D&D General What is YOUR GM style?

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I have been on these boards a long time now, and over many discussions I have picked up some good ideas for my own GM style. I thought it might be fun to have a look at everyone else's "table".

My general GM Style/Mantras are as follows.

1. I will probably be running the current incarnation of D&D but will be inwardly wishing the others in my group would want to play something new. When I am running that something new I never can sustain a campaign before everyone checks out.

2. I will allow anything from an official book but will have to consider things from other sources before OKing them.

3. It is impossible for me to have too many monster books.

4. I make a strong effort to include all the skills in my adventures. I'm never going to make Animal Handling (as an example of a neglected skill) as valuable as Perception, but I will try to give you the spotlight in a scene if you have it available.

5. I'm not going to kill your character unless you do something really stupid (usually prefaced with an "are you sure?) or if the scene is notably dangerous. I WILL give you a strong setback in place of that death.

6. I'm not an actor. My NPCs have personalities and motivations but those will mostly be spoken of in 3rd person. Sometimes a really well liked NPC may get a voice or mannerism over time.

7. My campaign has a living world where things are happening in the background unlinked to your characters. If you involve yourself in a conflict you can affect that outcome but if you don't intera t with that portion of the story it is going to move forward without you.

8. You can expect alot of difficult choices as a PC. I have almost 0 black hat wearing evil factions. All the groups have a goal and a method they use to achieve it. The goal is almost never "take over the world" or "kill people and take their stuff". The otherwise good dwarf clan might be selling weapons to a lawful evil theocracy. The neutral druids might be teaming up with an evil dragon working as a mercenary.

9. Weaved into my world events are stories crafted around your PC backstory and goals. You get as much out of these subplots as you put into it. A life goal of "Being rich" is not a story plot I'm going to craft around. A life goal of "I want to get rich enough to buy out and destroy my families rival that drove is to bankruptcy" is awesome.

10. When I don't get feedback from my players and look up to see an entire table with heads buried in phones, tablets, and books I deep down want to ragequit...but I never do. It's my biggest peeve.
 

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payn

Legend
I run a variety of games and GM style varies a bit depending on the system. I like short and long campaigns in addition to one shots. Different systems and settings will determine which length works best. I try my best to rule on mechanics in a consensus manner, but reserve the right to make final calls as I see fit. I do tinker with house rules a little, but mostly go RAW/RAI. I really enjoy Paizo adventure paths (way more than WOTC stuff) and make my own stuff too.

Ideally, I enjoy players who engage the story, like to develop characters, and pay attention during sessions. I try and provide players guides to my campaigns to facilitate such involvement. My games always contain a healthy amount of political intrigue, mystery, and exploration.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I am big on story telling, and major challanges that sometimes (Okay my PCs may say more often then not) are above the weight class of the characters.

It's funny I switch between CaW CaS and CaP on a whim.

I am big on letting PCs be creative, but not silly.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
1. I design fun and challenging encounters for players for whom being challenged is fun.
2. Tough choices are fun but have diminishing returns - so I make sure to throw in the occasional possibility for a "clear win."
3. I will limit character creation/development choices (classes, races, spells/items available) based on the setting and my own sense of what is appropriate for D&D as I see it, but I am open to argument.
4. It is easier to say "no" and then give a little than to say "yes" and then try to reign it in.
5. You can work towards a build if you want, but the best D&D games were ones where your character is shaped by in-game events.
6. I am totally willing to range between granular NPC interactions in 1st person ("Hey there, merchant! How much for that coil of rope?" and handwaving stuff so we can move on ("Just subtract the cost of rope from your sheet.), depending on the mood and energy at the table and what we're trying to get done in a session. Most stuff is somewhere in-between.
7. Related to #6: If you are a player that feels more or less comfortable role-playing in first-person, I will do my best to meet you where you're comfortable.
8. Meta-game table talk is fine since players don't know the world and environment the way characters would - as long as it does not slow down the game and does not lead to one or more players dominating.
9. Slow advancement (my every 3 to 5 weeks 5E game has just reached 6th level after 29 sessions (22 months of play).
10. Magic is not a commodity to be bought or sold. Magical items are special and nearly unique and can never easily be reproduced as to become a form of everyday technology.
11. Anything you include in your character backstory is fair game for use in the campaign, but not having a fleshed out one is fine too.

