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The Social Side of DMing

Written by Krystal - Published on May 23, 2010

Dming can seem like a simple task to the experienced Dungeon Master who has  ‘DM-ed’ his friends for years in his home, but what happens when you have to leave the safety of your group and DM at an event or a group of people you don’t know? What are they going to play, what do you prepare for, what NPC do you use? Fear not, friends, I have your answers.

Stranger Danger!

Dming people you don’t know can cause problems when you are trying to figure out the types of traps, skill challenges and other class orientated issues. My suggestion here is to make sure there are multiple routes through one danger, challenge, or obstacle that you create for the party. Or at the very least make sure there is an NPC that can back the party up in a tight pinch where the PC’s are unable to bypass it, or have multiple solutions for one obstacle. Confused? Here’s a few examples.

Scenerio: The players are trying to get into a dungeon, the door is locked.

Multiple Routes Example: The door can either be picked with a successful lock pick/thievery check of 15, or a successful search/perception check will reveal a hidden, secret, entrance around the side.

Multiple Solutions Example: The door can either be picked with a successful lock pick/thievery check of 15, or it can be broken with a strength check of 17.

NPC Solution: The NPC can either find another route, pick the lock, can break the door if no one else can, etc. He’s your “Filler”.

Hope this helps a little! (Also please let me know if incorporating examples was a bad idea or if it helps clarify things for you!)

Sometimes everyone plays pretty much the same thing, in this case make sure to have handful of NPC’s prepared for the game, one of each major category/class would be best. So, just to clarify have at least one fighter type, one roguish type, and one spell caster/clerical type (preferably clerical if you plan on throwing a lot at them and don’t use healing items as previously describe in another article).

Sometimes your players won’t get along, in that case feel free to as the DM put your foot down though try not to clash too terribly with the other players, as the DM you are kind of the like the host (even if you are at a convention or some public place) and should be able to have the ability to convince your players to move along with the game. Don’t get involved in petty arguments, it will only make things worse for you and everyone else trying to play the game.

Ack! They’re looking at me!

If you have a problem with stage fright but you are the elected GM there are a few things you can do to help you feel a bit more at home. First off, don’t forget your basic Dming tools such as your books, dice, and that handy dandy DM screen! You can hide behind this all day and still feel powerful and all knowing in your DnD realm!

Think you are going to have a lot of issues with descriptions? Remember take some pictures or reference guides to show your layers, set up preset descriptions or modules for these types of games, using a module is okay! Remember though read it before hand! Make notes and do any research you need before hand, and always, ALWAYS leave room for your players to try stray from the module, best you can do is take one or two modules or a handful of the smaller, quicker adventures that can be constant fillers if you ever get stuck (again, read whatever you take before you try and run people through it, especially strangers!). When you read from a module or a preset description try not to sound stiff, practice reading it with emphasis or a bit of feeling, this will help the game seem more dynamic and exciting, as opposed to the monotone reading that people often experience when they read module descriptions out loud. I said it once I’ll say it again, don’t be afraid to use pictures or background music!  These things really help ease the mood, so bring your laptop and a playlist (a neutral one that isn’t likely to offend anyone) or a small stereo, explain beforehand before you use any of these outside items for music or what not though as they may not be familiar with that. Tell them it helps set the mood for you and is a useful Dming tool.

When you are Dming strangers remember they don’t know you, they don’t know your world, your house rules, your slang, etc. Lay important things out before the game starts, such as house rules and other quirks in your Dming, jargon and slang can be discussed when it comes up. A good example of that is in my world a “Backwater race” is considered a insult, ‘backwater’ is referring to some of the waters behind human cities that often times get polluted and dirty due to careless behaviors…So if I was using this in game I’d explain go them that they would already know what a backwater race is because it’s common slang, and explain to them what it means. It’s okay to explain things as they come up if you forget, and if its important and effects the players move remember to be understanding, if you don’t allow certain moves then tell them “I forgot to tell you so its okay this time, but from now on we need to remember that I don’t do that…” and such, don’t be rude and tell them there is no way they can do that and they should know, because they don’t. Being the DM requires a lot of understanding sometimes, so stay calm and collected.

It’s like buying one GameBoy for two boys.

Loot is going to be one of the most fought over things in a lot of the games you will DM, try to split up loot evenly or be tolerant to a lot of fighting and arguing over items. If you know how many people will be gaming, try scattering that amount of items through out the adventure for them to find so it is less arguing and more discussing and trade. Some GM’s are known to only give out coin due to such bickering, though I advise against this since many adventurers are seeking rare artifacts to go with their soon to be epic characters!

Big Brother!

Once in awhile you will get a player who is seasoned far beyond the other players, you have a group that averages on second level except for that one guy who is twelfth level. Try to separate encounters while still keeping them together, such as having one large monster with a ton of smaller creatures, while the higher level character is fighting that one the rest of them can go after things more their size!

Or, as bias as this may seem, try to keep the focus on the higher level character if you just throw a big monster at them, since it would slaughter your other players in one hit. For skill challenges you can just up the challenge rating for when ever the higher level character is doing the challenge a little, it may seem a bit unfair but the more seasoned character needs to be able to have a challenge as well, just because his character his higher level does not necessarily mean he wants things handed to him (unless, of course, he really actually does…)

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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6 Responses to “The Social Side of DMing”
  1. Tourq says:

    I really can’t imagine a game with four 2nd level characters and one 12th level character. Nope, I can’t see it.

  2. TheWhite says:

    Player 1:”HAI guys, what level are you”
    Players 2-5 “2nd”
    Player 1: “OK, I;ll bring out my level 12 Sorc”
    Players 2-5: “WHAT!?!?!”
    Bad DM “I’mma gonna allow this”
    Good DM “Nope, roll up a 2nd level”
    REALLY Good (or bad, depending on your point of view): “I’mma gonna allow this” “oops, guess you’ll have to roll a newbie. Oh yea, all characters in this campaign start al level 1 no matter what”


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