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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Devil

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    Default Less common DMing advice.

    Hi all. As you can tell I DM a fair bit (its in the name after all). I've been keeping a mental list of advice for years that I decided to write down.

    Having done so I realised there was little point to that exercise unless I told someone. Here we are, somepeople.

    Plot structure

    • Beginnings are easy.
    • Climaxes are obvious.
    • The real treasures are the in-jokes and throwback references you created along the way.
    • The only parts of the game people will refer to later in life are the unrelated parts that went weird.
    • Players don't mind a railroad so long as it doesn't feel too much like one or if the scenery is nice.
    • People hate Deus Ex Machina, but Diabolous Ex Machina just keeps the game going.
    • Genre shifts are dangerous beasts. Remember, the PCs didn't get a re-speck when the dungeon delve turned into a murder mystery. Let them summon Brother Cadfael and just kill the villain in a climactic battle if they need to.
    • Most puzzles force meta-gaming, particularly physical, practical ones. This can be a problem.
    • Random encounters are for the sessions where you didn't plan.
    • If your plot involves finding, identifying and correctly following clues you need 3 times as many clues as you think you do and as soon as you use more than 2 adjectives to describe anything it will be miss-identified as a vital clue. The best solution is to make up a new sub-plot and tie it in or explain it away.
    • If the party settles on a plan that is risky and heroic, let the dice fall as they may, heroic failure is just as fun and memorable as success.
    • If the party settles on a plan that involved cleverness and subterfuge, give if a hand if it would fail due to bad luck, sneaky failure is only fun and memorable if it leads to success through rampant chaos, and you can't plan for that.
    • If the party settles on a really dumb plan, check they haven't missed a key detail or that you might not understand their plan. Sometimes what seems dumb actually work best. Sometimes there is a fundamental difference in what people think a fireplace actually is.


    Morality and tone
    • You will get the tone the party chooses, not the one you want.
    • Nothing you learnt in Theory of Knowledge, Philosophy or Game Theory lessons makes a good plot point. Trolley problems, Knights and Knaves, Prisoner's Dilemma, we've done that all before.
    • Comedy is like sugar, it has its place and that place is in more places than you would expect, but not everywhere.
    • Darkness is like salt, a little makes any dish better, but too much can make anything inedible.
    • Grittiness is like garlic, it really doesn't belong in some places.
    • Sex and sexuality is like fugu. Done correctly it is brilliant, otherwise it kills everything.
    • Sexual violence is like old shoe leather, I have never known anyone be happy to be served it.
    • No one enjoys playing sad.
    • Never try and force the wrong tone for a setting, no social commentary in Pendragon, no horror in Paranoia, no runaway heroics in Promethian. There are better games for all of those.
    • Just because he chose to play a Paladin, doesn't mean you get to make his life miserable.


    NPCs and setting

    • They wont remember Sir Gerald the Mighty of The Iron Manor, but they will remember "that guy with all the dogs." Even if he only had one dog.
    • Cliches are your friends, it means we all know where we are and lets you focus on the important stuff. A game about Kobold pirates is fun, a game where most Kobolds just happen to be pirates for no reason that impacts the plot makes people second guess everything.
    • No one cares if you steal characters or plot points from other material. People get very angry if you misrepresent or demean these things.
    • Cliches are powerful, if your fantasy setting has guns and steam-tanks introduce them in session 1 or have the party be forever surprised when they show up.
    • Whenever you invent something for you setting summarise it in 10 words or fewer, this will be what the players will actually remember.
    • Anything that's really important to the setting should go on a handout with above summary. If your deity/nation/organisation/slang isn't worth your time to print out then it isn't worth player's time to remember.


    The Players
    • I love Rules Lawyers, its like having an AI enabled rules book that can find that annoying table I'm going to need in 5 minutes.
    • I love Thespians and Real Men, they both help keep the game what it is meant to be.
    • I love Loonies. Sometimes they are all that stands in-between a bad session and a disaster.
    • They have detailed and in-depth lives that are almost as important as your game. The best way to jog their memory about last session is to choose a random player to summarise the last session badly. As in, tell them to do it badly, the human desire to correct other's mistakes will spur peoples' memories wonderfully.
    • If it was more than 2 sessions ago its ancient history and the party won't necessarily remember it. Even if "it" is the assassin chief who nearly TPKd the party last time.
    • Some of them enjoy being the quiet one who doesn't contribute much. Remember, drawing a crab out of its shell is fatal.
    • Have a clear sign for when they are talking out of character, otherwise Player A and Character B will have a long and reality warping argument at some point.


