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What makes a good DM?

Discussion in 'Dungeons & Dragons + Other RPGs' started by Tiana, May 12, 2008.

  1. Tiana Gems: 3/31
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    I'm DMing for the first time in a couple months and I was looking for some tips. I've had bad DMs, so I know what not to do (stutter, show up unprepared to meetings, etc.) What should I do that's good? Particularly with the new rules, if anybody knows anything about that.
     
  2. Barmy Army

    Barmy Army Simple mind, simple pleasures... Adored Veteran

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    DM? Defensive midfielder? General strength, tackling skill, a good eye for a pass and good anticipation.

    Good examples are Hargreaves, Vieira and Gattuso.

    Hope that helps.
     
  3. Cap'n CJ

    Cap'n CJ Arrr! Veteran

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    Er, Barmy...

    On second thought, nevermind.

    Tiana - No matter how well prepared you are, you'll never be ready for the crazy ideas the players come up with. Keep an open mind and enjoy yourself!
     
  4. T2Bruno

    T2Bruno The only source of knowledge is experience Distinguished Member ★ SPS Account Holder Adored Veteran New Server Contributor [2012] (for helping Sorcerer's Place lease a new, more powerful server!) Torment: Tides of Numenera SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!)

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    A sense of humor is most important.

    Keep in mind the players are trying to get used to your style as well. They never do what you expect them to -- always have a backup plan ready (other than send the ultra-dm vengence beast to scare the players back to your script).

    Know the limits of the characters being played (and the players themselves). Adjust you plan to make each character effective -- allow each player to shine and they'll enjoy the experience.
     
  5. 8people

    8people 8 is just another way of looking at infinite ★ SPS Account Holder Adored Veteran

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    [​IMG] If you want the characters to get the hint about something.
    Tell them three times.
    In three different places.
    In three different silly accents.

    Don't overprepare. Know your major NPCs, the area you are in and points of interest. As long as you know the motivations and personalities behind the NPCs there is no need to rehearse their lines or plot continuously what they need to do and when, chances are that knowing the NPCs plans will paly themselves out.

    Know your areas! Seriously. There is nothing worse than wandering around an area and the DM just not having a fricken clue what there is. Have a general idea where shops are, where a marketplace is, cultural buildings, taverns, military buildings, etc. Even designating areas as market districts are better than answering a question with "er... you tell me"

    Don't force the characters to be what their not! However if the players metagame or don't play their characters properly and consistantly, penalise them. Yes, it sounds harsh, but if they're not going to play that's their problem :p

    HAVE A LAUGH! There is lot of fun and drama that can be initiated in a roleplaying game, and often the most exciting, horrific, terrifying, epic, etc etc etc scenes are best played and appreciated when broken up with light humour and an opportunity for a bit of daftness. If players cannot get the idea the time for jokes is passed, spend a bit longer building suspense, let them gradually notice things out of place or suspicious. Over time you'll improve on this aspect.

    Be open. Listen to your characters, discuss what their character plans, discuss their histories and motivations, DON'T give away vital plot elements, but consider how you can enhance the story with character knowledge, really bring the characters involvement into the story, but never reveal behind-the-scenes knowledge, unless there is something the characters should know (religious symbols, history of the area) that the players do not.
     
  6. Gnarfflinger

    Gnarfflinger Wiseguy in Training

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    I echo the comments on humour. It will keep the game fun.

    It's not about knowing every little rule, it's more about being able to work with the rule system. My group of players does things that are not covered in the rules regularly. You have to have an answer for them better than "I don't know how to handle that).

    Know your story and area, but don't get bogged down on the slight details. Sure you want battle maps ready for where a fight is probable (this includes any tavern the players will visit), but you don't need to know the address of every home and buisiness in the city...

    Good luck.
     
  7. Caradhras

    Caradhras I may be bad... but I feel gooood! Veteran

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    Sound advice from Gnarfflinger and other posters here (except Barmy who is being facetious).

    I would add:

    -Don't try to learn everything by heart, be natural and don't be afraid to improvise. Once you get used to it you won't have a problem with it.

    -If you need to buy some time (you are caught unprepared and need to do some thinking) ask them some questions. For instance what is their order, who is taking the first watch, what equipment are they holding? While they start fearing about what is going to befall them and are deciding who is going to walk first into the next room, you'll have some time to decide.

    -Use their ideas! They've planned a robbery and you didn't prepare for that. Go along with it. They will plan and argue, some may suggest the existence of traps and alarms, others will suppose the presence of armed guards and watchdogs. You can add a mage as well. The point is your player can help you (without even knowing that). They will feel great about guessing what you have prepared for them while you made it up as you went along (be prepared to alter some of these ideas to allow for an element of surprise).

    -You don't have maps or stats for this encounter! What are you doing? Breathe, smile and just use the stats for another character or encounter (a low level fighter for instance, etc). If you need to have a pretty good idea about a place but don't have an exact map of the location, use one you are familiar with in real life. A large house can become an inn, your school/university/workplace can be a large guild building, and so on.

    -If the tension is low, roll the dice and pretend you are determining some DM stuff. Smile a lot. They shall be wary and they will expect the worse.

