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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Signs and Portents of the Best DM's

I get asked all the time, "Hey Goblin_Stomper, "how can I be a better DM?"

That's not true, no one ever asks me that.

It's my personal opinion that most DM's think they do a fine job, most probably do, and some are great.  Most I think are fine, that is, good enough that players come back to play another game, and that's really the best review a DM can get.

After all this time, I think I can distill most of the behaviors of a really good (perhaps great) DM down to just a few, but if you asked me what the most important one is, that's easy.  There is one trademark of a DM who will keep you coming back to the table.  The sign of a DM able to keep your mind entrenched in the mind of the character you've created, and allow the world around you to melt quickly away, leaving you and your character completely immersed in hours of play that feel like mere moments.

The best DM's believe, with complete authority and utter certainty  without wavering once, that their world and the game are as real as the screen on which you read this sentence.

That's it.  That's all there is to it.

This Guy Believes.  He really does.

Oh sure, there's the importance of being familiar enough with your ruleset to suffer no fools or lawyers.  It's a given that you understand the basic elements of storytelling so deeply that your game follows both a predictable, yet surprising pattern to keep the players engaged but not bored.

It's your belief in you world, however, that I perceive as the lynch-pin to your success as a DM, even if you lack some or even all of those other factors.  Sure, you can't 100% fake that other stuff.  You will need it, but first, believe.

You see if you don't think that your gods exist, that your sorcerer can cast a glamour of never-before-seen magnitude, and that your monster is an engine of raw, destructive power as it defends it's well earned treasure hoard...who will?

You, the DM, need to live in your world first, and most deeply.  If you don't do this, the task of casting the spell of suspension of disbelief at your table will fizzle from the fingers that weave it and the mouth that casts it.  There are a few helpful hints for this, but mostly, you just gotta believe.  I will list a few important things here, but these are just guideposts. 

1. Write a brief outline of your world. Include your gods, rules for magic, important localities as well as unique locations important to where you'd like to begin your game/story.  Design a framework for your mind to dilly-dally, play, jaunt.

2. Create your first Inn.  Maybe it seems crazy to go from the macro to micro, but here you can develop a few personalities, a few names, a few drinks...get a sense of how your world 'feels' to you, and hone it until you know the inn and its occupants like they're family.

3. Create your own PC for the world.  If you were playing in your world, what sort of character appeals to you.

3a.  Give that PC a backstory.

Now...there will be some amount of time between the birth of your game/world and your first game, so now you gotta split off a small piece of your day-to-day brain, and place it in that world (or place that world in it).  Sometimes you should try to actively daydream a bit in the world.  Other times let that part of your mind fly solo.  Don't lose your job over this.  Don't forget to study for exams.  Just give it a bit attention now and again, to reflect on it, fine tune it, and keep it flourishing.

Maybe keep a notepad.  I like a tiny, ruled Rhodia and a fine gel pen, but anything you can keep on you will work fine.

That's my advice, mostly short and pretty sweet.

Now go play.  Believe.


  1. Absolutely!!!

    And glad to see you blogging regularly again!

    1. Thanks! It's good to be back.

      I got mad at myself, ya know? I hate when I really enjoy reading someones blog and then they just fade out of existence. Sometimes a blog reaches it's natural end, but I think I just needed time to get my head (and body) back on course.

      Sometimes you just need to hit the pause button.