View RSS Feed

The art of gamemastering.

Story before setting: free dm'ing advice.

Rate this Entry
Free advice for would be dm's:
Setting building is fun. It's entertaining and you can spend hours on end on it. And you should. But it isn't all that important if you don't at least have the skeletal framework to a campaign planned out. This means, villains, storylines, potential foils, possible love interests, metaplot structure, etc. All that is much much more important than the way some language dialects relate to each other or the cool inner politics of the main religion. Because you moght have a kick ass setting that attracts many players but once you start playing and you have no idea what to actually do in that cool setting your game will die.
While you can plan your campaign as you are playing that is a dangerous thing. It is much easier to have a clear setting starting point and expand that during play than the other way around.

For instance, you think you start off with some traveling. There's some boss and a driver but you're not really good at thinking on your feet so these aren't described very well except in general sweeping statements. Then you travel, you don't really have a plan to where or what's going to happen there so you force in an 'encounter' because that's what you're supposed to right? You think, well they're just going to waltz over these goblin dogs so why don't I make them roll a bit? Keep them involved? But how do I do that? Oh, I'll just decide randomly. That's the game right, rolling dice? But the players don't seem as enthused as they were when applying because it's hard getting involved with bland undescribed npcs and rules interpretations that have no basis in any kind of RAW. And then you stop. Because this isn't that cool ultimate boss battle you've envisioned and built your setting around. This is small and insignificant and not what you had in mind. Screw those players, they're not real people anyway, this pbp thing sucks.


  1. DarkisnotEvil's Avatar
    This is pretty excellent general advice, and I say that as someone who spends way too much time down the rabbit hole trying to figure out how everything comes together. It's important to have a sense of spontaneity in any setting, and focusing on the players is a good way to go about doing it. Have your list of major characters, sure. Have your societies and races and cities and whatever else you need to set the scene. But use what you have as best you can and don't be afraid to throw something in if your players want to engage a particular plot point.
    In my honest opinion, any good setting holds up to Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Act of Murder": If you're too afraid to break the setting because you threw something in, your setting is probably much more broken than that little plot point. Besides, part of the reason you want to have all those background characters is in case something comes up and you want an in-universe reason to address a player character desire. They're tools. Don't have them clutter up the game unless you need to use them. It's usually better to quietly shuffle someone into the background and pull them back out later than have them hang about uselessly until they're needed.
    More isn't always better when it comes to setting the scene or character engagement, either. Some players just don't want to focus on certain themes or scenes. It's important to recognize that. Some people want to just roleplay, or just want to work on the mechanical tactics. It's important to always be evolving and re-evaluating your approach as a DM. There's also the issue of players needing to be engaged as well. The DM is not a mind reader. Sometimes you really do need to tell them that they're holding things up or not doing something important.
    Updated 07-18-2019 at 07:52 PM by DarkisnotEvil