While I haven’t been playing Dungeons & Dragons lately, I have been playing other games in a somewhat similar vein, such as Arkham Horror, and I’ve come to completely change my mind on how a successful Dungeon Master runs the game.
I used to view DMing as refereeing. And if you look at the Wikipedia article for Dungeon Master, it uses the word “referee” explicitly. This makes the DM a rules arbitrator, someone who tells players “that’s how your action resulted” or “no, that doesn’t work, the Arcana skill doesn’t allow for that”. This is a perfectly valid role for a DM.
But I’m starting to see a DM as someone whose role is to break the rules, not reinforce them. Any player can compare the Mage’s Fireball attack roll to their Reflex and see if they got hit or not. But only a rule breaker might determine that the Fireball weakened the wooden floor, creating a possible danger for players or monsters to fall to the basement below. Only a rule breaker can see that this fight is going to drag on for hours, and find creative ways to speed it up.
So recently I’ve been a rule breaker, not a rules enforcer. Arkham Horror is entirely automated by card shuffling and dice rolls; shouldn’t D&D be different?