With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on September 30, 2009

The Dungeon MasterAs the DM you have an important role. You control the action, pacing, drama, intrigue and excitement that exists during your gaming sessions. This role is an important responsibility, that if misused will result in player defections, absences or the demise of your group. Time spent between gaming sessions becomes critical regarding your preparation. Nothing is more disappointing to a PC than to arrive for the weekly gaming session and discovering that the DM isn’t ready.

While the PCs at your table might have less work to do on an ongoing basis this is not an excuse for DM laziness. As the DM you’ve agreed to take on a larger role, you’ve decided you want the challenge of entertaining your PCs on a weekly basis.

Of course all of that sounds good in theory, but when it comes to practice it’s easy to slack off and not give the job 100%. You can get away with this for awhile, but eventually you’ll realize you aren’t enjoying the task as you once did and your players will likely feel the same.

With these thoughts in mind, I brainstormed with Ameron and we came up with a list of things that a DM needs to do on a weekly basis to ensure that each gaming session is as enjoyable as possible.

Review the PCs

It sounds simple and as a result it’s often overlooked. Reviewing the PCs that are participating in the gaming session is critical to ensuring you’ve designed an adventure that will appeal to everyone. Make sure that there are opportunities for PCs to shine and also places that will challenge their creativity. Finally, make sure you review the items they have in their possession. It may save you a rule check during the game.

Know Your Limits

If you only have three hours to play, don’t design an adventure that will take four or five hours to play through. If you have a new PC at the table, ask what their level of experience is. You want the game to be enjoyable for everyone.

Have A Clear Objective

Unless your running a sandbox campaign you will want a clear objective for your evenings session. This might be as simple as finishing the level 8 Dungeon Delve or completing an LFR module. Regardless of what the objective is, make sure you know it. Make sure that everything else you do is designed to move the party towards that objective.

Map and Encounter Design

This is the most time consuming part of the whole process and it’s easy to cut corners or get lazy. Avoid the temptation, your PCs will notice it right away. Remember, you wanted the job make sure you put the appropriate amount of effort into it.

Be Prepared

It’s the old Boy Scout motto and it will serve you will as a DM. Have your monster stat blocks ready and pre-roll initiative (if possible). If a particular monster has some powers that you might overlook highlight them.

It may sound cliché, but with great power and with great power comes great responsibility. No role in D&D is more powerful than that of the Dungeon Master.

These are just a few of the things that we find useful when preparing for a game. What tips do you use to keep organized between gaming sessions?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wyatt September 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

I’m terrible at organization but insanely good at improvising so there is never a hole anywhere in sight, because I run ahead of everyone plugging them up with rags and cardboard. Then I paint over them so it looks pretty.

That said, one thing I do is to come up with lists of things, like names and traits, that can help inspire me later. I never use them. I come up with them, but then I end up using everything I can think of except my lists when I pull stuff out of my ass of holding.
.-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Homebrew Character Backgrounds =-.

2 Craig Willcutt October 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm

I wrote something similar, now deleted, on a friends blog recently. Nothing is more irritating than sitting down for a game session with a DM who is both under prepared and obviously doesn’t put much thought into presentation.

3 Wimwick October 2, 2009 at 1:41 pm

@ Wyatt
I’m not sure I want to meet your ‘ass of holding’ or not. I’m also fairly good at improvising during a session as DM, but I find it very helpful to have certain information suck as monster stat blocks ready. This saves time later during the session and also makes me appear more organized.

@ Craig Willcutt
As a DM who has been caught not being fully prepared I know first hand how players react. I don’t DM often these days, but when I do I ensure that I have things in order.

4 Narya October 23, 2009 at 10:10 am

I hate it to play under bad prepared masters. I myself am the type of master who has a very detailed preparation, this takes time. I’ve not mastered for a very long time yet, but I remarked that I need at least as much time for the preparation, as my group playing.

Happily I’m able to share the mastering-stuff with a second master. So while one masters for a quest or two, the other can prepare his quests. With a two-week meeting rate this works quite well, and if someone isn’t able to come, or a master isn’t availible completly it doesn’t matter because there is always another who can jump in. I can only recommend having a second person mastering.

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