Welcome friends! Karthas here and today I wanted to take some time to help all you new Dungeon Masters. Let’s take a look at some of the mistakes that I feel a lot of new Dungeon Masters make! How do I know this? Because I made these mistakes! So gather round and pay attention so you can avoid making these mistakes. Or if you find that you are having one of these problems see my suggestions on how to fix them!
The Session Is Too Long
I can confidently say that as a Dungeon Master I’ve never had a session run short. You will be surprised how long your players can take to make what seems to be a relatively simple decision. From forks in the road, to gathering supplies before setting off on a quest. Players have a tendency to over analyze simple decisions as they try to understand your thought process. When in reality you put very little thought into the decision you’ve placed before them. There have been many games that I’ve had to cut short because we ran out of time, or we needed a break.
Obviously cutting content is something you want to avoid since you spent time on that content. As a new DM I made the mistake of planning way too much, so how can you avoid this? First, keep it simple. Don’t try to cram as much as possible into a session. I can assure you, your players will find ways to draw out situations that should have only taken a few minutes. Have some natural break points in your story. Perhaps the adventurers come across a good place to rest, or they find a small town where they can regroup. These small break points can be used as a way to progress the story, or provide a natural stopping point.
The Story Is Too Intricate
I touched on this topic a bit in my post about Tips for new Dungeon Masters. Sometimes we, as Dungeon Masters, come up with a really cool story. Maybe there is a fallen hero, or a secret society, something that we think to be the ultimate story! Great! Write down that idea, but put it in your back pocket for a future session. If you are new to being a Dungeon Master chances are your players are new too. Trying to weave an intricate story line, on top of everybody trying to get a grasp of the rules will either cause frustration or go right over everyone’s heads. So my advice is save that story for when you and your players are a bit more experienced so that everyone can fully enjoy it! Sometimes keeping it simple isn’t bad.
The Wrong Type Of Players
Dungeons & Dragons is very much a team centric game. The party needs to be working together, using their strengths while knowing their weaknesses and their limitations. But sometimes your players, just like members on a team, don’t get along. Or maybe they have different styles of play. Its important as the Dungeon Master to try to balance these competing interests and ensure everybody is having fun.
One game I was the Dungeon Master for had a guy who really enjoyed role playing, but the other members were in it just wanting to kill stuff and get loot. The guy who was role playing was really getting into it, to the point that his character was undermining and even insulting the other player’s characters. First of all, this isn’t a great idea even among heavy role players, but among these non role players they took it personally. Soon I had to intervene to keep everybody level headed.
This will probably happen, so you just need to be prepared to play the role of facilitator and intermediary. So what should you do if you have players who clash? First, talk it out. Let them know that the game won’t be fun for anybody if they continue to clash. If that doesn’t help, suggest the other players tell the problem players how they feel. Finally if they refuse to get along, simply tell them you don’t think it’s working out and suggest they step out of the game.
The Wrong Type Of Story
As a Dungeon Master we often get it into our heads that we are in charge, and this is true to some degree. But you must remember that Dungeons & Dragons is about having fun, and sometimes fun for one person looks different for another. So what point am I trying to make? For some players, role-playing is their jam, for others they are only interested in killing and sweet loot. As the Dungeon Master it is your job to understand what your players like and try to tailor the game to their interests, otherwise your players will lose interest quickly.
One of the first groups I was the Dungeon Master for was full of people who were only concerned with getting the most kills. They even kept track and would brag to each other about their list of kills. This is fine, but the problem was I didn’t build my sessions around this. I tried to make an interesting story about a cult and an ancient prophecy, but they didn’t care. The moment they saw some bad guys, they didn’t ask them questions. They charged headlong into the fray swinging their weapons wildly. So remember to tailor your session to the interests of your players.
Too Much Hand Holding
Part of the fun of Dungeons & Dragons is the freedom players have to choose what they want to do. As a new Dungeon Master it can be difficult to judge what is the right amount of direction, or hand holding for your players. We can fall into the trap of too much hand holding, so how can we avoid it? The reality is, you have a story and encounters that the players will have to go along with, that much is simple. But there is a lot of freedom within that. Maybe there are multiple outcomes to a particular conversation, maybe they can get the jump on a fight from some snooping they did earlier, or perhaps they can uncover a small side quest by doing some role playing. Your players know they have to go along with the story you’ve provided, but make sure you give them some freedom.
