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?
Do you ever get a chance to be a player rather than DM? I've learned a lot by switching back forth
 

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Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
Let's not forget that the other players at the table have just as much impact on the "performance" as the one playing the Dungeon Master.

Moving on. In the past, I've taken Gamemastering classes, and have gone to Gamemastering workshops. None of them were all that great. I mean there was lots of good advice, but what I'm looking for is critique and feedback. I would like to take a class where we run short scenarios with each of us taking a turn as Gamemasters and get immediate feedback from our fellow gamemasters.
 


pogre

Legend
It has been suggested here several times, but getting on the other side of the screen from time-to-time gave me the biggest jumps in my DMing.

I very much prefer to run games. I probably did not participate as a player once in ten or fifteen years. However, when 5e came out I made a conscious decision to play more to get insight. It helped me a ton to create a more enjoyable game. Particularly it helped in the areas of pacing and creating hooks.

I have dropped a lot of things from my old game as I did not enjoy them as a player - one example would be mazes. If the players come up with a clever plan I try to give every attempt to make it work instead of trying to thwart it at every turn.
 


It seems like you spend a good chunk of your time running/playing games already, perhaps taking on hobbies or an area of interest outside of D&D that complements DMing.
Examples:
Becoming better skilled with VTT
Build your own terrain for in-person games
Take an online class (or teach youself?): History, computer, creative writing
Go for a hike / take a long walk
 

It seems like you spend a good chunk of your time running/playing games already, perhaps taking on hobbies or an area of interest outside of D&D that complements DMing.
Examples:
Becoming better skilled with VTT
Build your own terrain for in-person games
Take an online class (or teach youself?): History, computer, creative writing
Go for a hike / take a long walk

Good stuff and a fun cosmic coincidence that you invoked "take a long walk". This morning, I just finished reading Digital Minimalism in which the author lauds the benefits of long walks to help him work out challenging tasks for work. I often listen to podcasts during walks or runs - but maybe I could replace that listening a few times a week with mulling over game scenarios in my head. Thanks!
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
I'd say, isolate the skills you think you need to work on more and practice those.

Like, if you're bad at describing. Practice describing your chair or your room or your spouse/friend. Have a thesaurus nearby so if you think "blue" is too vague or uninteresting, you can look up a more apt synonym.

If you're bad at combat, pull a player that likes combat and practice playing just one-on-one encounters with him, focusing on pacing and descriptions while trying to keep it interesting.

If you're bad at socializing, welcome to the D&D club. One day we'll figure it out.
 

* Practice your situation framing (making it provocative, making it curiosity-piquing, integrating it with player input).

* Practice your consequence/complication-handling as an outgrowth of particular initiating parameters of situation + action declaration intent + mechanical resolution + principles/premise of play (especially making these personal to one or more PCs).

* Practice running various archetypes of conflicts (kill, capture, flee, pursue, drive-off, convince, convince crowd, adjure/banish, ploy, sneak, journey).


You can do these things without a hefty through-line of “what has come before” (so you don’t have to actually play to get there) which would constrain/guide these things naturally during play. Just make a few characters > stipulate some modest backstory > frame situations and run conflicts with interesting decision-points and meaningful consequences/complications. This is the lifeblood of play. You can get good at this (and it behooves you to do so) without running a session with a fictional through line. It’s the same as anything else. Get good at the fundamentals…then put it together in an actual game/competition.
 
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pogre

Legend
* Practice your situation framing (making it provocative, making it curiosity-piquing, integrating it with player input).

* Practice your consequence/complication-handling as an outgrowth of particular initiating parameters of situation + action declaration intent + mechanical resolution + principles/premise of play (especially making these personal to one or more PCs).

* Practice running various archetypes of conflicts (kill, capture, flee, pursue, drive-off, convince, convince crowd, adjure/banish, ploy, sneak, journey).
This is a very practical approach I think is a chance to do the kind of Deliberate Practice the O.P. spoke of - the only thing I would add/suggest is I know what you mean, but perhaps others might benefit from reference to threads that would define some of the terminology you are using.

Perhaps it is unnecessary at this point, but I know when terms like "situation framing" first cropped up it took me a while to figure out what the heck people were talking about...
 

This is a very practical approach I think is a chance to do the kind of Deliberate Practice the O.P. spoke of - the only thing I would add/suggest is I know what you mean, but perhaps others might benefit from reference to threads that would define some of the terminology you are using.

Perhaps it is unnecessary at this point, but I know when terms like "situation framing" first cropped up it took me a while to figure out what the heck people were talking about...

Alright, situation-framing. Here are two easy examples I’ll copy and paste directly from Discord as I’m teaching a group to work through the density of Torchbearer. The first one is the situation-framing for a Kill Conflict. The second is situation-framing for Camp Phase:

KILL CONFLICT


Alright , lets start with a Flee or Kill Conflict (I'm deferring to you).

