One of the most Googled queries for D&D players is “How to be a good DM” and we can understand why.
Running a game of Dungeons and Dragons is a big responsibility. You’re in charge of the game. You have to handle not only the rules, but also the story. You play multiple characters, act out encounters, create the world, and make sure everything works correctly. All of this needs to be done on top of the ultimate goal of making sure everyone has fun.
So how do you go from just running the game to being good at running the game? How do you become a good DM?
Know the Rules and When to Use Them
You are running the game for your players. You need to know what to do and when. Understanding what dice players need to roll for any given situation is important, but you also need to know how to make rulings on different situations.
Players will do things that are not described in any of the books. Does a magic weapon grant flanking when next to an enemy? Should your players be able to role play things that can be determined with dice rolls? These are the kinds of decisions you need to make. Your understanding of the core rules will determine the choices you make.
A good DM knows the rules well enough to manage the game. More importantly, a great DM knows when to throw some of those rules out. Rules are not always fun, but luckily you get to decide when to apply them. You’re trying to create an enjoyable experience and the rules are there to help you do that. Bending rules is okay so long as you’re fair. Don’t take away the challenge, but don’t put your players against insurmountable odds. Maintain your game state and help your friends feel like heroes.
Your players may do crazy things. They may run far away from your quest lines or try to enter caves you never fleshed out. When this happens, you need to be able to adapt to their decisions. Any DM can keep their players on the path, but a great DM can go off the path with them.
You may need to improvise if you’re put on the spot, but you can rise to the challenge. Guide your players with descriptions and see how they react. The story you end up telling will be a combination of things you planned out as well as the crazy adventures your players inject into it. Be prepared for things to go awry and you will never disappoint your players.
Make Your Players Become the Storytellers
You are your players senses. You describe the world around them. They see what you want. They hear what you want. This is the tremendous power of storytelling. But D&D is more than that. Your players will make choices and often alter the world around them. Make your players feel the weight of those choices and bring story elements back around. That bandit they killed might have a brother who swears revenge. The village they saved might tell stories of their greatness.
Let your players feel like heroes by telling the story with you, rather than riding along on your story. A good DM can tell a great story, but a great DM lets their players shape the story around themselves.
Hone Your Craft
Dungeons and Dragons can be a time consuming hobby. Building worlds, making encounters, creating maps and NPCs, all of this is important to your game. As with anything else, if you want to improve you need to practice. You probably won’t be a great DM your first game, but you will get better with time. Every game you play, listen to your players- you can see if they are having fun. Learn from your mistakes and adapt to your failures.
You will very likely create more content than your players will ever see. Each time you do this you are expanding your craft. Stretch your imagination and steel your mind for each new game. You can Master the Dungeon.
How To Be A Good DM
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