What Makes a Good DM?

Recently, I created a poll to ask people what player-based skills the game should reward.  This got me thinking about DM skills.  Now, I don't think we can ask what DM skills the game should reward, because truly, most people want their DMs to be a master of everything.  Rather, I think the more appropriate question is as follows:

What is the minimum competency a DM should possess to be considered a good DM?


I've broken the DM skills into seven "professions" and created a poll for each that asks you to vote for the minimum level of competency you believe a DM should have in that profession.


The polls will last for one month.  Please feel free to leave a comment below, or leave a comment at the associated blog article.


ACTOR

A Dungeon Master must embody a variety of different characters from regal monarchs to leprous beggars.  The extent to which a DM can "sell" these characters as believable, the more immersive the roleplaying experience is for the players.  How much acting skill should a DM possess?



DEMIURGE

A campaign world is crafted.  Even when a DM runs published adventures, he must weave them into a coherent world.  The more plausible this world, the more the players can anticipate events and participate in the world's activities as full partners.



FIELD MARSHAL

D&D can be seen as a series of encounters.  A DM must often run a whole cadre of opponents who must act to counter a strategically advanced party. In this milieu, it is one DM against four or more players.  How much skill does a DM need to design and implement a challenging encounter against a team of adventurers.



GAME DESIGNER

Sometimes a DM needs to make up a rule on the spot.  To do so, they might consider all the traditional hallmarks of game design: elegance, simplicity, balance, and flavor.  Some go outside the box and create their own monsters and NPCs.  Some DMs go further and design their own spells, skills, and classes for their players to use.  Whether you are making an ad hoc ruling, creating house rules, or designing an entire subsystem, the DM is taking on the role of a game designer.  but how good a game designer must he be?



JUDGE

Rules disputes happen.  It's a fact of life.  The DM isn't an advocate for the NPCs -- he is the referee.  Sometimes players will have rules disputes amongst themselves, and sometimes a player will interpret on if its powers differently than the DM.  Should rules mastery be required of DMs?  How about rules lawyering?  Should the DM be skilled wnough to exploit loopholes in the rules in the course of encounters, if he so chose, even as players try to exploit such loopholes for their own characters?



PUZZLE MASTER

DMs present challenges.  Sometimes they take the form of combat and sometimes they take the form of ethical decisions.  Sometimes, they take the form of puzzles.  A puzzle need not be as obvious as sphinx' riddle.  It may be more of a logic puzzle, where the players are presented with a variety of competing interests and they must determine who is right and who is wrong.  Murder mysteries, political thrillers, social cat-and-mouse, are all types of puzzles that have found a place in D&D at one time or another.  How adept must a DM be at crafting intricate plotlines to challenge the players?



WRITER

Adventuring is all about the story.  Whether you run a sandbox campaign or a railroad campaign or something in between, you are still primarily responsible for crafting an engaging story.  Whether it's devising interesting NPCs, or fascinating locations, or adventure hooks, a DM writes the material to entertain the players.  Must a DM be Shakespeare?  J. K. Rowling?  A dime-store novel hack?


Unearthed Wrecana
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.

+1

 
/\ Art
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.

+1

 



+1. I voted for "Amateur" in both Puzzle Master and Writer, but they are not exactly required for everyone. They are for me, and as usual I try to represent myself in the polls.
The only skills a DM really really needs are Judge and Field Marshal. Though the more the merrier. 
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.



I disagree.  If you don't include them, then you're not a GOOD DM.  You're simply a DM.  Probably an average DM, but definately not a good one.
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.



I disagree.  If you don't include them, then you're not a GOOD DM.  You're simply a DM.  Probably an average DM, but definately not a good one.



Read wrecan's question again.
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.



I disagree.  If you don't include them, then you're not a GOOD DM.  You're simply a DM.  Probably an average DM, but definately not a good one.



Read wrecan's question again.

Maybe he should change the topic's name, then.  They conflict.  I also answered as it pertains to "good" DM's.

Celebrate our differences.

I answered as I would hope the DM at the table would be.  To me, being able to run encounters and know the base rules is VERY important.  The other stuff is "Flair" (do you have the required nomber of pieces?)



