Dungeon Mastering, Elementary (DnD Guideline)
From D&D Wiki
Being a good dungeon master will be what makes or breaks your campaign and will greatly influence how much fun the players have. There are many do's and dont's that you will need to know about to improve the gaming experience for your players when you are hosting a game. There are many pitfalls that are easy for inexperienced DMs to fall into and experienced players may try to take advantage of an inexperienced DM to game the system.
This page has been set up for anyone who wishes to share the knowledge they have gained on acting as a dungeon master so others may learn from it. This page is mainly intended to give a helping hand to starting DM's but even experienced DM's can learn a thing or two on good practices from others.
When contributing to this page try to fit your tips and tricks into the correct chapter and of course do not forget to sign it, or place it in the discussions page and it can be placed for you. Feel free to create a new chapter if an appropriate one does not exist.
- 1 What is a DM?
- 2 The DM as an Organizer: Creating and Hosting a Game
- 3 The DM as a God: Creating A World
- 4 The DM as a Story Teller: Creating a campaign
- 5 The DM as a Moderator: Handling Players
- 6 The DM as a Patron: Rewarding your Players
- 7 The DM as a Human Being: General Advice
What is a DM?
A DM, or dungeon master, is a lot of things at the same time. You will be a story teller, a mediator, a judge and an enforcer. You will be guiding your players on their adventure filled with treachery, deceit, mystery, glory or death. You will be showing them the world they are exploring, from the forests to the caverns to the coasts and to worlds beyond. You'll be rewarding players that do well and punishing their mistakes, and enforcing the rules of the game, judging what can succeed and what is impossible.
Outside of the game you will be a mediator for your players, it's your responsibility to make sure that everyone is enjoying a fun and safe gaming environment. You'll be responsible for player conduct and you have the right to kick someone out of the group. You'll also be preventing metagaming and other attempts to cheat the game.
Being a dungeon master can seem like an overwhelming task and you must be prepared to spend a lot of time preparing for each meeting. Your players will test you and they will try to provoke you, no matter how good a friend they may be. Your job is to be prepared, to be calm and to keep things moving.
The DM as an Organizer: Creating and Hosting a Game
Things to Have
- A copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide for your chosen edition of the game, which contains useful information on hosting games. Read it from front to cover twice and then just to be sure read it again. Understand the mechanics of the game, combat, how difficulty ratings work and how to handle exceptional situations or skill checks.
- A copy of the Player's Handbook. You will need this book as a reference for feats, skills and spells; also combat mechanics are described in here. It will be hard to learn all spells available to players but be sure to know what you can expect from your players as not to be surprised by them. Trust me, they will do anything in their power to surprise you! Plus, if one or more of your players does not have a copy, it is extremely helpful to have one to share.
- A copy of the Monster Manual. This book is your main reference to monsters and NPC's that may inhabit your world. The book is detailed and provides flavour texts that you can use for your story telling. The Monster Manual also describes how difficult it will be to face a particular monster or character by it's challenge rating. You do not have to learn every monster in the book but you must understand how challenge ratings work, what kind of modifiers can be placed into effect. This knowledge is essential or you will end up placing a far too easy / deadly creature as a challenge into your game.
- You will need a set of dice, at least one each of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20. It is recommended that you have one d20 for each player and one for yourself, since it is the primary die used in combat and for skill and ability checks. Also, if you have two d10s then it makes it easier to roll a percentile. There are random number applications available for download that imitates dice rolls that can be used instead.
- Some paper & pencils, these can be easy to over look, but are absolutely critical for a successful game, players will need them to update and mark their character sheets, you'll need them to make notes and to keep track of battles, plot hooks, and NPCs, as well as for passing along information to players that other characters wouldn't know. A good recommendation is to get a zippered binder that has space for note paper, folders and a copy of the DMG. However you can do just as well with some scrap paper.
- A plastic coated grid and dry-erase markers with which you may draw maps for the players and place miniatures (break out your stratego box, or buy some decent ones) to mark their characters positions. These maps are not very expensive and can be found in many specialized boardgames stores or on the internet. It's also possible to make one yourself with poster/presentation-sized graph paper and a cheap poster frame. Alternatively you can use paper and pencil to draw quick situational maps.
