From Player to GM: Tips for Making the Switch
From Kit Reshawn
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #466
- Start Out Simple
- Get Lots of Help
- 3×5 Index Cards Are Your Friend
- Maintain Player Focus
- Play Smart Bad Guys
- Description Is Key
- Write Things Down Early
- Have Back-up Plans
- Demonstrate Capabilities Using NPCs and Encounters
- Have Fun
- How to Create an Intense Campaign?
- Do You Remember When You First GM’d?
- Just in time for Halloween
- Handling Disputes
- Critical Success at Sleeping
- Classic Reading for Fantasy GMs
- More Advice for Game Masters (rant warning)
One of the most difficult things to do with RPGs is making the transition to being a GM. Here are some tips I have for new GMs. Hopefully these will be useful for anyone thinking about taking the plunge and at the same time give new ideas to people who GM regularly.
Start Out Simple
A lot of new GMs get started because they have an idea for a campaign they want to run. Although that is a wonderful thing I actually advise not doing that immediately. Campaigns are a heavy commitment that most new GMs are not prepared to undertake during their first session behind the screen.
Instead, I suggest running a one shot adventure with moderately powerful characters, preferably from a module. Most modules are well written and will give you a good idea of the type of detail you will need for your own quests, both by what you see was included and possibly by giving your ideas for improvement based on what they left out that you required.
It also takes away the burden of creating the quest yourself, letting you focus on getting used to running a game – something I feel is vitally important for the first couple sessions as a new GM.
The reason I suggest one shot adventures for moderately powerful characters is they are quick enough to finish in a sitting or two, allowing you to get feedback from the players.
In addition, low level (or weak) characters are too easy to kill off by accident, while ones that are too powerful made things difficult for new GMs as they haven’t learned the tricks for dealing with high level characters yet.
After running a pre-written module or two, attempt making your own one shot adventure to be run in a single session. After successfully completing maybe 3 of those I would say you probably have a good enough grasp of the game to move on to writing a campaign.
Get Lots of Help
Being the GM is a heck of a lot of work, and when you are new it is especially difficult to keep up with it all. I suggest playing with a group of experienced players, if possible, as this will reduce your work load. Alternatively, consider having a co-GM who helps you run the game.
A good example is having players keep a log of the adventures their characters have. This not only allows you to keep track of what has already happened, but also gives you a player’s perspective on what is happening. This can be vital when you are wondering if they are understanding what is happening.
If the party has split up, you can allow idle players to play some of the NPCs (in combat even!) and dole out minor rewards for playing their parts well.
3×5 Index Cards Are Your Friend
These little cards are handy! One card has enough space for a bare bones NPC: stats, notes, quirks and appearance. When you need a new character just whip out a stack of 15 or so cards, pick the one that seems best, and run with him.
If the character seems like he might reappear, take notes on the back of the 3×5 and set it aside in case the character comes up again. Much the same for monsters.
Magical quest loot? Write down what the item is, what it does, and all other information on a card. Then put it in a small envelope that has a basic physical description on it. Leave space for players to take their own notes as they try to figure out what the item is. When it is actually identified allow them to open the envelope.
They also make handy things for holding information to be passed to players, especially if you have time to prepare it in advance. If players are sending a message but are not in verbal contact, you can have them write it down and physically pass it across, with no other communication between your players.
Maintain Player Focus
Heck of a lot easier said than done, especially when you are just starting out. Sometimes RPGs are just an excuse to get together and socialize, and that is fine. While you are learning though, it is best to keep the game on track. Notice when players start talking about other things, because typically that is a sign of boredom or disinterest, signaling you either need to move things along or do something different to recapture attention.
Some groups are difficult regardless of how you attempt to alter the session to keep them on task. In this case, I find giving out a reward, often experience, does a lot to bring people back to the task at hand. The reward doesn’t have to be huge. For example, when I play D&D it is usually only 25- 50 XP, but players will notice.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it is impossible to focus forever on one thing. Since most sessions (in my experience) are around 4 hours long I suggest having a short 5-10-minute stretch and refreshment break every hour or so. If the session is longer still (say 6 or more hours) you may want to have at least a 30-minute break right in the middle for food.