Acting, Puzzles, Demiurge are all bonus features if done well.  Judge and Marshall are deal breakers if done poorly

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/20.jpg)

I think the answer to this question depends on the group he would be DM:ing for. For me personally I would value each trait as follows:

Actor: Cool bonus, but not important to me. If I get a few attributes describing the character I can envision the acting well enough in my imagination.

Demiurge: This is more important. I do not want the campaign world to be self-contradictory. It does not need to be all that great though where everything makes perfect sense for the world.

Field Marshal: I'd rather they be imperfect in this regard. I want to face encounters that are too hard and too easy once in a while. Encounters that feel too reliable are likely to become boring to me.

Game Designer: Not important... Everyone at the table can work together with this. The DM just needs to be a good judge.

Judge: Important. The DM needs to keep the table working and happy.

Puzzle Master: Cool, but not necessary.

Writer: The most important trait to me. If the story is good enough, pretty much everything else can be utter crap and I'll still be a happy player. Conversely, if the story is crappy enough, no battles in the world can keep me interested.



The Character Initiative


Every time you abuse the system you enforce limitations.
Every time the system is limited we lose options.
Breaking an RPG is like cheating in a computer game.
As a DM you are the punkbuster of your table.
Dare to say no to abusers.
Make players build characters, not characters out of builds.




The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.



I disagree.  If you don't include them, then you're not a GOOD DM.  You're simply a DM.  Probably an average DM, but definately not a good one.



Read wrecan's question again.

Maybe he should change the topic's name, then.  They conflict.  I also answered as it pertains to "good" DM's.




Yep.
I think the answer to this question depends on the group he would be DM:ing for.




This was my first thought too. I began DMing way too soon by the standards I just voted for, but since my fellow players were less familiar with the game than me, I was the favored DM. It also meant that my learning curve was a lot longer than it needed to be. But for the longest time I was the favored GM. I think that was because I was a good storyteller (writer) and a bit theatrical (actor) and good at improvisation. They enjoyed these qualities and missed them even when others as competent as me at rules and design or even moreso than I was. So I would lean heavily to those qualities being highly enjoyable factors in a GMs makeup. But that was just my group. Other groups and GMs may have had very different experiences.

"The worthy GM never purposely kills players' PCs. He presents opportunities for the rash and unthinking players to do that all on their own." --Gary Gygax
Of the seven professions, a DM needs at least amateur level of experience to be what I would consider a 'good' DM (and more is better of course).  Judge and Field Marshal would be the only ones I feel actually require competency or better.

Edit:  To clarify my original +1 a bit ;). 
/\ Art
I think another axis that needs to be explored is an I-we-they spectrum.

Some DMs present build and present their world.  Their NPCs have set agendas and personalities.  Their encounters are generaly predefined and premapped, either by location or through a series of events.  They make judgements and houserule to support their vision of a vibrant engaging fantas world.  Their puzzles have specific solutions. Their worlds have races and classes and politics and nations and so on. Their stories are driven by the world they have envisioned

It is not a hard and fast dichotomy, but at the other end of a spectrum, there is a player focus.


These DMs build their world around their players.  Their NPCs are created with a focus on engaging existing player hooks and building new ones.  Encounters are designed with the players capabilities, limitations and stories in mind.  Houserules and judgments focus on inclusion of player wants.  Puzzles might offer an open ended problem with no predetermined solution.  The races, classes, politics and nations of their worlds are driven by their players choices.  Their stories seek to weave the threads supplied by their players into a meaningful story.

I don't think there is a right or wrong here, but i think some groups are a better fit for one end of the spectrum or the other.

Below are my opinions of what is necessary and why.

ACTOR: A Dungeon Master must embody a variety of different characters from regal monarchs to leprous beggars.  The extent to which a DM can "sell" these characters as believable, the more immersive the roleplaying experience is for the players.  How much acting skill should a DM possess?



