The Game Master (or whatever name you give him/her) is arguably the most important role in any pen and paper roleplaying game. I’ve always found being a Game Master to be a difficult and exhausting job, but in the end, it’s worth every ounce of effort you put into it. You’ll have a blast, and your players will be satisfied and engaged as a result. Here, we’ll cover the basics of becoming a game master and how to design an interesting dungeon.
Understanding the Role
You don’t need to know everything to be a great Game Master, but you will need to know the role. To put it another way, you’ll need to be familiar with the system you’re working with. The core mechanics, the system’s limitations, the characters’ abilities, and the game’s conflict resolution mechanisms.
Please, please, please read the entire Game Master’s Guide for the system you plan on running and at least have a basic understanding of all of the chapters and their contents in your players’ handbook.
The importance of the roleplaying experience, rather than the randomness of the dice, is often cited as a reason why a great Game Master shouldn’t need rules to tell an interesting story. However, let’s agree that there’s a certain level of expectation that a gamemaster knows how to play the game within the rules and mechanics. Co-creator of the original Dungeons and Dragons game Gary Gygax had this to say:
As a Dungeon Master, you will not be entering this world as most people do. In the fantasy worlds of D&D adventures, there are bound to be strong fighters, powerful magic users, cunning thieves, and brave clerics. In contrast, as the DM, you will become the Shaper of the Cosmos, a position you hold above all others. You are the one who will give the cosmos its shape and content. You will give meaning and purpose to all the actions that will follow by breathing life into the stillness.
The foundations of dungeons
The point of this article is to teach people how to create a solid roleplaying campaign from the ground up. Dungeon construction is the first step in learning the fundamentals of the game. More often than not, I find that my fellow Game Masters overlook or completely avoid dungeons when I give them advice and ideas.
Dungeon writing can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to. An aspiring Game Master’s storytelling skills would skyrocket if they learned the five pillars of dungeoneering first. In addition to Dungeon Making, you can use the steps I’ve outlined below to set up your campaign in general.
Campaign & Setup
As a game master, you are free to use any ideas you find and there is no shame in doing so. It’s a great way to get ideas for new campaigns or characters for NPCs by reading fantasy novellas or watching television. For real, I read a lot of books to come up with fresh plot points, character motivations, and amusing antics for my sessions.
Borrowing from other people’s work is perfectly acceptable! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not capable. Most players have no idea I’ve been doing it for years. Preparation is the key to a successful campaign, so do as much as you can ahead of time to ensure that it doesn’t feel stale or boring. Please understand that stalls are a bad idea.
To our dismay as Game Masters, players are utterly unpredictable. You never know when they’ll blow up someone’s cabbage fields or do something else only they could think of. It happens all the time, so don’t worry about it, just reuse the content for another occasion.
The 5 Roomed Dungeon
Be aware that most published adventures and dungeon-crawl centric modules are meant to be explored throughout multiple sessions before getting started. To make your dungeon at this scale, you must first learn the fundamental concepts that make these modules so enjoyable.
If you ask me how to build a dungeon, I usually begin by describing the Five Room Dungeon or the Five Pillars. Generally speaking, the idea is quite simple. As you might expect, these dungeons are designed to be played in a single campaign session and, as you may have guessed, are only five rooms long.
Pillar One: The Entrance, Guardian or Obstacle.
To get into the dungeon proper, the protagonists of the game must overcome some sort of obstacle. Make use of your imagination; there are a plethora of options available to you.
Pillar Two: Introduce a Roleplaying Challenge or Floor Puzzle.
First, the players must overcome the first room or pillar obstacle, which can be done either by combat or by sneaking or using silver tuning. The party should be more inclusive if the Game Master challenges them to a game of wits.
Pillar Three: The Decoy, Trick or Setback.
A player’s worst nightmare is my favourite room, and I enjoy it. Something has to happen to throw the player characters off guard or cause them to rethink their approach, whether it’s a spring trap, pitfall, or some other horrifying contraption. We’ll be covering traps in the future in this series, so keep an eye out for updates!
Pillar Four: The Climax, Final Boss, or Final Act
Think of this as the final battles of the player characters, as they battle the final boss, free the wrongly convicted, and overcome an emotional barrier.
Here’s where it all culminates; this is where the action takes place. The pinnacle of everything. The mighty hula hoop. This dungeon is a labour of love, so show the players how much effort you put into it by making them fight for their lives!
Pillar Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist.
For the next campaign session or as a transition between long breaks in campaigning, this can be the hook, line, and sinker It’s up to you if you want to build tension or reward the players.
The Five Room Dungeon, or the Five Pillars of any dungeon, has these as its fundamentals. It’s possible to extend the dungeon’s duration by adding additional trap rooms and puzzles as well as challenging roleplay content in between the rooms. There are so many possibilities!