In the spring of 2007 I did not work. I wrote. A lot! This was before I started writing for Dungeon Mastering. I was writing a novel (which is still just a draft). Writing fiction is tough, but it’s also fun and rewarding. For me it was also a great learning experience. I polished skills I had only used subconsciously: crafting complex character, creating unique settings, weaving story elements together.
Two and a half years later, my fiction writing projects are on hold. I’m all about gaming nowadays. But my stint as an aspiring novelist made me a better writer and a better storyteller. I thought I’d share a few writing techniques that I learned through books, websites, and experience and how I use them to be a better DM.
30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make You A Better DM
This is a three part series:
#21 – Foreshadowing
Let your players get a glimpse of the future! This is fun just from a storytelling standpoint and can be a very powerful driving force in your campaign – once you’ve seen how the future unfolds you act or react accordingly. Is it a good future? A bad one? Foreshadowing can be roleplayed through dreamscape adventuring, or through an encounter with a mystic or mage. If the PCs are present in the foreshadowing scene it can be fun to ask your players to level up 5-10 levels for a special foreshadowing game session.
#22 – Dialogue
Dialogue is much easier to pull off as a game master than it is as a novelist. The challenge for the game master is to use dialogue (roleplaying scenes between PCs and NPCs) to give out information, but not too much information. Giving away all the info the NPC knows in a few sentences makes the world seem artificial. You can stretch roleplaying scenes a little bit and make them a lot of fun by taking a moment to think of the NPC’s motivation and goals. You can also quickly come up with a roleplaying quirk that will make the NPC stand out. Do these 2 things, and be ready to improvise a little and good things should happen.
#23 – Start strong
There are many to start your campaign or adventure with a bang. Here are my top 2.
1) I’m a simple guy and I enjoy D&D for its tactical aspect so I start all my campaigns with a fight! This works better if players agreed that their PCs all know each other and will work together cohesively, but it can also bring PCs who are complete strangers together.
2) I try to include a least one element from 1 of the PCs’ backstory in that first fight scene. It lets the players know that I listened to their character concepts and that I want to work with them to make their characters more fun to play.
#24 – Start with the middle
When you prepare a campaign or adventure, prepare a scene that will not be played out for a while. This can help you focus your vision and determine what you’d like your campaign to become
#25 – Planting
Starting with the middle also allows you to use foreshadowing (see #21) and planting. I recorded this video on planting and storytelling a few months ago – it shows how I organize my information when I prepare a campaign.
#26 – Include real life experiences
A quick and easy way to bring an NPC to life is to get inspiration from your everyday life (yes, real life!) For example, if you’re playing with college students, you could introduce an NPC cramming for his magic school exams! You can turn almost any mundane daily experience or anecdote into NPC fodder by changing the details to fit the medieval fantastic setting. It can make NPC seem like real, live human beings.
#27 – Break a leg
No, I’m not wishing you good luck. I’m suggested that you should actually break a leg! Make your PCs bleed. Step out of the mechanics – break legs, burn eyes out of their orbits, chop an arm. It can be a fun challenge for the party and the players. Just one warning though – be careful if you’re going to permanently change a PC’s abilities – what’s the point of letting players create their own characters if the DM is going to mess up the character concept?
#28 – Come up with the wildest cliffhangers
Ending sessions with a bang is really important. Even if it’s not planned ahead. Throw away the plan and just throw the wildest cliffhanger you can think of at your players. You’lll have a week or two to find a reason to make it work!
#29 – Make it a mystery
If you every feel your players energy or interest wane, improvise and introduce a clue, an NPC, or a magic item. The clue could incriminate one of their friends or prove a previously-thought-guilty character. An NPC could have valuable information that gets everyone moving and kickstarts the action. And every player loves tinkering with a mysterious magic item, trying to understand what it is.
#30 – Have fun!
Being a DM is supposed to be fun. If you don’t have fun preparing your game sessions don’t do it. Take a break or ask someone else to DM.
This is a three part series:
If you are an aspiring fiction writer or game designer and want to get published, take a look at the Gamer Lifestyle coaching program that I run with Johnn Four (of RoleplayingTips.com). The program is currently open to new members from November 5th through November 7th. You can download our 70+ pages free e-book on working in the RPG industry to learn more about the Gamer Lifestyle project.
We opened the program to new members for a promotion that we are doing with Men With Pens, a popular blog for freelance writers. The Men With Pens Crew also runs Escaping Reality, a gaming fiction forum, and Capturing Fantasy, where fiction writing meets online gaming.