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What to do differently to pro-Dungeon Masters

While professional Dungeons and Dragons content is amazing, and there's loads you can learn by watching or listening to pro Dungeon Masters - sometimes it's beneficial to consider what you shouldn't try to emulate.

Some things work great with professional actors and with a big production team, that just wouldn't work in your game night (and that you shouldn't even try to recreate). Here's a few pointers of where to do things differently to the pros.

Expect less from your players

So, D&D should be fun right? That is the whole reason we're playing after all - so try not to put loads of pressure on your players. For professional players, they know they're gonna have to do a good deal of roleplaying and character development and whatnot - but maybe your players aren't so into that. That is totally cool.

Not everyone plays the same way, or for the same reasons - some people just want to walk around stabbing things and racking up XP. That is totally fine. If you approach a game thinking your players are gonna provide Critical Role level acting and engagement and suspense and whatever else - prepare to be disappointed.

If you set up scenes which are dependent on them knowing every piece of lore you've dropped, and being able to effortlessly roleplay some traumatic reunion with a long-lost companion etc, you may just be setting them up for failure.

Get a feel for what they like, and what they are capable of, then play to their strengths. They don't have to be great. You don't have to be great. You just have to all have a good time.

Expect less from yourself

I fall into this trap a lot. Whenever there's a hobby that I enjoy, I tend to get really into it. I mean, heck, I've spent hundreds of hours writing this blog, just because I love D&D and I want all you people to get as much enjoyment out of it as I do. I'm kinda obsessive like that.

The problem though, is that when I get into stuff, I tend to have really high expectations of myself when I do it. I don't just want to run ok sessions, I want to run amazing ones! Ones that my friends are talking about for years!

Now, on the face of it, that's no bad thing - ambition isn't a problem. But it can become a little more sinister when you start to compare yourself with the absolute pinnacle in that field. In this instance, when you compare yourself with pro-DMs.

You have to remember that many of these guys and gals have been doing this for decades. And for many of them it's their job as well - so they have hours and hours to work on each and every session. You just haven't invested the amount of time into honing these skills as the professionals have, nor do you have the amount of time to prepare right now that they do. It would be ridiculous, therefore, to think you'll be at the same standard they are.

Furthermore, a lot of professional D&D content involves teams of writers developing the stories and lore that you listen to. It's no wonder then that we're not at the same level then, when we're trying to do this all by ourself!

It would be like being a keen cyclist, and expecting to keep up with the pros at the Tour de France - while forgetting that every team has dedicated mechanics, cooks, nutritionists, massage therapists and who knows what else throughout the race, while you're their trying to do every single role. That's just not realistic - so try not to expect it of yourself.

Lower production values

It's also super important to remember that pro-D&D content is being created for an audience. Whereas the content that you are producing is predominantly for your players (and for you). While to some extent your players are your audience, they are also active contributors to the game and the story. Chances are that you don't have anyone completely external to the campaign that you're running, tuning in to see what's going on.

So, if you don't have an audience to really worry about, don't waste your time worrying that your campaign isn't as good a spectacle for observers as the professional campaigns are. It doesn't have to be. If your players are invested in your storyline, they're using their imaginations anyway - so it doesn't matter if your maps/ props etc are a bit basic.

I love tuning into Dimension 20 and seeing the incredible sets and miniatures that they have - but damn, if my players are expecting me to invest that kind of time and money on a phenomenal set-piece every week, they better go looking for a new DM! These pro-campaigns often have big budgets, and teams making props for them - again, you can't compete here, so don't feel that you should be trying to.

Professional campaigns often also put in a lot of work post-production - meaning that you are listening to a story that has been properly edited, has had sound effects added, and has a curated soundtrack added to heighten the tension at key moments. Your campaign? Well, that's all going down live. Post production isn't exactly an option for you. Again then, you've got to realistically expect what you are creating to be of a significantly lower standard than whatever D&D content you're consuming.

The good news

Ok, so this article may have just been a massive downer - and now I've convinced you that the D&D you're running is pretty rubbish compared to the pros. The good news though? Your players do not care!

They're not expecting you to create perfection for them every week. They just want an environment where they can sit down with friends, tell a cool story and have fun. So long as you're hitting those goals, you are winning!

Then every little step you can take to improve that experience maybe 1 or 2% every once in a while (say by running more compelling combat sessions, or by increasing roleplay, or creating fun NPCs) then that is just the icing on the cake.

You can still appreciate the pros and enjoy the amazing content they produce, but if you can stop expecting that level of perfection from yourself, then you implicitly give yourself permission to just be ok. And once you're fine with that, then you free up all the emotional energy needed to put in the work to go from ok to good to great! That takes time though - so give yourself time, and try to enjoy the process.

Good luck!


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