Hello friends, here is Doctor Frikistein to explain 3 tricks / keys to be a good Dungeon Master. And also +1 recommendation that without being a trick I thought it convenient to mention.
I’ve been playing a role for many years. At age 10 I was already a role player and started directing my first game at 14 years old. How have you read in my manual How I made a Geek I played in many groups doing Master and I have also had many Masters during this time of which from I learned a lot.
These tricks are not about any secret, just personal experiences that when I do Master work for me and I want to share:
- If you are a new Master, these experiences may be useful for you.
- If you are a player and want to start being a Master, I encourage you to do so and I hope these tips will help you too.
- If you are already a Master with practice and you simply want to comment on your own experiences: go ahead, it will be a pleasure to read them in the comments.
What is a Dungeon Master?
Before starting I would like to define what a Dungeon Master is. If you are already a role player with certain experience, you have it very clear. But for all those who came to this blog without knowing very well it is a Dungeon Master and what functions have a Dungeon Master in a role play game then I think it is important to make a small explanation:
A classic RPG game is played by several players who come together to play. Players will carry characters that have to role-play during the game. These will be the Player Characters (PJ). But one of the players is special because he has to do the Dungeon Master. Their functions are:
- Story Director. Although there are adventure manuals, many times the story is created by the Dungeon Master himself, so he is also a scriptwriter and director of his own adventure. In any case, whether you have to read the manual or write your own story, this entails a time of preparation. Therefore, the Dungeon Master player usually has a higher workload than other players.
- Storyteller. The story is not read but is usually explained by the Dungeon Master. So the Dungeon Master has to describe the events that occur in the story as the narrator.
- Role of NPC. Players have to play a character but in a story will appear all kinds of characters and monsters that are not carried by any player. These Non-Player characters (NPCs) are ALL interpreted by the Dungeon Master. That is why the Dungeon Master is the one who has to make a great effort of role playing.
- Referee of the game. Finally, rules and dice are used to play the game. The Dungeon Master has to ensure the functioning of these rules and resolve possible conflicts. He also acts as a moderator among the players and makes decisions to allow the game to develop properly.
The word Dungeon Master comes from the role play Dungeons & Dragons that in its first edition focused mainly on the exploration of dungeons. The director of the game was called the Dungeon Master. While many other systems define the role of the Game Director by other names, the truth is that the nickname Master is commonly used to name the player who will be the director of the role play game.
All players who play as Master have their own style and personality. All the ways of heading a game are equally respectable.
Once making it clear that it is a Dungeon Master I step to share my infallible tricks to be a good Dungeon Master:
1. Flexibility in history
How you have seen the story is a basic part of developing a role play game. As Master you will dedicate a lot of work in writing this story. In the case that you decide to play a story already written by another Master or in a manual you will also invest your time in its reading and preparation. But there is a part of the story that a Master does not control: the decisions of the players.
Then there is a part of the story script that will be written by the players themselves. And this is precisely the essence of the role-playing game: that players have the freedom to express their opinions and decide actions with their characters.
As the decisions of the players can be unpredictable, a Master must have the ability to improvise. But what happens if the decisions of the player characters do not follow the script of the story?
A Master should not say that ‘You can not do this because it breaks the game’. In my opinion this is a big mistake. If players make decisions that are within their means, both in the context of the story and in the capacity of their characters, they should be able to carry them out just to protect the essence of the role play.
However, these decisions may lead the Master to have to improvise a new argument for the story from 0. And all the previous work done by writing and preparing the story will be lost too. Well, this does not have to be like this: The trick is to adapt the story already written to the new scenario posed by the players.
Think of a group of adventurers who are exploring a dungeon that you have prepared very well. In the next room awaits a group of dark elf NPCs ready to tend an ambush to the adventurers . As Master have spent a lot of time writing these NPCs, their skills and their treasures.
However one of the player characters that is a Wizard convinces the rest that instead of following the obvious path they would have to go through the wall to a possible cavern. The Wizard character has the ability to use magical abilities to explore (via becoming a gas or a ghost, or even walking on the plane of shadows) and open a tunnel.
So as Master you may find that this is going to break your game. You can subtly try to discourage this action by saying that there are noises behind the door. But if still the players agree and persist in taking that alternative route then my advice is to let them do it. What you have to do is take what you had prepared and move it to the new path that the players took.
You can make small changes, such as changing the race of opponents by adjusting their racial traits, but players do not have to know this and will be left with the sensation of taking free decisions.
2. Be descriptive
Being Master, you spend a lot of time preparing the story and in your mind you have created a good movie full of images of the moments that will be lived. But the players do not. For them everything will be new and therefore they have to build in their imagination the images that give visual form to the story too.
It may seem like many things are not worth describing because they do not affect directly the game but the more descriptive you are (without becoming boring) more information you will be giving to players to “nourish” their imagination allowing them to re-create a beeter version of their own movie.
I am of the opinion that the role play is above all imagination. So for me the role play game is not played at the table but played in the world of the imagination. The trick is that players do not remember the throws but remember the scene recreated in their mind.
