From a recent survey, we’ve found that DnD Players spend approximately 1% actually playing DnD, and the other 99% just finding loopholes and detours in the campaign.
Okay, so maybe these numbers are an exaggeration–maybe I’m just a biased surveyor–but the point still stands. Sometimes it seems like a player’s goal in a campaign is just to foil your carefully-crafted plans. You send an ogre their way? A player’s lascivious character wants to seduce it in order to avoid battle. Some might say that’s creative thinking, and that’s the thrill of the game, and both are correct, but it’s up to you, the DM, to decide if that flies in your world. If a player does it once, sure, it’s a hoot, but if it starts becoming a habit, how many times is too many? How many times can you avoid battle by using other methods, only to stay at level one three months into the campaign? These are questions only you can decide.
To avoid these issues, it’s important that you consider the rules of the game. That doesn’t just mean the general DnD handbook, but the rules of the world you have created, what ambiguous terms mean to you. Last month, we talked about Lawful vs Chaotic and other moral alignments, and it’s important that your players know what you consider to be chaotic, what you consider to be lawful. Whether it be tying up linguistic loopholes, or solidifying something left ambiguous by Wizards of the Coast, it’s your job as the DM to clear up any contradictions and make the game run smoothly. You have the final say as the Dungeon Master, so it’s up to you to make the rules, as well as decide how far you’ll let your players bend them.
Still feeling lost? Here are a few things you can do to keep the game running smoothly!
You don’t expect your players to remember every little detail, so why should you? I’m an organization fanatic, so I keep everything about a campaign I’m DMing in its own Scrivener document, where I have everything from information about the player characters to an enemy they’re going to fight two sessions from now. You don’t have to go that far, but why rely on your brain? Write down the stuff you don’t want to forget, that way you can be present in the moment for improvisation and funny spur-of-the-moment things.
Pro Tip: Don’t like taking notes every single session? Give the job to a player! I once played in a game where whoever could most accurately (and concisely) give a What You Missed On Glee Last Week got an inspiration point or some kind of bonus incentive to motivate us to keep track. Storytelling is a group effort; it doesn’t just fall on the DM’s shoulders. Make it a family event!
Have a Reference Sheet
Jumping off the point above, if players can have character sheets that list all of their stats and attributes, why can’t the DM have a reference sheet, too? Even just a quick-reference of basic world building things: what the town they’re currently in is called, what’s the name of the villain they’re currently pursuing? When sessions can span weeks, or even months, (hello Covid), this sort of guide can be extremely useful in keeping the game moving at a smooth pace. When sessions are infrequent, it’s not uncommon that people have forgotten almost everything. They’re having conversations during other players’ turns, and people are discouraged and have stopped paying attention. Make it easy for them to stay in the loop! This will allow scenes to move without constant interruption, have the plot progress quickly, and keep the players’ (and your!) focus.
Practice Makes Perfect
After a couple of campaigns, you’ll soon learn what kind of DM you are. Do you keep transcripts of conversations-to-come in your Word document? Or do you improvise just about all of it? There are talented DMs that fall on both sides, as well as everywhere in between! Try different things and see what you like. Soon enough, you’ll find what works for you, what notes you have to keep on hand, what that fine line is between over- and under-prepared.
Most Importantly: Have Fun!
If the players see you tapped out of the game happening right in front of you, they’ll start to lose focus. Even if you’re paying attention to the details of the game, hyperfocusing on the prep for the campaign, they won’t have fun watching you do bookkeeping while they’re acting out their characters. Stay in the moment! Have a good time! You’ll find that balance with time, I promise. You can host your game and enjoy it, too.
Until next time, players. Let the good dice roll! ⚀⚁⚂