Matt Davids at Dicegeeks weighs in:
“There’s always been a GM shortage.
There have been rumblings online of a dungeon master shortage that will spell the doom of D&D and RPGs in general. The stir seems to have been mainly caused by this article. Others jumped in, and Questing Beast made a video about it. I even wrote up some quick thoughts.
I think those discussions are missing some key points, but first, let me tell you a story…
A conspiratorial glance in English class. A hasty whisper in Study Hall. A slyly passed note in Introduction to Earth Science. “A guy at a different high school wants to run D&D.”
What happened next? Eight hours spent making (completely wrong I’m sure) a wood elf ranger named Arenoth. Thanking God I bought that 1970 Firebird from my brother’s ex-girlfriend after it had been totaled. It should have been able to make it 12 miles to the kid’s house.
What didn’t happen next? The session. A father’s business trip. A sister’s cheer tournament. Some of the other players decided it was easier to play Super Mario Brothers than to figure out a ride. Whatever it was, the session didn’t happen.
What did I do? I went back to running WEG Star Wars for my friends and GMed everything for the next 25 years until one of my players finally decided to run a game (after non-stop begging from me).
The hot take here is that it was easier back in the day when the glories of the OSR were blooming like the fresh flowers of spring to run games, so we had more DMs. Not true.
When a session began at the entrance to a dungeon, and there was no outside world and characters were easy to make and had no backstories, still hardly anyone wanted to the DM.
You see, there’s always been a GM shortage. It is just the nature of the hobby. Being GM or DM takes more work than being a player, so fewer want to do it. Though, it doesn’t take as much work as some would like to say it does.
Why, you say, why? Because it’s more work than being a player. The DM needed monsters, and room items. They needed dungeon maps. They needed to know the rules because the players didn’t own the books (or had never heard of an RPG before) and couldn’t look them up online. Plus only one of the players actually wanted to play. The other three people were strongarmed into playing by the DM filled with dreams wafting from the pages of Dragon magazine of mythical things called campaigns.
But it’s gotten worse for DMs since then. Now, we place so much pressure on the GM that is a surprise anyone wants to run a game. Just look around the web.
Bad game mastering turns off players. GMs have to cater to every whim of the players. GMs have to know every single rule. If they don’t know how to run mounted combat they’ve failed and should be cast into the lake of fire. GMs need to spend hours each week planning sessions. GMs need to write epic campaigns the likes of Tolkien or Shakespeare couldn’t produce. Bad D&D is worse than no D&D.
Lies, lies, all lies from the pit of the nine hells. Hot take: If you want your DM to be Shakespeare, you had better be Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, or Maggie Smith.
However, there is another truth at the heart of the matter. While there is a GM shortage, and there always will be, there are currently more game masters than ever before.
In the last seven years, I have only GMed when I wanted to. All of the players in my group now regularly run D&D or another game for our group and even for other groups. The popularity of 5e caused more people than ever to take up the mantle of the dungeon master. Hop on Roll20 any day or time and you can be in a D&D session in less than 15 minutes.
We should stop complaining and realize we are in the second Golden Age of RPGs. More people are playing and running than ever before in history. Let that sink in, and think about what it means for the future of the hobby.
Soon D&D will go into a downturn like all the cycles of the past. The players 5e brought in will play other RPGs, and the hobby will move a little less mainstream until D&D makes another resurgence. But the end result will be a thriving hobby with many more people willing to play and run games.
Let’s encourage new role-players to run sessions, not berate them if they don’t know a rule. Let’s encourage players to learn how their characters work and to be active and helpful.”