How to Improve your Worldbuilding

Definition of Verisimilitude

Check out the word verisimilitude! In fact, to improve your storytelling, you should study literary terms regularly and you’ll be surprised how often you already use them in your Dungeons and Dragons games. Verisimilitude means “it appears real.” When playing games and telling stories, if you keep your fantasy world consistent, then 99% of the time your table will enjoy a realistic roleplaying experience.

If you would like more examples of how to improve your world building, then browse through the 11 signs of life. You may have had to study these for a biology exam, and I believe by using these signs as principles in your games, your table will enjoy a more realistic and rich roleplaying experience. You can also read here of how to improve your descriptions.

The ingredients necessary to express these principles are utilizing the 5 senses, and incorporating player choices.

11 signs of life

  • Life seeks order. Cellular order means the world must be organized for it to feel alive. We see this as cells gather together in organized manner to “be alive.” Notice this great infographic!

When gathering the data points of the story, one must organize them in a way that appeals to our humanity. In Dungeons and Dragons, any dungeon master can tell a story, but if the world is build upon organized and consistent principles, the story will for sure, be a lasting one in our memories.

  • Life reacts. Stimulus response means the world must react to stimulus. An easy way to implement this principle in your stories is to provide consequences that affect the characters. After all, the story is about them and therefore, should effect them. In other words, the wilds should be dangerous! Click here For great tips on Wilderness Guides in Dungeons and Dragons
  • Life reproduces like kind. Reproduction means duplication occurs through division and living things pass life along the timeline. The best way to include reproduction in your world is to demonstrate the family system, children and offspring. Another way is to include the mentor/student relationships, bring in teachers and guides to pass along information and wisdom to the characters. In the end, bring about the story full circle of life and have the characters start families of their own or take on a student!
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com
  • Life adapts. Adaptation means everything wants to survive and will do it’s best to live in its environment. There’s a great book out there titled The Monsters Know what they’re Doing by Keith Amman. When a dungeon master gives the survival instinct to a monster encounter, the combat goes from hitting a bag of hit points to dealing with a sentient creature that has a desire to live another day. By studying real life biological tactics of defense in the wilds of nature, dungeon masters can design enthralling encounters for their players.
  • Life matures. Growth means life matures in order to pass down information to it’s younger forms. I think this can be utilized by keeping a note of the meaningful encounters the characters had in a village only to jot down the ways those encounters would mature over time when the characters arrive back after plane walking. Real NPCs wouldn’t stay exactly where or how the players found them and demonstrate maturity by growing, leaving, getting old, or developing grudges.
  • Life regulates. Regulations means life ensures the transport of nutrients and expulsion of waste. This might seem like a good place to add a potty joke, and…well, I guess it’s a good place as any. While rolling for constipation might seem arduous, keeping in mind that cities require plumbing, or they fall into plague, helps the dungeon master create a real world feel for the players. Regarding nutrition, many D&D games bring in food and drink (quite literally begin in a tavern) in order to establish that real world feel. Nothing is relatable to all as a home cooked meal!
Bring in the players senses by describing food and drink!
  • Life moves. Metabolism means the transfer of energy is life. This is where I feel maps and minis fail. In combat, many times the movement speed is simply expressed by dragging your character across a grid. To enchant your players, describe movement in relationship to the world around. “You move 30 feet” has no real world marker. But “you bolt ahead through the jungle, branches slapping at your arms and face.” <— much better! Like with the smells of barbecued meats, the player can now experience movement through the world through their senses.
  • Life balances. Homeostasis means life seeks balance. No matter how much mess your players make, or how inconsistent quests seem to begin, remind yourself that real life seeks balance. But that balance takes time. Nature is never in a hurry, yet everything is accomplished. This means, you too, DM, can be patient for everything to settle out in your campaign.

Countless stories have grown alongside us throughout generations. We bond through the stories we share. How much more effective those stories are when they carry the weight of our skeptical minds through believable details. Incorporate the player’s choices, draw them in through the senses, and with these principles, bring your stories to life!

The Theme for the Game is…Why themes deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games
A theme is a literary tool used to convey to the reader …
How to defeat deceit
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Dungeon Masters and Burnout

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Player Dynamics for Dungeons & Dragons

Image credit Wizards of the Coast

Hello from the Forever DM!

I could say that, but as of now, I am a player AND a dungeon master, a rare breed, indeed.