- A set of tokens, these are to represent the positions of players relative to each other, the landscape and NPCs. These can be anything, from chess pieces to glass baubles, and can be easily be cannibalized from other games like Cluedo or Monopoly. ((I had to use the strangest pawns as my character (Donald Duck) while fighting some very evil cleric (Mickey Mouse). It didn't bother the game and even got some funny remarks while playing. Nowadays I use the awesome miniatures from a game called Runewars (it's a nice game) which has nicer looking miniatures.)) Wizards of the coast and other companies sell pre-made miniatures or miniatures that can be shaped and painted, and there are companies that allow you to create miniature designs to fabricate in a 3D printer.
- A laptop with which to access the D&D wiki and other helpful websites
- A DM screen, these are usually designed with helpful references for the DM on the back and are useful for disguising your dice rolls so you can "fudge" the results if you don't want your players to be killed by a fluke in the game's mechanics (or more likely by their own stupidity). Note cards can also be hung on them so your players have references to look straight at.
Planning With Your Players
The first thing to make sure of is that everyone playing your campaign knows all of the rules, not only the rules in the Players Handbook, but also the rules you will be enforcing that diverge from the PHB.
Let them know as soon as possible (during the planning stages if possible) what, if anything, makes your game different from the one in the PHB. Keep a reference sheet available and readily accessible for both yourself and your players. Developing and enforcing those specific rules can enhance the feeling of the world or era that inspires your game. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should try and keep these restrictions to a minimum so they can be easier to remember and keep track of.
Failing to warn your players in advance can make them very disappointed, say if they spend an hour making a kick-ass elf character only to find out afterwards that elves aren't allowed. (A good way to deal with this is to adjust the character to something that is allowed. You can make elves into slim humans, or gnomes into children, etc. (This last suggestion is what I used in a medieval based period on the normal world where the player playing a gnome got carried away role-playing it as a supposed child which led to a few laughs along the way.)) Make sure that your players are allowed to choose any starting item or equipment they would like as long as they can afford it or make a reasonable case for having it. A first level character would only have enough gold to buy some basic gear, while a 7th level player could have 8-10 thousand gold at his disposition and may opt to use that gold to buy a magical weapon or armor. This may seem overpowered, but if you're create your campaign right they will most certainly need such items and at a higher level it's not unreasonable for characters to have magical items.
The DM as a God: Creating A World
While you are not obligated to create your own little universe for your players, there are worlds that have been already created by enterprising DM's and creative teams, it is up to you to bring the world to your players, you are the one that allws them to walk through this new place, you will be the one sharing stories overheard at a tavern, it will be up to you to tell them what the cliff face they are climbing feels like, your players will look to you to find out where they can go and what they can discover once they get there.
It takes a lot of time and effort to create a believable world for people to play in, yet it is a very important aspect of the game and care must be taken to get it right. As you can imagine creating a world has many variables to consider. As a start ask yourself the following:
- What era are you playing in?, is it a futuristic era like Star Wars, is it medieval like the era when witch hunting was Europe's biggest spectator sport, or is it a primitive era when everyone wore a lot less clothes and old people complained about this new-fangled "agriculture" nonsense? There is no "right" answer to this question and it is largely up to the feel you want your world to have and the stories you want to tell. Keep in mind though that as a game, D&D is tuned towards a more medieval setting, and diverging significantly from that will require more planning on your part.
- How big is the world? your campaign can be as large as a multiverse or as small as a deserted island. (One of my campaigns was set in a medieval era on a tiny island that was inspired by my visit to Mt. Saint. Michelle (Look up some photo’s and you will be amazed how epic this place looks like!). I set out an campaign from level 5 to 10 just there, within a few hundred feet of space which turned out to be an excellent location to fill their minds with riddles and mystery for many game sessions. With this example I limited my world to a very small area but I made sure that small world was very, and I mean very detailed. (If I can find the campaign map I will post it) while reserving the possibility to go back to the main land at any time and continue the campaign there. I did not have to bother to detail the outside world until the campaign was almost over.)) Think of games like Lineage or Myst where a small setting feels open and massive.
- What kind of magic is inside your world? Is magic in your world as mundane as electricity is here, or is it rare and only found among certain people and places? How do people perceive magic in your world, is it a common annoyance? evidence that there is a god and he hates you? or is it treated as a myth? How do people handle being able to be raised from the dead? How do governments manage travel available through teleportation circles?
