I Got Better!
When it comes to my philosophy or approach to DMing, I would say that I am always seeking to improve. Some Dungeon Masters are content running games with their friends and just taking that role because someone needs to. Others may have been doing it so long, they have found their style and are done changing. I personally feel that always striving to do more and do better is part of the fun of being in that position. I get a lot of pride out of being a good DM, one that players enjoy playing with, and so I have to always be thinking about what aspects of the game I can do better. This is why I reflect on my weaknesses, and challenge myself to do better.
Some of the weaknesses I have overcome are outlined in this blog. I became better at ensuring players had the chance to get retribution on evil they encountered. I improved my ability to make players feel like they were in a specific setting and not some generic fantasy land. I got better at making encounters that tied together and made sense, as opposed to random dungeon rooms that were not well connected in theme. A lot of this has happened relatively recently, since improving has also happened alongside long campaigns with very satisfied players. What I would consider one of my most recent improvements was providing a combat experience that was much more cinematic, and that was in large part to my use of Popcorn Initiative.
Some things that I still struggle with are NPCs. Though I am quite happy with the way in which my party will interact with them, and I am confident that they are internally consistent and adaptive to changing situations to make them feel more fleshed out, I still am terrible with two aspects:
- I probably plan about 30% of the NPC names ahead of time, and the rest I simply don’t give one. This has led to me letting players shout out names (so that they are getting quests from Donald Duck), or simply making something up on the fly which invariably gets heckled. I have tried using a list of pre-made names, or a random name generator, but both seem to slow me down and I spend too much time picking a name that suits my vision for the character. I am improving this by trying to create my own list of names that I come up with throughout the week. I have used names that I encounter in my everyday life; the name of a furniture collection at Pier 1 Imports inspired a major villain’s name (Helendia), and an employee’s last name inspired the name of a race I made for my setting (Witherow). Having names that I select makes it easier to choose from in the moment.
- Remembering NPCs that stay with the party. This is a huge gap for me, namely because I love the idea of intelligent items. My problem is that whenever I add an NPC to the party, I promptly forget they are there and don’t do anything to roleplay them. One of the characters in my game recently adopted a young boy from a terrible orphanage with the intention of finding him a new home, but as soon as the encounter with the orphanage was done, I completely forgot about this 10 year old boy following the party. It doesn’t help me to plan the NPC details, I just can’t seem to manage the story and the NPC at the same time. I am trying to improve this by forcing myself to address them, and including more in my games. More quests involving intelligent, talking items that the party wants to interact with constantly. NPCs with skills the party lacks so that they are reminding me that this person is there.
Trying to grow as a DM is important, because there are a lot of aspects to this complex game, and you want to provide for your players the best possible experience. There are things I choose to leave out of my games, and players can decide to stay in my games or find someone else willing to run it their way, but I do not want my players to miss out on something fun just because I have not figured out how to do it.