10 Things I Learned as a Dungeon Master
I just finished running a Dungeons & Dragons session and these are the lessons I learned (or re-learned, or continue to improve at).
Overprepare and waste time before, underprepare and feel like you're behind and struggling to keep up.
1. Just enough preparation is key.
Even if you're fully prepared, your players are going to throw the proverbial wrench into your machine.
2. Improvisation is non-negotiable.
Just tonight, someone asked me a question about a thing I hadn't planned for, and I had to whip off a name on the spot.
It's good fun! There are no wrong answers - the only "wrong" answer is silence. Let it rip.
Rigidity in your scenario-building leads to despair as a DM.
3. Be like water.
Things can't go the way you imagined them going. If you break before you bend, your players will sense your agitation and respond in kind. They will clam up, stop having fun in the world.
I planned a whole 6 rooms that didn't get explored because of lack of curiosity or just plain bad luck on the part of the players.
You're not writing a play, you're creating interesting problems to solve and scenarios to navigate.
4. It's not a scripted show, it's a playground for your mind.
"The dice decide" is a saying that a lot of DnD fans refer to when things, while well-intentioned, simply don't pan out because of the result of a die roll.
5. Randomness affects the outcome more than you think.
There aren't many "die roll" situations in life, but randomness occurs every moment of every day. You will never harness entropy. Create your own luck.
I don't care who you are, you know you love pushing poker chips into a pot or moving game pieces across a board. Make it engaging with some extra flair sometimes. It brings out the "wow, cool!" response that we all remember from childhood.
6. Tokens and chips are fun. Toys make you feel like a kid again.
Maybe this is obvious, but after a huge period of uncertainty and sadness with the pandemic, putting friends around a table to eat, laugh, roll dice, and share a great day is one of the most unbelievable treats of life.
7. Playing a game with people is the best.
Doesn't matter if you're lifting weights, reading books, studying, or running a D&D game, your brain needs a few seconds to recalibrate and do its best job.
8. Take breaks.
Take advantage of your recovery periods.
In other words, if it makes the game better, if it makes your players happier, if it's reasonably within the bounds of the rules, it's 100% worth doing.
9. "Cool" is better than "right".
Barbarian wants to wrestle a gelatinous blob into a giant pickle jar to save the party from further harm?
Let him do it. It'll be amazing.
Just because you're in the driver's seat doesn't mean you have to be in control the whole time.
10. Step back and let the game take shape.
Step back, set the table, and watch the magic happen as your players build the world for you.
If you're managing a team, let them do their thing. They will surprise you if given the freedom to create without your constant control.