I chose competent and my requirement because without believable NPCs, the game becomes very bland.  It becomes:

I go to John the gemshop merchant to sell my gems and then go to John the horse merchant to buy a horse, then I proceed to see John the cleric at the temple for infomation on saving Lord John's daughter John from John the dragon.

If the DM isn't at least competent at acting, I can't play in the game.   

DEMIURGE: A campaign world is crafted.  Even when a DM runs published adventures, he must weave them into a coherent world.  The more plausible this world, the more the players can anticipate events and participate in the world's activities as full partners




I picked competent at this one, because if the world isn't plausible, it's just not an enjoyable world to play in.  The DM doesn't have to be a maestro at weaving the world, but he has to be at least competent.

FIELD MARSHAL: D&D can be seen as a series of encounters.  A DM must often run a whole cadre of opponents who must act to counter a strategically advanced party. In this milieu, it is one DM against four or more players.  How much skill does a DM need to design and implement a challenging encounter against a team of adventurers.




The DM needs to be at least competent at this or else encounters become too easy, and therefore very boring.  If the DM can't challenge the players, then the quality of the game is hurt.    

GAME DESIGNER: Sometimes a DM needs to make up a rule on the spot.  To do so, they might consider all the traditional hallmarks of game design: elegance, simplicity, balance, and flavor.  Some go outside the box and create their own monsters and NPCs.  Some DMs go further and design their own spells, skills, and classes for their players to use.  Whether you are making an ad hoc ruling, creating house rules, or designing an entire subsystem, the DM is taking on the role of a game designer.  but how good a game designer must he be?




I picked competent at this as well (go figure, I expect DMs to be competent ;) )  If the DM is not at least competent at improv and making up rules on the spot, then the players will either run all over him, or become frustrated when they come across situations that the rules don't cover or don't cover clearly.  
      
JUDGE: Rules disputes happen.  It's a fact of life.  The DM isn't an advocate for the NPCs -- he is the referee.  Sometimes players will have rules disputes amongst themselves, and sometimes a player will interpret on if its powers differently than the DM.  Should rules mastery be required of DMs?  How about rules lawyering?  Should the DM be encouraged to exploit loopholes in the rules in the course of encounters even as players try to exploit such loopholes for their own characters?



This one I said that the DM actually needs to be good, not just competent.  A DM needs to have mastery over the rules and know them well.
 
PUZZLE MASTER: DMs present challenges.  Sometimes they take the form of combat and sometimes they take the form of ethical decisions.  Sometimes, they take the form of puzzles.  A puzzle need not be as obvious as sphinx' riddle.  It may be more of a logic puzzle, where the players are presented with a variety of competing interests and they must determine who is right and who is wrong.  Murder mysteries, political thrillers, social cat-and-mouse, are all types of puzzles that have found a place in D&D at one time or another.  How adept must a DM be at crafting intricate plotlines to challenge the players?



This is less important to me, so I picked basic ability.  While I thoroughly enjoy puzzles, they don't need to be present or complex in order for me to enjoy the game.  There are many other aspects that if done correctly, leave the game enjoyable.  

WRITER: Adventuring is all about the story.  Whether you run a sandbox campaign or a railroad campaign or something in between, you are still primarily responsible for crafting an engaging story.  Whether it's devising interesting NPCs, or fascinating locations, or adventure hooks, a DM writes the material to entertain the players.  Must a DM be Shakespeare?  J. K. Rowling?  A dime-store novel hack?



The DM doesn't need to be an author, but if the story isn't written to at least a competent level, then the game is disjointed and unfun.  The adventures need to be able to grab you, and anything less than competent doesn't do that.  
   
 

     
     
I think another axis that needs to be explored is an I-we-they spectrum.

Some DMs present build and present their world.  Their NPCs have set agendas and personalities.  Their encounters are generaly predefined and premapped, either by location or through a series of events.  They make judgements and houserule to support their vision of a vibrant engaging fantas world.  Their puzzles have specific solutions. Their worlds have races and classes and politics and nations and so on. Their stories are driven by the world they have envisioned

It is not a hard and fast dichotomy, but at the other end of a spectrum, there is a player focus.


