Is ChatGPT a good DungeonMaster in Dungeons & Dragons?

This past Saturday night, I sat down to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons with ChatGPT by myself. As a kid in the 1980s, I begged my parents for Heroes’ Quest, a fantasy role-playing board game that looked so fun in TV ads. When I eventually got it, I found I had no friends actually interested in playing with me, so I spent a lot of time playing with it alone. Honestly, it’s kind of a lonely and sad memory! But soon enough, I did find my own Stranger Things–esque gang of kids and spent many years playing a different game—Dungeons & Dragons. I continued to play into adulthood, and when I moved during the pandemic, I made a new group of friends to play with. I’m the DungeonMaster (DM), and I’ve been running a long campaign for two years now.  

As a DM, you either have to write a story for your players to inhabit, or buy and learn a premade adventure. My favorite part of role-playing games, or RPGs, has always been creating my own worlds and stories—like having Genghis Khan rise from the dead to reconquer the known world with a zombie army. 

Some recent media reports say that ChatGPT is shockingly good at D&D, specifically in the the DM role. So I went back to the future to play a my childhood favorite with ChatGPT as my DM to see if I needed to worry about A.I. replacing me. 

Should you use ChatGPT to play D&D?

D&D is an enormously complicated game that can require large amounts of memorization, world-building, and rule deciphering. Chances are that there are parts of the game that you deeply love and parts of the game that are incredibly boring to you. 

For example, I love creating NPCs (non-player characters) for my players to interact with. I love drawing maps, worldbuilding lore, creating puzzles, and designing combat encounters that force the players to try new strategies. I would never want to outsource these parts of the game. Fans of Game of Thrones or Star Wars can relate, as the details that make the world seem real have created fandoms spanning decades.

But I have absolutely no desire to stock fantasy stores inside my D&D games with realistically priced items; I don’t like writing scene-setting descriptions; and I generally only care about the rules as much as I have to in order to make the game work. My games function because other players either fill in the gaps or don’t mind the absence of details like these. 

I would recommend using ChatGPT for the parts you do not enjoy, and it’s easy to imagine offloading some of the work I don’t like onto an A.I. with the correct prompts.

With ChatGPT, in a matter of seconds I was able to enter a list of bullet points for a setting I had in mind and have a 500-word description generated to read to my players. A few adjustments to the prompt to tweak it, and it was ready to go. As a DM, there is a kind of magic sense of relief at the words appearing so easily in front of me when choosing the right words is often a time consuming struggle.

Can you learn D&D with ChatGPT?

ChatGPT could be a great aid or even a teacher for someone trying to learn D&D. 

Matt Collville, a prominent D&D YouTube personality, once quipped that D&D is a game that can only be learned from someone who already knows how to play. This is because there are too many rules, too much knowledge spread across too many expensive books to figure it out easily by yourself. But ChatGPT, much like Colville’s “Running the Game” series on YouTube, is a great aid to demystifying parts of D&D for new players. 

A short prompt in ChatGPT, such as “What class should I play in D&D if I want to play an elf who fights and uses magic?” generated a 600-word analysis of the best classes and subclasses with detailed descriptions of each one. Without A.I., this information is spread across at least three 200-page-plus official D&D books, each costing $50 or more. 

Can ChatGPT be a good DM?

This is a hard no.

Trying to get ChatGPT to understand that I wanted it to be a DungeonMaster was onerous and frustrating, even when I used the same prompts others had used for articles and Reddit threads. At times, ChatGPT wrote both the DM and player responses instead of allowing me to play. Other times it relayed error messages when I inputted prompts. When I did get it to work reasonably well as a DM, it was overbearing with the story, not allowing me to interact with events in a satisfying way. 

The experience felt much more like an advanced choose-your-own-adventure, or even a text-based adventure game from the dial-up days of the internet, than a lively game of D&D. It was remarkable how it adapted to the prompts I inputted of my character’s actions, but it felt like watching the same magic trick over and over again.

But whether or not ChatGPT can DM a game is beside the point. D&D and other live role-playing games inhabit a unique niche, but they’re comparable to other activities in modern-day society. They are a cross between theater, improv, and board games, with a focus on collaboratively building a story with other people. The payoff for playing is the social experience. That’s why D&D surged in popularity during the pandemic, when people were experiencing a lot of loneliness. 

As someone who has been on both sides of the table, it is hard to imagine ChatGPT finding an audience as the game master for role-playing games at this stage, except with hard-core players who want to play D&D by themselves and people who can’t find other gamers to play with. 


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