This is a story about two different types of DM’s. One loves to DM his players through really tough and deadly encounters, pumps his fists when a player goes down, and curses when his die rolls badly. The other DM is crafting a story, and together with the players, they are all telling a great tale of heroic exploits and daring feats. This DM is not out to kill the PC’s nor make their life miserable, instead, he’s out to make sure everyone is enjoying the game while together telling their story.
The Competitor Dm sees D&D as a “DM vs. PC’s” game, and he’ll pull all the stops to make sure he wins. He laughs and celebrates when his monsters are defeating the heroes, because it’s him who is defeating the heroes. While the Storyteller DM is looking to be fair, yet challenging. He’s not high-fiving himself after the death of a PC like the Competitor DM is.
I’ve seen it plenty of times. Someone sits at the DM table for the first time and decides that the DM’s job is to kill the players, and make sure that he “wins”. The competitive instinct takes over… he mumbles “yes!” under his breath when he rolls a crit on the attack roll, and slams the table when he rolls a 1. I even saw it at Gencon and asked the DM if he was actively trying to kill us!
So the question to you newbie dm’s out there becomes this, what type of DM do you want to be? In all honestly, there is no right or wrong answer, as long as player expectations are met and considered. If your group agrees, then a DM vs. PC game can be rewarding for all. If that’s what the group is into then more power to you! Have fun! But if your players are expecting the classic DM-as-a-collaborator type of sessions, and instead you look forward to their doom, your party is in a heap of trouble and the game is doomed to fail.
There is no right and wrong way to play the game, as different groups have different styles. That’s fine. But there is a right and wrong way to treate your players. Once you’ve found a group, and have decided that you are going to be the DM for the first time, talk it over with the players. Nobody likes a bait and switch.