These DMs build their world around their players.  Their NPCs are created with a focus on engaging existing player hooks and building new ones.  Encounters are designed with the players capabilities, limitations and stories in mind.  Houserules and judgments focus on inclusion of player wants.  Puzzles might offer an open ended problem with no predetermined solution.  The races, classes, politics and nations of their worlds are driven by their players choices.  Their stories seek to weave the threads supplied by their players into a meaningful story.

I don't think there is a right or wrong here, but i think some groups are a better fit for one end of the spectrum or the other.



I like this distinction. But I feel like most people are somewhere on a spectrum in this regard. And this seems to me to be more of a stylistic choice than indicative of whether one is a good or bad DM. Both of the above sound like good DMs to me, with somewhat different approaches to play. Or am I misunderstanding?

"The worthy GM never purposely kills players' PCs. He presents opportunities for the rash and unthinking players to do that all on their own." --Gary Gygax
The point of this poll is not to gauge different DM styles.  The goal is to assess if someone who has never DM'ed -- and thus does not know what his style will be -- has the skills needed to be a good DM.  If you don't think any of these skills are universally needed, though any DM should have competency in two or three, then just answer Not Necessary for every topic.

As for the topic, I clarified the question.  I'm looking for baseline skills for good DMs.  The only actual requirement for being a DM is a desire to sit down and run a campaign.  An awful DM is still a DM.  I want to know what's the minimum you need to be considered "good".
The only two a DM really needs to be competent at are the Judge and Field Marshal, because those are the two you can't get away from. With the other factors you can just not include much of them in the game if your bad at them. A good DM needs to be good at some of them to give his game some depth, but it can be any of them.




+1, followed by experience, a willingness to embrace constructive criticism and acknowledging that there is always something you can do better or learn. 

"We are men of action, lies do not become us" ~ D.P.R.
I think another axis that needs to be explored is an I-we-they spectrum.

Some DMs present build and present their world.  Their NPCs have set agendas and personalities.  Their encounters are generaly predefined and premapped, either by location or through a series of events.  They make judgements and houserule to support their vision of a vibrant engaging fantas world.  Their puzzles have specific solutions. Their worlds have races and classes and politics and nations and so on. Their stories are driven by the world they have envisioned

It is not a hard and fast dichotomy, but at the other end of a spectrum, there is a player focus.


These DMs build their world around their players.  Their NPCs are created with a focus on engaging existing player hooks and building new ones.  Encounters are designed with the players capabilities, limitations and stories in mind.  Houserules and judgments focus on inclusion of player wants.  Puzzles might offer an open ended problem with no predetermined solution.  The races, classes, politics and nations of their worlds are driven by their players choices.  Their stories seek to weave the threads supplied by their players into a meaningful story.

I don't think there is a right or wrong here, but i think some groups are a better fit for one end of the spectrum or the other.



The point of this poll is not to gauge different DM styles.  The goal is to assess if someone who has never DM'ed -- and thus does not know what his style will be -- has the skills needed to be a good DM.  If you don't think any of these skills are universally needed, though any DM should have competency in two or three, then just answer Not Necessary for every topic.

As for the topic, I clarified the question.  I'm looking for baseline skills for good DMs.  The only actual requirement for being a DM is a desire to sit down and run a campaign.  An awful DM is still a DM.  I want to know what's the minimum you need to be considered "good".



Thanks for helping me regain focus . . . I think the I-we-they spectrum underlies 2 skillsets not listed but integral to good DMing.  Flexibitly (the ability to adapt to the needs of the group the story the world etc.) and Perception(the ability to discern the impact of the choices and the success or failure of the results of making those choices as a DM).  I see these traits being somewhat more abstract, but bigger drivers of DM success.
"I think the I-we-they spectrum underlies 2 skillsets not listed but integral to good DMing.  Flexibitly (the ability to adapt to the needs of the group the story the world etc.) and Perception(the ability to discern the impact of the choices and the success or failure of the results of making those choices as a DM).  I see these traits being somewhat more abstract, but bigger drivers of DM success."

