Three DM Hacks to improve your DMing experience

Dungeons & Dragons is a role playing game (RPG for the friends) whose application is based on three  pillars that constitute the architecture of the “game universe”. These are:

  • Dungeon Crawling
  • Storytelling
  • Combat

These three pillars, which for epic reasons we’ll call the D&D Triforce, are the three ways in which our game universe exists and develops. 

Each Dungeon Master has a different style to approach the three edges, some even completely ignore some of them in favor of the game experience they prefer. However, all three are present in the game concept and today I’m gonna give you three DM hacks to optimize your Dungeon Master performance in each of them, as always remember each game table is a world, and each world works differently, so take whatever it works for your game and ignore anything that doesn’t make sense to you. 

Here it comes:“The Dungeons & Dragons Triforce, and one DM hack to empower each of the edges.”

1. Dungeon Crawling
DM Hack: Four “S” for “Scenario”

Well, you know, this thing is called Dungeons & Dragons, and it is supposed to have some dungeons and some dragons. The “dungeons” part is particularly important cause it’s actually a game style. A group of adventurers enter a dungeon to find something, maybe a treasure, hunt a monster or rescue some NPCs, you know, hero stuff. The dungeons itself is like a game board, you have some rooms with traps, monsters and treasure, and the game is to “find” the secret inside the dungeon, crawling it, room by room.

The clue here is the “find” part, the players are exploring to find something, and that’s the intention behind the Dungeon Crawling. To improve the Dungeon Crawling experience, let the players explore through their actions and discover through their senses. The group enters a room full of whatever?

Use a checklist when setting the scene, the four “s”:

  • How does it Smells?
  • How does it Sounds?
  • How does it Sees?
  • What is the Situation?

Before describing the situation, always start for the smell and sounds to maintain the find-factor alive, then the “See” part reveals the actors, could be treasure, monsters, NPCs or clues, and finally the situation is the complete scenario. It’s not the same to sniff some blood and metal, and listen to guttural growls in darkness to find a goblin waiting behind the door, than just “a wild goblin appeared”.

The devil is in the details, and it’s precisely those details that bring our game universe to life. Remember to check the Four “S” for “Scenario” to keep players engaged with the narrative and constantly discovering info.

2. Storytelling
DM Hack: Make it Personal

In addition to the story that the Dungeon Master intends to tell, don’t forget that there are the stories of the player characters and it’s necessary to give them space to develop and integrate into the core story.

It’s important to read the backstories of the player characters, you’ll discover that in most cases it’s about finding something, that’s why it’s called a quest. It’s very likely that in the past of these PC there is a “loose end” in the form of a Big Bad Evil Guy who destroyed his family, town, dreams, etc or maybe a relative/friend/lover lost or even a Macguffin in the form of a book, magic item, sacred stone-ish. Connecting the story of these PC is as simple as giving that “loose end” and important role within the structure of the story you prepared, perhaps the lost twin brother is now the right hand of the Final Boss in your story, or turning the lost Macguffin into one of the key items in the plot.

*The paladin when finds out that the BBEG is his own brother

Unifying all the stories into one, not only nourishes the narrative of your worldbuilding, but offers a sense of integration with the big picture that empowers players.

3. Combat
DM Hack: Turn numbers into stories

Repeat after me: Numbers are not read, they are interpreted.
In this case, the hack is very simple: from now on when you direct a combat scene, do not mention a single number, just look at it and turn it into a story.Here is an example:

An Orc successfully hits the Paladin, a d12 rolls across the table and lands a 6, as the Orc ax does 1d12+3 damage, the result is a 9. As a DM, you have two story possibilities here:

  • “The dice came up 9” *and proceeds to deduct 9 HP from the Paladin.
    (Well, thank you very much doctor obvious) 
  • “The Orc’s ax crushes your armor, opening a wound” *and proceeds to deduct 9 HP from the Paladin.
    (Repeat after me: Numbers are not read, they are interpreted)

A simple hack but quite effective. And well comrades, here is today’s entry, would love to know your DM Hacks if you want to share, to improve our gaming experience together.

See you soon and keep rolling, remember: Crit Happens.



Leave a Reply