You can make the breaks longer or shorter as necessary, and depending on what is happening you might also want to move exactly when they happen (such as right before or after a major combat encounter).
This allow players to get non-game talk out of their systems and relax from the game for a bit, ready to return and focus on what is happening.
Play Smart Bad Guys
Anything capable of thinking should be played in an intelligent manner. This does not mean that a pack of wolves will attack using high level, thought out tactics. Rather, they will attack the party with their whole pack, and probably target one person to try and bring down to drag off, rather than charge in alone.
Likewise, any intelligent foe who (a) has a capability and (b) knows he has it will likely make use of it in a fight to stay alive even if they are not too bright.
This is not to say they have to be brilliant, but they must appear to be thinking. Stupid giants will still be fully aware they can hurl boulders at enemies, and so can be expected to do so if the opportunity is presented (even if they then go on to blindly charge in and fight as individuals after).
Smarter foes who are weak will try to offset their weakness by preparing elaborate defenses and tricks to give them the edge. Even stupid monsters will have a basic understanding on how to build defenses like walls and pits.
However, don’t take this too far the other way. Foes that are caught off guard will likewise have their capabilities degraded as they may not have a good plan on what to do. They might even panic. Creatures that have just moved into a new location are not likely to have set up robust defenses yet, and might have serious flaws in their plans and traps.
Just remember, things that can think should seem to do so.
Description Is Key
One thing you will learn fast is the better you describe things the better your adventures will be. Do not only describe the important details, but tell the players how things feel, smell and look.
Use analogies to help make your point clearer.
When talking for an NPC try to adopt their mannerisms and ticks.
All of these things help convey the world to your players.
Captain Maximillian Harken, the hero of the town who slew seven goblins during the last raid despite the ghastly wound he took to his face, is a more memorable character because of the details.
By the same token, if you linger describing him long enough players start to lose interest. Your goals are to give a quick feeling of the NPC’s appearance, size and personality. Same for locations. If players want to know more they will let you know by asking questions.
A rule of thumb is to have 3-5 trivial details mixed in with major ones. For throwaway NPCs you can get away with having only one minor detail, or sometimes even none.
Place the most obvious details first. Make sure that some of the most important details come later, as well. That way, when you announce there is a huge dragon in the center of the room, your players will hopefully have learned to keep listening so they can also hear about how it is standing under a boulder that seems to be loose.
Write Things Down Early
Coming up with things on the spot is HARD, especially when you are not used to doing so. Do yourself a favor and take as many notes before the game as possible.
There is a surprising amount of stuff you can prepare before sessions. Describing rooms and places players might visit is a good start. You can also take notes on how things change (and write descriptions about the changes). Dialogue is more difficult, but you can write down the answers to likely questions as well as list things NPCs will and will not like talking about.
Pre-planned encounters are another area where notes are good. Jot down the plan the enemies will use as well as highlight any rules you will need to know.
Anything that doesn’t get used isn’t wasted either. For adventures, you can use the content with another group, or potentially find some hook to bring the players back later. NPCs are easy to recycle by putting them into another encounter or saving them for when the PCs return to the area.
Have Back-up Plans
Sometimes players will ignore (or not notice) adventure hooks. Sometimes they want to do something different for a session or two. When they do this there are two possible ways to react. The first is to try to railroad them back to the area/quest. Players generally react badly to this because it means they have no real control in the game.
Better is to let them go off on their own but with consequences in the main campaign. For example, the big bad being unopposed is able to complete the next phase of his plot with no difficulties, so now the Paladin Society the players were going to get help from has been disbanded.
Knowing what the effect will be if the players decline the quest (or even just delay for a significant portion of time), allows the players to go off on some other tangent.
