Last time, we went over the basics of being a good Dungeon Master. This included collaborative storytelling, incorporating your players as the main actors in the story, and not making D&D “you vs. them”. Today, we’re going over a few more top tips to make sure you’re the best Dungeon Master you can be!
How to be a Good Dungeon Master (In a Nutshell)
One of the most important aspects of telling a good story with your friends is being prepared. When you’re playing a consistent, weekly campaign, you need to make sure you’ve got material prepared. There are a few ways to do this. The most common is buying pre-made adventure modules that give you plenty of content for your players to dig into.
The other option is writing your own adventure modules for your players. Either option is equally valid, though writing your own adventures can be difficult if you’re newer to DM’ing. However, it’s important that you’re well-prepared before the session, otherwise, your players will feel aimless and like nothing is really happening.
Preparation is very important for combat in D&D. If you’re well-prepared, you’ll know each monster’s Armor Class, hit points, attacks and spells. If you’re not prepared, you’ll be flipping around the Monster Manual, slowing combat and making your players lose interest.
We recommend making use of index cards. It’s a cheap old-school way to organize the enemies your players will be encountering. Just copy their main stats to the card and select a few spells you’d want them to cast (if applicable). You can even use these cards to track initiative or hit points. It’ll make life much easier, trust us.
Another way to make combat more compelling is to be more descriptive. No one wants to hear “you hit. The monster takes 23 damage. Next?”. That’s far from fun! Instead, use descriptors like “your battle axe drives clean through the hobgoblin’s armor, biting into the flesh of his arm and drawing a gout of blood. He looks badly injured. What are you doing now?”
Another aspect of preparation that many DM’s miss is preparing NPCs for non-combat encounters. Maybe the party is haggling for lower prices in a shop. Or, maybe your players are trying to negotiate a truce between two warring city-states.
These non-combat encounters are just as engrossing and fun as combat, so make sure you’ve got them prepared and know what each NPC’s motivations and talking points are. Besides, your more talkative players will love these opportunities to flex their persuasive muscles.
One tip we have for NPCs is to once again break out the index cards. But don’t just write down their stats. Give them one defining feature to make them memorable (a large hairy wart, a phlegmy cough, a shock of bright yellow hair). Also give them a core motivation… what does this character *want* out of life. And not just their trade… Sure, the blacksmith wants to sell armor, but dig deeper. Does he want to marry the mayor’s wife? Does he want to disown his son? Even if it never comes up in the game, knowing a secret desire or motivation ahead of time can help you improvise on the spot.
It’s important, however, that you don’t prepare your material to the point that you’re inflexible. Your players might improvise in the middle of an encounter in a way that defies what you expected to happen. In these situations, don’t be a bummer by shooting down your players’ ideas.
Be a “yes, and” DM, not a “no, but” DM. If the players come up with a cool solution to a problem you didn’t anticipate, let them have the win. If they really want to have a brawl with a dwarven background NPC in the tavern, why stop them? They’re having fun their own way! That’s what D&D is all about.