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6 Tips and Tricks for Being a Great Dungeon Master

By: Faith Ojebuoboh, PCC instructor

As someone who’s been playing tabletop games for about 7 years and running games for friends, students, and newbies to the game for almost 5 years now, I know running a tabletop game can feel overwhelming! It can take a lot of skills and ideas for someone to really take on the role of a Storyteller or Dungeon Master and navigate the unique situations and needs of your party

But, never fear, Storyteller! Whether you’re an educator looking to build role-playing games into your classroom, a skilled dungeon master looking forward to your game, or a newcomer trying to find new ways to engage with friends and family, here are 6 basic tips to make running your role-playing games stress-free and more fun for everyone involved. Hopefully these tricks and tips help you.

Have a Session Zero

A Session Zero is a gathering of the party before you really begin your adventure. This is a time for players to set their expectations with you, Storyteller/DM/GM, and for you to provide expectations for your players. This can be a time for everyone to introduce themselves to new players and to create their characters.

Perhaps your players are uncomfortable with certain content. This is the time to talk about it! You think phones at the table are a distraction? Use this time to ask your players to avoid using them at the table. If you have new players, you can craft mini-encounters to help them understand basic rules, tactics, and abilities, so they feel confident when they start to play in your first real session.

A Session Zero is like a study guide. It helps us understand what needs to happen for the real test — the game!

Bring in Props!

Send letters to your friends, enemies, and PC’s. You can buy different types of paper and envelopes, wax seals and sealing wax, and send fancy hand drawn letters. USPS needs some love right now, and you can make and send fancy materials to your players.

Having physical representations of materials (menus, loot, posters, prop weapons and items, and more) at the table can be an engaging and immersive way to get your group involved and have fun. You also get to be creative in building items that your friends can see and hold on to for future events in your game.

Decide Your Play Style

Players talk about railroading, a type of play style where the storyteller forces events to happen during play. It is often seen as a play style to avoid. Sometimes, however, story has to happen, and we can talk with our players about how and why certain dramatic elements need to take place. Giving our players options is important. However, we can also talk with them about high-drama events that can help move the story along.

On the other hand, Sandbox is a play style where the players can openly explore the world and try new things that they find interest in. This might not align with the story you are working on, and that’s okay! You can prep for things like this with random events and combat, small homesteads, events, and other quests for your party.

Mix a little bit of both when needed.

Be Ready to Improv

This basic improvisation rule is simple: when a player says they want their character to do something, consider how can you make that happen for them in the game. Is it reasonable? If so, set things up so that it can happen. If it is less than reasonable, how can you help guide expectations and make the player feel like they’ve done something fun and worthwhile? Oftentimes that looks like compromise between the storyteller and player; or helping players in decision-making.

Times like this have happened when I am teaching students how to play RPG’s. They might ask me about a strange event, or person they heard about in town, and I might not have prepared that information. I just make it up! I make up new characters, new events, even personalities of people quickly and listen to what my players are thinking and asking about. Make sure that you do this, too!

Follow The Rule of Cool

If the action or idea the player or players want to enact is really cool, clever, or appears to be amazing, it must happen! Because it’s COOL! This can make our players feel positive, heroic, and like their ideas and choices matter. Also, it helps you as a DM learn how to challenge your players while reinforcing creativity and problem solving.

While in play, a certain event might seem difficult – like having to get over a mountain. If a player has a cool trick to resolve this (I can turn into a giant eagle and take everyone over it, or I look for possible secret paths under the mountain that I can use to navigate to the other side) might seem really cool, clever or fun. If we as the storyteller think this should happen because of how clever our players have been, we SHOULD let it happen.

Plan and Prepare

Being a DM or storyteller means that preparation is a huge part of your work. I recommend setting time aside every week to work on a few things. Setting a little bit of time aside every week helps us remember what is going on in our game, gives us time to make new tools, and gives us the shorthand to change things up. Make lists of names, towns, encounters, events, and even magical or important items. I use a couple different fantasy generators that I search for online, but this one is a good place to peek at

You can make multiple lists for different levels of difficulty in combat, environments, etc. Ultimately, this will cut down the amount of time spent planning each week. The tools below are great ways to keep all of your items safe and easily accessible:

By keeping backups of all your documents online, you can avoid situations like mine, where I lost a lot of my home-game preparation when my computer died and I hadn’t saved all of my documents to a drive.

Likewise, to keep the game alive while playing online, look at the following as possible options:

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