To kick off this short series of ‘articles’ (I shudder to use the word; it makes me feel like I’m weighed down by my almost-three years of 5e DMing experience…) on the various DM resources I use, I thought I’d tackle the topic of education and self-improvement. As the DM it is often our choices that decide whether or not our players had fun. The words we choose to describe the player’s surroundings, options and action; the monsters we choose to throw in their way; the plot twists we choose to spring upon them. Every moment we make choices that can make or break the fun your players are having.
Now while that’s all very dramatic, and not always 100% true, it should get the point across that your job is, surprise, surprise, difficult. And if your job is difficult, you’re
always likely to get something wrong from time to time. That’s where these resources come in. They are designed to teach you the lessons of what must account to almost 100 years of D&D experience. Watch them, read them, absorb what you love, and put aside what you don’t.
1 – Matt Colville. Seriously, like, do I even need to say this?
Matt Colville is probably the best DM to watch online. Really. Regardless of how you feel about his DMing style, what he has to teach you in his Running the Game series is freakin’ gold. Wanna know how to control the flow of information? Here. Wanna understand the sociology of D&D? Here.
Matt has a wealth of experience, and puts it forward in such an infectiously energetic way that you immediately want to go and play the game. His videos, from the campaign diaries, to his series building a fighter in the early versions of D&D have inspired so much of what I run today. It’s incredible stuff, and I thoroughly recommend watching it from start to finish.
2 – Matt Mercer. King of the Geeks.
Yep, the other no-brainer. The obvious start point is his GM Tips series on Geek and Sundry, or Critical Role, but simply Googling his name and watching almost any video that comes up will do. Where Matt Colville has taught me the game, and how to run it, Matt Mercer has taught me the joy and the skill of roleplaying. This is his real strength, born from his career as a voice actor. His ability to drive narrative, switch between NPCs at the drop of a hat, to roleplay the good guys and the bad guys with such realism, all of this is truly inspiring to someone who has, only recently, attempted giving his NPCs accents, or even speaking in character. This literally changed my game.
All that is to say nothing of the man’s preparation. Whereas everything else on this list is specifically designed to educate, Matt Mercer is best watched and absorbed in his natural habitat; behind the screen. Seeing his prep, his ability to create new characters of the fly, his encyclopedic knowledge of Alexandria, and even the way he orders initiative, it is all a master class in DMing.
Lastly, I feel like a DM’s weaknesses are every bit as useful for teaching as their strengths. Matt’s constant use of certain words (I’m looking at you, Brackish, Energy, Entity, et al) has made me aware of how quickly someone can have their suspension of disbelief shattered at the jarring realisation that they’ve heard a word a lot in the last few minutes.
3 – Kobold Press’s Guide to Worldbuilding. 190+ pages of total genius.
This is something I literally discovered in Travelling Man Newcastle earlier today, so I don’t know a huge amount about it. What I do know is that after flicking through it and finding the essay on how to build realistic worlds that have a fantastical flair to them I needed to own it.
Truthfully, that’s about all I feel qualified to comment on, though I think you’ll be hearing more from me on it in the near future. Until then, go check it out.
4 – Drunkens & Dragons. The opposite of Matt Colville.
Hankerin Ferinale is a very different DM to the guys I usually watch. That isn’t a good reason not to give him a watch, though. Drunkens & Dragons is a much more mechanical game, where the DM screen is stripped away, where DCs are left out in the open for players to see, and where, often, big monsters’ actions are judged less by roleplay on the part of the DM, and more by predetermined reactions to certain stimuli (much like a series of If/Else statements in programming). The overall feel is more akin to a computer game in it’s mechanical fidelity than a shared narrative experience.
That said, there is so much depth and genius in here. From concepts like ‘room DCs’, where the DC for every challenge in a room is set to a specific DC, to countdowns, to creating video game-like patterns that the players can learn and use against the monster they’re fighting, there are mechanical wonders throughout these videos.
But there’s also a freedom to Hank’s game that was a breath of fresh air to me. Videos such as his Lair of Knowledge series introduced me to new rules systems, books on English landscapes and fiction that has had a lasting influence on the worlds I build. He doesn’t really play D&D. Sure, 5e is the backbone of his game, but stuff like DCC RPG, and his own Index Card RPG have made their way in, as he cobbles together all the rules he likes and just makes them work together through sheer force of will.
5 – WebDM. Thanks Andy, for this damned rabbit hole.
Again, I assume you already know about these guys, but they really are amazing. Good, long, 20 minute videos discussing a single topic, regularly things I’ve never really put much thought into. Lawful Outsiders, for example. Damn.
This one’s pretty cut and dry. They talk in depth about stuff, throw out ideas, and various ways to implement these monsters and concepts into your campaigns. They have a depth of knowledge, and they know the game incredibly well. They’ve played across a number of editions, and have all that lore to draw on. It’s amazing to sit and watch, and to learn from.
6 – Chris Perkins. The DM of all DMs.
The master himself, Chris Perkins has been writing and talking about D&D for decades. He was the lead developer on the Monster Manual, and is in charge of D&D story. The man is a creative genius. The Dungeon Master Experience is an amazing history of Chris’ home campaign, detailing his successes and failures, and how you can learn from them. Acquisitions Inc. is incredible. Until I saw Critical Role, Chris Perkins was the DM I emulated, and his various panels, games and articles are still teaching me to this day.
Without going into much detail, here are a few bits and bobs I think are worth investing some time into:
- Dragontalk – The official D&D podcast (especially Lore You Should Know and Sage Advice)
- Mike Mearls and/or Jeremy Crawford interviews
- Well Met, Adventurers – One of my favourite fellows here on WordPress. Lovely guy. Check him out, and tell him I said hi.
- The DMG. Really. I overlook it so much as a reference document, and ignore so much of the amazing content in there. Same goes for every other release. There’s something in every one of them.
If you have any other resources you love learning from, please comment and let me know. I wanna learn as much as I can so that I can give my players the best experience I can give them.
Also, in other news, I recently launched my Patreon campaign. If you enjoy what I’m doing here, and want to contribute towards my time (and pick up some rewards in the process), then head over to https://www.patreon.com/SundayNightDM and see what’s on offer.
Finally, on Monday, myself, @the.dank.dm, Liam Lowery and Declan Keane recorded the first episode of our Talomire podcast. I ran Baldun, Ezikiel and Ethos (respectively) through their first steps in my world, and boy did it go interestingly…I’m looking to have that online this Sunday, assuming all things go well, otherwise next Sunday (14/5). That podcast will hopefully be uploaded weekly. I have plans for a second, irregular podcast, the first episode dealing with me and two of my friends, and how we DM. Really looking forward to recording that one.
Anyway, thanks again. Feel free to follow me on my various social media accounts (links below…Instagram is bae), and drop me a line if you wanna chat.