If you are interested in following along, we are playing through Rime of the Frostmaiden.

Maximum value is achieved through full participation

The reason we love our projects, artwork, gardens and D&D games is directly related to the amount of work and love we put into the game/story. In order to increase the love, we must increase the work. Read more about The Cure for Boredom in D&D. Here are a few things I have learned about how to better prepare as a player for your upcoming Dungeons and Dragons games!

Select a Player Bond

D&D, at it’s core, is a collaborative storytelling game. Besides the relationships you share with the people at the table, your character can also develop a relationship with the other characters. Dynamics means the relationship moves over time, creating a more immersive experience. First, let’s define the terms.

  • Passive – this dynamic means that the relationship is accepting of the other. It asks very little and requires no major changes for the relationship to continue as usual. Two peas in a pod. Agreeable.
  • Active – this dynamic means that the relationship challenges the other. It asks a lot and requires changes along the way for the relationship to continue.
  • Harmonious – the dynamic means the relationship shares the same values with little to reconcile.
  • Discord – this dynamic means the relationship holds different values with much to reconcile.
I will use relationship dynamics from the Lord of the Rings to make examples.

Regarding relationships between character to character within Dungeons and Dragons, there are no real rules or guidelines for how each player should relate to the other players around the table.

Besides having fun, Dungeons and Dragons is a great tool for developing intra and inter personal relationships. I have developed a map that allows each player to understand the dynamics between every other player at the table. Please make sure you take the time to communicate what kind of relationship you want.

Note: This dynamic model only works if the players are already in agreement with the desired relationship. It requires the player to have a Growth Mindset, feel free to refer to this article learn more about your mindset at the table. This model is for sophisticated and established tables, but with that being expressed, if a new table decides they want more dynamics in the relationships between the player characters and are ready for a challenge, then read on and use this model!

The Four Relationships

Passive Harmony

This is one of the easiest dynamics to roleplay because the characters share common values and require little to nothing of the relationship. It is very accepting. Merry and Pippin are good examples because in the beginning, they get along, get each other’s jokes and there is no conflict between them. As I said before, these are dynamics, however and over time, they may change. A passive harmony relationship plays nice and makes up most adventuring parties.

Active Harmony

This relationship involves shared values and vision, but requires much of the characters. It is constantly working or provoking each other, and in short, providing some challenge. The simplest model is to use the mentor/student relationship. Gandalf and Frodo are good examples because though they are in harmony, they provide challenge with Frodo growing in his leadership, eventually branching off from Gandalf as his mentor. The relationship moves. A parent/child relationship can also provide this dynamic. Too often in D&D, this relationship gets overlooked because it requires one of the players to act as the understudy to the other player. I think it can provide tons of rich roleplay, as long as each player are in agreement with the relationship.

Romantic relationships can fall under this category and require both players to agree upon the reality before proceeding. While harmonious, they still require much as are so, active.

Passive Discord

This relationship occurs when two characters are in opposition regarding worldview. Although they do not share the same values (discord), they have “agreed to disagree” and allow for each other’s differences since they are in such opposition (passive). In short, they ask little, but require much reconciliation of differences. Gimli and Legolas are good examples in that they come from opposing backgrounds, but still allow for their own space. I think other appropriate examples would be the cleric praying for the rogue to change their ways, while the rogue robs the NPCs blind. The characters passively engage but are at complete odds, and the end result is entertaining to the players around the table.

Active Discord

Whew! This relationship takes the cake. Of all of the possibilities of a D&D party, this one provides the most amount of conflict at the table. Let me stress again, as with all of the relationship dynamics, ensure that both members are in agreement with the dynamics. If you fail to understand, you will take the dynamics personally. It’s one thing to say, “my character shouts, interrupting your speech and exclaims, “you never take anything seriously!” when the player knows what you are doing. It’s another to spring it upon the player. Which is why I think we don’t do this too often in D&D, is that most of it is improvisational storytelling with very little explanation.

Active discord relationships hold to different values and requires much. A good example is Boromir and Aragorn. Although apart of the same fellowship, they served very different ideals, and conflicted in methods. They did not allow for differences to go unconciliated but duked it out until the precipice of Boromir’s demise.