Look at your session or campaign as if it were a river. A river has a path that it takes, but it also has branches that shoot off in different directions creating streams or other rivers. Imagine your main story as the main path of the river and the freedom for your players as the offshoots. There is a main story and plot that they will need to follow along with, but there are plenty of small little secrets for them to discover or decisions for them to make. But don’t go too far and give your players…
Too Much Freedom
To much freedom in Dungeons & Dragons can be a problem. If you give your players the ability to do whatever they want, they will feel directionless. Not to mention “planning”, if thats what you want to call it, for a session that allows far to much freedom is simply a headache. I know because I’ve done it!
In one of my earlier sessions I decided to let the players decide what they were going to do. First of all planning for this session was…difficult to say the least. They were in a town and there were a few people they could talk to that started off a quest. They eventually found a quest in which they had to provide muscle for a caravan. Sounds good right? Well the problem was, I had a very vague idea of what would happen as they escorted the caravan. A lot of it was them walking while I scrambled to try and make stuff up. You may be wondering what I was thinking, honestly, I’m not sure.
Afraid To Punish The PCs
We’ve all been there, one of our players makes a really stupid decision. One that we tried to steer them away from. Their actions lead to a very difficult decision for you the Dungeon Master. How harsh should the consequences be? Its a difficult position to be in because you want to make sure that everybody is having fun, and there is nothing that puts a stop to the fun more than a PC dying. But if the consequences are too light, then the players will begin to take advantage of this because they’ve seen that you are hesitant to “kill them off”.
For me it greatly depends on the player. If you are playing with brand new players and they make a stupid decision because they didn’t know any better, don’t be too mean about it. Dungeons & Dragons is a lot to take in, so as a new player it can be difficult to understand the consequences of your actions. If the player is an experienced player, and they make a stupid decision, then don’t try to go easy. An experienced player should know that death is just a footstep away in Dungeons & Dragons, and if they want to do something that increases this by doing something stupid, then they need to suffer the consequences of their actions.
The Mysterious 3rd Party Villain
Quick, what is the most overused trope in Dungeons & Dragons? Answer…the 3rd party villain. Tell me if this sounds familiar, you are sent on a quest to stop some bandits. The bandits have been raiding caravans on a major trade route. The guard is already spread thin, so they hire you out to hunt down these bandits. Once you’ve found the bandits lair and confront the bandit leader you find out, they’ve been hired by some unknown 3rd party to carry out the raids. Okay, it’s not a terrible trope. I’ll admit that I have used it, but there are plenty of other story arcs to use instead of this one.
Personally I think using the 3rd party villain can suck the air out of your story. Your players are sent on a quest to stop the bandit leader. So they gather information on him, the bandit group, and their possible location. Once they’ve done all of this and finally confront the bandit leader, they are then directed to some random villain or group they’ve never even met or heard of before! I get it, you want to have a twist in your story that rivals the The Others, just be smart about it.
The Underwhelming Reward
You’re players have scoured a dark temple, slaying a Lich in his own throne room. As they open the ancient chest they are rewarded with…a picture worth 200 gold. Okay, this is an exaggeration, I hope, but I think you get the idea. There is nothing worse than an underwhelming reward. Even role-players expect to get something cool from their victory. So do your best to find a good balance and reward your players. Rewards from quest aren’t just about the money, they are also about the story. Whenever your player pulls out their ancient dagger, they will be reminded of the time they defeated the ancient Lich. So be generous with the rewards but be sure to not give…
The Overpowered Reward
Sadly, I must admit, I messed up big time with this. I was running a campaign with some friends and I wanted to give them a cool reward at the end. So I gave them a Robe of Stars. It allows players to pull off a star from the cloak and use it as a Magic Missile spell. But it also allows the wearer to teleport to the Astral Plane. I gave this reward thinking the mage in the group would grab it, nope. They decided to give it to the Half-Orc who would grab opponents. He would then teleport to the Astral Plane, then leave them, and teleport back. I have to admit, it was creative and I love it when my players are creative but this…was game breaking.
Well I think that wraps it up. I hope this list has been helpful or at least entertaining. Remember, you are going to make mistakes, and that is okay. The only reason I know about these mistakes is because I made them! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below! Or if you have a mistake you see a lot of new Dungeon Masters make, let me know. And remember to hit that subscribe button if you haven’t yet!
What mistakes did you make when you started being Dungeon Master? How did you fix those mistakes for future games?