by Mike Shea on 13 May 2013
If there is any one single of D&D dungeon mastering advice I can give, it all comes down to one simple word.
If we consider our worst games, how often were those games thwarted by our own frustration, our own stress at running a good game, and our own desires for a game to run a certain way? How often do we stress out when our big boss encounter turns into the final credits to an episode of Benny Hill? What happens if we were to simply let go and take it easy? How do we learn to relax?
Today we're going to look at how this one simple word, this one idea, can take us from frustration to enjoyment in any game we run.
Madness lies in the chasm betwen "should" and "is". As soon as we can let go of how we think our game should be, we can sit back and enjoy how it actually goes. We can be surprised and delighted by the strange twists and turns our game can take.
This is very hard to do and is a major topic in The Lazy Dungeon Master. We love to control our games, we want to prepare heavily so we can guarentee our players will have a great time. It turns out a lot of this preparation can be counterproductive. Instead of letting the game take on a new natural course, we try to force it down the path for which we've prepared. Much like the child who realizes he doesn't control the world around him, we DMs grow frustrated with the fact that things didn't go as planned.
Villains die. They often die harder, faster, or in situations too embarassing to repeat. We want our villains to appear powerful and threatening when very likely they will be pinned down and mocked before they are casually disemboweled by the PCs.
The less we care about our villains, the less we worry about such things. Sometimes a normal mook might give the party a rough time. Turn THAT guy into the villain. Another time your big bad boss might die after only a hit or two. So be it!
This goes for NPCs too. At a panel at Gencon 2012, Chris Perkins described how his group threw a vital NPC off a cliff after first meeting him. Never build an NPC you can't afford to have thrown over a cliff. People can live and die in these games. Go with it like Joss Whedon, a writer who has little problem killing off main characters in his fiction. These sudden deaths may become far more memorable than the lives of the NPCs you might force yourself to save.
Sticking to a strict D&D adventure plan is a lot easier when you don't have one. Instead of detailing out every encounter and every scene, just keep loose guidelines. Focus your attention on the first scene you want to open with and let things go from there. You'll want enough material handy to guide your players if they look bored and in need of direction, but you'll likely come up with a few ideas on the spot. When in doubt, throw some mooks and some interesting environmental effects at them and let them have fun bashing some guys. Random encounter tables can be the only plan you really need.
Above all, remember what truely matters in your game. Focus on the fun of the game. Enjoy the company you keep with your friends during the game. Laugh. Have a good time. Keep this in mind and hang onto your game with a loose grip. Your group is likely looking for the same thing you are — a relaxing time with friends. Focus on that first and let the rest of the game come as it does.
Here's a list of last week's great D&D-related articles around the net.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, Sly Flourish's Fantastic Adventures, and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.