Artist Anke-Katrin Eiszmann. Rolozo Tolkien

Hopefully you can see that these relationships are dynamic. They move, grow and evolve over time. These dynamics provide a rich roleplaying experience. If you are wanting to level up your interactions, consider experimenting with these around the table with your players and have fun! By increasing in participation as players, we increase the amount of value we enjoy at the table!

May your story continue!

More articles to enhance your table games below!

The Theme for the Game is…Why themes deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games
A theme is a literary tool used to convey to the reader …
How to defeat deceit
Story – Defeating Envy
Team Building and Storytelling with Dungeons and Dragons – a dungeon master challenge
Dungeons and Dragons is a Team Game of Collaborative Storytelling I encountered …

Research in Dungeons and Dragons

I heard it once said that D&D is a monster killing game. Although I enjoy killing monsters, I disagree. It is not only a monster killing game, but a way to tell stories. Since the rules for the game mostly circle around combat, when a player tells the DM they would like to, I don’t know, let’s say research a topic, the Dungeon Master has few rules by which to play. You might think that less structure lends itself to more playtime, but in my experience, players like rules and regulations, dice rolls and roleplay.

Learn to research topics in D&D

You may read the except titled “Research” in the Dungeon Masters Guide page 187. However, I have found that when a player says they want to research ancient lore, a magic item or learn a new language, the Dungeon Master fumbles through the DMG, and eventually simply says “make an ability check.” The player rolls and the DM decides, “yes, you now know elvish, moving on.” If you want to tell better stories, then find ways for everything to matter in the game, rather than simply waving your hand over an arbitrary DC and deciding if the player fails or succeeds. In short, I think this challenge is what makes researching a dynamic story. Since you are here looking for a way to tell a great story, then consider the following recipe.

During any point of the game, the player decides they want to research a topic, or an NPC questgiver asks the scholarly PC to do so. Then DM says, “before you can research, you must convince someone for access to property since that is the place you can research” Perhaps this is an NPC who owns a vineyard and has something they want before they grant you access to their land/library/basement for research. So, you now must find out how you can help the vintner achieve their goal. However, in helping them, you make an enemy. A rival faction, a jealous sibling, a scorned lover. And they seek revenge. After all of this, the hero finally gains access to the land, and then the research can take place.

How to Run an Exciting Chase Sequence!

  • Quest: Research a Topic
    • Convince a Vineyard owner to Use their property to research
    • Perform a grisly task for the owner
    • Deal with the rival faction
    • Gain access to the land and begin the research

That alone can take quite a while, many sessions perhaps, considering that other players are performing other tasks in the downtime. I would exact a gold piece cost from the player during this time to pay for expenses. Once the research begins, I would treat the research project like a boss monster, where the player must take an action every turn and roll an intelligence check to “attack” the research by using these 3 methods.

  • Pour through Documents (make an intelligence check)
  • Tinker with Components (make a dexterity check)
  • Query a Scribe (make a charisma check)

After making the rolls against the Research Project, the DM decides how much “damage” the project takes and if sufficient, the project is complete. If not, then the Project takes an Action in the form of Setting the Player Backwards in Progress with an illness (poisoned condition), exhaustion, injury (loss of hit dice), or mental fatigue (disadvantage on intelligence checks). To make that attack more similar to life, the hero now has to go on another adventure to repair their mental and physical faculties, rather than just taking a long rest.

  • Set Initiative as Player first
  • PC takes action against Monster DC level
  • Monster takes action against PC Intelligence Modifier + 10
  • Rinse and Repeat until Monster or PC HP is reduced to zero

There are SO many stat blocks of monsters that can be substituted for your Research Monster. This process is called re-skinning and totally legit. Rather than giving you a stat block though, here are three features of this monster.

  • AC = 10 + player level
  • HP = 3 x player level
  • Attack = + player level
  • Damage equals 1d6 x player level and one condition as stated above, poisoned, exhaustion, loss of hit dice, or temporary disadvantage on intelligence checks.
Consider carefully the fine print

After all that, the PC gets another turn and hopefully resolves the conflict, and wins the prize. If not, rinse and repeat until blood is spilled. Can a PC die from too much work??? Also, consider the other players rolling initiative to come up with clever ways to use the Help Action by giving the PC advantage on rolls.

Research in Downtime can be a simple montage or it could be an exciting part of the adventure you are all unfolding around the table. Let this advice guide you as your story continues!

