Saturday, March 31, 2012
Improving your D&D experience. For Dungeons and Dragons Players and DMs.
I think the title is rather self explanatory. This is a list of 101 tips for Dungeon Masters. If this massive article is a bit too much to sink your teeth into then I suggest either bookmarking it or checking it out in parts (which I've conveniently already made for you so you can start with part one here: 101 DM Tips Part 1). Enjoy!
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
91) Leave your issues at the door.
Don't bring any issues you have to the table. If this literally isn't possible then think about cancelling and rescheduling the session rather than trying to get through it for the sake of everyone else. Not only is it better to have no session at all than attempt to go on but I'm sure your group would prefer you take care of yourself before you try to continue with the campaign.
The concept of what listening even means anymore has been lost. Almost everyone was taught even at a young age by their parents to listen before speaking but I imagine that it never really clicked. Everyone is so eager to shout off what they have to say and not eager enough to not only hear someone else's words but internalize them, understand them, and ponder those words in a perspective other than their own. Listening is one of the single most important skills for a good DM to have. It can make or break you. This is also an important skill to have in the real world that just so happens to transfer over to this particular game.
93) Learn from your mistakes.
You are totally allowed to make every mistake imaginable as a DM. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I myself have made plenty of the mistakes I've listed here on this very list. No one is perfect. The important part is growing as a person and as a DM. No one starts as a great DM and it takes a lot of work, time, and effort to get there. Some players aren't even that forgiving if you are to make a mistake and that's a real shame because it's always easier to see things on the other side of the table. Being a DM means you're always put on the spot and your every movement is scrutinized. It's a terrible feeling and I realize our society doesn't help matters when we're practically enforced to pick apart or make fun of any mistake someone else makes so it makes it that much harder for us to accept our own mistakes or just accept the fact that it's okay to make mistakes at all. I just realized that this should probably be turned into a full article so we'll save the rest for another day.
94) Experience life.
The more you experience in life means you'll have that much more to bring to the table. Someone with even minor knowledge of architecture can design a better and/or more convincing dungeon. Taking an actual walk through a forest one day could generate a new game mechanic for when the players are on their next adventure and in a similar scenario. Watching an obscure movie might bring about a dozen ideas to try out in a campaign. The list could go on but I think you get the point.
95) Be flexible.
Open-mindedness wins the day. Adaptability is a strength that all humans share and there's no reason to kill that wonderful trait by being close-minded, thinking your assumptions are facts, daring to believe you're always right, or being resistant to change.
96) Don't force involvement.
Every player is going to have a different level of engagement when they come to the table. Some players might even show more or less engagement depending on what's taking place in the game or outside factors that you don't have control over. It's wonderful having a great player at the table that's ready and willing to try anything and is always pushing the envelope when it comes to roleplaying, combat strategies, thinking outside the box, and more but not every player cares enough or is prioritizing things the same. Remember that fun is subjective and their fun might be simply the social interaction the game offers. Don't force your players to get more involved than they want to be.
97) It's not an ego trip.
Don't turn your role as a DM into an ego stroke. Don't be that person. You're not innately a better human being just because you think you're a great DM. Your shit doesn't smell better than anyone else's. Learn to get your ego under control because it shows when you don't and it leaves the worst taste in everyone else's mouth.
98) Honesty is the best policy.
This is a bit more complex than simply saying, "Don't deceive your players." Being open and honest about your campaign will make all the difference for your players. I'm not saying to be so open that you spill the beans on what will happen next in the campaign but you want to avoid pulling the rug from underneath them. The players are giving you a lot of trust by being in your campaign so you have a huge responsibility to take care of.
99) Learn to be a better person.
Plenty of people level up their brawn by exercising and more than ever there are people leveling up their brains by furthering their education with College but something many of us are guilty of is not gaining any exp in being a better person. This isn't an easy thing to learn and you should never settle with thinking you've already finished that game. It's a game that never ends (much like exercise and education).
100) Communication is key.
D&D is a game that involves multiple people and their interactions with one another. Communication is key to any relationship (whether that be a relationship between strangers, friends, couples, or whatever else) and this still holds true in D&D. Learn to effectively articulate your thoughts, ask for clarification more often to be assured you're understanding someone else's words, learn to listen, attempt to be as empathetic as possible, try to assume less, don't judge others, realize that you might be wrong, and the list could go on but we don't have all day. This is one of those other "single most important skills" a DM needs. This is easily at the top of the list but it's also one of the hardest to even gain a grasp of, much less be fluent with.
