Today here at Save Vs. Rant, we hope to give you an introduction to DMing with 10 pieces of advice applicable to virtually any game. We call it – DMing 101!
10 points, a quick review:
1. Remember: You’re Here to Have Fun
Having fun and running a game are not mutually exclusive. Some gamers perfer to run games to playing a character, but in the ideal game, both roles are – and should be – enjoyable.
2. Know the Rules
You don’t need to be the foremost expert in the game. You don’t need to know every rule by heart. You don’t need to be an encyclopedia of spells and powers. But you DO need to know the game. You need to proficient – you need to know what is possible within the constraints of the game.
3. Make It About the Player Characters
Outside of a few niche games with bizarre premises, your players characters are the main characters of the story. They should be the ones in charge – they should be the dynamic elements of the story. Their actions should matter and they should influence the world and story.
4. Don’t Forget to Plan
Know the beats of your story. Know where things are going and what is possible within your setting. It’s ok to improvise. In fact, the right sort of preparation can enhance your improvisational opportunities. Knowing what monsters synergize well.
5. Have Good Time Management
It is ok to for your game to have a lead in and lead out. Most gaming groups are comprised of friends, who enjoy talking, spending time together and generally hanging out. Knowing how your group spends their time and what their pacing is can be important and gives you the ability to plan and prepare correctly, without getting over your head or breaking in the middle of something.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Let the Players Be Powerful
We play games, in part to live out fantasies. Most games are about larger than life situations and amazing heroes. In games with larger than life realities, it is alright to escalate the challenges. Adventurers outgrow wolves and goblins and find themselves fighting dragons and demons. Vampires gain powers and go from challenging the Prince of the City to overpowering global conspiracies.
7. Talk With Your Players
This really cannot be stressed enough. If your players are disappointed or bored, you need to know that in order to address the issue. Knowing what kind of character your players want to play, what kind of story they want to go through and what kind of challenges they want to overcome is crucial to running a good game. The focus of your game might even change session to session. Players may very well want to experience variety in their game, and you can facilitate that if you’re aware of this.
8. Keep Good Notes
If your game isn’t a one-off, you’re going to have some history to your game. Even if it is a one-off, it might be necessary to jot a few notes as you go to ensure that you keep things straight. Obsidian Portal and Roll20 are excellent tools for tracking this on your computer, but honestly a Word or notepad file is sufficient. Notebooks are the classic method, of course, and simple non-digital tools work fine if that’s your style. Enlisting the players’ aid in this effort is a legitimate strategy as well, and helps keep them engaged.
Keep It Simple, Stupid! This is a great slogan for the starting DM, and a solid one for even the seasoned veteran. Overthinking and over-planning are common pitfalls for DMs, who so often forget that the player characters will always throw a wrench in your plans, and that’s ok. That’s something you should both be prepared for, and be prepared to be surprised by, and knowing when to keep things to a workable frame and when to truly flesh things out is an art that comes with practice. More often than not, keeping things simple and not sweating the small stuff is the best approach.
10. Don’t Be a Dick!
There is never a reason to be a dick. There may be characters in your game that are dicks. Terrible things may happen to the player characters. The game world may be cold, cruel and dark. Prejudice, evil and cruelty might run rampant. But you as a DM – as a person – never need to be a dick. Even if your game is a dark horror game, be mindful of your players’ limits. Be mindful of what causes them genuine distress and pain. You play games to have fun, and hurting your friends’ feelings and traumatizing them is not how you have fun. Sometimes, pushing the limits and playing dark or disturbing fantasy is the fun, but be sure everyone is on board for that sort of thing.
Like any skill, DMing isn’t something that you become a master of overnight, nor, though, is it something that should overwhelm and intimidate you. Keeping your first forays into running a game manageable is important to your success, and having a good idea of what to expect will go a long way towards keeping the experience enjoyable for both you and your players.