How do you DM?

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Hey guys, im a new dm. (been doing it for about 2 months now) in 4e. I was just wondering how you guys chose to DM. To you tend to make things up as you go along or do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be. I tend to be more of the former. I usually plan out the major story and maps of the dungeon and throw in monster and baddies and loot where i see fit during the actual adventure. Do you think this is bad? Does it take away from the polished feel? Or does it add a level of true excitment to both the DM and the Players. I honestly dont know. Perhaps im the worst DM ever. So just wondering how you all deal with DMing
Both methods work, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I generally over prepare, hoping to have an answer ready for anything the players might think of, but I've also played in games run by DMs who did practically no preparation whatsoever, and had a great time. So, run it in whatever way makes you most comfortable - that's the most important part of being a successful DM. 

What you do is quite common-plan the over arching story of what's going on in the world, without planning each detail. This means the players have a big impact on what goes on and won't feel like they're just characters in a story that's already written. In my game, I only ever plan dungeon layouts and the basic idea of an adventure. The actual plot of what's going on can change, as I add bits in on the fly when the players do something unexpected and then work out how they tie in with the plot in betweens sessions. This means that the situation I imagined at the start could be totally different to what's happening at the end. 


For example, the characters' first adventure involves investigating the disappearances of people in a city. They were being taken from the slums so the city watch didn't care much or even notice, and were to be sacrificed to open a portal to another plane. By the end of the adventure it had changed so that the Rakshasa opening the portal had a mutual agreement with a colony of drow living under the city in secret who had snuck over from anther continent where they had been persecuted.


If the characters suggest something when talking to each other or discuss ideas on what they think is going on, use them. Whatever you do, don't think "Damn, I can't use that now because they've already suggested it so they'll see it coming." It's good to just sit back and listen to the players as they talk. They'll give you better ideas than you could ever come up with alone.


As Acarg52 says, both methods work, each with their pros and cons.

"Encouraging your players to be cautious and risk-averse prevents unexpected epic events and-well-progress at a decent pace in general."-Detoxifier

"Trying to make a logical argument about dragons is about as useful as making a logical argument for man-eating eggs."-CliveDauthi

"I've removed death from my ice cream."-Centauri

Definitely do whatever......

1) feels most comfortable to you, because as was mentioned both styles can work depending on the group.
2) Provides the most enjoyment for you and your players.  If everyone at the table is having a good time then the method you are using is working for your group.  If people aren't having fun, then it's time to look at what you can change, and communicating with your players as to what they would find fun and interesting is one of the best methods to incorporate changes that will enhance your groups gaming experience.
Agreed. It doesn't matter how you're playing the game-if everyone is having fun, you're doing it right.

"Encouraging your players to be cautious and risk-averse prevents unexpected epic events and-well-progress at a decent pace in general."-Detoxifier

"Trying to make a logical argument about dragons is about as useful as making a logical argument for man-eating eggs."-CliveDauthi

"I've removed death from my ice cream."-Centauri

Agree ... do what your players want.

Don't let anyone on this board influence your game. Unless they are playing in the game with you. You need to make your players happy first and foremost.

True, but you also need to enjoy it yourself. Your enjoyment is just as important as that of your players.


"Don't let anyone on this board influence your game." is a bit extreme, though I know what you mean. When people ask questions here they are looking for input to help improve and influence their game. Don't let people say "You're doing it wrong, you should do it my way".

"Encouraging your players to be cautious and risk-averse prevents unexpected epic events and-well-progress at a decent pace in general."-Detoxifier

"Trying to make a logical argument about dragons is about as useful as making a logical argument for man-eating eggs."-CliveDauthi

"I've removed death from my ice cream."-Centauri

Talk to your players, find out how many prefer combat encounters or roleplaying encounters or exploration encounters.

Once you know that, you can tailor those types of encounters, either prepared in advance or on the fly or a combination of both.  And they will be well suited for your group.

Also, don't forget that the DM should be having fun too!

As a less experienced DM I initially used to be more strict.  Now I would say that I try to mix both of those concepts into one.


Here is an example:



  • I create a main plotline with NPCs, and subplots in a location. 

  • Let's say that I have three basic ways to get there (for example three different routes, one main road, one wilderness route, and one sea route).

  • I then create a number of subplots along different routes to that location.  This includes other NPCs, encounters etc.


So the players understand that they need to get from point A to point B.  They ask me about options, I give them some suggestions.  If they come up with a totally different option I do my best to make stuff up on the fly.  If the players decide to completely go in another direction of the original plot then I just go with the flow to the best of my ability.


Once I had an entire campaign go in an entirely different direction because one character decided to woo a lady noble. The NPC had been sought after by numerous suitors but had denied them all for some strange reason.  It was originally just a NPC concept.  The character took it as a challenge.


Initially he failed in his first attempt, he realized that he could succeed, but he was going to have to put more effort into wooing this woman than a simple bluff check.  He kept finding excuses for the party to go back into this particular city.  The party loved that city so they had no issue with it.  


At some point the other characters started doing some real digging on this lady noble and suspected that she might be some sort of "Black Window" sort of woman.  Long story short the characters discovered that her late husband was a powerful undead who was extremely jealous of his wife seeing anyone else.


