GM Advice I suck at DMing. Can anyone help?


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  1. #1
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    I suck at DMing. Can anyone help?

    I'm not a very creative person when it comes to stories. Being an analyst, I need to know how things work. So, I've spent a lot of time looking into what a Campaign Arc is, a plot device, etc. Unfortunately, I'm not getting it. Hence my plea....

    I have the Dungeon Master's Design Kit (TSR 9234), the World Builder's Guidebook (TSR 9532), DMGs from all editions, Dugeon/Dragon magazine (I have the CDROMs, and almost everything after), GameMaster/Core Rulebooks from all walks of game systems (SpyCraft 2.0 does a good job), and many other books. Roughly 25 years of resources.

    The problem I have is coming up with the idea itself. Coming up with a plot, if you will. Ultimately, I'd like "one book" that tells me how to create an story. A campaign do I dare? I'm essentially looking for a "Dummies Guide to Adventure Creation." I understand the structures for building a story (although, I'm rusty because I give up after a while). I understand where people get their ideas (TV, movies, books, newspapers, etc). But, I want to understand. I know, it's a big problem to ask for help with.

    So, anyone have a good resource? Book? Web? Anything would help!
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    You want to know how and where to get plots?

    That's easy - you steal them. There's only so many actual plots, the key is learning how to reuse the plots in interesting ways. I'm not sure such a thing can actually be taught, but you might try some exercises that can help.

    Firstly, try the Iron DM method (look for the thread if you want to fully understand) which essentially boils down to giving yourself some random ingredients and then see how you can get them to fit together. Practically, this means that when creating an adventure you come up with the elements of the adventure first and the story second, then polish the elements to fit the story. Look through the monster manuals, the bestiaries, books with templates and then drag out ones you find interesting. Add in an interesting treasure or two and then some random motivations. Let these things stew in your head a while and see what you come up with.

    Second Exercise. Create a villain. Give him a goal. Put him in the world and ask yourself what ramifications said villain would have upon the world. Then working out from there try and think what adventures might introduce a group of PCs to this villain, what they would need to overcome him, and what stories might be told in said struggle.

    Third exercise. Create a magic item. Give it a name and a few unique properties. Then ask yourself what might make an interesting adventure to find this item. Ask yourself what might be the ramifications of owning this item.

    Fourth exercise. Create a unique group of individuals, either a guild, a gang, an army, etc. Give it a structure and some motivations. Give it some leaders. Are they good or bad? How might this group interact with the world you want to create?

    With these sorts of exercises you can begin the process of coming up with situations and challenges.

    Having said that, when writing adventures, make sure to remember that adventures are not about what happened in the past, but about things the PCs get to do right now. Campaigns are just individual adventures strung together with perhaps a recurring cast of characters.

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    First things first--just try things. Don't be afraid to mess up, because that's how you'll get better.

    Second--the 5e DMG has lots of random charts in it, including one for adventure plots. That's a great place to start.

    However, I don't recommend that you worry too much about plot. Give your players plot hooks (NPCs with motivation, locations with interesting events in progress--that kind of stuff) and let your players build the plot out of that.

    Third--The World Builder's Guide is wonderful as a springboard for creating a setting (my favorite D&D book for any edition--wish I still had a copy). But it won't make you a better DM, so I recommend that you get your legs under you first before bothering with it.

    Finally, I think you might find the tips over in this thread useful. It is not designed specifically for new DMs, but it is aimed at streamlining some things (both prep and play), which might make things a lot easier (especially if that wealth of information you have access to is overwhelming).

    Edit--also, what Wicht said.
    Last edited by Rune; Sunday, 22nd February, 2015 at 01:29 AM.
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    Steal from the TV, news and history. You don't have to be complex with your plots, they can be the simple. History is full of plots with interesting twist and turns. I also just think of bullet items for each stage of a plot, remembering a plot has the following, a beginning, a middle and an end.

    Also, see my sig for DM Advice.