For these situations I like to have a couple minor quests that can be dropped in, and maybe a minor settlement, with more or less no notice. These can be tangentially related to the main quest, though this isn’t necessary or even always wise as monolithic evil is unrealistic.
That said, these encounters might give you new ideas and possibly give the players new and valuable allies when fighting their main foes. And from time to time you can bring up the main quest as players start to see the effect their dereliction of duty has had on the game world.
Demonstrate Capabilities Using NPCs and Encounters
One thing I noticed while GMing was that players typically get stuck in a rut where they only value a few skills, often all related toward a specific goal. So, I started having them encounter NPCs that made use of the skills they themselves neglected, or placing them in situations where those skills are useful.
Mages suddenly found a use for spells that were not intended for combat. Everyone learned the use of various social skills and general use skills, like swimming and climbing.
This is a good way to educate players, and they will notice. A good goal is to find some way to highlight some particular spell or skill in each season, either by using it in a new but effective way or by making things much easier with it.
When you show players that each skill is useful, and how it can be applied in nearly any game session, they will be more willing to diversify and create more balanced characters. This is doubly true if you target their specific skill weaknesses to hand them out a defeat from time to time.
Doing this is vital if you want players to be able to solve odd problems that require creative thinking. Suddenly that attack spell isn’t just used to kill foes but can also be used to keep warm or cut a rope. Clever use of diplomacy allows them to convince the two evil races to fight against each other, saving the hapless town from having to get into a fight themselves. And suddenly you are able to throw in more creative problems for your players to overcome, knowing they will be able to imagine clever ways to overcome them.
This is the most important thing to remember! If you are not enjoying yourself, it will show and your players will not be able to have fun either. If, on the other hand, you like what you are doing it will show through in your work and your players will enjoy themselves much more. When you find your interest waning it may be time to take a short break, either letting someone else GM for a session or two or running a one-shot in a different system that you don’t usually play. This can even be a great way to gain new ideas for use in your own games.
Johnn: Thanks for the great beginner GM tips, Kit! If any other readers have tips for new GMs I’d love to add them to the ezine. Email me at [email protected] if any tips come to mind.
A Brief Word from Johnn
How to Create an Intense Campaign?
Frequent RPT contributor Mike Bourke shows us his excellent process for creating a politically-charged, intense campaign over at CampaignMastery.com. There’s also a hot sheet download you can use as a checklist or guide if you want to try his process out. One of his best posts yet!
(By the way, if you cannot access the internet because you’re on deployment or at work or in the field, drop me an email and I’ll email you the article and hot sheet.)
Do You Remember When You First GM’d?
This week’s feature article offers advice for new GMs. There’s also a reader tip that covers a lot of the basics. It got me to thinking about my first time GMing. It was D&D Basic. A friend received it for Christmas and I spotted it on the floor, along with the module B2: Keep on the Borderlands, when I was over at his place.
I asked what it was and he said he wasn’t sure; he didn’t understand it. Well, I sure knew what it was, having played a couple times at school the previous year, so I asked to borrow the books. Three days later I called him up and told him it was a game and asked if he wanted to try it out. Within an hour he was using pre-gen PCs and approaching the cavern complex.
We got hooked immediately. We played almost every day until school was back in session, and then we played long hours on weekends. Within a month we were ready for level 4 and his mom bought the Expert book for us. By spring we were looking for the next book but it wasn’t available yet. However, browsing at a hobby store one day I spotted the Advanced D&D Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. I thought these were the next books in the series. (They did say advanced, right? And we were ready to advance.)
I bought the PHB because it was all I could afford. Upon reading it though, I learned it was a different game. So we whipped up new PCs and I started creating my own dungeon layouts. A month later I went back to that store and held the DMG in one hand and the Monster Manual in the other. I could only afford one – what to get? That was probably the toughest decision I had to make that entire year. I opted for the DMG and learned a lot about stuff we were doing wrong.