Edit to add

12. Make stuff like this:
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I see gming duties as similar to hosting a dinner party: make sure everyone is comfortable, refill their glasses (literal and figurative), understand how to pace the evening in a subtle manner, and keep the conversation going.

In terms of logistics, I get overwhelmed if I have anything more than 1-2 pages of notes in front of me. If I'm playing 5e that means I keep things pretty loose but there might be 1 set-piece type encounter; or an osr game I'll just have a one page dungeon map with one page of notes.
 

Musing Mage

Pondering D&D stuff
I run what could be called a permissive yet oddly restrictive game... :unsure:

Player agency is important, as DM I'm simply the arbiter of the world, so I do my best to adjudicate their choices without bias or vested interest in an outcome.

That said - I keep tight control over the parameters of the campaign - Whether it be my 1e or 5e game, I only allow options from the PHB as a default, anything else is a no-go unless I've specifically allowed it. IE: My 1e game allows SOME stuff from UA and OA. To date, I dislike all expansion options for 5e, so nothing outside of the PHB is allowed.

I neither encourage nor discourage character conflict or PvP specifically, but players know they have freedom to act accordingly. Nothing is taboo in terms of class or alignment... but I DO stress to players regularly to remember not to take actions personally, this is a game - organic in-character conflict is great - PLAYER conflict is not. But everyone at my table generally knows the score so we've had some memorable stories and situations come up.

I do my best to play NPCs as accurately as possible - bearing in mind alignments and goals etc. I use reaction charts, Charisma, racial modifiers etc... quite liberally. Players at my table learned long ago not to dump-stat Charisma. :cool:

I don't like to railroad players, even though some scenarios are fairly linear. But I tend to note several options as potential adventure threads and let the group decide their own path. When we restarted the in-person campaign, I had over a dozen adventure hooks all ready to go, with the adventures plotted out - mix of modules and original ideas - in addition to giving each player a personal hook or rumour that they were free to share or keep to themselves. In a rather humourous turn - they'd narrowed it down to searching for a Noble's kidnapped daughter (reward 10k gp!) or hunting a wyrmling dragon. The 1st level team of chaotics said of the missing girl 'Ah, she'll be fine... let's go kill a dragon! It's a baby - how hard can it be?' :ROFLMAO:

I don't fudge rolls - they are almost all done in front of the players. The dice land where they will. The only rolls I hide are NPC reaction rolls, and things like search rolls, or stealth rolls - where players shouldn't know how well they rolled rather must accept the description of the result. (I still don't fudge!)

I don't scale encounters, though in planning a specific adventure I WILL ballpark it to the group's level. So no, my team of low level characters is not going to the Tomb of Horrors... but anything goes in the wilderness when it comes to random encounters. My charts are mostly animals (which isn't to say animals can't be a problem!), but there's the occasional super-tough monster and it's on the players to know when they are outmatched and run away. You cannot assume I have made the encounter beatable, especially if it's a random encounter.

I track the calendar and dates quite thoroughly, and time passage is a big thing. Time away from the table is time passed in-game. If it's not logical to apply it right away, then I bank the time to apply later. Years pass quite quickly in game.

And yes, I use the fiddly things that most other DMs dismiss as things that bog down play - Disease checks, aging modifiers, Weapon Type vs AC (for 1e), weather generation (I prep weather conditions several in-game months in advance so I know what's coming)... none of these things bog down play, rather they generate situations that add levels of detail I couldn't think of independently, and they are not arbitrary.

And flow - I do my best to maintain a table flow and keep everyone engaged. If I see someone zoning out, I try an bring them back, but mostly people engage with one another... which means I'm doing it right. I've have great sessions where the players talked to each other in character for long stretches where I didn't have to do or say anything... and that's when you know they're vested.

