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General What are "soft" skills that a DM benefits from learning?

Quickleaf

Legend
There are a whole bundle of skills that a Dungeon Master can learn from reading the books, talking to fellow DMs, and watching streamed games. And then there are "soft" skills that DMs tend to pick up as a result of either trial-and-error, mentorship by a more experienced DM, or just raw talent.

What are the important "soft" DMing skills that the DMG is silent on?

I ask because a friend and I are collaborating on an adventure to help new DMs learn how to be a Dungeon Master. I've jotted down these twelve...
  1. Improvise NPCs & Dialogue
  2. When to Roll Dice… and When Not To
  3. Learn Your Players
  4. Present Scenarios with Multiple Paths to Victory
  5. Encourage Outside the Box Thinking
  6. Know When to End a Scene
  7. Handle the Start of Initiative
  8. Running Combat, Monster Tactics, and Keeping Track
  9. Group/Table Management
  10. Flow Between Players & DM: Action-Reaction
  11. Adapt the Rules to Cover Situations Outside the Rules
  12. Pacing
 

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Campaign Design: don't believe that a campaign will go all the way to level 20 (real life often screws with this) and don't be afraid to design a story that ends at a lower level. Dragging a campaign on after the story has been told is often unfun for both the players and DM.

Also, while many won't like it, but something a lot of new DMs need to understand: when to quit. Not every campaign idea works (most are better in your head than IRL) and sometimes you need to cut your losses. In addition, some new DMs aren't actually good at DMing, and shouldn't feel bad if they're not.
 

Campaign Design: don't believe that a campaign will go all the way to level 20 (real life often screws with this) and don't be afraid to design a story that ends at a lower level. Dragging a campaign on after the story has been told is often unfun for both the players and DM.

Also, while many won't like it, but something a lot of new DMs need to understand: when to quit. Not every campaign idea works (most are better in your head than IRL) and sometimes you need to cut your losses. In addition, some new DMs aren't actually good at DMing, and shouldn't feel bad if they're not.
The hard thing some people need to hear.
 

Iry

Adventurer
@Shiroiken is absolutely correct. There should be a section specifically about Dealing With Disappointment - what to do when your players don't seem to be having fun, when you don't seem to be having fun, how you can mix things up or sit down and talk with them, and even just dealing positively with players who have gotten frustrated or completely derailed your plans.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Time management. Few DMs in my experience really think about how long a campaign will take and whether the group will make it through. So the DM really needs to think about session length, frequency of sessions, and number of sessions to complete a campaign before committing to anything. This also helps with pacing of individual sessions.
 

Keep the shared experience of the game as the primary goal.

Did your favorite villain just get killed due to clever player action? Accept it. Did your encounter prep just get undone by a spell? Accept it. Let the players have the victories...this is more important than your prep or your villain.
 



Rhenny

Adventurer
Keeping game notes to make it easier to plan and make meaningful connections in later game sessions. Players love when they see the fruits of their labor as the campaign continues. They also love to meet re-appearing npcs or villains and know that their actions (successes and failures) have consequences.
 


darjr

I crit!
Patience
Listening
Subtly moving the focus along to other players
Not saying to much
Not saying enough
Not showing how the pizza is made
 

darjr

I crit!
Oh also
Mind reading
Thought projection
Really, or at least doing your best to make it seem like that’s what’s going on.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
For your 2nd one, would you consider that pretty much the same as "Adapt the Rules to Cover Situations Outside the Rules"?
Not really. Here's a few examples:
The group unexpectedly decides to appeal to a power in the area for general help with a problem. There may be rules pertaining to how the NPC will react, but generally nothing about what action that reaction will generate. Does it share money, manpower, or knowledge?
The group locks themselves in a trap. How long until a denizen of the area notices? Which one? What actions will get taken?
While in a new town, the group starts flashing a lot of wealth in lower class areas. Will an attempt be made to relieve them of said wealth? What level of resources will be put into the effort? What manner will the attempt take?
A random encounter chart has a listing for "something goes missing". Where has it gone? If it has been stolen, who is the thief?
A named NPC is randomly determined to be in the area. The PCs run into them and engage in conversation. Why is the NPC here? Is company desired?
 

pemerton

Legend
Active Listening
Plausible situation extrapolation / improvisation
Maintaining consistency in rulings
For your 2nd one, would you consider that pretty much the same as "Adapt the Rules to Cover Situations Outside the Rules"?
I was going to post Deciding on consequences. Which I see as related to Nagol's extrapolation/improvisation, but with a particular focus on (i) honouring success/failure, and (ii) a good sense of explicit or implicit stakes, as well as (iii) consistency with the established fiction and its trajectory.

