Being a co-dm is an odd position. You can be a DM, a player, or someone who only helps with storyboarding.
Being a co-dm requires the right situation, teamwork, and fit. Every co-dm situation is different but there are some universal rules to help you.
The biggest tip on being a co-dm is to understand if it is even necessary.
When a co-dm is necessary
Being a co-dm is not a role that occurs often. Most games do not have a co-dm because it is not necessary, but there are some instances where a co-dm is a great idea. These instances are:
- When the players outnumber the DM but a huge margin.
- When there is a new DM.
- The DM needs help in a certain area.
- There are new players.
These are the 4 main reasons why you would need a co-dm. We will go into every reason in more detail, but you have to understand why people don’t like the concept of co-dms.
The worst instance of co-dming is when there is a power struggle between the DMs. A DM might undermine the other, try to control the narrative too much, and the whole game will die because of it.
This is why many people are cautious about having a co-dm, but it can be a great asset. We all have our strengths, and if you feel that you are really lacking in any area having a co-dm can help strengthen the areas that are weak. If you plan on being a co-dm, make sure that you compliment the other DM rather than clash.
Those are the concerns of having a co-dm and at the end we will give some warning signs to watch out for. Before we get to warning signs, we need to fully understand why you would risk a power struggle or something game-breaking occurring (although the risk of this should be minimal if done correctly), and how to make co-dming work well for you and your group.
If done correctly, being a co-dm should be easy and enjoyable without any power struggles.
When the players outnumber you
Every DM has a sweet spot for the number of players that they DM. Some DMs prefer to have 3-4 players in a game. Others 5-6, and some even find it preferable to DM 12 players instead of having more or less. Every DM is different and you don’t need to feel bad if you are best with only 1-2 players.
I myself like 4-6 players in my games, but what if there were more? You can do the sensible thing and say that your group is full, but there is another option. Get a co-dm.
Most DMs can handle 1-2 extra players from their sweet spot without any difficulties. 3+ is when it starts to strain the DM and might even be impossible for them. That is why you need help.
This is a great reason to have a co-dm and we will talk about the co-dm’s roles when we get to full time DMs. There are other times that being a co-dm can be helpful.
Your buddy understands the system and gosh Jiminy darn it wants to DM! I say it this way because new players wanting to DM are almost always ridiculous. They are a bundle of nerves, don’t know what to do, and lack experience to fall back on.
This is where you come in.
Being a co-dm in these situations can be extremely helpful. You will end up being a part-time DM (we will talk about that in a different section) that assists the new DM. You are not there to take over the story or become the Dungeon Master.
This is the most hands-off approach that you can take to co-dming, but it is the most likely scenario for people to have a co-dm. You can say no to having too many people, but you can’t start DMing without having your first time.
1 other reason why a DM might need a co-dm is due to their own lack of skill in a certain area.
Lack of skill
Every DM is different. We have different skills and different DM styles. Some DMs might be obsessed with dungeon designs and hack and slash D&D. These DMs can lack city-building skills and not understand how to make the best NPCs.
The opposite may be true with other DMs, and there are more areas that DMs can lack in. Just check out our website for more since we only linked a few articles. Even after reading the articles, you may not be confident in running a game with certain aspects. It is understandable that after only playing D&D with teenage highschoolers you know how to create a fun adventure but lack the ability to create depth.
You can either have a full-time DM help you by editing your ideas or fully taking over those aspects of the game. If you are being a co-dm in this situation, make sure you figure out what the other DM wants.
Does the other DM want to improve in the area that they lack in, or are you just a better fit and should take over that area? Once you have answered that question, there will not be a power struggle and you will be able to help the game.
Helping the game does not have to just involve the DM.
Being a co-dm can be essential if there are new players. Think of this. There are 5 players and 1 of them is new. The other 4 understand the game and are veterans, so they are more outspoken and try to get all of the DM’s attention. How does this new player feel?
The DM can try their best to address the new player’s concerns, but the new player is most likely intimidated. They won’t ask the DM every question and won’t want to interrupt the other players who are asking the DM ‘legitimate questions.’ The new player’s questions might be legitimate, but they can feel like any question they ask isn’t.
