DMing 101 – Choosing Your Rules


I use the term DM or Dungeon Master to describe those running role-plays because my preferred set of rules is Dungeons & Dragons, but I’ve dabbled in many a game system, discussed others at length, and even made some efforts into making my own. With the explosion of diversity in rules spanning genres, creating worlds or plunging players into worlds they’ve always wanted to explore, but so often you’ll find there’s something missing, or that your chosen campaign doesn’t match up with the rules at hand.

You can alter, add to or even create rules if you’re feeling really brave, but there’s a market out there worth researching, and it’s a fun experience.

The Impact of Genre

D&D is great for fantasy (along with all of the other fantasy RP systems created by people who disagree) but is rather sorely lacking in key areas for other genres. For example, guns rather radically unbalance the game if used commonly for their incredible damage output. A part of vampires and werewolves could rapidly overpower most typical foes, and superpowers might prove difficult to manage. There’s no need to use D&D when systems like World of Darkness exist to support gothic horror, Marvel SAGA that can be readily adapted for superpowered campaigns of any type.


When composing your campaign it’s worth looking for the closest rule-set to what you’re trying to create, because it’s easier to take a system you like and alter a little than completely overhaul your favourite. You’ll find better support for genre specific elements like the emotional aspects of horror such as insanity mechanics, intrigue elements of noir and crime like how suspects and witnesses alter their disposition towards players, or aspects of planets in space exploration such as gravity and atmosphere. Who needs magic now?

Whatever You Like

As much as I love D&D (5th edition is best edition) I resent the most fundamental element of combat, the Armour Class system. Realistically, armour is not an all or nothing matter, and if you’re hit by a weapon it should still hurt, but hurt less. So many games, like AGE or Dark Heresy and it’s ilk both work on the basis that your ability to dodge a hit and the amount of damage your armour absorbs are separate factors.

Someone else’s creation is unlikely to satisfy your every need. The more you experiment with other games the more you’ll be able to apply their mechanical factors to your own games and possibly even look into building your own chimera or Frankenstein put-together. Alternatively by playing games you’re not accustomed to you may discover a new favourite that you weren’t expecting.


Play board games! If you haven’t already taken that step into the massively expanded world of board games then you’ll find a whole new collection of interesting mechanics that may surprise even a few stalwarts of the RP. Arkham Horror features simple characters cast into a city besieged by impossible horrors, using basic health and sanity mechanics, story events, and an over-arcing story. All in all it’s a clever, fast paced and self-running RP with none of the role-playing, but nothing to stop us from implementing role-play into the game.

That stripped down approach is an excellent starting structure upon which to build your own stories. Take away the board, create your own characters, and plunge your “heroes” into a world of torment of your own devising. And Arkham Horror can take a while to play in one sitting, split into sessions it could turn into something new and beautiful.

Playing Your Way

Your games benefit from your own enjoyment. It’s not all about you of course, but the more you appreciate, enjoy and understand the rules that you play the less you have to think about them, the better you can write with them in mind, and that’ll make your campaigns more fun for your players.

Not only that but the more you know and understand about game mechanics the better your problem solving abilities, creative thought processes and overall knowledge. And that’s pretty cool.