This is actually a good clarification and makes a lot of sense Electricbee. I agree these are integral to DM success.
"The worthy GM never purposely kills players' PCs. He presents opportunities for the rash and unthinking players to do that all on their own." --Gary Gygax
Nifty poll, again, Wrecan.  ;)

I'm the "go-to" DM of my group, always have been.  Even when I want to sit in a player's chair, the other players won't let me.  :P

I'm an Actor first and foremost.  Every NPC has an accent, mannerisms, a way of speaking and carrying themselves.  After that, Demiurge and Writer make up the rest of what makes me the go-to DM.  An immersive world and story.  Whenever I try to run a published adventure "as-is" without putting my own spin on it, the players get bored.  The rules are completely secondary, at least with all the groups I've DMed for. 

And I hate puzzles.  Loathe them with a fiery passion.  Because I stink at them.  :P     

All around helpful simian

Nice poll wrecan as usual.   I think at least some of these skills are group dependent.   For example if you have a group full of people adept at min/maxing the rules strategically, then you need a DM that can play the NPCs up to snuff.   Many groups though do not do this so in these cases the DM just needs to be competent.

I voted mostly based on what I thought was a typical D&D group.   Because a DM can be good even if he is not a good fit for a particular group.

On the creative / design side I am probably more demanding.  I have a DM who excels in that area.  He is probably weakest at rules lawyering actually.  We sometimes know a rule better than he does.   But I expect a well defined world, and great flavorful adventures.   Maybe at heart I am of the explorer mindset.
And I hate puzzles.  Loathe them with a fiery passion.  Because I stink at them.  :P     


I think many DMs feel this way. My players love puzzles but I have a hard time thinking of good ones.

I really want to see loads more puzzles in 5e published adventures, to makes us DM's life a bit easier by not having to devise them!
My thanks to wrecan for creating these excellent polls.  Well thought out and well executed.

Hey Mods, this should be stickied.
Great poll. I think the only thing missing is Improvisation as it's own category.
 Being able to change things on the fly when a player or group does something totally out of left field or if an opportunity arises to do something unexpected yourself when players leave their brass underpants off. 
Some of my groups most memorable moments are the ones that were completely situational and off the top of my head.
 I'll have some ideas on what's involved but it won't come together until it's actually happening. 
Being able to change things on the fly when a player or group does something totally out of left field or if an opportunity arises to do something unexpected yourself when players leave their brass underpants off.


Those are qualities possessed by a field marshal.

And I hate puzzles.  Loathe them with a fiery passion.  Because I stink at them.  :P     


I think many DMs feel this way. My players love puzzles but I have a hard time thinking of good ones.

I really want to see loads more puzzles in 5e published adventures, to makes us DM's life a bit easier by not having to devise them!



I love making puzzles.  Love it.  I could write a book of puzzles.
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." --Bill Cosby (1937- ) Vanador: OK. You ripped a gateway to Hell, killed half the town, and raised the dead as feral zombies. We're going to kill you. But it can go two ways. We want you to run as fast as you possibly can toward the south of the town to draw the Zombies to you, and right before they catch you, I'll put an arrow through your head to end it instantly. If you don't agree to do this, we'll tie you this building and let the Zombies rip you apart slowly. Dimitry: God I love being Neutral. 4th edition is dead, long live 4th edition. Salla: opinionated, but commonly right.
fun quotes
58419928 wrote:
You have to do the work first, and show you can do the work, before someone is going to pay you for it.
69216168 wrote:
If you can't understand how someone yelling at another person would make them fight harder and longer, then you need to look at the forums a bit closer.
quote author=56832398 post=519321747]Considering DnD is a game wouldn't all styles be gamist?[/quote]
I love making puzzles.  Love it.  I could write a book of puzzles.


Perhaps you could make a separate post with some ideas for interesting puzzles, in dungeons and outside, we can use :-)
I think that the only way to determine wether or not a DM is a "good" one is to observe the game they're running.

No matter what you might think of the DM, as long as those they're DMing for approve & fun is being had....

 
  
I love making puzzles.  Love it.  I could write a book of puzzles.


