Is [Kit Harington] as good looking in person as he appears on television? This guy…this guy… I mean seeing him on screen is nice enough right. It’s nothing compared to what I’m going to call the ‘live experience.’ - John Bradley. (requested)
some notes i’ve been taking on DMing, culled from various sources
Plot & Campaign:
Don’t think of yourself as being “against” the players. They aren’t playing “against” you. They are playing against the world and situations you pose to them, but you should be on their side.
Similarly, don’t think of the campaign as “your” story that you are telling to the players. It is a story that you are telling together. They affect the outcome of it as much (or more) than you do. If the players find a way to ruin your carefully crafted plot, let it go. You have to accept not getting your own way all the time the same way that the players do.
That said, have contingency plans in case the PCs kill or ignore your plot hook, find a way to bypass your carefully created puzzle, or successfully charm your final boss into not attacking them.
Use up your most fantastic ideas - don’t hoard them for later. You never know how long a campaign will last, and you might never get to those cool scenes and setpieces you were saving.
Utilize recurring NPCs. It’s less work for you and gives the players someone familiar to look forward to seeing (or resent intensely.)
Give the players a nemesis - someone or something working against their efforts, even if that is not a “villain” per se.
Have descriptions ready for locations and NPCs, but don’t over-describe. Give them enough details to build a sense of atmosphere without requiring them to draw the scene.
Have a set of possible random events ready to go, and periodically roll to see if any of them happen, to keep your players (and you!) on your toes.
Rules & Rolls:
Like in improv theatre, go for the “yes and” (or “yes but”) response to a player’s idea rather than a “no.” If the rules don’t specifically ban a player from doing something, let them do it. If it’s especially game-breaking and stupid, this is a great time to say “yes, but” and come up with a fun consequence.
Don’t stop everything to look up a rule. If you can’t find or figure out the answer within a minute, tell the players how you’ll do it this time based on your best guess and look it up for the future. Alternatively, if you aren’t sure what the rule would be for what a player proposes, just let them roll a d20 and add a relevant modifier to it versus your best estimate of difficulty level.
Don’t assume that a failed check means “nothing happens.” Failures can be as eventful, interesting, and story-driving as successes.
Calculating small currency amounts, weight encumbrances, and rations is incredibly boring for everyone. Decide ahead of time whether you want to just ditch those elements (within reason - if you are being kind to the players by not making them weigh out every item in their inventory, they should be kind to you by not claiming they are carrying a whole refrigerator.)
Pay attention to what motivates your players most (treasure, money, challenging fights, puzzles, stories) and use that to guide your campaign ideas. Let them tell you what carrot will lead them through the plot.
Make a note of what your players mention wanting out of the game experience (a certain kind of adventure or scene, an item) and find an opportunity to reward them with it.
Come up with a set of treasure/advanced weapons/other loot-ish rewards specific to each player. Whenever they are dungeoncrawling or getting rewards, roll to see which items they receive at that time.
Provide opportunities every session, if possible, for each character to use their skillset and playstyle, so that they don’t feel like the sidekick in someone else’s adventure.
Encourage the players to make themselves a “battle sheet” in addition to their standard character sheet that lists all their skills and spells (in their own words) and how it works, so that they understand their own potential and remember to use them! You are there to help them out if they aren’t sure of a mechanic, but encourage them to take ownership of their own character’s abilities.
Cliffhangers aren’t actually great ways to end a session (in case the campaign stalls out there, or a player drops out), but you can end with a new situation arising or a hard question to ponder, giving the players something to think about and look forward to returning to for the next session.
Pay attention to the players’ welfare and condition as much (or more) than to their characters. If they are stressed, unhappy, or angry about something in the adventure (or something another player is doing), you should be ready to moderate that as much as you would moderate an in-game rule.