In the end love conquered all.  Character married the NPC and they started a totally plotline.


You should always have a game in mind, even if it's a rough one in your head.  But the players should dictate the pacing and the direction of the game.  After all the game is about their adventures, not yours.

Hey guys, im a new dm. (been doing it for about 2 months now) in 4e. I was just wondering how you guys chose to DM. To you tend to make things up as you go along or do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be. I tend to be more of the former. I usually plan out the major story and maps of the dungeon and throw in monster and baddies and loot where i see fit during the actual adventure. Do you think this is bad? Does it take away from the polished feel? Or does it add a level of true excitment to both the DM and the Players. I honestly dont know. Perhaps im the worst DM ever. So just wondering how you all deal with DMing



That's a pretty acceptable method of playing. Tried and true. Absolutely nothing wrong with it. Have fun.

I tend to set up a world with points of interests and let the players explore. The world tends to evolve around them and events sometimes happen without their input or notice if they're not in the area. The major story points I want to hit are written in a way so they can be easily adapted to even the most random of choices by the players. Whether I get the players to the highlights or the highlights come to them, it's all a matter of time. Sometimes, they even miss big highlights I put in the game. And for the record, I don't mind this. I could use the same stuff again later on a different group, and you never know what will happen the second time.

I also do map out my dungeons and place loot and monsters.

Only thing I could recommend is maybe adding in random encounters.

Edit: For the record, there's not really a right or wrong way to play. Use what works for you. *prepares to do battle with Centauri and Iserith once more*
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Hey guys, im a new dm. (been doing it for about 2 months now) in 4e. I was just wondering how you guys chose to DM. To you tend to make things up as you go along or do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be. I tend to be more of the former. I usually plan out the major story and maps of the dungeon and throw in monster and baddies and loot where i see fit during the actual adventure. Do you think this is bad? Does it take away from the polished feel? Or does it add a level of true excitment to both the DM and the Players. I honestly dont know. Perhaps im the worst DM ever. So just wondering how you all deal with DMing



First, I do a Session Zero with the other players. We discuss our ideas for what we'd like the game to be about. Each person focuses on supporting the ideas of their fellow players while adding ideas of their own. We decide how many levels the game will run, what the party is all about and what kinds of adventures they might go on, plus some broad strokes about what the world is like. Then we talk about the characters, who they are, what they're about, their place in the world, how they relate to and know each other. Finally, we talk about the First Dungeon.

Every campaign starts with a dungeon that we create collaboratively (though I, as DM, generally end up drawing up the maps and picking out monsters and such based on their input). When we explore it, I'm constantly asking questions about what the characters think about their environment, their actions, and each other. I ask questions about how certain things they find relate to the larger world and what sort of adventures, villains, and challenges those things suggest. I write all of this down and use it. By the time they emerge from the crucible of the dungeon, we've got a group of characters that are already highly-developed and bonded to each other, ready to take on the world which we developed together simply by playing.

Based on the initial adventure and the discussions brought about by the shared storytelling and my framed/leading questions, many adventures will have already suggested themselves. The players state what they're interested in doing and we take it from there.

I focus on creating locations or situations based upon player input. Stories are an artifact of play (see my signature for some good articles on this), so I don't waste any time coming up with plots or the like. Stories write itself during play and by way of good leading questions. Every answer and idea that comes out of the players is written down and used at some point during the game. With each question answered, the characters and the world gets richer and more developed, and the players more engaged as they see their own ideas in play.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Hey guys, im a new dm. (been doing it for about 2 months now) in 4e. I was just wondering how you guys chose to DM. To you tend to make things up as you go along or do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be. I tend to be more of the former. I usually plan out the major story and maps of the dungeon and throw in monster and baddies and loot where i see fit during the actual adventure. Do you think this is bad? Does it take away from the polished feel? Or does it add a level of true excitment to both the DM and the Players. I honestly dont know. Perhaps im the worst DM ever. So just wondering how you all deal with DMing



I'm going to go a bit against the grain here with some of the suggestions I'm going to make...

First of all do not...do not remain comfortable in your style of DMing. Struggle with it and work at it. Refine it and improve it. Never accept being comfortable with how you are running. At best, look back and be cautiously satisfied with how you did. It will keep you humble. It will also keep you hungry to get better. It will make you read and take risks. It will make you ask questions and challenge truisms you may hear regarding DMing.

If you want to improve as a DM (and it seems you want to based on this post), you will want to read. Preferably a lot. And don't read just one person. Do not read just one place. Read blogs about every edition. Read forums for multiple games. Read editionless forums. Read fantasy in general. Read fiction in general. Read game theory. Read about other peoples games. Just read. Reading will populate your imagination.

Collect. Collect & hoard. In the digital age DMs have tools at their disposal that they've NEVER enjoyed before and it is easier than ever to compile it. Charts, stats, art...collect it. Categorize it. Use it. Again, it will feed your imagination which will help you think on your feet. It will keep you thinking and creating.