- What is your world's history? This will take a lot of time, but believable worlds have history. We still discuss wars that happened Millenia ago, our culture is shaped by our history and the people and things that occupied it. For the sake of your players and your world, Think of history on a sliding set of scales, like a map
- A world map shows everything, but doesn't have many fine details, empires rise and fall, continents drift, people migrate, but world history is perceived as nations, not people and the time-frames discussed usually are measured by the century or even the millennia. A lot of different things can happen at once when you look at a world scale (ex. the mammoths were still alive when the egyptians were building their pyramids)
- A map of a continent shows the progress of nations and kingdoms as people band together and carve out their own little stretch of dirt. These are the movements of cultures and armies, the only individuals that history is concerned with on this scale are kings and conquerors and the like. Time on this scale is measured by the century or the decade.
- A nation's map is everything within its borders with some looks at the neighbors. This is the advance of kingdoms and the rise and fall of notable individuals, National history is filled with notables, folk heroes, statesmen, celebrities, nobility, authors. This is where the details start to bubble to the surface, each nation has its own history and those histories are long and varied and can change depending on who you ask.
Deciding on these few questions will open up a nearly incomprehensible amount of new questions. This is the main difficulty while creating a world to play in. It is nearly impossible to fill in all the details but try to put as much of it as you can on paper.
Finally, don't make sudden, drastic, changes. Worlds do not suddenly start to behave differently outside of a cataclysm. If you have developed a feel or a history for your world, stick with it Radical and unplanned changes to your world will completely destroy the gaming experience. Nothing happens without a reason, try and remember that as your players explore your world, mountain ranges don't just appear for no reason, mean people don't abruptly start being nice!
Don't confuse this with small and localized events, like a small town behaving strangely, or a strange passage way appearing in a forest, those are the irregularities that you are looking for. Small changes to your world are hooks for adventure and can build up to something big. Abrupt big changes are lazy and snaps people immediately out of the experience.
Interaction with the world
No world is a static object, worlds are filled with people that can be simple, complicated, patient or irrational, landscapes change from earthquakes and tsunamis, borders shift as peoples go to war. And your players will want to feel like their actions matter, as they explore the world they will affect the people and places they interact with.
As the players move through the world, you will need to supply them with the scene and with the characters that occupy it. If you slack on this than the world will feel empty and your players will get bored. You will be bringing the world to life and these efforts will make your world feel like more than just a setting and make it feel "alive."
Your player's first interaction with the world is in how you describe it. A common mistake people make as a DM is focusing exclusively on their story or on combat. Look at some of the following points for advice and examples:
- "You are walking on a road..." This is a good start, but too many dungeons masters make the mistake of stopping there. Fill in details of the world around them. Does the road cut through the woods or through farmland? Is the road cobbled or dirt, is it rutted or well maintained? Try to consider where the road goes and how frequently people travel along it. However the road can reveal other things like: The dirt path leading away from the left of the forest trail you are walking on seem to bare a single set of tracks of a hobbit that, by the depth of the impressions, seems to carry a heavy load. Already I would be interested what that hobbit was carrying. Maybe it was a chest of gold or maybe a corpse that he is trying to hide. The world interacted with the players on a passive bases, no conversation has been made but the information / interaction with the players may have led them to believe that certain opportunities may lie ahead. Just there your world has come alive and interesting by a mere road.
- "You enter the city by a small gate and a road is leading to the centre." (Again) YAAAAAAWN!.... What kind of city is it, is it big or small? Is it a city made up primarily by wooden or stone houses, what state are the houses in? What is the road made of? (see above) Are there shops and groceries that may be of interest? Maybe even a marketplace? How about that gate? What is it made of? Is there any chance for a player to break that gate when he must flee the city? Is there a wall protecting the city? Are there guard towers? Are there commoners to talk to? Tavern? Just a few more details and your world will become much more alive!
These are just two examples of how to improve your world and make it intractable by just adding >>Detail<<. Detail is your first weapon on creating an acceptable world for those that explore it. Adding detail might seem like a lot of work but reality it is easy. Well it is easy as long as you have a clear image in your head that you use to describe your world. Imagine that what they walk on / past / under and describe it in construction, quality and size and wear and tear and you will notice that this will become very easy. Important details like footprints on a sandy road should never be omitted. Your players are interested in what kind possible trap they are walking into. Just imagine a heavy plate warrior charging an enemy and you have to tell him that he needs to roll a balance check because you omitted to tell that he is charging on a muddy and slippery road.