The same Wizard character decides to use a skill / spell to cast a magic missile. The rolls are made and it is determined that the player hits a dark elf and does 10 damage + his bonus and leaving him only at 5 of life.
My advice is to eclipse these “mathematics” with a good description of the scene so what prevails and the players remember will be a visual image created with the imagination.
“And whispering some arcane words you feel like the force of the magic concentrates on the tips of your fingers. And you throw that power creating a projectile of energy that flies illuminating its path until it hits the chest of the dark elf knocking him down. The dark elf is injured but he rejoins and looks at you vengefully with furious red eyes ”
[spoiler title=”This is the way to cast a Magic Missile”]
There is nothing wrong in “freaking out” a little, but neither is it necessary being excessive 😀 With imagining it is enough. [/spoiler]
3. Dices control
This part costs a little to explain and make understand. As I said before, history has to occur in the world of the imagination and not on the table. And the reality is that a bad roll (or good) can define the course of the story in a way that you did not expect, also ruining the game. That is why I believe that a Master must have the ability to be flexible also in the rolls and be able to decide which dice are thrown in each moment as long as it is to protect the development of the story and enjoy the game.
Controlling the dice or manipulating the rolls may seem like the Master himself is skipping the rules or playing as being God. But in my opinion the dice and manuals are tools to play and they do not have to be an obstacle to the development of the story. Leaving 100% of what happens to fortune is a mistake too.
Apart from the character sheets, my advice is that the Master take note of the relevant scores of the characters to be able to control at all times how a result of a roll would affect. The trick is to use the convenient dice knowing in advance what outcome you need. In this way it seems that it the action occurs naturally without you giving any concession to the players or on the contrary making it more difficult than what the rules dictates.
A good way is to use covert rolls. This is hidden throws where only you can know the result. While it is true that I do it, either abuse of doing this because the player is more excited to see the roll and see if he is lucky. In the same way, against less definitions you use from, less tracks you will be giving to experienced players about what rules you are using.
The game has just started and a player has made a fumble (this is a critical fail; the worst dice roll) by activating a Finger of Death trap, a powerful magic that can directly kill the player if he does not get a high Will salvation throw. As Master only you know what is written therefore it depends on you how the story should evolve.
If you left it 100% in the hands of fortune, the player would surely die directly. That would ruin the game of that character’s player would have to spend all the rest of the session watching and bored. In addition the fact is that it would diminish considerably the possibilities of the rest of the group and surely they would not evolve much from there, impeding the development of the history. Again your story so prepared would be ruined in this case as a result of a single throw.
What I would do is alter the effect of magic and omit the name of Finger of Death. I would simply say that a green ray of light is activated weakening the player character’s willpower. Remember that it is always better to play in the imagination and not on the table. Then looking at my notes I know in advance that that character has 10 hit points left. So I decide to use 1D8 because I assure that the character will suffer maximum 8 points of damage. In this way the character will pay for his bad luck but not in a way that alters the course of the story and no player will really know that you controlled the dices.
We reached the end of my tricks / tips and as you can see you can apply them with a little practice if you still already don’t do. But now I want to add a recommendation but, because it is not a way of directing the game, I have simply preferred to mention it separately. Is the next:
The Master has to know the rules equal or better than the players.
This may seem obvious but in reality it does not have to be that way. I repeat that in my opinion what counts is the story and the manuals-dice should be accessories used in the development of that story. The game takes place in the world of the imagination and not on the table. But if you make any variation of the rules (sometimes intentionally and others unintentionally) you can always have a player who complains or leaves you in evidence in front of other players. And this actually seriously affects the vision that other players have about you as a Master. That is why you need to know how to rebut them because you have made that decision and not simply impose your decision because you are the Master. And for that you need to master the rules as much or better than them.
One of the functions of the Master is to act as referee and moderator, so it is convenient that the rest of the players have the feeling that you dominate the game at all times. That’s why my recommendation is that you avoid including players who are more expert than you in a game with a system in which you will be the Dungeon Master. The less you use definitions of the manual, the harder it is for a player to know what it is to rebut it.
The same it is important how to be a good Dungeon Master, a player also should need to know how to roleplay well, since unfortunately you can always find a player who can crash your game. If you want to have a player with more knowledge of the rules, talk to him before the game and be clear in which rules you will use. Also tell him that you expect his help with the rules in a cordial way. And surely if he is a good player he will help you if you mention it. Basically all they expect is to have fun playing role.
Finally I want to tell you that being a Dungeon Master is a great experience. I personally have a much better time than as a player, but it is true that being a player helps me to have another perspective and know other Masters too. One of these Masters and from which I learned a lot used the resource of playing as Master and in the same way being a player character. And that if it was freak but as you can see every Master has his style. The truth is that nowadays there are lot of different manuals and systems; You can be Master of any of them and another player can be Master of another. In my case I created my own rules too.
So I hope you find all these personal experiences interesting and do not hesitate to comment or visit my consultation to ask me any questions or clarifications.
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