Dungeons and Dragons as a Homeschooling Supplement and Enrichment

Sojourners seek to understand life from the road of adventure

In this age of Do It Yourself, people are diving into gardening, starting businesses, and learning an instrument. The “DIY” culture helps a community grow in its knowledge. The RV community is another good example.

Homeschooling is the mother of all DIY projects. Now, more than ever, parents are looking to homeschool their children, by choice, or by obligation. The modern homeschool family has a wealth of resources at their fingertips via the internet. And along with these resources comes the famous roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons.

I like to use a Growth Mindset when planning my games.

While some parents might consider the themes to be too violent or include magic, I would have you consider that D&D can be used as an endless resource to supplement your child’s education and enrich their experience.

How does D&D supplement education?

Now, when I say supplement, I am indicating that D&D, while not necessary to be present on your child’s transcript in order to pass to the next grade, does strengthen the natural intelligence of the child. Howard Garner’s Multiple Intelligence divides intelligences into multiple categories such as musical, logical, kinesthetic and linguistic. His theory surmises that each child, while having access to all forms of intelligence, usually drills down on 1 or 2 in development. While topics in school are sometimes isolated to draw upon one or two intelligences only (Math-Logic, Writing-Linguistic, Music-Musical) D&D draws upon all of the forms of intelligence. This means each child’s experience is different, although they are playing the same game.

This learning is natural and holistic. The child flexes their brain without knowing they are doing so. That is the power of playing storytelling games in the school place.

Read how to develop a growth mindset while playing Dungeons and Dragons

Worlds come alive with learning to narrate a story

How does D&D enrich the experience?

Besides math, reading, writing and social studies, can you think of other topics we might use on a daily basis? Think of systems thinking, critical analysis, risk-assessment, workplace collaboration, and conflict resolution. As adults, we might be familiar with some of these terms and have sat through seminars explaining what they mean. But I don’t see these taught in any textbooks, because education is primarily information download.

Memorization, Study and Test. Now, I’m not wanting to revamp the education system, nor do I know how you homeschool. But what I do know is that within the game Dungeons and Dragons, a high level of energy goes toward using each of those features that children will eventually use in the workplace. D&D enriches the educational experience of the child by potentially preparing them for real life situations in a safe fantasy simulation.

One of the reasons I love homeschooling is that I get to build my child’s education, and often we do it together, as a family. While incorporating multiple intelligence theories in our learning, I can justify any activity as educational! This includes playing such a wonderful pastime of dice and storytelling. 

So, next I will explain exactly how to incorporate D&D on a weekly basis using your current curriculum. And so, our story continues!

Asking Great Questions

I started off by asking the player’s “what do you do?” I got a lot of blank stares. I figured that I wasn’t doing a good enough job setting the scene for them to make any informed decision. So I increased my descriptions, but then got interrupted by players stating their actions, probably just to shut me up from talking the entire game.

The truth is, I don’t want to talk more than the players. I love the games where I sit back and watch the story unfold in front of me. I prepare most of the week for a game, writing quotes down, reviewing lore, developing

Good GMs ask great questions one of the questions I posit to my players is “where do you pay attention?” I ask this question upon describing an opening scene for exploration. For example: a thick layer of mist blankets the floor in this cellar. Crates stack to the ceiling and rats scurry in the corners. Somewhere beyond the walls, you hear the faint click click click. Where do you pay attention? Assuming the PCs are all here for the same purpose, to discover the secret hideout of a gang, they then have the opportunity to “play” with the descriptions i provided. They could ask, what happens when I press my ear against the cold stone wall? and get a great result, “along with clicks you hear the shuffling of hurried feet”. However, if they want to get creative, they can push the boundaries of my descriptions by coloring outside the lines. They could ask, do I see any meat hanging in this cold room? Notice I didn’t mention any meat hanging in this cellar, but because the player demonstrates curiosity, the meat now exists. Of course, I would only say yes assuming this was probable, very likely that meat hangs from metal hooks in this cold room. But it gets more interesting when the player then begins to show suspicion as they snoop around the meat locker. A quick GM could then drop a discovery of foul play as the PC then finds a familiar signet ring in the ground meat packaging. Yikes! The power of asking the players an open question “where do you pay attention?” broadens the search field of exploration beyond your simple opening descriptions. For simplicity, it gives the PCs a chance to play with the 1-3 descriptors you do hand out for free. For creativity, it gives the chance for PCs to search beyond the explicit descriptions.