    -Whatever happens, don't forget what it's like to be a 'mere' player. Avoid railroad plots, feel free to improvise and let some breathing space for your players. You can adapt everything and improve on anything so no need to frustrate them. The most important thing is for you players to be under the illusion that they are free to decide what their characters are going to do. If you make them feel like you are forcing their hands they will resent that and it will kill the fun. So what if they mess with your plans? You can change directions.

    -Don't let the rules rule. No kidding. Feel free to tamper with the rules as you see fit. If some rules are too complicated or boring, ignore them. If you suspect that one of your players has a working knowledge of the ruleset, tell him or her that you are going to adapt the rules for your convenience and that it won't be necessary to interrupt the game for comments on the rules. By the way, never interrupt a game to check in the rulebook. You need to keep the pace. If Smellypants the Hapless Thief misses his roll and falls down the cliff, don't check the chart, take a handful of die and roll them for damage; if you decide Smelly is particularly lucky today, have him fall on some softer surface. You decide.

    -You are the one in charge and the one responsible for the fun of the game. Don't let any player get smart. You should have the final word. But don't be too strict either. Be fair and just and your players will like your game.

    -Don't go over the top. If you start in a classic low level adventure don't put a dragon in there. The worst thing would be to put the dragon and to even things out scatter a few dragon slaying items around so that the dragon could still be slained (like in BG2 with Firkraag). If you do that, make sure you have prepared parties of adventurers looking to take the loot from the PCs. Imagine a higher level dragon slayer wannabe on the lookout for the very sword our party uncovered before slaying Puff the Puny Drake. Still it's better to avoid that trick altogether.

    -Make your world teem with life. Details are all important. You stressed the stutter thing and that is good. Now you should think about all the nice things you can implement as a game master. One of the perk of a game master is that you can play many characters during a game (a beggar, a captain of the guards, some bad tempered guards, a friendly merchant, a haughty mage, various monsters) but you have only a few minutes to stress the individuality of these characters. Accents (as mentioned above) are good, speech impediments as well if you can get away with them. Some physical details, a line which is repeated, a certain attitude, all these things are good as well. Feel free to explore this to make your NPCs unique and memorable.

    -Last but not least, enjoy the game and tell us how it went. ;)
     
  8. Tiana Gems: 3/31
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    oh wow. I feel like such a noob. :D Some of this never even occurred to me. Thanks a lot. You too Barmy.
     
  9. Gnarfflinger

    Gnarfflinger Wiseguy in Training

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    Interesting NPC's can really make a campaign memorable. If they happen to like the tavern between adventures, then put a bard or two that perform there for lodging, food, ale and maybe a few coins. Have a bartender that stands out. Make the patrons memorable. It may not be in the setting, but look at Cheers. Staff and regular patrons all had their own unique personalities that stood out and were quite memorable. Any other location they frequent should have notable regulars. If they take a home in the town, make their neighbours special. AS they begin to know these NPC's, they might jump through hoops to save their asses if you don't overuse them as adventure hooks.

    Also, make sure your villains are noteworthy. The mastermind behind the evil of the day should be more noticable than the run of the mill thug.

    If there's an encounter you hadn't planned for, have an assortment of thugs or other miscelaneous character stats ready for the bar brawl or heist or whatever else your players can get into.

    Most of all, it takes practice to get esperience with the DM's job. Go out there and get some practice...
     
  10. joacqin

    joacqin Confused Jerk Adored Veteran Pillars of Eternity SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!)

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    Do not play favourites with players, it seems basic but it is the most common mistake I have seen in DMs. Players who has created their character when no one but the DM saw and have absolutely amazing stats, players around who the entire story gets woven, players to whom the DM gives 80% of his/her attention.
     
  11. Caradhras

    Caradhras I may be bad... but I feel gooood! Veteran

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    I like the Cheers idea, good one Gnarfflinger, but be careful to disguise your references so the players don't recognize them. Still it's a great way to impersonate an NPC. You want a colourful dwarf, why not base him on Salah in Raiders of the Lost Ark? That way you have a nice helpful fellow who is a family man and knows a lot about masonry and stonework. Throw in the singing and you're done.

    I can't stress the importance of joacqin's advice, that's the most important thing if you want your players to enjoy your game, nobody likes being a sidekick.

    So Tiana when is your game planned? Don't hesitate to ask if you need more advice.

    And I agree with Gnarfflinger, practice makes perfect.
     
  12. Gnarfflinger

    Gnarfflinger Wiseguy in Training

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    joacqin brings up a potential pitfall that many campaigns threaten to fall into. My cousin just about had a campaing crumble because the central character couldn't continue the campaign. He did find a replacement, but the game has slowed and we still have work to do to bring the new guy up to speed.

    What I try to do to make it memorable to each character is to try to come up with a sub plot for each character so that they feel they have their own destiny rather than just being a small part in an overall story. Some times they walk into it, sometimes an NPC approaches them, sometimes they have a backstory I can exploit, or a goal I can try to accommodate (like a specific prestige class).
     