    Their Characters

    • You don't need backstories.
    • No, no you don't. Some character just don't.
    • Backstories are there to make the world more interesting, not for you to find pain points. Ignore their struggling home-town and kill of their missing brother and next time you won't get a backstory. Down that way lies Murder-hobodom. Let them restore the fortunes of their home or end up the Earl's brother in law and the game got more fun.
    • Leave the Paladin alone, his player probably just wants to play a kick-ass hero.
    • For the love of Nat 20s, if the guy built a general make sure he gets to lead an army at least every other story. The more niche the skill-set the more you should be working to make it come up.
    • If a guy is playing a bard with Charisma 20, he likely can't role play accurately. Are you expecting the Con 20 Barbarian's player to slam shots just because there was an in game drinking contest?


    The session
    • If you think you have enough material to get through the session, you don't.
    • If you think you know where the plot will be in 6 weeks or 20hrs time, you're deluded.
    • Be the most sober person in the room. And when I say sober, I mean least impacted by alcohol, drugs, sleep deprivation or other deliriant.
    • Bring water or sit near a tap.
    • Bring Munchkin or another similar game in your bag, for those sessions where you got 2 last minute no shows, a TPK or for when people just don't want to bother.
    • Bring blank character sheets.
    • Keep copies of all PCs as backups.
    • Write up a really simple character, Frankie the Fill-in Fighter and Sir Gerard the Generic are my go-tos, who is at party level, who can mysteriously show up when a PC dies or someone has a friend or relative staying with them.
    • Transparent dice are the best (fight me) and opaque dice in dark colours are the worst. This is based on ability to read the flipping things once the numbers have rubbed off.
    • For the love of puggles don't make them roll a check the failure of which could irrevocably break the story. If they need to know it in order to get to the next story beat or even to get going you need to have someone there who can outright just tell them.

    Messing up
    • You will.
    • Often.
    • They party wont notice 90% of the time.
    • Often the party will mistake your mistake for something deliberate. Run with it.
    • When they do they will understand.
    • If fixing a screw up will disadvantage a PC, such as taking back their magic staff of uberdom or revoking their lordship of Dolorous Guard, speak to them first and see what they will be willing to take instead.
    • Learn your windmills and surrender to them. I have never managed to run Paranoia well and I never will.


    Any of you got any things you think people don't often give as advice but do?
    Last edited by Evil DM Mark3; 2019-08-24 at 05:56 PM.
    GNU Terry Pratchett

  2. - Top - End - #2
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    Kobold

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    How about:

    *Most advice, like the above post, is very unique and personal to that DM alone.


    *Most players are clueless as to what they want....no matter how much they say what they want. In the end, they are still clueless.

    *Most players want to have fun....and at the end of the game they don't care how it happened.

    *As DM you have Great Power to set the tone, pace or anything else of the game.

    *To set something in the game does no require massive apoklipsies, often much more slight and subtle things work much better. Often the players will get the message, often with out realizing it directly.

    *If a player, for whatever reason, does not like to remember things or use names or pay attention at all......they might not be worth your time as a player. If you can take the time to make Lord Crumly and his dog, Doz.....then they player can equally do more then just say ''oh that dumb dog guy" when they talk about the NPC.

  3. - Top - End - #3
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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    nothing i want to add, but I have to say that I love some of your metaphoras.

    "it's like fugu: done wrong it will kill everything"
    In memory of Evisceratus: he dreamed of a better world, but he lacked the class levels to make the dream come true.

    Ridiculous monsters you won't take seriously even as they disembowel you

    my take on the highly skilled professional: the specialized expert

  4. - Top - End - #4
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    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Don't have anything uncommon to add.

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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by EvilDMMk3
    Some of them enjoy being the quiet one who doesn't contribute much. Remember, drawing a crab out of its shell is fatal.
    Balance this with "The fact that they joined a tRPG Group means they still want to have some interacting with people and an impact on the game."

    Remember to ask them directly for ideas and PC Actions. Be consistent, but gentle; be encouraging; be patient.
    My Knowledge, Understanding, and Opinion on things can be changed
    No offense is intended by anything I post.
    *Limited Playtest Group - I'm mostly Stuck in the White Room.
    *I am learning valuable things, here. So thanks, everyone!

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    BlueWizardGirl

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    My additions:
    • Always start character creation by asking players what they want their characters to do, not what their build is.
    • Most enemies shouldn't want to fight to the death- use this to your advantage!
    • Collaborative world building saves you time and increases player engagement.
    Last edited by Feddlefew; 2019-08-26 at 10:30 AM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Orc in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    My contribution:

    Just because something is logical/realistic does not mean it is a good idea. (Most) Peoples want an interesting session rather than a realistic simulation.
    That does not mean you have to avoid every boring and frustrating part of the life (or death), but boring/frustrating parts should have a pay-off of some kind.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    In mystery scenarios, clues and solutions will be far less obvious to the players than to the GM.

