Part 1: Things to Avoid as a Dungeon Master and Part 2: Knowing When Your Players are Losing Interest.
Dungeon Mastering is hard work. You will end up spending much of your free time developing a world and an overall story that your players will interact with and drive forward. It’s a lot to handle, and you’re bound to make some mistakes. In this article, we’ll be going over some things you should avoid when Dungeon Mastering a game and how to recognize when your players are losing interest in the game which we will cover in part 2. Here’s a breakdown.
- Getting Stuck on Technical Aspects
- Being Restrictive to Player’s Choices
- Reward Your Players, but Not Too Much
- Meaningless Content and Interactions
- Getting Too Close to Movie Plots
- Tying Sessions Together
- Joking About Killing Off Player Characters
Getting Stuck on Technical Aspects of the Game
When playing a campaign, there’s going to be many a situation that a technical conflict will arise. Most of the time these instances will occur during combat. Players will begin to argue with you and each other over how a particular ability, spell, or attack works in a given situation. Your job in a situation like this is to keep order and make a decision to move things along. Nothing is more exhausting than drawing out an already long battle over one mechanic in a single round of combat. Combat encounters are long enough already without this convolution. Keep combat encounters as concise as possible.
The best way to prevent these circumstances is to study up and know the game. Read those handbooks, cover to cover if you have to. Having as many mechanics memorized as possible is crucial to being the best Dungeon Master you can be. You will not retain everything, unless your memory is a platinum cage, so be kind to yourself when you forget something. Even the most experienced DM’s make a mistake from time to time. Always keep your resources close, I cannot stress this enough.
Being Restrictive to Your Player’s Choices
You spend a lot of time fabricating a main story plot. Many times, you’ll find that players will want to do things that may compromise or change the direction you intend the story to go. No matter what, you should let player’s attempt what they want to try. When they ask you if they can do something, instead of just shutting the player down and saying no, tell them they can try. Create an improvised roll they have to make and let that determine whether they succeed or fail.
This also applies to social encounters. Try and give the players as many options as you can. Prepare as much as you can to help you compensate for your players spontaneity. If you constrict your players options by not letting them attempt things, you risk making your players disinterested. They may feel as though what they want or think doesn’t matter and that their character is just another body to soak and deal damage in combat.
An example is that I am a ranger and my animal companion is a wolf. I am currently stalking a party of bandits as I come across their camp and witness slavers ambush the bandits and begin to round them up. I attempt to remain in stealth as I am outnumbered even with my wolf and I command my wolf to stay hidden with me. The Dungeon Master then says, “Your wolf sees a rabbit run into the camp and chases after it.” Forcing me into combat.
This is a situation where, if the Dungeon Master really wanted me to enter combat in this fashion, he/ she should have had me roll for an Animal Handling check at the very least. However, if I am a Beastmaster Ranger, I have trained my companion and it would make no sense that my companion would disobey my command to stay put. Just remember to give your players as much control as you can. Therefore, try your very best to avoid saying no. If your players attempt something that doesn’t work out, explain to them in the context of the world as to why things didn’t work out.
Over-Rewarding Your Players
As the Dungeon Master, you also play the role of Saint Nick. When your players complete tasks and quests, you should reward your players properly. However, you should avoid overcompensation. If you give your players too much out the gate, there will be nothing for them to gain from the trials ahead. There isn’t much to look forward to gaining when you already own the whole world. This can also make it difficult for you and your players to keep track of all the things your players have.
A good way of maintaining this balance is to give loot that makes sense. For example, it probably wouldn’t make sense for a pack of Dire Wolves to have a sum of 300 gold on them. After all, what use have they for money? They’re wolves! Or why on earth would a Dragon have a powerful bow on it? But perhaps inside the Dire Wolves’ den lay the corpses of their victims and they happen to have some gold or an item or two of value. Or the Dragon has a hoard of treasure stashed in the next cavern that is loaded with gold and some items of note. In brief, make sure the loot you reward to your players is well earned, meaningful, makes sense under the present circumstance, and distribute appropriately.
Meaningless Content and Interactions
When running a campaign, try to make every interaction as meaningful as possible. Whenever the players want to take their characters on a pub crawl or something of the like, let them do so but include some interaction with important NPC’s. This will allow the characters to feel more like people rather than just psychopathic egomaniacs looking for the next foe to slay. This can also open opportunities for dialogue and character development.
Stay away from making content and encounters that don’t lead anywhere. Develop a reason for the encounter. Answer the whom, what’s, and why’s of every interaction that ensues. Who are these people/ creatures? What are they after? Why did they target the party? Try to tie the encounter with a story hook that can play out later. These are important things to keep in mind when developing content for your campaign.
Getting Too Close to Movie Plots
While playing out your favorite movie can be tempting and might seem fun, it’s better to avoid, especially when you are planning on playing a persistent campaign. There are a few different reasons to stay away from movie plots.
For one, they can be predictable. There’s nothing worse as a player than dredging through a session with an end you can see coming within the first five minutes. Using names from said movie is also an instant giveaway and a straight turn off. At least it is for players like me. Using dialog directly from said movie can be dangerous as well unless it’s a short one liner….’cause who doesn’t love a good one liner?
It’s totally fine to use a movie theme for a campaign, particularly one offs. Just be sure your making the content of the story a bit more original. Make it pertain to the character’s strife and personal development. Create original NPCs to fill the roles necessary to move the campaign forward. Most importantly is to make sure you have original plot twists, and that the ending is not the same as the movie from which your theme coincides.
Personally, I try my best to avoid using movies as a basis for any session at all, because I want to create an original fantasy story with my players, rather than creating a re-hash of someone else’s. But it can work for you as long as you do it right and consider what is said in this post.
Joking About Killing Off Players
This is a pretty serious issue in some campaigns, so I felt that I had to address it. It is just bad game etiquette to talk about killing a player character. Especially in the middle of a session and in front of the other players. It’s inappropriate and it makes you player feel like you’re going to pit everything against them. Even if you’re just joking.
It’s also good to bear in mind that your other players don’t want to know who you are targeting. They may think that no matter what they do to help keep said character alive, it will do no good because the dungeon master is the god and clearly wants this character dead.
Doing this sort of thing will create suspicion and distrust between you and your players, which is something you want to avoid if you intend on keeping those players around for your campaign. Cracking a joke every now and then isn’t bad, but doing so consistently will create these problems. Part 2 will cover how to know when your players are losing interest and how to fix this problem.
Thank you all so much for reading! I hope this has helped you new dungeon masters out there with building a better game experience. Please don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and comment below. The same goes for you more experienced dungeon masters, please comment and share your thoughts and experiences with these issues and other issues we may not have covered here. Happy questing!
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!