DMing Tips: Read, a lot!

Hello everyone! One of the main concerns I hear prospective Dms voice is a worry that they won’t be creative enough to run an interesting game. I have had several friends ask me how I come up with my own ideas. While there is not any one answer, I do have one very important fountain of inspiration, books! One of my top tips to all DMs is to read, a lot.

Books are an amazing source to draw ideas, and excitement for an adventure. Who hasn’t read about the Fellowship in the Mines of Moria and not wanted to play an adventure exploring a ruined dwarven mine? Similarly, if you read a lot as a DM, you can take snippets of various stories, tweak and combine them during character, world, or adventure creation, and come up with a really fun original idea, just by drawing on multiple stories you enjoyed.

Any form of media can be a great source of inspiration; however, I have found that the written word serves not only to inspire, but also to model. Unlike a movie, compelling books need to get their readers to picture the scenes and actions only through words, similar to DM describing an adventure. If a author or story does an excellent job depicting a scene pay attention to the descriptive words used, the sentence structure, the amount of description vs action that happens, and then try to mimic the style yourself.

It is important to read a wide range of books as well, each author will hit different situations and tones, and by reading a wider range you will be more prepared to describe a variety of situations. I have also found it very useful to read in styles that either I am struggling with or know my game will hit upon a great deal.

For example, I really would love to run a campaign which has a lot of scary moments, almost a horror campaign; however, with the tools for destruction at the finger tips of a player it is quite hard to actually unsettle them. To step up the scares in my game I decided to read some of the best or most noteworthy horror works/ authors. I started with Frankenstein and then read a TON of H.P. Lovecraft, while reading I have tried to reflect on why certain moments or stories unsettle or scare me more, and then try to recreate these things in my own games.

Another example is combat descriptions, something in my early years of DMing I really lacked. Combats aren’t as much fun when you just say, “You hit, how much damage, ok who is next.” It’s much more exciting to describe the twang of a bowstring as a character’s arrow plunges into the chest of the charging orc. There is a lot of great stories which describe action well, a personal favorite of mine is the Original Dragonlance Trilogy.

I have found assembling a “DM Bucket List” of books to read is helpful, this gives you a starting point, rather then trying to just dive in, and can be a nice way to try to balance styles.

As a DM I would also strongly suggest continually reading source material on D&D. I have found old Dragon and Dungeon magazines an excellent source of ideas and tips. Dungeon Master Guides, older editions campaign books, and the internet are all great sources to find additional tips and techniques to try. To be a great DM you need a lot of tools and tricks to use.

As a final point I am going to leave a list of a few of my favorite books or authors I think all DMs and even players should consider reading in no particular order:

  1. Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (Great examples of a varied adventuring party working together, some great characters, and fun action)
  2. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Excellent descriptions of magic, can get the mind thinking about the heroes journey)
  3. Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia (A really fun book, amazing action descriptions, great examples of using horror creatures but not in a scary way)
  4. The Lurking Fear by H.P. Lovecraft (Master of horror descriptions and creepy pacing, honestly any Lovecraft story will do, but this is one of my favorites)
  5. Fellowship of the Ring/The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (I shouldn’t even have to explain why 🙂 )
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