How do I keep getting back up on the horse?

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So... I've never had a good experience DMing.

I've either been tricked into doing it (first DM said I was going to DM after the first week or we wouldn't be playing), tried to run games at a level I had no experience with (monsters or player abilities), run into various problem player types, fallen back on horrible tropes, lost a game to a pair of siblings bickering, tried to run premade adventures without reading them, failed to make skill challenges engaging, failed to get games I tried to start even started.

And, possibly worst of all, I've felt just plain embarassed when I was done. Nearly an, "Uh, sorry about that... We don't need to mention this again..." embarassed.

I can't really say they've been complete failures every time since two people new to D&D I've DMed for have not only kept playing, but started DMing as well.


I know these can probably all be considered learning experiences, but they were just so unpleasant. I don't want to feel like a failure again, but I'm getting that urge to DM again and I'm afraid to try.

How do I buck up and give it another go? 
Booze. Failing that, I'd have to know more about your style. It's possible it is getting in the way... or it could be any number of things. What else can you share about your experiences?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
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Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

I'm Recruiting Players for a D&D 5e Game: Interested?  |  Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

While a few of your problems sound like common beginner DM roadblocks, a large portion of them sound more like player issues. Even grizzled DM veterans can lose to a table of players with no motivation for playing. It might not have even stemmed from anything you did. Some players just can't seem to have fun with the game sometimes. To this, my advice is to involve your players more before you even sit down to roll up characters. A game is always more engaging if you're helping to shape it after all.

Talk with your players about running a game. Ask what sort of game they'd like to play and go from there. Dming, while an arduous task in its own right, doesn't man you need to undertake every little detail of building the game by yourself. The players have as much a responsibility towards this task as well (just with less before show-time work to do). Even something as simple as "I want to play a game where we hunt dragons" could be enough to set the stage for a whole three tier campaign to flourish. If you have a specific idea in mind for the kind of game you want to run, bring it up and see if your players can offer any of their own ideas about it. Try to fit in their suggestions to increase the dynamics of your idea, even if they don't seem like they would fit together at first. You'd be surprised how interesting a story you and your players can make off of two seemingly unrelated ideas.

Though many other tools, tips and tricks have been awarded as such, I still believe that the greatest tool a DM has at their disposal is their own players. Use it to your advantage.

Good luck, and Happy Gaming
DMing is largely about management.

It's about managing information, managing time and pacing and managing players and their peccadilloes.

Before being too hard on yourself remember that the definition of a player is someone too lazy to be a DM. OK, that's not entirely true but there's a grain of truth there that you can use to encourage yourself when you think your players aren't getting the DM they deserve.

DMing is also about remaining calm. When you're calm you can always come up with a solution to a problem that arises.

So, start again and start small - and definitely start at 1st-level. Put some time into preparing various aids for your game - I find having stat blocks printed out so I can use them the same way a player uses a character sheet to be utterly invaluable - and make sure you prepare.

Of course, I am typing all this on the assumption that you want to continue DMing. If you don't feel it is for you, just play for a while which also gives you an opportunity to watch another DM in action.

Also, don't judge yourself too harshly if your players are enjoying themselves. I've been DMing for 30+ years and - honestly - I think I am a crappy DM. I can tell you all the ways I suck at running a D&D game even after three decades. That said, my players keep coming back and, in one case, for 28 years so clearly I must be a little bit better than I think I am.
Cheers Imruphel aka Scrivener of Doom
Ok, booze and drugs might feel better, but they get in the way of remembering your decisions and judgements in-game. Leave them out of the play session.

Keep things simple and short. Review the combat rules and make some notes on where to look for stuff you might need to check in rulebooks. A simple, 2-3 hour basic dungeon crawl is much better than a 9 hour urban-based adventure with too many npc's to keep track of and having to create 58 different personalities.

BE HONEST WITH YOUR PLAYERS. Tell them you have some problem areas when you DM, and they can probably help you. My big weakness is remembering previous decisions, and sometimes changing them in mid-session without realizing it. If I don't write them down I forget what they were.

If you are thinking of running an ongoing campaign, or at least several game sessions, you could get a few published adventures and save yourself some of the work of creating adventures, which may help you get used to DMing more. There's free downloads of adventures here on the WOTC site. I found about 30 or so for 3rd edition.

You know those published adventures you forgot to read before trying to run them? How many times have you read them since then? Got them memorized yet?

Also, maybe you aren't as bad as you thought.  I remember after my first few sessions, I would go to visit one of my players in his office the next day, apologizing profusely about how horribly the game went.  And his response was always "I had fun, I thought it was great"
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/
Also, maybe you aren't as bad as you thought.  I remember after my first few sessions, I would go to visit one of my players in his office the next day, apologizing profusely about how horribly the game went.  And his response was always "I had fun, I thought it was great"



middleageddm.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/ou...

Because it's apt.

Some language in here, but none any worse than what was in the recent PVP/Penny Arcade podcast with Mike Mearls.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

I'm Recruiting Players for a D&D 5e Game: Interested?  |  Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Well, that took me longer than I wanted it to since I'd nearly get done and find another good post.

Of course, I am typing all this on the assumption that you want to continue DMing. If you don't feel it is for you, just play for a while which also gives you an opportunity to watch another DM in action.


Well, if I don't intend ever trying to DM again, I should probably stop reading the AD&D DMG.  (3rd edition and later DMGs don't seem as sacred as 1st edition's DMG.)