101) It's just a game.
I've stressed this several times throughout these tips but it deserves repeating. If you're not having fun then you might be doing it wrong. The ultimate aim in a game is to have fun after all and if D&D becomes more work than play then it might be time to re-evaluate things. Remember that the only people that should be making D&D a top priority are the people actually making the game over at Wizards of the Coast. Your job, friendships, and life don't depend on this game. It should take a backseat to almost anything else.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
81) Learn how to avoid metagaming.
You'll need to understand what metagaming is and how to avoid it. I've got a link for just such an occasion: How to Avoid Metagaming
82) Understand when metagaming is acceptable.
Metagaming doesn't need to be seen as a solely negative thing that plagues the game. Here's a link for that as well: When is Metagaming Acceptable?
83) Utilize e-mail.
We live in the technology age and you'd be surprised how often people aren't utilizing e-mail. You can save time during sessions by rewarding exp through group e-mail, having your conferences there if your players lack free time, and hand out attachments with character sheets or other odds and ends.
84) Setup a schedule.
Setting up a schedule is pretty crucial to a game. Having a set day of the week to meet up builds excitement, keeps everyone in the loop, and makes it easier to plan around the game. There is nothing wrong with having to break off a scheduled day for something even semi-important because you at least have a day in the first place to reschedule. This is a pretty crucial first step that some groups ignore.
85) The schedule isn't law.
I already made mention to this but people have lives outside of the game. For some people, D&D isn't even important to them. They might play simply for the social interaction. There's no reason to give them grief if they make a mistake and forget several times what day your sessions were scheduled for. Just relax and remember that everyone has different priorities than you do. Keep inviting them into the game if you enjoy their company and maybe they'll eventually put it higher on their priority list.
86) Test out cutscenes.
Can you imagine how disappointed everyone at the table would be if they finally got to face and defeat the major villain they've been dealing with for months in the campaign only to have him just fall over and bleed a little? That moment would be pretty terrible without something remotely interesting to occur afterward. Now given, cutscenes have their place but be careful how you use them. Players despise it when things are literally out of their control or their characters are forced to do something they wouldn't.
87) Don't forget gameplay.
Don't let cutscenes and roleplay rule the day unless everyone is prepared for that kind of campaign. Gameplay is kind of the core of what makes a game and without it you're not really playing a game anymore.
88) Make new players feel welcome.
New players often face a lot of pressure. There are certain expectations at the table from every player and you have to do your best to lower those expectations. The new player should only be expected to try and even then they should only be expected to try some of the time and with lots of help. You should make them feel at ease and be forgiving of mistakes. If the group is giving them a hard time then stick up for them and partner them up with someone who can look after them.
89) Don't feel obligated to add to your group.
There will be players that might want to join your group but you don't need to feel obligated to add everyone under the sun for the sake of being polite. You also need to check with everyone in your group before adding a new player as some might be uneasy or reluctant to add another player or a particular person.
90) Avoid information overload.
The players are being bombarded with names and descriptions of characters, places, items, and other things. You're handing them plot points, quests, and things to keep track of. They're being told new information in a strange world with rules that work outside of our own reality at a constant rate. Try not to give them too much to think about and stay away from dumping info about several things on them.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
71) Avoid the grind.
Is your campaign consisting of nothing beyond kicking the door in and slashing up goblins and dragons? You may want to implement other things beyond combat such as roleplaying, puzzles, politics, mystery, exploration, or any number of things to add depth to your game. There's a lot more to D&D than just combat.
72) Encourage roleplaying.
I've already written an entire piece on this so I think I'll just leave a link here for you: Encourage Roleplaying.
73) Expand roleplaying.
Deja vu (help your players expand their roleplaying with this): Expanding Roleplaying.
74) Explain roleplaying.
