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header foundation

The most important thing, bar none, is that your players have fun. And fundamental to this, is to try your absolute best not to step on the story your players create themselves. You as the Dungeon Master can (and are encouraged to) have a plan, a story you want them play out, but you will likely find large chunks of your games with be filled with the players seizing on some detail/idea and running with it. Embrace this. They are pursuing this because it has interested them, and interest is hard to manufacture.


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Communication is always important, but some of the most important communication can come before the dice start rolling. Talk with your players when you are building the foundations of your world. What kind of experience are they looking for? Do they want a straight adventure with a single long running quest? Or do they want to be adventuring backpackers, taking quests on the fly as they wander from town to town. Do they want a dark and gritty world, or do they want a long train of eccentric and fun NPCs? Have a conversation, listen to their concerns, and try and use their input to create the kind of world they will look forward to coming back to. This is not to say that you need to follow their every whim, and disregard any of your own ideas. But there are people on both sides of the DM screen, and they both need to be having fun. As is the case with much in life, a balance is needed.


header Poison Goblet

As the DM, you must doll out player freedom carefully. Not enough, and the players will feel like they are just your puppets. Too much, and they can be paralyzed by too many options and your improvisation may not be able to keep up with all the unexpected corners they want to explore. You can be strategic with your freedom though. For an example, giving the players the freedom to wander a new town can prove an excellent breather after a game that was filled with highly scripted tension and danger. In addition, if you want to really flesh out some interesting location, rather than just describe it to them all at once, allow them to explore and discover all the details you’ve created. They will appreciate some detail much more if they find it of their own volition, rather than just listening to a sudden info dump.


header Cool

The rules are an important for the game, they provide a framework and outline limits for the players. If the rules are just ignored completely, it can dull the sense of accomplishment they might get for achieving something difficult. Conversely, being too strict with the rules can make the players feel like their only chance to do anything really cool is to be rules lawyers. This brings me to what I call “The Rule of Cool”. Basically, if a player comes up with an idea that is not fully supported by the rules but has the potential for a very interesting/fun result, I would encourage DMs to allow for a little fudging of the rules. Especially if it’s a high risk/high reward idea. Those moments where a tense dice roll is followed by a cheer, those are the golden moments for DMs and players, and ones that you should do your best to allow for.

This can even apply to things that are impossible, or failures. A player might be trying something that is impossible for the situation (based on knowledge only you the DM have). Let them roll anyway. Let them try and fail. And if they roll a really good roll, and you still can’t let them succeed for story reasons, describe their amazing failure in great detail. Spectacular failures can sometimes be as fun as successes. If there’s a chance it could create a good story later, it’s worth letting them try.


header Burnout

Having a group that meets regularly is the holy grail of a DM, but it does come with some drawbacks, and one of them is DM burnout. Having to regularly come up with challenging and engaging content can be a lot of work, andeven if you are super invested in the story it can be tiring week after week. Having good players, that will motivate you to keep going can be a big help, but you don’t want to rely solely on your players/friends. Be honest with your group to start. If you are feeling a little worn out, let them know. You can ask if they wouldn’t mind taking a break, or if someone maybe wanted to try their hand at running a one shot. If you group actually appreciates what you do, they shouldn’t have a problem with you taking some time off, as it is better for not only the quality of your sessions, but the long-term health of the group. Even the most creatively fulfilling pastimes can lose their charm if you are having to force yourself to be creative too often.