Also realize that there is a balance between pre-planning and improvising...and that bridge is created through tools. Collect and use tools. I have countless charts and tools at my disposal. I use Excel, I keep endless notes (always keep notes) and I steal steal steal. Steal shamelessly. If someone puts it on the internet it is fair game! If it's in an old game book you pick up swipe it!

Using tools will let you bridge the gap between pre-planning things and improvising everything. It will prepare you for the game itself and help you stay on your toes to react to your players actions.

I mentioned remaining humble as a DM and that is true as well. If you need to take a moment to look something up or to figure out how something would work because you were not prepared for an action taken by a player that is okay. It is also far better than invalidating that choice behind the scenes. Remember, secretly invalidating a choice is no different from just saying NO in the first place. Take the time to figure it out...let the players know even that you need a moment or two to think. In doing so, it shows them that you actually care about what they are doing. It shows that their actions are more important than what you have planned. It shows that they are in control of their destiny in the game. It lends them agency as players.

This is less true with rules...if you have the rule on hand or it is going to see a lot of immediate use, then look it up. If not, it is okay to adjudicate something for the time. HOWEVER make sure you look up at that rule so you know it for next time. Again, let your players know that. Be as fair as possible in doing so.

That's my initial advice. I could give more but I don't want to throw a wall of text at you. Hopefully this helps. If you want more, lemme know.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

I have some advice, but typing it out would be redundant with what Kugnar, jplay36, and Grimli said.  They have some great advice.

Good luck, and Good Gaming! 
Dming is something you learn over time, just practice. There's nothing wrong with your method. Different groups prefer different methods, it's your ability to adapt to the players that is key.

If you are having fun and the players are having fun, you are doing it right.


If you are worried about what the players think, ask them.  


You can always try different things, see how it feels from your perspective and ask the player what they thought of the session.


Remember, it's a game. 


TjD

What I do:  I know generally what is happening in the world around the PCs.  Who or what is acting, what their goals are, and how it might affect the world (your general world building/fleshing out of the environment).  After that I plan a session at a time, this way I can make the plans based on what the PCs have done in the last session and know the direction they plan on heading (I ask them at the end of the session if needed so I know and can plan accordingly).  You do need to be ready to think on your feet and make adjustments as you go but this has allowed me to have the detail that is important to the game without having to figure out every last detail - just the ones I know the PCs will come in contact with.  We do have shorter game sessions since we meet on a weeknight, if you have loger sessions this can be harder as there is more opportunity for the PCs to take those twists and turns and may need more inpromptu planning on your part - but if you have a good idea of the things that are happening around the PCs then you just need to add a bit of detail and you are ready (maybe take a 10 minute break to allow yourself to do so).  Also, be ready to through your preconceptions of what will happen out the door, as the PCs will often make mince meat of your plans, but as long as you are flexible and dont fight it you will find it is no big deal.
"The great epochs of our life come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us." - Friedrich Nietzsche
I use a small city as a hub for activity where the characters can look for quests and help craft the storyline how they want (currently in Loudwater). I offer a few hooks and see which one(s) the players would like to explore. Then I craft an adventure according to their concensus for the following week. 

This way, the players are helping me focus on a module as well as craft the world. We round-robin DM so that everybody gets a change to both DM and play. This works for my group, but I can say that it will work for your group. Just offering what happens on my side of the fence.

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...
 
I started my current campaign after over a decade of not playing any pen and paper RPGs with the dungeon crawl in the back of the DMG.  I came up with a few longterm villains and introduced them to the characters over the course of a few months real time, then started to build additional hooks and adventures based on what seemed to pique the players' interests.  I've created, shamelessly stolen, and changed everything from NPCs to dungeons to storylines.

When my players are talking about an NPC, I pay careful attention to their attitudes and what they think is that particular character's motivations.  Often, I adjust my own concepualization of that character based on something insightful a player will say.

In general, I have my own ideas for the way that an adventure will play out, but I try to remain flexible and toss out a lot of plot hooks without thinking them through just see where my players will bite. 
I started my current campaign after over a decade of not playing any pen and paper RPGs with the dungeon crawl in the back of the DMG.  I came up with a few longterm villains and introduced them to the characters over the course of a few months real time, then started to build additional hooks and adventures based on what seemed to pique the players' interests.  I've created, shamelessly stolen, and changed everything from NPCs to dungeons to storylines.

When my players are talking about an NPC, I pay careful attention to their attitudes and what they think is that particular character's motivations.  Often, I adjust my own concepualization of that character based on something insightful a player will say.

In general, I have my own ideas for the way that an adventure will play out, but I try to remain flexible and toss out a lot of plot hooks without thinking them through just see where my players will bite. 



This is a very sound DMing philosophy and stands as a good model.
Something I have started doing ...

At the end of each session I question the PC and ask them what they think their next course of action will be. Sometimes there is discussion between the PC and myself on a Facebook Page we made for ourselves.

