5 Keys to amazing D&D Games
1. D&D should be more than the hack and slash, kill for treasure approach. It should be a forum for creative solutions to be presented and executed. I love creativity among my players because I find it wildly entertaining. My players are some of the most creative individuals I have ever met at a D&D table. They often go in directions, take actions, and say things that I was not expecting at all and that makes it very entertaining for me as their dungeon master.
One of the things that I think is really important in promoting this is using advantage to encourage players to use their imagination more. Prior to advantage, I used extra experience points to reward players for imagination, role-play, and creativity. This I shamelessly stole from DM Bill and continue to use it to this day, far more frequently than I use inspiration.
2. Your party members should have a clear group goal. Each one of your player characters should have a clear individual goal. Okay, what does this mean? The goal of the party is to travel across the plains, the mountains, and the big river full of giant fish to the old keep where they must go and find an ancient artifact and bring it back to the wizard that hired them. That is a pretty clear goal. Each of the player characters should have an individual goal as well, this goal can be something from their background. This goal must always be discussed with the player, this will help the player to become immersed in the story. When you combine a clear group goal with a clear individual goal you have two parallel narratives that are occurring that add depth to your story.
You’re going to want to use your collaborative narrative between you and your players to reinforce this from one session to another. I like to establish the group goal very early on in the adventure. I establish individual goals prior to the first session, but I don’t always launch them early on in the campaign. I like to launch them at what I feel is the right time during the campaign.
3. Speed up transitions with Narratives. Nothing slows your game down than needlessly playing through transitions. What you doing during the ride from point A to point B? What are you doing during the long sea voyage? Why don’t we role-play out some of these things during the journey? Haggling for prices with a shopkeeper. Absolutely boring. I see all this as almost criminal; it robs the fun from your players. I am loathe to do such things and you will not find any of this in any of the games I run. Instead, if there is a transitional period where the players are in town, or on the long voyage, and there are no major encounters, I will simply asked them what they plan on doing and leave it at that. We’re not role-playing through anything, if you’re resupplying, hunting, foraging, or whatever we will simply leave it at that and make like the dotted line on the map in an Indiana Jones movie and simply transition from one point to another with a narrative. I don’t see any need to slow a game down that is moving at a nice clip, and I also do not see a need to insert boredom into my game for the players. If you want to really increase your game as a DM, GM, or whatever title you happen to have running the game you run, use narrative to transition from one boring stretch to another. This can be as simple as your journey through the wood was uneventful, fortunately for you and your party you were able to effectively forage and hunt wild game to supplement your rations. With the exception of a few stormy nights the journey was otherwise uneventful and now you find yourselves at the gates of, insert city name here.
We’ve talked about pacing before on the podcast and this is a tool that I use all the time to maintain an appropriate pace. Give it a shot.
4. Start every game session with a recap of the last One. This is a reminder of what happened during the last game session, what their goal is as a group, and what the individual character goal is. Understand, that the span of time between games is filled with a lot of stuff, we work, we have family obligations, errands to run, and a host of other things that distract us from the game. Take the time to write a quick recap something that would take a minute or two spout off to your players as they’re settling in and getting their stuff ready for the game. This can be something as simple as:
Danel, forever living in the shadow of your beloved sister, this quest has finally given you an opportunity to achieve something on your own. Returning successful, you have an opportunity of seizing your family’s lands from your cousin Andel who used your sister’s untimely death and your departure to seize your family’s wealth. Questions still remain, was there foul play in your sister’s death and how did Andel convince your father to make her his heir?
When last we met, Akbar, your parties rogue, successfully stole the idle from the tent of the Gnoll chieftain. Enraged, he sent his greatest warriors to track you and now they have your group trapped between them and a sheer cliff face. Handing the idle over will likely do you no good, for you are certain they will kill you anyway. What do you do?
It doesn’t take long, and you would have to recap for each of the five members at your table but this could take a short is 10 minutes to do. Everybody is caught up; they are reminded of what their purpose as a group and their individual purposes and now you can get on with the game session for the week.
5. Use milestone leveling. The old days we used to get experience points for everything we killed in all the treasure we took from those things we killed. I never much like that because as a DM I found it difficult to add things into the game that would cause my players to think and be creative. It was as simple as kill that thing, take his money, and hello brand-new level. Long ago, very long ago, I adopted the practice of milestone leveling.
Here’s why, what really matters is that the challenges presented to my players have been overcome. It doesn’t matter how. If an encounter could go two ways, one way being the combat way and the other the diplomatic way, it doesn’t matter to me which one my players employ. What matters, in the leveling game, is whether or not the challenges are overcome. This practice I found also discourages murder hoboism, because not everything needs to be killed. In addition, I found it a lot easier for my players to engage themselves and complex problem-solving, being creative when meeting a challenge, and using skills beyond those of drawing weapons.
For me I found this far more entertaining as a dungeon Master, and over the years I have found my players enjoying themselves more and more. As a matter of fact, my players have expressed on several occasions that they really enjoy my style of running a game. This is not to illustrate how awesome I am as a DM, but rather how important it is to solicit feedback from your players. For every game I was a superstar DM, there is at least one, where I fell short.
Now there are many ways in which you can run amazing D&D games and these are just some.
See you next time in the Dojo.