This is something I was tempted to write an article about but it may not be necessary. It's very possible that there are those that can't see the inherent wealth in what roleplaying offers a group. There is nothing wrong with that. It's important to attempt to explain the benefits and I'll give a brief attempt here for a moment. The best experiences I've had in D&D were intense or hilarious scenarios that only came about because we were taking on the roles of entirely different characters at the table. Roleplaying has made fights more interesting, character interactions a million times more exciting, and has setup entirely new events in the campaign that were unexpected on all sides of the table. That being said, you should never force someone to roleplay that doesn't want to. It's not for everyone.
75) Give combat a purpose.
Why are they fighting these random wolves in a forest or the 30th group of kobolds in this dungeon? Are you just padding the time of the adventure by throwing meaningless fights at the group? Try to give the majority if not all of the fights a reason or at least a goal behind them. Throwing a battle in for the sake of having combat isn't really worth it.
76) Throw surprises.
I'm not just talking about elaborate or clever plot twists. When the players are in a room filled with five enemies, you've set expectations and clearly defined the parameters of what is going on. What if one of the walls or part of the floor suddenly collapsed? What if someone or something interrupted the fight for better or for worse? What if a creature rushed toward one of the players but fell prey to a trap in the room? Even simple little surprises here and there can really spice things up.
77) Turn the terrain into an encounter.
You can turn an entire dungeon into a set of traps, puzzles, and skill challenges. You can also turn a forest into a massive encounter as the party attempts to survive the natural (or unnatural) elements.
78) Give your settings some flavor.
Why make it a normal boring dungeon when it could be submerged underwater or built underground where earthquakes have affected the layout. If you need more examples then I suggest taking a look at this: Story Seeds: Dungeons
79) Don't mistake elaborate descriptions for great storytelling.
There's a common phrase that writers are taught known as "show don't tell". Exposition of characters explaining everything to the audience isn't the best route to take. It's not always easy to pull this off in a game where you have to describe things to the player on the spot but it's still something to consider.
80) Conferences are useful.
If you aren't having meetups with your group to plan things out together or throw ideas around then you should seriously start as soon as possible. You can figure out what they are enjoying or hating about your campaign and improve upon things drastically and immediately. You can plan conferences or group discussion (whatever you want to call them) to take place before or after a session or even schedule a separate day for them. Make use of this.
Monday, March 19, 2012
61) Learn to hold back your best.
If you utilize all of your best ideas in one campaign then you have no steam to go on for anything after that. Sometimes it's better to save amazing ideas for the right moment rather than be wasteful.
62) No need for the kitchen sink.
This goes hand in hand with trying to burn yourself out with tossing all of your best ideas. Not every campaign needs to have everything in it including the kitchen sink. Sometimes just running off of a single theme can easily be enough to generate an entire massive campaign.
63) The dice are not the law.
Don't get so wrapped up in what the dice tell you. You're the DM. You can make exceptions. I've literally rolled five 20's in a row before. If I didn't botch that on purpose, my players would all be dead thanks to luck rather than their skill as gamers. The same goes for the dice your players are rolling. I've had a player roll five 1's in a row. Don't make it a habit but you're allowed to change the outcome of what the dice tell you.
64) Mix elements.
There is nothing wrong with mixing two different aspects of the game to create something interesting. For example, what if you mixed puzzles and a powerful creature together to create a puzzle boss? It certainly worked out for Shadow of the Colossus and Legend of Zelda so I don't see why you can't do the same.
65) Hand them the microphone.
There are times when you simply need to give players their own moment or time to shine. Even if it's something as simple as letting them describe their own cutscene when they kill an enemy or something as elaborate as getting their own story-arc in the campaign.
66) Backstory is less important than you think.
You could have pages of backstory on a particular character and it wouldn't make them anymore interesting than a blank slate if the character didn't have an interesting goal, personality, and/or view on life. It's not the backstory that makes the character, item, or location. It's what you do with that backstory and how it affects the current state of that person or thing.
67) Play with genres.
I have to interrupt myself and mention that we use the term genre incorrectly but for the sake of understanding what the heck I'm saying, I'm going to use it the way we're all used to. Want to run a horror campaign? Maybe a mystery? A romantic comedy (yeah it's possible, trust me)? Go for it.
68) Play with expectations.