But then I have a good idea of what they are thinking and plan out accordingly. I also have stuff set for it they change their minds and go the other direction. This hasn't been a problem as of late as the group asked for bigger dungeons/ruins/caves to go through. It is taking an average of 2 weeks to get through one of those now. Which also gives me time to try and think ahead and plot out what my BBEG is doing, as he is constantly on the move furthering his plots of destruction.
Hey guys, im a new dm. (been doing it for about 2 months now) in 4e. I was just wondering how you guys chose to DM. To you tend to make things up as you go along or do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be. I tend to be more of the former. I usually plan out the major story and maps of the dungeon and throw in monster and baddies and loot where i see fit during the actual adventure. Do you think this is bad? Does it take away from the polished feel? Or does it add a level of true excitment to both the DM and the Players. I honestly dont know. Perhaps im the worst DM ever. So just wondering how you all deal with DMing



I tend to create the storyline and write it in detail.
Maps are done twice, one for me, the other for the players in a handout.
Props are often used to give it a more real feel (vials with colored water, scrolls, parchment, plastic coins and plastic gemstones, etc)
Of course, mine are linear but not made to sound linear...I just make it clear that there are consequences on taking a job, same for not taking a job.
I really get into roleplaying as my NPCs...that is the fun part in my book.

The main thing is to make sure the players are having a good time even if you did something wrong or not.
If the players commend you or tell you it was a good run or cannot wait till the next session, then you did what all GMs are expected to do.

You entertained them.
 
If you're good at making stuff up on the spot and the players are having fun, rock on. If you can plan stuff out in intricate detail without running over your players with a train and the players are having fun, rock on.

My style is to create just enough of the world that I know what the local culture and climate is like and who the major players are, and wing the rest... and then I take notes on what I tell the players when I fill in the details. Having the loose framework gives structure without being inflexible to player ideas.

Try to be consistent as much as possible. Good notes or else having players with good memories is useful.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
not entirely true on my style... i DO like doing heraldry, so i'm big on that. it's your game, too DM!
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Hey guys, im a new dm. (been doing it for about 2 months now) in 4e. I was just wondering how you guys chose to DM. To you tend to make things up as you go along or do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be. I tend to be more of the former. I usually plan out the major story and maps of the dungeon and throw in monster and baddies and loot where i see fit during the actual adventure. Do you think this is bad? Does it take away from the polished feel? Or does it add a level of true excitment to both the DM and the Players. I honestly dont know. Perhaps im the worst DM ever. So just wondering how you all deal with DMing


As a starting point in DMing, it's alright.

A bit of background: I actually began my DMing in LFR, running the game almost exclusively as-written for a bit more than a year.  When I started running my own campaigns, I basically did it the same way you did, with a major story as the basic framework, and a bit of an idea on what monsters would likely be in a given area, etc.

My first foray into free-form DMing was a result of a player in LFR breaking the mold and stating that they split the party, when the module I was running did not give suggestions as to how to run a split party encounter, so I just winged it even though I wasn't even sure of like half the rules of D&D 4E that I know now.  In spite of that, it was a general success, as everyone enjoyed the encounter and we had fun (mostly because it went from all-serious to laugh trip unexpectedly).

My next foray into free-form DMing was more of an experiment in running my campaign, and thus collaborative mapping was born on my tables.  Basically, map-drawing is no longer my exclusive privilege, and other players now have just as much right as I -- even more so at times -- when describing and mapping out terrain.  Still, most of the campaign was prewritten at this point, though several months prior to me learning about 13th Age, I already began running my Eberron campaign with most of the notes in my head, that basically served as hints and guidelines as to how to run the whole thing (so I guess you could say I was half winging it, and half prepping it already).

[ EDIT: I was about to link you to my blog about collaborative mapping, but apparently there's an issue with the WotC blogs and it as a separate entry disappeared.  Thankfully you can still find it here (just scroll down a bit) but I'll have to transfer it to a different blog soon. UPDATE: Transferred it here. ]

The first big break I had from prepping since that fateful LFR session came with the first campaign I set up for 13th Age.  Since I was running in a fairly new world, system and campaign, I decided at the drop of a hat that I was not going to write the story by myself, and told my players that I would make the campaign based exclusively on what they submit to me.  Curiously enough, they delivered exceedingly well (even though none of them talked to each other beforehand regarding their characters and storyline), and the only reason why it's in hiatus is because this campaign is currently competing with LFR Epic Tier in attention.

But when I learned of a particular DMing module as run by Rob Heinsoo (one of the people responsible for 4E, specifically the part where everyone is able to meaningfully contribute both in and out of combat in ways that are thematically appropriate for their class, and co-author of 13th Age), and tried running my second campaign in 13th Age with a different group, suffice to say, my mind was completely blown off, and even collaborative mapping and collaborative campaign design combined couldn't compare to the exhilaration and challenge that real-time campaign development gave me.

So now, I only prepare the players' character sheets, group monitoring sheets, GM Aids, Player Aids, the rulebook I use, and everything else is in my head.  Whatever I can't remember, I ask my players as a recap, and if they couldn't remember what I couldn't remember, then it probably wasn't worth remembering.  So in retrospect, I basically turned from 90% prep-centric to 90% improv, and I can't really see myself going back to pre-prepping, even to 50% prep 50% improv; at most I'll probably go for like 25% prep and 75% improv.

