DM Basics

What makes a good DM? Here are the traits that I think make the difference between an average DM and a good one:

» A good DM brings the action to life with narration, acting, and dialogue
» A good DM pulls no punches when it comes to challenging the players
» A good DM builds problems and lets the players create solutions to them. (In other words, the DM avoids rigid, single-solution challenges.)
» A good DM balances risks versus rewards
» A good DM reacts to the players and allows their decisions to affect the world, alter an NPC’s course of action, or otherwise matter to the game
» A good DM realizes it is not players vs DM. Constant harsh challenges are no fun.

More specifically:
» A good DM drops a character to 0 hit points every 2-4 combat sessions
» A good DM doesn’t have constant combat sessions
» A good DM challenges each character specifically, but in a veiled way
» A good DM makes the players feel good sometimes with easy events (skill challenges, combat, ect)

And finally, a good DM takes interest in the player characters. Their alignments, deities, backstories, mortal enemies, motivations, personality quirks, and whatever else they have come up with. There have been campaigns where I have spent more time on a character than the DM spent on the world I was supposed to be in. Build parts of the campaign around the characters; it makes it more interesting and involving. It also eliminates the “What do I care?” or the “No, the pay isn’t enough.” when you present a plot hook.

Role Play vs Combat
Most games tend to be combat-driven, but also have a lot of social situations and story development happening. Try not to think of them as separate elements — I try to blend them as much as possible, so that players who prefer one over another aren’t bored. When the heroes are fighting something, there’s almost always some kind of social interplay happening at the same time. It might be between the heroes and monsters or between the heroes and an accompanying NPC, but the characters are always talking, usually to gain some insight or advantage but sometimes to share something cool about their character’s philosophy or beliefs. As far as pacing goes, I cut my game sessions the way a film editor cuts scenes. If I feel like a scene is getting bogged down, I quickly jump ahead to the next scene, propelling the game and the action forward. Players new to my game might be jarred by these sudden transitions, but they catch on. This keeps everyone interested and the game continues on at a good pace.

Different Session Frames
» role play and two easy encounters
» role play and one moderate encounter
» light role play and one easy, one hard encounter
» one moderate, one easy, one hard encounter

recommended for use with only with experienced players (in addition to the previous):
» one hard, one moderate, one hard (use sparingly)
» one moderate, one hard, one moderate
» two easy and two moderate encounters
» non-combat session (role play, skill challenges, puzzles, ect)
» heavy role play leading to one hard encounter

Drawing MapsDrdd 20120111 diagonals
A diagonal line can never pass through the middle of a grid square, because that raises questions about whether a character can occupy that space or not. So, instead of running from one corner of a square to the opposite corner, a diagonal line must pass through the midpoints of a square’s sides, as shown. The diagonal-line rule makes it easy for DMs and players to determine whether a space is “legal” or not, making tactical encounters run a bit smoother.

Running a published adventure?
Page 96 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide has a great discussion on how to implement these published works into your homebrew campaign effectively, and how to use them in general. They can easily be played without modification int he slightest. I often take a pre-made adventure and tweak it with these guidelines to make it fit whatever I wish. I’ve even bought an adventure, ripped out all story and characters, substituted my own, and literally only used the monster’s stat blocks for the encounters. Worked wonderfully. A multitude of themed, balanced encounters at my fingertips ready for my story and characters to be plopped in just how I wanted them to be.

~~Lorekeeper Cody

DM Basics

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