That's a taste of my DM style, for better or worse. :)
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
This is some of what I have in the "About the GM" portion of the package I hand to new players:

I have a preference for multi-threaded campaigns where character decisions matter on multiple scales, and I like to connect characters' backstories to those threads. It may take a while for threads to emerge, but they eventually will.

I don't aim for character deaths, but I won't protect characters from consequences, either. Other a few houserules, I try to run very much to the rules as they are in the books. If I screw up the story or the rules I will apologize and do what I can to make things right.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In my game the setting is, in many ways, ultimately out to kill you if you decide to mess with it. As it's the job of adventurers to go out and mess with things those adventurers can probably expect to, sooner or later, die and-or suffer other foul consequences. If, however, they succeed and survive then the rewards will be ample; and the game/setting provides some means of revival from death, though at costs both physical and monetary.

As a game, both skill and luck play their parts; though luck probably factors in to a greater degree than in most "modern" games.

The campaign will run for as long as anyone wants to play in it - as DM I plan for ten years and see where things are at after then. Character turnover is expected; player turnover also though not as frequent. Players may (and probably should) have multiple PCs in the setting; and characters are rolled up where I or at least one other player can see the rolls.

In character, anything goes: kill each other if you want to, it's all the same to me. But the arguments stay in character; out-of-character arguments will get shut down fast. Separation of self from character is expected.

Player input, suggestions, or questions regarding rules and rulings are welcome (and sometimes quite necessary!), but in the end my word is law: abide or die. I'll think through any rulings as carefully as I can before making them, as rulings once made are locked in as precedent for that campaign and I don't want to lock in a bad one.

I'll start the ball rolling with an adventure or two and maybe some backstory, but after that it's largely up to the players, via their characters, to tell me what comes next. If they don't, I'll have something ready as a fall-back.

Metagaming is, as far as possible, discouraged and-or banned depending on the situation. Players cannot act on info their characters would not have (e.g. if a player knows an away scout is in trouble but the player's PC does not, the player cannot have the PC start a rescue mission).

Where possible, reality has its say; and magic is explained using real-world physics as a starting point. Magic in any form can be high-risk high-reward; magic items can be destroyed by clumsiness or bad luck (and might go 'boom' or otherwise generate some wild magic), and casting is easy to interrupt.

I'll telegraph danger when it makes sense to do so, but I don't telegraph everything. "Gotcha" is very much a part of my vocabulary; just as it could be for the PCs were they to set up a good trap or ambush. That said, "Are you sure?" is also part of my vocabulary when it looks like someone's really about to go off the deep end.

The setting is static in that things don't move or change behind the scenes due to meta-concerns such as which PCs are in the party or what they've chosen to do. The setting does have an ongoing backstory (a bunch of them, in fact) which will carry on as they would until-unless the PCs interact with them in some way.

And in the end I know I'm doing it all wrong if the players ain't either a) laughing and-or b) engaged in in-character roleplay and-or c) on the edge of their seats wondering how they're gonna survive this one. :)
 

5. I'm not going to kill your character unless you do something really stupid (usually prefaced with an "are you sure?) or if the scene is notably dangerous. I WILL give you a strong setback in place of that death.
I prefer the game have an element of danger as a player and a DM. There should be a very real sense that a character isnt going to make it out alive in some situations. I'm never going to single out a player character and try to kill them unless they continuously attack something well out of their league or do something stupid. But Im not going to fudge rolls in anyones favor either. Characters surviving should never be an expectation.
 

-Pace and influenced by player input.
-Sometimes organised but more than willing to throw that prep in the bin.
-Not precious.
-Gaming has been my #1 hobby for 40 years, so has much love.
 

Egon Spengler

"We eat gods for breakfast!"
My refereeing style is best summed up with two pithy sayings: "the world is the world" and "we explore dungeons, not characters."

The first statement is both a method of refereeing and a philosophy of play. I've created the setting before the campaign begins, populating all the hexes and towns and stocking the dungeons, and the setting will tick along according to its own internal logic; I'll never alter it on a whim (or because of the "rule of cool"), nor will I move some element into or out of the players' path. (That is: quantum ogres are totally verboten, and I'm still carrying personal trauma from past GMs who overestimated their ability to "make a game up on the fly" and thought that their "733t improv skillz" weren't just tantamount to flagrant railroading.) But of course the game world will evolve dynamically over time and respond appropriately to the players' actions (or inaction).

