Tips for DM's - DND

edited August 2008 in General Discussion


  • spidieman
    Posts: 38
    I wanted to start a post were DM's can share their own personal tips they use in their games. Its primary for D&D but any game master who has tips to improve on others games would be welcomed here.

    Encounter Maps
    - for the better part of the last 7 years, i have been using magic markers & a large 150$ tile map for all our encounters. Well about 2 months ago it was destroyed and it will be missed. I have tried to find a new way of building my encounters. I have tried using print outs (wast of paper), and using tiles. I love the tiles but it took so long to build each encounter we lost a good 5-10 minutes per encounter per night.
    - This weekend i came up with a great idea, i use the tiles and use pieces of cardboard. I pre-build the encounters using tiles, sticky tac and cardboard. Now the setup time is real quick, i lay down the pre built room and drop the monsters and off we go.
    - it takes about an hour to build out 4-5 rooms, and was fairly.

    Initiative Tracker
    - I am a big fan of the KISS rule when it comes to d&d, Keep It Simple Stupid. Whatever solution provides quick and easy access and doesn't slow down the game works best. Over the years i have used several methods of keeping track of initiative, and monster hp.
    - I went to the dollar store and picked up a small cheap whiteboard. the thing was an inch think so i took it apart and only used the top plastic layer. Using a "permanent" marker, i added a small grid on the right hand side, with 10 lines.
    - So now on the right hand side i put all the pc's from left to right of me in order, and the rest are for monsters. The entire left had side of the sheet is now free for tracking monster HP.

    I hope these tips help others, and i hope others add more tips.
  • FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    Single silly thing that really goes a long way: If you use a grid mat and water-soluble markers to draw your maps, spend another two dollars (or local currency equivalent) and obtain a sponge bottle usually used for wetting envelopes. It makes erasures much quicker, and I'm convinced I go through fewer paper towels blotting it up. (Maybe one of these days when I have another really ratty towel, I'll just reserve it especially for marker wipe duty.)

    I've never actually bothered to use this tip, but I'm fond of it: Making people pre-roll their Spot/Listen and Hide/Move Silently checks. It helps keep down the meta-gaming (oh, she's making us roll, something must be there!).

    I know that if I ever start running a campaign (and I keep telling myself I will so I can get just that much more mileage out of the old 3.5 books), I intend to pre-roll the Hide/Move Silently checks for the monsters. However, I would still roll Spot/Listen checks for the monsters at the table. Even if you do this behind a screen, it really helps to build that "awww crap" tension.

    I also have grand notions of making up notecards that contain all the needed data for random encounters so I don't have to fumble with a Monster Manual. Oh, and Post-It flags are great for marking pages in the MM for monsters that you *know* you'll be using a lot during a session.

    And one random bit of cruelty that I really loved when someone else did it: a random NPC handed our party a book. The person holding the book decided to open it. (Several of us, having had bad experiences with trapped books in previous modules, scattered.) The DM picked up as many d6s as he could lay hands to, including borrowing one from a nearby player, rolled them all, then said "Okay, you open the book. It's about this guy...". It was just a beautiful fake-out. Come to think of it, I have used that one myself since then, with doors and such.
  • outrider
    Posts: 46
    I use 4x6 cards for encounters and other assorted things. I will fill out the card and use or not during the game. I then put it into a card box and save it for use later. If you do two or three while prepping for the next game you will eventually build a large amount of entries to pull out. I have them in sections marked city encounters, plains, mountains etc.

    I also recycle npcs from the two games that I run. Orginally the games were on the opposite coast of my setting. If a npc bit the dust on on coast he got put into the npc pile for the opposite coast. All I had to do was to maybe change a few items or a stat and do a new background.

    One of my goals in the future is to build groups of spells for my npc casters. There will be a core of spells that I will pull out for my npc and do one or two indiviualized spells for him.
  • CrazyDE
    Posts: 14
    *First, I'd like to make a warning: If you are one of my players, stop reading now!*

    There are a few things I take advantage of to really cut down on prep time. They break into three basic ideas. I'd like to apologize ahead of time if this stuff seems too basic; it took me a few months to figure these things out, and I still don't have them down to an art form.

