Taking on the role of a Game or Dungeon Master (DM) in a tabletop role-playing game (TRPG) like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) can be both thrilling and daunting. As the storyteller and game facilitator, the DM holds the key to creating memorable adventures for their players. In this blog post, we'll share essential tips and advice to help new DMs embark on their journey and run a successful TRPG game.
Set and Stick to Expectations
When players come together at a table, it is essential that everyone knows and agrees to the style of game they are playing. If everyone is here to play a serious game of sword and sorcery, then a joke character who only makes fart noises is going to ruin everyone else’s fun. It is important to run a session 0 so that everyone is on the same page about what to expect from the game and from each other. Don’t hesitate to set rules for behaviour, resolving conflicts and disagreements, and for things like player vs. player combat. You can also refer to our post on Session 0 for some more tips on what to do.
Prepare, but Don't Overprepare
Preparation is crucial for a smooth game, but avoid the trap of overpreparing. Have a general understanding of the adventure or campaign you want to run, create an outline of key plot points, pinpoint NPC goals and motivations, and familiarise yourself with the rules. Remember that players can easily throw a wrench in your best laid plans. Leave room for improvisation and player agency, as they will undoubtedly surprise you with their choices. Flexibility is key to adapting the story to their actions.
Communicate and Collaborate
Establish open lines of communication with your players right from the beginning. Discuss expectations, game style, and any house rules you might have. Encourage your players to provide feedback and be receptive to their input. Collaborate with them to create engaging character backstories and integrate their narratives into the overarching campaign. Building a collaborative and inclusive environment will lead to a more immersive and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Pace the Adventure
Managing the pacing of the game is essential to maintain engagement and excitement. Learn to balance exploration, combat encounters, and role-playing moments. Pay attention to the dynamics and preferences of your players and adapt accordingly to what you and your players enjoy. If everyone loves combat and doesn’t care for role-play, then create more challenging combat encounters. If your players love engaging with NPCs and each other but have no interest in strategic combat, consider making combat fast and straightforward. Keep the story moving forward, but allow for moments of downtime and character development. Remember, it's not just about reaching the end goal but enjoying the journey along the way.
Embrace the Unexpected
As a DM, you'll inevitably face unexpected situations and player choices. Embrace these moments and use them to fuel your creativity. Be ready to think on your feet and make rulings when necessary. There is nothing wrong with making a quick decision and confirming the rules later, or retroactively making some changes down the track. Don't be afraid to improvise and let the story take unexpected turns. These unexpected moments often lead to the most memorable and thrilling experiences for both you and your players.
Your Fun Is Just As Important
It may be easy to fall into the trap of enabling and catering to your players’ wishes. However, remember that you are also here to have fun and to enjoy the story being told. If you find that you are becoming trapped in long role play sessions about topics you don’t enjoy, or that combat is unpleasant and time-consuming, don’t be afraid to make changes and set boundaries and to cultivate the type game that you want to DM.
Becoming a DM in a TRPG game like D&D is an exciting and rewarding role. By preparing adequately, fostering open communication, pacing the adventure effectively, and embracing the unexpected, you'll be well on your way to creating unforgettable experiences for your players. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun and create a collaborative storytelling experience. So, gather your dice, prepare your adventure, and let your imagination guide you on this epic journey as a new DM. Happy gaming!