How To Become A Better Dungeon Master


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Hiya! I’m James and I’m here to help you take your dungeon master skills to the next level.

Before I get started, big thanks to Adrian for the invite. If you dig what I have to say and want to hear more, you can check out my blog and podcast at and or follow me on twitter @ConquestTable.

Now, onto the main event.
Today, I’m here to talk about 4 things you can do right away to be a better Dungeon Master. Whether you’ve been DMing for years or you’re thinking about picking up the game for the first time, there is always room for improvement. At Conquest or Calamity, we are currently playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition but these tips can be easily applied to whatever rule system your group prefers.

Tip #1 “The best stories are the ones we tell together.”

As a DM, it can be very tempting to write a detailed story, beginning to end, and then stick player characters into it. After all, you’re the person doing all the prep work. Why shouldn’t you be the one to write the story?

In a word, agency. While no DM worth his or her salt would ever go into a game without some narrative hook, (See tip #2) nothing kills a player’s sense of agency faster than the realization that their choices don’t matter. After time and again bumping fruitlessly against a DM’s expository rails, many players will feel as though they are simply being herded along from “cutscene” to “cutscene”.

For some players this type of game is enough but for many it can feel one dimensional, if not altogether boring. I’ve seen more than a few games ruined by a ham-handed DM with an overbearing agenda. Don’t fall into this trap.

Instead, prepare to give your players the freedom to explore the setting, subtly incentivizing them toward story objectives using meaningful rewards. In time, clever players will learn to tug on the strings that offer the greatest benefit. Thus, the party gets to experience your story but on their own terms.

It takes practice but believe me. Your players will thank you.

Tip #2 “Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”

Ah, yes. Preparation. The DMs lifejacket. There’s a whole post about this one over at Conquest or Calamity so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

Suffice it to say, there are as many correct ways to prepare for a game as there are games. The most important thing is to have a mastery over whatever setting you ultimately choose. A DMs understanding of rules and context can make or break a campaign.

Tip #3 “Cheaters never prosper. Except really they do.”

Remember DMs. When it comes to the game, it’s setting, and all of it’s inhabitants you are, for all intents and purposes, God. You are the arbiter of all game things and as such you are entitled to certain luxuries. In this case, I am referring to cheating dice rolls.

Did a pesky goblin score a crit on your rouge right before she could do something totally awesome? Not if you think he shouldn’t have. You’re God.

There are several reasons that DMs use screens. This is one of them and it is your birthright.

That said, this particular tip must be used sparingly as to not alert players. To accomplish this particular feat, I generally ask myself the following question before cheating a roll. “If I don’t cheat this roll, will someone in the party feel as though their night was ruined?” If the answer is yes, I cheat.

Tip #4 “Fake it ‘till you make it”

Sometimes, regardless of how much you prepare, a player will ask or do something that will stump you. Don’t panic. Just make it up. You are God after all. If you confidently assert that something is so, then it is.

Just make sure to be consistent and remember that the purpose of the game is to have fun.
Happy DMing!
James Hicks

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