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4 ways to leave a lasting impression on your players

Written by Expy - Published on July 14, 2008

Be prepared

Easy to say.  Hard to do if your college years are behind you!  Being prepared always leaves everyone happy.  DMing a well-prepared campaign is effortless and the players feel that you can handle whatever they throw at you.

If you enter a game session with a great amount of preparation, you still shouldn’t bank on the fact that the players will act as expected.  Maybe your great preparation will be of no use… For this session.  Never throw away good material.  But don’t feel like you have to use it right away – keep it for the next session if it doesn’t match the PCs actions.

Be dynamic

Go with the flow.  Make things happen.  Let things happen.

PCs take interest in a random, unimportant NPC? Make him or her important.  Take some old NPC concept or modify an NPC you have yet to use and instill some life into that hollow character the players are suddenly interested in.

Run fast paced encounters.  Spice up combat by forcing the PCs to cross a battlefield as they fight through it.  Add a time constraint to the adventure.  Keep things moving at a fast pace, in the real world, and in the game world

Be original – or not

First time players will likely love a classic adventure.  Long time players probably won’t.  Does your campaign arch match your players’ experience?  If you’re not sure what your players want, just ask them.  They might tell you they feel like low-energy hack & slash.  Or they might confirm that they trust you to come up with something unique.

Be insane

Come up with something crazy, completely unexpected.  I can tell you that my players all remember that time when the realized they were on a boat but all the paddles on the boat were evil constructs.  Did it move the plot forward?  Not really.  Does everyone remember?  Definitely!

Challenge yourself

What would you do if you had to leave a lasting impression on your players?  What if you had only one more D&D game to play?   What DM trick would you use to paint an an unforgettable picture, to run a memorable session?

Share your thoughts!

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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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14 Responses to “4 ways to leave a lasting impression on your players”
  1. Kent says:

    I took over being the DM at my table because the old DM (now moved away) did not have any of the qualities listed above. He would just read the text straight out of published games…never original. Any way, my players are a ragtag group that have a multitude of playing styles, and as a DM, if I do not come up with some good, all encompassing quality stuff…forget it. Another part you could add to your list is for the DM to know his/her players, and give them as much of what they like without compromising your game.


  2. Alphadean says:

    As a long time DM/GM I’ve had to come up with techniques on the fly. I play with a few different groups, one group is straight D&D and nothing else. These folks like it all. Straight dungeon crawls, intrigue, epic adventures and since we’ve been playing together now for a couple of years, I can almost feel what they need when we get together. So knowing their nuances and body languages has been a serious boon. My other two groups will play anything at any time. These fellas are off the chain though, they need high octane action, so normally what I do for this group is start the game off with a bang and build from there. I’m also getting ready to use 4E to get my kids started playing D&D…I plan on easing them into a nice lil save the town from maruading monster adventure. No big puzzles to figure out just hunt the beast back to its lair and the final conflict will insue

  3. Pé0 says:

    haaa the evil paddle… How could we ever forget them. Now it’s a running joke when going in any boat with paddle.

  4. Bitsy says:

    Yeah, the only thing I ever have trouble with in my games is that the entire party turns lethargic whenever they hit combat. I mean, I must be doing something wrong since that’s supposed to be the best part of the game, right?

  5. Jim says:

    The first time that I ran a campaign, I learned very quickly how Players random actions, not to mention die rolls can throw a wild card into sessions that I had carefully planned.

    One NPC started out to be some name-less thug that my players were supposed to just ‘deal with’. Low and behold, this turned out to be and NPC that would not go away. In two encounters, one a bar brawl and the other a midnight-dark-alley fight, my players rolled poorly and I rolled very well. Before you knew, my own players were building up this name-less NPC as some evil thug that was bent on making misery on their lives. So, for my player’s sins on letting their imagination get the better of them, I gave this NPC a name and a reputation that then dogged them for two and a half years of gaming time.

    One simple encounter, that’s all it was supposed to be. But we all loved every minute of it.


  6. Websites To Play Games says:

    Good site I “Stumbledupon” it today and gave it a stumble for you.. looking forward to seeing what else you have..later

  7. Ethan says:

    In my third campaign i played in, our entire party got arrested and i escaped the shackles with a 32 escape artist check…than i killed my team when they were shackled up, black lotus poison is a b!^&h 3d6/3d6 constitution damage, they were all dead in minutes. EVERYONE REMEMBERS IT!!!

  8. Yax says:

    @ Ethan:
    That definitely will give them something to rememberq

    Run shorter combats and/or take notes when you’re a player.

  9. Ravyn says:

    Bitsy: Meh, combat isn’t the best part of the game for everyone. Some of us tend to wish it would all go away so we can get back to the interesting stuff; I’m as often as not one of the scariest people in my group when it comes to a fight, but I’d much rather be playing political games with the next group of condescending troublemakers or getting to know the nifty NPCs, and running mystery arcs or attempts to throw parties where I can play to my strengths.

    What I’d do:

    Try something really different. Two of the best-liked sessions in my game involved, respectively, fourteen high-powered individuals (including the PCs) playing high-stakes Calvinball, and the attempt to defend an abandoned city from invaders using only maintenance- and entertainment-specialized constructs. (I don’t know which was more priceless, halting one of the invaders using Magitech DDR, or the staredown between another of them and the robo-potted-plant.)

    Ask them what they want. I wouldn’t give it to them exactly as they expected, of course, but if there are elements they’d really like to see, it shouldn’t be too hard to work them in.

    Give them world. If I don’t have a vibrant place planned out for them to walk through, with a little bit of history to look into and at least something there they’ve never seen before, I need to be able to invent one. (At least that’s the easy part.)

  10. Norm says:

    I have been DMing since I was 12 and I know that I have grown because of the various people that I have run games for. I have had a huge number of players over the past 20 years (wow just realized this is an anniversary year) and I can name each as well as remember something that they have done in a game. I make it a point to have the players write a history for their characters and then I will use some aspect at somepoint in the game. This really has helped bring backstories into the game and seems to bring the characters out of the paper and into technicolor. Many have been suprised that I would go to such links as to remember and include a minor portion of a characters history into a game that I am running. It’s a lot of work but I can’t run into even someone who has played just one with me and have them ask if I remember when . . . I know that it has been a long developement for my games and I am constantly refining them, but the goal is to have fun and nothing to me is as rewarding as having someone ask “Do you remember in youyr game when . . .” Thanks for the chance to share.

  11. Kurtis says:

    If you read anything I have written then you know that I have been DMing for (sigh) 20+ years. One thing that I came up with was a DM’s challenge for the players. As we all have gone through a campaign where as Bitsy put it: my players become lethargic. The DM’s challenge is that you have your circle of players each come up with 5 ideas for adventures that they would like to see in a game, then you have them all choose five ideas from the ones they came up with. Now you have 5 ideas that the players came up with, therefore they feel like they have had a roll in the creation of the campaign you now build around there ideas. In this way your players will be more engaged in the campaign waiting with baited breath (some needing breath mints) until there “adventure idea” comes up in the campaign. It also lets you use your intelligence and “time” to better use.

  12. Ethan says:

    As a DM, roll a d20, on an even, everyone takes 10d6 lightning bolt damage, no saving throw, on an odd, spawn a terrasque, or 6

  13. pete says:

    the next day i’d go rob an armored car. oh -wait that’s already been done.


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