Now granted, I'm certain only a few people can really keep so much stuff in their heads, so I would certainly encourage you to take down lots of notes.  And another thing I'd suggest is to follow what YagamiFire stated in his post, which is simply this:

[i]Never be satisfied with being JUST "alright" as a DM.[/i]
Read, think, analyze, understand, expand your horizons, test the waters, accept the fact that you'll always make mistakes -- heck, initiate some mistakes if you can -- as long as you learn from those mistakes, and make it a point to improve yourself, not only as a DM, but also as a person.  If you can afford to, travel.  If you can't afford it, head to the library or download as many e-books as possible, and not just in fiction: read up on physics, algebra, cooking, sewing, first aid, armor, weapons, psychology, game development, mining, architecture, sports, alchemy, chemistry, martial arts, etc.  Also, play lots and lots of games from different genres: horror, JRPGs, Western RPGs, casual, hardcore first person shooter, stealth games, etc.

In short: Be the modern Renaissance Man. Because everything you pick up can, and will, translate to your game.
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This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
In short: Be the modern Renaissance Man. Because everything you pick up can, and will, translate to your game.



Chaosfang's advice is so good he should probably be banned outright from the boards and have his posts stricken from record forevermore!

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Remember that D&D is only a game.  This is important, because if in an effort to improve yourself as DM you stop having fun, then you're doing it wrong.  Your fun is slightly more important than that of the players (if you're not having fun, you'll stop DMing, and then there's no game at all). 

At the same time, you should be eager to try out new things and make mistakes.  It's only a game: nothing horrible will happen if your new idea falls flat, and it's only through experimentation that you will improve yourself as a DM.

The right way to DM is unique to you: no one can tell you how to do it, they can only offer advice.  YagamiFire and Iserith are two of the most confident DMs on this board, because they have spent a huge amount of time and effort improving their game (I recommend listening to them and trying some of their advice).  But they also have very different styles.  The only thing you can do is listen to the advice given, try it out, and see if it works for you.  It's only a game: if YagamiFire's method is too much work, or Iserith's method ruins your enjoyment, then don't do it.

Listen to your players, but be willing to change things that they say don't need changing.  I am a pretty new DM too, and I'm still stuck in a railroad-type DMing style.  This is not permanent, it's just where I'm at in my growth as a DM right now.  But if I were to listen to my players, I would forever give railroad plots (several of them have said they need the direction I provide them).  They might be right, but I don't think they are.  I think I just need to give them a good quality open-ended adventure for them to realize what they're missing.  I'm designing it right now, and we'll see how it goes.  But it's only a game: nothing horrible will happen if my open-ended adventure fails miserably.
Listen to your players, but be willing to change things that they say don't need changing.  I am a pretty new DM too, and I'm still stuck in a railroad-type DMing style.  This is not permanent, it's just where I'm at in my growth as a DM right now.  But if I were to listen to my players, I would forever give railroad plots (several of them have said they need the direction I provide them).  They might be right, but I don't think they are.  I think I just need to give them a good quality open-ended adventure for them to realize what they're missing.  I'm designing it right now, and we'll see how it goes.  But it's only a game: nothing horrible will happen if my open-ended adventure fails miserably.



Right! No style works without the players buying in. If your players say they want railroads, give them railroads. Don't let anyone here tell you that's bad. It's just bad for them and their players.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Remember that D&D is only a game.  This is important, because if in an effort to improve yourself as DM you stop having fun, then you're doing it wrong.  Your fun is slightly more important than that of the players (if you're not having fun, you'll stop DMing, and then there's no game at all). 

At the same time, you should be eager to try out new things and make mistakes.  It's only a game: nothing horrible will happen if your new idea falls flat, and it's only through experimentation that you will improve yourself as a DM.




So true, and is the essence of the advice regarding being the Modern Renaissance Man: there's so much interesting stuff out there, and the world is your cornucopia of ideas.  If it's fun exploring through the dungeons and mountains of your mind, how much more fun would it be exploring actual dungeons and mountains, and then sharing those experiences through play?

Fact is stranger than fiction, after all.
The right way to DM is unique to you: no one can tell you how to do it, they can only offer advice.  YagamiFire and Iserith are two of the most confident DMs on this board, because they have spent a huge amount of time and effort improving their game (I recommend listening to them and trying some of their advice).  But they also have very different styles.  The only thing you can do is listen to the advice given, try it out, and see if it works for you.  It's only a game: if YagamiFire's method is too much work, or Iserith's method ruins your enjoyment, then don't do it.

Listen to your players, but be willing to change things that they say don't need changing.  I am a pretty new DM too, and I'm still stuck in a railroad-type DMing style.  This is not permanent, it's just where I'm at in my growth as a DM right now.  But if I were to listen to my players, I would forever give railroad plots (several of them have said they need the direction I provide them).  They might be right, but I don't think they are.  I think I just need to give them a good quality open-ended adventure for them to realize what they're missing.  I'm designing it right now, and we'll see how it goes.  But it's only a game: nothing horrible will happen if my open-ended adventure fails miserably.

True enough, hence the need to experiment and learn how you DM and how your players play

In short: Be the modern Renaissance Man. Because everything you pick up can, and will, translate to your game.



Chaosfang's advice is so good he should probably be banned outright from the boards and have his posts stricken from record forevermore!



LOL XD


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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be.

Yes. Every DM should have this prepared.

