Your Guide to Being a Dungeon Master During your Session
Here is the Before Session Basics to Being a Dungeon Master in case you missed it!
Here are the basics that we will cover:
- Establish Game Etiquette
- Begin Narration and Setup
- Allow Your Players Freedom of Choice
- Involve Everyone As Much As Possible
- Use Your Resource Manuals and Guides
- Don’t Be Afraid to Improvise
- Take Notes
- Include Meaningful Loot
- Let the Dice Rolls Play Out
- Utilize the Rule of Cool
- Reward Your Players Properly and Creatively
- Conduct Yourself Properly and Keep Things Fun and Interesting
Establish Game Etiquette
It’s imperative that as you begin your first game session, you also set the ground rules for your game.
The generic guidelines for a typical game are as follows: The Dungeon Master has final say, Players be respectful to each other and to the Dungeon Master, Player Character Death is a very real possibility, and Have Fun. However, you’ll need to establish rules of your own to fit the game you are meaning to play. Usually the focus of your game will determine what other rules you include, and this is ultimately up to you.
Begin Narration and Setting Description
After you’ve established etiquette, you’ll need to give the players a little background on the world they are about to explore.
The easiest and most efficient way I have found is to simply start with where in the world the characters are and what the character’s purpose is for being there. You don’t have to go into every single detail of the world and its lore. If you do that you risk boring your players to death before they’ve done anything. Usually about one page worth of text is good enough. That will get the players the information they need to move forward without consuming too much time and not overwhelming or dis-interesting them. Keep it compressed and concise.
Allow Your Players Freedom of Choice
As a Dungeon Master, you take a lot of time out of your daily life to create this amazing world, and craft a story you wish to see the players fulfill.
However, the painful truth is that no matter what you have planned, the players are people and they will surprise you. They will make choices you weren’t planning for and you might be afraid that it will steer the party away from this story arc you’ve created. Don’t panic. Let the players have their freedom. Let them pursue what it is they want to pursue, then gently guide them back to the main story with plot hooks. This will allow the flow of the game to run smoothly and creatively. You also don’t want to disgruntle your players by constricting their choices. If a player wants to do something that seems a little out of the ordinary, come up with a roll they must make and let them try. Your players will feel more like their opinions matter, and will likely keep them in the game.
Involve Everyone As Much As Possible
It’s important to not play favorites when acting as the Dungeon Master.
It’s good to focus on certain players in key moments at certain times, but don’t let any one player hog all the attention. Make eye contact with your players. Gesture towards them and bring them into the scene. Let them know that this is their moment to seize, but spread the love. If you give too much attention to a player, you may end up creating some dissent amongst the others and potentially lose players.
On the other hand, if a player seems to be bogarting the spotlight, be sure to gage the other players and bring them into the conversation. If the player continues to hog the attention and the party is getting irritated, pull the player aside during a break or in between sessions and let them know that they aren’t the only player. If the party is fine with letting the player be the face of the group, then let that rule stand, but don’t exclude anyone.
Be sure to understand and utilize your resources.
If a player is trying to do something and it seems like it might work but you’re unsure, check your books. If you can’t find anything about the particular circumstance, then make an executive decision. As a Dungeon Master, you have the final word, just try to be reasonable out of respect for your players.
Don’t Be Afraid to Improvise
As I mentioned earlier, players will do unexpected things. It’s human nature.
The most important thing is to try and remain calm. It is critical to know that it’s ok to be thrown off guard and to improvise. Improvisation is a skill and takes some practice to get the hang of unless you have a knack for it. If you feel that you’re not really good at improv, I suggest maybe signing up for a local class or workshop. Improvisation is one of the greatest tools in the Dungeon Masters repertoire, so it’s vital to acquire.
There is going to be a lot of things that will be happening within your campaign.
It is your job to help bring order to the chaos of the game. This is better achieved when you take notes. Keep a notepad or some scratch paper and jot down anything that is relevant and that you’ll need to know later. It will make your experience as a Dungeon Master a lot less strenuous. Also encourage your players to take notes of their own. This can help them retain important information, and relieve some of the work load from you.
Include Meaningful Loot
It’s imperative to reward your players with good loot.
However, just because an item is powerful does not mean that it is relevant to the circumstance. Try to cater your rewards to the present situation. Also, be sure that your loot can be utilized by at least one member of the party or at least give them an item that is worth something to someone. Also, don’t give out too many of the same or similar item. By doing that the players won’t get excited when they’ve picked up a third or fourth of the same item, and they may lose interest in the game.
Let the Dice Rolls Play Out
Grant your players freedom of choice, but enforce the consequences of failure.
Let the dice rolls play as they are. If a player attempts something that might be epic, but fails the roll, let the roll occur. Stories are far more interesting and exciting when the possibility of failure is real. Failures will also make your players successes more meaningful.
Remember the Rule of Cool
There will be some instances where your players will want to do something that seems a little far-fetched and that may contradict the official rules.
But if it’s imaginative and might work, let them try it. Let them make whatever roll you determine and see if they can pull it off. This will create some extraordinarily memorable moments and your players will feel like true heroes. However, use this rule sparsely. If you utilize it too much your players will feel like there are no consequences to their actions and that they can do anything. This may cause them to lose excitement for the game.
Conduct Yourself Properly
It is behooving of a Dungeon Master to be respectful towards your players.
They have taken the time out of their lives to come and let you scoop them up into your imagination. That take a lot of trust. Exhibit patience whenever a player is struggling with any concept or mechanism within the game. Remind players of the rules of etiquette you established when they are overstepping. Be firm but gentle. If things are getting heated, pull the player(s) aside and try to resolve the situation. If the problem escalates further, you may have to eject the player(s) from the game.
You should never be the source of the problem. You are the keeper of law and order, and you should do your absolute best to ensure that everyone involved in the campaign is treated fairly and shown respect.
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!