• Justin Handlin

10 Mistakes You're Making as a Dungeon Master RIGHT NOW!

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10 Mistakes You're Making as a Dungeon Master RIGHT NOW!

As a Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master, you've got a lot on your plate. Between game prep, story development, connecting all the characters into the plot and so much more. You, just like all of us, can often fall into making some common mistakes. Below we've collected 10 of the most common mistakes you may be making as a DM right now, and not be aware of it.

1. Inappropriate Rewards

  • It's very common for DMs to hand out way too much treasure. This is a very quick way to lead to the characters becoming so powerful, that the DM struggles to balance encounters around the CR system.

  • On the other side of it. We have some DMs that don't give out enough treasure. While this is less an issue of balance. It can often lead to players not feeling a sense of reward. The treasure doesn't have to be magic items. It can be titles, land, access to special locations, and more.

  • Not yielding enough XP for finding clever ways to overcome a challenge, or bypassing them entirely. Some DMs consider this a "cheap" way out of a situation. Instead, the players should be celebrated and awarded for their engagement and strategic thinking.

2. Inappropriate Challenges

  • Tossing the characters into situations they cannot win on occasion is perfectly fine. Using them as a form of punishment for actions is not. If the challenges are exceptionally difficult, there should always be more than one way to handle the situation. The tactical retreat should almost always be among them.

  • Fights that are not a challenge or are often underwhelming. Now, it's ok to have easy encounters. But if they're overly simple, some players may not get a turn. This makes for a dull experience.

3. Keeping Control of the Game

  • A Dungeon Master who isn't controlling game pacing and the flow of the game can lead to many slowdowns. Whether it's non-game-related topics, one player taking up too much time, or constantly wasting time in rules debates. These, and many more are just a waste of everyone's time.

4. Playing Favorites

  • A single-player gaining special treatment is a quick way to ensure the other players feel disadvantaged. Not only does this lead to the character often not being in any real threat in the game.

  • The character may also end up with more treasure and rewards than other characters. Loot is the name of the game. If one person that's favored gets more, they begin to outshine the rest.

  • Their character can quickly become the focal point of the story. Leaving everyone else wondering if their character matters.

5. Trying to Win

  • D&D and many RPGs, in general, are not a DM vs Player game. There are some DMs who don't understand this. This can create a negative and hostile play environment when things don't go their way. This is just bad and should be avoided at all costs. Unless everyone agrees that is the type of game they want to play. Which can be fun too.

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6. Not Preparing

  • Whether you're running homebrew, or an adventure module, being prepared is important. If you don't have hooks ready to go, the players can feel lost without direction.

  • Not having monsters and villains means you have to spend precious gaming session time rummaging through your monster manuals to find just the ones you want.

  • I'll prepared NPCs can often have no personality, quirks, motives, or anything of interest.

7. Too Much Time in the Rulebook

  • While the rules are important. Scouring the book for a particular rule during an intense moment can bring the game to a screeching halt. This can not only lead to lost game time but can leave the players bored while they wait. Instead, use Advantage and Disadvantage based on a favorable situation or unfavorable situation. Document the ruling concern, and address it after the game.

8. Not Balancing Player Focus

  • Spending too much time on a single player. One of the hardest, and yet most important things to do as a DM is to ensure that we shift the spotlight between all the players. As DM you can take some of the pressure off by asking the players to be involved in shifting the spotlight during roleplaying moments. This is very simple as a player. All they have to do is ask another player what their character thinks about a given situation or idea.

9. You're There to Serve the Players

  • A DM is the facilitator of the story. This means it requires good communication of what your players expect or want out of the game. It's the DMs responsibility to bring about a game that the players want to enjoy. As a DM you're a player too. So make sure it is fun for you as well. Session 0 is a great place to nail down these details.

  • When it comes to the story, the characters have agency. It's about them and how they interact with the world. You can have the greatest story ever. But if it isn't something that interests the players. If it isn't something they AND you find fun. Then you're failing as a DM. A good conversation with the players after every few sessions can help make sure everyone is engaged and having a good time.

10. Failure to be Consistent

  • Let's be honest. When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, there is a lot left open to interpretation by you, the Dungeon Master. This means that you have to often make on-the-fly judgments. But, when you do, BE CONSISTENT. Changing the similar ruling session to session makes it difficult for the players to make the right decision in any given situation if you keep changing the rules. When they expect the mechanic to work a certain way, and it doesn't. This can lead to hostility at the table. When you make a ruling, keep it that way.

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