DM101 - post session notes (12.5.24)

Below the notes to the best of my recollection from a wide-ranging 2hr discussion.

Prepping for one shots

I lay out the chunks of what will be done in the session and be prepared to snap-out some bits if time is getting tight. The “Five Room Dungeon” model is a good one for laying out sessions - a combat, a puzzle, a roleplay opportunity, the big boss and the reward. If you set it up so one or more of those elements can be skipped if time gets tight, then you can manage the session length that way. Dysons Dodecahedron goes into this a bit more and is a great source for maps.

People will bring their characters, DMs bring situations. It is good to have some ideas of how the players might solve it but players will go off in all sorts of directions or get incredibly lucky or have brilliant creative ideas so be ready for any given obstacle to get solved/eliminated more quickly than you thought.

Generally as set up, prepare a mystery (dungeon to explore, mystery to solve) have some folk in there to interact with and be prepared for people to lean combat or roleplay as they prefer. People say they prefer roleplay in surveys online so be ready for things to get talked at

Prepping a session I use a single-sheet so everything is in one place for a single glance.

Written adventures will usually have things laid out along these line but it is always worth reading through it and making your own one-sheet reference as they often scatter critical information around in a way that makes it easy to read, not putting it where you need it when you run at the table (major NPC name is in the intro, not at the place where the PCs encounter them, etc.)

General game-running

To make combat more interesting - Terrain, Terrain, Terrain. The same half dozen goblins in a flat arena, in a forest or in a trap filled ruin are very different experiences.

Without terrain, it is monster stat block vs character sheet, maybe some tactical movement. With static terrain, line of sight is a factor, cover comes into play, things get more interesting. With hazardous terrain - pits, fire, quicksand, hidden ambushers - there are lots more factors to work with and the same fight against six goblins has more to it. Frog Factory blog has a great set of terrain hazard generators

As a DM I suggest terrain hazards that trigger when the players act, e.g. fire burns those within it, rocky slopes need Dex checks to travers are better than those you need to remember to set off - pendulum-blades that swing at the bottom of the initiative tracker. You will already have lots of things to remember, ease your own load.

Managing combat duration - your legitimate dial is HP - any monster has xd10+y in its stat block, the range between the lowest possible dice roll and the highest is perfectly legitimate to use. My preference is to set the number just as the fight starts then stick to it - sometimes the monster will survive one more round on just that last hp and that is fine and fun.

DMs have lots of different styles, players come in lots of different types. Tell people what kind of game you like to run so folk have the chance to opt out if that is not what they want. The D&D pillars of Combat, Exploration, Roleplay is a decent model.

  • Combat - tactical fighting
  • Exploration - includes both puzzles to solve and mysteries to investigate
  • Roleplay - interacting with NPCs (or maybe other players)

Different players enjoy different things so try and figure out who you have at your table and where possible give them things to do that they will like. A good list of player types is here.

@Col_Mustard_Ret @SilentButDeadly @iBug If I have forgotten anything, let me know and I will add it.



That’s it. That’s DMing in a nutshell. All the advice you’ll ever need in one tight paragraph.

So the best strategy is to stall profusely before entering combat? :slight_smile:

I dunno. Are these categories really useful? When Exploration is so broad that it includes everything from solving tough cryptograms to walking up the next hill to see what’s on the other side to waking up with mysterious runes on your fingers (and even non-tactical fighting, too?), I have my doubts.

In any case, great post!

All is really there @xaosseed!

Wanted to add two links that I find useful (especially for 1-shots):

  • Czepeku maps - tons of maps for various themes with variants. Perfect to draw inspiration for a location
  • Dungeon Master Guild for tons of free pdfs with one-shots and much more
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It is a bit speaking the 5e vernacular - those three pillars are what gets referenced a lot and I think they are more helpful as thinking about modes of play: Combat is more individual, working your character sheet, in initiative order Exploration is more free-form, collaborative but player-to-player-to-DM discussing the world, some character sheet use but less Roleplay is PC-to-PC-to-NPC, being in the world a bit more

As you say, exploration covers a lot - everything you mentioned and more - but the common factor is prodding the world and seeing what happens.

Anyway - “all models are wrong, but some are useful” and I think the three pillars approach is useful until a DM gets confident enough to chuck it and go free-style.