D&D General Practicing DMing

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I've learned a lot DMing for groups that didn't share my familiar play, such as at conventions. If you run serious RP heavy games and you get a group with with brother PC names "Truk King", "Phuq King", "Spee King The Bard" and "Burger King" -- or vice versa -- you find that you need to stretch other muscles that you don't normally get to exercise. Everyone is there to have fun - give it to them.

The flip of this is play with a bunch of DMs. Note what they do that you like, that you don't, and just different. This one always includes a non-sight aspect when describing a scene. That one only lets the first person who says anything to make a check to notice something. Figure out how they will impact your games - including the ones you don't like because the other DM has them for some reason.

Lastly, teach the game. It will improved your mechanics as you get asked questions any "reasonable" gamer wouldn't ask - but are real. And also it will show what you can streamline away and what you need to focus on. And it's fun to play with a completely new gamer and realize just how many fetters we work under without realizing it. Such as my daughter when young wanting to make an impulsive, low WIS druid - but not be mechanically compromised in doing so.

Oh, I lied. Lastly lastly, run other games with very different DM responsibilities. Not a 5e vs. PathFinder, but run a Fate game, a PbtA fame, Lady Blackbird or some other truely indie game, or some classic-but-different like Dogs in the Vineyard, My Life with Master, or Riddle of Steel. The will teach you to question the boundaries you didn't even know you had.
 
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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.
As a player learning the ropes in this game of @Manbearcat's, I find the process described very valuable. Torchbearer is a brutal, unforgiving system*, and running a few sample scenes is informing me about how to build my character, and what I need to do in play, with very low stakes. I'm not going to have to create several characters who die due to simple mistakes, we're just doing a few trials as I read the very, very dense rules that don't work like anything I'm used to. I'm learning how I can tune the intitial concept in these practice runs so that when we get into the campaign itself, it won't be one face-plant after another.

* Seriously, if you have haven't played a game of this nature, give it a go. Don't just read the book—play a scene or two. It's really opening my eyes about a whole raft of things in gaming, from why old-school games had hirelings, to different ways of conceiving combats, to how our modern electric lighting has affected how we handle light in RPGs, and so much more.
 
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Greenfield

Adventurer
Once upon a time I wrote a Superhero game. Never published, but it was a local hit.

In that booklet I included a section on running a game, Let's see what I can recall from memory.

Rule 1: Shut up! You know more about the adventure/module you're about to run than the players do. Keep it that way. Avoid the temptation to chortle or gloat about the fiendish things you have in store for them. Let them find out when it happens.

Rule 2: Make sure you actually do know more about the adventure/module you're about to run than they do. No matter how good you are, don't ever try to run a game cold. Read through the notes or module, bring yourself up to date on the rules and opponents (i.e. "Monsters") they're about to face. Think through specific scenes and tactics, and make notes. Even if you came up with the original, making fresh notes helps lock the scenes into your head.

Rule 3: Speak clearly, and speak to the players. If you're working from a module, notes, or even from the rule book, pick it up so you can see over it, and speak to the players while meeting their eyes. Your voice will carry much better than if you're looking down and talking to a piece of paper.

Rule 4: Listen. Keep track of whose action it is, and don't let the more soft-spoken players get drowned out by the more energetic ones.

Rule 5: Keep things moving. Know the rules well enough that you can make quick and consistent decisions when needed. Nothing kills a game faster than a Game Master who has to stop and dig through the book to figure out how to do something.

Rule 6: Keep things moving. If the players seem to be lost in indecision or bogged down in argument, then do what you have to to get things moving again. One option, if it's indecision, is to reiterate what they know, in character,spell out the obvious choices, and organize a vote. In other bogged down moments, start on your left (or right or wherever) and ask each player what their character is doing. Demand answers, not more arguments. Make them make a decision.

Rule 7: (This one wasn't part of my original "10 Commandments") Try to tell a good story. It's a beautiful thing when the Game Master can conspire with the rules to create a good story, but try not to let the rules get in the way of that story. If the adventure, when complete, wouldn't write up as a good story, you probably did something wrong.

Rule 8: Be fair to the players. Think about what you're about to do to them. If you were a player and a Game Master did that to you, would it feel like a cheap shot, an abuse? If it would, then don't do it to them. Find another solution.

Rule 9: Be fair to yourself. Don't ever let anyone talk, bully or badger you into a decision or ruling that you know is wrong. It doesn't matter how many rules they can quote (or misquote, as is far more often the case), if the result is unbalancing, if it gives unfair advantage to someone, say no. Say it loud and clear and repeat it as often as necessary. Yours is the greatest power in all of role-playing: The power to say "No", and make it stick.

Rule 10: Above all, be fair. It might seem like your big-bad is going down too fast. Avoid the temptation to prop him/her/it up. If the players sense that you're fudging dice rolls or hit points, they'll start doing the same, and that starts the long slow slide into chaos. In the same spirit, keep an eye out for players who always seem to be too lucky. Don't let them fudge things on you either.