Perhaps you could make a separate post with some ideas for interesting puzzles, in dungeons and outside, we can use :-)



I don't see any reason why what I enjoy should make life any easier for you all.

But seriously, give me a bit, I really do enjoy coming up with puzzles.
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." --Bill Cosby (1937- ) Vanador: OK. You ripped a gateway to Hell, killed half the town, and raised the dead as feral zombies. We're going to kill you. But it can go two ways. We want you to run as fast as you possibly can toward the south of the town to draw the Zombies to you, and right before they catch you, I'll put an arrow through your head to end it instantly. If you don't agree to do this, we'll tie you this building and let the Zombies rip you apart slowly. Dimitry: God I love being Neutral. 4th edition is dead, long live 4th edition. Salla: opinionated, but commonly right.
fun quotes
58419928 wrote:
You have to do the work first, and show you can do the work, before someone is going to pay you for it.
69216168 wrote:
If you can't understand how someone yelling at another person would make them fight harder and longer, then you need to look at the forums a bit closer.
quote author=56832398 post=519321747]Considering DnD is a game wouldn't all styles be gamist?[/quote]
Puzzle maker: Not needed. Not every adventure needs to include puzzles. Even what could be an in-game puzzle can be played as an Int check. I don't include them, because I haven't polished a way for the characters' Int to factor in them, but I'll do as soon as I manage to do it. I do love solving puzzles, though, but I don't think they are necessary.

Actor: It does appear in every adventure. Even monsters can be memorable with a good Actor DMing. I find that this improves the table experience greatly, and helps the players figuring out which NPC is talking any time. A poor or mediocre acting, though, doesn't spoil much the experience.

Demiurge: Pretty useful unless the DM is running a published adventure (or even a published setting with enough details). Even when the world creation is leaky, though, a good improvisation can save the day for the DM, so it's not so much needed.

Writer: Again, not as necessary when running published adventures, but even then it's more useful than Demiurge. For some game styles (like mine), this one skill is foremost. Other people can find it a secondary skill, but still pretty useful.

Marshall: A good Marshall's work isn't just making every encounter challenging. They can just as like adjust their own efficiency to a wide range of challenge levels. If they aren't good at it, some encounters (even bosses) can be very easy, and some others can be too difficult (a TPK from a warmup goblin ambush). If they don't adjust their skills, there can be weaker monsters and stronger monsters, but every monster would feel the same from a strategic POV (a kobold slinger would be just as clever as a drow assassin)

Rules creator: Even when the core rules are OK, often players end finding situations not covered, or badly covered (such as the RAW rules would be absurd). So this skill is very useful, but improvisation can solve these situations without having to create a rule on the spot. It's acceptable (IMO) to make a fast ruling and let the players know that you're going to edit this rule after the session, so rules creation 'on the spot' isn't that important for me.

Judge: Most. Important. Skill. Not only knowing the rules, but also, sometimes, interpretation of the system so that situations that can be interpreted in more than one way are ruled in the way that best fits in the game making it more enjoyable for everyone. Also, sometimes a good judge can overlook certain rules (even rules that are enforced in other situations) for the sake of a nice game.
A DM should strive to be a Carl Sagan, not a Yahweh.
"This is why that happens, in a language you can understand" is always preferable to "Because I say so!"

Actor: This adds even more than puzzles to the game.  If a DM can't do it well he should be really good elsewhere or this is a negative.

Demiurge: This is absolutely required for me.  I generally avoid DMs that use canned worlds.  It's a sign to me that they aren't really the type of DM I'm looking for.  Of course, thats just my preference and in no way a judgment.  I also realize that it is a sweeping generalization that is not always true.  But when snap decisions have to be made, I go with the guy who has his own well defined world.  If he can't produce a map or some background though then he's probably not for me.

Field Marshall: This all depends no the PCs.  If they are not so good the DM doesn't have to be as good.  If they are great then the DM needs some skills.  I'd say it's important.

Game Designer: Not necessary but a big bonus.  Probably more important to me than puzzle maker and actor.  

Judge: Knowledge of the rules is less important than courage and force of personality.  The DM needs to know he is the judge.  I'd say an average knowledge of the rules is good and great knowledge is even better.  But the courage is most important.

