Friday, February 18, 2011

Are you Prepared to DM your Session?

Shiela: I think we're lost.
Presto: I think we're exhausted.
Eric: I think we're stupid.

Everyone remembers the television series Dungeons & Dragons.  This quote particularly grabs my attention. When players say these things, they are usually signs of frustration around the table.I have heard similar garble at my table and it is at that moment I decided to try better myself as a DMand organize myself.

4th Edition has made it so easy to run a well balanced and challenging game.  There are tools and tips galore in order to facilitae the enjoyment of the game.  Do your players have fun?  Do you enjoy running the game?  Are you prepared for any eventuality to happen?  I will list two important aspects for the preparation of a great game of Dungeons &Dragons.  Note that this article can be applied to any other game as well.

Attitude is the Key to a Great Game

When your weekly group of gamers get together to play, do you as a DM come ready to play?  Attitude plays a key role in having fun at the table.  Having a bad week at work can really put a damper on an otherwise normal gaming session.  Here are a few thing that you have to remember before taking on a night of gaming:
  • Leave any personal problems at home.  People are not stupid; they can read your mood and it can propagate throughout the group and ruin the session for that week. Bringing personal stuff to the session can be sometimes characterized through your monsters.  Monsters will become brutal, and party members may die.  Arguments or minor misunderstandings can get out of hand and players will walk away unhappy at the end of the day.
  • Get psyched.  Come with the attitude that the group has bestowed upon you a great honour by electing you to be DM.  Don't make them second guess their decision.  Come with a positive attitude, show them that you appreciate the vote of confidence by giving them the adventure of their lives.  Be lively with your monsters, let players do those crazy things they can dream up with their characters.
  • Play fair.  Some players think that because they are DM, that it gives them permission to say and do anything they want to do at the table. Remember that the party puts their trust in you and you have to earn that trust.  Players don't want to be pushed around while they are playing.  You are not a GOD!!  You are not out to kill the party; but to give them a scare and to challenge them, and to give them a chance to accomplish their goals.
  • Be on time.  There is nothing like showing up late week after week for your regular game.  Players are not clients of an insurance company: they are human being with wants and feelings.  If you show up late, players are probably going to be disgruntled and right off the bat, your game starts on a bad note.  They will also get the impression that you are not into the game.  If you like being DM, make sure you are on time, because remember, the players are always judging you.  As easily as you assumed the 'chair', the players can take you out of it.
  • Roleplay.  Players love it when a DM give each monster their own personality.  Instead of say you hit, roar as the owlbear is wounded.  Surprise your table once and awhile with loud noises.  Give the vampire his sinister voice.  Players will always appreciate the effort.

Have you ever gone to a session where the DM is fumbling for every query, questions, or situation that a player throws at them?  Has the DM not even seen the monsters that are in the adventure?  The DM is the one who has to rule the table.  He is the one that is supposed to be prepared for anything.  I think it is irresponsible for DMs not to come to the game with some form of preparedness.

  • Bring everything you need.  There is nothing more annoying for you or your players, when you forget tiles, forget the battle mat, misplace your minis and the list goes on.  Before you leave your house (if you play at someone else's) make sure you have everything with you. Double check and triple check that you have your pencils, washable markers, battle mat, erasers, adventure, scrap paper, books etc...
  • Know your monsters.  You might be saying 'they are part of the adventure'.  I still say to you; know your monsters!  Go over the stat blocks, pretend they are player characters to you.  In order to speed up play, you must know the monsters you are playing.  Note on paper any incidental abilities they have such as auras, resistances and vulnerabilities.  If you feel comfortable enough, write out monster stat cards for you monsters and present them to the players as they discover the creatures abilities.
  • Know your adventure.  This is the most important part. Read, read, read and reread the adventure.  There is nothing more confusing to a party, when the DM is not able to provide continuity to the story.  The characters must always have a goal, a reason to adventure and just killing monsters is not the whole package.  Read the introduction and always have the goal of the adventure in the back of your head.  Even if you write your own adventure, make sure you keep the greater story in your head throughout, and make sure you keep your players informed of this at all times.
  • Always have a backup plan.  One of the biggest mistakes that are made by DMs is to underestimate the group you are in.  Sometimes they will surprise you and try something, or throw something at you that you may not be prepared for.  Always keep the following handy: a name list for NPCs, towns, taverns.  Always have a few monster encounters available for the times they go off the main path. Most paid adventures come with a list of random encounters that you can use in any situation.
There is a huge difference between a good game and a GREAT game!  You are the DM and you owe it to the players around your table to give them the best experience possible.  Following this advice will not only increase the player experience, it will also increase yours.  Being prepared gives you the freedom to integrate yourself with the players, paying more attention to the table than behind the screen and also gives you the ability to roleplay and enjoy yourself as much as your players are enjoying themselves.
    Do you have anything you especially do to prepare yourself for a regular game of D&D?  Leave us a comment and share your ideas.