For these players, the DM is unable to help enough. The DM is addressing everyone’s questions, concerns, and managing an entire world. There isn’t much that you are able to do for the new player as a DM, and this is where being a co-dm can come in handy.
You will be a part-time co-dm who just looks after the new player. These players help address any concerns, questions, and try to have the new player enjoy the game.
This takes the burden off of the DM and lets them run the game without extra concern for this 1 player who may or may not be enjoying themself.
That is a huge bonus for a DM, but are these roles that we have been talking about?
Part-time DMs don’t know the story and do not have an influence over it.
Being a co-dm does not have to involve you behind a screen. A co-dm can be a player, but these players should have limited information about the campaign. These part-time DMs have a few roles.
- They exist to help with minor tasks.
- Part-time DMs can help with rules.
- They help other players understand the game.
Minor tasks might include taking initiative, calculating loot, taking notes, drawing maps, etc. In any of these roles, the co-dm does not need to know about the plot or anything else that they as a player wouldn’t know.
The same goes for help with rules. If a player is casting a spell and there is a dispute if it works or not have the co-dm make a ruling or deal with it all on their own. This is great for new DMs to a system since they might not know a few rules and you can ask the co-dm for help in case a rule might screw over your plan.
For helping players understand the game, this is best explained in the new players’ section. This works well for new players but it can also work well for other players. Other players may not be as adept at combat or roleplay, and having a co-dm help these players along will possibly make the experience more enjoyable.
The last part-time DM is an advisor. This is where you ask a person or even a player for advice on your story, plot, monsters, etc. This can be fine if you ask a confidant out of game, but having a player be an advisor is iffy at best.
The reason why I say this is because a player will metagame. You can get some advice on metagaming here, but everyone will always metagame a little bit. It is inevitable, so you shouldn’t have a player in your game advise you if possible.
If you have another person outside of the game advise you, make sure that they do not spoil it for everyone.
Having a full-time co-dm is a bit different. Full-time co-dms are what you typically expect. These are the people who are involved in the story, game and run it alongside another person.
Being a co-dm like this requires 2 things.
- Distribution of roles.
- A rhythm.
If you have 2 DMs, have each DM take on a specific role. We talked about how a lack of skill can be a big reason for having multiple DMs. That lack of skill was meant to be a learning curve with a DM helping another DM, but here you get more involved. As a full-time DM you take over the role of plot/NPCs and the other DM might take over the role of monsters/combat.
This way you distribute the roles to each other’s strengths and work together to make a great campaign.
You can also distribute the roles by giving other Dungeon Masters their own games to run and have everyone come together at the end for an epic game. This is much harder and should only be done with very experienced DMs, but the roles need to be assigned and everyone needs to know what they are doing/in charge of.
Once you have assigned the roles, you need to communicate outside of the game. A story in D&D requires combat most of the time. Combat requires a reason for there to be combat.
YOU BOTH NEED TO WORK TOGETHER!!!
You need to set up a rhythm. This could be conversing about the game on a specific day, or just chaotically pitching ideas back and forth to each other. However you set up your personal rhythm, it needs to be established.
If you do not have a rhythm or flow of ideas with each other then 1 party can be confused. When 1 party is confused, they don’t plan, mistrust sows, and the game will collapse shortly afterward.
Every successful part of being a co-dm requires communication. The biggest red flag is when information is not shared between both co-dms.
You can even have an on-off DM where 1 DM is in charge of a session and the other DM is in charge of the next. Regardless of your roles, you need to make sure that there is a free-flow of information that is constantly conveyed between the both of you.
Being a co-dm can be a great asset to many games. There are a few reasons why you would want a co-dm, but you need to establish what type of co-dm they will be.
Are they a full or part time DM?
What are the co-dm’s roles?
How are you going to communicate?
If you can answer these questions and follow through with your answers it will be a great campaign. Just be sure to watch for any lack of communication. Lack of communication is the killer to any co-dm game and will cause a power struggle.
Once a power struggle occurs the game is over. Even if you try to keep it afloat, that ship is already sinking.
I hope that this has helped you with being a co-dm and that our tips have helped you avoid disaster.
This has been Wizo and until next time keep rolling!