- Create an evocative world with every tiny detail thought out for whatever the players decide to investigate or whichever NPC they decide to converse with.
- Be able to improvise an entire adventure based on the whim of the players, in case they decide they don’t really care about saving the Duke after all, but instead want to follow up on a months-old plotline that they previously abandoned. (Better yet, have all potential adventure paths planned out in detail, ready to access for whenever it comes up.)
- Keep players moving from one part to the next at a decent pace without getting stuck.
- Not railroad players into following the path that the DM has set forth.
- Provide plenty of hooks for every character to follow up on.
- Have distinctive voices for every NPC, so as soon as he opens their mouth, the players can identify who it is.
- Provide surprising encounters that the players cannot predict coming, but still have a sense of familiarity.
- Give each player, no matter how divergent their stories and abilities, equal time in the spotlight.
- Even when dealing with 8 players who all split up to do different things, be able to handle everything going on without downtime.
- Let the players develop any idea they have, from crazy inventions to powerful spells. Also, he should let the players interrupt NPCs to act whenever they want.
- Satisfy all player types, no matter how many different ones there are in the group.
- Have all the rules memorized (including errata) and be able to answer any rules question in a split second, even in the middle of the DM’s turn to move the monsters.
- Come up with all complex and interesting scenarios, dungeons, and characters.
- Be well supplied with all the latest and greatest equipment for the game (and a subset of this: have a perfect miniature for your character that has the weapon and armor that the character uses.)
Most of this list is tongue-in-cheek, even if it does seem that way when behind the screen some days. There’s still plenty of these can be used or dealt with between the players and the DM ahead of time. While I’m not as enamored with the 4e DMG as some others seem to be (especially compared with the other two books), I really like that the core concept of “the DM is another player, not just an entertainer for everyone else” is spelled out. This may be a change from the paradigm in older games and even in some other contemporaries of D&D. What say you? Any to add? Any that are way off base?
(And I should say this is not a dig at any of my players, past and present, just the cumulation of my many years of DM experience.)