Being a good dungeon master means your games go well, your players have fun, and everyone walks away feeling like they had an awesome time. But that doesn’t necessarily come from just sitting down and starting to play D&D, you need to put in some work into understanding what great dungeon masters do that set them apart from everyone else who plays D&D.
The most important thing to do to be a good Dungeon Master is to think about your players, you want to run the type of game that you would want to be involved in, to give the best, most epic adventure your players have ever participated in. But sometimes that also means being tough, putting your foot down, and staying on course.
It doesn’t always come naturally, so here are our best tips and tricks on how to be a good dungeon master, and what to think about when you are planning out and running your game.
What To Do To Be a Good Dungeon Master:
- Fun for Everyone – it’s important everyone at the table gets something they like in the game and has fun, a good DM will try to provide this.
- Don’t be a rules lawyer – go with the rule of cool and don’t let rules get in the way of a good game. This goes for dice too, fudge the dice if they are going to destroy the game, a total party wipeout due to bad dice rolls is no fun for anyone.
- Describe well – you want to paint a picture in your player’s imagination – so get practising at how to describe locations and combat well (see our article on how to make your combat descriptions better for more tips).
- Make up rules – if you don’t know a rule make it up – this is your game and as long as the rule makes sense it doesn’t matter. Stopping to consult a rule book will break the flow of the game. Worst case you tell the players this is the rule for now, but you reserve the right to change it at the start of the next game.
- Kick out bad players – if you’ve got a player who makes others uncomfortable or is just being a jerk, then kick them out. I make it pretty clear that it’s a 3 strike and you’re out policy, I give a player 2 warnings and then if they continue I ask them not to play with us anymore.
- Prep well – a well-prepared game is a good game. I’m a big fan of the Lazy Dungeon Master form of preparation – but that’s still a well-prepared game. Very few dungeon masters can just go in and make things up on the spot and have a coherent, well-formed story. See our article on how we make a Harry Potter themed dungeon for advice on how to put together a good campaign (note that this method can be used for any type of dungeon).
- Keep to consequences – if you don’t keep to consequences your players won’t have a sense of reality, not everything in D&D needs to be good, if players do something wrong or unethical, they should feel consequences for their actions. It will make the game better, and may even make them better people for it.
- Keep it comfortable – know your player’s boundaries, and don’t play things that make your players uncomfortable and push past what they find comfortable. This is a conversation you should be having in a session zero, so you know what your players can deal with in a game, but be open to feedback throughout as well.
- Reward good roleplaying – you want your players to get into the game, it makes the experience more immersive for everyone. So have some tokens for inspiration and be generous in giving it out when a player roleplays well.
What NOT To Do To Be a Good Dungeon Master
- Don’t play against the players – while you do play as the monsters, the DM is not playing against the players, you are narrating an interactive story for them. Even when you are playing as the enemy, don’t play like you are against the players.
- Don’t back down – don’t let your players argue with you about a call that you’ve made in the game, you are the DM, you make the rules and decide what is happening. And if they’re not happy that’s tough, you don’t always get what you want in real life and D&D is the same.
- Don’t refer to the rulebook – it breaks the flow of the game, if you’re not sure then make up the rule, tell the players you might look it up later and change it if required, and carry on.
- Don’t make up the adventure – to be a good DM you’ll need to think on your feet and change things as you go, but you should have an idea of what is happening in your world, what the storyline is, and how things would pan out if your players acted in different ways in that world. You shouldn’t be going in blind and just winging it.
- Don’t let a player misbehave – your players should be playing an adventure together, if one player is not cooperating then that is ruining your game. Step in and tell them how to behave and make it clear you won’t put up with that in your game. Same if they say they are being a jerk because that’s how their character would behave, tell them you’ll kill off that character and they can make a nicer character because that’s not the type of game you are running.
There are a lot of things to think about if you want to be a good dungeon master. What the story is, how you describe things, what the players enjoy, how to make sure the players are all behaving themselves and having a good time, the list goes on and on.
The good news is you don’t need to learn it all at once, most great dungeon masters have taken years to hone their skills, and the fact that you care enough to want to be great already puts you a step above many others.