A world does not exist out of cardboard cut-outs when it comes to commoners or other creatures that live in your world. Just like in the real world every NPC (non playable character) would react to certain questions or actions differently. Be prepared to change roles quickly when players enter an area where there are many different NPC's.
Questioning NPC's are the players prime source of gathering information. An NPC may direct them to someone that they should visit or may be reluctant to provide information because he is told to do so. Your NPC's in your campaign will set much of the mood or "ambiance" in your campaign at any given time. Often you need to give them names, try to have a random name chart prepared in advance when the situation may rise to give a nameless NPC a name. If you made your world believable enough your players will be quickly inclined to gather information by unusual sources and that may even surprise you :D.
Reaction of the world
Many places react to actions of players, especially if they are perceived as bad. This doesn't mean that players cannot be evil but in a lot of circumstances your players must take precautions when performing certain actions. For example murdering some innocent bystander while in the middle of a crowded area will most likely have most of the inhabitants flee for their lives while the town guard will start to pursue him with all it's might destroying the murderous player in an instance with no remorse while an evil aligned village made up of pirates will not give him a second look while proceeding with whatever he was doing. Every action has a certain reaction. Do not be afraid to enforce that action.
The DM as a Story Teller: Creating a campaign
Creating a campain is the next step after you created the world. But it is not uncommon to first create the campaign and to create the world based on this campain. In fact this may help you visualise the world around your campain better. A campaign does not have to take the players from level 1 to level 20 but most of the time you will create a campaign that will provide 2 to 3 levels at a time. By chaining multiple campaigns together you will build the master campaign.
Each campaign can more or less be set up in the same fashion as other campaigns.
As discribed earlier you need to steer your party where you want them to go. Your first means towards achieving this goal is to hook your players like a fish and reel thim in, into your next campaign. The best way to do this is by knowing your players a bit and provide the correct bait. As an example on of the players in my group is somewhat of a loot addict and I only had to hint the notion of epic loot to be found somewhere and he would do the work for me. You may not be so lucky and you may want to find other hooks to lure your players into your trap... eeeh, campaign.
Try too place the bait carefully and do not make it blatently obvious to them that you are trying to hook them, a good start would be common npc's gossiping about something nearby or some place became weird and didn't want to trade with them anymore. Make it subtle so the players feel like they want to go there maybe you can even play along a bit and pretend (CAREFULLY) that you do not want your players to go there. Amazingly enough they always go where you do not want them to go.
If they ignore all your baits or they just ignore them then you can increase the lure a bit and send in some newly arived people on a cart that are all dead except for the horse, or some mayor in distress that runs towards the adventurers and begs them for their help promising riches or the like. If your master campain includes some form of nemesis for them then you can use its name or discription to lure the players into your next campaign.
The best lure is a campaign that needs no lure. These are campaigns that can happen anywhere in your world at any time. As an example I created a campaign that I could start anywhere on a forest road. Cince they travel on those roads often I had to set no lure and they walked right into the next campaign. I then trew in a storm and a trader, some falling trees and a big bright purple flash and they had no idea that they were trapped on a microworld and were about to discover the village with no escape.
Once your players are hooked to the campaign the plot can start.
Now what is a story if there is no story? There must be some form of story. Creating a story unfortunatly is limited only by your imagination and can range from a simple dungeon to a complex intrigue and conspiracy inside a palacial palace. Creating a plot for your campaign will help to unfold the story infront of the players.
From experiance I found that the best way for a story or plot to unfold is to build it up gradually. Starting of with a climatic battle will in most cases be quite deadly for events to follow. However this is not always true, if your plot involves them starting of on a massive battlefield just to uncover some gruwesome secret of the general they serve may make certain plots more believable.
Try to build twists into your plot, a evil necromancer my actually not be so evil after all but the cleric of the church may have been. I can recal one campaign where at the end it had so many twists that we didn't know who was who anymore untill we got to the climax and the puzzle pieces fell into play. This was a good campaign.
If you have trouble creating your campaign at the start you can always opt to buy a premade campain that is available at many specialised board game shops around the globe or you can buy them from internet. They are very cheap (3 dollars or so) and contain a detailed campaign for 2-3 level advancement available for nearly every character starting level. Everything in these campaigns are well worked out into detail with decent stories behind them.
This is the part where the players will finally learn the truth of what realy went on. It often includes a heavy battle or a massive twist inside the plot. Did your party unravel the truth behind the campaign? Did they kill the right person or steal the right object? The climax will turn it out. Sometimes if the players did not solve the mistory and the climax actually does not take place that missing piece of information may come and hunt them later in one of your next campaigns.
