Improving as a Dungeon Master

Have you watched the original Karate Kid film? The one with Daniel in it and Mr Miyagi? Near the end of the film Daniel as the karate kid enters the karate tournament in order to get to the final, defeat the bully and finally get the girl! There is a wonderful piece of music which accompanies the scenes as he progresses through the fights. It’s called

You're the Best lyrics

– and I always like to read the lyrics. Although I realise that I am never going to be the best at anything, there is the element of hope and that gives me something positive to work towards. Because of this I am always on a constant quest to improve and I thought I would detail in this waffle how I am planning on improving as a DM/GM.

You might have read my waffle about Dungeons and Dragons. I’m not new to DMing, or role playing, although I am new to the virtual situation of D&D, the rules of 5th Edition and playing with other adults. It is because of these new situations which I feel that I have some work to do on improving so, I thought I would identify some areas and actions to start working on this.

  • Learning the Rules – Many of the rules have changed since I was playing AD&D. Not only has the core rules changed but many people are way ahead of me of the interpretations and intricacies of these rules. This is a very steep learning curve for me as I am having to engage with new rules but also how these have been interpreted by existing players. Originally the campaign was set up for completely new player, although more experienced players are now joining and presenting not only new rules but also different DMs interpretation of these rules. In order to progress with these, I am reading the rule book more but also watching and listening into other people’s streams so that I can see the rules in action. This puts the rules into a context which I often find easier to remember. An example of this was the initiative rule. I was used to rolling initiative, everyone taking their action and then rolling it again for the next round. Only through watching Roll20’s White Plume Mountain series that I realised that I had been playing the old AD&D version of these rules and that now initiative was only rolled once for the whole combat. What I do need to be careful is not to adopt rules which I haven’t thought through myself since I do want to run a campaign which I am happy with running. Watching these streams have also provided me with some insight into many of the technical aspects of the Roll20 interface. I’ve learnt so much over this week alone and I am sure I have more to even learn. Thanks to Adam (aka @skinnyghost) and Andrew (aka @commutingcrow) for answering my questions so promptly on twitter – great help guys!

  • The Experience for the Players – When I am streaming I am always keen to put any donations I receive back into the games I play and how I stream these. Recently, I managed to get enough donations to up grade my Roll20 account to that of a pro player. I had previous financed a year subscription to Zoom (£200+) myself due to the fact that we were having several problems with the Roll20 video interface. This investment not only supports my stream, but also hopefully the player’s experience. I always like an immersive campaign when, for the hours when we are playing, players are completely involved with their players and the gaming world. I’m working hard to use dynamic lighting within adventures now but also working on creating more maps and plans in order to make the experience more ‘real’. This is taking a large amount of time to sort, but I am hoping that the output for the players and stream will be beneficial. When I was doing paper and pen adventuring, we had a huge perspex sheet which I used to draw on a lot. I guess that those days are gone although as I work on this target I am trying to be more prepared and not just scribble maps down on the Roll20 interface. Coupled with this I am trying to find the cash to buy new tokens and items in order to add more to the adventure. I’ve purchased the monster manual for Roll20 so hopefully this will be a step in the right direction. Hopefully it will make it easier for me as well since many of the monsters now have their own tokens and characters sheets all ready to be used.

  • My Skills as a DM – Due to my job, I consider myself a natural presenter and like to waffle on. When I am teaching, there is a theory which states that the amount of talk of teacher to pupil in the class should be 20:80 – with the children doing most of the talking. I am trying to develop a more ‘community’ style of chat within the streams at the moment. I don’t particularly want to be the one doing all the talking outside the description so planning for opportunities for players to engage with this is important. I also want to role play more. I’ve never been very good at accents but I have started to try a few in order to develop the NPC’s focusing more on their personalities rather than specific accents. I must admit at this point that I am a bit of a control freak and like to feel that my campaign is my world which the characters are inhabiting. I know, and understand, that some people might disagree with this, seeing the campaign world which is co created between the players and the DM. As I am starting to DM again I’ve started to recognise the sort of campaign which I want to develop. This probably means that I will start again and encourage either a new group of players or the option for players to develop new characters – especially as I buy additional supplements and new races/classes becoming available. I do want to have a campaign where there are consequences for actions. Sometimes players might disagree with these but I think it is important that the campaign has its own essence and develops as a world itself. Although many people actually contribute to this world, I think it is up to me as the DM to maintain the ‘feel’ of the world. As I continue to DM I am constantly developing this ‘feel’ for my own world – you never know it might actually one day surface from the ocean – now there’s an idea!

  • I really like progressing and making improvements with things. If you stand still you can end up looking back and suddenly realising that you have not progressed at all. Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I make changes which work. As well as hopefully improving, I think I am also developing as a DM and deciding what my key values for the game are. I’m going to continue to try and infiltrate the big hitters in the D&D world in order to get myself known and hopefully be able to contribute in some small way to the community. If you are interested in watching the current D&D campaign you can find us live streaming it on a Saturday evening starting at 20:00 . If you are looking for a my advanced or refined D&D stream then please check out TallSquall, Roll4it as well as SusanahGrace (Monday Evenings), oByy190 and Skaggeth.

