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The zen DM – part 1: limits

Written by Expy - Published on May 2, 2008

Don’t describe the red dragon, be the red dragon!

Welcome to the first installment of “The zen DM” – a series of articles that deals with achieving game mastering nirvana by reducing workload and increasing (chances of) success.

From the omniscient Wikipedia: Zen […] is a school of Buddhism notable for its emphasis on mindful acceptance of the present moment, spontaneous action, and letting go of self-conscious and judgmental thinking.

Know your limits

Most DMs care about their campaign and players. Some DMs even stress about upcoming games – now that’s caring! But stress is the mind-killer – or is it fear? I forget. Anyhow, stress can sap fun and energy so make sure that everyone’s expectations match the time you are willing to take to prepare. Thankfully you don’t need that much time to prepare a great D&D session.

Maybe you have plenty of time to prepare, but you can’t act, or you draw secret doors on the battle map before your players search for them. Being aware of your DM weaknesses makes you instantly better if you can accept that you’re not the perfect DM – nobody is.

Expy the dragon
Zen DM knows well:
Red dragons uber-awesome.
Keeps stat block handy.

Accept your limits

In my younger days, when I was a semi-pro athlete ( I was a full time pro athlete making no money, which averages out to semi-pro), and I was competing on the world stage my best results did not come when I was had the better technical knowledge and physical skills. My best results came when I was slightly past my prime and I couldn’t do all I wanted to do in competition. So I had to pay attention to and be aware of my limitations. I beat a lot of younger, better, and even smarter athletes who just wouldn’t accept that they were not as good as they thought they were.

So take some time to think about what works for you and don’t be afraid to stick with that. You’ll be a better DM and everyone at the table will have fun.

Push your limits

Knowing and accepting your limits doesn’t mean that you can’t get better! Here are a few free resources for dungeon masters that can help you learn and stay motivated:

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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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20 Responses to “The zen DM – part 1: limits”
  1. Yax, your description of your athlete days cracked me up! ;-)

    Stress is a killer for everything – athletes, DMs, musicians… the best performances for ANYTHING happen when you let go and remember that you are prepared and know what you’re doing. :)

  2. Yax says:

    I’m glad it made you laugh. My bank account (and probably my parents) didn’t enjoy my lack of income! Ah, the good ol’ days!

  3. Johnnay says:

    Expy’s haiku is funny but I think he’s biased. I’d rather throw something random and unexpected at my players like a monster from MM5 instead of the overused – and overrated – red dragon.

  4. Maikl says:

    Oops Johnnay, you are taking extreme risk saying such things about red dragons here…
    However, I can’t imagine how a DM can get stressed when GMing for well-known people. However, stress can happen when you are playing with people you don’t know well or in a completely new system.

  5. Note Johhnay’s name is red. It means he’s been marked for death by Expy! :)

  6. Yax says:

    Hopefully Johnnay made this comment to get something out of Expy. It’s kind of funny but he’s going to roast in a burning ball of flame anyway.

  7. Expy says:


    You’re going down, human! I have spells now. You should be afraid, very afraid.

  8. Showstopper says:

    Hey Yax,if you don’t mind telling us,what sport were you talking about? If not,no worry…but it would still be cool to know.

  9. Yax says:

    Footbag! => video

  10. known to the rest of the world as hacky sack! :)

  11. Oh, and might I add, Yax has a rockin’ bod. :)

  12. Yax says:

    Thank you, but make that past tense!

  13. awww…. Yax used to have a rockin’ bod? Now he has the beer gut? ;-)

  14. Yax says:

    Meh, let’s just say the 6 pack is fading into a 4 pack.

  15. Hey, 4 pack is better than a 1 pack. : )

  16. Showstopper says:

    Great moves Yax!

  17. Yax says:

    Thanks, Showstopper! That’s what dropping out of college will do for you. I graduated almost ten years after high school but I got some sweet hacky sack moves now.

  18. Maikl says:

    This discussion is really going off-topic… ;)

  19. DandDGuy says:

    I think Geeks Dream Girl has a crush on Yax, But I digress, this is mostly how I run a game I Zen my through it. the Only reason that I can do this now; is because of the 20 plus years of gaming and running many, many Games including D & D not to mention a cornucopia of others.

  20. Draiden says:

    I think Yax has (or had, whichever you prefer) some mad skills! And I must contest that being expected to put in full-time effort for no-time pay blows hard! But you gotta do what you love and love what you do. The Sport will love you, but only if you give everything to it. And who knows, maybe one day this footbag will bring in some money, just look at Tony Hawk and skateboarding, who would have thought he would be where he is today back when he was with Powell-Peralta doing “The Search for Animal Chin”!

    Anyway, knowing your limits and what you are comfortable with is so key. I have only been playing and DMing consistently for a few years now, but one thing I have learned is that you need to know yourself and your players. You have to know if your players want attention to detail, in-depth descriptions, and a plot that runs deeper than “buy weapon, use weapon” or if they just want to blow down the door, bloody the floor, and snag wicked loot! (Sorry, I couldn’t think up another word to keep with the rhyme in the catelogue, my professors would be so disappointed) The worst is, it may not always be as cut and dry as these two categories! I know sometimes my players want me to be super-serious and make them abide by realistic conventions, and other times they just want to pretend they are indestructible and run around burning down towns and stealing from theives; and what’s more is that everyone has an attention span that only lasts for so long before they get tired or bored or a bird flies by.

    I have found sometimes just reading up on the books, keeping a cache of NPCs, monsters, traps, encounters, adventures, and so on available, and just letting them take the action can be the most adventageous way for everyone to have fun. I have learned to stop really making “plans” (since, as everyone knows, if there is someway to screw-up the DM’s plans, a player will find it) and some nights we just sit down and I don’t open a single book and barely any dice are rolled simply by virtue of it being unnecessary because we are just screwing around.

    Also, Geeks Dream Girl’s crush is plenty well founded! An intelligent, athletic, creative, imaginative, passionate and outgoing man is nothing to be taken lightly.

    That is all.


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