Friday, 19 February 2010

Three Rules for being a good DM

1 - NEVER put your Ego before your players needs.
Example - So, you spent an hour creating that particular NPC - and another two hours painting him. So what if the players finish him off before your expected, thats the nature of the game - don't go out of your way for revenge or for the NPC to avoid being killed. Grow a Sack and be fair!

2 - Know your Game!
Example - Nothing BUT nothing destroys confidence than a DM thats constantly looking up rules in the books. Screens go a long way to resolve this, but a scratch pad is a wonderful tool. Any rules you aren't sure of, write them on the pad - no need to check out the book then. Also, if you make a house ruling - write it on your Scratch Pad. That way you can be consistent because you never forget anything!

3 - Never let the Rules get in the way of the Story.
Example - If for some reason the rules themselves get in the way of story flow - ignore the rules. Make a quick note on your Scratch Pad (so you don't forget) and carry on. Refer back to your Scratch Pad between games and rationalize your decision, or make it part of your core way of running things - NEVER explain things during a game ("all will be revealed" is my favourite phrase) if you do waver you can come over as uncertain (see rule number 2).

Beyond the above, make things as fun as possible - for both your players and yourself - there is nothing worse than a bored DM! These are generic ideas that shouldn't interfere with your individual DM'ing style!


  1. An excellent post, full of common sense, pure and simple!

    I remember a very old White Dwarf article that referred to the point raised in Rule 1 - the sort of DM whose favourite NPC is killed and so he decides on a revenge mission against the players.

    I think the quote was something along the lines of "Any dope of a DM can kill players" - the corollary being that it takes reall skill to give the players an adventure that combines fear, excitement, risk and reward.

    Rule 2 is easy as long as you don't have a rules lawyer on the team; arguments can start very quickly if said person thinks that what the DM has ruled is incorrect and if he manages to convince the other players that this has caused the death of characters, a real humdinger of a group conflict can arise.

    Provided that the DM has made reasonable notes that he can hide behind the screen, there is not really much that needs to be looked up - especially if the screen itself has most of the usual information on. It's really just spell effects that are hard to remember, so what I'll do when Junior Grognard is old enough to read them properly, is to have an index card for each spell they are capable of knowing and either keep it or give it to them so that when they cast it, they have the effects there at their fingertips and they can then hand it back to me, signifying that they've cast it and it's gone.

    Every other bit of info needed should be on the PC character sheets; you'd expect the PCs to be wholly conversant with their abilities and equipment and effectively, the DM's notes need to be the equivalent of a dungeon's character sheet.

  2. I must be charmed, I've NEVER had to deal with a Rules Lawyer. This is the problem these days from what I can tell. The DM is no longer "the master of the game" which was Gary's intent. His Rules/World/Way of Doing things - is law WITHIN his own game. Too many modern Players forget that.

  3. Lord,
    If you've never had a rules-lawyer in your game, you truly are blessed! They will grind your game to a halt at every opportunity just to prove you wrong on every call.

  4. LMAO! Looks like I am lucky about something!