If players fail to realize the true situation of a plot you presented them you should not be tempted to just unravel the plot before them but use their failure as an added difficutly later in the game. If they come to realize their mistake the supposedly ended campaign will gain a nice climax after all and probably will create a few faces of disbelief around the table. These faces are priceless :P.
Also try to avoid fight to the death climaxes, if the players are having a bad day and they should retreat then let them. Their defeat can come and hunt them later. Or maybe the evil sorcerer fears that he will become defeated and he will try to escape preferably destroying any evidence of his actions in the process. A general exception may be your last showdown of your campaign and after that it ends. In this case a last fight to the death may be in order.
Mutli path campaigns are campaigns that have different options that the players may take when playing your main campaign. These type of campaigns take lots and lots of work but give unprecedented freedom to players inside your world. In essence you need to create three or four different campaigns and truly let the players choose where they want to go first. Every action they make from that point should influence the other campaigns available and open up new options to travel to. I started out with one of these campaigns but soon figured out that I did not have the time to create such elaborate campaigns and they started to degrade in quality which was clearly noted by the players. This is something to avoid. It better to have a good single campaign and lure them into it then to create five shabby ones and let them choose from free will. However if you do have the time to create multi path campaigns they can offer players a large amount of freedom and this realy enhances the gameplay.
Playing your campaign
Players exploring your world and campaign will most likely behave strangely, and why shouldn't they? There are no "real" consequences to their actions and everything they do should be for fun. However often one (or more) players may take their fantasies to extreme levels and go berserk on the world you have created for them. Sometimes this may even lead to frustration from other players that want to play the game normally and occasionally it may lead to a player leaving the table in a childish tantrum not agreeing to your decisions at all. A lot of those frustrations can be handled by proper DM-ing and making sure they understand you got a pair. Does that sound strange? Well it isn't, most players will try to push you over and ignore common sense and some are there to play the game. This may be very confusing and frustrating for beginning DM's but you need to handle it. Try the next do's and dont's to avoid common pitfalls. And remember when you are DM-ing you are not only leading a pack of fantasy players but also a table full of real people.
The DM as a Moderator: Handling Players
The first rule and golden rule you must obey is that you are the go-to-guy, and you are the only one that may decide true outcomes and you decide fates. This makes you god over the game and you must use that power very wisely. A weak god will be pushed around by it's players and the game will fall rapidly while a too strict god may enforce so many rules the game starts to look like real life and the fun of playing the game is gone. You must find a balance between the two extremes and it is harder then you think. Also leave personal matters outside of the game, if someone just played a nasty prank on you it will be all too easy to seek revenge inside the game and kill of his character within a few minutes. There is also the other extreme, maybe you fell in love with one of the players and you may be inclined to give him or her help that shouldn't be there in both cases the other players will also become victims of your mental state and they will get angry about it at some point.
1: Don't be a pushover, especially when starting to DM you may be insecure on your conduct. You may ask yourself if you did not make the encounters too hard and you may be inclined to listen to more experienced players on how to handle certain situations. Some players will provide usefull information but most players smell your fear and will exploit it in every conceivable way and always in their favor. When in doubt consult the rulebook and be wary of advice from players.
2: The best conduct of playing a DM is to be a passive referee. You should be emotionless and stick by the rules at all times. If someone does something insanely stupid and the logical result is that he should die from that action you should let him die. If you are inclined to let impossible actions happen just because you do not want to kill off someones character then your players will turn wild and you loose control over the game. Just remember how you played doom with god mode cheats on, I bet it was quite different then when you played it without the cheat ^^
3: Do not deny players to play their characters or alignment even if it screws with your campaign. If someone important dies that's the players loss for being reckless not yours, even if it messes up 5 hours of preparation. You set out the world and campaign as a challenge before them if they decide to massacre everything in their way they will most likely not solve the mistery and come out empty handed. This rule is gold, your players are smart and will recognize if they made a mistake and will even taunt you in order to let loose the next step they just missed by killing some important NPC, do not give in and they will only try that tactic once. Give in and you will be tossed around like a rag doll until you realize what is written here is true. Beware of smart people they will try to screw you over even quicker and you may not even notice it until it is too late.