Puzzle master:  I think puzzles add to the game but they are not essential.  So I consider this a bonus.  

Writer: This is required and a must.  If you fail your skill check here you are gone.  You can use third party adventures but you must graft them in well to your world.


So if I had to rank things in order of importance....

1. Writer
2. Demiurge
3. Judge
4. Game Designer
5. Field Marshal
6. Actor
7. Puzzle master 
I think the answer to this question depends on the group he would be DM:ing for. For me personally I would value each trait as follows:

Actor: Cool bonus, but not important to me. If I get a few attributes describing the character I can envision the acting well enough in my imagination.

Demiurge: This is more important. I do not want the campaign world to be self-contradictory. It does not need to be all that great though where everything makes perfect sense for the world.

Field Marshal: I'd rather they be imperfect in this regard. I want to face encounters that are too hard and too easy once in a while. Encounters that feel too reliable are likely to become boring to me.

Game Designer: Not important... Everyone at the table can work together with this. The DM just needs to be a good judge.

Judge: Important. The DM needs to keep the table working and happy.

Puzzle Master: Cool, but not necessary.

Writer: The most important trait to me. If the story is good enough, pretty much everything else can be utter crap and I'll still be a happy player. Conversely, if the story is crappy enough, no battles in the world can keep me interested.




You know, I almost always disagree with you but here we're on the same side.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/23.jpg)

Well its been nearly 12 years sence i played anything more then one time game as i player. I as i G.M. try very hard to make all aspects of my games even and balanced. The most important thing i fell that i do to be a better G.M. is i ask for feedback from my players after every game. I also ask them what would they like to see thier characters accomplish in the game world. I have gotten good feedback and i have been told that i suck as a G.M. , but not every game is going to be a great game. Having said all that i would rank the skills in this order.
 
1.Writer
2.Demiurge
3.Actor
4.Judge
5.Field Marshal
6.Game Designer
7.Puzzle Master
8. Set / Prop Master

Ok i know that one wasn't listed. Bet ever sence i started using props and sets (yes sets, i have built a 6'x9' dungeon table) my players cant wait to game the next game. Maybe ive just gotten better at Gaming or they love to see where thier characters are at and what they are seeing, like a point of interest for them to use. It really make the casters pay WAY more attention to whats going on.
What makes a good DM?
Your answers SHOULD vary depending on what you want out of your  game. A good battle tactician runs great epic battles. A good storyteller tells awesome stories.... And players of like minds will come and go... Depending on wether or not they are getting what they need out of that DM.

What I have found makes me a good DM to my players (groups that tend to stick together for 8+ years and grow til I start discouraging new additions)....


IS CONSISTANCY.

After agame or two, your players know what they can and can't argue, what they can bring to the table pre-constructed, what they can creatively ad-lib, ect.... If your players get comfortable enough with you and your world to anticipate how you are going abjucate their playing..... I think your doing something right! 
And now, my analysis of the poll results...

Less than Competent: Actor and Puzzle Master
Life's full of questions, isn't it?
-The Riddler, The Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City, Part 1

Players did not seem to think it was all that important for Dungeon Masters to be particularly good at voices or puzzles.  They seem perfectly content if their DM is good at it, but it isn't something that requires more than amateurish levels of competency.  This is probably for the best.  Teaching people to act is difficult, particularly through the written medium of a Dungeon Master's Guide, and there are plenty of books out there for DMs who want to transform into thespians.  Puzzles are even more idfficult to teach, and finding a DM who enjoys crafting puzzles (and is actually good at it) is rare indeed.  Possibly, the players are simply bowing to reality. 

None of the remaining professions exceed the "Must be Competent" category.  Which is good.  A Dungeon Master's Guide need only concentrate on getting aspiring DMs to be comfortable in these roles -- they don't have to be professionals.  Even within the "competent" category, however, there are distinctions to be made...