The second statement is one of the old rallying cries of the OSR. In spite of that, I still find it useful to drive home the point that I'm here to present a world full of places to explore, mysteries to solve, challenges to overcome, and allies and enemies to interact with — but I'm not going to tell a story, or encourage anyone who doesn't like play-acting to improv lines of dialog in character. You, the player, are sitting at my table to feel like you're on an adventure, not to simulate the personality and psychology of some boorish dwarf.

Rules-wise, I'm almost certainly going to be running some variant of OD&D or possibly AD&D, depending on the setting. Players can expect me to reliably follow and apply the game rules (consisting of the core books plus whatever supplemental materials and house rules I've enumerated in a campaign handout). For the same reason that I won't lay down railroad tracks or invisible walls, I won't fudge rolls (in fact I prefer to roll out in the open as much as possible), rubber-band monster numbers or hit point totals, or ever do anything underhanded to favor either the PCs or the monsters.

As for the campaign model, my ideal (momentarily stifled by These Pandemical Times™, but I hope to get back on the wagon soon) is long campaigns with a persistent milieu, a large and constantly rotating player base, and players creating several characters that they choose from when deciding who to take on a given adventure — what you could variously call a living sandbox, a "West Marches" campaign, a Lake Geneva / Twin Cities style "fantasy wargaming club," or a "massively multiplayer offline RPG."

When it comes to creating a setting, my feeling is that a game world is at its most interesting when it's ancient, mysterious, and full of puzzles and clues. A D&D game should be 40% Myst, 30% Diablo, 20% Morrowind, and 10% John Carter of Mars. You can never go wrong following that particular recipe! :)
 
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toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
  • Whatever makes it fun, #1. I want it good enough that players are writing each other on Discord to chat about what's going on, taking notes, chatting about NPCs as if they're real persons.
  • Immersion #2 priority. As a group, limiting character choices to fit the theme + theme (e.g. the constant despair of Curse of Strahd with gothic horror inspired by art and literature, very Dracula, no juvenile jokes during dramatic moments). Total immersion = rocking campaign. This also means getting into the idea that certain adventures are meant to go in one thematic direction (e.g. Strahd is about escaping Barovia, not opening an Inn and gallivanting around for buried treasure). In certain campaigns like my long-running Kingmaker, I use calendars where I track birthdays, holidays and major anniversary events so we can reminisce about what's gone on.
  • NPCs make the game go 'round. #3 priority, make them count. The best hero movies are often defined by the bad guy.
  • Keep the Splat Down. PHB + 1 book.
  • I'll Change Monsters. Many reflect older editions. Powerful demons and dragons have spells. Golems are immune to nearly all magic. Makes monsters a bit more like puzzles, where sometimes a particular character type gets to shine.
  • Slow it Down. I try to make levels last and elaborate on storylines. It's when the game goes to unexpected, unscripted territory that it gets really fun. Slowing it down helps quite a bit letting the game go places it might not usually go.
  • I don't do accents. (1) I can't. (2) IMO, accents aren't roleplaying. So, I keep a table of 3 traits (visual such as gold tooth, mannerism such as tapping leg when talking, and auditory such as talking out of side of mouth or ending every sentence like a question).
  • I don't fudge rolls. I don't roll everything in view, but major dramatic rolls, absolutely. Failure and character death make just as good a story as success at everything. The rolls help make that story something we can't script.
  • Character deaths are ok. It needs to be accepted that death can and will happen. And that's okay. It's about what story it creates. So, I really hate senseless ones and will weave in new elements, if I can, to avoid them (e.g. capture, a quest to recover the soul, a deal with the fey to build a new body, retirement). But, sometimes it just needs to be what it is.
  • Magic items should be cool. There is no such thing as a +1 sword in my games. Legacy items converted from 3rd edition, or the common amulet from Mechanus that for a brief moment makes everything orderly (auto 10 on a roll once per day), stuff that has a story about it that makes using it cool.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I prefer the game have an element of danger as a player and a DM. There should be a very real sense that a character isnt going to make it out alive in some situations. I'm never going to single out a player character and try to kill them unless they continuously attack something well out of their league or do something stupid. But Im not going to fudge rolls in anyones favor either. Characters surviving should never be an expectation.
Death, especially as the campaign gets to higher levels, isn't much more than a speed bump to me.

