Category Archives: Advice

Never split the party—except when it adds fun

Everyone who plays role-playing games learns the Dungeons & Dragons adage never split the party. In the hobby’s early days, when dungeon masters were referees and players chose difficulty by dungeon level, never splitting the party always made good strategy. … Continue reading

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Confidence game: Why faking confidence makes you a better game master

Some game masters boast unshakable confidence in their skill, even though their games only attract players because no one else wants the DM’s chair. Confidence leaves these GMs blind to their flaws. I should know. As a GM, I have … Continue reading

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How to end combat encounters before they become a grind

Every Dungeons & Dragons player experiences a battle that drags near the end, when the monsters have spent their best attacks and lack the numbers to threaten the PCs. As a dungeon master, I want to cut to the next … Continue reading

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Create better encounters by considering what your monsters want

Sometimes Dungeons & Dragons worlds seem split in two. In the towns and hamlets, players exercise charm and guile. In dungeons and lairs, every creature attacks on sight and battles continue to the death. When TSR printed Dungeon magazine, the … Continue reading

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Preparing to run an adventure as a dungeon master at a convention

In 1984 at Gen Con, I first served as an official dungeon master for a table full of strangers. I ran the adventure that would become I11 Needle. As I explained in “Running I11 Needle at Gen Con in 1984,” … Continue reading

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Illusionism: if player choices seem to matter, does it matter if they don’t?

Eventually, every game master winds up guilty of illusionism: You offer the players a choice that seems to matter, and then rearrange the game world so all the options lead to the same outcome. An illusionist GM prepares an encounter … Continue reading

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How to improve your game by forcing characters into tough choices

As a game master, my favorite moments during session come when I sit idle as the players’ debate the tough choices open to their characters. Each option balances hope with a price. All the options lead to consequences that will … Continue reading

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You roll for random encounters wrong (and so do I)

Original Dungeons & Dragons made rolling for wandering monsters more a core part of play than rolling a d20 to hit—d20 rolls were in the optional combat system that everyone used. Over the years, as D&D evolved, random encounters fell … Continue reading

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Delegate to run better role-playing game sessions by doing less

If you are a game master, the easiest way to improve your game sessions might be to do less. Rather than doing all the tasks of running the game, delegate some to the players. This lesson took me a long … Continue reading

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Running Shackles of Blood: Making the good adventure into a great session

The free, issue 4 of Dragon+ includes the Dungeons & Dragons module Shackles of Blood by Joshua Kelly. This adventure comes from the Adventurers League Expeditions program. Normally, this program only lets you play such adventures in public venues such … Continue reading

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