We kept playing relentlessly. For my birthday I received the Monster Manual. That opened up the treasure tables. Uh oh. By the following Christmas we little munchkins had progressed his PCs to level 50+. Thor and Merlin were unstoppable. This posed a problem. The solution? Deities and Demigods for Christmas! A whole new book of monsters to fight.
We played one-on-one for two solid years using dungeons of my own making plus the random dungeon generator and encounter tables from the DMG. Then I went to a different school, met other players of this amazing game, and we went our separate ways after that. I still have Merlin and Thor in a binder. I scooped them when, years later, my old friend let me know he was getting rid of all his RPG stuff.
Remember those orange character sheets TSR sold? Merlin and Thor are on those. And they are LOADED with magic items. They each have over a million gold pieces and multiple rings of wishes. Man, those guys are living in style.
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New Products from Expeditious Retreat Press!
Just in from the printers—One on One Adventures Compendium and Advanced Adventures #11: The Conqueror Worm! Don’t forget to check out the PDF release of 1 on 1 Adventures #12: Journey into Riddle Canyon, powered by Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and Nevermore, a 4e campaign setting.
Zombie Murder Mystery
Just in time for Halloween
Have the time of your life while PCs struggle to hold on to theirs.
Zombie Murder Mystery is a party game of who-done-it with a zombie infestation twist. Learn this roleplaying game in just a few minutes and start having fun with your friends with no preparation!
One player is the evil necromancer. Will you find him before he finds you? You’d better work fast, the clock is ticking down to the necromancer’s ultimate victory. Or maybe it is your ultimate victory?
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
From Maggie Smith
Dispute resolution comes pretty naturally to me, and I’ll try to parse it out. I should preface by saying that, in almost every game, I make it clear that whatever your motivation, whatever your alignment, your character has to have an interest (even a totally selfish interest) in the party’s cohesion and success. The rest of this is going to sound like hippie speak, I’m afraid.
Start with thinking the best of others
I assume the absolute best intentions of every player. Whatever is causing conflict, I look at it from their perspective and try to imagine a story or motivation that makes it seem reasonable to them, regardless of how it seems to me or anyone else. If someone is trying to obtain a weapon that’s unreasonable for their level, or use a power in a way I think is sketchy and creates imbalance, I imagine why he’s doing it.
In the first example, maybe he feels guilty for not doing as much damage as other players in recent combat encounters, and thinks he’s not able to contribute enough to the group with his current gear. In the second example, maybe he’s bored with combat encounters.
Both of those are things I can address, so I talk to the player and offer both explanations. The trick here is, maybe he’s being a little bit of a jerk; maybe he had a bad day and felt like picking a fight.
However, by offering charitable explanations for his behavior, I’ve given him an out, and reminded him that I’m just here so he can have a good time, not to make him miserable.
I show that I’m coming to him in good faith to try to help in any way I can. It’s a chance to bring him back into focus and for him to tell me it was one of the two ideas I’ve offered or give me another reasonable explanation.
Offer solutions, not accusations
Depending on which of those things he tells me is causing the issue, I can offer a solution. If it’s the first case, I can customize an encounter that has some small part just for that character that puts him in the spotlight for a moment. Maybe the villain is hiding in a temple of his deity and he needs to be the one to negotiate the access to investigate.
In the second case, I can make sure there are plenty of non- combat encounters and, if so, try to create more variation in my combat encounters: weird abilities, weird terrain, etc.
Get to the root of problems
The same holds true of disputes between players. Sometimes, when there’s conflict, they don’t even know what the root of it is. When I offer each person an idea about why they might be doing whatever it is that’s ostensibly causing the problem, they’re more willing to think about it and see alternative ways of satisfying that need that might not be in conflict with the needs of the other person.
I’m not talking about an hour long conversation with just the two players, though. It can be as simple as asking a question like, “Wait, what is it you’re trying to accomplish? You think if you stop to rest, there might be greater danger later on? Maybe you could make a check to see if you know anything about the fighting patterns of this organization.”
