D&D General Practicing DMing

After our last session, I came away feeling that I didn't carry out my role as DM in as crisp a manner as possible. Setting aside that we can be our own worst critics from time to time, it did get me thinking: Are there resources out there for someone to practice Dungeon Mastering away from the table?

There are certainly endless articles and videos on how others do things. Some of those are really great (e.g., IMO, Slyflourish.com and Matt Colville's Running the Game among others) but I'm looking for a little bit more than absorbing advice and then trying to play it out in actual games.

Much like musician practices scales and parts of songs/pieces leading up to a performance. Or an athlete does drills and practices plays between games. Or an artist doodles or what not before tackling a final work. Or a salesperson might practice their pitch in front of a mirror or family before calling a client. Or anyone might visualize doing something in their craft before doing it physically.

So, does anyone out there have suggestions or resources that instruct us how to practice Dungeon Master skills between sessions?


EDIT to add: deliberate practice is kinda the concept I'm going for here. What can we, as DMs, do outside of playing our weekly/bi-weekly/monthly sessions to practice?
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I have no specific advice of this kind, but I have found that running the same scenario multiple times for different groups, shaping it from what you learn each time and responding to the unique ways players approach the scenario is really helpful both with that (and similar scenarios) and in general.

When I would run the same one-shot multiple times for different groups at GEN CON, I always got something out of it to bring back to my home game for example.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I feel like practicing DMing is a bit like practicing improv - the only way to “practice” is to do it. You just do it in a lower-pressure context, such as improving just with your troupe and no audience. I think the DMing equivalent would be running one-off adventures, or perhaps just scenarios, for other DMs who are also practicing, presumably in turn. I’m not aware of such a resource, but it would be awesome.

Another, less involved option might be something like the “how would you rule?” thread from way back on the WotC forums (which IIRC was started by @iserith). The idea was kind of like a forum game, you’d post a hypothetical scenario and a tricky-to-resolve action declaration from a player or players in that scenario. Then the next person would respond with how they would rule in that hypothetical scenario, and post a new hypothetical for the next person to resolve. Although, I think we would need to make it a + thread.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I have no specific advice of this kind, but I have found that running the same scenario multiple times for different groups, shaping it from what you learn each time and responding to the unique ways players approach the scenario is really helpful both with that (and similar scenarios) and in general.

When I would run the same one-shot multiple times for different groups at GEN CON, I always got something out of it to bring back to my home game for example.
Yep, I’m about to run Curse of Strahd for a third time (session 1 was supposed to be Thursday, but we had to cancel at the last minute so now it’s going to be Thursday after next), with almost the same group of players as the first time, only one swapped out. Keeps getting better every time I do it.
 
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King Babar

God Learner
Read some books.

Sometimes when I'm describing a location I get the feeling that I'm running on and failing to adequately convey my mental image. I've found that just reading a book, and giving some attention to descriptions, can really improve my own ability. Especially with authors who are fairly economical with their descriptions, such as Hemingway and Tolkien (relative to some other fantasy authors).

Besides that, skimming through the PHB and other relevant sourcebooks every now and then is basic advice but helpful. The more you can internalize the rules, the easier it becomes to run a session.

And as others have said, the best way to practice is to just play. One-shots can be especially helpful, because there's less pressure overall, and you have some freedom to experiment with different approaches.
 

MGibster

Legend
feel like practicing DMing is a bit like practicing improv - the only way to “practice” is to do it. You just do it in a lower-pressure context, such as improving just with your troupe and no audience.

It's like any performance, the only way to practice is to do it. You can do your best to prepare, perhaps nailing down the mannerisms and personalities of important NPCs, but you just gotta get out there and do it.
 


Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Practice and exercise mean less without any feedback. Your players are your best assets in this regard, provided they are willing and able to give you honest and constructive criticism. Otherwise, who else do you know that watches your style and technique without actually participating?

I'd say if your players are happy, enjoying themselves, and have no complaints, then you're doing everything right. No need to fix what ain't broke.
 
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Composer99

Adventurer
After out last session, I came away feeling that I didn't carry out my role as DM in as crisp a manner as possible. Setting aside that we can be our own worst critics from time to time, it did get me thinking: Are there resources out there for someone to practice Dungeon Mastering away from the table?

There are certainly endless articles and videos on how others do things. Some of those are really great (e.g., IMO, Slyflourish.com and Matt Colville's Running the Game among others) but I'm looking for a little bit more than absorbing advice and then trying to play it out in actual games.