Another great question I ask is “how does this affect you?” “how do you respond” “who do you notice?” “where does this day find you?” “how does the story continue?”

Enriching your life and your games with a Growth Mindset.

There are many reasons TTRPGs like Dungeons and Dragons have been lauded for their ability to simultaneously grant us fun and growth. Part of that reason, I think, involves all of the tenets in the the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.

In the book, the author explores tons of research involving human motivation and success. I liked this little chart here and thought how similar the growth mindset is to how we play our characters in D&D.

Unlike real life, our characters are simulations of our imagination, and often we expand our exploits way beyond how we would behave in our own life situations. But now look at the markers of a growth mindset and see how often tabletop roleplaying games match up with this mindset driving us to success in life.

A fixed mindset avoids challenges where a growth mindset embraces them.

WOW. If that isn’t D&D, I don’t know what is. In life, we avoid challenges when we are laced with shame, fear or frustration over the potential for failure. In a growth mindset, we embrace that challenge, because those three toxins are not worth the embrace that a challenge can provide. The main reason is that a growth mindset seeks to experience and learn wisdom. A fixed mindset stays home when the wizard comes knocking at your door, but a growth mindset says, “I’m going on an adventure!”

A fixed mindset gives up easily where a growth mindset persists in setback.

Again, wow! In the game, the player’s role is to determine a team goal and pursue it. But you didn’t think the villain was going to hand you the keys to the fortress? In the game, the dungeon master’s role is to provide setbacks that the players so they can practice persistence in accomplishing their pre determined goal, through all the setbacks. What I think is wild is that because the players and dungeon master agree that these are the roles, no one gets upset when the DM throws a curve ball the players’ way. It’s expected. Setbacks are encouraged and like the person who thinks with a growth mindset, they thrive off of the experience that leads to wisdom.

A fixed mindset sees effort as fruitless where a growth mindset masters

Part of the fun of the game is taking a level 1 character that begins an adventure and using the rules of the game to level up after completing an experience. Some tables use experience points, some tables use checkpoints to level up the characters, but all understand that the purpose of the game is to do better at playing your character by granting that character bonuses, rewards and features. A fixed mindset would remain static in their levels of mastery because they don’t believe it would make a difference. But then again, the fixed mindset is already avoid challenges and running away from setbacks, so why would they attempt to master their craft? The growth mindset, as you can now see, builds upon itself like a series of interconnected muscles. The growth mindset believes that every experience adds up to reward and therefore, they look for that reward. Seek and you shall find, it has been said, and when players defeat the long awaited villain, they indeed look for treasure and lo and behold, it is there. I wish to gather that gumption in my own life, that I look for the reward.

A fixed mindset ignores criticism where a growth mindset learns from it

So much can be said about criticism. When to give, where to give, how to give and more importantly how to receive. We cannot control another’s opinion, but we have agency over our reception. In the wonder of D&D, as a player, you can have a metagaming view of your character, watch them, learn from them and even criticize them from a 30,000 foot view. Yes, the player brings the criticism and not afraid because they have power to learn from their character’s weakness, flaws and mistakes. In our own lives, I believe the reason a fixed mindset avoids criticism is that we feel powerless to do anything with it. A growth mindset apprehends the criticism and uses it as a resource, for everything is a value of energy. Sit around and think about that for a while!

A fixed mindset feels threatened by the success of others where a growth mindset celebrates and becomes inspired by the success of others.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

At it’s heart, D&D is a collaborative storytelling game. The rules create a party balance in which not one character has every tool and resource to beat every challenge presented by the dungeon master. Therefore, the collection of the players must celebrates the collective success because the party moves as a unit. There is no room to feel threatened, because the healer’s spellcasting might bring you back to consciousness before the axe falls upon your neck! The warrior’s rage might shield you from flying arrows! The inventor’s brilliance might bring about the answer the entire party needs in a split second. A growth mindset is required to play the game well.

Those who continue to operate in a fixed mindset eventually see their fate as determined and their agency stripped to a life of doom. Flipping into a growth mindset is the answer to bring about the agency, the free will and the empowerment one needs to achieve and succeed. By playing Dungeons and Dragons, with a growth mindset, we can simulate real life situations with imagination. In doing so, I think we will find ourselves “leveling up” in real life, because lessons are transferable. It’s that easy. May your story continue.

