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D&D: What Abed From Community Teaches Us About Being A Better DM

Being a Dungeon Master is a labor of love and Abed from Community is a great example for those who want to learn to run better Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. Many aspects of Dungeons & Dragons were altered in the series to make the game more accessible to a broader audience. Even so, there are many simple things Abed does that DMs often overlook. Whether new to DMing or an old hand at the helm, employing some of Abed's techniques can help any DM improve their ability to run a campaign.

[Warning: Spoilers for Community are below.]

There are two episodes of Community where the study group plays Dungeons & Dragons. In Season 2, Episode 14, "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", the study group plays a fictional premade adventure called The Caverns of Draconis. In the second, Season 5, Episode 10, "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", the study group plays a homebrew D&D campaign of Abed's design. All of the Community mentions are derived from these two episodes.

Related: Everything Community's D&D Episodes Get Wrong About Dungeons & Dragons

In both Dungeons & Dragons episodes, Abed is DMing for experienced and inexperienced players alike. In each scenario, Abed ensures things keep moving smoothly. Command is the first lesson Abed teaches us. He takes charge and makes sure that the players know he is the game runner. It's not that a DM needs to be bossy, but they need to run the campaign with the utmost confidence. The DM needs to find the perfect balance between letting players do what they want and keeping whatever that is, in the confines of the rules.

Introducing new players to Dungeons & Dragons can be a daunting task for any DM. Players can be overwhelmed when the Player's Handbook is dropped in their lap and they are immediately tasked with creating a character. Abed alleviates this burden by creating characters for the new players. To many DMs this idea seems cheap, but for a new player it's not a terrible idea. Giving a player a premade character to play for one or two sessions (maybe an NPC already known to the party) isn't a bad way to let them familiarize themselves with Dungeons & Dragons gameplay. After that, a player should feel more confident making a character.

Explaining Dungeons & Dragons to a complete novice isn't the easiest task either. However, Abed does a great job of keeping his explanation simple. He explains to the study group that he tells a story, the players make decisions in that story and the game takes place in their collective imagination. Abed avoids complex rules or jargon that only experienced players would be familiar with. In an age where most games are "plug and play", a simpler explanation lets players get started and create awesome D&D moments as they learn.

Related: Best D&D Subclasses For New Players

Metagaming is a potential issue for DM's whether they are dealing with new or experienced players. When Jeff (an inexperienced player at the time) asked Abed where he could get a pegasus, Abed simply replied "I can't give you information like that." An overblown explanation of metagaming isn't necessary and might make a new player a bit shy in the future. A DMs job is to encourage new players to ask the right types of questions. Also, players are only human and with such an immersive game like Dungeons & Dragons metagaming can be an easy mistake to make.

The first time Abed has to really pause the study group's Dungeons & Dragons game is when Pierce steals another player's sword and runs away from the party. Because of a real-life crisis going on with the player, Jeff pleads with Abed to simply kill Pierce and return the sword. Abed explains "I have to be impartial or the game has no meaning." It's a simple yet powerful rule for a DM to employ. A DM that caters to certain players or plays favorites can end up cheapening the game.

Still, it must be said that players acting against the party can be one of the toughest things for a DM to deal with. It can be outright disruptive and even result in PVP combat. It's especially frustrating for a DM who had a different course of events or narrative in mind for the party. In both of Community's Dungeons & Dragons episodes, players ended up working against one another. Abed simply separated the opposing players and DMed them in a "double-blind scenario". This is genius because it keeps the players in the dark about the other's actions and minimizes metagaming. Only if the potential for PVP combat arose in Abed's Dungeons & Dragons campaign were the players brought together.

Related: How Dungeons & Dragons Players Can Help DMs For Better Campaigns

Abed's impartiality stretched beyond inter-party interactions. When Hank Hickey noticed that an evil necromancer had escaped, he was upset with Abed. He insisted that Abed owed him an ending.  Abed quickly let him know that he owed him nothing. "Spend an hour outside someone's front door fighting over who gets to kill him? He leaves through the back." The lesson here is simple. Whether players get on board with the narrative or not, the world a DM has created continues without them. The world, much like the DM, shouldn't cater to poor choices.

Good preparation is key to DMing any Dungeons & Dragons session. The need for good prep rings true especially when running a homebrew campaign. In Abed's homebrew D&D session, Hickey felt he was being railroaded into an adventure he didn't want to play. He challenged Abed and asked what would happen if he went the other way, joking that he'd fall off of Abed's graph paper. Abed essentially replied that he'd generated a thing or two about the surrounding area and dropped an overflowing 3-ring binder on the table.

That level of preparedness isn't exactly necessary but it drives home the larger point. A DM needs to be ready for whatever approach a party may take to tackling the adventure. The better fleshed-out a homebrew setting is the more enjoyable and immersive it becomes for the players. The more situations or shenanigans the DM is prepared for, the smoother the game will run. Even if a DM develops NPCs that won't be used immediately, they can always save them for later.

Related: Books Every D&D Dungeon Master Should Have On Their Shelves

No matter how well a DM prepares for a Dungeons & Dragons session, something unanticipated is bound to happen. The ability to adapt and improvise was one of Abed's biggest strengths as a DM. The most basic example of this was when Buzz Hickey decided to take two hobgoblins hostage and interrogate them. Most players in this situation would just kill a passing group of hobgoblins outright. Adapting quickly, Abed lept into both monsters and improvised backstories and voices for both. This level of commitment and immersion is to be admired. Rather than simply telling the player the events, a DM can act it out.

Though the Community series' Dungeons & Dragons episodes aren't the authority on how the game is played, they are a fun tribute. Abed is also a tremendous talent at DM. This was most evident when new players left his game session smiling and were excited to play again. His adventures were not overly complex, but Abed immersed himself in the game and was invested in his campaigns. From a beleaguered gnome waiter to the beating of heavy wings against the wind, he owned it. His preparation for the second session let his players know that he was insistent on growing as a DM. Every DM should aspire to be just a little bit more like Abed.

Next: Tabletop RPGs Designed To Be Played Without Game Masters

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