There's a guy standing on a table in the corner, over a naked prone body, pushing his boot down onto the back of her neck, her shoulders, all over her backside. Someone in the other corner has a flogger, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a lighter, and a mean grin. There's a young lady sobbing and saying "no, no, no" and her top is still whacking away with a pretty mean whip. And you're the Dungeon Master. What do you do now?
At many clubs, three scenes wouldn't even be realistic. There would probably be another five to ten scenes that the Dungeon Master (DM) is responsible for overseeing. There's a lot of different play styles going on. There are a lot of new people coming into the dungeon that you've not seen (if your club is fortunate to be growing). There are plenty of situations that happen spontaneously and quickly that need attention. How do you cope with it all?
I serve sometimes as DM at my local club, and I have my ways about doing things. I'm sure others have knowledge and technique that I lack that would benefit me. I want to offer my perspective from the side of a player, though.
I've played at a few places lately where I've had mixed responses from Dungeon Masters, some of which were merely a matter of handling things in a less-than-appropriate manner. What I'd like to do is offer a few thoughts and opinions on the role of Dungeon Master from my perspective with the hope of promoting learning and exchanging ideas.
The Dungeon Itself
Club rules are very important. It's one thing to say that you play a certain way (for example, my slave and I don't use safewords), but if the club's rules say that we must play with safewords, it's important to comply. It's doubly important that the DM understands the rules that he or she is enforcing, so that they don't interpret the rules into their own personal preference. One great facet of playing at a club is being able to explore something you might not be able to experience on your own. Enforcing the club's rules is one thing. Making more of your own is another.
In a party situation, the Dungeon Master should never leave the dungeon while on his or her shift (I'll use "his" for the rest of this piece). That sounds like a "given," but it's happened a few times where the DM has gone missing at a crucial time. It's important to have someone on hand, and that the person be aware of the scenes going on. If the DM is spending their time chatting socially with others, they may possibly miss something important as well.
The tools of safety, cleanliness, and good play are always important. DMs do the players a great service by having supplies like paper towels, cleaning solution, etc on hand. If the dungeon supplies hardware like panic snaps or lube, it's important that players know where to find something they might need on the fly.
Some of the furniture and hardware in a club is difficult to understand or perhaps set up alone. Though it's not the DM's responsibility to prepare anyone's scene for them, it's always nice to be able to explain and demonstrate the furniture and hardware that's around. It helps better the chances of the safe use of the items.
Some clubs (most?) permit others to view scenes while not participating in their own. I like to do this as it gives me new ideas, and hell, it's entertaining. In my opinion, the "audience" is the responsibility of the DM, as far as keeping "crowd control." When I play, I don't mind any size crowd around. It's part of being in a public space. However, if watchers on get noisy or disruptive, I don't want to interrupt my scene to attend to the matter. I would want the DM to assist in keeping the peace in the background.
Most clubs (if not all) have a rule against uninvited audience participation. Sometimes, especially in a multiple-player scene, spectators misconceive the scene to be a "free for all" and will try to get involved in the scene. This is something to watch for. Sometimes people get caught in the moment and offer to assist without being asked. It's definitely something to dissuade, as it makes the players feel uncomfortable and is bad etiquette.
For the most part, spectators take care of themselves. Rare exceptions exist in all societies, however, and for those, the DM's assistance is greatly appreciated.
A quick note about laughing in the dungeon. Some scenes are intentionally funny. I love to throw elements of humour into the scene, getting the bottom to laugh occasionally through the pain. That kind of humour is contagious, but it's also fine. When something humorous happens that doesn't involve the bottom, especially if the bottom can't see the audience or the source of the humour, the laughter can be damaging. This happened to me last weekend.
Playing with a young lady with incredible pain tolerance, I was topping her within a multiple-top scene. I was spanking one ass-cheek while another top was signal-tailing her other cheek. I thought he was merely cracking the whip near her and accidentally stuck my hand right in the way. SNAP! After pulling my hand back fast, I stood back away from the bottom's back and shook my hand rapidly. The same top joked with me visually about whacking me again. I pretended to flog him back. This happened behind the submissive's back. When the audience saw our antics, they laughed. However, the bottom didn't realize we were making a dumb joke over the accident. She thought everyone had started laughing at her. She burst out crying and was mortified. The scene had to end. Sometimes, laughter is a problem. Just be aware.
The problem I most often encounter in playing at public clubs is that something particular in my play style sometimes upsets a DM. One example, a big one that always sets off debates in BDSM lists, is that my slave and I don't play with safewords. Mind you, we live together, and I never push a scene past the edges of where it should go, at least not at a public club.
