Who is the greatest Dungeon Master of all time in fiction or history?
That’s a wonderful question to ponder, and one I would love to hear your thoughts about in the comments.
I humbly submit Scheherazade as my candidate. She, for those who do not know the tale, is presented as the legendary author of One Thousand and One Nights. She married a Persian King who had a rather unfortunate habit of killing off his brides the day after their wedding night.
Scheherazade successfully put off the execution by telling him a story that evening, and leaving the ending as a cliff-hanger.
The king, eager to know the conclusion to the tale delayed the execution for another day. That night, his clever bride concluded the story and began another, leaving it with a similar cliff-hanger ending.
The king was enthralled yet again, and cancelled the execution once more. And so it went on, for 1,001 Nights. The story is strangely silent about what happened on Day 1,002 but it’s perhaps best not to dwell on such things.1
That’s the popular version of the tale, anyhow. What I like to think happened is this:
“Now, oh King,” said Scheherazade with a gleam in her eye as she plucked a number off oddly shaped dice from a velvet pouch, “let’s roll up your character.”
Each night, Scheherazade and the King played the Persian Edition of D&D (which is like Dark Sun only with more Genies and fewer Psionic animals). By the end of the first night the King was hooked, and his character was only a few hundred XP short of reaching 2nd level. Every night they gamed, and Scheherazade ended each session at a suitably dramatic moment.
We DMs have much to learn from this wily Persian Queen. There’s a lot to be said for ending sessions on cliff-hangers for a start, and the use of literary themes & techniques in 1,001 Nights is something all DMs should master. If you’re never read at least some of the tales, now is the time. They are pure role-playing gold for inspiration, and I guarantee you are familiar with such figures as Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba. There’s your D&D lineage right there, folks.
It’s entirely possibly that on the 1001st night the King’s PC was reduced to 0hp and failed his CON saves, resulting in Scheherazade doing pretty much the same thing on the following day.2
As I said before, best not to dwell.