DMing 101 – Breathing Life Into It

In DMing 101 I’ll be giving generalized advice on how to run a tabletop role-playing game. The articles will not presume any knowledge, except being able to read. And maybe knowing what dice are. And paper. And a computer. Maybe some other stuff. I’ll also presume that you can remember that DM means Dungeon Master. Some people call it a Game Master or GM, but I don’t. Suck it up.

There are a few quick start guides on how to DM out there, but DMing 101 will offer a fairly easy set of tips that a novice can follow to make his/her games something truly memorable.


Breathing Life Into It

How can you encourage your players to really get involved with the world you’re trying to present them? What makes a flat board turn into a living, functioning reality? It’s no small ask to make a game feel like another reality, but care and plenty of planning can make for a really rewarding experience and lead to some of the most incredible moments for both you and your players.

Right In The Feels

Immersion is integral to creating a world in which your players feel at home. There are two main elements that go into making their characters feel involved:

  • Integration: Help your group create backstories for their characters that make them feel a part of the world. Give them a home-town, a family, friends, a job even. Perhaps they fought in a war to defend their country, or were involved in a rebellion that was ultimately unsuccessful. Tie their characters to the world and its’ history, and that can create some fantastic story-telling opportunities for you both.
  • Impact: Let them know that their actions make a difference! If you kill a BBEG don’t just give them a sack of loot and send them on their way, the people should be rejoicing, and new allies made in the process. If they accidentally create a bad-guy, never let them forget that they unleashed a horror on the world, and that its’ every action is their responsibility.

It will become very readily apparent when your players have begun to care about the game by their actions and the way that they interact with the people and places. It’s at this point that you can begin working on evoking very real emotion in your players, and in the process you make a more immersive game than they will find sat at a computer screen (sorry computer games, I still love you).

What would it take to bring your group together?
What would it take to bring your group together?


The easiest way for me to describe how to bring life to the people and places of your world is to refer you back to Scenes and NPCs, but if you’re not in the clicking-on-stuff mood I’ll summarize:

Remember that everyone and everything has a purpose to serve, even if it’s not part of the story your characters are in, they have their own story and history and problems to contend with. Who knows? Perhaps your players might like to help out. Consider what problems the local populous face, the organizations that operate in the region, even what trade goods are available.

If you want to make a more dynamic game, leave the characters without an obvious narrative to follow, and let them explore until they find (or create) an adventure. This is a sandbox style that requires a lot of planning on your part, and will likely result in a lot of potentially wasted effort, but it creates a more believable scenario than a quest simply dropping into your players’ laps, and also allows you to replay the same world with many groups with radically different results.

It is up to you how much or how little you choose to prepare ahead of time, just remember to take notes during the game of any little details that you create on the fly. Which leads me neatly to my next point:


You – out of everyone at the table – need to know your world inside and out. It’s surprisingly easy to slip up, forget a little detail and contradict yourself, and someone at the table will inevitably call you out on it (certainly people at mine always do). Having to backpedal as a DM is one hell of a way to break narrative flow, and can often force you into uncomfortable retcons that can leave your players feeling cheated.

Part of making a living world is to consider the wide variety in our own. Terrains, cultures and people are wildly different from place to place, and your world should take that into account. If your setting offers multiple races as most fantasy and sci-fi races do, consider possible cultures within them in varying terrains. If your setting gives you the possibility for many worlds, do they have the same terrain across the entire surface, or as many different vistas as our own homeworld?

Perhaps the best example of a consistently built world with great variety
Perhaps the best example of a consistently built world with great variety

These are aspects of your campaign that you can create piece by piece over the course of time and as a natural part of designing stories within your world, but it’s a good idea to read and re-read your notes as you work, build a rough map and tie parts together as you go, to create a real history that your heroes can shape and become engrained parts of.

If you’ve enjoyed this post let us know in the comments down below, or on our Facebook and Twitter (links on the right). If you’ve played a few RPs, also take a look at my own site, Quotes From The Tabletop, a place for all your favourite quotes and stories from your games.