Maybe the dragon doesn't actually want to eat the group. Perhaps this ogre is a brilliant scholar. Maybe fighting your way out of this battle just isn't the way to go and you could talk things out. Maybe the heartless villain turns out to have such a legitimate reason for doing what he's doing that the group decides they should just help him out instead. Play with your group's expectations.
69) Actually read the DMG.
90% of the questions I get asked I've been able to answer by referencing a section in the DMG. Now given, this may be edition specific as I personally feel that the 3rd edition DMG was pretty awful and useless whereas the 4th edition DMG is incredible in comparison. You'd be surprised how many people play D&D without touching a single book.
70) Learn from other games.
You can learn a ton from other games and gaming systems. You won't always be able to utilize what you've learned but they can at the very least give you a fresh perspective. When you are able to utilize what you've learned then those can form some truly golden moments.
Friday, March 16, 2012
51) Why not lend a hand?
I'm not just talking about helping a struggling player out with the game but also lending a hand in dire situations. There are times where character death might be meaningless or avoidable and you might need to step in and create a scenario for what saves the day or simply lie about your dice and say that you rolled a one. I'm not saying you should dare make the game less difficult than easy mode in a video game or make it impossible for your players to be killed. What I'm saying is that there are times when characters simply don't need to die and rather than just say, "That's how the ball bounces." you should lend the players a little help.
52) Sometimes you can't save them.
Whether it be a heroic moment, a foolish choice, or being incinerated by a dragon's breath, you can't always step in and help them and sometimes their characters have to die. Always remember that their characters are important to them but that you have to know when to draw the line.
53) Always give at least three ways to solve something.
I say three but honestly the number isn't what you should be paying attention to. Make sure that every scenario can be solved in multiple ways and be open to suggestion because the players might have thought of something you never imagined.
54) Don't be afraid to say no.
There are some Dungeon Masters that are complete pushovers and won't setup a challenge for their players. I know they're your friends but that doesn't mean you have to say yes to everything. Learn to say no and don't regret it.
55) Don't say no too quickly.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the close-minded Dungeon Master that won't accept any idea that he (or she) didn't think of. Don't be that guy (or girl). Seriously think about their idea before you shoot them down.
56) Don't be afraid to change your mind.
There are many reasons that some people are afraid to change their mind. It could be stubbornness or a fear that they might be admitting they were wrong or made a mistake. Don't become so rigid as a person that you refuse to change your mind or you'd be surprised what horrors it can lead to. I've seen groups disband because the DM was a stubborn mule. There's a reason they say that pride is the father of all sins.
57) Work with what you've got.
You might think that you have a certain shortcoming that makes you a terrible dungeon master. I'd say to test out what strengths you do have and utilize those instead. For example: you don't have to be intelligent to be a great dungeon master. If you know how to generate fun then you're already a step above the rest.
58) You're only one person.
You can't be expected to do everything. You're only one human being and it might be a great idea to hand out tasks to your players so you don't put too much weight on your shoulders. Don't create unnecessary stress for yourself.
59) Clarify in-game and out-of-game.
It's crucial to have a system setup for when you or your players are talking in-game or out-of-game. I've known some players to hold up their hands as moose antlers while talking out-of-character. I personally go heavy metal on everyone and throw up the horns. Just figure out something that works for your group or things could get confusing.
60) Great ideas are meaningless by themselves.
This is a pretty harsh lesson to learn but everyone has ideas and even a great idea can be utterly meaningless. Is it a great idea that you can elaborate upon that's more than a simple gimmick or fun premise? Is it feasible within the game and within time constraints? Does it actually get everyone excited and make them want to test this out? Are you able to execute it in an interesting way? Now you have something. I'm not saying those are the only ideas to ever dare utilize but it's a thought experiment to ponder upon.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
41) The term Dungeon Master doesn't need to have a strict definition.
The average player probably assumes that the title Dungeon Master is a very specific thing. This is the guy that runs the show. Except what if he's not? What if there are two Dungeon Masters with different duties or what if every player at the table had a different task to take care of for the group? What if you're playing strictly by random generated charts and there isn't a Dungeon Master to speak of? What this really comes down to is that many Dungeon Masters are afraid to give up their control. They're afraid to give up their power as if they're the head of a group. The term Dungeon Master is less rigid than some can imagine.
42) You need to experience the game first.
