DMing People With Special Needs

Recently, I’ve moved from playing in Adventurers League games from Dungeons and Dragons, to hosting some with the local community as a Dungeon Master (a.k.a. “DM”). With lockdown, we’ve moved all our weekly games online to Warhorn and playing on the Roll20 service with shared accounts and resources, and the group has adapted pretty seamlessly, while still supporting our local game store where possible. For me, I’ve only DM’ed a few games for Adventurers League, but it’s been a fun, though eye-opening experience. DM’ing for kids at home, or my kid’s friends online, is easy but DM’ing for adults who come from many backgrounds is more challenging and helps you grow as a DM.

One recent example is that I was hosting a game where one player was self-described as visually impaired. I was very nervous about this as I don’t have much experience hosting AL games for adults, let alone online where the game is even more visual than before. However, one of the more senior DMs knew this person and had some simple advice which I wanted to share with other D&D players.

He suggested I reach out to this player and find out what his needs were. It turns out that it was much easier than expected: be sure to spend enough time describing the scene clearly, ask questions and move around his token on Roll20 if needs it to. I contacted the player, asked him a few questions about his character, preferences for token (for his token, I used a picture of the famous Binwin Bronzebottom since he was playing a dwarf fighter).

The session went much better than I expected. The player was an experience D&D player, and once we settled in, it felt pretty much like any other session, though I spent more time than normal carefully describing things. We all had a great time.

This experience taught me some things as a Dungeon Master:

  • Players come first. This doesn’t being a doormat in terms of rules, but it does mean ensuring your players have a wholesome, positive experience. Otherwise, you end up here.
  • Theater of the Mind is a time-honored, yet underrated practice in D&D. Someone pointed out that in earlier editions of Dungeons and Dragons (think: Stranger Things), “theater of the mind” was a necessary way of telling the story, but with improvements in technology

Good luck and happy role-playing!

P.S. For online D&D games, I highly, highly recommend battlemaps from 2-Minute Tabletop. They’re very affordable, and the maps are excellent.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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