Zombie Murder Mystery

The zen DM – part 2: focus

Written by Expy - Published on May 3, 2008

Welcome to the second 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.


All DMs prepare – or act like they prepare – heading into a gaming session. However few have precise objectives while preparing. Vague objectives like “I want everyone to have fun” are well-intended but useless.

Expy the dragon
Drinking while gaming.
Focus mysteriously gone.
Great quotes gallore.

Focusing on specific, smaller scale goals will help you run fun, memorable sessions without increasing your workload. Here are a few easy-to-achieve, worthwhile goals (choose 1 to 5 of them for your upcoming game and see what happens):

  • I will use hit point piles instead of micro managing each goblin.
  • I will mention one mood element in each scene.
  • I will roleplay one quirk for each NPC (or at least the recurring NPCs)
  • I will always listen to my players during the game – without zoning out because I’m thinking of DM stuff. I’ll call a timeout if I things are going too fast.
  • I will call my players to talk about the upcoming session and get my players talking too, effectively building hype and excitement.
  • I will not throw dice at my players.
  • I will remember to bring the battle map (and the map markers, and the minis)
  • I will take 5 minutes to review my combat tactics before each encounter. The PCs maximize their skills and powers, why shouldn’t I?
  • I want to make player X feel like a superstar by putting him in a situation in which he can use a power/item he never gets to use.
  • I will read Dungeon Mastering daily.

Hopefully you get the idea. Write down one to five specific goals for your next session and evaluate if it helps you and your players to have a better RPG experience. Chances are it will.

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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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6 Responses to “The zen DM – part 2: focus”

Zombie Murder Mystery
  1. Geek's Dream Girl Says:

    I’ll add this:
    If you have Drow characters, give them opportunities to use their spells, otherwise they will curse their level adjustment (and you) when they’re inept because of a low BAB. ;p

  2. Asmor Says:

    Thanks for reminding me about the hit point piles. I’d completely forgotten about them (kind of hard to implement in Savage Worlds), and with 4th edition right around the corner it should be quite handy…

  3. Yax Says:

    Yep. The first 4e book is coming out in 2 weeks or so (Keep on the Shadowfell). I’m really looking forward to reading rules from a book and not from forums, interviews, and the bones of dead chicken.

  4. Micah Says:

    I’ve seen some campaigns that use their blog (and the comments) to communicate and stay excited. It’s not as personal as calling each other on the phone, but it’s still lots of fun.

    Take a look: http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaign/onara/adventure-log/party-name#comments

  5. michelle Says:

    ….i always read dungeon mastering.com

    it also helps to have all the enemies and their tresure written on a note card, and a brief description of the tactics used on the back

    last nights session kicked so much more ass because i used the cards instead of the whole damn book

  6. DandDGuy Says:

    Good DM’s tips and tricks 101 if you ask me some of this stuff is just make the calculations that DM’s and Players all have to do.

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