Every club has its rules, and by agreeing to attend the club, it's assumed that you agree to abide by the rules for the duration that you're visiting the club. The rules should be known by both players and DMs and followed.
However, if scenes go above and beyond the rules, there need to be considerations given and received on both the sides of the players and the DM.
One good example of when a DM needs to be made aware something's going to happen is a flaming flogger demo. While great fun to watch and entertaining to all, a very dark dungeon is an odd place to see a sudden blaze of orange flame. It's not fair of the player NOT to warn the DM, and it is always a good thing for the DM to warn the tops of what's coming. Even then, I was once warned, and when the flogger finally came into a blaze, I nearly whacked the bottom's spine with whom I was playing.
By the same token, a Dungeon Master must be aware that there are players out there who play differently than the DM is used to seeing. BDSM players don't always fit in the "roles" that usually define the scene. I watched two tops flog each other last weekend. They did it like jousting. One would whack the other's back and then they'd switch back. It was fun, but I'm sure the DM was wondering what was going on.
That's a humorous instance. There are also times when the way a Dungeon Master handles a situation can affect the outcome of the scene and the experiences of the players. Again, differences in play style come right to mind. My example to open this piece mentioned the woman shouting "no, no, no," at the top of her lungs. If a DM came in and stopped the scene without consulting the top, it would, in my opinion, be a big mistake. Lots of people love to "protest" their situation, and if safewords are used in that relationship, they're almost never "no."
Courtesy is a must. If the DM needs to communicate with or ask the top a question, he should signal the top politely and subtly, so as not to upset the headspace of the bottom. I believe all communication should go through the top, but not for any D/s reason. Rather, the top is the choreographer. He or she is the one who'll know what's happening and when is a safe spot to be interrupted. From there, the top can communicate anything necessary to the bottom.
General field first aid is a good skill for DMs to possess. In my experience, there are lots of medical personnel in the Scene, but it's important that the DM (or someone in the dungeon) know good first aid. It's amazing what can go wrong when you expect nothing to go wrong.
In our club, panic snaps are a must for all scenes involving suspension and bondage. Different places have different rules. It's important that the DM and the players know how to use the panic snaps properly. Also, it's just as necessary that the panic snaps are reach-able. Again, different clubs have different rules, but at the club I play at, the rule is that the bottom must be able to escape the bondage or suspension themselves, without any assistance, within one minute. The snaps make a world of difference for this, but they also count as good safety planning. A prominent Domme told me the story of how she was playing a 260 pound sub who fainted during a suspension.
Had she not had panic snaps, it would've been a hell of a trick to get him down.
Cleaning an area before and after play is the responsibility of the players, but it's a good thing for the DM to be able to point out where the cleaning items are. DMs are not maids, but for people unfamiliar with a club, it's nice to direct them.
If a Dungeon Master encounters a scene where he's not entirely SURE of the safety of it, an easy way to become more comfortable would be to talk with the top. The player should probably clear anything they perceive to be misinterpreted ahead of time, but if a situation arises where a DM is uncomfortable, an easy way to handle it is to just get the top's take on the safety of the scene. If there is still an issue, the DM should be the final authority.
Another safety concern is space. Players require a certain amount of space for their scenes. This is sometimes to give them room to swing a weapon around. It's often times merely needed to retain "head space." When our club's whip-master gets going with his 10 foot bullwhip, the DM always has to ensure plenty of space for obvious reasons. Bullwhip backlashes don't make fashionable face-tattoos.
Promoting Good Playing and Exploration I think it's important for the future growth and exploration of players that the Dungeon Master attempt to keep an open mind for new or different types of scenes, provided the rules of the club and general safety be followed. It's in those new places that we often find something worth exploring more. It's in variety that clubs remain vibrant and exciting.
In the end, the DM should always be aware of his role as a facilitator of good play in a dungeon while remembering that he is there for the safety and comfort of the guests. A good amount of common sense, courtesy, and experience makes for a great Dungeon Master. In my opinion, a DM can make or break a club, as far as comfort and subsequent attendance go. And above all else, if it's not fun, why do it?
© 1999 SubtleDeath
- Ten Tips for Novice Dungeon Monitors by Jay Wiseman
- Dungeon Masters by SubtleDeath
- Comprehensive Dungeon Monitors Guide (2003) by Sir Bamm! and His! t
- NLA-Austin Dungeon Monitor Training Manual
- The Health & Safety section of this site: More articles on and resources for general BDSM safety, medical advise, emotional health & psychological issues, sexually transmitted infections including hepatitis, support groups, medical sites on the internet, and finding a doctor
- The Community Service section of the this site: More articles on "throwing dungeon parties."