View Full Version : DMing Hacks

Human Paragon 3
2010-03-04, 07:55 PM

I am about to begin a new campaign as the sole DM of our group. For the past... I don't know how long we've been doing a roving DM scheme where nobody DMs more than 1-2 times in a row and the aegis of running the campaign is split fairly evenly among the players.

I consider myself a highly proficient DM and the task of running a campaign is not new to me, or particularly daunting, but I am always looking to improve. I know basically all of the simple DMing tactics, and have a pretty good psychological read on my own group, but what I'm looking for are ways to make the job of the DM easier. DM Hacks, if you will.

An example of a DM hack is to print out a huge list of random numbers from 1-20, and cross them out as you need rolls. This is a great way to speed up encounters and make secret rolls.

I'm looking for more organization and streamline tips, novel ones if possible. I'd like us to use this thread to compile DMing Hacks as service to all mankind!

2010-03-04, 08:00 PM
There's tons of sources of them online. A lot of the blogs on the RPG Bloggers network (http://rpgbloggers.com) cover such things, and the Roleplaying Tips e-zine (http://roleplayingtips.com) is almost exclusively dedicated to such things.

2010-03-04, 08:03 PM
Also, right here:

So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=76474)

2010-03-04, 08:06 PM
this is courtesy of my roommate

easy mapping: grab a bunch of projector transparencies & pre-map your dungeons. number them & your own copy of the dungeon. when the party arrives & fight is about to break out (or trap to launch), bring out the pre-made room and pose it on top of your mat.

2010-03-04, 09:21 PM
I wrote a vim syntax highlighter for 4e stat blocks and I'm working on a script to make plaintext stat blocks into LaTeX for pretty printing.

But you probably don't mean that kind of hack. (Actually if anyone does find this interesting, PM me.)


My favorite has been to use index cards for initiative. Each participant in the combat gets a card. Roll initiative and then sort the cards. Then pop a card off the top, call the name, send the card to the back.

This is nice because you never lose your place in the initiative. Even between sessions the stack stays put. If a player wants to delay you drop their card. Put it back when they resume their turn. No more messy lines all over the place. Dead characters can be dropped out too.

Since my game is long term I keep reusing cards with each PC's name. I also made cards for each type of 4e NPC - brute, soldier, controller, lurker, etc plus one for NPCs. In the long run this will save paper over using a different card for each combatant.

The final part of this hack is rolling initiative in advance. Then you can sort your NPC cards while the players roll their dice. I get overwhelmed sorting my own 4 or 5 rolls while players are shouting out what they rolled, and this helps speed that along very nicely.


I don't map dungeons at all. Instead I write down a list of what shows up in a dungeon. As the players go through it I pull out whatever seems appropriate at the time. My list will say something like "lightning trap, pit trap, locked door with chest behind it, trapped locked door with nothing, 5 kobolds, chasm w/ broken rope bridge." Etc. Some rooms need more specific geometry, but I'll draw those one room at a time and improvise around them.

I didn't use this when I first started. Instead I mapped everything on grid paper ahead of time. Then I painstakingly copied from the grid to the battlemap. Then I realized it didn't matter if the room was 9 squares wide or 10. Then I realized that since that didn't matter, it was probably arbitrary when I set it up to begin with. So I made the arbitrary decision at game time instead of during prep. This method saves on both prep time and drawing time.