A New DM Is Nervous. Will His Players Have Fun?
The experienced DMs at the Dungeon Master Resources gave some really great advice to a new DM worried about his players having fun.
Hey everyone! New DM here. How do you guys know/feel confident that the adventure you have setup is going to be fun for the party?
I struggle feeling confident in the content I create and haven't run enough to feel I can purely rely on intuition yet. What are some things you all include in your games that you know or feel strongly about being fun or creative? Do you focus on any specific aspects when designing adventures? Anything you specifically shove in to spice things up? Any advice on that is much appreciated.
Thanks in advance!
1. First of all, relax a bit because the burden to make the game fun isn’t 100% on you. The players also share that burden equally, and as a group of friends hanging out together to play a game/tell a story for fun, you should all be cooperating in making the experience enjoyable for all.
2. In terms of what elements to put in, ask your players what kinds of things they want to see in the game. More combat? Less? More role-playing? Puzzles? Mystery? Exploration? I try to keep mixing it up so the game doesn’t feel stale but also taking into account the things the players want in their game experience.
In conclusion, just talk to your friends!
First of all, hopefully you feel comfortable enough with your players to ask! I felt the same way you’re feeling, and I simply asked them, casually outside of the table, if they’re having fun!
Also, it helps to either take mental/physical notes on the elements of their adventures that they enjoy the most. I sometimes start an adventure with one idea in mind and it shifts and changes to whatever the party is responding to the best!
This is a good question for a beginner, and I would answer it this way. Everything you need to be a good DM is already inside you. You already have a working knowledge of the game, you want to have fun, you care about your players’ enjoyment of the game, you have an imagination, and you want to be a student of the game, apparently. Think of all that good stuff in you and be confident that it’s the most important stuff of all. Everything flows from that.
In each session, I try to include something, no matter the theme or the adventure, that will let my players shine both as a group and individually. That's not to say I build things so that they will always succeed, but I like to give opportunities for them to be, and truly feel like the heroes.
Remember to breathe, and if you have an outline of ideas roll with it. Change it on the fly if you feel you need to, and don't worry about mistakes. Everyone makes ‘em, sometimes. Ask your players what they like and dislike, and try to have as much fun as you can.
I still get nervous as heck before every session and I ask "did you have fun?" Way too often.
Do you best, have a plan, don’t be too hard on yourself, have a general of what’s happening in your part of the world - because the players won’t follow your plan, roll with it, and role with it.
Talk to your players - ask what they want in a game, and ask what was fun and wasn’t fun.
Few common things: Originality is overrated, focus on executing your idea to the best of your ability. The only thing that matters is what your players actually experience and encounter so if you need to prioritize something try and imagine what your players will realistically interact with. When you get more confident you can also play with this concept a bit by adding details to things you want to focus on to create a theme in your games.
To be more literal: take a look at the abilities of your party and see if you can come up with ways the party can use them in the adventure. If you already wrote an adventure, make sure instead that your party has the ability to handle everything ( nothing kills a session quite like reducing all paths forward to single investigate check someone fails). On that note one last thing: if all else fails, remember is always more fun that interesting things keep happening and interesting choices getting to be made by the player than it is fun that everything totally make sense.
The biggest thing is don’t get too hung up on one thing. Let the party kill most of your bad guys, then find a way to tie it all together as you go. DMing is part science/ part art form. Follow their cues and listen when they talk about their fears, then play up on them.
Definitely relax as a step one. I'm not great at improv but I want to get better, and haven't been DMing long so I go straight into the deep end. I ran a very chill campaign with my family where I limited my prep to "they go here where this magic orb is and I try to improv the rest.
For my proper campaigns, I try to prep things that fill the holes in what I can't improvise. I detail the story, and I write details for environmental descriptions, maybe a few important lines of dialogue that need to be included in this session, the rest I try to work off of bullet points as too much text throws me even further out
Try and ensure that there’s a theme or lesson in it. DND is a storytelling game. If it’s all game and no story it won’t ever reach its true potential. Knowing the story circle that Dan Harmon uses is a great way of ensuring your story has the basic narrative plot points that make a story good. Obviously you can only do so much because players can totally mess it up, but when you’re doing stuff on the fly don’t just think if something in your improv makes sense for your world, but try and ensure that it also adds to the overall value of the story. I’ve got a session tomorrow where it really doesn’t matter what choices they make, the lesson they will be forced to learn no matter what choice they make is that sometimes good people have to do some terrible things and it will make for a cool moment for my players I’m sure. That’s my advice. I think people are way too focused on making it “cool” as opposed to making it “good”.
