First DM of the Year: Oak!

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Image: David Oak Stark
Image: David Oak Stark

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced the Premier Dungeon Master of the Year. David “Oak” Stark was awarded a crystal D20, and what is likely the most prestigious award ever given to any D&D player.

At this year’s Gen Con, Oak was an invited DM who ran 9 total events in unison with between 20 and 50 other DMs. His excitement to be there could be seen throughout, as his energetic hosting kept events running Thursday through Sunday.

Saturday night, he played the role of Captain with nine other DMs running a D&D Epic. With eight Squads (a table of 6 players, and 1 DM), and an interactive HQ team (who crunched the numbers for the field and tracked accomplishments) Oak’s Squad Team successfully completed their task. With 93 total tables being overseen by 10 DMs, each Squad Team was tasked with completing the Corruption in Kryptgarden event written by Teos Abadia. Since this event is going to be used again, details are not being released at this time.

How did Oak manage to secure the position of DM of the year? By not trying to. There were over 1,000 players and DMs running this event at the same time, with thousands of onlookers tracking every move. Since DM of the Year is awarded based on review, Oak’s energy and passion gave him the opportunity to shine in one of the most harrowing events a DM can host.

His signature NPC voices won the hearts of many players. When asked to share his favorite Easter Egg Voice, he remembered fondly the character Elisande – an orphan human girl. Drawing on his time living in Arkansas, he brought this hick-child to life. When asked by other DMs to teach him that voice, he reminded them that each DM should develop their own “voices” in the pursuit of individuality and authenticity.

His greatest advantage at Gen Con was the extensive work he has put in testing and providing feedback for D&D 5e. He began playing D&D Next in May 2013, and hooked up with WotC’s Encounters organized play in July 2013. Having worked so closely with the Developers of 5e, he is listed in the credits of the upcoming Monster Manual, and is currently reviewing the Dungeon Master’s Guide pre-release. This level of access to content during development meant that he was as familiar as it is possible to be with the material before he arrived at Gen Con. Especially considering that only the Players Handbook is currently released!

When I asked Oak if he had any regrets, he lamented his loss of sleep – and his voice. He still made his voice do its acrobatics (I swear, he doesn’t take points in Cha – instead he takes points in Vocal Dexterity), but as I interviewed him, I heard an unfamiliar resonance that indicated a recovering soundmaker. Just shows that even the best of DMs have to take care of themselves.

Image: Marcus Wiles
Oak can’t stop having fun. This time, it came in the form of hitting every one of the 18 buttons on the elevator. He was headed to the 18th floor. Image: Marcus Wiles

Oak is a seriously dedicated gamer. In fact, my interview with him (which was a bit awkward, considering he’s my twin brother) was conducted to the sounds of Oak’s victories in League of Legends. This dedication extends to his players as well. He does not PWN his players – he steadfastly supports them as his allies. Don’t mistake – he’s not a “care bear.” His players know they can die if they don’t play well, but they also know that their risks can net great rewards.

Where to go from here? Oak is working with Mike Mearles, Greg Bilsland, and the tight-knit testing community. He has also launched some of his excellent content onto a new website, hoping to share his ingenious character concepts and plot hooks. Readers can now submit content to be featured as well!

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