    -This first one is simple: don't over plan. A lot of DMs complain of planning for the party to do one thing, but watching them do another. After mulling this over, I realized that instead of trying to anticipate what the players will do and setting up an expected sequence of events, it would be easier to let them do what they want and let the world move around them. By just creating a goal but no particular way of reaching it, you give the players something to do, but you don't have to write anything up. Assuming they know the world around them well enough, they'll quickly find a logical solution on their own, and, assuming you know the world well enough, you'll be able to react as they follow through. I can't yet make a whole session around this concept, but I know I'm on to a good thing. I just need to work on it a little more.
    Reversing this idea can also be a lot of fun, especially if you are trying to observe the characters' morals and values. Putting the party in an interesting situation with no goal attached is always interesting. When you let the players make their own goal, you learn more about them. A good example of this happened at the end of our most recent session. I invite you to read about it in our adventure log. I probably won't finish writing it for a while, so check in a few days from now.
    The point is, with a little practice, you can write half an adventure, and the players will fill in the other half without noticing the difference. Some of our most fun moments have come from this idea.

    -This second thing is a little trickier: learn what things you can make up on the spot. It's good to have a few things you know aren't a big priority during your prep time. While it's not good to plan on skipping them, it's nice not to have to worry about every detail ahead of time. On the flipside, know what you really need to get done. It's a bad thing all around the table when someone asks the DM a question that he or she doesn't have an answer for.

    -The third idea is similar to the first, and ties with the second: have a lot of disconnected material made ahead of time. Essentially, have some premade sets of whatever you can't make up on the spot. For example, I like to keep a list of names for unplanned NPCs the party might meet, some rough dungeon maps, detailed maps of towns, and stat blocks. Individually, these things don't mean anything, but you can put them together as the party is exploring.

    If you use randomly generated materials, planning only takes as long as making the stat blocks and thinking of a general idea of what might happen during the day. If you play right out of the monster manual, you can prep for a lengthy session in less than an hour. I get randomly generated dungeon maps from this site:

    Hope this post is helpful to someone. I think I'll revise it when I'm wider awake.
  • IceBob
    Posts: 98
    CrazyDE, you've done a decent job of describing my running style. I pretty much try to set my players up with a goal, and perhaps a suggestion of how to start out, but from there its all them and me reacting to it. They don't feel like they're "on the tracks" of the plot train, but they still reach the same station nearly every time.
  • Wolvyn
    Posts: 26
    my homebrew system is a bit different then most.. but far as a DM standpoint this is what i do to prep for a game.

    I know my world inside and out, ive been working on for 20 years. I know how powerfully the npcs are in a given area. I know what minerals are where, what resouces the players might want are where. I know where all the mighty magics are. where the artifacts are, even some the players have almost tripped over but not found yet.

    So that makes my pre-game prep time zero. What i sit around and do in the 30mins - hour between the 2e game i play in and the homebrew i run starts is just think about what they might do. I dont use a momsterious aside from to figure out xp as thats all i havnt memorieed over the years from it.

    Alot of times what my personial world history is.. changes and i just go with the flow modifing the world to tell a better story. some nights the players want to do a dungeon crawl so i bust out the hero quest map, minatures and throw together a random adventure for them, but tie it together with the greater world plot in my head.

    some nights they want to just go to a temple and talk to the gods or talk with one of my npcs to learn more of the back story so we do that.

    ive got two main players both are compleatly different. one perfers the hack and slash and to burn things with his acid blast (acid version of fireball) the other is more theory orientated and loves the history of the world. both really enjoy learning the mechanics behind how a specific magic item is created, what spells are used to give it what powers, so sometimes we do that.

    the key to being a good dm.. from my prespective is not worry about the rules at all save one. DM is always right, sometimes rules just dont work in your world or a portion of it. One of my buddies tought me that years ago in a reverse dungeon. all thac0 rolls were reversed meaning a roll of 1 would be a crit and a 20 would be a miss.

    I love to throw the party into strange situations and not give them a clear cut solution, they are all creative and can figure their ways out of any pizzle or riddle or maze or whathave you that i put them into.