Booze. Failing that, I'd have to know more about your style. It's possible it is getting in the way... or it could be any number of things. What else can you share about your experiences?

Well, I'm not sure I've got enough experience that I've really formed a style yet. All I know is "IMPROVISE ALL THE THINGS!" is not my style. 

I almost typed a lot of this out to begin with, but didn't want to end up TL;DR.

The first time I DMed (3.0) it was because the guy who said he would DM determined after a week of hour-long post school sessions that I'd either DM or we wouldn't be playing. I wanted to play so bad, I went with it. He'd had higher level thugs attack our characters at the inn, knock us out, and we woke up in a dungeon. After a couple of encounters is when the switch happened. I asked what else he'd had planned for the dungeon and... he had nothing. He suggested I could just improvise everything, and that just doesn't work for me. He'd also let us play templated characters (my fault, I asked), which meant when I got to DM I had a party I didn't know how to challenge.
The group also had a problem player who was a whiner, bragged about his epic level character in another campaign and was disappointed that his 1st level character wasn't that poweful. He wanted to use spells out of books I didn't have and didn't want to let me look at them. Bleh. The school year ended and so did that game. 

Second time, I was stepping into a co-DMing role in an ongoing 3.5 play-by-post game which was being run at 15th level. I'd gotten to maybe 4th level in playing. On top of that, it was supposed to be a sandbox with PvP. Not really what D&D is supposed to do. We had some "heavily optimized" characters, which my co-DM and I couldn't recognize just by looking at their character sheets, and rather than having people who could recognize that kindly point it out to us, they would make even more ridiculously broken characters to prove a point. 

3. I one-on-one DMed for my college roommate. We'd play Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance instead of doing our home work, so eventually I asked her if she wanted to "try the real thing." I made a rat-killing encounter, straight from the game. Then, because I thought that sucked and I wanted to use my new minis, I ended up making a box-o-minis encounter which I proclaimed to be a dream - except the treasure was there when she woke up. Felt embarrassed after this. We never did it again while we lived together, but she's one of the DMs I've spawned.


4. I tried again when 4e was released, on a visit to my college roommate (Roomie from now on). She invited a guy who was also in the chemical engineering program who had never played before (the second DM spawned) and two of her friends, from high-school, a pair of siblings, who were familiar with 3rd, or at least the way their group played it. I tried running the adventure from the DMG as well as using some party building tips I'd heard. Let the party decide how they met/what their goal is. Don't let them use waterslide enthusiasts unless you want the game to be rather silly. 
I froze up when the two ChemE. students started investigating the slime pit, didn't know what to tell them. I think I made a lot of noob-to-the-system mistakes during play, but it had just come out. As soon as they killed the dragon, the two siblings erupted into angry bickering about how to split the treasure, so I wasn't able to wrap up the adventure or anything.
 


5. Roomie's friend started a group and I joined them whenever I visited her. We played some on New Year's Eve, but he had a date that night and yeah. I volunteered to run something and as a group we decided it'd be a paragon tier adventure from Dungeon since they were a little tired of low-level play. I only ended up with an hour or so to get prepped. I had enough time to read through the adventure, but wasn't really familiar with it when we started playing and hadn't thought enough about adjusting the adventure to the 3 players we had. I was horrible at delivering the information gathering skill challenge.
Booze didn't exactly help that one. Had a little too much.

6ish. Beyond that, I've tried a few times to organize a PbP game on a fandom message board I'm on. One time I gave up right after everyone's characters got made. I don't recall if I had other life pressures going on, or just felt overwhelmed. A lot of the RPs on that board are free-form and involve the GM guiding everyone through the plot with a GMPC.
My latest attempt fell apart because two players were going into finals week, then decided looking for/working a summer job would mean they still wouldn't be able to play. I'm trying again, but I haven't got any bites yet this time.


You know those published adventures you forgot to read before trying to run them? How many times have you read them since then? Got them memorized yet? 

Nope. Can't say I've touched them since. Though, I think in the past all mods I'd considered running have been for higher level characters, which is something I don't want to be attempting again. 

What I have the urge to run is something based off of the Pool of Radiance Gold Box game. To that effect, I've read the novel adaptation, bought the 2nd Ed guide to the Moonsea, and found a copy of Ruins of Adventure (the 1e adventure adaptation of the computer game). I'm finding the way adventures were written in 1st edition quite different from today's adventures though. 

I'm not sure if that'll be too ambitious of a project since I've got so little confidence about my DMing skills, or if it's a good idea since it's a location/adventure I already find engaging.


My most likely players will be my boyfriend and his brother-in-law. They've both been playing various editions of D&D longer than I have. At first this was something intimidating me, but typing out all my negative experiences, I've realized quite a few seem to have come from trying to play with people who either didn't know the rules or were expecting their house rules to be used. With people already familiar with the game, I won't have as much of a rules burden to carry.

Also, I'm hoping to use D&D Next, so there are far fewer rules to worry about. 

 
At first this was something intimidating me, but typing out all my negative experiences, I've realized quite a few seem to have come from trying to play with people who either didn't know the rules or were expecting their house rules to be used. With people already familiar with the game, I won't have as much of a rules burden to carry.



I reached the same conclusion after reading your post. Session Zero will help you in this case. Also, don't focus so much on getting everything exactly right with regard to rules. Err on the side of the players in a pinch to keep things moving. It rarely matters to account for every niggling detail.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

I'm Recruiting Players for a D&D 5e Game: Interested?  |  Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

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