Experience is extremely important as a Dungeon Master. For example, a DM that has only played or studied one particular class, even if they've been playing for years, isn't going to have as much knowledge of the game compared to a player that reads up on or has played every class and race. I'm not implying that the more knowledgeable player is necessarily a superior DM but it helps to experience as many aspects of the game as you possibly can or else you might misunderstand something.
43) Keep everyone involved.
Try not to setup scenarios that leave out certain members of the group. You don't want your players sitting around and twiddling their thumbs wondering why they even showed up if they can't play the game as well. If you have an important reason for why certain members might be separated from one another then maybe think about splitting up your usual game night so those players can meet at different times.
44) Give them something to hate.
I'm talking about two things when I say this (it's technically more than just these two but we don't have all day so I'm cutting this short just like every other tip). First, you don't want all of your NPCs to be wonderful people that the players want to become best buds with because that isn't very interesting. People are more diverse than that. Second, you want to give them something tangible to hate that they'll be talking about for years. For example, you know how everyone still talks about the Water Temples from the Legend of Zelda games or the boss fight in Kingdom Hearts 2 with Sephiroth? Gamers love facing a challenge and by putting that out there for them, you give them something that they love to hate and will always remember.
45) Give them something to fight for.
Goals are a defining feature of quests and characters. Why does this character do what he or she does? What does this quest accomplish? Don't forget that there needs to be a reason or at least a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow or your players aren't going to care.
46) Learn to experiment.
Have you ever made your own custom monster for a campaign or played around with changing the rules for combat for a specific fight? You should. You need to be tinkering with the system or you might be missing out on some incredible ideas that your group might enjoy.
47) Learn what you shouldn't experiment with.
Some aspects of the rules or the way the classes are defined is rather vital to the way the game works. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Make sure to understand the system before you try and break it.
48) Learn what was left out.
If it doesn't exist in the game then there might be a reason for it. Think long and hard before adding something into the game's system. The fact that a team of game designers that have worked on a system for years and studied specific principles of math can still make mistakes in their system proves to me that a single person that has a bright idea in the middle of the night might not be the best candidate for adding something to the game.
49) Hand out enough information.
You are the five senses for your players (technically there are more than five but that's not the point). They don't actually exist in your game world so you have to give them enough information to go on. One of the struggles a DM faces is that you have to paint the picture that's in your head for everyone at the table to see and their brains are going to misinterpret many of the things that you say. All you can do is try your best and refrain from deceiving your players as that will betray their trust.
50) Don't split the party.
Many players speak of the dangers that come from splitting the party but what rarely gets mentioned is the most important reason a Dungeon Master should never split the party: time. If the party is split then that's time that is wasted for at least half the group. They're sitting out of the game and not able to actually play. Do everything in your power to keep the group together even if it seems like something mundane.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
31) Remember that there are other rewards beyond money.
It's easy to get used to just handing out experience points and money as the only rewards in game but there are plenty of other options. Giving titles, land, companions, items, events, etc. can all be other useful things to hand out as a reward to your players.
32) We're standing on the shoulders of giants.
Don't get so wrapped up in trying to be too original. It's okay to borrow good ideas. Much of what human society has become is thanks to standing on the shoulders of giants or else we wouldn't have progressed to where we are. That goes for works of fiction as well. You didn't invent the Dragon but you can utilize that concept in a nearly infinite number of ways. Remember that borrowing is part of good game design as well.
33) Don't plan too far ahead.
Imagine this scenario: you planned way in advance for all kinds of outcomes so that you would be ready for several gaming sessions in a row. You're so glad that all of that work is out of the way because you spent hours upon hours on it. Things are all going according to plan and then your players do something completely unexpected. They did something so out of left field that you're not only unprepared for that outcome but all of that hard work is now garbage because it won't come up in the game at all. Hours of work just got flushed down the toilet. Don't plan that far in advance so you can avoid that kind of nightmare.
34) Reward roleplaying.
It's pretty standard practice to reward the Fighter after he's decapitated a goblin with experience points but what about other aspects of the game? Don't miss the opportunity to reward roleplaying but be careful how you hand out your rewards because that leads to the next tip...
35) Don't reward based solely on the performance.
