What makes a good Dungeon Master? I saw this asked online recently, and I saw a lot of answers. My answer is simple. Fun, A good DM makes the game fun. Now, there are many ways that can be done. There are not really any wrong ways to do this, unless it stops being fun. A few years back I busted out my Tome of Horrors Complete. They have all sorts of nasties in there. I found the Oinodaemon. The idea of this guy was awesome to me. I had planned this whole session pretty much to be unbeatable, because, well, the Oinodaemon is unbeatable. A daemon who is pretty much of a god like level. The description made my imagination run wild. I loved this stuff. The Oinodaemon was more of a title, ruler of other Daemons, and other Daemons were locked in a power struggle for the great power of his staff. A magic item that would pretty much wipe out an adventuring party. I had a whole plot around the Oinodaemon, and how a big baddie was going to try to gain this power and place. I had evil cultists that I loved to role play and I was excited for the game. It sucked. I had great ideas in my head and I’m convinced if you read a book of it or saw a movie of it that it would be entertaining, but it did not make for a good game.
The players were way outnumbered, the Oinodaemon was way too evil, and in the end, their feeling of doom and helplessness seemed more like stress and frustration at the table. I left game feeling I had failed. I realized that they really did not have much fun that session. Now, I’m not saying the Oinodaemon was not fun, but in that session it sure was not fun. The players could not take it on. The Armor Class was out of this world, the powers were unstoppable and for all purposes, this was a god made to be impossible to beat. I wanted a certain response or answer out of this situation that the players were not doing. I realized that maybe just because it is cool on paper, it might not be cool in game.
Fun can vary from group to group. What one group finds fun another group might not find fun. So, one of the biggest things you as a DM can do is know your group. Know what the group enjoys and know what they find fun. It is perfectly fine to just go all out silly if the group enjoys that. Some groups might take things more seriously and want to have lots of combat or lots of dungeon delving. These are all okay if the group enjoys it.
Some groups may be less concerned about rules and more concerned about playing out a character in social situations, and that is okay too. The point is really that there could be lots of different answers to what makes a DM good and they can all be okay as long as the game is enjoyable.