    Red herrings will make the above worse, and are more likely to be a source of frustration than an interesting tangent.
    Last edited by harlokin; 2019-08-27 at 03:00 PM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    If there is friction between the players give them time to sort it out themselves. Only intervene in player on player after the players have genuinely tried to sort things out for themselves.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    Quarian Rex's Avatar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by EvilDMMk3 View Post
    *Gold*
    That was one of the best advice lists/bullet-point pep-talks that I have seen. Kudos and thanks. I can't argue with any of your points (and that's a rarity), and while there are undoubtedly more to add you did a thorough enough job that none actually come to mind. Great job good sir.
    Avatar of awesome goodness courtesy of Cdr.Fallout.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    I notice that you said to leave the paladin alone twice. Not that I mind, as it is worth emphasizing.

    Light the lamp not the rat LIGHT THE LAMP NOT THE RAT!!!

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    a bit more serious one: if you have a puzzle and your players are starting doing things like jumping in obvious traps and other random things in the hope of solving it then the current design of it has failed, luckily you as the GM has live feedback on this and so you can actively help the players making it solveable

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    It's not your job to manage the group, schedule things, or sort out player conflicts. It's also not your job to make sure everyone has "fun".

    It's your job to follow the rules of the game, and to play the world.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Devil

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Particle_Man View Post
    I notice that you said to leave the paladin alone twice. Not that I mind, as it is worth emphasizing.
    More like three times if you consider who inserting trolley problems is usually meant to trap.
    GNU Terry Pratchett

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    BlueWizardGirl

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    It's not your job to manage the group, schedule things, or sort out player conflicts. It's also not your job to make sure everyone has "fun".

    It's your job to follow the rules of the game, and to play the world.
    It is explicitly your job as GM to make sure the group is having fun. If the rules or the plot are making the game unenjoyable for your players you need to change them- that is why you, specifically, are the GM, not a booklet.

    Obviously you can't always do the job perfectly- some players don't fit certain game styles or can't be pleased, and sometimes you're going to make mistakes, but this "I just run the game and tell a story" attitude will ruin your campaigns.

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Feddlefew View Post
    It is explicitly your job as GM to make sure the group is having fun.
    Nay lassie.

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    RedMage125's Avatar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    EvilDMMk3, very nice list. I pretty much abide by most of them, even if i don't think about them. But sometimes, these things bear saying out loud, especially for less experienced DMs who want advice on how to be a "good DM".

    I think I would add (probably under a whole new section, like "Rules & Mechanics"):
    -Be familiar with the rules. You don't need to be an expert (especially if you have a Rules Lawyer player), but it helps. Sometimes this just means being prepared. If you know that tonight's session could involve underwater combat, re-read those rules before the session.
    -That said, don't be afraid to ignore the rules. Remember that it is both a game and a story. When these two things conflict, err on the side of cool. Your players will thank you for it.
    -"Random encounters" don't have to actually be random. If you think of a fun monster or encounter that would liven up an otherwise boring trip between point A and point B, then plan it ahead of time, and spring it on them as a "random encounter". Encounters like this will be richer, more detailed, and probably more fun if you spent a few more minutes on them (as opposed to actually rolling randomly ona table and then flipping through the books to run a monster you are not familiar with).
    -If you want to make a house rule, ask yourself "will this be more fun for my players, or will they see it as needlessly obstructing?".

    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    It's not your job to manage the group, schedule things, or sort out player conflicts. It's also not your job to make sure everyone has "fun".

    It's your job to follow the rules of the game, and to play the world.
    Quote Originally Posted by Feddlefew View Post
    It is explicitly your job as GM to make sure the group is having fun. If the rules or the plot are making the game unenjoyable for your players you need to change them- that is why you, specifically, are the GM, not a booklet.

    Obviously you can't always do the job perfectly- some players don't fit certain game styles or can't be pleased, and sometimes you're going to make mistakes, but this "I just run the game and tell a story" attitude will ruin your campaigns.
    I'm with Feddlefew. It absolutely IS your job to manage the group. Scheduling is everyone's responsibility, as is showing up when you said you would. You should always try to make sure everyone has fun, but that responsibility is to the group as a whole, and not to each individual.