4: Be a judge, not a god, when it comes to combat. Be honest and fair and stick with it. You will encounter a fight where your players may overpower your enemy by shear luck on their rolls. Do not be tempted to "increase" the difficulty out of the blue. It feels good to fight an easy enemy from time to time and you should not deny them that opportunity.
5: Especially in the beginning of your DM-ing, your party may be extremely reckless and charge into battle with no or little regard for the enemy. When this happens do not grant them any favors. Do not make an impossible fight possible by adjusting damage on players or cutting monster hitpoints into half. Retarded actions deserve death or defeat, if they survive every insane action they will become even more reckless. See point 2. Keep your emotions and thoughts outside the game and when that fighter charges 100 goblins fight him like goblins would do and he most likely die instantly (or if he is extremely lucky he might get away without dying).
6: Enforce logical reactions from the world when some player does an action. For example cleaving 5 people in half on a busy market will make the crowd panic and will catch the attention of the town guard. The person murdering the innocent people will most likely be chased by the guard and be killed in the process.On the other hand murdering someone on a busy street in the middle of a pirate town will most likely raise a few eyebrows from the towns people but will not be that impressed by it. Those kind of actions are "normal" there, if the player goes on a rampage then some powerful lord or leader may wish to hunt that player before he kills his men and steels his loot. This actually happened in one of my campaigns. A player felt like massacring the city and I logically assumed that the town guard would have a problem with that. So I send out the entire cities armies on him and they wiped him from the table fast. I did not cheat on the combat nor did I feel bad when he finally died. The player on the other hand was upset that I killed off his character started to argue with me. I simply lifted my shoulders to indicate that I didn't care and asked him what he would expect what would happen if I started to shoot people in the center of a large city. He quickly agreed with me that I would be hunted down by the police and be shot on sight.
7: Do not be afraid to let a party member die, if the game has no challenge there is no game to play.
8: Do incorporate fun challenges for your party other then just fighting. A good puzzle or riddle will increase the game-play. For example you could throw in your own cut out three layer compass with sliding disks from cardboard and use it to let the party solve puzzles with it however I did go overboard at some point and made the puzzles too difficult and it took far too long for them to solve them killing the game play. Puzzles are fun but keep them relatively simple.
9: Reward ingenuity, players that are thinking outside of the box and use their environment or spells towards their favour must be rewarded with some extra experience or a more comfortable fight. This is exactly what you are aiming for. If a player figures that some invisible mage can be seen inside a rainstorm or water on the floor, and he produces rain then that will effectively cancel out the invisibility buy just plainly smart thinking. This kind of actions are highly rewarded by me as a DM to stimulate the group to come up with more brilliant ideas.
10: Punish idiocy, if someone does something insanely stupid, for example walk into a very obvious trap while the rest of the group plants his hand into his face and shakes their heads out of disbelieve I generally tend to punish such actions by awarding (a little) negative XP for such dumb actions, IF he survives it in the first place.
11: Do not give away too much information about your enemies, some hard core players will know every creature in the book and they know what they can do but most players do not. Do not give away any details about your enemies except appearance. Giving away information destroys the mysticism around your enemies and over time will make the game play less fun. Players are generally smart and learn your way of thinking which enables them to predict what something can or cannot do.
12: Oops I rolled a double critical strike with an barbarian in rage... lets see now that would be a total of 124 damage. Mhhh that would kill their tank twice. In this case let the tank die twice, he was unlucky the barbarian attacking him was lucky, it's the challenge of the game.
13: Do not roll back events, you will hear this one a loooooot: I alway's expect a trap and I would naturally move through the corridor searching for traps. *CRY* I want my roll *CRY*. Keep it simple and point to the rules: A person looking for traps need to say so and can only move at half speed. As far as you are concerned the issue is resolved and you are right. Now he may cry some more but dont give in. Do not roll back events unless >you< actually made a major mistake, and 99.9% of the cases you were right.
14: If your players are in control and they know they will not get away with everything they do and they know you will not cut them any favours the party will eventually start to govern themselves. Players that realy step out of line will be put into place by his own group and you can sleep easy by knowing that your DM-ing is functioning correctly.
15: Do not cheat, it is all too easy to cheat fumbles (natural 1) and ignore it alltogether. Your creatures can and must be able to be as unlucky or lucky as the players.
The DM as a Patron: Rewarding your Players
Epic loot beware
Now the point of every adventure is to gain something from it. Most of the time this will be riches and gold in the form of loot. Some of this loot may be some form of epic magical equipment. Handing out such loot and seeing their cute little smiles grow on their faces may give a fuzzy feeling inside but do be wary as too much candy for a child will make their tummies hurt.