    They have even encountered normally hostile monsters that are neutral and will talk to them about most whatever they wish.

    when i first started running games.. back 15 years ago. i used to have notebooks full of npc info, that ive since memorized or modified. files upon files of index cards. i even went so far as to make index card for every single monster in all the 2e books and 1e books at one point. then when this game i am running now started i threw all that stuff into the fire across the street at my neighbors house and said.. to heck with that.. im just going to tell a story and will see how it goes from there.

    anyway hope that helps some of you.

    Edit: A year ago i gave my players a clear cut goal. go to this fortress and explore it. after spending six months inside there they came out much changed. and were given three choices, go west to help out the guy that used to own that fortress, go south on a mission for stephan, or do whatever they wanted. they decided to stay put and raise an army, sending units south to reclaim the river route down to where stephan wanted them to go and building up a huge army to send to assiste zeligar to the west. kinda not what i was expecting at all but they are serving both the key plots i had initially laid out for them. and its been a very fun ride this past year.
  • Bookkeeper
    Posts: 5
    I'm always looking for ways to streamline the DM's job a little more. My Rise of the Runelords campaign is my latest effort to try and reduce the amount of time I spend prepping for a D&D game.

    I keep the encounters organized via Microsoft OneNote. Since Paizo gives me a PDF of the modules with my subscription, I can upload the maps onto a notebook page and make a simple table for the creatures' stat blocks. This puts an entire combat encounter on a single computer screen - my Laptop doubles as my DM screen.

    I track hit points in Excel and use WotC's web-based dice roller. The web dice have produced an unexpected benefit. Since the players don't know if I'm looking up info or rolling dice, it's made my secret rolls...well, secret. This system probably isn't as useful for less number-intensive games (My Scion game is run completely analog).

    I guess my tip for DMs then is to read all of these and pick and choose. Gaming is one of the most personality-driven activities I can think of, both in terms of DMs and players and so it's really up to the DM-in-question to find those methods that work best for them.
  • Gully
    Posts: 52
    I think that the best thing, for me, is to formalte a story without the characters. Initialy I come up with a begining and end Then I fill the middle out as necessary. The begining usualy is a minor discription for setting the stage (npcs, places, groupes, items) the end is a discription of what will happen if the players never exsisted in the plot (groupe B will summon djhg;asdf and take over a small region of this country causing a civil war). I use the begining and end to write over all goals and veiws of the major actors in the story. So this allows me to start rumors news and other leads for the players when they do initialy start the game.

    One of the hardest things for me to do is step out and just let the players figure things out. Most people that play in my games tell me I have some intricate plot lines. Alot of times I get players that come to wrong decisions about the adventure they are running (mostly intriuge type stuff) It takes me alot to sit back and listen to their ramblings and asumations with out giving advice or corection. Despight this I amhappy to allow them to make wrong asumptions, for I find that it leads to very intresting adventures that chalenge me and them alike.

    If using the story type planning that I do I find it best to think in chapters, never outline more than two chapters to the end. This gives you leway and just enough prep to modifie on the fly.
  • FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    Bookkeeper, I never thought of that advantage to "digital gaming". I'm not sure it'd work for me - inexplicably I am still better at finding stuff in printed books, maybe I'm a book whisperer? - but that's an awesome idea regardless.

    Gully, I started doing some of that with a Talislanta campaign, trying to figure out what all the main NPCs would do if nobody stopped them. I got tangled up in my "Stands Alone" campaign setup because I skipped that step. Got too bogged down in writing world setting and forgot to figure out what would actually *happen*. =)
  • Gully
    Posts: 52
    I can see how that could happen. again its not for every one but it works well with the way I think.

    My Wrighting proff once told me my stories where like spider webs on music, while the rythem and beat was the over all story the webs interconected all the individual notes in a way taht made it fascinatingly confusing...

    I have no idea what she was trying to say but feh I guess it works as well as any explanation to the way a mind works.

    I know that any time I try to do somthing linear, or without ploting all the interactions it comes out flat and contrived, but hey thats me.

    (I spell crappy I know, luckly I have people and aplications to resolve all that when necisary.)
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