Success Was Had

Sometimes – against all odds – I do some things right

By MARK WILSON

Last month I had a grab-bag of notes from an old campaign that was my first full campaign as a DM. They highlighted a lot of the things I got wrong. This month, I’m looking at the opposite: stuff that I thought went really well, or where I made notes to myself that paid off in the long-run. I hope many are useful, and there will undoubtedly be 1-2 that every DM can benefit from on occasion.

  • Session 1: Communication was good on linearity. I want it to be more open eventually, but the players are on-board with more linearity during early sessions to establish the world.

  • “Previously on…” session summaries at beginning are good; help to set the tone.

  • Use the most logical monster; alter the stat blocks as needed. Also confounds players who may know some of the monsters’ stats.

  • Prompting players to be ready for their scene when the party splits is good. If you give them a little context before cutting away, they can prep more thoroughly.

  • You made a skill check work that a player asked about, even though it was a stretch that it could happen. Balance this, but good that it rewards curiosity and investment.

  • Give them a reason to use the maps you’ve provided. This was the first you’ve done that.

  • Ambient background music: cool. Anything more than that: usually not as much.

  • Monsters or items that aren’t level appropriate can be a great wakeup call for PCs. Not everything is balanced for their current level.

  • Lair actions. Great way to add variance to encounters, in ways that spells and abilities sometimes can’t. These seem underused to me in 5e.

  • If the current locale and plot isn’t tied to a character much, having things going on elsewhere in the world helps. If they know about it, cool. If they don’t, it will deepen the eventual character-based conflicts down the road.

  • First session in a while without a “go here, kill this” objective, which was refreshing. Always remember to mix up objectives.

  • Oh man, RPing dogs is the best.

  • Heavy RP sessions are fine, especially as players level and it’s hard to run more than one combat per session. Allow them freedom to explore in non-plot-specific ways.

  • A bat killed Xanathar?! Hilarious.

“Oh man, RPing dogs is the best.”

We’ll return to a more narrative form in next month’s blog, but I hope a few of these were helpful to you!