I wouldn’t worry so much beforehand about players having fun. They’re at the table, aren’t they? They get to roll dice, kill monsters, interact with your world, right? You’re doing fine. I like to include plenty of role play with silly NPCs. Definitely do voices. Flesh out your story with rumors and nonsense. If the players are having fun, you will know it.
It’s hard to tell if a game you create will be fun for the players until you get into the game. But if you build a world and you integrate your party’s backstories into it and allow them some unique times in the spotlight they will appreciate it. And you don’t have to fully flesh out a world, let the backstories of your party help you to add in things and drive some quests.
Get a recap at the end of session. What did you like best? What did you like least? What was missing? What surprised you? What do you want more of?
That kind of thing.
Honestly, a lot of the fun comes from the players' own creativity. If the group is new just give them a few simple things to interact with during combats. Like make sure there are boxes or rocks to hide behind, or a chandelier to swing from or maybe knock down on an enemy or 2. It takes awhile to get into the swing of things but I think you will find being a DM is really fun! Always remember that you are creating a collective story. That your players are also telling the story(from their characters perspectives). And the last bit of advice I have for new DMs, especially if the whole group is new to TTRPGs, is don’t try to force Roleplaying. The players will slowly get more comfortable acting and talking in character as you game together more. Just give them a handful of NPCs to talk to and to give out quests.. and write down a short list of things the NPC would say to end a conversation lol. I’ve had a lot of new players just stand there awkwardly not knowing if they should ask another question or leave the conversation or what? It’s nice to be able to see or sense this happening and give them an easy “well I guess I’ll see you around town” option to get back to exploring haha... in the end I hope you have a ton of fun and master the craft!! This is an awesome hobby and I love seeing new people get into it!!!
Here's what I think: The players create their own fun. The DM is there to facilitate, empower, challenge, and spur the players on; but they are the ones who actually have the adventure. The DM can help that fun though, with interesting and unexpected challenges and story events. I try to come up with unpredictable events; I have bad guys attack them when they're not expecting it; I try to surprise them with strange and mysterious details that they need to figure out. Battles are fun, and roleplaying interactions are fun; exploring mysteries and exploring interesting, weird places are fun too. I try to balance these elements so it's not just all fighting all the time, or all talking all the time. By putting some interesting things out there, you give the players a canvas to paint on -- and paint they will. Every DM knows the players will always surprise you (and that's often where you get to have your fun!)
First thing I want you to keep in mind, don’t pressure yourself too much. I haven’t met a single person who was a perfect DM their first time around. And as others have said, the players make their own fun, just be sure to reel it back sometimes.
Also, and this is big: make sure your players know you’re new if you haven’t already. DMing can be hard, and it’s always good when players are willing to work with you.
Mix it up and pay attention to your player's reactions. Offer a little of everything. Combat is usually safe. Roleplaying can be a lot of fun, and my favorite is exploration. Offer 3dimensional environments. Tap into your players senses by offering vivid descriptions. It helps with immersion. Don't forget about speaking with inflection too. Your tone of voice can have a lot of play in how things are received.
Watch other games on YouTube too. You'll get ideas seeing how others do everything. Sometimes you'll learn what not to do as well, and that's just as important as learning what to do.
Work on your insight skill
I try to make every session different, and I often ask players what they liked and why. They all like combat, social encounters and puzzles. I try to ensure most (but not every) sessions have all three. I try to ensure each player has a chance to shine every few sessions. I try to follow a cadence to keep the plot moving. Within the first 15 minutes, they need to have a strong idea of the goal. The biggest hurdle for me was to ignore my own preconceived notions of how they would succeed and instead improvise ways that THEIR plans would succeed. If they try something crazy that will not ruin the outcome, find a way to make it work. If their dice don’t cooperate, find a way for them to “fail forward”. Always lean towards letting the story be fun.
It took me a little while to get into my stride as a DM. My first game was overly planned and didn't really take into account the free will of the players. My "clever puzzle" turned into a series of boring skill checks which went on too long, and my main bad was a pretty boring fight.
The players still told me they had fun though!
I took all that learning and freed up my sessions a lot. I now aim for story beats to hit but leave my players free to take what actions they want to. I make sure my monsters are threatening ( and often deadly) but try to use the environment and the world to make encounters more than just trading blows.
A lot of this has come over time as I've developed my DMing style and talked regularly with my players about what they enjoyed and what they didn't enjoy as much from sessions.
The easiest way to understand what your players want to be happy is a review of the characters they have created. Badass characters want combat. Characters with numerous touchstones in their backstory want drama. Take them through each type of encounter and note what interests them. Give them more of that and they will be eager for every session.