Lifestyle of a Dungeon Master header

Lifestyle of a Dungeon Master


I run and play in and about seven D&D games. They’ve taught me a lot over the years, and when questioned, I like to share whatever nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned. I dared my community to ask me anything (related to D&D). Here are my takeaways.

Decisions decisions
Photo by Ade McOran-Campbell


Original Twitter Q&A:

Will Hagen‏ @williamjhagen

Q. How many encounters per long rest?

Riley‏ @thespirit_riley

A. Depends on where they decide to camp, and who wants to stay watch. When they’re cautious, it’s not as fun. I particularly enjoy the “encounter” dream some characters can tap into.

So I guess 0 if they prep, 1 if they dare me, 2+ if I’m feeling particularly evil.

Will Hagen‏ @williamjhagen

Q. Oh i meant between two long rests, not just during the rest

Riley‏ @thespirit_riley

A. Well, my friend that depends on their level, party preparedness, area, and how sassy you’re feeling that day.

Further Thoughts:

It really depends on the party. There was a great comic on Order of the Stick where a character was blowing all of their spell slots nonchalantly, then commented how it was fine because there’s generally only one encounter per long rest. If your players are getting comfortable with that line of thinking, use that to your advantage. Are they catching their breath after that epic boss battle? That doesn’t have to be the end! If you know they’re more than capable of another encounter, try it. You don’t want the players to fall into a routine.

That said, sometimes encounters are simply story-related. It’s reasonable to let situations lie with that mind. Ultimately, it’s DM discretion. I’m merely suggesting it’s never too late shake your players’ mentality.

Dark and brooding
Photo by Dan Ox

Being A Dungeon Master

Original Twitter Q&A:

Chris Lum‏ @coinopthinktank

Q. Greatest compliment you’ve ever received as a DM?
Q. How do you juggle so many games at once?
Q. If you could apply the DnD Ruleset to any other setting, what would it be?

Riley‏ @thespirit_riley

I’ll keep it brief and expand later in the article, basically:
A. Love for my homebrew and melding player stories as campaign material.
A. I was a producer in my past life. J/k, but it is a lot of scheduling in advance.
A. Reskin as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi

Further Thoughts:

I DM because, as a storyteller, I love making situations about my players. They pour their hearts into characters and setting, and watching them blossom over time is one of reasons why I build campaigns just for them. Getting told how much they appreciate the world I’ve created is just icing on the cake. It’s the same warm feeling I get for a positive review on my books; you know they’re into it. That’s all the motivation I need.

Admittedly, seven games is a lot. Since most of my games are homebrew there’s a lot of tracking going on. I keep a notebook for every campaign, jotting down details I need to remember. I have maps for my worlds for reference, and a list of NPC I can access. There’s also write-ups after every session: Google Drive, Obsidian Portal, even Word docs. Whatever works for you. As for fitting them into my schedule, it comes down to planning in advance and sticking to it. Your group needs to be as committed as you, and I’m lucky enough that I can fit multiple games into my life, slotted into different days. Does that sometimes mean days straight of D&D? Yes. But, hey, if you can juggle it, why not?

I’ll leave the third point as is. If I start that campaign, rest assured there will be notes.

Writing and Design

Original Twitter Q&A:

Douglas Copeland‏ @Ebonscale

Q. How has your writing and design work affected your RP/DM’ing skills at the table? Did you start writing before you got into D&D or vice-versa? Have they complimented well or make it more challenging?

Particular questions of interest to me as an occasional writer and gamedev

Riley‏ @thespirit_riley

A. I started writing before D&D and I think that’s why I felt so strongly about homebrew. I love to craft new worlds and realized I wasn’t content with just modules. It’s more work, but think of it as creative practice.. They’ve both helped the other out in terms of improving.

Further Thoughts:

As a writer, it’s no surprise I have a particular fondness for world and character design. I think that’s why I fell head-over-heels with D&D. Build a character and role play them? Yes, please. How has it helped me be a better writer? To be frank, some of the things my players have done have redefined “thinking outside the box.” They’ve helped me shed some hesitations I’ve had in creating scenarios. They’ve made me comfortable with trying new ideas, whether they succeed or fail. All this creative practice has helped shape my skills for the better. It certainly inspires me to keep writing.

So many character sheets
Photo by mrwynd

Memories and Experiences

Original Twitter Q&A:

Crista Megee ? ? ?‏ @spoiledchestnut

Q. Best multiclass you’ve played or best multiclass combo?
Q. Strangest thing your players have done to surprise you?
Q. What did your players do that halted a game because you all laughed so hard?

Riley‏ @thespirit_riley

A. Depends on the player. Fighter-Monk was pretty awesome. Oh, 6 attacks per round? Huh..
A. Decided to befriend the evil deity & trade the villagers’ lives for their own. I might be to blame.
A. Recently: During AL, our not-so-bright pally to all the bones: “Are you undead?”

Further Thoughts:

Multiclassing is like flavoring your coffee. It comes down to preference and weather (kidding on the latter). Honestly, there’s no “right” answer, but there are ways to optimize. Generally, you wouldn’t want two classes whose primary abilities contrast, but it all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, as a Paladin I’m about to take a level as a Warlock. Since Warlocks also have proficiency in Charisma, it’s a good deal. Not to mention, there’s a nice story hook for it.

While that Adventurer’s League memory is still up there in memories, my players are always surprising me. For better…and worse, just as I’m sure I surprise my DMs in equal measure. The best piece of advice I was ever given before DMing was: don’t depend on the players following the plan; they never follow the plan. Now I largely prep for possibilities, with little in the way of detail. Let’s just say, my improvisation skills have greatly improved. If you think they’re going to fight the avatar of an evil god, think again. They might just allow it to feast on the souls of the villagers that weren’t exactly kind to them. Especially if it means the party survives. Well, that’s a scenario for a later day.

I love moments that stop the game because you’re all laughing. Those are memories. There are so many to share, but I’ll just link a post to an older story. Long story short, my players traumatized their guide to a point where free-falling off a cliff was a better option than facing the purple worm they awoke. They survived by Feather Fall, but that was fun to play out. I still laugh about that game. I’ve yet to decide what to do with that NPC.

Link: Enemy NPC in the Making


That’s all for now. Maybe next article I’ll share the repercussions about making enemies out of NPCs. Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter for more: @thespirit_riley

About the author

KM Riley

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