That's why, when my player in 3.5 playing a tricked out super shield using shield specialist had a much more visceral reaction to my ruling the acid trap he failed a save against didn't hurt him at all but instead destroyed his prized possession.

Similarly the PCs letting down their faction by failing at something (and thus a behind the scenes struggle going their enemies way) is a bigger hit to them than losing some gold or creating a new character.

I've just never felt character death (Resurrection or not) was a motivating factor to be careful since either it's just you, in which case you make a new PC and resume all the old ties and plot, or you have a TPK in which case you have destroyed your own campaign.

But I do play with a guy who thinks his character dying is the worst possible outcome of any scene in the game so there is something out there for everyone.
 

  • Character deaths are ok. It needs to be accepted that death can and will happen. And that's okay. It's about what story it creates. So, I really hate senseless ones and will weave in new elements, if I can, to avoid them (e.g. capture, a quest to recover the soul, a deal with the fey to build a new body, retirement). But, sometimes it just needs to be what it is.
Denise Crosby would approve.
 

Death, especially as the campaign gets to higher levels, isn't much more than a speed bump to me.
I've just never felt character death (Resurrection or not) was a motivating factor to be careful since either it's just you, in which case you make a new PC and resume all the old ties and plot, or you have a TPK in which case you have destroyed your own campaign.
Sure if you allow a player to create a character after they die at the same level, or just resurrect them then theres no point to character death, and no incentive for a player to keep their PC alive. Honestly losing a few party members or all of them would definitely make the campaign more urgent for both the players and the PCs. Doesnt mean the campaign has to end, it just changes because the bad guys have the upper hand, are closer to reaching their goals and the stakes are now higher.
 

0. Foremost: always encourage genuine, non-abusive, non-coercive player enthusiasm. I need to be able to step back and say, "even if this doesn't appeal to me, it makes my player(s) happy, and doesn't cost anyone else their happiness."

1. As Dungeon World puts it, "draw maps, leave blanks." Provide enough details to make the world come to life, but not so many that the players can't make choices. This is a little hard for me, as I tend to go HAM on worldbuilding and detail, but my players seem happy with how things shake out.

2. Draw the players into the action. I like a story where the characters matter--where you really can't just have one character die or disappear and have that mean nothing. So I tend to hand out items that draw toward a purpose, or drop hints about mysteries in a character's backstory, or in some other way weave a grand plot from the threads the players give me.

3. Always be willing to accept defeat. If the players outsmart me, they deserve that victory. I won't take that from them, even if it means a fight ends up being a nothingburger or a social interaction goes weird. It's okay for the players to get lucky or clever and not get the "full experience" I intended.

4. Make a bright world, but one threatened by darkness. It's a good world, one worth living in--and one worth protecting. Mercy works, kindness pays dividends, doing the right thing isn't stupid. Ordinary folks are weak and there are forces that are ready and willing to exploit and pervert the goodness of the world, but they can be stopped if people work for it. Heroism is what keeps the world from falling apart.

5. Give the players allies they can care about and opponents they can enjoy opposing. Obviously not easy for all players/groups, but you might be surprised (I certainly was!) at who gets fired up when beloved(/hated) NPCs merely get thrown into the spotlight.

6. Again as DW puts it, "Be a fan of the characters." You don't want pointless, dull ends for the PCs. Make events matter and have weight. If death is what will do that, go for it--but keep the cost in mind.
 

