I’m looking a dungeon crawler board game a bit and one thing that strike to me about “being the dungeon master” (in board games, and I guess in pen & paper RPGs as well) is that the dungeon master sometimes plays for totally different victory conditions.
When I was hosting Hero Quest sessions, it was my goal to “kill the heroes” (something like that said in the rulebook I think) but actually, I think I never played according to meet that goal. My goal was different.
My goal was to [i]provide a challenging (where players felt they could get killed), but something that players can barely beat[/i]. When I could provide such gaming experience, I knew I did a great job.
Dungeon master (or storyteller) is there to kill the chaps if they do really stupid stuff, but biggest factor was in noticing every player’s playing style (some folks preferred combat, some wanted puzzles/exploring, some liked to negotiate) and meet those challenges.
Funny that when computer “balances the game”, it’s sometimes considered cheating or stupid (and players start exploiting the AI – such as playing worse to get past really difficult zones)… but when human person (the dungeon master) does balancing, it’s perfectly okay.
Or do you really think that your own dungeon master never secretly helped your heroes, thinking: “oh shit, heroes are badly wounded already and there’s that ogre behind the corner… maybe I make it a dead ogre instead and let them get the treasure now.