So You Want to Be A Game Master? - The best DM'ing tutorial I've read

7 posts / 0 new
Last post

Breaking the process down into smaller more manageable sections makes the huge task seems much more manageable and incredibly fun. It inspired me to pick back up a campaign that I started months ago and never finished. Thought you guys might enjoy it.

Pretty solid read, I did like how everything was broken down into a simple section.
I don't know, I have to admit it made me cringe a bit.  While the author tried to warn the prospective DM off of railroading, I think his solution - that discrete "if, then" points are added to the story so it is more like a tree - isn't a great one, especially not for new DMs.  Trying to anticipate every possible player action can make for a ton of prep, most of which will never see the light of day, and no matter how much you prep, players WILL do something you didn't anticipate.  I think it's a recipe for burnout.

Also, the author could have explained to new DMs the benefits of shared storytelling - more player input and less prep requirements makes for a happier table.

I'm concerned because I feel a lot of new DMs are given a lot of bad advice on how to run a game by more "mainstream" DMs based on the notion that "this is how we've been doing it since the late 70s."  I've found that as a new DM, I was often frustrated and burned out by the amount of prep it took to run a campaign, and my players weren't as into it because I was doing the "hook and railroad" style adventure.  After learning and unlearning a lot of stuff, I now feel a lot better about how my games go.  Unfortunately, I think this article still contains some pieces of information which new DMs need to unlearn, not learn.
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:
If->Then story reasoning in DMing is inherently limiting and, in the long run, counter-productive. Bad advice.

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.

This might work for some DMs, but I have to concur with crimsyn: too. much. prep.  The Lazy DM Guide might be written for more advanced DMs in mind, but honestly I reckon that most advice given actually suits newbie DMs as well, plus the site has several cheat sheets to further help with the game.  And I agree with the site: Dungeon World's GM section is very good for any sort of DM.

From the sample PDF of The Lazy DM Guide, the dangers of over-preparation — which this blog post is actively encouraging IMHO — would include the following:

  • You spend time in areas that matter little to the game

    • It might take you fifteen minutes or an hour to build a monster depending on the edition, and that monster might get killed in only a couple of rounds of play. You might never get to show off the true capabilities of these monsters

  • You build up too much stake in your material

    • Every bit of time you spend preparing for your game emotionally commits you to use those results. You want your players to see the stuff you make. Therefore, the more stuff you make, the less likely you are to let your players deviate from that course

    • This doesn’t mean your planned ideas are useless, but they might serve better as ideas to tap later than as a fully-filled out story

  • You build a story before it should be built

    • the more you try to fill out the story ahead of time, the more likely you'll fall into a scripted, rehearsed, and potentially boring plot

Sure if you're the type of DM that truly wishes to dedicate himself into recreating a fully functional world with appropriate ecology and politico-economic  factors coming into play that's fine and dandy, but that doesn't mean that the players will ever experience most of what you've written (and from what I've read and noticed, they best work as a different set of tools that'll help your improv; not necessarily the most flexible of tools, but useful nevertheless especially if you run the same campaign in the same world for decades).

You don't get better at improvisation by planning for all the possibilities that could happen on the table, which this blog encourages, especially with the bit on plot, mapping, and "climax and reward".  Simpler method:

  • 1 goal, 1 adventure seed

  • 3 primary NPCs, 3 secondary NPCs, 3 most likely paths

  • improvisation toolsfor everything else

    • just make sure that every action PCs take brings the session closer to the session's goal

  • practice, practice, practice

    • don't worry, you're bound to get better at improvisation with practice, and take it from someone who panicked like crazy the first time I had to improv: as long as you're accommodating (yes and/but...), cool-headed (appearance-wise), immersive and trustworthy, players will tend to enjoy even those games that you as a DM might think of as lackluster

Personally I don't even prep the first two parts because of my improvisation tools and experience with improvising

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
a lot of words

I was going to write a long-winded post, but then I realized that I don't really have much to add. I guess I'll fall back on:

I'm Jet Shield and I approve this message.
Boraxe wrote: "Knowledge of the rules and creativity are great attributes for a DM, but knowing when to cut loose and when to hold back, when to follow the rules and when to discard them, in order to enhance the enjoyment of the game is the most important DM skill of all." Keeper of the Sacred Kitty Bowl of the House of Trolls. Resident Kitteh-napper.
The article seems to suggest the DM writes the story: "The story might be about them, but you’re the one writing it." There is further conflation of "plot" and "story." That's fundamentally a misunderstanding of how RPGs work.

I also agree with the above posters who say that "if, then" planning is over-preparation. This is an artifact of plot-based adventure design. You can make huge "if, then" choose-your-own-adventure stories that looks like the players have true freedom in the context of the game, but it's all just an illusion. And not only that, since most if not all contingencies will never be triggered, it's a recipe for creating a bunch of work that will never see the light of day. I suspect most DMs don't have that kind of time and if they did, I think they could probably put it to better use.

To be fair, a few year ago, I might have agreed with this article. But now I'm with crimsyn - I'd rather DMs take this as an example of what to unlearn. There are much easier ways of DMing that produce better results in my opinion. Some of those methods are linked in my signature.

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

Sign In to post comments