Handing out loot
This portion was the first major mistake I made as a DM that effectively destroyed my campaign and I decided to abandon it afterwards. As a beginning DM I had the urge to reward my players too much, I guess to keep them happy. The final effect from this was them becomming completely unbalanced. They became far too powerfull in attack while being completely squishy due to low level. I had to place more and more powerfull creatures into the challenges in order to make monster not a one day fly but this made them hit so hard that a party wipe-out was becomming inevitable. I had to adjust the creatures in such way's that they became bizarre monsters or I would have to "change" the outcomes from rolls (so I cheated) in order to give them a chance to stay alive. The campaign was unrecoverable at this point and I was forced to either take away their candy or abandon the campaign which I did. I started a new one with what I have learned from my first campaign.
Now this doesn't mean you cannot give away nice loot but dont overdo it. A few less powerfull items are far better then a single very powerfull item. I gave each player home made magical items (it was good fun to create them) but they were so immensly powerfull the campaign fell appart. So how should one destribute candy to children?
Assigning loot to creatures
First of, only very strong bosses should cary special loot. Grunts and slaves have crappy items just like reality. This special loot should be either rolled according to the dungeon masters manual or chosen with their levels in mind.
From level 2 - 5 you can hand out masterwork items to players. Masterwork items are already very good for those levels however they will not insanely alter their combat capabilities. Never the less don't hand them out like cookies.
Around level 5-6 the first +1/+1 loot without any magical properties may be handed out but never hand out cartloads of them. Just one, maaaybe 2 items (for large parties) should be available to players per boss killed or campaign succesfully raided. For one campaign I would never drop more then 1 +1/+1 item per player in the group.
From level 7-8 you can start to drop magical loot. These are extremely valuable and should not be thrown around lightly. I would suggest half the party size for one campaign for +1 magical items. At this point their gold should have reached decent proportions where every player should be able to buy ONE magical weapon or armour on his own. Magical weapons cost around 8301 to 8800 gold. Where they may find such shops is up to you but I usually incorperate atleast one major city in my world who contain specialized shops where such items may be aquired or crafted.
From level 9-10 more +1 magical loot may be found so every player may posses some magical items. From 11 and higher the better forms of loot may be aquired but never more then one per campaign.
Assigning your own loot instead of rolling it randomly may give every player something they can use, but personally I like to keep it random and often give them something they cannot use. They can then sell those items if they wish or use them to bargain or do other things with them. This has the added bonus that everyone in the group may benifit from the loot (as in gold or game progression) while no-one will feel left out.
Creating custom loot
Custom loot that is not described in the manuals are a lot of fun to create and may posses special abilities otherwise not found. There is no reason you shouldn't create custom loot but do not make the same mistake as I did and create custom loot that is faaaaar too powerfull compared to their levels. Custom loot often have a name and a history behind them. For examples of custom loot one can search the homebrew (3.5) in the magical weapons and item section to see examples on custom made loot. As a rule of thumb any custom made loot that does not exist in the manual should be of atleast +2 bonus and should be adjusted appropriatly for every power it possesses. Such loot should never be given away at low levels unless the effect is limited and minor. For example a mithral dagger that allows the wielder to become invisible for X rounds once per day is powerfull but not as such that it cannot be aquired around level 10. A heavy ademantite waraxe with double damage is an extremely powerfull weapon and should not be handed out before lvl 16-17.
But do not stick with weapons only, other items like rings, books or statues are all valid items that may posses magical properties. For example I once gave my party a chest with the spellholding ability. Anyone opening the chest exept for the mage that casted the spel into it would be subjected by the spell. At first they just used it as a secure chest but later in the game they got creative and used to chest in different ways. On one occasion they placed the chest in to an enemy camp and casted fireball onto the chest. Needless to say some curious guard found the chest and delivered it to his leader who opened it to see what is inside. (BOOM).
Unusual magic items may become great fun as long as they are not too powerfull for their levels.
The DM as a Human Being: General Advice
- Coming up with new ideas is a constant struggle and there's only so much that one DM can do, so don't be afraid to lift ideas from other sources and tweak them to fit your campaign. Did you like the plot of a drama you just saw? Maybe you can incorporate it into your NPCs. Do you need a dungeon layout? There are plenty of video games with dungeons in them.