You don't want to create a prima donna that tries to steal the spotlight. You also don't want to fail to reward roleplaying that isn't seen. For example, let's say you have one character who is casting fantastical spells of glowing energy and describing their powers in detail and then another player at the table is roleplaying an assassin who is the exact opposite. They don't show off and everything they do is quiet and efficient. They're roleplaying their character perfectly and yet I imagine that many Dungeon Masters would accidentally ignore the efforts of the assassin. If they're playing their character the way they intended then that's all that matters.
36) Stick up for your players.
Some players think outside the box and some simply don't. Neither approach is wrong or superior to the other. Both are rather necessary but some players get picked on for what they might be attempting or for a choice they made. Defend your player's choices or else they might be afraid to make a decision in the future.
37) Don't stick to a script.
Never stick to a script. It's great to have an outline of things to keep track of since not everyone has the best memory in the world but if you get too involved in a script of what to say as an NPC then you're going to be lost when a player's character interrupts that NPC of yours or asks them a question. You won't have a line prepared to save you and you're going to have to improvise.
38) Utilize the tools that are out there.
I've mentioned some tools that I utilize in other Reverse Dungeoneering posts but it's useful to know what's out there and what might work for your group. There are initiative trackers that also keep track of status effects and other specifics of each individual character so you don't have to. There are power cards for players, DM screens, and a laundry list of other useful things that just make life easier and gameplay faster.
39) Prepare ahead of time.
Is there a map that needs to be drawn? Then draw it before showing up. Are there multiple floors in that dungeon? Then draw all the maps and lay them on top of one another. Do the monsters need initiative rolled? That can probably be rolled ahead of time. There are tons of things you can be doing before the game even starts that can make things run much more smoothly.
40) Set up ground rules before you begin.
If there are any houserules or simple etiquette rules you want to impose on the game then discuss it before you get the group together to sit down and play. People need to know these things in advance and you may have to deal with the fact that they might not like a particular rule you have set in stone. It's probably a good idea to also be a little open-minded about discussing these rules or even rules that the players themselves want to implement.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
21) Utilize setting.
Don't just make the setting a backdrop. Utilize the atmosphere a setting can bring, utilize the environment of that setting to make combat more interesting, and utilize how that setting might affect the story. Brainstorming what that setting offers you is part of the fun and can really shape the experience for your players.
22) Start off with a bang.
There are a million ways to go about this such as throwing the characters right in the middle of a major event, creating confusion by starting things unexpectedly, or maybe even beginning things with an interesting fight that sets up things to come. You want their attention and the rest of the campaign will have plenty of time for "build up" of story events but it's essential to get them hooked right out of the gate.
23) The players are your friends.
I realize that this might seem like a Captain Obvious moment but it's vital to understand that these players are your friends. They're playing, critiquing, joking, and suggesting because they care. At the end of the day, it's just a game. They're what's truly important.
24) Don't play favorites.
Players may not always say it but they aren't exactly happy when one player gets more attention, rewards, or bonuses over any other player. The common example is the "DM's girlfriend/boyfriend scenario" that I'm sure many may have faced themselves. Don't be that guy or girl. I realize that it's sometimes difficult to recognize when you're doing this as you will have a different perspective than the other players but try to avoid this.
25) No one cares how awesome your NPC is.
This isn't show and tell where you try to impress your players with how crazy powerful or awesome a character you've made is. Your players are going to be secretly rolling their eyes and ultimately just wanting to move on so they can do what they set out to do: play the game.
26) Learn what your group enjoys.
There are many different things that players enjoy and/or expect in a game of D&D. Some players just want to stab goblins, some want to explore fantastical locations, some want to roleplay interesting scenarios, and some just want to hang out. Learn what your players enjoy and try to accommodate.
27) Learn the rules.
This might seem like another obvious statement but it needs to be considered. Without rules then it's less of a game where everyone has expectations of what they can and can't do and more of a free-thought experiment where someone passes the green or red light depending on arbitrary reasons. Even a completely houseruled game by its definition has rules. Try to make sure everyone is on the same page and remember that it's okay to make mistakes or change up the rules on the fly for the sake of fun.
28) Don't be afraid to give direction.
There are times the players just need a hint of where to go or what to do and they're able to escape the horrible moment known as being stuck. You don't want to give them this guidance without their consent as some players prefer the time to ponder and solve things for themselves but you don't want to leave them in the dark either.
