posted Thursday, November 18th 2010 by
Dungeon Mastering Advice
The astute reader will have noticed that over the past few weeks, the World Building 101 series of articles has trailed off. I really enjoy writing WB101 pieces, and do hope to continue the series, but Iâ€™d prefer to avoid writing about bizarre minutiae simply to keep it going. (Iâ€™m pretty sure some of the articles already got close to that point as it stands, in fact!) That said, I do intend to continue WB101, but at a slower pace. In the interim Iâ€™ll be continuing to write DM advice, though with a slightly different focus than worldbuilding. Todayâ€™s piece will focus on DM logs.
I have previously written about writing and maintaining a campaign bibleâ€”a document containing details of the setting and events of your game. A campaign bible may also contain notes for the Dungeon Masterâ€™s eyes only, but this is not a DM log. The purpose of a DM log is quite differentâ€”rather than tracking the story or NPC notes, a DM log tracks notes on the actual act of DMing.
Every session you run can be a learning experience, and it can be very helpful to keep notes on what worked and what didnâ€™t work, to improve your game sessions in the future. Keeping a DM log will help you do just that. After each session you run, take a few moments to jot notes on things that your players seemed to enjoy, or things that fell flat. Doing this can help you marshal your thoughts and give you something to reflect on before your next session, and can also be used to track your progress or remind you a few weeks or months down the line of problems you encountered in game and how to avoid them.
Make a point of talking to your players regularly about the campaign, as well, and note the results in your log. You donâ€™t need to do this every session, but you should do it once every three to five sessions at least. Ask what they like and didnâ€™t like about the session youâ€™ve just completed, as well as what they want to see more of (and less of) in the campaign as a whole. Look over these notes when youâ€™re planning future adventures, and youâ€™ll find your players stay very happy and keep their enthusiasm for the game high.
Another technique you might considerâ€”though this is not something that may be possible for everyone, for a variety of reasonsâ€”is to record a session and listen to it after. You can often hear in the playersâ€™ body language and tone of voice what they enjoyed or disliked during the session, and get more specific details about it than you would with asking them afterâ€”they may not remember everything as clearly at the end of a session, but by observing their reactions during play you can pinpoint it. You can also monitor your own performance, checking for bad habits when providing descriptions (lots of â€œumsâ€, pacing problems, repetitive word choice, or just droning), and take notes on what you can be improving that way. If you do want to record a session, though, make sure your players are all okay with the idea before you do so, and if any of them are uncomfortable with it, donâ€™t press the issue.
Keeping a DM log is something that can help you improve your technique and reduce your bad habits or mistakes. It gives you a written record of the lessons you learn after each session and helps you remember things you want to do more (or less) of in the next session. Itâ€™s a tool Iâ€™ve found invaluable when I run games, and I can safely say that my dungeon mastering has improved a great deal as a result. Even a few short moments of taking notes and reflection can be enough, so give it a shot!