Thursday, May 7, 2009

Part 22: Going Real Time: What's a Dungeon Monitor?

"The mission of the DM is, simply, to ensure
a safe, enjoyable play environment"
Sir Bamm Comprehensive Dungeon Monitors Guide

We attended a friend's birthday / play party on Saturday and the hostess of the event asked me to be a Dungeon Monitor. What's a DM, you ask? So this is a good opportunity to write a bit about DMs.

This post is part of the Going Real Time series, about moving into the BDSM Lifestyle. You can find the introduction to this series here on Mistress 160's Abode and here on my BDSM for Beginner's blog. This post follows on from the First Moves into Real Time / Finding Your Local Scenepost and the Attending Your first Play Party post.

All BDSM For Beginners posts are very long posts. Think of each post as an hour's seminar. It will take that long to read, so make sure you have your favorite coffee / munchies to hand. Remember: don't skip any quotes in red (they may contain questions we then discuss. Or provide a point of view important to the section) and do any homework!


After first noting "BDSM dungeon monitors are entirely unrelated to Dungeon Masters in Dungeons and Dragons and similar role-playing games", Wiki states:

A dungeon monitor (sometimes referred to as a dungeon master or simply a DM) is a person charged with supervising a playspace (or "dungeon") at BDSM events such as play parties and fetish clubs. These people may be of any sex and may normally identify as any role (dominant, submissive, or switch), but while on duty their authority is absolute. If a dungeon monitor orders a play scene to stop, it must be stopped immediately. Dungeon monitors are usually people with significant experience and/or explicit education in BDSM and safer sex practices, and who also have verifiable training both in BDSM safety practices and first aid techniques. They often wear a special uniform or hat, but there is no standard way of denoting who is a dungeon monitor.

The primary responsibility of a dungeon monitor is to ensure the physical safety of all participants engaging in BDSM play. At private parties, it is typically the host's role to act as a dungeon monitor or to nominate an attendee to serve in that capacity. At public playspaces, the venue typically appoints volunteers or employees for the same purpose. Dungeon monitors are normally not permitted to engage in a scene themselves so that they will always remain an outside and objective observer of other players' scenes.

Almost all playspaces define a set of house rules that list the prohibited activities as well as the default safeword and sometimes even a safe gesture. In addition to monitoring play scenes, dungeon monitors also maintain the dungeon equipment between scenes (if the players themselves fail to do so), performing such activities as cleaning surfaces (possibly with disinfectants), replacing pads, and generally readying a play area safely for its next scene.

This gives you a basic idea what DMs do.

I've discussed in another post, on attending your first play party, how different each party is - the organization of each is different. Rules are different. Etiquette may be different. Dungeon monitors are also different. Some parties don't have them. This might be because at smaller parties the host and hostess might take on this role themselves - but it might also be because the kinky community holding the party is less formal in structure. At other parties (especially in the US) you will find DMs a major presence. That's the kinky world for you!

"Dungeon monitors (DMs) are experienced players that are
tasked to watch over players to ensure that safety precautions
are being followed and that acceptable conduct is being
maintained. Dungeon monitors are "the law" at events and also
a great source of information and introductions"
Sagacity FAQ
You'll be reading this post if you are into, or moving towards real time BDSM play. You will have read my post on attending your first play party but let's quickly recap on the definition of a play party. Here's Portland Leather's "New to the scene" page:
"A play party/dungeon party is an event that gives kinky people the opportunity to engage in BDSM play at a public event. It is a chance to watch others interact, to meet and possibly play with new people, and show off your kink in an accepting environment. Dungeon furniture such as bondage crosses, spanking benches, padded tables, slings, and other furniture are provided. Everyone brings their own portable toys. Every play party has its own rules but some etiquette is standard"
Wiki includes an extra line or so about location ("play parties may take place in a dedicated dungeon (run by a professional dominant), a private home or a rented space) and restrictions:
"Play parties generally have a list of activities that are prohibited. These rules may be enforced by dungeon monitors), and sexual contact ("the amount and kind of sexual contact allowed varies ... depending on local laws"
So there's that title "dungeon monitors" again. Basically - for you, as someone new to play parties - a Dungeon Monitor is someone you can trust. Their job is to keep everyone safe, both players and at this early point, observers like yourselves.

Let's say this is your first play party. Since this is your first party you will probably already have been in communication with your hosts. They will have sent you the play party rules, which you will have read very carefully. They may have even suggested you arrive early at the party (with other new people) so they can personally greet you and - if they have them - introduce you to their DMs. If it's a smaller party they may tell you they will being taking the DM role themselves. If this didn't happen and you arrived with a crowd, take a moment to remind your hosts that you are new to the scene. This is a courtesy they will appreciate - it means they know to keep a quiet eye on you to make sure all is well, or ask a DM to do this.

