Feb 28 2012

How to be a Good Dungeon Master

Being a Dungeon Master means that you are ultimately responsible for whether you have a good game or a bad game. Here are some tips on how to separate yourself from the pack of Dungeon Masters who just picked up the book and started playing.

  • Keep a Tight Schedule

This is as simple as it gets. If you have a weekly game scheduled, every Thursday at 8PM, make sure that you are ready to start gaming at 7:55PM. Don’t be late. Don’t skip games if you can avoid it. Your players will appreciate your reliability, and they will work to keep room for your game on their schedule as well. Don’t forget to schedule some time for banter, and small talk. If you want your game to actually start at 8:00PM, have the players show up at 7:30PM, so they can talk and chat, and get food. Don’t short-change your players either. If you promise a 4 hour game session, don’t deliver just 3 hours of enjoyment.

  • Keep the Pace Moving

A smoldering, tension building, slow-burning, easy-paced game can be fun on occasion, or with certain groups, but in general, you should keep a fast-hitting, quick-moving, dynamic tempo. Don’t rush so fast that you miss the enjoyable parts of the game, but if you let the game bog down, players get bored, and find other things to do with their time. As you are learning the game, look for points where the game slows down, and come up with ways to move through them quickly.

  • Be Energetic

Stand up when things get exciting, instead of sitting in a chair. This gives you a boost of energy, and your players will feed off of that energy. Move your hands in broad gestures. Stand up on a chair and talk in a deep voice when you are Role Playing as a giant. Don’t fall off the chair. (MM is not responsible for accidents resulting in chair-standing). Use other voices to immerse your players. Let that excitement and enthusiasm creep into your voice as you tell your players to roll for initiative. When your monsters die, gurgle and curse them with your dying breath. Whatever it takes to make your game energetic will keep your players on the edge of their seat, and always coming back for more.

  • Be Prepared

Have your maps drawn ahead of time. Have your miniatures and other props neatly organized, or pulled out and ready. This helps with the pacing, because you don’t have long delays between encounters while you set up the table. Read the module, so you know what to expect, and where to look for important pieces of information. Don’t let the game stall as you flip through pages of notes trying to find some tidbit of data. Be careful that you don’t lose flexibility here. Over-preparation can lead to a campaign on rails.

  • Learn from other Dungeon Masters

Find someone who is a great Dungeon Master, and play in a game they run. Copy their good ideas and incorporate them into your own games. That may seem obvious, but there is a flip side to this. Find someone who is a terrible Dungeon Master, and play in a game they run. Find out what they are doing wrong, and make sure you aren’t making the same mistakes.

It doesn’t take a lot to distinguish yourself as a Good DM. Put in a bit of effort and you will find that you have players constantly asking you whether there is an opening in any of your games. Stay tuned for more advice and soon, you will be a Great DM.

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