You're on a Journey to your Adventure site. Its the scant few hours of day this far north so no light issues. This is your 3rd Leg out of 3 Legs and this leg is Wilderness. Your Pathfinder Test yielded a Twist. Its a Twist, so I get to decide the Conflict type. However, I'm going to defer to you guys. Do you run? If so, it will be Flee (this is very dangerous terrain). Otherwise, its Kill. Your navigation of the ridge line has led you to a tumulus that has been disrupted. The stones still stand as they were, but the graves that lie beneath have been unearthed due to landslide or some other natural event. The remains and their valuables lie strewn about a 100 SF area on a steep, dangerous grade.
Scat, tracks, and a day-old carcass quickly reveal that a pack of Dire Wolves take up residence in the former hewn earthen tomb, treating the hollow as a cozy burrow! Birch trees dot the ridgeline and the more flat, broadened areas of it. A single huge wolf appears as a shadow in a stand of birches. Where there is one, there is inevitably more. 12 paces and circling, darting like a shadow between birch trees as it does.

Flee or Kill (they're Might 3 w/ Leader Might 4 so you can Kill)?

1) Pick a Conflict Captain for tiebreaker stuff to rep the group for the conflict.

2) Roll Disposition after you determine the conflict type.

  • After that, I'll declare my weapons/traits and action order (and I'll give you fiction around that).
  • Then you declare weapons/traits et al and your action order.
  • Then we'll declare and reveal actions and test.




CAMP PHASE

Alright, lets practice a Camp Phase.

* Everyone has the following Conditions: Hungry and Thirsty and Exhausted.

* One of you has Injured. Another has Angry (I'll let you guys decide who).

* You guys have 4 Checks between you to spend in Camp.

* We'll put this in Wilderness (meaning the Adventure is a Wilderness one). That will affect the Camp Events table and any possible Danger/Twists that occur as a result of Checks. You're on a steep cliff of a fjord, looking down at the inlet. A pine forest spreads all around you. Its nearing freezing cold and there is a light rain. The area is Unsafe due to the conditions (-2 to Camp Events table), but not Dangerous. You would have liked to have found better conditions/locale, but you decided to settle here because The Grind was crushing you guys (couldn't afford more Exploration Turns) and you needed respite.

* You're at Turn 2 and at the end of Turn 4 of The Grind, you guys will incur another Condition. Turns don't take place in Camp Phase. However, if you want to Survey for a good camp site w/ amenities, that will cost a Turn in the Adventuring Phase (putting you guys at 3/4 Grind). Doing this grants several advantages to Camp.

  • a Camp w/ Shelter grants +1 to Camp Events table.
  • a Camp w/ Concealment grants a further +1 to Camp Events table.
  • a Camp w/ Water Source (lets you refill your skin et al).

These things would also impact fictional positioning if we get a Calamity/Twist.

* You're in Wilderness, so that is already Ob2. Each amenity is a Factor, so your minimum Survivalist Ob3 and max Ob5. You can also use Survivalist w/ any of your Checks to add Amenities if you want to. Alright, so this is the first procedure for Camp. Do you guys want to spend an Adventure Phase Turn (bringing you 3/4 on Grind) to look for a good camp (if so, what are you looking for) or are you cold-camping? * EDIT - you get an auto +1 to Camp Events in Wilderness because of your Ranger.





Situation-framing brings in the relevant fictional and mechanical parameters for an obstacle/conflict facing the players. They orient themselves to the situation before them using this information > make further observations (via moves or back-and-forth of conversation) > decide on a course > act.

The above two are discrete situations removed from any actual through-line of play. This is just practice stuff. GMs can, and should, do this to hone their own skills and the skills/familiarity of their players so that the actual subsequent session play is improved.
 
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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.
Ooh I wish I could join that campaign!
 

ART!

Legend
If it hasn't been mentioned yet:

If your GMing style includes doing voices or accents, physically acting things out to any degree, using tics or mannerisms, you could definitely practice that kind of thing. Think about an NPC or monster they're likely to encounter, and feel out that character. How do they stand? How do they sit? Do they look people in the eye? How's their posture? Are they very formal, or "vulgar"? Etcetera.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Live an interesting life, meet interesting people, take interesting risks. Travel, experience other cultures and people with different viewpoints and lifestyles, both locally and abroad. Read and write.

I'm not great at acting, making up voices, or improv, but I can usually come up with interesting NPCs on fly and interesting adventures and scenarios because I have many points of reference from personal experience or from things I've read.

Most of my "practice" comes from game prep. The act of prepping maps helps get my imagination going and thinking about how things could play out. That will often send me into tangents of writing out ideas and the act of writing helps me better describe the envrionment or play the NPCs.