You can ask your hosts / DMs for introductions and further information about what's going on. They are quite used to this and absolutely don't mind. Also, if a DM asks you to do something ("could I get you to step back a bit here, thanks so much"), you can always ask why ("see the white lines on the floor, those show the play area boundaries, someone is about to use this area"). See? Knowledge is always useful. Now you know to keep an eye on those floor marks!

I don't advise playing at your first party but when the time is right at later ones you should approach the DMs (or hosts) to let them know you are about to do your first scene. Again this is common sense as well as courtesy - remember even experienced kinksters call over DMs (or hosts) when they are planning to try some new technique. Not only for safety but because the DMs will know if there is someone at the party with expertise in what you want to try. They are usually delighted to supervise your scene and share their expertise with you.

You can read an example of sol and I doing this at a play party here, where our party host introduced us to someone experienced with electrical play. In the reverse role as a DM I recently co-supervised a young couple who decided to do their first public play piercing scene. I say "co-supervised" because the young Domme had done the right thing and already organized for a more experienced dominant to watch. It was a joy to watch them play :).

What about if you see something that should be brought to the attention of the DMs? Perhaps some play that looks too rough to you. Let me quote part of my First Play Party post:
If this is your first party, keep in mind that you are going to be feeling a tad overwhelmed by what you see around you. Sure, you'll have watched BDSM play on the internet / porn, but there's a huge difference when things happen right in front of you, even when it's "things" you have fantasized about for years. "Don't gape at scenes, behavior, or sexual proclivities that are new for you to actually encounter in real life even if you've heard of such things and wished for years you could actually see it", says Non Famous Lauren:
"There is a fine line between open-minded curiosity - the desire to learn and understand something that is new for you .... versus prurient judgmentalism, gawking, or tiresomely asking someone who is sick of being asked what he or she can possibly enjoy by doing whatever astonishing thing you saw the person do. Be sensitive about when and who you ask, and be sensitive while you watch. People at play parties are not there to entertain or educate you, even though many folks who choose to attend play parties do also enjoy the exhibitionist and educational aspects of what they are doing..."
Lauren also makes an important point about tolerance:
"Be tolerant of things you didn't expect. In particular, even if you are fascinated, try not to gawk noticeably at stuff you personally have never encountered before. Watching and learning are fine---and are often exactly the point!---but there is a social norm in each group about what is appropriate astonishment to show to those around you.

"If you have never seen two males play sexually and lovingly together before, or if you find watching the two women playing together across the room really hot for you as a voyeur, or if you have never talked to a cross-dresser close enough to actually hold a social conversation ... if you ... are shocked by the amount of bloodflow from a ritual cutting, or by what appears to you to be the hate-filled screaming and cursing of a bottom raging at her top at the height of a difficult scene, or if you never envisioned seeing a piercing of a needle right through someone's nipple, or if whatever else you didn't expect and are suddenly encountering seems extreme to you, then the astonishment is probably yours. Get a grip"
If you really feel uncomfortable about what is happening, retreat to areas of the party where people are simply socializing.
You can of course also discuss it with a DM. They will be happy to explain further about whatever is making you uncomfortable. Communication! Always a good thing! Remember Ms Constance's wise words:
"If you're unsure what is appropriate at a party, ask. Ask the host of the party, ask someone whom you respect in the community, ask the person(s) involved [Ms160 adds: ask a dungeon monitor if there is one]. And ask before you commit the faux pas that gives you a reputation as a wannabe or a jerk or a bitch. Reputations can be hard to shake."

You can certainly put in the preparation / training and put yourself forward to party organizers - after all being a Dungeon Monitor is a voluntary position - but to be honest, being a dungeon monitor is a bit like being a mentor. You tend to wait until others consider your experience levels high enough and approach you.

How to prepare? The Dungeon Monitors' Association website states: "To attend the Beginning Dungeon Monitor Training Course we recommend you have the following experience, training and abilities:
  • A minimum of one year of active involvement in the local SM/Leather/Fetish community.
  • Must be over the age of 18
  • Attended a minimum of 20 public/semi-public SM/Leather/Fetish Play parties (Dungeon Play parties) where DM's are on staff.
  • A basic understanding of common play techniques
  • A strong desire to continue education about different play styles beyond personal areas of interest.
  • Be able to act in an emergency situation where physical activity and mental/emotional stability are essential.
Note that list is what you need BEFORE you start training!

This is a good list to keep in mind, re your own stage of experience. If you meet the above criteria, then look for a kinky community that runs Dungeon Monitor courses and enroll. Even if you have to travel to do it. Join the Dungeon Monitors Association and enroll in their class. I really can't stress enough how vitally important good Dungeon Monitor training is. Your role as a DM is to maintain the integrity of a safe, sane and consensual BDSM play space. You are responsible for the safety of players and equipment, and observers. In practical terms this means that pretty much all at the same time you will be keeping an eye on what's going on, trying to enforcing dungeon rules (diplomatically!!), administering basic first aid and making sure play areas are clean and safe for the next players. It's not a glamorous job. As the BMA's FAQs point out:
So being a Dungeon Monitor is a lot like being the Dungeon Police right? I get to tell people what to do and interrupt scenes?

