Dungeon Master and Apprentice: Passing on the Craft, Part III

This Tuesday I bring you the final piece on the basics of being a Dungeon Master: effectively utilizing Player Input.

How do you teach someone to DM who has a completely different style from you? I am an off-the-cuff DM; make everything up off the top of my head & take a few notes to maintain continuity. The person who wants me to teach them (my 2nd eldest daughter) wants to plan most everything before starting.

-B. Lynn

Once again let’s reiterate our PCP:

1) Planning
2) Character Development
3) Player Input

We’ve all had shitty DMs.  Whether that meant they were killing off our characters with joyful glee, ignoring the painstakingly crafted 5-page backstory we wrote, or just being a general dickhole, most players know what makes a bad Dungeon Master.  Human beings find pointing out what sucks a lot easier than pointing out what’s awesome, which is why you will hear many more complaints about DMs than you will hear praises.  This is just another sacrifice we noble Dungeon Masters must make for the sake of the game.  In the slightly modified immortal words of Rodney Dangerfield: “We don’t get no respect.”

We do it for the game though.  We do it for the players.  We do it for fun, because being a DM is awesome.  But being an awesome DM can be a challenge.  One of the most basic and important things we can do to make our games better is this: listen to our players. 

Strangely enough, this seemingly obvious thing often gets overlooked.  I notice this much more with newer DMs than with experienced ones.  It’s an aspect of DMing that we veteran Dungeon Masters hopefully do automatically, but we often forget to remind new DMs of how important it is.

New Dungeon Masters have a tendency to be either controlling assholes or timid little mice.  Both of these are generally the result of them being insecure with their DMing skills and having no idea what they’re doing.  I believe that using player input and feedback is a great way to boost a new DMs confidence.  Knowing EXACTLY what their players want, what they expect, and what they need from a DM can help the learning process a lot, and help them feel more confident in their choices.    And after all, a roleplaying game is a group effort.  Only selfish turds leave everything up to the DM.

The toughest part is actually getting useful feedback from players.  Players have a tendency to quickly point out the things they don’t like, but knowing what we should not do, isn’t at all the same as knowing what we should do (the same works for everything in life, so quit criticizing your friends, family and lovers unless you have useful feedback to give them).  The key to receiving good feedback is all about asking good questions.  So here are a few that I have found useful:

1.      If you had to choose, what would you say your favorite aspect of D&D is? (i.e. combat, puzzles, actual roleplaying, etc.)

2.     Do you like more, or less description from your DM?

3.     Would you prefer epic stories of godly proportions or tooling around for fun and profit?

4.     Would you rather spend 10 minutes dissecting the rules, or no time at all ignoring them?

These are good questions to start out with to gauge the overall climate of your group, but do continue to question your players as time goes on.  Make sure they’re still enjoying things.  Make sure they really know what they like and don’t just think they do.  Check in after sessions, and find out if they had a good time.  And when you have a session where everyone leaves saying, “That was awesome!”, find out why!  Pester them until they tell you something helpful.

Being a good Dungeon Master requires patience, planning, and lots of flexibility.  Sometimes our “great” ideas turn out to be crap.  Sometimes unplanned mayhem turns out to be pure gold.  The key is to be open and receptive to anything and everything, and from time to time, trust that your players know what’s best for them.  I know it’s easy to view them as useless leeches suckling on the dried and desiccated teat of Dungeon Mastering genius, until there’s nothing left inside of us but the bitter pus of resentment, but remember: we couldn’t have D&D without the players.  And we can kill their characters.

Please submit more questions! 

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to dungeonmastermind@gmail.com, or you can Tweet me a question @AskthedDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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3 Responses to Dungeon Master and Apprentice: Passing on the Craft, Part III

  1. Chris says:

    I’ve done a little mastering, and since I’m pretty good at characters and story the game was interesting and fun — but I didn’t know how to end it, because the players wanted to keep going once the story was finished. Any tips of how to end, or should I just let it end?

    • When writing campaigns I always choose a very specific end-point but leave things somewhat open-ended in case something like this happens. If the Players want to continue, go ahead and continue (assuming you won’t be bored by it). My campaigns are almost always multi-part sprawling epics. Think Star Wars. Episode IV could have been a stand-alone campaign, but it left a massive world open to us that everyone wanted to see more of and explore in greater depth. A good campaign should do the same thing. You don’t ever have to continue it, but you should be able to. I would, however, take a break for at least a week or two since you weren’t prepared to continue. It will allow you to build a new campaign base in the same world and history.

  2. Pingback: Player vs. Story: Balancing their needs with yours | Dungeon Mastering

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