29) Avoid giving too many options.
There is actually an opposite of railroading and this usually comes from Dungeon Masters who have a fondness toward sandbox play. Many game developers have even missed the memo that by creating too many options you will inevitably lose focus. Learn when to apply the handbrake or narrow the options or your players may never actually accomplish anything or may even feel lost.
30) Don't let your preferences ruin the fun for others.
This message has been sprinkled about in previous entries but don't let your own preferences ruin the fun for others. Being a DM can be a very selfless act and that needs to be realized before stepping up to bat. You're going to be doing a lot of work in the hopes of bringing fun to an entire table of people that may not appreciate a single thing you do. Don't make this about you and don't expect that what you deem as fun to be fun for everyone else. Fun is subjective.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
11) Throw the grey switch on occasion.
Morally ambiguous choices can often be fun and interesting. Not everything in the game should be black or white. Setting up these scenarios can also create content for you simply by letting your players make their own decisions. Just don't overuse this or players will feel that every choice they make is too heavy for their shoulders. You don't want to scare them into being indecisive.
12) There is no need to try to kill your players.
This is an extension of what I mentioned earlier with the fact that the game isn't the DM versus the group. Always remember that you don't need to try to kill your players. Bad players will kill themselves (and good players can make mistakes of course). It's really that simple. They'll do the work for you.
13) Smoke and mirrors.
There are a lot of tricks that you'll have to discover through experience that make something simple seem complex. The end result is something that you can implement easily without hassle that your players will think is elaborate. It's helpful to brainstorm how to make different aspects of the game less complex on your part and to utilize these tricks to make your job easier. I would give examples except everyone has their own preferences and styles. This will be something that comes with time based on what kind of Dungeon Master you are.
14) Learn to balance DM's discretion.
A popular phrase in ye olden days was "DM's discretion". The idea is that the DM had final say on how things occurred. It was basically the contract that everyone agreed upon before starting a campaign. The DM is the primary storyteller and referee after all so they have to make the final call. I'd like to suggest that everyone expand this concept. D&D isn't a democracy but it's not a dictatorship either. You have to find a happy medium of letting the group decide together and the DM giving the final verdict.
15) Mix up combat.
Combat is generally accepted to be a major component to most D&D campaigns. You may have a personal preference but you have to mix up what your players will be going up against or else you're likely to create headaches. For example, you shouldn't constantly throw intelligent enemies at your players that orchestrate elaborate plans or else you're pushing a single play style on them where brains over brawn is always more important. Not every player is going to enjoy that style of play and many may grow tired of it after awhile.
16) Don't let your players kill each other.
As much as some players love the concept of player killing, D&D isn't designed for it. D&D is a team game that requires a lot of trust. If they want to PK then point them toward an MMO. Players care about their characters that they've created and spent hours working on. Don't undermine the effort they've put into the game and their creations.
17) Don't be afraid to take a break.
I'm not just talking about a major break to go grab dinner before everyone jumps back into the game again. Maybe you're right in the middle of combat and need to clear your head and grab some water. Go for it. This can give you a moment to think more clearly and relieve pressure or maybe even add something exciting or unexpected to the game. Don't get wrapped up in the pace of the game to where you're making poor decisions.
18) The best point to stop a session.
It's a common habit for groups and Dungeon Masters to end a game session at a good stopping point. This is usually when something has just wrapped up or been completed. I'm going to suggest breaking that habit. End a session right at a cliffhanger. Something big is about to happen and it's already getting late? Go ahead and stop the session. This creates suspense and your players will be anticipating what's going to happen next and be talking about your game long after they've left the table.
19) Variety in gameplay.
This expands upon mixing up combat. Don't forget the importance of variety in setting, goals, plot, and other aspects of the game. Don't overwork yourself on this but don't forget it either. Even campaigns that stick to a single theme are capable of an incredible variety of ideas.
20) Players make the game.
Remember that even though you are the Dungeon Master (or Game Master if you prefer) by title, you are not the game itself. The players make the game and if you mistreat them, they will leave.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
1) Find a happy medium between harsh and gentle.
