How To Teach New DMs (Dungeon crawling, etc.)

The Alexandrian has a post that I agree with, Whither the Dungeon? – The Decline and Fall of D&D Adventures. Excerpt:
I’ve talked in the past about how D&D 5th Edition doesn’t teach DMs how to run dungeons. In fact, it doesn’t even teach them how to key a dungeon map (or provide an example of a keyed dungeon map).​
(To understand how weird this is, consider that the 5th Edition Starter Set includes a detailed explanation of exactly how a DM should use boxed text, but still doesn’t tell the DM how to run the dungeon that’s included in the sample adventure. Like, there was a perceived need to very specifically explain how you read text out loud, but not a perceived need to explain how you’re supposed to run a dungeon… the thing that’s actually unique to being a GM. But I digress.)​
By contrast, the original edition of D&D in 1974 contains very specific instructions for both things: How to prep a dungeon and how to run the dungeon.​
This is not some newfangled failure on the part of 5th Edition. It’s the end of a very long trend line (briefly interrupted, but only partially reversed by 3rd Edition) in which the D&D rulebooks have slowly stopped teaching DMs how to run the game at arguably its most fundamental level.​
...Recently, though, I’ve been digging through stuff on the DM’s Guild and it’s become clear that the problem is no longer theoretical: It’s very real.​
EXAMPLE 1: I’m reading through a module. The entire concept is that the PCs are exploring a ruined castle. But there’s no map of the castle. There are room-by-room descriptions of the castle, but no map to show how these areas relate to each other.​
It should be noted that there ARE two other maps in the book: Encounter maps depicting specific rooms. So it’s not a budgetary issue. Cartography could have existed.​
So I’m just confused, until I remember that… Oh, right. D&D doesn’t teach this any more.​


It's not just map keys of course[1]. New DMs should know the dungeon crawl procedure. I'll do my bit for humanity and write up roughly what the DMG should have said in Chapter One. I'm going to use the terms "players" and "player characters" interchangeably here.

Dungeon crawls are one simple and fun way to run an adventure. They focus on players moving from place to place within a "dungeon", interacting with the contents of each place such as by searching for traps or treasure, talking with dungeon inhabitants such as non-player characters or even monsters, or combat with those inhabitants.

At its most basic, a dungeon crawl happens when you as Dungeon Master do the following:

1. By consulting the map and the map key, briefly describe the place where the players currently are. Be sure to include information about any monsters, treasure, etc. in plain sight, as well as any exits leading to a different location (different room, hallway, etc.). Try to keep descriptions brief--don't feel like you have say everything up front. Give the players enough information about immediately-obvious features so they can ask follow-up questions, such as "how many orcs are there?" or "what does the statue look like?" Players tend to remember detailed info better if it's given as a response to their questioning.

2. After describing the location, ask, "What do you want to do or ask me?"

3. Answer their questions and decide the results of their actions. Optionally, if enough time has passed, roll a wandering monster check to see if any monsters enter the location from elsewhere in the dungeon.

4. If players aren't sure what to do, a good default action is to move to a different location by going through one of the exits. You can ask for example, "Do you want to go through the north door or back through the east door or do something else?" If they move, return to step 1.

There are many variations on dungeoncrawling such as navigating a forest instead of a dungeon, and there are ways of running an adventure without dungeon crawling at all, but if you can do the above you are ready to DM your first adventure!

How would YOU teach new DMs and GMs how to run a game? Feel free to talk about dungeon crawling, action resolution, hexcrawls, diplomacy, mysteries, or any other game structure (Game Structures) or campaign structure (Some Brief Thoughts on Campaign Structures) you think is important to know.

[1] BTW I think it's generally a mistake, though common, to key maps solely by numbers. A map which has a hallway labeled "13. Gelatinous Cube" is superior to one that just says "13".
 

