Learning How To DM I – Recognizing Player Intent

I promise, I’m going to go back to our regularly scheduled MGTOW & Philosophy programming soon, but D&D is still dominating my creative focus, so I’m making back-to-back content for it.

If you don’t know what the hell these acronyms are, D&D = the tabletop fantasy RPG game Dungeons & Dragons, and a DM is the Dungeon Master, the player responsible for the overall narrative, rules, and environment of the game.

The DM provides a structure, but it is the players that write the plot.

The style of DMing I want to perfect is a sandbox-style, where I have fleshed out enough details for a world expansive enough to allows my players to go anywhere and do anything. I want to make it a habit to never say “no” to them, and instead come up with creative compromises, or make them roll for it if we truly disagree.

I don’t think it will be fun for them if I am inflexible, and I also think I can become a better creative if I subject myself to more opportunities for improvisation.

Session Zero

A “Session Zero” is a pre-campaign phase where the players and DM decide some core details about the upcoming campaign, especially collaborative character creation, where players can create synergy or sensibility for their characters to adventure together.

Unfortunately, that was the only focus I had for my Session 0, since I was using a published adventure. Because I did not suss out my player’s intentions beforehand, there was a huge conflict during the combat, as one of my player’s decided to be a pacifist! Against a Manticore, no less!

Since then, I’ve begun issuing pre-campaign surveys to get a feel for what character roles my players want, as well as the themes and influences I can employ for the campaign.

I’ve issued this survey: https://rpgbot.net/general/gamemasters/pregamesurvery/

And I’ve also used this link as a supplement, especially the final section: https://www.nonfictiongaming.com/2017/05/16/questions-dm-ask-players-starting-dd-campaign/

During the Session

I just ran my second session last night. As I stated earlier, I want to learn how to facilitate player agency as much as possible, but that can only go so far. “Not every rock has gold underneath it”, as I’ve once heard. I may not have the mental resources to always have something interesting for the player to see when they want to inspect a room or area.

For instance, my player last night wanted to investigate a beach that he washed up on, and I simply replied “you find nothing.”

However, because of the degree of freedom I encouraged for him during a revised Session Zero, he suggested that he found an item that may be of interest to an NPC he recently met, and I thought that was a cool idea, so I let him have it.

Instead of saying, “you find nothing” I could ask the player, “what are you looking for?”, and this sort of questioning engages both of us in content generation, as opposed to me just passing down a one-sided judgement on the scenario.

Recognizing player intent in this way increases participation and interest in the game, and takes some pressure off of me as the DM. In retrospect, saying “you find nothing” makes me feel inadequate that I did not have something planned, but granting the player more responsibility of what they want to do in the world, and then building around it, makes me feel less stressed about preparing for every little detail about what they should be able to see.

Thoughts? Do you play D&D and have advice for me as a new DM? Let me know in the comments.

Cover Photo Credit: https://www.deviantart.com/moulinbleu/art/the-Dungeon-Master-365881616

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