So they check it out and realize either it’s safe to stop and rest or it’s safer to push forward. But if I’d treated one player like a lazy slacker, or the other like an inconsiderate boor, they’d be less receptive to the resolution.
Love, respect and safety
I taught second grade before I started law school, so I think a lot of this comes from managing conflicts in a class full of 8-year-olds. But it’s not really that different. People need to be reminded that they’re loved, that they’re respected, that they’re safe. If you assume that someone is being a jerk, and you treat him like one, it becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy.
Critical Success at Sleeping
From Brandon Echols
The critical failures for sleeping were great! In response to your request for critical successes along the same lines, I thought I would take a shot, as I am often critically successful at sleeping, myself. These are formulated for 3.5 edition D&D, but hopefully GMs can easily adjust the particulars for their favorite system.
- The PC wakes up feeling lucky – add +5 to their next d20roll.
- The PC regains HP as if they had rested for two nights, instead of one.
- The PC finds that a small injury, wound, bruise or discomfort has vanished overnight.
- The PC slept especially calmly – add +1 to their Fortitude Save or Reflex Save for the day.
- The PC dreamt soothing, relaxing dreams – add +1 to their Willpower Save for the day.
- The PC wakes up to find a few extra gold coins in their pocket.
- The PC wakes up and finds a small, useful object they thought lost, or that they do not remember ever having. (This is great to stall the party for a good fifteen minutes…more if you have suspicious players.)
- The PC got exactly the right amount of sleep – add a +1 bonus to any single Ability Score for the day. (GM’s choice, without player knowledge, is best.)
- The PC wakes up just in time to hear an approaching Random Encounter.
- The PC dreamed of success in battle – add +1 to their damage rolls during their next combat encounter.
- The PC dreamed of doing a specific activity. Reduce the DC for any related activity by -1 for the day.
- The PC wakes up to find something valuable nearby that another person has discarded or lost.
- The PC wakes up and gets entertained by someone else sleepwalking.
- The PC has a prophetic dream that reveals information about the current quest. (This should be kept minor.)
- The PC has a dream that forewarns them of impending danger. (Allowing the PC a lot of latitude in acting on this information is good to do.)
- The PC has dreams that prompt them in the direction of a character-specific side quest. (This is a lot of fun for players, because it keeps them active and thinking during a down time for their character.)
- The PC has an erotic dream…just not the bad kind from the other list.
- The PC wakes up abnormally well-rested – assign 5 temporary Hit Points for the day, or until they are used.
- The PC wakes up feeling comfortable and limber – add a +1 to their AC for the day.
- The PC wakes up with the benefits of a full night of rest, no matter how little they slept. (This is a great surprise benefit when they have to sleep before resuming an encounter).
You can award them with anything you like, but I find that generous and temporary rewards work best. The bonuses to numbers on the character sheets of the players are valuable, but not unbalancing to the game, and they disappear quickly. Best of all, these kind of things go a long way to building player-GM trust. Small, pointless rewards reinforce the idea that you – as well as the players – want their characters to succeed.
Classic Reading for Fantasy GMs
From Gillian Wiseman
Some recommended reading:
Jack Vance, Lovecraft, Poe, Fritz Lieber, and Moorcock are a necessity.
A.A. Merrit, Tolkien, Lewis, William Morris, Sir Walter Scott, George MacDonald, Stevenson, Rosemary Sutcliffe (esp her Arthurian cycle) are authors I recommend over and over again to lovers of modern fantasy.
Mary Stewart, Mary Renault, Jean Plaidy (her historical novels of the English kings, not her incarnations as Victoria Holt and Phillipa Carr), Ellis Peters, Susan Cooper, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander. Some of these are historical writers, some are children’s authors. But each has something to offer in either the sense of adventure, the creation of time, place and mood, or simply pacing and action.
