Taking20 recently put out a video that listed tiers of players in roleplaying games. In this he noted the various ranks of players due to their game skill, but also their general player ability and involvement.
So obviously here I am, nicking his content but changing it a bit for my own uses!
I’ve listed out my tiers for dungeon masters, and I’ll be looking at three separate categories for each rank: Organisation (everything away from the table to do with their game), Dungeon Mastery (everything at the table), and Hobbyism (engagement and interest in the hobby as a whole).
Here we go.
Tier U (AKA I am the player now)
The Tier U is named such because in my nothing-like-Hogwarts English private school, we would be given Us if our homework was ‘un-markable’. This was only reserved for that one kid who’d submit 2 sentences and hoped life would do him a solid and get away with it. This tier is when people treat DMing like that.
[Hmm there appears to be a well-thumbed Dresden Files book and a scrap of paper saying ‘dragon? lol’]
The U will most likely be doing everything a player does except on the other side of the DM screen. They will only be interested in NPCs they’ve created, who will solve the mysteries, outshine your character and somehow get natural 20s to do everything. The adventure will most likely be fulfilling some sort of personal fantasy. Do not roll a female character.
[Hmm there appears to be a well-thumbed Dresden Files book….]
Tier C (AKA Average DMoe)
Okay Cs are DMs with at least a modicum of humanity, and are probably just starting out their dungeon master journey. Maybe they’re doing a one-shot, or maybe they’ve been playing on and off for years, but Cs will get you through the adventure…with your help.
A C will read or skim the adventure’s next few pages, or make up the next dungeon or area. They’ll have a few NPCs that will be a bit tropey, but will do the job. The C will be the final word on session organisation but won’t go out of their way to really push for it. After all something more fun/less hard might come up.
As long as things stay on relative track, the session will run pretty smoothly. Don’t expect many twists and turns, and be prepared to drop out of game to have some discussions regarding rules, or letting the DM have 10 minutes to do some spur of the moment prep (this is not a bad thing).
The C will probably watch a tips video now and then, skim through it but is ultimately still interested in being a player.
Tier B (AKA That’s My Shit)
Okay this is when dungeon masters become pretty into it. If you ask a B what their top 3 things to do are, chances are TTRPGs will be in that top 3. This is a C who has persevered through many sessions, done research, ran for different groups and actively thinks about the game quite a lot.
The B has read most of the adventure and has a vague understanding of the projected direction. If it’s their own adventure, they’ve got some NPCs ready to go, encounters they can put in, and will be the driving force behind getting the sessions planned in.
Bs will know more about the game then the players, typically. They’ll have a understanding of some of the more advanced skills of being a DM, such as pacing, settling disputes, NPC motivation, and will be able to improvise if needed.
Tier Bers will probably be playing every week without fail, maybe even on a weekend, and if not then they’ll be listening to or watching a TTRPG show or two to keep it around them. They’ll be active in certain forums, and talk about RPGs to others quite often.
Tier A (AKA Dungeon MASTER)
Wow, okay you don’t get many of these. This is what happens when you combine the hard work a B has to put in to the mechanical stuff with a focus on the softer skills of DMing. Or maybe they’re lucky enough to have it naturally. You may only meet one of these in your life, and if you do, GET IN THAT GAME.
The A tier is not only organising the sessions but they are happening, and they’re making the players excited to play and looking forward to it. They’ve got their adventure all in their mind, NPCs and encounters ready to be flipped around and chop and changed all over the place, building that road in front of the players in seconds.
You’ll know you have an A tier because the sessions run smooth as silk, and when they don’t the A will rectify it swiftly. They’ll have house rules and methods that iron out any wrinkle, and will know how the players want to play before they do. They’ll know if they prefer miniatures, theatre of the mind, etc, and will be perfectly able to run any type of campaign they want.
The A may even be a well-respected voice in the RPG community. They might have their own show, their house rules or even setting may shared and copied by many. They’ll have consumed a lot of other TTRPG shows as well as other systems to improve their own game.
Tier S (AKA Matty Mercs)
This is a bit of a bonus tier really (because S doesn’t come after A does it Devil May Cry), and it’s not necessarily just Matthew Mercer alone in this tier. But Tier Ss will probably be well-known amongst the RPG community, and be held up across the internet as a pinnacle of DMery and hair. You will have to pay big bucks to get a DM like this to play with you.
The S will have their own setting in which they know every detail, and it’ll be similar enough to be easy to grasp but different enough to be interesting. The S will not only organise multiple games at once but will have a sick recording set-up, maps, miniatures, apps and props. To be honest they’d have to a production studio and developer support.
To be part of the game feels like being in a TV show or film, and to watch it feels as such. The S will guide the story in a way that makes you feel like they must be fudging dice, but they’re not. They’ll bring things to natural and satisfying conclusions, as well as have a voice and personality for every damn NPC. They’ll be incredibly comfortable improvising Shakespeare as a crippled french turtle with half a mouth and a canker.
I mean, you’d probably know them by name. Trend-setters, opinion-havers. Have you not noticed how Matt Mercer makes statements on his Twitter regarding anything to do with RPGs, because people just want to know what his opinion is about it?
That’s my tiers everybody! Don’t get too hung up about the S tier, I’d say that DMing for an audience as well as players is such a branching skill now, I wouldn’t be surprised if WotC released a whole book for it. S tiers can please their players AND thousands of viewers at the same time, and most of us don’t need to be that good. So stop comparing everyone to Matt Mercer guys, it’s just not fair. We get the hair we’re born with.