    And it's not your job to "follow the rules" (at least, as I perceieve you to be saying), because house rules can be really fun, unique and interesting. Your players should somewhat know the rules of the game you're playing (ideally, anyway), to include any house rules in effect. What you need to do is be a fair and neutral arbiter of whichever rules you are choosing to play with. Don't play favorites among the PCs, and remember what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you're playing 3.5e, and your players don't want "confirmation rolls" on crits (so they just get the crit if it's a critical threat), then that applies to monsters and NPCs as well.
    Last edited by RedMage125; 2019-08-28 at 05:48 PM.
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    Where do you fit in? (link fixed)

    RedMage Prestige Class!

    Best advice I've ever heard one DM give another:
    "Remember that it is both a game and a story. If the two conflict, err on the side of cool, your players will thank you for it."

    Second Eternal Foe of the Draconic Lord, battling him across the multiverse in whatever shapes and forms he may take.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    BlueWizardGirl

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Two more, this time focused on pre-campaigne set up and Session 0.

    • Be honest with your campaign pitch, but also be prepared for the campaign to change based on the bits your players like. If your game is originally pitched as an Ocean's 11 style heist of the Grand Council of Wizards secret vault, don't run it as a game of high-stakes legal intrigue unless it naturally evolves in that direction.
    • Hold a Session 0 for your campaign. This will give you time to discuss house rules, characters, and OOC table rules, and help any newbies figure out what the want to do.


    Edit: My group just forced our previous DM to step down because he decided he would rather tell a story than run an fun game. If you don't want to concern yourself with other people's fun at D&D, then you really, really shouldn't DM.
    Last edited by Feddlefew; 2019-08-28 at 06:47 PM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by RedMage125 View Post
    -
    -"Random encounters" don't have to actually be random. If you think of a fun monster or encounter that would liven up an otherwise boring trip between point A and point B, then plan it ahead of time, and spring it on them as a "random encounter". Encounters like this will be richer, more detailed, and probably more fun if you spent a few more minutes on them (as opposed to actually rolling randomly ona table and then flipping through the books to run a monster you are not familiar with).
    .
    To expand on this a bit
    - Random does not mean unprepared.
    - Nothing takes players out of the verisimilitude faster than the GM opening a book and rolling and consulting tabkes before putting an encounter out. Nothing is more guaranteed to make the players treat the encounter as a nuisance.
    - Roll up your random encounters before the session. This allows you to modify the encounter to fit the campaign setting and make it a seamless part of the campaign.
    - If the players interpret the random event as part of the BBEGís dastardly plan thatís good.
    - If the players interpret it as a sidequest you can let that diversion take place.
    - Not all random events need to be combat encounters.

    BBEGs
    - Your campaign does not need an active BBEG.
    - 90% of 2 of the most important books that heavily influenced fantasy genre - The Odyssey and Le Morte díArthur - are about dealing with what amount to random events

    Continuation
    - If your players succeed and win their campaign you donít have to start a new campaign straight away. This applies to table top time as well as campaign setting time.
    - Playing a short campaign of a different game can help the players feel fresh and enthused before starting a new chapter of your main campaign.
    - Let the PCs enjoy a few happy years of civilian life before starting the next campaign. The PCs wonít earn XP but it gives the players a chance to give them some character growth. Doing this will give the players a sense they accomplished something significant and not make the campaign seem like a never ending soap opera.

  20. - Top - End - #20
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    The meta-advice: the vast majority of advice is incredibly useful for some tables, irrelevant for some, and actively harmful to others.

    Know your players and what they want out of a game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Inchhighguy View Post
    *Most players are clueless as to what they want....no matter how much they say what they want. In the end, they are still clueless.
    Ignore what they say. Watch what they do. If somebody says they hate combat and love roleplaying, but fiddle on their phone during roleplaying and are on the edge of their seat in combat, then they love combat. Pay attention to what your players respond to with interest, and what gets them bored.

    Quote Originally Posted by Inchhighguy View Post
    *Most players want to have fun....and at the end of the game they don't care how it happened.
    To a certain extent this is a tautology. The trick is that there are many different definitions of "fun".

    Quote Originally Posted by Inchhighguy View Post
    *If a player, for whatever reason, does not like to remember things or use names or pay attention at all......they might not be worth your time as a player. If you can take the time to make Lord Crumly and his dog, Doz.....then they player can equally do more then just say ''oh that dumb dog guy" when they talk about the NPC.
    Or pay attention to which things they don't care about and feature them less. No matter how cool you think something is, the players will often find something totally different to be cool. You can't force them to like what you like, but you can tweak the stuff they find interesting in ways that are interesting to you.
    Last edited by kyoryu; 2019-08-29 at 11:05 AM.
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

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    Velaryon's Avatar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by EvilDMMk3 View Post
    [*]I love Rules Lawyers, its like having an AI enabled rules book that can find that annoying table I'm going to need in 5 minutes.
    As an addendum to this - learn to tell the difference between an actual Rules Lawyer and a fake one. Some people have the Rules Lawyer personality but don't actually know/understand/interpret the rules as well as they think they do. Learn to spot these so that you don't rely on their "knowledge."
    Quote Originally Posted by 2D8HP View Post
    Work is the scourge of the gaming classes!

