The Top Traits of a Good Dungeon Master

by Mike Shea on 19 June 2017

On 9 May 2017, I posted a note to both Twitter and Facebook asking for, in one or two words, the three most important traits for a good D&D dungeon master. This returned roughly 162 total responses. I took these responses and performed some text mining using Python to normalize the results and help us find the most valued traits among these responses.

Below is a list of the top 30 traits along with the number of times they came up across the 162 results.

TermFrequency% of Responses
flexible / adaptable5936.4%
creative3823.5%
improvisational2716.7%
fair2113.0%
fun2012.3%
patience148.6%
prepared148.6%
listener106.2%
says yes84.9%
conversant74.3%
collaborative74.3%
enthusiasm63.7%
storyteller63.7%
knowledgeable63.7%
empathy53.1%
skills53.1%
rules42.5%
ability42.5%
facilitator42.5%
cooperative42.5%
humor42.5%
clear42.5%
quick31.9%
bodycount31.9%
organization31.9%
love31.9%
understanding31.9%
persistence31.9%
translator31.9%
thinking31.9%
consistent31.9%

You'll notice that we grouped "flexible" and "adaptable" together into one group since it's hard to see a difference between the two words. You might also note that these aggregates include many variants of the same words; it's not just a pure text match. Finally, you can see that the percentages add up to greater than 100%. This is due to each response containing more than one result.

A Quantified View of Valued DM Traits

An analysis like this gives us a powerful tool to understand the topic of good DMing. Any single opinion on the topic is just one point of information. When we group these opinions together, we start to get a wider view of what matters to people. It's not perfect, but, like Amazon star ratings on products, we're more likely to get an accurate view of a topic the more people weigh in. This is why I find the results of the 2016 DM Survey so interesting. We all have opinions on Theater of the Mind versus gridded combat and organized play versus home games. It's different when we can see the aggregate of these opinions. It isn't definitive, but it gives us a wider view than the flawed simulation of the world constantly going on in our own individual heads.

Flexible, Creative, and Improvisational

These responses are very telling when we take a good look at them. We can surmise, for example, that being flexible is twenty times more valued (according to this analysis) than being consistent (a common trait often mentioned as a virtue for organized play, for example). Paying attention to the percentage shows us how highly valued the top responses are compared to the rest. For example, the first item, being flexible and adaptable, was nearly 10x more valued than 11th, being enthusiastic.

This gives us a good idea where we might focus our attention and share our most valued experiences. In particular, when looking at the top three, improvisation seems to have a strong connection to being flexible, adaptable, and creative. From this, I would argue that, among all of the best skills, the msot important skill we can improve is our ability to improvise at the table.

You'll see more on improvisation in the days to come on Sly Flourish based on these results.

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