Jmarso

Adventurer
Some high (or low) points of my 'style':

1. I don't plan a campaign arc from start to finish. I let things be more sand-boxy, in general terms. I know where the campaign is going to start, but not where it's going to end. The BBEG is going to depend a good deal on where the players go, what they do, and the cages they rattle. I like the idea of lower levels = local heroes, medium levels = influencing the life and times of the setting, high levels = protecting the world or the plane from external threats. I don't run campaigns where the PC's are overtly evil with evil goals. This whole approach is why my hands-down favorite place to run a game is the World of Greyhawk. In fact, I don't think I've DM'd a campaign anywhere else since the 1980's, except for dips into Dragonlance and Ravenloft.

2. I try to put in as much prep time beforehand so that I'm not having to flip through books / tabs and generate stuff on-the-spot in game. It also allows me to tailor encounters and such (to a degree) to the group, although I like to leave in surprise elements for them along with the occasional too-easy or too-hard encounter, as the dice decree. If I know they are going to be traveling cross-country for a portion of an adventure, I roll and pregenerate the random encounters, weather, and all that stuff so that it is ready to go and I don't have to pause play to generate it on the fly. If the players do something that takes them off this 'script', such as it is, I'll adapt as necessary or go to random generation on the fly, even though it slows things down a bit.

3. When the players finish an arc or an adventure, the choice of where to go and what to do next is up to them. I'll usually set adventure hooks for them to choose from, and what they pick is the path they take next session. There's usually an understanding between myself and the group- because I do so much prep between sessions, once they pick something they generally stick to it, lest they throw things into total disarray. Stuff happens sometimes, though. :p

4. I usually roll behind the screen as DM, and sometimes I will have players make rolls that will have no effect, but it keeps them from that metagaming situation of 'he's making us roll so there is definitely something there.' More to the point, they know I do this with the 'random rolls.' I generally don't fudge any roll other than something that will obliterate a PC and disrupt the game, but that is not to be taken to mean that there is no danger. PCs can and do die in my campaigns, but occasionally to keep a story moving I'll show a smidgen of mercy that they never see, like maybe dealing normal damage on a monster crit instead of doubling it. That said, my monsters act and fight to the utmost of their stats, and the players had better be smart as well or perish. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. As I've mentioned in other threads, trying to negotiate / deal with evil monsters and humanoids usually ends badly for the party. They may achieve a temporary advantage or goal, but evil creatures betray. It's in their nature.

5. I've noticed in some games that players tend to take treasure on the spot as it's found. Since I've played as a kid, I've always encouraged a 'treasure kitty' during any given adventure, and the divvying of stuff that is not immediately useful or obviously useful to a particular class of character (potions, scrolls, etc, or magic weapons) is handled at the end of the adventure. Gems can be sold and money divided, or treasure partitioned into relatively equal 'shares' from which the players pick what they want between themselves. I DO NOT encourage PvP sort of play, or the party rogue stealing from his/her friends, etc, but I don't forbid it, either. It's their game, and if they want to engage in self-destructive behavior I sit back and let the chips fall. When it ends badly (as it often does), I simply point out that this sort of play is generally detrimental to a fun game, but it's up to them. The other advantage of a treasure kitty is that it gives players a choice to make: do party 'expenses' come out of the kitty before the profits are shared, or do they share beforehand and each player is responsible for his or her own expenses? For example, the party wizard has a lot of upkeep expenses for those spellbooks, etc, from which everyone benefits in the wild. Again, up to the players.

6. I do the occasional voice for the NPC's, most often if I'm going for a laugh. My voice-acting skills are somewhat lame, however, so for the more mundane stuff I'll often revert to third person narration. "The inkeep says he has no private rooms..." sort of thing.

7. I do like to keep combat spicy by narrating the outcome of actions. Critical hits get big hand motions and visceral descriptions of monster dismemberment, and so on. I've found players dig this, and I like having them describe their own kill-shots and stuff as well. I enjoy it, too.

That's a general overview of how I conduct a game.
 

pogre

Legend
1. Heavy prep.
2. Fast-paced.
3. Lots of combat challenges.
4. Memorable NPCs.
5. Be consistent and run the campaign for as long as the players have interest or we get to an epic level.
6. Be a cheerleader for the PCs.
7. Open rolling.
8. Try to listen and observe when players are the most engaged - give them more of that.
9. Run weekly at the same time on the same day. Start on time and end on time.
 

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