The days come and go quickly, and only sometimes, however infrequently, do I realize that a whole month has come and gone. It’s time for an update around here.
Everyone in my group has led a very busy life this past month, myself included. We haven’t sat down to play as often as we’d like, and when we have, quite a bit of time has elapsed. I find myself wondering “What were we even doing last time?” even though my hastily taken notes are in a neat Markdown file nestled within the DM Materials folder inside the D&D folder that I’ve set up in my Dropbox account.
You’d think it is organized. That it’s relatively easy to hop back into the campaign. It’s not that way at all. I’ve only run a handful of games and it’s a bit daunting every time we get started. That’s not a complaint or a bad thing. It’s a great place to start talking about what I’ve been doing lately to become a better DM: watching, listening, reading, and taking notes.
My inexperience with actually playing the game is something that will change over time, but I’ve found that watching other people play D&D has helped me immensely. Instead of watching a show or movie before falling asleep each night I try to find live games on Twitch.tv. There hasn’t been a ton of them streaming at that hour, so often I find myself hopping over to YouTube to find games. Watching D&D writer and DM Chris Perkins run games has been a blast and I’ve watched several of his games many times now. He’s been creatively keeping people entertained with campaigns for a long time, and gives fantastic advice on approaching the role of DM. Go see him in action for yourself. (Side note – If you’re here at this place I assume that you’re fine with NSFW language and ideas such as some of the things you’ll come across in the games you’ll find in that link.)
Now listening is a very powerful thing. Listening to your players and to their characters is definitely the path to making the game interesting, keeping everyone happy, and being on top of it as a DM. I’m not talking about that, cool? I’m talking podcasts. Nerd Poker specifically. With Brian Posehn and friends to be more specific. I jumped in a while ago, long before I considered playing D&D myself, sometime in 2013 I believe. I’ve decided that I’m going to start the show over and go back to episode 1 when January 2015 rolls in. It’s tons of laughs, and if you dig the storytelling side of things you should give it a listen too. Here’s a link to the show at iTunes.
Aside from reading the Player’s Handbook while waiting for the Dungeon Master’s Guide to arrive, I’ve been trying to read up on the game as often as time permits. Reddit’s /r/DnD is a great place to take a quick glance at some interesting topics and jump into the conversation when you want to. When I’ve found a subject (such as traps, cartography, and etc.) that I want to explore I’ll take it on over to Google for a search and dive into it. It’s amazing to find how many people over the years have just collected their knowledge and creative materials to publish it all online for future use. Kudos to DM’s and players everywhere for helping to keep the games going and the tales inspired.
The last thing on the list is taking notes. Part of it is just making rules easier to access and unexpected situations manageable, which is something I’ve been doing and keeping handy (via Dropbox as mentioned above.) Another big side of it is jotting down something that sparks new ideas for your own campaign. I’m taking a lot of inspiration from fiction outside of D&D’s universe, and a lot of it is from video games.
Even more of it is inspired by passing conversations with people I know, and everyday life that happens right outside my door. I keep a notepad (or my phone’s note-taking app) around just for these fleeting moments where ideas can be written down or lost forever.
A lot of this might be old news for some of you more experienced players/DM’s. Hopefully it will inspire someone out there still fresh to the game. Or possibly it’ll provide a crack in the dam blocking some experienced DM’s creativity.