I thought this up whilst I was driving today. I'll probably post it on one of my DM forums or something later.
Niko can probably guess where I got the inspiration.
Common mistakes of aspiring DMs.
1.) Taking the road of least resistance. Face it, the statistical work is usually boring when it comes to making a campaign. Many amateur DMs forgo it anyways because they feel it takes too much time. Although it does save time in the short run, it can make things more complicated, if not even painful in the long run. As a rule of thumb, the longer something takes to make in relevance to the rest of the game, the more it can kick you in the face once the players realize you skipped an important part.
2.) Writing a story, not a setting. A general storyline or plot progression can serve to make a good setting amazing. It gives players a solid place in the world, can be used to explain some inconsistencies that come with the game, and most importantly, give players some amazing opportunities to develop their characters. Unfortunately, some DMs don't realize that it is the players that progress the storyline, not the DM. The result is the players being told what to do in usually indirect (or even, god forbid, direct) ways. This usually leaves the players feeling robbed of free will, or even puzzled as to how events turned out in a remarkably obligatory fashion.
3.) Building from the top down. A lot of aspiring DMs get the idea for their campaign from a single thought or concept. While this isn't really a bad thing at all, the problem comes from when the DM tires to build everything around this single idea. This usually leads to large parts of the design process being skipped or done half-heartily, as the DM is to busy thinking about what the main villain will say before the final battle to bother figuring out how the players are being introduced into the setting in the first place.
4.) Good ideas, terrible documentation. First sitting down to write a setting can be overwhelming, to say the least. The problem from this arises when a DM has tons of great ideas, but doesn't bother to take the ones he is going to use down. Or, in the event he does, he just puts them as a part of a bullet point list somewhere, neglecting to figure out the stats of the AWESHUM FLAMIN SWORD he gives the party, or failing to realize that THE AWESHUM BOSS THE PARTAY FIGHTSS will kill the part in two turns because he neglected to actually check the balance.
5.) Too easy, or too hard.Hard battles are fun, they give the party a run for their money and force them to apporach things tactically to survive. Easy battles are fun, they let the party blow off some steam, get some loot, test out new weapons or items, or just generally serve to break the mood after a long day. After all, what's not fun about beating up some Kobolds to blow off some steam after one of your Guild Leaders died? The problem is when the battles are either consistently too easy or too hard. While many DMs like to challenge the player, and place them in a situation where they must think combat out carefully to survive, the game becomes tedious if every other battle results in a player dying. Similar, if the players can breeze through every combat in a couple of turns, taking only light damage, things start to get bland fast. The secret is mixing up the combat enough so that players can still have fun battles, but can also feel challenged at times.
6.) Seeing the game as a game. This one is tricky to avoid. A certain degree of recognition is needed for the game to make sense from a numeric standpoint. After all, players generally like to know how much damage a sword-slash did to them, or what the bonus on their AWESHUM FLAMIN SWORD is. The problem arises when combat becomes little more than a collection of numbers. While it is important for players to have a general grasp on the situation by knowing damage output and damage received, combat loses its' luster very fast when rounds consist of little more than players rolling a dice and a DM blandly telling them that they did X damage. Consider the examples below. Which would you rather be hearing through 30 or so rounds of heated combat?
Wrong:The knight attacks PLAYER X. The knight misses.
Right:The knight swings at PLAYER X, brutally, with an intent to maim echoing through his blade. Deftly, PLAYER X twists out of the way, the whoosh of the blade coming clean past him.
Wrong:The swordsman attacks the knight for 28 damage.
Right:The swordsman manages to slice the knight across the back, cutting him cleanly for 28 damage.
7.) Bosses are just enemies on steroids. It's been a long hike through a haunted mausoleum. The party is weary, but takes a few minutes to prepare before entering the final chamber, the resting place of the cause of all the miasma in a local farming village. Now, which do you think the players would have a more exciting fight against? Ugg, "The Slightly Taller Zombie With a Cutlass", or Zeaul, "The necromantic shade who hides in funeral urns, randomly jinxing players"? The end of an area should offer some sort of climax, as opposed to an enemy the party spends a few extra turns smacking around in a circle before it curls up and dies.
8.) Customs are easy to make!!!!1. This unfortunate fact is the one that usually keeps many campaigns from ever seeing the light of day. So many a new DM often find themselves wanting to make an exciting new system or class without even the slightest idea how a normal system or class works. In the event that this inbred disaster does see the light of day, it often tends to be broken, leaving the players wondering why their MAGIC USING WARRARRRIOR is doing half the damage of their SNEEAAAAKKKYYYY SNAKEEEEE ROUGEEEE because the DM didn't know how to balance classes.
9.) Not communicating with the players. This is quite possibly the single biggest nail in the coffin of any campaign, be it run by a hardcore veteran DM or a new DM. Communicating with the players is the single most important aspect of the game, and when there is not enough communication, the game tends to get funky. Many DMs spend a long time working on their sourcework, and as a result, know the entire thing inside and out. The problem, then, can arise when something that the DM thinks will be obvious is not obvious at all, leaving the players lost and confused. Additionally, many new DMs refuse to accept advice from players, thinking they know what is best from the campaign. What they fail to see is that the players, who are playing the setting can usually provide a better perspective of what it is like to play than the DM can. A DM doesn't have to take all of the advice or pay attention to all of the comments of the player, but it never hurts to listen.
10.) Not being familiar enough with the content. Many a DM makes their content in the wee hours of the morning, or is forced to comply with a sooner-than-expected session and has to hurry on the work. Neither of these are a kiss of death in the slightest. The problem arises, however, when the DM does not read through and familiarize themselves with their work enough times to be totally comfortable delivering it. Ideally, the DM has read through the work enough times to use notes as a reminder, rather than a script.
11.) Not writing anything original. Using someone's pre-made content can have many advantages. It allows the DM to run a quest or town that has already been through testing, it saves the trouble of having to create something when options are limited, and it allows a DM new inspiration and content when the two-ton-writer's-block finally hits. The problem, however, arises when the DM becomes so reliant on other people's work that they neglect to write any of their own. While the problems aren't always directly apparent, this can lead to some major consistency errors down the road. Additionally, a good amount of work is written for personalized settings, so only using other work can leave the DM with a lot of untied stories, useless NPCs and empty towns. After long enough, the game becomes little more than the DM train tracking the party from borrowed quest to borrowed quest.
12.) Not preparing to be unprepared. Every DM, sooner or later, messes up or something happens in a way it is not supposed. What separates the men from the boys, however is how the DM handles messing up. (That is, unless this is Greece. Then, crowbars separate the men from the boys.) Good DMs usually have some sort of contingency for if the players discover that the sweet old lady giving them a quest is actually the main villain of the town, or the party fails to notice a trap that would kill them unfairly. Poor DMs tend to freeze up when such happens, having no idea what to do when the party's rouge announces that he's going to kill the baron that the DM intended to live and steal his treasure or when the party sells the amulet that is supposed to tie them into their next quest. The more possibilities that the DM leaves open, the more natural the game feels.
13.) Being a DM without being a player. Almost every good DM out there will admit to being a player first, and admit that being a DM is a fundamentally different experience than playing. However, it is almost impossible to be a good DM without having an understanding of what being a player is like. It's roughly the equivalent of writing a book giving advice on surviving life blind whilst you still have both eyes. The work may have some degrees of solid writing to it, but without the author understanding the audience, so much of the magic of the game is lost.
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