top of page
  • Writer's pictureDanny McKeever

17 Lessons for Dungeon Masters: Mastering the Art of Running Engaging Sessions

17 Lessons for Dungeon Masters: Mastering the Art of Running Engaging Sessions
17 Lessons for Dungeon Masters: Mastering the Art of Running Engaging Sessions


I recently saw an intriguing post about the 17 lessons from the Mission Impossible Series and I thought I would apply those learnings to being a game master. Being a Dungeon Master (DM) in a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game is an art that requires creativity, adaptability, and leadership. As a DM, you shape the world, control the narrative, and guide the players through epic adventures. To excel in this role, here are 17 valuable lessons that every DM should embrace.

1. The impossible is possible:

Lesson: Don't be afraid to challenge your players with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It encourages them to think creatively and fosters a sense of accomplishment when they overcome the odds.

2. Embrace Change:

Lesson: Flexibility is key. Be open to unexpected player choices, twists in the plot, or changes in the game dynamics. Embracing change allows for a dynamic and engaging experience for everyone involved. I will often prepare additional encounters as a backup and have them ready to go in my hip pocket.

3. Teamwork:

Lesson: Encourage and reward teamwork among your players. D&D is a collaborative game, and promoting cooperative play enhances the experience for everyone at the table. Know the players preferred styles. I use these 5 archetypes.

This is the player's preferred style of gameplay. It includes Storytellers, Power Gamers, Casual Players, Completionists, and Specializers.

  • To engage Storyteller players, DMs can provide detailed and richly imagined game worlds, complete with interesting NPCs and intricate plotlines.

  • To engage Power Gamers, DMs can offer challenging combat encounters and provide opportunities for character optimization and customization.

  • To engage Casual Players, DMs can provide a welcoming and inclusive environment that emphasizes the social aspect of the game.

  • To engage Completionists players, DMs can provide a rich and expansive game world with plenty of side quests and hidden treasures to discover.

  • To engage Specializer players, DMs can provide opportunities for character specialization and skill development.

4. Plan, but be ready to improvise:

Lesson: Prepare your adventures and encounters, but always be prepared to adapt on the fly. Players can surprise you with their choices, so being able to improvise keeps the game flowing smoothly.

5. Master the art of deception:

Lesson: As a DM, you often portray non-player characters (NPCs) who may be deceitful or hiding information. Mastering the art of deception adds depth to your NPCs and keeps players guessing, leading to intriguing plot twists.

6. Have a clear mission:

Lesson: Provide players with a clear overarching goal or mission. It gives the game purpose and direction, motivating players to stay engaged and work towards achieving their objectives.

7. Be Fearless:

Lesson: Don't shy away from challenging your players or introducing difficult situations. Facing adversity fosters character growth, memorable moments, and an epic story.

8. Stay one step ahead:

Lesson: Anticipate your players' actions and plan encounters and challenges accordingly. Staying one step ahead ensures that the game remains exciting and tailored to their choices.

9. Use your resources wisely:

Lesson: Just like players must manage their resources, as a DM, use your resources wisely. Create a balance of treasure, magical items, and information to ensure the game remains challenging yet rewarding. Slowly and creatively serve up valuable information, magic items and/or gold.

10. Build Trust:

Lesson: Foster a trusting environment at the table. Players should trust you to provide a fair and immersive experience, while you trust them to respect the rules and engage with the story.

11. Stay Cool under pressure:

Lesson: Unexpected situations and player actions can put pressure on the DM. Stay calm, think on your feet, and maintain a positive attitude. Your composure sets the tone for the game and keeps the players engaged. Ask for feedback from your players. They will help you become a better GM.

12. Communicate:

Lesson: Effective communication is crucial for a successful game. Clearly convey information, set expectations, and provide feedback to players. Encourage open dialogue to ensure everyone's enjoyment.

13. Resilience is crucial:

Lesson: As a DM, not everything will go according to plan. Unexpected challenges may arise, but remain resilient. Adapt, learn from setbacks, and continue providing an enjoyable experience for your players.

14. Success takes sacrifice:

Lesson: Balancing encounters, crafting intricate plots, and managing a game requires time and effort. Recognize that success as a DM often requires sacrificing personal time, but the rewards are worth it.

15. Always have a back-up plan:

Lesson: Prepare alternative paths or solutions to potential obstacles. Being proactive and having contingencies ensures a seamless game flow, even when players take unexpected paths.

16. Leverage your strengths in each other:

Lesson: Encourage collaboration and capitalize on the strengths of each player. Highlight their unique abilities and build encounters that allow them to shine individually and as a team.

I use the Rule of Cool for my players. Use this framework. Complete this sentence for each player. Wouldn’t it be cool if [player] got to do [this] in this session. Make each statement relevant to the current situation. Learn more here >>

17. Expect the Unexpected: Adaptability and the Lesson of Surprise:

Lesson: In the ever-evolving world of D&D, unexpected events and player choices are bound to arise. As a Dungeon Master, embracing the unexpected and adapting to unforeseen circumstances is crucial. It encourages improvisation, creativity, and keeps the game dynamic and exciting for both you and your players. By expecting the unexpected, you'll be better prepared to handle surprises, adjust your plans on the fly, and create memorable moments that make your D&D game truly remarkable.

For each encounter there are 5 possible scenarios that the GM needs to plan for.

Here are the potential actions the players may take.

  • Parley, the characters try to talk their way out.

  • Combat, they fight.

  • Trick, they try to sneak past the scenario.

  • Discover, they take the time to figure out information to get by.

  • Avoid, they skip the scenario all together.


Mastering the art of being a DM is an ongoing journey. By embracing these 17 lessons, you'll be well-equipped to provide memorable adventures, engage your players, and create a thriving D&D experience for all. Remember, it's not just about the game; it's about the stories and memories you create together. So, gather your dice, sharpen your pencils, and embark on a grand adventure as the Dungeon Master extraordinaire!

55 views0 comments


bottom of page