Tips from the Dungeons and Dragons Community

I found a wonderful thread from @slyflourish on Twitter. He asked about one simple tip to dramatically change the game (for the better). I found these answers from the community to be most helpful and inspirational! May you use them to add to your life and games!

  1. Technically a house rule not just a trick, but very simple: PCs only get the benefit of a long rest in a place of relative safety and comfort, not when camping in the wilderness. Lets you run wilderness adventures like they were dungeons. – @alexbro97829019

I really liked this suggestion and it reminded me of the wilderness rules in the Middle Earth RPG for 5th edition, something that I’ve used in my games to make overland (and underland) travel grittier and more deadly, therefore, giving the PCs more to consider. If you want to create strong tension and upbeats in the game, limit how and when a long rest can occur!

2. Electric tea light candles go on for concentration spells – @geekmoviehouse

Haha, at first, I had to read this a couple of times, but slowly realized that the electric tea light upon the table, acts as a physical prop and indicator that concentration spells are being used. This is an amazing idea, affordable and also adds to the ambience around your game. I love this idea!

3. -having states of failure, meaning one dice rolling bad is not the end of the thing, for instance if some is trying to persuade an NPC, rolling 1 or 2 fails just makes the PC act less friendly. – @skinny_bob

I couldn’t agree more. Keeping in mind a scale of variance for success and failure in the game makes for more of a dynamic game, rather than one that stops/starts upon success and failures. Having a mind of variant success and failure means the difference between pushing a button and turning a knob. Good advice!

4. Create problems, not solutions to them. – @groshnik

Wow! This is a discipline for every tablemaster! Many times I have prepared the “plan” or “way out” or “answer” and that, I have discovered, puts out the fire for the players. It can be tempting to give the answer while simultaneously asking the question (for we want our players to succeed). I think in the culture of having a more “friendly” DM has also brought about the “answer DM”. I believe part of the fun of RPGs involves some opposition birthed by the tablemaster, and of course no one has to be mean! But creating challenges, problems, and allowing the players to then take the wheel and drive home the solution, now that’s good RPG.

5. Asking my players to describe why they fail at something when they roll a Nat 1. It gives the player control over a dramatic moment, it lets them scale what happens based on how they’re feeling at the moment and often give amazing insight into the character’s thoughts! – @oboeluaren

I couldn’t agree more! The first couple times I tried this, my players looked back at me blankly. Not used to having a DM allow for such narrative power, the players took sometime to get used to this routine, but since then, less of the narrative burden on me and more various description from the other players at the table! It takes trust, but worth doing, in my opinion.

6. For theatre of the mind, on a player’s turn, describe the last turn/what they seeing through the PCs POV. Ask “what is (PC name) doing?” instead of “what do you WANT to do?” This helps alleviate choice paralysis and helps players who might not have caught every detail. – @marcellus_krowe

Daaaaaang. What a game changer! Just a simple turn of phrasing completely alters the course and the flow of combat. I have witnessed this choice paralysis in theater of the mind and I can see how by simply asking the player “what is your character doing?” keeps the narrative flowing in the fantasy game, rather than breaking immersion and asking direct questions to the player. I’m going to remember this one for sure.

There were many more suggestions in this thread and many more threads, but hopefully, if you have but a moment, you can trust and add a few of these features to your games around your table. May your story continue!

Five things I wished I had known as a new Game Master

Investing in people over time results in a life worth living

Human resources said it one more time over the phone, “you are no longer employed with us.” I looked at my boss across from the table and of course, he already knew. Security walked me back to my office and I placed all of my belongings in a postal box. Then they walked me outside to my car. (Don’t worry, I’m not a criminal, this “walk out” is common practice when management gets the axe. Still, pretty embarrassing, and the severance is never enough for the amount of time it takes to find a new job.

Full disclosure: I am new to Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, I borrowed the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide from the local library for 14 days the day after I lost my job at an 8 year career. In 2017, this became one of the best turn of events in the story of my life.

Life prepares us in many ways for our next adventure, and I found that my time as a musician, pastor, student and nurse have all helped form me into a game master. But here are five things I wish I had known the day I prepared for my first game.

