of course. The second is a conversation starter. It’s amazing to find out what D&D has taught different people from different parts of the world. The third is the most complicated one not only to answer but also to ask correctly, as I just recently found out.

You’ll see, a few weeks ago something else entirely came to my mind. Many many years ago, Wizards of the Coast ran an entire forum on their website, and in it, one ofits most prolific post writers (the always remembered Wrecan) created along some friends the Expert DungeonMaster Competition. In its essence, it was a friendly thread to challenge DMs into creating different elements, from magic items and monsters to villains and templates. All of them were judged by the creators following each challenge rules. I’m mentioning all this because I have the intention to resurrect it… maybe not as a competition, though, since when I asked around in the D&D Beyond forums about how to objectively compare two DMs and the criteria to do so, even if there were some good answers related to content, immersion, props and management skills, most responses just considered «fun» which is very subjective.

Why am I asking all this? Isn’t it obvious? Because I want to re-start the Expert DM Competition. Unfortunately, most of the contents in Wizards origial forum are lost into history, with a few exceptions kept on public web archives. If you’re reading this, and you’re interested in this idea, please comment below to get in touch! In the meantime, these are the rules I found (you may notice they make references to the 3.5 system):



  • Each applicant may only submit one entry to judging. Submitting two or more entries will result in the disqualification of each the entries. If you have more than one idea, please wait until after the competition closes before submitting additional entries. These subsequent entries will not be judged.
  • Each entry must be contained within a single post. Subsequent posts will be ignored by the judges.
  • All entries must be the original, exclusive work of the applicant. Entries found to be copying the work of another, or that have been posted for review prior to the competition, will be disqualified. However, entries may include a visual picture for the entry that is not the author’s original work. Such non-original material will not be considered by the judges.
  • Applicants are allowed a 15-minute period in which they are allowed to edit their entry. Any entry that has been noted as edited after this 15 minute period will be disqualified. This includes editing done by the board moderators, should the entry be in violation of the board’s code of conduct. It is recommended that an applicant use the board’s “preview post” function or write the entry off-line in a text editor to check the entry before posting. Once judging is complete, applicants may go back and edit their entry if they so choose.
  • The message board Code of Conduct is in effect for all entries.

tumblr_onzbtsbpT81s3h0pqo4_1280Qualification Rubrics

  1. Creativity (15 points) measures the originality of a particular submission or how well it takes an existing idea and converts it into game terms. High scores are reserved for entries that are completely unique, or provide a new twist on an old idea. Creativity can reflect entirely new ideas, thoughtful parodies of existing ideas, or unique derivatives of a classic archetype.
  2. Adaptability (10 points) measures how much effort would be needed for a DM to include the entry in any given campaign. Entries may use any source, but for purposes of this category it is assumed a DM has access only to the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. Thus, the use of material from other sources can result in a lower score. Including descriptions on how to use the entry without the supplemental material, or having a brief synopsis of what the material entails can alleviate this somewhat, allowing the entry to score well even with the supplemental material. In addition, if the subject or background of the entry would be difficult to include – for example, if the entry is located in a vast desert the size of the Sahara and involves 1,000 years of history, it will probably not score well, as a DM might not want such a disruption to the continuity of their game world.
  3. Thematic Consistency (10 points) measures how well the entry fits the overall theme of the contest, as well as how well it incorporates the specified number of thematic elements. Thematic elements that are touched upon but are not central to the submission will score fewer points than those that integrated fully. The more thoroughly the entry considers the elements, the higher the score. Attempting to include more than the specified number of thematic elements will not necessarily result in a higher score, so it is better to include the minimum number elements very well than many loosely. To assist the judges, it is asked that an entry provide a brief mention of which thematic elements it was intended to meet.
  4. Technical Information & Rules Use (10 points) measures how well the entry uses and represents the rules of the game. The completeness and accuracy of all necessary mechanical information is a center point of this category, but is not its entirety. The use of proper and logical formatting as well as the correctness and appropriateness of cited or implied game rules are also covered. If an entry presents a new mechanic or game component, it must be described well enough that readers understand how to use it with the existing rules. In addition, the new mechanic should fit well and be “balanced” in comparison to existing game mechanics. For example, a 1st-level spell that does 1,000 damage with no save will likely score poorly. Lastly, all mechanics and rules should be consistent with the most current version of the game (3.5).
  5. Clarity (5 points) measures how easily accessible the ideas presented in the entry are to the reader. A high score will follow a logical format, information will be easily found and the entry will flow from one section to another with narrative continuity. This is not simply a measure of grammatical aptitude, but if frequent grammar and spelling errors serve to confuse the ideas the submission attempts to convey, this category will suffer. While effective use of typefaces such as italics or boldface can help an entry, the use of text color, alternate fonts, or spoiler blocks in an entry is not recommended.


Are you a DM? Are you interested into re-igniting the spark of a healthy community competition?

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