Do you tend to make things up as you go along

Yes. Every DM should be able to do this... since the players will not follow your plan, and you should not force them.
do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be.

Yes. Every DM should have this prepared.


So... does that make me a bad DM then, given how I made two campaigns with no strict plans, and plan on continuing to DM that way for awhile?
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You are both rational and emotional. You value creation and discovery, and feel strongly about what you create. At best, you're innovative and intuitive. At worst, you're scattered and unpredictable.

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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
So... does that make me a bad DM then, given how I made two campaigns with no strict plans, and plan on continuing to DM that way for awhile?



No, it just makes you a DM who doesn't make strict plans.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

do you have a very strict plan for what you think the players journey syhould be.

Yes. Every DM should have this prepared.

does that make me a bad DM

Nope. But I still believe DM's should plan for what they think the players journey should be (even if they have no intent to follow it), since sometimes players actually want the DM to have some sort of plan.

@OP:As a new DM too all i can do is talk about my experiences, not necessary a style! 

The first campaing i DM was totally a railroad! but since this was what the table was expecting, everything went fine... for my current adventure, i prepared how the worl was prior to the PCs arrival: Local geography, history, natives motivations (for both victims and villains) and they short and long term plan (expansionism for the bad guys, survival for the persecuted and forging a resistence for the bold ones)... for what happen after the PCs arrival, i'll roleplay each NPC to react to the players deeds. Trying to get the most "organic" world i'm able to create.

now, i'll hijack this post for a while hahahaha

Question to everyone who said "don't plan, let the players decide what quest they want": I Bought the idea of "don't make plot, make situations", but, what you guys do with situations that get ignored? for instance, you create three situations to be triggers of bigger quests and one of them is "The King caravan will be ambushed when crossing territorial borders, the assailants want to create heavy diplomatic tensions between the two kingdoms". but, the players decide to bit anoter hook and go left instead of right ... good! this is what they want ... but, what about the king that was left to his luck? After the adventure ends, they comeback and found a contry plunged into war or since they didn't bite the hook, the trigger cease to exist?

As a new DM too, i'll hijack this post for a while hahahaha

Question to everyone who said "don't plan, let the players decide what quest they want": I Bought the idea of "don't make plot, make situations", but, what you guys do with situations that get ignored? for instance, you create three situations to be triggers of bigger quests and one of them is "The King caravan will be ambushed when crossing territorial borders, the assailants want to create heavy diplomatic tensions between the two kingdoms". but, the players decide to bit anoter hook and go left instead of right ... good! this is what they want ... but, what about the king that was left to his luck? After the adventure ends, they comeback and found a contry plunged into war or since they didn't bite the hook, the trigger cease to exist?


Actually, I don't make neither plots *nor* situations.  Instead, my players make their own situations, based on a number of things:


  • background story

  • character motivation

  • One Unique Thing (13th Age)

  • Relationship Dice roll results (13th Age)


In your situation, yes the trigger ceases to exist.  Remember that you're running a living, breathing world, which is something even Gary Gygax took into serious consideration:



  • must rest because remaining spells are too few? oops, the maiden you were supposed to rescue was sacrificed to a demon god

  • leftovers while camping? oh look, there's a bear rummaging through your food, seems it's really hungry

  • decided to slay goblin caravan raiders instead of guard the town? seems an orc horde passed by in your absence

  • decided to guard the town instead of slaying goblin caravan raiders? looks like you'll have to find a way to convince the merchants to pass by the town again, otherwise they'll starve to death

  • entering the wooded forest, the one where there's lots of elk?  hey isn't that a dragon? i heard they love elf meat... i mean elk meat...


Predetermining stuff helps make things easier, but sometimes it's better to simply allow players to do what they want and what they think their characters would do in a given situation, and then go with the flow from there.

Show

You are Red/Blue!
Take The Magic Dual Colour Test - Beta today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Personality Test Generator.

You are both rational and emotional. You value creation and discovery, and feel strongly about what you create. At best, you're innovative and intuitive. At worst, you're scattered and unpredictable.

D&D Home Page - What Monster Are You? - D&D Compendium

57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
Question to everyone who said "don't plan, let the players decide what quest they want": I Bought the idea of "don't make plot, make situations", but, what you guys do with situations that get ignored? for instance, you create three situations to be triggers of bigger quests and one of them is "The King caravan will be ambushed when crossing territorial borders, the assailants want to create heavy diplomatic tensions between the two kingdoms". but, the players decide to bit anoter hook and go left instead of right ... good! this is what they want ... but, what about the king that was left to his luck? After the adventure ends, they comeback and found a contry plunged into war or since they didn't bite the hook, the trigger cease to exist?



It depends. A situation as I define it and employ it isn't much different from a location, especially since situations take place in locations, normally cities. When I refer to a location, it's more of a dungeon (though note that dungeons can be any type of closed or semi-closed spot in the world, be it a forest or a crypt or a space ship).