Right Brain: Demiurge, Game Designer, and Writer
Do I look like a guy with a plan?
- The Joker, Dark Knight

Smack dab in the midst of the "competent" category are the three professions I would classify as "right-brain" jobs because they rely on whimsy, creativity, and artistry.  Writer and Demiurge actually tied with Puzzle Master in the category of "amateur"; they got moved into this category because they had more votes for "Competency" than for "minimal competency".  Game Designer, which actually straddles the right and left brains, had only a slightly higher rating than Writer and Demiurge.

Still, the player base clearly asserted a preference that their DMs be competent writers, game designers, and demiurges.  In the end, I conclude that D&D is a game about stories and people want good, compelling stories.  As a game designer, the mechanics should serve those stories and not the other way around.  Some basic advice on how to craft a good story, how to create compelling NPCs, and how to set a mood, would all be important components of a Dungeon Master's Guide designed to aid DMs in these areas. 


Left Brain: Field Marshal and Judge
To manipulate the fears of others, you must first learn to master your own, are you ready to begin?
-Ra's al Ghul, Batman Begins

There was great consensus that a Dungeon Master should be competent in these three areas.  The profession of Field Marshal, in fact, was the only category in which a clear majority -- 52% -- believed the DM should be competent.  Nearly three-quarters of the respondents felt the DM should be either competent or a master at judging.  That profession received the highest number of votes for both "mastery" and "must be better than anybody else". So clearly, these skills are considered very important to the players.

What can the developers do to help a DM?  These skills are what I call the "left brain" skills.  They require a lot of analytical thinking, clarity of communication, and quickwittedness.  One thing the developers can do with respect to judging is make the rules clear and state the game design assumptions up front.  That way when a DM has to adjudge a rule, it will be infrequent, and he will have a decent way to understand what the developers intended might happen in an unexpected scenario.

With respect to the field marshal, monster design and encounter building guidelines shoudl be explicit and easy to apply.  This is, to my mind, one of the most important pieces of "guidance" that a DMG can include for new and even experienced DMs.  Avoiding accidental TPKs as well as accidental cakewalks, is a matter of art as much as it is science.  Incorporating terrain, different types of creatures, environmental factors, traps, and hazards is a lot to juggle.  A DM needs a lot of guidance on how to make this seem seamless, and how to make their adventures flow without being boring.
Problem is, what makes a good DM is dependant on what kind of players are playing. 

Almost all need a ref that can answer questions fairly and honestly with a leniancy toward the players.

But after that, many need a tactician.

Some need an actor.

Others still need simply a good writer.

So, while your questions are good and valid, they still can't hit the point.  Because in the world of D&D, there are microcosms.  Much like weather: there are areas that differ daily, but still a major overarching pattern.  That's D&D.  That's why there are edition wars.
My poll is not about edition wars, nor is it trying to solve every roblem.  It was a poll, so it as trying to get at the common experience and determine what areas a Dungeon Master's Guide should address to help the greatest number of people.

Of course every table is unique.  That's not what this poll is about.
Field Marshal and Judge is the most important skill for the DM. 

1. You need to know how to balance an encounter to challenge the PC and to make them have fun. A bad DM either not make the game challenge enough or TPK the party because using a Lich for a 5th party for some reason was a good idea. 

For Example: I had a DM who send a Lich to my 2nd lv party follow by a chain devil. 

2. You got to know the rules, no expection. You are the DM, you are the judge, jury, and executioner. You need to know the rules, how to resolve problems, and what doesn't fly in your book.  

For Example:  Know what doesn't fly in my book? Higher lv character giving high lv items to lower lv character by the same player. Striaght up told him," Hey this won't be fair to the other players". 
My poll is not about edition wars, nor is it trying to solve every roblem.  It was a poll, so it as trying to get at the common experience and determine what areas a Dungeon Master's Guide should address to help the greatest number of people.

Of course every table is unique.  That's not what this poll is about.



My bad.  I didn't mean to come off sounding adversarial nor negative.  I liked your poll, especially how you did the results.  It was creative and informative.  I was just merely stating (perhaps a bit too cynically) that I thought all games are individualized. 

I think if this were tweaked a little, it would be a great way to match the correct DM that will fill player's niches.  We could call it DMHarmony.