Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reverse Dungeoneering #10 - 101 DM Tips (Part 1)

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.


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