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Challenging Yourself as a DM

You have to craft a believable environment for your players.
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

If you’ve done any kind of roleplaying, then you know that a quintessential element is the Dungeon Master. Sure, this comes in a variety of flavorful terms – Dungeon Master, Game Master, etc, etc – but the role remains the same. The Dungeon Master is the caretaker of the adventure and the bard of the setting. Without the DM, you are just playing a board game with number crunching. With the DM, you can have a fantastically rich setting with twists and turns and hilarious shenanigans at each of those. 

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The Breathing Environment

Have you ever been reading a text and become enamored by the words that they craft the world around you – that you actually lose yourself in the cave, find yourself at the wizardry school, and enjoy the protagonist’s date? 

That is the goal of creative a breathing environment. You want your players to want to be there. Your players might just want to set up camp for the night, but if you can detail to them the way the moon lights the sky or how the local fauna seems audible outside of the view of the campfire. This becomes even better if you play to the characters – if one is a dwarf who has never been topside, play to that. Have something happen to him, like the clear night sky revealing itself and insects assaulting them. I actually went and camped in the woods near my house to figure out how to make a better environment for my players

Fill that cave with moisture and noises and whispering echoes. Give that lush field some fauna and tell your players how the sunlight might feel on their skin after emerging from the Tomb of the Lich. These little details really add up and your players can appreciate the immersion.

The Guards of Skyrim

You can’t just craft a rich environment. You can build the most amazing set for your play, but without actors it is all for naught. This is why you need believable people to live in your world. Give them all their defining traits – the guard might have a hobble in his step from years of service, the bartender might have a peculiar tell where he strokes his ‘stache before making a deal, and the goblin warchief might get easily frustrated and chew on a dragon’s bone to calm himself. 

Plenty of awesome resources you can pull from. I myself use TV Tropes and a few psychology websites to craft personalities that my players love and hate. Peter’s Evil Overlord list makes for quite the serious, if not hilarious, big bad guy for your campaign and can save you from evil clichés. 

Let real politics occur. Sure, the barkeep wants the sewers cleared of kobolds. If your party is having an easy time and you want to throw them a curveball, have city guards come to put a stop to them because they don’t have the proper permits, and let some diplomacy ensue. Throw in some demigods acting like teenagers. Let rival merchants compete with pricing to win the player’s favors. 

All in all, the little things add up! What have your DMs done that add the right flair and hooks to your campaign?


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Image of The Myrrduck
The Myrrduck
Too busy killing scrubs to play good games.