The Dungeon and the Journey
by A.J. Putman
It has been my distinct pleasure over the last five years to play host to over three dozen hardy players in my ENCOUNTER CRITICAL campaigns and many others in various con games, club events, etc. Sometimes after a particularly successful session one of the players will inquire why I never take the time to run a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS event. Pretty much every other gamesman in the area has run at least one D&D campaign, why am I the last hold-out? Am I some sort of snob, unwilling to run the most successful of role play adventure games out of some misguided sense of elitism? Nay and nay again! Rather I acknowledge a qualitative difference between the two games and between my ability to successfully adjudicate them both.
It is a mistake of the uninitiated to assume that the same skills are applicable to the mastery of all role play adventure games. The responsibilities of the Dungeon Master and the Journey Master are not one and the same. More to the point, my talents lend themselves to at least a basic competency in the field of JMing, while my natural temperament is less than ideal for the tasks assigned to the DM. On the surface, these two callings appear similar in nature. Both involve arraying the foes to be fought, the terrain to be disputed, the riches to be won, the maidens to be seduced, etc. But where the dice meet the table the proper approach to the games are as different as night and day.
Mr. Gygaz, in his voluminous texts and correspondences, makes the same point time and time again: A good DM is an intelligence vast, cool, and unsympathetic. If the dungeon key indicates three angry Balrogs in room 23b, then by Odin's beard that is what any group of adventurers will find in the room. Once the elements of adventure are placed upon the campaign board only their own internal game-logic ought to change them. Whether a particular encounter is fair or unfair, exciting or dull, overpowering or underchallenging is not to be taken into consideration. The DM is like a watchmaker who winds up his watch and whatever time it tells thereafter is no business of his.
Anyone who attempts to run EC is this fashion ought to be banished to the 43rd Hellsphere of the Klengonish Netherverse. It is not the Journey Master's job to reign high atop Mount Olympus, sitting in coldblooded judgement over the acts of the mere mortals condemned to walk his petty worlds. Rather, the proper Journey Master is like a tourguide through the unconscious realms of dreams and nightmares. It is the first duty of the JM to provide an emotionally charged adventure, whether by giddy thrill or sheer terror. A good JM never hesitates to be unfair, if the adventure can be rendered more exciting thereby. So, too, should a JM occasionally extend the Triple-Gemmed Wand of Mercy, if by such kindness the experience of the game is heightened. So while the room key might indicate three hungry Infernal Apes reside in cave 56c, a good JM will adjust these measures on the fly. Perhaps a single sleepy Infernal Ape will best fit the overall circumstances of the adventure, or perhaps a dozen hostil devil gorillas would be more suitable.
Both approaches have there own sets of rewards and problems. A canny D&D player will be satisified that everything he earned, he did so in the face of a hostile universe cooly refereed. But from time to time that same player can find himself bored to tears by underwhelming dungeon levels or empty wilderness regions. The EC player knows she will never leave a session wondering if the JM did his utmost to entertain her, but she also runs the risk of occasionally wondering if her own agency is undermined by behind-the-screen shenanigans.
Neither approach to game refereeing should be considered superior, except to the extant that the D&D method is best used with D&D and the EC style applies first and foremost to EC. Past that, let the individual tastes and preferences of the game moderator and his players be the primary means by which one type of game is preferred over another. For my own part, I choose to call myself Journey Master, with some measure of pride of accomplishment. Our brother gamers who have earned the title of Dungeon Master may be a different sort of animal, but they have earned their respect through just as much hard work as I.