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30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make You A Better DM (part 2)

Written by Expy - Published on November 6, 2009

In the spring of 2007 I did not work. I wrote. A lot! This was before I started writing for Dungeon Mastering. I was writing a novel (which is still just a draft). Writing fiction is tough, but it’s also fun and rewarding. For me it was also a great learning experience. I polished skills I had only used subconsciously: crafting complex character, creating unique settings, weaving story elements together.

Two and a half years later, my fiction writing projects are on hold. I’m all about gaming nowadays. But my stint as an aspiring novelist made me a better writer and a better storyteller. I thought I’d share a few writing techniques that I learned through books, websites, and experience and how I use them to be a better DM.

30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make You A Better DM

This is a three part series:

#11 – End your preparation sessions mid-sentence

This one is from Johnn Four (Roleplaying Tips, Campaign Mastery, Gamer Lifestyle). By stopping a writing session or game prep session mid-sentence you can pick where you left off easily the next time to sit down to write.

#12 – Build on assumptions

Description can bring your game session to a grinding halt if it’s not necessary. To cut down on description while still getting all the important information across, let your players know that you will build on their assumptions. For example, in a tavern players can assume that all the cliches are present – rowdy crowd, food, gambling, even mysterious hooded figures in dark corner. Of course, if your players assume something and their character acts accordingly, say yes, go along with their crazy ideas, and let them be the driving force of the story.

#13 – Have a single, clearly defined them

Redemption. Revenge. Exploration. Try to choose a theme – your players should have a say in this – and stick with it as often as possible. It will help set the mood for your campaign and help you make game prep decisions.

#14 – Use all five senses in your descriptions

Sight is the default. Describing sounds can greatly enhance the quality of your descriptions. Adding smells when appropriate can really immerse your players into the game world. Touch and taste are a little tougher to use. At first you might prepare these descriptions. If you keep at it and keep making a conscious effort to include all senses in your narrative, eventually it will come naturally.

#15 – Brevity and levity

I got this tip from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. If you can squeeze more information with less work, you automatically increase the pace of your game. For this to work you have to focus on story elements, characters, and scenes that really make an impact on your players and your game. Whenever an encounter – roleplay or combat – begins ask yourself: how can this moment make a major impact on the campaign or on one of the players? Go for it: make something happen!

#16 – Repetition

You can’t expect your players to remember everything about your NPCs or your game world. Repetition is easy to use and it will help you etch characters and scenes in your players minds. Repetition is easy to use and it will help you etch characters and scenes in your players minds. Repetition is easy to use and it will help you etch characters and scenes in your players minds.

#17 – Comparisons

Comparisons can really bring descriptions to life – they help you paint a vivid image.

#18 – Don’t let disapointment (or complete failure) stop you.

For every 5 great ideas and brilliant scenes you prepare, only one, two, or maybe 3 at the most will turn out just as good as you hoped it would. Don’t let that stop you. Keep DMing, keep planning games, keep writing, and keep having fun. Here’s my take on this success rate of 1 or 2 out of 5. As I get better as a DM my expectations rise and I try to pull off new techniques, different scenes, wilder ideas. So I’ll never be completely happy with my overall performance since I’m always trying something new, but even my “failures” are not that bad. In fact they might even be better than my successful scenes from 2 years ago! Failure, success, satisfaction, disapointment – it’s all relative. Just get people together, keep trying out new ideas and have fun.

#19 – Be open to criticism

Not only should you be open to criticism but you should seek it out! Ask your players what they like and don’t like about the way you run your games. And listen!

#20 – Make a difference

As a game master, a writer, or a storyteller you have to realize what your ultimate goal is. Is it to entertain? Is it to get your friends together? Is it to make your players feel good about themselves and their characters? Is it to relax and get away from your hectic daily grind? Knowing the reason behind the game helps you enjoy it more and run games for the right reasons – not just because it’s Wednesday and Wednesdays are game nights. Telling your story, running your campaign – it can be a great way to make a difference in your life and in the life of your friends.

This is a three part series:

If you are an aspiring fiction writer or game designer and want to get published, take a look at the Gamer Lifestyle coaching program that I run with Johnn Four (of RoleplayingTips.com). The program is currently open to new members from November 5th through November 7th. You can download our 70+ pages free e-book on working in the RPG industry to learn more about the Gamer Lifestyle project.

We opened the program to new members for a promotion that we are doing with Men With Pens, a popular blog for freelance writers. The Men With Pens Crew also runs Escaping Reality, a gaming fiction forum, and Capturing Fantasy, where fiction writing meets online gaming.

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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8 Responses to “30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make You A Better DM (part 2)”
  1. #11 – End your preparation sessions mid-sentence

    I can attest that this is extremely useful. I personally use it for almost all of my development, and it works wonders for keeping you writing when you come back to something.

    #14 – Use all five senses in your descriptions

    Although I completely agree with this make sure it makes sense, for example when describing a person most likely you aren’t going to be using the a description for their taste, unless your going for something a bit creepier then what I play. Just make sure it all makes sense. :)

    Yax, great post, looking forward to the next posting.

  2. Yax says:

    Thanks Tyson. Writing this series made me realize that I haven’t written much for the blog in a few months. It’s fun and I just hope I can help a couple of game masters out there.

  3. Kolbold Minion says:

    #14-Use all senses in your discription.

    A great technique to bring life and imagery into a fantasy world. For one of my games, I only used four. With my players’ approval, they all went temporarily blind for one session. This was no Perception check subtraction, for the whole game nothing but smells and sounds were discribed. A memorable game.

  4. @Kolbold Minion – What inspired this adventure? I rather like it in concept but would definitely have to prep quite a bit as my descriptions tend to be weak from time to time.

    @Yax you definitely should be writing more I like this blog and it’s good to be hearing from all of you.

  5. Jeff Carlsen says:

    Smell is the single most important sense if you’re trying to evoke a particular mood. Our minds attach emotion to smell very, very readily.

    A good followup to the use of all five senses is the value of sticking to significant details. A handful of specific, and unique, details set a scene, or add interest to an NPC, and the players will fill in the rest.

  6. Kolbold Minion says:

    @Tyson J. Hayes
    Inspiration? Well, for starters, one of my players wrote a brief short story about a blind soldier (he enjoys presenting his writings to our group). I got the hint and realised that my players wanted something radically diferent, a blind adventure. Also, the Elder Scrolls Oblivion helped me create the adventure. The game’s idea of Blind Moth Priests who used blindness as spirutual elevation helped me create the adventure’s story.
    As for the mechanics, I used repetitive descriptions to describe monsters. i,e a zombie would always be a rotting, foul odor that moans and takes shambling steps. A room full of zombies would be full of shambling, moaning, rotting enteties. The players caught on quickly.
    Best part of the adventure? The players solved a riddle, which I wrote out (in real life), by palming my paper and feeling the letters until they understood what it said.

  7. Yax says:

    @Jeff Carlsen: Good advice!

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