Friday, December 13, 2013

DM Advice: 3 ways to be your own worst enemy.

If you've spent any time as a Dungeon/Game Master, you know that an adventure or even a whole campaign can run off the rails quickly and with unknowable consequences. This is usually due to the players and their wacky ideas but every so often a DM can make the wrong move and regret it. In that regard, here are three things to keep in mind and save yourself from stepping in it:

#1-Don’t hand out magic items like Halloween candy.  
     This can be very attractive at first. The DM feels like being generous and 
     maybe the players deserve a really great reward for accomplishing a              difficult task. However, the folly of this issue will eventually rear its ugly        head. Soon magic is flying everywhere and level four characters are 
     taking out level eight monsters. This can also come back to haunt the DM 
     in the form of PC expectations. For example, if you hand out +3 swords by 
     level four, what are they going to be expecting by level six or ten? And to 
     make the situation worse, some DMs (myself included in the past) make 
     the mistake of snatching back the items at the last minute via dispel 
     magic, theft, or even killing the character off. This is only a short term 
     solution if you don’t stop the source of the problem. It’s also a great way 
     to make your players hate you for a very long time and with good reason.
Instead: Make magic items count for something.
When you give out magic items make them small yet useful. Give the PC with the worst AC the +1 cloak of protection. Give the PC with the really nasty DEX the +1 boots. Don’t let the min-max PCs become superheroes, when their party mates can’t even skip rope without falling over. It is also helpful to spread the wealth around. Don’t give the Knight in the party the +1 armor, the +1 sword, and the +1 STR ring, when all the Rogue has is a potion of invisibility. To prevent this, I developed a 1-in-3 system. Under this system I am trying to give each character in my party one magical item for every three levels of experience. Thus by level nine, each PC has three items. This seems to be a good balance and keeps the magic respectable.

#2- Don’t choose the rules over the story.
As a DM, one of my main goals is to weave all of the character’s backstories, aspirations, and adventures into one (relatively) cohesive story. This brings satisfaction to me as a DM, and it brings a sense of accomplishment to the PCs. However, and without fail, the rules of the game will always attempt to ruin your best laid plans. You have a monster that needs to take the PCs hostage? Well they just chopped his head off with a critical! You want the PCs to fall into a trap? Too bad, they just passed all of their near impossible DEX checks. And the opposite is true as well! Such as the PC with the best CHR score rolling a one during the most crucial negotiation of the campaign. While a few of these happenings can be seen as opportunities to expand the game, too many can sour the soup.

Instead: Overrule the rules, when necessary.
Sometimes you gotta’ take the bull by the horns. When something absolutely needs to happen, I usually take the dice and the numbers right out of the equation and go into what I like to call “narration mode”. This is where I ask the PCs to describe what they are doing in detail and we act it out like a script. I find this not only eliminates the randomness, but PCs actually enjoy the opportunity to roleplay such an intense scene, regardless of the outcome.

#3- Don’t go combat/roleplaying crazy.
If asked, most players will tell you how they like their games. Some like a little roleplaying with their combat and some a little combat with their roleplaying. Don’t fall into the trap of diving deep into either one. A campaign with too much roleplaying will seem dull and drawn out to the blood mongers, while too much combat will stifle those players who are anxious to show off their interaction skills.

Instead: Balance out your games.
I always aim for a balance, and by balance I mean 60% combat and 40% roleplaying. Is it always possible to accomplish this? No. Sometimes combats run long and sometimes roleplaying sessions can snowball into huge monstrosities, especially when a tangent pops up that you weren't expecting. Sometimes the people in your group are new and might be shy to the whole roleplaying aspect, ergo they might be skimmed over for combat that is far less awkward. This is all perfectly fine in moderation. As a DM, your chief concern should be your audience, and that means your players. Don’t force situations on them, but don’t shy away from pushing their comfort zones either. It may take some trial and error but when you finally find the sweet spot your games will not only be fun, they will also be memorable.  

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