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.
Players have a tendency toward recklessness; without real-world consequences they need not fear for their lives or worry about anyone nearby. Part of making your players care about the world and the game is demonstrating that their actions matter, both for the good and the bad.
It says a lot about the player mentality that the first thing that AI controlled NPCs react to is crime, and your world should do the same. You can of course, so a much better job than AI can; though you can’t manage the movement of every person, in broad descriptions you can scale the responses of local people with the actions of your players. A simple theft might result in a bruised face and a night in a cell, murder could result in a full-blown manhunt.
Adventurers tend to carry weapons. How typical is this in your world, and how do people respond to this? You may require that your players stash or hide their weapons before walking around a city, or else have everyone run, or edge away from them.
You – through the actions of your cast of NPCs – can weigh up the pros and cons of the groups actions. Say that your group have already built a reputation as heroes. If they murder a man in seemingly cold blood, or steal a priceless item, their actions may give the law-enforcement cause to ask why before enacting punishment. If your adventurers have only just walked into town and begun breaking-and-entering they’ll be treated as the criminal scum they are.
Having no real-world repercussions gives players a great deal of freedom to attempt what they couldn’t elsewhere, which can lead to incredible feats of bravery, and reckless acts of stupidity. The lines blur a little between the two, but for those moments when the line has clearly been left for dust it may be time to make your group realize exactly how dumb they’ve been.
It’s fine to fail a simple check and leave the player with maybe a small injury or a stupid look on their face, but if someone is determined to roll for the impossible then the penalty for failing it should prove proportionately disastrous. An excessively long jump, an attempt to strike a deal with someone with a gun to your head, a casual walk through fire, all potentially lethal situations that a few hit-points just won’t cover. Don’t be afraid to maim, kill or otherwise alter irrevocably.
There are situations that you may find call for longer-term plans to be made. One small slip up, or a lose end not properly tied up can snowball into a new storyline in its’ own right, but make sure that your group have regular reminders of what is taking place.
For example: the party rescue a group of civilians from a fire, and though you give them the opportunity to help extinguish the fire once survivors are freed, they wash their hands of it once lives are saved. Perhaps the fire spreads, and destroys something that the party needed, or kills more people after they leave. Maybe someone else puts out the fire and becomes a hero of the people, what becomes of this new person, and what does he think of the people who stood by and did nothing?
A dark brooding stranger walks into town, the wind rustles the cloak on his back as the moonlight frames his hooded face and nobody cares! Everyone is just walking around going about business as usual, maybe someone remarks on the idiot stood in the middle of the road.
The renegade merc who shoots first and asks where the money is, will rapidly find him/herself alone, possibly dead. If a player cannot make a character willing to compromise, talk, or resolve problems with anything other than bloodshed, then you should not be forced to make room for that character in your world (unless it’s actually working out well – it can sometimes, believe me) and your world should react to that character accordingly. It’s easy to respond to such behaviour, just think like a real person and react as you would when confronted by a dangerously insane individual.
It may be hard but at times you may have to ask someone to leave, not because they are a bad friend but because you simply cannot continue to run your game with them in the group. Do what you can to encourage them to be a better player, but when all else fails don’t allow your other friends to suffer at their hands.
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