Invest in a simple adventure

I purchased “Starter Set – The Lost Mines of Phandelver”. I enjoyed the simple plot, the handy monster stats, and the compelling hooks into the storyline. Honestly, I would have been initially overwhelmed with a large hardback adventure. I ran this for my neighbors on Thursday evening for 6 months and it went off without a hitch, until they abandoned the plot. The players felt the pressure release right around level 5 and decided they wanted to go off and explore the big city of Neverwinter. And it was my own fault. Early on, I was so terrified of this evil device known as “railroading”. I was so afraid of that accusation, that I introduced a spray of plot hooks before they completed the initial mission.

“Dear young DM, please realize that your players will only take the hooks you hand them. If you craft three hooks, there is a 33.33% chance they will take one of those, and a 100% chance they will take the one you least prepared for. I urge you, if you want them to take one hook, offer a single hook. This is not running a bad game, this is directing the players into the action.”

My simple advice, don’t introduce more than you have prepared. There are plenty of ways to give the impression of a larger world than the players can experience for now. NPCs from other planes and far off lands can remind the players of the larger world. But as a new DM, remember that one strong hook is better than a sandbox full of flimsy ones.

Invest in a Patreon – Invest in Creators

It’s a universal rule. When you sow, you reap. When you give, you gain. When you invest in another creator, your creative forces as a game master blossom. Somehow surrounding myself with like minded people who place a value on their own work lifts the level of performance I produced. I didn’t learn this until I was four years in as a DM. For the first 3 years, I relied on studying DMs on live streams and while this is a great place to start, this is just a one way relationship. I received 4 hours a week on a Thursday night, but I didn’t have the opportunity to give. The beginning of my fourth year as a DM, I wandered the shallow wastelands of social media. It wasn’t until I connected with Patreon creators that I found more like minded creators, and then found my own creativity blossom.

“Dear young DM. You get what you pay for. Remember this law and obey it.”

My simple advice is realize that in the cheap swarm of tweets, likes and posts, a weary traveler finds rest when they meet with people and invest in them.

Invest in Leadership

I believe that game masters use tried and true practices of leadership. Whether it is managing money, a project, human resources, a family reunion, or a funeral, life is managed well by great leaders. Dave Stachowiak says “Leaders aren’t born; they are made.” Being a good leader takes skill and practice, and talent is available upon request! A word to the wise: you may not think of yourself as a traditional or professional leader. Leadership is not reserved only for corporate suits and political figures. I heartily beg you to consider that if you are sitting behind a game master screen – then you are already a leader. It’s now a question of how much you will invest in that part of yourself.

“Dear young game master, you have become an expert at comparing yourself to others, as you would say, but you are misinformed. You are not comparing, you are envious of others. In comparing yourself, you have to first know yourself. And that, you need to practice. Learn your strengths, learn your weakness. Learn what you like in a game and play that to full enjoyment. Learn what you don’t like and consider if your players share your feelings. Before you can listen to your players, you must learn to listen to yourself. Before you can even compare yourself as a game master, you must first respect yourself as a good leader worthy of comparison.”

My simple advice: along with RPG guides, grab yourself a good book or podcast on growing your own self as a leader. You’ll surprise yourself when this investment radically improves your ability to game.

Invest in good RPGs

This was simple for me. I like 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. I haven’t run every adventure or setting, but wow, how they have provided countless ideas for inspiration. I am slow to experience new things. I know this about myself. I researched D&D for 3 months before clicking “add to cart.” Since then I have perused through other RPG books in stores and online. Honestly, I can’t keep up with how many roleplaying world there are, and respect those who can rattle off names, dates and modules like they just finished rolling the dice. All RPGs have dice, oh wait…5 rpgs that don’t use dice. RPGs are as diverse as, well, the people creating them. Diversity doesn’t mean you have to purchase that random RPG that everyone raves about. Purchase the content you enjoy.

“Dear young game master. It’s ok to call yourself a game master, dungeon master, or storyteller. There are many paths to run your table well and many rules to learn. The point is to read. Read until you find inspiration and then brew something out of your creativity. It may never see a bookshelf, and some ideas may never even see your table, but only exist hidden within the recesses of your imagination. Play RPGs you and your players like. Avoid snubbing the world of “other” and avoid shouting from across the room. It’s a game, and if getting upset about different RPGs is your thing, your world is too small.”