In the style I espouse, these locations or situations arise out of our collaboration. I don't create them ahead of time to be experienced. To turn away from the location or situation of their own making would be a rare thing indeed because it represents the players eschewing their own ideas and input. I'm sure it's possible though and there are times I've seen where the characters, by back luck or particular choices, end up not being able to deal with an enemy's plan coming to fruition. If that's the case, the motivations and goals of the antagonists would simply play out (I call thise Impending Doom from Dungeon World). This may or may not have a major impact upon future of the world, as determined by further collaboration with the players.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I tend to run by what my players give me, an rarely have anything truly concrete ahead of time in terms of true "plot".

Haaaaving said that...it doesnt hurt to take a pre-fabricated adventure (a adventure already written) to get everyone at the table in to the "feel" of things and flex your DM muscles for the first time.  Yes, you do want to ask your players what would they like to see, and what appeals the most to them.  However, to help build your skills at first, I personally found it immensely helpful to take a pre-written adventure, tweek it around to some of what I like , and run it from there.  Now if the players arent truly biting on this adventure, that is where you will have needed to take their preferences for the game ahead of time in to consideration.  Asking what motivates the players "characters" is important in the onset of a campaign/episode.

Take it slow, and dont be afraid to make mistakes.  Keep the game flowing, dont get caught up in "rules" as much as what creates fun for the game.  Personally, I understand most aspects of combat, but that is my least favorite part of DMing the game.  However, my players all tend to love combat to one degree or another, so I tend to take what little preparation I choose to take in to making interesting combat situations and having some special encounters ready - including know the special abilities of the NPC's I will use.
I try to prepare like crazy if I want to provide the best chance at serious 6 hour game time.    I start with a general story line with plots then work my way to every detail...including key NPC interactions...even key words they say.  I then pull pictures from internet to provide visual scenes and npc's I can't describe In words.  I plan out every encounter with detailed grid maps and monster types + skill challenge that can give engaging combat.

here is the hard part for me.   I then try to predict and plan for every possible outcome players may create or choose on their own..and try to get a concrete idea how I am going to respond to it and how I can incorporate those new circumstances into existing plot.  Plot may be the skeleton frame, the players provide the muscles organs and everything else.  Everything from players starting a brawl at inn, to going on a killing spree to, possibly killing main hook npc to simply walking out of a hook, to deciding to go climb a mountain or whatever.  I try to predict and prepare.  Ultimately... Plot may be mine but the road that player chooses to get there is theirs To create.  If I can prepare for every one of those roads they may take, and be prepared to adept my plot and story accordingly, I usually get everything i prepared such as key encounters in the game In one form or other. Maybe not exactly how I planned it but whatever.  I write half and Players write other half of the story including how it ends.  As long as they are having fun thats Fair enough for me.

Takes me about 16+ hours to prepare.





In the style I espouse, these locations or situations arise out of our collaboration. I don't create them ahead of time to be experienced. To turn away from the location or situation of their own making would be a rare thing indeed because it represents the players eschewing their own ideas and input. I'm sure it's possible though and there are times I've seen where the characters, by back luck or particular choices, end up not being able to deal with an enemy's plan coming to fruition. If that's the case, the motivations and goals of the antagonists would simply play out (I call thise Impending Doom from Dungeon World). This may or may not have a major impact upon future of the world, as determined by further collaboration with the players.




Actually, I don't make neither plots *nor* situations.  Instead, my players make their own situations, based on a number of things:


  • background story

  • character motivation

  • One Unique Thing (13th Age)

  • Relationship Dice roll results (13th Age)





I see the advantages where less prep allow more time to refine other things and that everyone will have fun, but, doesn't it take away the mistery from the game?


I mean, by asking the players, you will not be taken by surprise when interpretate the scenario in a complete new way and they will not be surprise when the friendly NPC reveals to be their worst enemy.


Also, the way i see, the master become like a lego builder (don't see it as something bad, i just didn't find a better allegory), taking the blocks given by players and assembling them in the way he was told - or better, in the way the group agreed. Doesn't not it take away the storytelling part?


btw, i'm not criticizing or anything ... Maybe the question sounded dumb to someone, but all tables i ever saw or played at the master was a perpetuous deity ruling over all aspects of the game. Even the pre-session talk while creating the sheets was "this is the story, fit you characters there".


i really like what i read here! as i said before, i never saw DMing from this perspective, as a example: recently i asked the players what system we would use, 3.5 or 4e, and the unifed answer was "you're the DM, is your call". For what i see, this kind of play requires "learning" from both sides: players and DM alike




I see the advantages where less prep allow more time to refine other things and that everyone will have fun, but, doesn't it take away the mistery from the game?

I mean, by asking the players, you will not be taken by surprise when interpretate the scenario in a complete new way and they will not be surprise when the friendly NPC reveals to be their worst enemy.




This question comes up a lot. Consider this: Who is it exactly you're trying to surprise? The players or the characters? You can surprise the players some of the time. Or you can surprise the characters 100% of the time, with the help of the players. Players are smart or sometimes disengaged or jaded or annoyed or whatever. Your planned surprise may fall flat. If you can only surprise the players some of the time, think about how much prep went into building that surprise and how many times you had to obfuscate and shut down their ideas to give your Big Reveal precedence. And all of that for a result that is not guaranteed - "Oh, the butler did it, heh. Roll for init?" Alternatively, I can involve the players in making the planned "surprise" work on the characters and pull it off every time.

