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by Mike on 13 June 2022
Kevin B., a Sly Flourish Patron asks the following:
"We all want to improve, but is there a point where watching, reading and online chatting just becomes counterproductive? Is there just too much advice — even good advice — to keep track of?"
This is an excellent question touching on how we use our D&D tips, not just focusing on the tips themselves. As in all things, your results may vary, but I'll offer my thoughts.
There are two dangerous sides of this spectrum — change everything or change nothing. Both of these can hurt our games. If we change our game completely every time we get a new idea, constantly gravitating to entirely new systems of preparation and play, we'll never get good at one approach. It will never feel solid to us. It won't become ours. On the other extreme, if we change nothing, we become stale. Instead of running one hundred games, we run the same game one hundred times.
So where's that balance?
Instead of completely shifting our styles every time we hear a new idea, we can take tips that resonate with us and try them out. D&D is a wonderful platform to run small experiments. Did we hear about running easier battles when we typically run only deadly battles? Try one out. Do we like a particular way of running NPCs? Try it for one NPC. As DMs, we can try all sorts of stuff out in our game, see how it feels, throw it away if it doesn't work, or try it again if it does until it either fades away or becomes part of the norm.
"What seven things did I learn in my last game?"
I ask this question after each of my games, used to harvest new #dnd tips for Twitter. This question can work for all of us, though, particularly when we try a new idea. Did it work? What do we think? What did we learn from the game? What new tip might we try next time.
By thinking of each tip as a small experiment and making small adjustments every time we run our games, we continue to grow but not so fast that we find ourselves floundering with entirely new approaches every game.
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."
- Stepen King, On Writing
The best technique for becoming a better DM is to run games. Nothing beats practical experience. If, for some reason, you find all of the tips and advice steering you away from running games, it's too much. Step back. Focus on what works. Unsubscribe from the feeds. Step away from the subreddits. Focus on your game and run it for your friends.
There are, of course, other fantastic ways we can grow as DMs. Watching other DMs, running other systems, playing with other groups; all of these help considerably. Above all, run games.
For the past eleven years I've posted more than three thousand #dnd tagged tweets to Twitter with the intent of helping DMs run great D&D games. I have no expectation that anyone, including I, tracked these tips. Building a database of tips does little good when the database becomes too big to manage. Instead, good ideas bubble up to the top and bad ones get forgotten. We each get to decide which are which.
It's easy to get caught in tool obsession. A lot of DMs gravitate towards the tools we use to prepare or run our games. Worse, we may find ourselves switching from tool to tool often as a hot new tool pops up. These tools largely don't matter when it comes to preparing or running our games. I have my favorites. Others have their favorites. Most importantly, we pick the tools that work for us and stick to them. We can talk about them. We can share ideas. Maybe we can experiment with other tools to see what we like and bring some of those ideas back into our own toolbox. But switching continually from system to system takes time and energy we often don't have. If you have tools that work; stick to them. Tweak them, sure, but stick to them.
Building an awesome D&D toolbox for preparing and running games is as much about throwing away ideas as it is about adding them. We each build this physical or mental toolbox as we grow as DMs. Look at each component of it, decide if it helps, keep it if it does, and toss it if it doesn't.
Build your own toolbox to prepare and run awesome games.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
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