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aco175

Legend
By contrast, the original edition of D&D in 1974 contains very specific instructions for both things: How to prep a dungeon and how to run the dungeon.
I'm not sure these were the best instructions. I recall some terrible dungeons where the oft talked about orc in a 10ft room guarding a chest is from. There is also the dungeons where orcs live down from the trolls and the dragon is just below them as well. Oh, we will just say that it was a mad wizard who constructed the place and charmed all the monsters to be there. Blah.

I thought we have had several good threats on dungeons in the past. I seem to recall some stuff on Jayquaying the map and 5-room dungeons.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I thought we have had several good threats on dungeons in the past. I seem to recall some stuff on Jayquaying the map and 5-room dungeons.
Indeed, but those dealt more with designing the dungeons than actually running them in play. Here the OP is looking for instructions on how to take those well-designed dungeons and present them to the players, and not finding much in the current material.
 


I thought we have had several good threats on dungeons in the past. I seem to recall some stuff on Jayquaying the map and 5-room dungeons.
I would like this thread to focus more on teaching new DMs how to run the game, and not just on how to prep a dungeon.

Edit: ninja'ed by Lanefan!
 

I thought we were past trying to teach DMs how to run the game? It's well known that players will view any information on how to run the game as WOTC trying to impose a sigular playstyle on the community.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
[1] BTW I think it's generally a mistake, though common, to key maps solely by numbers. A map which has a hallway labeled "13. Gelatinous Cube" is superior to one that just says "13".
I'm not so sure about this. If nothing else, the very fact that the hallway has a number (most don't) is a big red flag telling me to look at the write-up and find out why it has a number. :)

My bigger concern, though, is that for some maps this extra labelling might make them "busy" enough to become a nuisance.

But a simple code letter (or letters) with the number to indicate what's permanently there could work. Thus, that hallway's 13 might be 13m where "m" means there's a monster there. Room 15 where an Orc guards a trapped chest might show as 15mt$ (monster, trap, treasure), And so on. Wouldn't work well for monsters that move around, however; for example the Orc chieftain's info might be written up in the room description for her chambers even though - as she responds or is called to any disturbance in the complex - the odds of in fact meeting her there are very slim.
 

Lidgar

Gongfarmer
I'd give new DM's three guidelines:

1. Try to see - and then describe - the world their PC experiences through all their sense. Sight of course, but smells, temperature, humidity/air quality, and textures should also be described. As DM, the more immersive the description, the more fulfilling for the player.

2. Know the rules well enough to run the game but its ok if you make mistakes (we all do). Most of the time the players will never know. If they do call you out, don't be defensive. Roll with it, and don't be afraid to recon.

3. Your alignment is Neutral Fun. Neutral in that part of the game is letting the dice fall where they may. Fun in that even in PC failure/death, your group can have fun. One of the best parts of the game are the stories we tell later regarding our triumphs and epic failures.
 

I thought we were past trying to teach DMs how to run the game? It's well known that players will view any information on how to run the game as WOTC trying to impose a sigular playstyle on the community.
Well, if you were a new player, would you take offense to any of the suggestions that have been written in this thread or will be written? Your commentary would be useful, if you'd like to offer any.
 

I'm not so sure about this. If nothing else, the very fact that the hallway has a number (most don't) is a big red flag telling me to look at the write-up and find out why it has a number. :)

My bigger concern, though, is that for some maps this extra labelling might make them "busy" enough to become a nuisance.

But a simple code letter (or letters) with the number to indicate what's permanently there could work. Thus, that hallway's 13 might be 13m where "m" means there's a monster there. Room 15 where an Orc guards a trapped chest might show as 15mt$ (monster, trap, treasure), And so on. Wouldn't work well for monsters that move around, however; for example the Orc chieftain's info might be written up in the room description for her chambers even though - as she responds or is called to any disturbance in the complex - the odds of in fact meeting her there are very slim.
Yeah, "busy" maps is the exception I had in mind when I wrote "generally a mistake" instead of "always a mistake." I agree that sometimes it's better to be terse.
 

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