  13. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
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    It depends a lot on what your game is about. What sort of game are you running? What will the players/characters be actually doing?
    And on that note, take this advice (and all of the above) with a grain of salt. What techniques you use ultimately depend on what type of game you're running.

    I recommend this program for planning: http://www.habitualindolence.net/labyrinth/

    Make characters, organisations, etc. - and then make a relationship map. Visually map out how the characters relate to each other. You can build an entire game out of the conflicts between different characters.

    A more player-orientated technique, but get the players to do the same. Get them to make a relationship map as part of their background story stuff, and use the material they generate there.

    Don't try and herd the characters together if it doesn't fit. Having split-stories isn't that big a deal - just don't leave any one player without anything to do for too long. If the group splits up, jump back in between them often.

    Don't be afraid of having players metagame if it makes the game more interesting. If it's more interesting and fun to have the players show up at just the right moment despite the charactes not knowing about the situation - do it! Justify it somehow and just roll with it.
    (yes, that advice directly contradicts 8people's. Her advice here is valid to - depends on what type of game you're playing).

    Don't plan so much that by the time you play, everything feels stagnant. I have a bad tendency to do this. 'Lonely fun' is great, but keep the game as much as possible to what happens around the table.
     
  14. Deathmage

    Deathmage Arrr! Veteran

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    Haha - hahahahahahaha - bwahahahahhahahahahaaa! Aikanaro there just summed up 50% of our RP experiences. :D

    From my highly limited D&D experience - I assume that's what you're running - I have the following advice:

    1) It's a team game! Make sure everyone gets to contribute and do stuff. It's boring if somebody has to moof around and do nothing. Don't railroad them into plots, or if you have to, do so in a subtle way. :)

    2) Drama > Mechanics. Feel free to screw the rules if the drama or momentum of the situation dictates otherwise. I once had a character who got stabbed with a dagger and he was busy RPing out his pain, etc, and then somebody cast a Cure Light Wounds on me so I had to shut up. :D

    3) End scenes and cut to others ruthlessly, otherwise things just tend to drag on.

    4) Two freakin' hours fighting a single encounter is ridiculous...so do something about it (ol' Lokken eventually got pissed and made us decide what to do in three seconds).
     
  15. Gnarfflinger

    Gnarfflinger Wiseguy in Training

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    It's nice to play to the strengths of a character on occasion, but do not routinely eliminate a strength. Once in a while it's a challenge, too often it's a real pain in the ass. For example, if the party has a ranger, then give them the occasional adventure where they are after his hated enemy, allowing a ranger to shine. But if you have a rogue that's good at getting into sneak attack position, don't feed him a steady diet of undead and constructs that can't be attacked as such.

    Part of the reward for a GM is to see his players squirm, but yeah, you do need to move the action along...
     
  16. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
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    This. Assume that whatever the player puts on their character sheet is something that they're interested in doing, and bring that in at every opportunity. Hence backstory and relationships, but the same goes for everything else as well, especially if mechanics are open-ended (e.g. rangers hated enemy).

    I'd say that's about 40% of them. The other 50% suck due to too little thinking about it beforehand :p
     
  17. Munchkin Blender Gems: 22/31
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    A good DM can balance the game rules around their players, keep the group interested in the game, makes the game fun, does not follow a script, can make a battle challenging/difficult but not always deadly to the whole group, pratice, flexibility, etc...

    A good DM basically has to be a Bard as he has to be a jack of all trades but a master of none.
     
  18. The Shaman Gems: 28/31
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    I tried DMing a game for several players - it's currently on hiatus. So far, the major problem is that the players seem to have different ideas about how the game should go and how much team efforts they want. Unfortunately, I learned that too late.

    Apart from what the others have said, here are a few tips.

    - ask everyone to do their homework. Most people do so naturally, but spontaneously formed parties - like the one I DM for - can be quite lazy. Seriously, we're at lvl 3 and I still do not have a backstory longer than 1 paragraph. That may seem tedious, but it can help you get the feel for the character and help with customized plots. BTW, everyone includes yourself - a little improvisation works well, but it helps to have a fairly good idea of who's who, where, and why.

    - Let players know that actions will have consequences: I've had requests to resurrect a lvl 1st character (who decided to play kick the doggie with some chained(!) worgs), "because that's what the previous DM did". Right. Make sure the players know what style to expect, and do not make exceptions without a very good reason.
     
  19. Gnarfflinger

    Gnarfflinger Wiseguy in Training

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    Teamwork is a learned behaviour. Even experienced players that have played together for years starting with new characters need to learn how best to get along and how to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts...

    I generally don't have much of a back story at the start. It may develop over play. If you are expecting more at teh start, then perhaps a few questions to ask the player about the character will help in that regard.

    Isn't the consequences what make the game fun?
     
  20. 8people

    8people 8 is just another way of looking at infinite ★ SPS Account Holder Adored Veteran

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    [​IMG] Most players will complain its unfair when they're caught by law enforcement because they did something stupid in the city and don't want to deal with the consequences of say... murder in an open street :rolleyes:

    "Well I presumed you'd tell me if people were watching!" :shake:
     
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