Much like musician practices scales and parts of songs/pieces leading up to a performance. Or an athlete does drills and practices plays between games. Or an artist doodles or what not before tackling a final work. Or a salesperson might practice their pitch in front of a mirror or family before calling a client. Or anyone might visualize doing something in their craft before doing it physically.

So, does anyone out there have suggestions or resources that instruct us how to practice Dungeon Master skills between sessions?

You can:
  • Practice reciting expositions/descriptions/etc., either from written or extemporaneously, to people who aren't players at your games, and see if they understand the gist of what you're saying.
  • Workshop rulings of unusual situations with other DMs, such as that old "how would you rule?" thread described above.
  • Do 'backend' things like building simple dungeons, populating hexes, coming up with factions, patrons, or communities, putting together monsters, sometimes in a one-and-done fashion, sometimes iteratively. Or alternately, further developing some of your existing content or copies of it (so your practice stuff doesn't leak over into your games until you want it to). For instance, if your campaign is "the PCs explore the MegaDungeon of Doom", you can tack on stuff to the megadungeon hither and thither, then iteratively refine this content.
  • Playtest your own stuff.

Keeping in mind that this is a leisure activity, and you shouldn't feel compelled to take too much of your time outside of playing the game proper (i.e. game sessions) to work on this stuff.

It's like any performance, the only way to practice is to do it. You can do your best to prepare, perhaps nailing down the mannerisms and personalities of important NPCs, but you just gotta get out there and do it.

Er... I'm a professional musician, and I can definitely say that's not now how it works. There's definitely a difference in quality between the people who are spending time practicing their skills in between performances and those that don't. Sure, practice and performance aren't exactly the same... but my old choir director used to say, "proper practice prevents piss-poor performance" for a reason.
 

MGibster

Legend
Er... I'm a professional musician, and I can definitely say that's not now how it works. There's definitely a difference in quality between the people who are spending time practicing their skills in between performances and those that don't. Sure, practice and performance aren't exactly the same... but my old choir director used to say, "proper practice prevents piss-poor performance" for a reason.
I was never a professional musician but I did play the violin for a number of years. I got better by actually playing the violin. I didn't play it in front of an audience all the time, but I got better by playing.
 


Great responses so far. Thank you all!

To clarify: I already do plenty of reading and watching and testing things in play. I DM every other week - and sometimes more than that if time allows - so it is not a matter of "getting out there and doing it". Players are having fun when I DM - and I can occasionally get some feedback from them - but I don't really want to call it a day at that. I'm not concerned that anything is truly broken that needs fixing. I simply want to hone my craft through deliberate practice - if, in fact, that is even a thing that can happen outside of an actual session.

So far, among the other helpful suggestions, I'm really loving:
1) the Rulings Workshop +thread idea
2) online mini-session with other DMs to play out a single scenario with a feedback discussion afterward

:)
 

Review the setting, home brew or not, from the point of view of various characters that the PC usually encounter.
Usally a DM see the world as the Overseeker. In a game the limited point a view of various character is more useful.
So a DM can train himself to switch rapidly from one character point of view to another.
it will help social and even fight get better.
 
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aco175

Legend
but my old choir director used to say, "proper practice prevents piss-poor performance" for a reason.
My old Army sergeant taught about the same- the 7P's of success, but I recall it being only 5Ps. Proper Planning Prevents Piss-poor Performance.

As far as the original post (OP), I would suggest being the DM for another group for a while or a few nights. Maybe a FLGS has Adventure League (AL) nights or a local school club. Might be hard to schedule time, but you may make new friends and players for when you need more for your home game. Seeing other players also helps you see how they play and what they may expect.

Another idea if to plan events and scenes for the game. Make them as varied as possible and come up with 'set pieces' to use as a major event in each game. Say that you play 3-4 hours and have 4-5 encounters, well make one a 'set piece' and focus on that one more than the others. I'm thinking that small steps add up to bigger ones and eventually each encounter is better and easier.
 




I have no specific advice of this kind, but I have found that running the same scenario multiple times for different groups, shaping it from what you learn each time and responding to the unique ways players approach the scenario is really helpful both with that (and similar scenarios) and in general.

When I would run the same one-shot multiple times for different groups at GEN CON, I always got something out of it to bring back to my home game for example.
This is so true it actually explodes the zone of truth spell.
 

Stalker0

Legend
If your having trouble with combats, you could run them yourselves. Aka play 4 characters and monsters, do all the rolls yourself, all the math, etc etc. Time yourself, and then see if you can beat your time.

This is more than you would do at a table, which is the point. If you get comfortable running 4 players and monsters and doing all the math and rolls, then "just" running the monsters should be a snap.
 

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