I've heard horror stories of Dungeon Masters that think being the DM means they are the god of their world and everyone must listen and do as they say as they rule with an iron fist. The thought process for them is that you are playing by their rules and are existing in their world that they've spent so much time on for you. Let's be clear: that's just silly. What must be learned is that D&D is a group game. It's not the DM versus the group. The DM is part of the group just as much as any player. Everyone has to work together to make the game as enjoyable as possible. At the same time, don't be a pushover DM that gives their players everything they want. They'll not only grow to feel entitled but nothing will be a challenge for them and it will ruin the excitement that comes with D&D's unpredictability.
2) Let them play their character.
The basic theory is to let them play the character they designed so they can enjoy the game the way they wanted. There are of course limitations to this but simply give them the chance to use their characters the way they were intended. For example: give the Rogue opportunities to sneak around, pick locks, disable traps, pickpocket the guard's keys, or whatever it is they intended to do (depending on their build). If you force the player into regularly not being able to use their abilities then they're going to feel like quitting as they'll feel their choices don't matter. This is important to consider in and out of combat.
3) Don't railroad them.
Railroading is when you force your players to do exactly what you want and not allowing them options outside of that. You may feel that you're simply trying to progress a certain plot point or story element but you have to be careful to consider that they might want to go about things differently. As always there are going to be limitations to this. Allowing every player to have their way means there would be no challenge or that accomplishments are meaningless. Just keep this in mind. Leave options open as often as possible.
4) Don't make a particular character the "main" character.
You may see the positives in having a main character to drive a particular story for a campaign but many ignore the vast quantities of things that make this a horrible decision. It's going to always end up in some way that it will hinder or harm the rest of your players. It forces railroading into your campaign by driving the plot around that particular character. It kills the campaign if something goes awry in or out of the game. It creates entitlement issues. It causes you to make bad decisions that wouldn't have even been an option in the first place if there wasn't a main character. I could go on but I think those points are enough.
5) There's no need to overplan.
You can actually make things overly complex or as I prefer to phrase, "Needlessly complex." I see that more often than not that this isn't considered. Dungeon Masters get caught up in how exciting and complex they can make a scenario that they go overboard. You might spend hours on something that the players might finish in mere seconds because of something you didn't think of. Even worse is that you might plan something elaborate that they completely ignore or choose not to utilize. Don't overplan or you'll just stress yourself out.
6) Don't allow distractions.
I've mentioned this in previous articles (speeding up combat link) but simply don't allow distractions at the table. Computers and D&D books are completely unnecessary to playing the game and always do more harm than good. The easiest way to imagine this is that for every second you're looking up something in a PDF file or book, you need to multiply that time by the number of players at the table. That's how much time you're actually wasting. D&D rulebooks are for reading before and after a session. The worst part is that it always spirals out of control. If one player or DM is looking something up then another player will see that the group is taking a break and get involved in something else as well. Now given, this rule can be as lenient as you're willing to deal with. You don't want to become some horrifying dictator at the table but many don't even recognize that their D&D tools are a distraction to the game itself.
7) Rules lawyers are your friend.
A lot of Dungeon Masters feel attacked when a player knows the rules better than they do or is able to point out that something doesn't work the way they had planned. Don't fret. They're only trying to help out (there are exceptions of course as there are rude players out there) and instead of feeling like they're the enemy you should be utilizing them as they're a valuable asset to the team.
8) Immersion can be useful.
Immersion is when the players feel engaged as if they're part of the game world. You can achieve immersion in numerous ways such as having their choices make a difference to the game or setting up atmosphere for the events in the game with descriptions. There are other ways of course but this gives you something to ponder.
9) Add a sense of urgency.
Adding a reason for the players to accomplish something quickly can inject a lot of excitement into the campaign and everyone at the table. With that excitement, everyone is more likely to focus and enjoy accomplishing whatever task is at hand. I don't want this to be confused with racing a clock (such as using a physical timer) as that's something that can potentially stress players out.
10) You are not your world or characters.
I see this happen to both Dungeon Masters and players. They take anything said about their world or characters too personally. D&D is just a game. A game played with the imagination. That imagination is being played out through the use of trial and error. Don't ever take it personally if people don't appreciate what you've created or if mistakes are made. It happens. Just pick yourself up and try again. Remember that you can't please everyone and that everyone is going to react to things differently.