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    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    I'm new to dming so thanks! any tips help

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    Aneurin's Avatar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    It is okay to be wrong.

    It is okay to want to run screaming from the room when a brand new player's only exposure to RPGs is through pod-casts - particularly the more popular ones. It is less okay to actually run screaming from the room.

    This is not your job (unless it is), and you aren't being paid for any of the work you're doing (I mean, unless you are). If it isn't fun then stop. If it's stressing you out then stop. If it's interfering with your life then stop. This is meant to be fun, and you shouldn't make yourself miserable.

    It is okay not to be perfect.
    Amazing Banshee avatar by Strawberries. Many, many thanks.

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    Faily's Avatar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Your points on Paladins are spot on, and it feels like some people seriously need to read that, juding by all the topics in the playground about wanting paladins to fall!
    RHoD: Soah | SC: Green Sparrow | WotBS: Sheliya |RoW: Raani | SA: Ariste | IG: Hemali | RoA: Abelia | WftC: Elize | Zeitgeist: Rutile
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    SleepyShadow's Avatar

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    I completely agree with you about the Paladins. It's okay to let someone play the knight in shining armor.

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    Griffon

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    As a GM, you're allowed to have fun at the table too.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by SleepyShadow View Post
    I completely agree with you about the Paladins. It's okay to let someone play the knight in shining armor.
    The conflict between doing what is expedient, and what is Good (and often times Lawful) is more than enough to test the character's resolve without bringing artificial screw-jobs into it.
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

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    Devil

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by RedMage125 View Post
    I'm with Feddlefew. It absolutely IS your job to manage the group. Scheduling is everyone's responsibility, as is showing up when you said you would. You should always try to make sure everyone has fun, but that responsibility is to the group as a whole, and not to each individual.
    Weighing in here, I take a more middle road. You are not the boss but you are, in many ways Primus inter pares. It is not your job to make sure everyone is having fun, its everyone's job to make sure everyone else is having fun. Its not your job to act as referee when two players are at each other's throats, its everyone's job to prevent that state of affairs. BUT, if these functions of the group are not working you are at least the figurehead best places to puzzle out why.
    GNU Terry Pratchett

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    BlueWizardGirl

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by EvilDMMk3 View Post
    Weighing in here, I take a more middle road. You are not the boss but you are, in many ways Primus inter pares. It is not your job to make sure everyone is having fun, its everyone's job to make sure everyone else is having fun. Its not your job to act as referee when two players are at each other's throats, its everyone's job to prevent that state of affairs. BUT, if these functions of the group are not working you are at least the figurehead best places to puzzle out why.
    I agree that resolving interpersonal problems is a group responsibility. I forgot to specify that it's your job to make sure the *game* you're running is enjoyable for the group, not to manage the group itself. Which means listening to feedback, modifying rules, and watching what your players engage with vs. what they ignore.

    I also consider making sure everyone's characters are able to function in the type of game you're running part of the DMs job. I usually help my group with character optimization- aiming for mid-op, of course. This links back to starting character creation by asking your players what they want their characters to do, rather than what class they want to play. For new DMs this might be impractical, but for the love of RNG let your players switch out abilities that don't work

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: Less common DMing advice.

    One I've found useful:

    - Reward the players for creativity. Even if it takes you out of your prep, players are generally happier for an improvised, unprepared game where they can be creative, than for a tightly plotted game where they can't be creative. If you're not the most confident improviser, players are generally okay with being told "I didn't anticipate that, and I don't have any prep for it. Can I come back to you in a little bit while I figure out how the NPC responds?" I've even (in a particularly strange situation) deferred the end of a scene to next session. The player had clearly managed to swindle a magic item out of an NPC, and I didn't want to say "no" (because it was a very good swindle), but I had no idea in the moment what to give them. They were happy to wait for the next session while I did some research to find something appropriate to the setting, and that wouldn't break the game or party balance.

    - Of course, good overall prep (being familiar with the NPC's character, beyond what they simply have to do for the story, for example, and the values and traditions of the setting) will help enormously with these situations.

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