A Crash Course in Agile Dungeon Mastering

A key to successful Dungeon Mastering is being able to identify and act on the things that are important. The elements of a game that are going to speak to your version of fun and help your friends enjoy the setting through their characters.

Four months ago I was thinking “I really need to build discipline around bringing this world to life!” my thought was that I needed to round out the NPC’s, the backstories, and the theater of what everything other than the characters was like, motivated to do, and seeking. Then my wife accidentally scheduled me on an 11 day run of nightly D&D sessions last October. After I’d spent the better part of a week in Chicago at a trade event.

That changed my view on what I really needed to do.

Anything that wasn’t absolutely focused on the next adventures I was sharing with my friends wasn’t D&D time spent well. I really did burn to give more time to developing NPC’s, organizations, maps of different areas characters new well, and more – but none of that mattered more than a series of ancient vaults, the actions of a few hags, the relations between combative lizardfolk and bullywug tribes, and the machinations of a few things under the ground. So less important tasks were parked and I ran based on what mattered to the characters in the next session.

I ran hard. Harder than I’ve ever had to run as a DM before. I started to average four game sessions per week for a while; I didn’t have a week of lead time between game sessions, at best I had days. While I did have a social life, a holiday vacation, and spent non-D&D time with friends, Dungeons & Dragons did become the cornerstone of my idle thoughts, free time, and sense of fun. Even if it was just mental exercises to sort out what needed to happen, I was plotting, planning, and responding to my friends.

Why It’s Worth It

Yesterday nineteen of my friends came over for a friendly game of Dungeons & Dragons. We held a “raid” on the primary nemeses of the characters. One of the other Hydra DM’s came to help and for nine hours we played out multiple rounds of an assault on what had become the last lair and foothold of a coven of hags in my corner of our West Marches campaign.

It was amazing. Fun. Challenging. Not because of anything I did; it was because of every single person involved. Nineteen players all working together to create a resonating rebuke in the form of their characters saying “You shall not sow further chaos into these lands!” It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or run as a DM in my thirty five years of Dungeons & Dragons.

Today I get to reflect, smile, and play a few board games. Today I don’t have to think about what’s going to happen in the next adventure. Yet I already am. I can’t wait to pick up the story in just over a week. Games are already being scheduled and I’m prepping to work on answers to the following question: “What can I do today to answer something that really matters for the players and characters in the game?”

I don’t likely have time to churn out an NPC every single day. I’ve got characters lining up to explore a pathway into the Feywild while others are going to reclaim a lost settlement, and still more are seeking to walk directly to the edges of the known map and see what’s next. I’m going to focus on that.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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