More Advice for Game Masters (rant warning)
I’ve been running games since before they invented dirt. I’m not the best GM in the world (and don’t claim to be), but I would hope I’m not the worst either. I’d like to take this time to introduce some GMing ideas as well as address an issue I’ve seen running through a lot of other tips.
GM vs. Players
I read a post (at roleplayingtips.com or another site) that talked about GMing from a player’s perspective. I agreed with most of what the article said. I just want to make a point though.
Game Mastering is a thankless job. The article in question addressed freewill in gaming and how players should be able to do whatever they want despite the adventure laid out by the GM.
The author said something like (paraphrasing): “If the game is so closed in terms of doing this or that, and the scenario is so scripted, perhaps the GM should write a novel instead so that he can have total control over character actions.”
On the surface, this sounds completely logical. However, game masters spend countless, thankless hours developing worlds and campaigns and scenarios for the players to enjoy. Of course the GM wants the party to partake in the adventure or story he created. Hence, I would like to counter the scripted scenario complaint as follows:
Yes, most scenarios are scripted to some degree. That’s what GMs do. As an exercise in touche, perhaps the player that refuses to go along with the story line of the campaign or scenario should not role-play and also write their own novel entitled, “I Do What I Want, Answer to No One, Always Win, and I Have No Friends!”
It seems some players just love screwing up a GM’s game, scenario, campaign, or otherwise as they go gallivanting across the countryside just doing stupid stuff. I feel that is equally wrong.
Hey, if you agree to play in a group with a GM who introduces a plot line, and then you get angry because the GM steers the party towards “whatever the case may be,” I would say the player is in the wrong. And, if you don’t like the GM, group, or play style, then find another group or run your own game (or write your own novel).
Now I will play devil’s advocate. Players should be able to do whatever they want (free will) in an RPG. Yes, dictating what players can and cannot do is wrong; it is the mark of a poor GM (I will expound upon that later). It is the inexperienced or bad GM who can’t handle it. So how do you handle players who seem uninterested in your story, dungeon and adventure?
You, the GM, have a product (adventure, dungeon, etc.). You have to sell it. You have to get the party interested in the story or adventure. You have to hook ’em and reel ’em in. It’s easier said than done.
When designing an adventure or dungeon (as a story teller), you should have the 5 Ws and the H. It’s the same requisites for a journalist or author. It’s answering the questions of: what, where, when, why, who, and finally how. You have to have a reason or back story for everything you do. Then, you have to get the party interested, involved, or intertwined within your plot.
Suppose you have a dungeon called Caves of Chaos (how passe), and you want the party to explore them but they seem less inclined. I believe players have free will. I also believe the GM can do everything in his power to challenge that freewill (cuz nothing is ever really free). There are no rules against coercion or manipulation or underhanded dagnastiness. Players can have in-depth backgrounds, flaws, dark secrets, and so forth. Tie those into your adventure or plot line. It’s a good way to make things personal for the characters.
Example 1: A player’s brother went to the Caves of Chaos and never returned. That’s somewhat decent.
Don’t give them a choice (heavy-handed approach):
Example 2: While in the nearest town, an old man bumps up against party members in the street, mumbling some incoherent words. The party members fall asleep. They wake up in the room of an inn. The old man is really a mage who has either cast a spell or poisoned the party. They will all die in seven days unless they go to the Caves of Chaos to retrieve some magical item. Only the old man can reverse the effects. If the party doesn’t go to the Caves of Chaos, they die. Twist it with the old man bluffing about the poison or effects.
Make it personal. Anger them. Humiliate them:
Example 3: The party has heard about the Caves of Chaos but decides they want to go on to the next town instead. OK, that is fine. Ambush the party with brigands and highwaymen in overwhelming numbers (meaning resistance is futile). The bandits take everything the party has (I mean everything).
