Mark Hulmes on Playing D&D and Dungeon Mastering

Todd Kenreck: I spoke with Mark Hulmes about getting new people to play D&D as well as his advice for new Dungeon Masters.

Mark Hulmes: I think some of the things that are real important for a Dungeon Master when you're all kind of bringing new players into it. And it's tricky for me because I never had a DM teach me how to DM. The very first time I ever played was me and my friends went out, bought the starter set together and I was just was like, "Well I'll GM, like nobody else wants to do it, I'll do it." And so I just kind of picked it up and ran with it. So for a long time, I didn't know how other people GM'd. I just knew how me and my friends did it when I was growing up and in school and we just had a very much a mentality of like, the rules are there. We're gonna follow the rules as best we can, but if we want to do something, is it cool, we'll make it work and we'll find a way to do it that seems fair.

Mark Hulmes: I think that nowadays especially, you are starting to see more and more people come out of the woodwork who didn't have a good first experience with their Dungeon Master. So it is incredibly important to provide that. I think the main thing is to make sure that people have the creative freedom to play around with the system. I feel like making sure that people know that it's not just rolling dice, and a heavy set of rules. That there is a freedom and a creativity to the game and that they can do things that aren't on the character sheet. They can do things that aren't necessarily written in the rules. You're there to facilitate them.
Mark Hulmes: I think making it very clear that the Dungeon Master is not the enemy to them. Making sure that they understand that you are there to work with them to tell the story. Sometimes that means you have to play the bad guys and sometimes that means you have to challenge them. You have to put them in fights that are difficult, or you have to put them in situations that seem unfair because that creates drama and that gives them a positive feeling.

Mark Hulmes: When players come out of a really hairy fight, and they think, oh my God, I could've died there, that was really scary. They have excitement. They get these nice feelings and that comes afterwards. So it seems scary at start and making sure that they have those kind of experiences so that they feel that the DM is on their side and that you're working together to tell the story and then also I think these days as well, it's being very aware of your players. It's like making sure that you're aware of what's safe for them and how comfortable they are. Making sure that you're not overstepping boundaries and just communicating. Those are the kind of key things that I think are really important to get across as a DM.

Todd Kenreck: What keeps you coming back? What do you like most about being a Dungeon Master?

Mark Hulmes: What do I like most about being a Dungeon Master? So for me, it's those emotional epic storytelling moments. And anybody whose watched High Rollers will know this and I can already feel myself going. I'm a very emotional guy. I cry and stuff. It's not because I'm sad, it's just I get caught up in the emotions and I always remember those moments where a beloved MPC gets to finally say something or get to do something heroic, do something cool. A villain gets to dig their claws in and really just cause this drama or this tension or hurt the player in some emotional way.

Mark Hulmes: I think about all those moments and for me, they always end up being like little scenes in my head that I can always remember, like these kind of cinematic moments. I think about all of those and they're the things which whenever I see the players like shocked or they're surprised or they're excited and they all react in a big way. I love those little moments. Those are for me.

Mark Hulmes: And then I guess like just the idea of being able to take what's in my head and make it a place that my friends can go and interact with and play around with. That's the other side of things.

Todd Kenreck: How do you encourage people to be part of this world? Whether it's at the level of just becoming a player or a Dungeon Master or streaming. It's really intimidating and as you and I have talked off camera, it's still intimidating for you and I.

Mark Hulmes: Yeah, absolutely.

Todd Kenreck: What's your advice to them?

Mark Hulmes: It's a tricky one. People say, how do I start playing D&D? How do I get into this stuff? It's like so many things. It's so much easier to say then it is to do. It's just to do it. Like me and my friends when we first started playing this game, we saw the D&D Star Set for like third edition in a game store, our little local comic shop and we just were like, "Man, I've heard about D&D. That could be fun. Let's just buy it." And we just pooled our pocket money together, we bought it off the shelf, we took it home, we got it out and none of us had a clue what we were doing. We got the rules wrong. We made stuff up. We had arguments 'cause we were teenagers.

Mark Hulmes: But it created something. It created this need to do it more and more. I think that it's just get started. Whether that's ... You can do it online now. You can grab a starter set and play with your friends. If you don't think your friends would be into it, like if you've got nerdy friends and they're like, "No I wouldn't ever play D&D, but I love Sci-Fi or Fantasy or movies or superheroes or whatever."

Mark Hulmes: One thing I always heard about was you invite them over and say, "Come over for dinner or come over for board games." And then when they get there, you have the table already laid up with blank character sheets and dice and snacks and beers or whatever you want to have and you just sit them down and you say, "Okay guys, what are your character names?" Or like, "What do you want to play?" Or you pre-make the characters and just kind of almost force them into it because a lot of time when people start playing, when they realize what the game really is as opposed to what they've been told it is, they'll have a blast. I think the geeks and nerds, they'll love it no matter what.


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