Hey I just that evil smiling picture of you playing dnd. I was wondering what you did to become a good dm, I've been curious about playing the game for a while and I think I have to be the dm if I want people to play with lol. Thanks for any help
I promise I didn’t
ignore you! I’ve been real busy this week, and wanted to treat this
question with the respect it deserves. Thanks for asking me…and
assuming I’m a good DM, lol. I try to be good by following the cardinal
rule: if you and your players have fun, you win! It’s easy to think it’s
you v. the players as a DM, but really it’s a story you’re all making
together, you help keep it going smoothly but it belongs to all of you.
Once you look at it all from that perspective it gets less stressful,
for me at least. Now I know it’s kinda weird since I did kill my players
in that picture you saw going around… But that was a one shot. And
there were ample opportunities for them to reverse the tide, but the
dice were not on their side.
Anyway. I’m sure you’re looking for more concrete answers. Here are the most important things I did in learning to DM.
1. Watch D&D games
I watched Critical Role for a few weeks. After years of being afraid to DM, Matthew Mercer made it look easy and fun. He told fun stories and had varied characters and his players were so invested! The more I watched the more I wanted to play. And the best part about watching Critical Role is that there are 102 episodes and counting. Tons of material to mine for ideas. Another good one is The Adventure Zone podcast. It starts out a little slow for my tastes but once you get into it it’s AMAZING. I love the story in this one, it’s a great way to show you don’t have to stick to typical fantasy tropes to have a great game. Any genre can be a fun game.
While watching, I paid attention to what kinds of rolls the DM called for in situations, how many monsters you could throw before combat gets hazy, how hard it is to DM for lots of people, how long combat takes, how to describe effects based on dice roll, and most importantly, when to stone face your players and when to laugh like the evil genius you are.
2. Get tips from experts
Okay, so, now you think you could probably do the thing, but you don’t want to screw it up right out of the gate. I spent years too scared to DM because it seemed like there was too much to know. I went looking for words of wisdom and found the aforementioned Matt Mercer’s GM Tips. It’s a great series of videos that are short and helpful, split up by topic. Another great series of videos is anything from Matthew Colville, whose Running the Game videos are probably the second largest influence on my work as a Dungeon Master (after Matt Mercer). I also read tons of articles from the official D&D website, like the Sage Advice column. I read every Unearthed Arcana article and thought about how those adjustments compared to the Player’s Handbook. I signed up for the Roleplaying Tips mailing list run by Johnn Four, whose advice is probably the third largest influence on my DMing. I heavily recommend it also because it’s great to get a reminder to work on D&D every few days when a new tip arrives in your inbox. Seriously the best mailing list I’ve ever been on. He also answers questions and solicits answers from the community, so he’s a great resource for obscure wonders.
3. Join a community
This kind of follows from the previous point about advice from Johnn directly. If you’re really struggling with the density of the Core Rulebooks and are daunted by the many columns and tables, a community can help explain things. For instance, I had a lot of trouble parsing how exactly XP adjusted values work. I asked online, and someone helpfully pointed out the reference and made an example so I’d get how to use it myself. Tumblr is good, but I prefer reddit for D&D things. Some great subreddits are r/DMAcademy, r/DMToolkit, r/DnDBehindtheScreen, r/mattcolville (yes, that same Matt Colville), r/UnearthedArcana, and r/worldbuilfing.
There are a number of other forums specifically for D&D that
I have accounts for but never use, mostly because I am still recovering
from my forum days… I won’t date myself and say how long ago.
4. Google is your friend!
I google everything I need for D&D. Sometimes, even though I know the information I want is in my PHB, the book is on my shelf and I’d have to search for the info. The internet can tell me what I need to know NOW. So! Here’s my advice for googling D&D stuff, along with some of my favourite links.
Rules: Include ‘5e’ or ‘fifth edition’
along with the keyword you’re looking for. This will reduce your chances
of ending up on a site intended for players of another edition.
Spells: Don’t google them, go to dnd-spells.com. Seriously. This website saves my life every time I play D&D. You can also make spellbooks for your characters and then generate pdfs before your game! It’s MAGICAL!
Monsters: Homebrew monsters can be fun but be careful when implementing them in your game. If you need help building encounters (like I do), use Kobold Fight Club.
Images: Google image search can get you really general or really specific stuff. If you want random images to inspire you you’re better off looking at something like The MET.
Names: There is one site to end all sites for this. For all other generators, see donjon.
5. Steal like an artist
I have a lot of fun watching, reading, and playing other types of media and thinking, “I’m going to steal that for my game.” I love comic books for example. Recently, I decided to put Iron Man into my game. Not for any reason, just because it would be fun. I didn’t simply put Tony Stark as a rich human noble into my game and wait for my player to meet him so I could do my best Robert Downey Jr. impression. I thought about what makes that character exciting and recognizable and transported it into the steampunk world of my campaign. I changed his name and race. I made him an Artificer, a Gunslinger protective of his prototypes (*waves at Taliesin*), who could also build Mech Suits that are as much works of art as they are feats of magical engineering. I gave him an assistant with a romantic love triangle and let him loose in my world. It was so much fun to watch my player figure out my inspiration! Not every NPC needs this level of detail, but all your choices should circle back to ‘How well would this work in MY world?’
By taking inspiration from the things you love, filling in the 'gaps’ to breathe life into your universe should come easily. I didn’t know Tran Intubi (Tony Stark) had a gallery of retired mech suits in his Tower but I described as such in-game. The description came naturally when I had a base inspiration to rely on.
I hope that was more helpful than long-winded!