The one skill I would like to practice more and even take classes on is verbal story telling. That would not only be more useful for running games but would make me are more interesting in conversation which has wide application in various social interactions. Some of the best DMs I've experience are not great voice actors or writers. They are not skilled improv artists. They don't spend a lot of time planning out story arcs. They are just damn good story tellers. They can describe things to make it interesting. They tend to be good at describing something they and their friends did in real life and making that interest as much as they can describe a dungeon and its denizens.
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
Alright, situation-framing. Here are two easy examples I’ll copy and paste directly from Discord as I’m teaching a group to work through the density of Torchbearer. The first one is the situation-framing for a Kill Conflict. The second is situation-framing for Camp Phase:

KILL CONFLICT


Alright , lets start with a Flee or Kill Conflict (I'm deferring to you).

You're on a Journey to your Adventure site. Its the scant few hours of day this far north so no light issues. This is your 3rd Leg out of 3 Legs and this leg is Wilderness. Your Pathfinder Test yielded a Twist. Its a Twist, so I get to decide the Conflict type. However, I'm going to defer to you guys. Do you run? If so, it will be Flee (this is very dangerous terrain). Otherwise, its Kill. Your navigation of the ridge line has led you to a tumulus that has been disrupted. The stones still stand as they were, but the graves that lie beneath have been unearthed due to landslide or some other natural event. The remains and their valuables lie strewn about a 100 SF area on a steep, dangerous grade.
Scat, tracks, and a day-old carcass quickly reveal that a pack of Dire Wolves take up residence in the former hewn earthen tomb, treating the hollow as a cozy burrow! Birch trees dot the ridgeline and the more flat, broadened areas of it. A single huge wolf appears as a shadow in a stand of birches. Where there is one, there is inevitably more. 12 paces and circling, darting like a shadow between birch trees as it does.

Flee or Kill (they're Might 3 w/ Leader Might 4 so you can Kill)?

1) Pick a Conflict Captain for tiebreaker stuff to rep the group for the conflict.

2) Roll Disposition after you determine the conflict type.

  • After that, I'll declare my weapons/traits and action order (and I'll give you fiction around that).
  • Then you declare weapons/traits et al and your action order.
  • Then we'll declare and reveal actions and test.




CAMP PHASE

Alright, lets practice a Camp Phase.

* Everyone has the following Conditions: Hungry and Thirsty and Exhausted.

* One of you has Injured. Another has Angry (I'll let you guys decide who).

* You guys have 4 Checks between you to spend in Camp.

* We'll put this in Wilderness (meaning the Adventure is a Wilderness one). That will affect the Camp Events table and any possible Danger/Twists that occur as a result of Checks. You're on a steep cliff of a fjord, looking down at the inlet. A pine forest spreads all around you. Its nearing freezing cold and there is a light rain. The area is Unsafe due to the conditions (-2 to Camp Events table), but not Dangerous. You would have liked to have found better conditions/locale, but you decided to settle here because The Grind was crushing you guys (couldn't afford more Exploration Turns) and you needed respite.

* You're at Turn 2 and at the end of Turn 4 of The Grind, you guys will incur another Condition. Turns don't take place in Camp Phase. However, if you want to Survey for a good camp site w/ amenities, that will cost a Turn in the Adventuring Phase (putting you guys at 3/4 Grind). Doing this grants several advantages to Camp.

  • a Camp w/ Shelter grants +1 to Camp Events table.
  • a Camp w/ Concealment grants a further +1 to Camp Events table.
  • a Camp w/ Water Source (lets you refill your skin et al).

These things would also impact fictional positioning if we get a Calamity/Twist.

* You're in Wilderness, so that is already Ob2. Each amenity is a Factor, so your minimum Survivalist Ob3 and max Ob5. You can also use Survivalist w/ any of your Checks to add Amenities if you want to. Alright, so this is the first procedure for Camp. Do you guys want to spend an Adventure Phase Turn (bringing you 3/4 on Grind) to look for a good camp (if so, what are you looking for) or are you cold-camping? * EDIT - you get an auto +1 to Camp Events in Wilderness because of your Ranger.





Situation-framing brings in the relevant fictional and mechanical parameters for an obstacle/conflict facing the players. They orient themselves to the situation before them using this information > make further observations (via moves or back-and-forth of conversation) > decide on a course > act.

The above two are discrete situations removed from any actual through-line of play. This is just practice stuff. GMs can, and should, do this to hone their own skills and the skills/familiarity of their players so that the actual subsequent session play is improved.
What game is this?
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Communication. Ask your players what they want to see more of after you run a session. It's not a "touchy subject" because it's positive. After they get used to that, start asking "and what didn't go as well". Don't debate, don't confront, just take it.
 


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