Nagol's follow-up post gives some examples of this. He also gives some examples of knowing how to frame a scene with effective stakes:

The group unexpectedly decides to appeal to a power in the area for general help with a problem. There may be rules pertaining to how the NPC will react, but generally nothing about what action that reaction will generate. Does it share money, manpower, or knowledge? Narrating consequences of success
The group locks themselves in a trap. How long until a denizen of the area notices? Which one? What actions will get taken? Narrating consequences of failure
While in a new town, the group starts flashing a lot of wealth in lower class areas. Will an attempt be made to relieve them of said wealth? What level of resources will be put into the effort? What manner will the attempt take? Effective scene framing
A random encounter chart has a listing for "something goes missing". Where has it gone? If it has been stolen, who is the thief? Effective scene framing, which might also build on consequences
A named NPC is randomly determined to be in the area. The PCs run into them and engage in conversation. Why is the NPC here? Is company desired? Effective scene framing
You'll see that I've tagged Nagol's examples.

I think this set of skills is one of the most important for GMing. It's what makes the game worth playing on the player-side of the experience.
 

There are a whole bundle of skills that a Dungeon Master can learn from reading the books, talking to fellow DMs, and watching streamed games. And then there are "soft" skills that DMs tend to pick up as a result of either trial-and-error, mentorship by a more experienced DM, or just raw talent.

What are the important "soft" DMing skills that the DMG is silent on?

I ask because a friend and I are collaborating on an adventure to help new DMs learn how to be a Dungeon Master. I've jotted down these twelve...
  1. Improvise NPCs & Dialogue
  2. When to Roll Dice… and When Not To
  3. Learn Your Players
  4. Present Scenarios with Multiple Paths to Victory
  5. Encourage Outside the Box Thinking
  6. Know When to End a Scene
  7. Handle the Start of Initiative
  8. Running Combat, Monster Tactics, and Keeping Track
  9. Group/Table Management
  10. Flow Between Players & DM: Action-Reaction
  11. Adapt the Rules to Cover Situations Outside the Rules
  12. Pacing
I think bullet points massively undersell some of this and make other bits seem far more important than they are. Group/table management is actually a vast array of fairly deep skills (and some DMs never learn them!), which involve actively listening to the players, helping them to actually say what they want their PCs to be doing (a lot of players are quite weak at this), making sure everyone gets heard, everyone gets time to play their PCs, that everyone understands what is going on, and so on. As well as stuff like presenting information in a way that's compelling and engaging and actually gets ideas across to the players and generally is more at the heart of good DMing than anything else. This sort of stuff is very easy to overlook and it seems extreme to bullet point it equally to say, handling the start of initiative.

The other big one you're missing, which the DMG mentions, is "be a fan of the players", which cannot be overstated, especially for a new DM because starting off with an adversarial attitude is probably the worst possible way to start a DMing career.
 

pemerton

Legend
Group/table management is actually a vast array of fairly deep skills (and some DMs never learn them!), which involve actively listening to the players, helping them to actually say what they want their PCs to be doing (a lot of players are quite weak at this), making sure everyone gets heard, everyone gets time to play their PCs, that everyone understands what is going on, and so on. As well as stuff like presenting information in a way that's compelling and engaging and actually gets ideas across to the players and generally is more at the heart of good DMing than anything else. This sort of stuff is very easy to overlook
The 4e DMG discussed this stuff I don't know how good that discussion is as a teaching tool because by the time I read it I already had a reasonable handle on this stuff. To me it seemed at least OK.
 


Inchoroi

Explorer
My big four:
1. I always recommend that a DM start with a published adventure or adventure path first, before trying to write their own (this is the voice of experience). Learn how one is built first, then build your own.
2. Don't create what you don't have to create; if you're not publishing it yourself, steal literally everything that you need to.
3. Prep is key; not too much, but not too little. If you're not writing from scratch, 4 hours for a session is a pretty good ballpark.
4. Not everyone is Matt Mercer. Its okay not to do voices. Its okay to try to do voices but suck at them. You're not a group of trained voice actors (unless you are, in which case I envy you).
 

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