Invest in your Players

This last piece of advice surprised me. I knew that roleplaying games would be fun, but I had no idea they would be life changing. Not to sound to dramatic, but I made a difference in many people’s lives by engaging with them around the table and between rolls of dice. First off, I play with my kids. Often times, we will have family discussions trying to explain life and love and all things in the universe, and one of the kids will pipe up, “oh, like a constitution saving throw?” or “Oh, that’s just like the beholder’s eye ray!” Many times, my fatherly life lessons have been peppered with D&D lore, rules and gameplay. I have had a Marine tell me our games helped with his PTSD. I have had a young man excel in his high school education by taking part in learning how to organize a game session. Many folks have come and gone around my table, but gosh it all, if there hasn’t been a few that have left an imprint on my heart. During the last few years of play, we have also witnessed each others lives around the game table. You can read more about the conclusion of our campaign, The End of a Story

“Dear young gamemaster, you have no idea what difference you are making in the world. While you prepare your encounters, fashion your lore, practice your NPCs one-liners, your players are reaping the benefits of your hard work. The universe has a way of rewarding such efforts in blessings. Be ready to receive them. I have heard people speak so fondly of their dungeon masters over the years as if they spoke of a family member. Investing in people over in results in a life worth living.

May your story continue.”

The cure for boredom in Dungeons and Dragons.

Maximum value is achieved through full participation.

I’ve been thinking recently that I decided to become a dungeon master because I honestly like the process of preparation. The process of creation in itself is the reward. I am a creator. Through this preparation and honestly, work, I found enjoyment. In short, I’m never bored. But I did wonder if my players were achieving similar levels of satisfaction.

The truth is that when we participate in something, we invest our time and interest and end up developing value from that something. The surefire way to generate interest, and cure boredom, in any project, including your tabletop games is to increase participation.

Short disclaimer: I do realize that dungeon masters enjoy prep. Players play and DMs prep. And in this beautiful tango, the game happens! Great stories are told. However, this writing is to address the boredom one might find with the players who lack participation. In my experience, players always desire to contribute so as long as it relates to their character development.

As a dungeon master, I initially struggled with sharing the workload (much like in real life) and would keep all the world building responsibilities to myself. But in assuming all of the worldbuilding responsibility acted as a “gas hog” in my energy levels. Upon bemoaning my state, I received guidance from Johnn Four and he asks a GREAT question.

“How are you allowing your players to share the prep?”

Initially, I thought there was a secret behind the DM screen I couldn’t share. I think I am just now beginning to realize the possibility of sharing the creation process. So, this is what I came up with for next session.

My goal is to build a richer, more believable world to play in. I think at the very least a player could prep is assisting in generating the “Sly Flourish: strong start“. I assign one player the home of generating a simple monologue in which their character recounts the last session adventure. This could appear as a letter to home, a prayer to a god, or a private musing by the seaside. This level of participation helps kick start the session. More importantly, the more a player participates, the more value they find.

Regarding world building, I found a large challenge. No doubt, there are many ways to prepare a persistent and consistent world for the players to immerse themselves. I decided that the burden of lore and locales could be partially outsourced to my players. I had each player generate a simple lore/fact/knowledge about the world of Bonzarel and promised the reward of inspiration upon when their character shares that information in game. By the way, I have never used the inspiration rules of getting one time use re roll, so I thought this would be a good reward. Otherwise, I know that without a tangible reward, lore has little value in the game.

Here is the simple assignment I ascribed a week before the session.

  • Garindan: you know of one person who lives in Avernus, they have a name, title, job, and relationship to the Blood War.
  • Felthran: you now know of a thing in Avernus, possibly relating to the wildlife, natural order.
  • Bramble: you remember (from your studies) reading about a social grace in the politics of Avernus
  • Hey: you know a magnificent local landmark that provides aid/guidance or resource, possibly you learned this from your patron, the archfey.
  • Zarion: besides the other sojourners, you can now see Felthran’s abyssal corruption, and you are able to sense the growing disease within him.

Each player determines the time and place their character shares the lore. Upon sharing, the DM grants one point of inspiration.

Now the question for you is what part of preparing as game master do you find to be a “gas hog?” And how can you allow your players to share in that process? Remember that maximum value is achieved through full participation. And remember that the only reason anyone ever does anything in D&D or any RPG is because of the reward. You know your players and will find appropriate assignments that provide enjoyment, but if you want your players to engage, totally cured of boredom, make sure to share the wealth in preparing for a session.

May your story continue,