How can you make your role-playing campaign run more smoothly and be more fun for everyone? Here are ten quick dungeon mastering tips for any campaign:
Supply paper, pencils, and dice.
Counting on the players to provide even their most basic requirements doesn’t work, so don’t try. Always have more sharpened pencils available than players. Bring lots of paper. Have more dice than you can possibly use.
2. Enforce a “No touching” rule.
Some players can’t keep their hands off the other players. This is disgusting and must be stopped before the other players abandon your campaign just to get away from the offenders. Declare a “no touching” rule and enforce it. Come down hard on even minor infractions, or when the game gets exciting, the offenders won’t be able to control themselves and will be pawing and pummeling the other players like six-armed monkeys on acid. (“No touching” also includes “No pretending to touch, no brandishing, no looming over the other players.” They need to stay out of each other’s personal space.)
3. Enforce a “Hands off other people’s stuff” rule.
Players are not allowed to touch other people’s possessions without permission, or read their notes, or use their laptops, or anything like that. In particular, anyone who knocks around someone else’s lovingly painted miniatures should be taken out and shot.
4. Side conversations are okay, but should be done away from the gaming table.
Suppose there are five players but you’re DMing a situation that involves only two of them. What do the other players do? Well, frankly, if they aren’t fascinated by the action involving the other two players, you’re better off without them. If they can go off somewhere (not too far) and amuse themselves until it’s their turn to role-play again, that’s great. Better than having bored and fidgety players annoying everyone else. If the other players go off and have a conversation, or watch TV, or play video games, fine. It relieves you of the burden of entertaining all of the players, all of the time.
5. Keep notes in a spiral notebook.
Or use some other method to keep your notes from scattered to the four winds. Loose sheets are horrible. Three-ring binders take up more than twice as much precious table space as a spiral notebook. Laptop computers are okay. Smartphones and tablets usually don’t allow a fast enough typing speed.
6. If you use a laptop for notes, set your editor to autosave very frequently.
You won’t like it if your computer crashes and you lose an hour’s worth of notes. I’d set autosave to five minutes if I were you.
7. Have a break every hour.
It helps. A lot. A 5-10 minute break adds a lot of pep back into the players and yourself.
8. Watch out for super-sized drinks.
A single giant soda can destroy multiple laptops and a lot of expensive gaming books if spilled, and you can count on it happening eventually. Use a separate table for DM materials or ban large drinks from the gaming area. This can save you a lot of grief.
9. End the session before you’re exhausted.
When a gaming session runs late, I gradually take fewer and fewer notes, and the next day I can neither find any notes nor remember anything from the last hour or so of play. I guess I’m running on autopilot. Apparently my unconscious mind is okay at dungeon mastering but not at keeping me informed. This isn’t good for me and it’s not good for the players. Wrap things up before your performance (or theirs) falls off too much. Do something else if it’s not time to go home yet. There’s no law that says the whole session has to be devoted to D&D.
10. When in doubt, ask the players.
Have you forgotten what happened in a long-ago session? Ask the players. Probably no one will remember the events exactly, but as soon as one player remembers something, anything, another will remember another detail, and in a few minutes, the whole sequence of events will be recovered. Works like magic.
William Wallace Cook’s plot-suggestion system, Plotto, is woefully misunderstood, even by some of its biggest fans. Let’s take of three of the most basic mistakes that will prevent you from getting the most out of this wonderful plotting aid for writers and screenwriters.
Mistake 1: Taking Plot Hints Literally
At first glance, all plot suggestions in Plotto seem either too vague or too specific. The vague ones can be a bit of a puzzler, but the too-specific ones are easier to work with.
Let’s look at conflict #1419(a):
A, caught in a trap and held powerless under a huge burning glass, is saved by an eclipse of the sun.
This sounds a bit fantastic, but that’s not the problem, because it’s listed under “Occult and Fantastic” conflicts. No, the real problem is that readers often think you’re supposed to cut this conflict out and paste it down as-is, when, actually, you’re not supposed to. It’s only an example.
An example of what? Basically, of a situation featuring a self-operating killing machine that our hero escapes on his own, with the aid of a minor flaw in its operation.
Far-fetched? Hardly. This plot has been used before, in stories we’ve all heard of.
Real Stories Using This Plot
The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe, where the attention of rats and the slicing action of the pendulum itself allow the protagonist to roll out of its way.
Androcles and the Lion, by Aesop, where the reliably savage man-eating lion turns out to have a mind of its own, and chooses not to kill his old friend.
Partial credit for the laser scene in Goldfinger, though Bond talks his way out instead of doing it right, with a mirror or something.
Mistake 2: Not Understanding the Masterplot Table
Any A Clause may be used in conjunction with any B Clause and with Any C Clause.
—Plotto, page 17
Most people, when they look at Plotto, notice that, if you read across the top of the Materplot table, the protagonist A clauses, the conflict B clauses, and the terminal C clauses seem to go together. And they do. Cook arranged them this way for convenience, so the most common A-B-C combinations will be close to each other.
For example, about the first Masterplot you encounter will be:
A1. A person in love,
B1. Engaging in a difficult enterprise when promised a reward for high achievement,
C1. Pays a grim penalty in an unfortunate undertaking.
But it’s only for convenience. You can just as easily take a B and C clauses from different regions of the table, like this:
A1. A person in love,
B59. Engaging in an enterprise and becoming involved with the occult and fantastic,
C8. Achieves a spiritual victory.
Most people don’t even realize that this is possible! In fact, at least two editions of Plotto (the Tin House Books Kindle edition, and Ashleywilde’s Plots Unlimited, format the Masterplot table according to the usual misinterpretation, making it less likely that you’ll ever figure out that you can use it the way it’s meant to be used, an an any-to-any manner, like my example above.
My own Norton Creek Press edition of Plotto avoids this problem, since is an exact duplicate of the original edition. But it introduces a less fatal form of confusion, since the book is supposed to use half-width pages for the B clauses, but neither my edition nor later press runs of the original edition do this (it’s not technically feasible with the printing process I used).
Basically, all you need to know is “pick any clauses you like from the A, B, and C columns.”
Mistake 3. Not Reading the Plotto Instruction Booklet
Pretty much the moment Plotto hit the presses, Cook realized that most readers couldn’t understand it, so he created a seven-lesson instruction course in the form of a Plotto Instruction Booklet. You need this instruction booklet!
Original copies of the booklet are extremely hard to find, though sometimes a old copy of Plotto will include one, perhaps tucked in a pouch on the inside front cover.
I’ve republished the Plotto Instruction Booklet as a stand-alone title (in paperback and Kindle form). Tin House Books includes it at the back of their edition of Plotto (too bad—it should be in the front).
You can use the Plotto Instruction Booklet with:
Original copies of Plotto, printed by Ellis Publishing company between 1928 and 1941.