What's interesting about the approach is that there are a lot of surprises that simply happen on their own, surprises even for the DM. Things have a way of coming full circle in ways that nobody could have planned. Everyone is building off each other's contributions and so things can fall into place in very surprising ways. While a traditional game will have the occasional planned surprise, our games have surprises each and every session, often multiple times per session. This makes both playing and especially DMing (in my opinion) really engaging. I've never had so much fun DMing as with this approach and it's a hell of a lot less work. At our table, you simply won't see a disengaged player waiting for the next plot point. They're actively engaged in collaborating with everyone else, every contribution adding to the tapestry of the game.

Also, the way i see, the master become like a lego builder (don't see it as something bad, i just didn't find a better allegory), taking the blocks given by players and assembling them in the way he was told - or better, in the way the group agreed. Doesn't not it take away the storytelling part?



It depends on where you think the story should come from. In this approach, the story comes about by playing. The things the characters do and say, whatever that is, is the story. The alternative being the DM coming up with the story ahead of time for the players to experience through the lens of their characters. Equally valid, just different from what we're doing.

btw, i'm not criticizing or anything ... Maybe the question sounded dumb to someone, but all tables i ever saw or played at the master was a perpetuous deity ruling over all aspects of the game. Even the pre-session talk while creating the sheets was "this is the story, fit you characters there".



Yes, that's certainly a traditional approach. That's the Hickman style of DMing. It's been around officially since 1982. Because Hickman's modules made so much money back in the day, most modules produced after that time followed that style. And so generations of gamers have learned to play the game in that manner. That's not really how the game was played at its inception. And it comes with its share of pitfalls. But with buy-in and a solid DM, you can play some great games with that approach. (And before I get lambasted, I should note that all approaches are valid as long as the players buy-in and everyone's having fun. I ran games in that style for 20+ years.)

i really like what i read here! as i said before, i never saw DMing from this perspective, as a example: recently i asked the players what system we would use, 3.5 or 4e, and the unifed answer was "you're the DM, is your call". For what i see, this kind of play requires "learning" from both sides: players and DM alike


It's really fun to play in the manner we're espousing. The DM becomes more like a player and less like an authority figure. Players stop asking "DM may I?" and the game simply moves along on its own. It doesn't happen overnight (40 years of tradition is hard to break) and there are some techniques to be learned and employed. But for my money, less prep for a better result is a very strong selling point.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

No what is better then suprising the characters? Suprising both the characters AND the players. And it is the difference between acting in a play and playing a game, and it is worth failing a few times to acheive.

To say nothing of the satisfaction of the Player/character figuring it out before the DM is able to reveal the suprise. The plot failing can be awesome in my opinion, better still if the Players succeed in setting up the DM.

It is not a matter of breaking "tradition"  we've all seen the countless movies that show the cutscenes of the villains, we know what their plot is, but the good guys don't. That's good for an action film, but it is really a plot shortcut, instead of building the plot and suspense, they just tell you what is going to happen. The real good stories however don't tell you what is going to happen and instead work on building the story. It's not sayign that showing it is bad, but it is a shortcut. And often it is used because it would be harder to build the story (or it would show the gaping holes in the plot) and developing the plot is harder to do.

Personally I would rather have my players leave the session in suspence over what is going to happen next and trying to figure it out, forming theories etc. Suspence and mystry are an important tool and what are the point of puzzles if the players know the solutions.
No what is better then suprising the characters? Suprising both the characters AND the players. And it is the difference between acting in a play and playing a game, and it is worth failing a few times to acheive.

To say nothing of the satisfaction of the Player/character figuring it out before the DM is able to reveal the suprise. The plot failing can be awesome in my opinion, better still if the Players succeed in setting up the DM.



Yes, and that's simply a matter of where your style determines when and how the story is created. If you want to use the Hickman style (DM creates the story) to try and surprise the characters and players and aren't afraid to spend X amount of time preparing the Big Reveal with the possibility of it falling flat, go for it. I've pulled it off plenty of times back when I ran in that style. I also saw plenty of times where it didn't work despite my efforts. It'll be up to individual DMs to decide if that effort is worth it.

It is not a matter of breaking "tradition"  we've all seen the countless movies that show the cutscenes of the villains, we know what their plot is, but the good guys don't. That's good for an action film, but it is really a plot shortcut, instead of building the plot and suspense, they just tell you what is going to happen. The real good stories however don't tell you what is going to happen and instead work on building the story. It's not sayign that showing it is bad, but it is a shortcut. And often it is used because it would be harder to build the story (or it would show the gaping holes in the plot) and developing the plot is harder to do.



Some might suggest that D&D better emulates the experience of an action/adventure movie like Indiana Jones better than emulating the latest M. Knight Shyamalan mystery flick. Other games may do mystery better. D&D does some things well and other things poor to mediocre in my opinion.

Personally I would rather have my players leave the session in suspence over what is going to happen next and trying to figure it out, forming theories etc. Suspence and mystry are an important tool and what are the point of puzzles if the players know the solutions.



Imagine being able to do this every session, even as the DM. I'm never sure what's going to happen next in our games.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith