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The zen DM – part 3: giving

Written by Expy - Published on May 7, 2008

Welcome to the third 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.


One sure-fire to make your players happy is to give them, or their characters, something. Ideally, you’d give themthe best roleplaying experience they’ve ever had, but you can’t always prepare or run a perfect session. So as each session nears its end, ask yourself:

Did the players get what they wanted out of the session?

What can you give the players? An evening of fun, some good times with their friends – that should be a given. But they might also want to feel like they have accomplished something, or feel like they kicked ass. So don’t hesitate to resolve a lingering side-quest, or give the PCs some spectacular moments in the spotlight, even if it doesn’t quite fit you long-term campaign plans.

Expy the dragon haiku-izes:
Game almost over.
Introduce a red dragon.
Give players beating.

Did the characters get what they wanted out of the session?

Were the PCs looking for someone, something, or information? If they haven’t found anything, give them a clue. If there’s no logical way you can introduce a relevant clue, give introduce a random item in the game. You can make the item mysterious and decide what the item’s functions / powers are after the session.

Receiving is fun, giving is even more fun

Isn’t giving one of the simple pleasures at the heart of the game mastering vocation (and life in general)?

What do you think?

There are a lot of reasons we choose to spend the extra time and be DMs. I do it for the creative process and for the thanks I get after each session. What about you?

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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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4 Responses to “The zen DM – part 3: giving”
  1. I like it.

    Just remember though that sometimes what the players want, isn’t necessarily what the characters want. I’ve run for some players who want to make sure their characters suffer crippling tragic turns for the session, hanging on to the hope that the characters will turn out victorious several sessions down the road.

    But ultimately, your message rings true. If everyone’s happy with the game, then you’ve done your job as a GM.

  2. Irek Aleksander C. says:

    Hey hi,

    I’d like to add a comment regarding the generousity of GMs which is a double bladed sword that can often cut one’s hand if wielded by the wrong end. You should keep your eye on the future instead of just the next Beholder when dispensing magical marvels.

    For Enterprising DMs, it’s fun to plot challenges for players who have 54,000XP in magical equipment to start including Haversacks, Boots of Speed, Scabars of Keen, and a pot or two of Nolzur’s Magnificent Pigments.

    However, for the Casual DM, you should know that each item you give will likely increase the work you have to prepare to keep your PCs entertained and challenged. If left unchecked you may end up with 5 PCs who have AC 32+ and can beat on 6 Oni Demons with DR 10/magic, HF 5+, and massive stength, well before they are level 10.

    Think before you award magic items that will render PC’s hard earned physical skills (Climb, Open Locks, Disable Device) redundent or you will be adventuring with grimacing rogues and tempermental barbarians.

    *Keep in mind which GM you are when dispensing rewards items, you’re the one who will have to work around them.

    The solution in that circumstance is likely a ‘triple threat’ or 3 successive challenges (the ‘triple’) that keep the players from recovering totally (by circumstance or by choice) while the anticipate another successive challenge (the ‘threat’) before their goal is reached.

    The power of numbers cannot be ignored especially in desperate rescue of an honored Clan Leader from an enemy encampment of a 1000+. Even with Cleave, each PC is ultimately vulnerable when the flow of buffs/curative/abjuration countermeasures slows or stops flowing. Even 30 Level 4-6 fighers can even challenge an acolyte of the Power attack feat tree.

    Additionally, PCs divided always increases the CR of an encounter from what I have seen (barring players that play their PCs like a modern day SWAT team).

    One of the most useful items in the games I played was the Staff of Eralion which cast Daylight and Levitate when commanded to. For a group of ‘humans, haflings and half-elves’ … it paid for itself many times over.

    See you Sunday Night!

  3. Kane says:

    Good stuff Yax, makes me think alot about my own game. Its good to step outside of the DM screen and ask yourself these questions, it can only better the sessions for everyone.

  4. Nickalin says:

    I have my players leave me a note after each game. With 1 thing that they liked about the game & 1 thing they didnt like. I keep track of these likes & dislikes & try to use the information they give me to make there next session just a little bit better.

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