As a general rule, remember that players like to roll dice. It gives them a sense of control, even though the dice actually represent the absolute lack of control. But let them make their own rolls when possible. Success or failure, in their hands.

If you're at a common table, which is getting more and more rare these days, make sure everyone's dice rolls are on the table, where everyone can see. I have one of those baseball-sized D20s I use for my rolls. Even on camera, my dice rolls are visible to everyone. At a game table I might pass that around. Who holds that dice has initiative, and they make their rolls with it. When theri action is done it gets passed to the next player in line, in Initiative order. Fair, and seen to be fair.
 

Ok, since all of your feedback, I've done the following as part of "Practicing DMing":

1. During at least one of my weekday runs for the last two months, I've left the phone and podcasts behind. Instead, I've used that time to meditate upon one of the scenes in an upcoming session and play out various exploration and/or social interaction possibilities in my mind.

2. We held a mini-session with the DMs of our West-Marches-esque campaign and I ran a single exploration 1 hour-ish scene (the infiltration of a merchant's office - who happens to be involved in some cult activity as a side hustle.) We held all feedback until after the scene concluded and then had a decent discussion about what went well, what could have been improved, and what alternative decisions could have been made from behind the DM screen. It was really enlightening for all involved and the other DMs want to give it a go as well. I think we might incorporate a few instances of "instant feedback" during the "play".

Anyway, thanks to everyone who posted contributions to this thread. I hope others gained from it as much as I did!
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Cool, while podcasts can be fun, for some it's mimicking how someone else has fun rather than figuring out how you and your group have fun. I also like to read up on certain blogs, reviews of product I might use (including old AD&D stuff), and read some old Dungeon Magazine DMing articles to mine for goodness.

And, it's always good to chat with players about what's working and not working at any time.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Ok, since all of your feedback, I've done the following as part of "Practicing DMing":

1. During at least one of my weekday runs for the last two months, I've left the phone and podcasts behind. Instead, I've used that time to meditate upon one of the scenes in an upcoming session and play out various exploration and/or social interaction possibilities in my mind.

2. We held a mini-session with the DMs of our West-Marches-esque campaign and I ran a single exploration 1 hour-ish scene (the infiltration of a merchant's office - who happens to be involved in some cult activity as a side hustle.) We held all feedback until after the scene concluded and then had a decent discussion about what went well, what could have been improved, and what alternative decisions could have been made from behind the DM screen. It was really enlightening for all involved and the other DMs want to give it a go as well. I think we might incorporate a few instances of "instant feedback" during the "play".

Anyway, thanks to everyone who posted contributions to this thread. I hope others gained from it as much as I did!
That's awesome!

I used to bike about 40 minutes to work, and I would basically go over upcoming scenarios over and over again, thinking "Would this be fun for the players? What would I do as a player? How could I get frustrated?"

I find setting aside that time is really important!
 


Bupp

Adventurer
I love the idea of organizing a regular game online where DMs can just practice running certain things, like combats, or overland explorations, or social encounters. It would be like a little low-stakes workshop for DMs!

This seems like something there should be a Discord server for. Someone who isn’t me, get on that right away!

I liked this idea, and literally just threw together a server real quick before bed. Bare bones, but will add channels as needed.
 


Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
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?

Hook up with people in Discord groups. They do one-offs together all the time. If you DM some of those sessions, you'll find lots of opportunities to try different modes of play, styles of DMing, and get in enough repetition to learn what kind of DM you want to be.

Why Discord? It's super informal and freeform compared to Roll20, hopping into a voice chat, and it's easier to jump into a session almost right away.

There are always, always people online on Discord right now looking for a player or DM on short notice.
 

Hook up with people in Discord groups. They do one-offs together all the time. If you DM some of those sessions, you'll find lots of opportunities to try different modes of play, styles of DMing, and get in enough repetition to learn what kind of DM you want to be.

Good idea. Personally, I've been running 5e long enough to have a strong sense of my DMing style. At this point, I'm really looking to hone certain aspects of play - so full one-shots are not quite what I'm looking for. That doesn't mean it isn't helpful advice for others here though - so thank you for sharing.


I think what @Bupp has started is scratching some of the "Practicing DMing" itch for me... discrete scenarios run by DMs for other DMs with discussion about how each of us might choose slightly, or very, different approaches.


EDIT: updated invite
 
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Bupp

Adventurer
Good idea. Personally, I've been running 5e long enough to have a strong sense of my DMing style. At this point, I'm really looking to hone certain aspects of play - so full one-shots are not quite what I'm looking for. That doesn't mean it isn't helpful advice for others here though - so thank you for sharing.


I think what @Bupp has started is scratching some of the "Practicing DMing" itch for me... discrete scenarios run by DMs for other DMs with discussion about how each of us might choose slightly, or very, different approaches.

Your invite looks expired.
 

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