    As always, if you have any thoughts or comments on this post then please add them below or send them to me via any of the social media sites I frequent. You can keep up to date with my content by following me on Twitch, Twitter and Facebook. If you are interested in joining or playing Minecraft, then please check out my Minecraft webpage for details of joining the the server. Of course any subscribers to my YouTube channel are always appreciated and don’t forget to check out my merchandise in the Waffling Shop

    Have fun and I’ll catch you all later and, until then, consider yourself waffled!

    2 comments for “Let Me In! – Simon’s Cat – YouTube

    1. February 19, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Would be cool to play an one off, one of the dungeon crawls you made! Maybe the 8 level one!!!

    2. March 21, 2017 at 12:05 am

      I miss those early days so much. The current state of rpg’s , the rpg xubculture if you like, doesn’t feel like it did back then. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

      I was introduced to Advanced D&D 1st Edition, by my sisters boyfriend (the BEST boyfriend of the many she had IMHO..), who showed me S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module after discovering I enjoyed computer based adventure games, I was hooked immediately and it wasn’t too long before I was hanging around the local game shop, Games Gallery, from which I was invited to join in a game run by the assistant manager, who was to become my long and good friend Steve, who was coincidentally, the reason I got to work at the local branch of Games Workshop for a time. Working there, in those days, before it became a Warhammer only shop, was amazing. It was the proverbial kid in the sweet shop!. Staff discount made it even sweeter – 50% off GW’s own products, and 25% off everything else. We also ran a great rpg club, with about 60-80 members at its peak.
      I was always the GM for my main group as no one else had the time it took to prepare a game properly, though after a few changes to the group, and people from the club popping up, I eventually got to play. Games by a company called Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU) were very popular in all of my groups. FGU sold games such as Bushido, Aftermath,Space Opera, Chivalry & Sorcery, Freedom Fighters, and Bunnies & Burrows, but there were many many more games, by many different companies, covering all sorts of genres – and I still have them all. Many were, as was the style back then, table and chart and rule HEAVY. We loved that. Comparing themto the current crop of “rules lite” systems, I would certainly go back to the old games instead. We played these games sometimes 5 days a week, as for a time we were all unemployed. It was all we did.
      I often spent days creating scenarios, making maps, creating player characters as well as npc’s. I found it quite therapeutic, as is miniature painting – thousands of the little buggers packed away testify to the time I spent doing it. My “toy soldiers” as my brother in law calls them…
      I used to get quite attached to my favourite characters, and whilst one or two died over the decades, most did not.
      For almost all of my characters I would go overboard by most people’s standards. I like to have an image for my characters, whether a photo or artwork. Sometimes I will see an image and that is the base for the whole character, built around the image.
      I always believed as a player, that giving the GM a detailed background, list of goals, motivations, friends, contacts and enemies, will help the GM bring my character into the game more, by using some of what I have given him in the game. As a GM I like to see what players come up with for their characters, and will often use it in the game. It involves the player more, makes the game more personal if part of the game is suddenly about them, and it can help the players become more invested in their characters.
      For myself, I would often map out the characters home, create a family tree, siblings, etc.
      For our Star Trek RPG (by FASA Corp), I created the whole crew of a 500+ personnel star ship… All as detailed player characters. Unnecessary and a bit OTT I know, but it helped bring every department on the ship alive, every member of the landing party was a person not simply a red shirt.

      I am often bemused whilst watching streams when I see the gm of a streamed game pull some “new” idea out of his box of tricks, and the players are like “wow!”, “that’s original”, “I would never have thought of doing it that way!”, knowing we did it 30-40 years ago.

      The games my most recent group and I played/ran, were very detailed games with a lot of depth. Quite dark games too, mature themed, and often very emotional and intense. Having played with the same people for nigh on 20 years, you create a bond, a closeness and familiarity that allows you to communicate in a way you couldn’t, with people you don’t know very well.
      I have been brought to tears several times in recent years during the last (decade long) game we played ,as some scenes were simply too emotional or powerful, overwhelming (GM was a bastard – but an EXCELLENT GM).

      Sadly the group folded, but the GM offered to keep the game going for just me, which he did for a few years, which to be honest I really needed, as it helped me through a bad depression at that time).
      Over the years I have experienced a lot of things because of rpg’s, and made some great friends, too. I have a lot to be grateful for, regarding rpg’s. I was discussing with my brother in law, my collection of rpg’s and miniatures. When he realised how much they are worth, (some regularly sell for £100’s!) he always tells me to sell sell sell. He doesn’t grasp what they mean to me .
      Yet I won’t. Part of me hopes and prays that I will get a local group together (even some of the old group!) and start using them again. But aside from that, as my memory fails, little by little each year, these boxes and books and miniatures on the shelves are my constant reminders of happy and sad and exciting moments, and great fun, and more importantly, great friends.

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