Table top gaming is an amazing, lifelong hobby that inspires the imagination and allows you to be social. Nothing quite beats the feeling of sitting around the game table on a Saturday night with a group of friends, rolling dice and drinking Mountain Dew.
No matter your game -- Dungeons & Dragons or any other RPG, one particular player has been given an awesome responsibility. Yes, Dungeon Masters, I'm talking about you.
New Dungeon Masters
Being chosen as a Dungeon Master truly is an honor. The position entails being being part storyteller and part referee. Like the director of a blockbuster movie, the Dungeon Master sets the stage and helps suspend the players' disbelief by creating an imaginary story full of wonder and discovery. Each story has rules, however, and it's the DM's job to make sure that those rules aren't broken to the determent of all. New Dungeon Masters may find the job intimidating at times, but if you follow these easy gaming tips, you'll be a seasoned DM in no time.
Tip #1: Keep The Story Going
Yes, you're the referee, but remember you're also the storyteller. Don't kill the mood by getting bogged down with unnecessary details, rules, etc. It's more important to keep the story flowing as opposed to pausing the action too often to thumb through the Dungeon Master's Guide or arcane rule books. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your players' interest, and believe me there's nothing worse than a table full of bored gamers!
If you're using a pre-printed adventure, make sure you know the module beforehand -- reading through it at least once so you have a general idea of how the story plays out. Also, make sure you're familiar with the game's basic rules and mechanics. In short, come to the game prepared. This will help you keep the action fast and flowing.
Tip #2: Expect The Unexpected
No matter how much you prepare ahead of time, things won't always play out according to script. It won't take a new Dungeon Master long to realize that players do the darndest things. As DM you need to be quick and able to improvise on the fly.
Remember that bugbear that leaped out of the shadows? You know, that one you had blocking the party's progress through the narrow tunnel beneath the castle? You were absolutely certain your players would draw weapons and attack, but instead they turned and ran, screaming like banshees. Now what do you do? Have a second bugbear leap out at the opposite end of the tunnel and box them in. You sneaky devil ;)
Tip #3: Evoke All The Senses
As a new Dungeon Master, you want to engage your players' senses. Be a master illusionist and evoke the sense of sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell. Descriptive language is a powerful trick, and will create a deep layer of immersion for your players. Consider the following example:
The shadowy room before you is roughly 20 feet by 20 feet -- it's walls made from rough, crumbling stone. The air is musty, and thick with the smell of dust and death. In the far corner an old man in tattered robes leans heavily against a smooth ebon staff. At his feet lay a shriveled corpse, blackened with age and decay. A simple bronze crown sits awkwardly on the dead thing's head.
"Why have you come?" The old man hisses. A suspicious look flashes in his watery eyes. "You want the crown, don't you?" He points a bony finger accusingly. "Well you can't have it. It's mine," he shrieks. "It's mine!"
Tip #4: Don't Let Players Hijack The Story
Never lose sight of the fact that the whole point of table top RPG is for everyone to have a good time. That said, as storyteller and referee, you’re responsible for keeping the game under control. You want to create an environment for your players to role play their characters and have fun, so you may need to keep the silliness in check from time to time. As a new Dungeon Master, don’t allow players to stray too far from the role play and ruin the group’s immersion...
Most likely you’ll be gaming with a group of friends who ultimately look to you for leadership, so it really shouldn’t be a problem to rein players in if necessary. Laugh, be outrageous, and have fun. But keep the players interested in the story and focused on role playing.
So there you have it, fellow travelers! Four tips for new Dungeon Masters looking to improve their game. I’ve been running RPG games for over thirty years, but I’m always trying to learn and improve my craft. I’d love to hear what you have to say! Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the comment section below, and help your fellow gamers be the best Dungeon Masters ever. Until next time!