They insult the party members: “This all you got? You should be robbin’ us.” Beat them to a pulp, tie them up together (naked), knock them out and leave them for dead. But let one of the party members overhear a conversation between the bandits that they will meet up at the Caves of Chaos in three days. Seems the party will be quite angry and want revenge.
In all the above examples, the party is going to the Caves of Chaos whether they like it or not.
Coercion does not trump free will. It just offers motive. My point is, players who deviate from the intended adventure can be reeled back in with clever plot twists, coercion, using their backgrounds against them, and such.
As a GM, don’t fret if they initially pass on your adventure, dungeon, or plot (it could be a blessing in disguise). Innovate. Let the party go off on tangents and subplots, preferably of their own making. Then tie the subplots to the main plot and enjoy.
This allows you to let the players explore your world as they see fit, while still bringing them back into the fold of the story or main plot you initially devised. Hey, let the party explore their whims. It will initiate a multitude of side plots. Just don’t give up on the main plot or adventure you spent weeks making. If you are clever, you can always steer them back to your original scenario (but perhaps this time, because of subplots enacted by the party, your adequate adventure now becomes epic or personal).
So GMs, don’t dictate. Don’t tell your players NO they can’t do that. Let them weave their own webs of destruction, capitalize on that, and tie it back into your intended adventure. The players feel satisfied and your preparation is still valid.
Ok, so the party dismissed your adventure or plot. Perhaps you had no adventure or plot to begin with. It’s perfectly reasonable to just let the party members do whatever they want. Hopefully, this style of play will trigger a plot for you to expound upon, making a great adventure.
Players have a knack for creating drama or getting into trouble. Entire games can be based on this freelance concept.
If a plot, mission or goal doesn’t eventually develop, this style of play enters the realm of repetition and boredom quickly. So mix it up: plot or story line mixed with freelance. If the players are good, they will initiate countless role playing opportunities you can use as a game unto itself or as fluff for the overall scenario or campaign.
The danger of running a non-prepared or scripted adventure will be inconsistency. The GM has to keep track of a lot more data than usual, such as remembering what an NPC said or even what the NPC’s name was from scenario to scenario.
Yes, it’s fantasy, but we are logical creatures. If something doesn’t make sense, your abilities as GM will be scrutinized. Fantasy is not an excuse for lack of reason or cohesion in a game. I’ve seen so many examples of poor dungeon design:
- A dungeon stocked with too many creature types, or in a way that makes no sense. I’ve seen dungeons that have orcs in one room or level, kobolds in another, gnolls in another, a gelatinous cube here or there, an evil human wizard in room 18a, a minotaur in room 12, lizard men in the sub- levels, a lich in room 30, green slime in certain hallways, a giant in the great hall, dire rats all about, something randomly picked from the monster manual in rooms 10 through 40, stupid random encounter from a stupid GM chart, 10 furry kittens in room 41, and a dragon in room 42. How do all these entities fit together in the dungeon concept?
Um, 5 Ws and an H anybody? Getting into player mode, what I would do when confronted with this: “I come back a month later.” Why would I say this? Well, logically, every creature in the dungeon would be dead: orcs killing kobolds, a gnoll and orc war, kill the wizard by overwhelming numbers, eat the furry white kittens, eat the rats, burn off the slime, let the gelatinous cube starve to death, let the minotaur and the giant duke it out, and all the previous is meaningless because there is a dragon. Dragon = win.
One month later, the only thing that could possibly be in the dungeon would be the dragon, probably injured. Everyone else is dead or has vacated for numerous reasons.
- Locked rooms with creatures inside: “The party unlocks or breaks down the door and gets attacked by three mountain lions.” NO! The party enters the room to see the decomposing bodies of three mountain lions who starved to death cuz some jerk locked them in a room.
GMs, make your dungeons make sense. Think of how inhabitants view each other. Why are they there? Limit the scope: one entity controls the construct (and for a reason). It’s ok to have different types of creatures in a dungeon setting, but you must justify why. Otherwise, experienced players will call you on it.