    • The Cast - you have to a who's who of NPC and how they work in your plot.
    • The Time Line - I like to have a point where the plot is created and have an ending. It can have a lot of endings; players save the day, players to not save the day, players do something else... You don't need a lot of detail, it can be from the start of a night to dawn or from spring to winter.
    • Events - Now I place events along the time line. These are going to happen no matter what. Again, think about results, player succeed, fail or something else. What if it.
    • Actions have reactions - remember that what the players do in game have reactions, they burn down an inn, that inn is not going to be around until it is rebuilt, some one lost a jobs, some one could have died, it may have been against the law.



    Have fun - have fun with your plots, don't worry too much about them as the more you work with them the better you will get.
    Last edited by Hand of Evil; Sunday, 22nd February, 2015 at 01:47 AM.
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    I don't really have a resource for that, because it isn't how the best campaigns (IMHO) are created. You, the DM, don't create a story.

    Create antagonists. The antagonists are people - they have personalities. They have goals. They set about heir goals.

    The PCs are the protagonists. They act against the antagonists. That interaction *creates* the story.

    Later on, you learn how to find the PCs foibles, and to yank their chains in ways that are thematically appropriate, to enhance things.
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    Also don't be ashamed of using somebody else's work. I'm a published adventure designer and I still enjoy using Paizo APs and modules and things.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wicht View Post
    You want to know how and where to get plots?

    That's easy - you steal them. There's only so many actual plots, the key is learning how to reuse the plots in interesting ways. I'm not sure such a thing can actually be taught, but you might try some exercises that can help.

    Firstly, try the Iron DM method (look for the thread if you want to fully understand)
    Speaking of which, the Iron DM Anthology is a collection of entries specifically gathered for their ease of use and awesomeness. It's not up to date, though. I should really get on that.
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    I am not sure what the problem is. Is it getting ideas for in-game situations, or is it using the ideas in play?

    If you are short on ideas, read books. A lot of good books and a few mediocre ones.
    You can also watch movies, but books are much better in getting your imagination running.

    If you have problem with translating ideas into play, read Dungeon World and Dungeon World Guide. DW perfectly explains how does one really run a game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdewitt274 View Post
    I'm not a very creative person when it comes to stories. Being an analyst, I need to know how things work. So, I've spent a lot of time looking into what a Campaign Arc is, a plot device, etc. Unfortunately, I'm not getting it. Hence my plea....
    My suspicion is that you're over-thinking it. There's not really any great secret to it: ideas come from all sorts of places, and then it's mostly just a matter of building from there.

    I have the Dungeon Master's Design Kit (TSR 9234), the World Builder's Guidebook (TSR 9532), DMGs from all editions, Dugeon/Dragon magazine (I have the CDROMs, and almost everything after), GameMaster/Core Rulebooks from all walks of game systems (SpyCraft 2.0 does a good job), and many other books. Roughly 25 years of resources.
    If you don't have it, I recommend the "Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide" from 2nd Ed.

    The problem I have is coming up with the idea itself. Coming up with a plot, if you will. Ultimately, I'd like "one book" that tells me how to create an story. A campaign do I dare? I'm essentially looking for a "Dummies Guide to Adventure Creation." I understand the structures for building a story (although, I'm rusty because I give up after a while). I understand where people get their ideas (TV, movies, books, newspapers, etc). But, I want to understand. I know, it's a big problem to ask for help with.

    So, anyone have a good resource? Book? Web? Anything would help!
    I found "Hero With a Thousand Faces" somewhat helpful, though more for campaign structure rather than building an adventure plot. On a recommendation from Monte Cook, I also read "The DC Guide to Writing Comics", which was perhaps even more helpful. And recently I found this article useful (the rest of the blog is interesting, but prone to One-True-Wayism, so take with a pinch of salt).

    Mostly, though, it seems to be about finding a seed of an idea, and then asking lots of questions: "what if someone found a lost Shakespeare play?", "who might try to acquire it, and how?", "what if it's a fake?", "where do the PCs come in?", and so on...

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