A: No. At best, Dungeon Monitors are a lot like Lifeguards. We enforce the rules and make sure everyone has a great time. A better way to look at becoming a DM is that you are becoming a facilitator for the dungeon party. Your job is to make sure thateverything goes smoothly and that the party host/ess's guests are taken care of. That may mean doing something as simple as moving equipment around to facilitate safe playing, helping the top tape down an electric cord so bystanders won't trip on it, or even fetching a glass of water for a player who can not leave the dungeon floor. The last thing we wish to do is interrupt someone's play. The only time we interrupt a scene is when there is an inherent risk of danger to the players or guests and then we try to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Can't get to a real time course? Try online dungeon montitoring classes here - and also their podcasts.

Unable to take any kind of course right now? Then have a think about what experience you might need:
  • Take a first aid course (anyone reading this who is part of my local kinky community the next First Aid Certificate course will be in early May). If you can't take one read up on the many articles on BDSM health and safety listed here and at the end of this post.
  • Attend lots of BDSM educational workshops to increase your skills. As many as possible. Including topics that don't push your own kinky buttons. Why? Because these are areas where you'll have less experience. You also need to experience "edge play" topics like blood play, needle play, breath play and fire play. If you are unable to deal with these issues then you need to reconsider being a DM.
  • Watch and learn at play parties. Lots of them. There is always stuff to learn. At a recent party when I DMed I encountered a technique I'd not experienced before. I later discussed the techniquewith the party's First Aid Officer. Not in criticism of those who played using that technique, but to help me learn more so that next time I could be more help, if required. After you've attended a few parties , tell a designated Dungeon Monitor that you hope to become one and ask if you can hang around with them and watch them work.
  • Join the Dungeon Monitor group on Fetlife. They list Dungeon Monitor training courses throughout the States. Read all the old threads, some of which cover interesting situations and problems, and read how these were solved. Here's a few sample threads from there:
  1. What a DM is not
  2. What makes a bad DM?
  3. What would you do?
  4. Skills required to make a good dungeon monitor
  5. Intervening in a scene
  • Read the Dungeon Monitor Training Manual ("taken with permission from a DM training manual by Sir Lawrence, Dungeon Master of the Arizona Power Exchange. We have modified it to suit our style and need") and other manuals and guides listed in the References and Online Resources list at the end of this post.
  • Buy Jay Wiseman's "Dungeon Emergencies and supplies", read it cover to cover, and take it in your pocket to any party. I'm going to quote Jay's comments about the content, because these are the sorts of problems a dungeon monitor might encounter:
"In Section One, the book starts with an overview of emergencies in general - what they are, how they arise, how to judge their severity, and so forth. It then addresses the legal aspects of emergency care (I recently passed the California Bar Exam) such as consent, duty to act, Good Samaritan laws, assumption of risk, insurance, and the necessity defense. Section One continues with a look at the most common causes of BDSM-related cardiac arrest, and finishes with an essay on the especially dangerous practice of being in serious bondage and alone - the number-one killer of sadomasochists.

"In Section Two, the book solidly covers the basics of how to manage more than 30 of the most common BDSM-related emergencies, whether they are medical, environmental, behavioral, or legal. Topics covered include allergic reactions, burn care, condom failure, escalating argument, fainting, false accusations, hot cream overdose, jammed knot, overly tight bondage, breach of privacy, rectal foreign body, shock, and unwanted marks. Section Two also covers topics such as deep vein blood clots, the "Sunday Night Safeword," and Harness Hang Syndrome. In Section Three, the book concludes with detailed instructions regarding what goes into a good first aid kit and why its there, and finishes with a solid bibliography.
Basically, just keep adding to your knowledge. And at some point you'll find yourself thinking "OK, I think I might be able to take a shift as a DM at a play party soon" and at that point it might be time to go talk to the hosts of your favorite play parties and ask if you might work as a trainee DM for a few parties.


Ms160's Going Real Time series:, about moving into the BDSM Lifestyle:

BDSM health and safety articles - list

BESS Dungeon Monitor Guide
blossom Suggestions for First Aid Kit
DM Resource Page
lic play
Mistress Constance What to Expect at a Play Party

NLA Austin Dungeon Monitor Training Guide
Portland Leather "New to the scene" page
SirBamm Comprehensive Dungeon Monitors Guide
Sir Lawrence Dungeon Monitor Training Manual
SubtleDeath Dungeon Masters
Wiki - Dungeon Monitors
Jay Wiseman "Dungeon Emergencies and supplies"
Jay Wiseman "Emergency Training for SM Practitioners"
Jay Wiseman "Safety"
Jay Wiseman "Ten Tips for Novice Dungeon Monitors"

Dungeon Monitors Association

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