I'm just getting into DMing, but I have an issue: I'm very noise-sensitive and tend to get anxious with lots of shouting or people talking all at once. I've explained this to my players, and they try to respect it, but everyone forgets in the heat of the moment. Do you have any tips for managing rowdy players and keeping people from talking over each other?


At the risk of decreasing the tempo, a solution to this may be consistently keeping players in check.

It’s easy for a group of players to get excited, due to the nature of play. More often than not, players will begin talking louder and louder without realizing, simply because the overall noise level of the table has grown (from talking). 

For this situation, you can treat the players a lot like you would treat a classroom. Distinctly and specifically call for responses when you’re looking for them, encourage people not to interrupt, and remain consistent with your statements/

If the players are beginning to raise above the din of normal speech, take the authority of calmly reminding them to settle down a little. To ensure that this doesn’t come off as accusatory, keep a calm demeanor and be consistent on your checks.

Alternatively, try playing games that encourage a more laid-back atmosphere rather than an active or frenetic style of play. “Slice of Life” games are rarer, but do exist in the tabletop scene.

I hope this helps. If anyone else has advice, please feel free to drop it in!

I know this is like, five days old, but as a notoriously anxious DM I felt the need to comment. 

Communication is important. Remind players if they get loud to quiet down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of noise and verbal input, speak up. Often a “Hey guys, one at a time” works well enough. Get everyone quiet. Then point to someone you know was talking, let them say what they were going to say, and move on to the next person, one at a time.

This one-at-a-time thing cuts down on noise, makes it easier for you to get information from the situation, and allows everyone a chance to speak. That last one can be really important if your noise level has escalated and one of your quieter players has been drowned out. DMs have a lot on their plates, and in my experience players have not gotten upset when I insist on dropping into conversational bullet time to sort out what everyone’s saying. 

If you find it too overwhelming to talk during these situations, try getting a bell or other alternate sound device that can get people’s attention and prompt them to quiet down. (I have not managed to train my players to do this, but it may be worth a shot in your case.)

Like CP said, it can be like managing a classroom, so do your best to stay calm and reel in the social situation. This is a fun event, so there’s no need to be a strict disciplinarian, but be assertive: you hold the title of Dungeon Master and people will listen to you without you needing to be a tyrant. Unlike a classroom, though, you are not a teacher, you are a mediator and a peer. All players, DMs included, need to make sure to communicate with the table when conditions don’t allow for everyone to do their jobs well, whether it is participating in the game or running it. 

good luck! and don’t forget this very important post from CP if you are ever feeling anxious about other parts of running a game. 

Prep Tip #5409


Sad scenes can be powerful in games, but make sure you calculate the amount of sadness that will be produced before presentation.

Gauge your sad scenes in terms of “Pints”, as in “This scene will require X Pints of Ice Cream for the players to emotionally overcome.”

D&D World Building



Which do you find easier when designing you world for your players, starting with the world and going in or starting with a small point and working outward?

Both at once.

Figure out in broad strokes what makes your world unique, and then use that as you build what you need.

Personally, I start with the overall big picture. Get a general feel for masses of terrain and major landmarks, natural or settled. Then comes development on a smaller scale details as needed.

Straight from the horse’s mouth, Author Vincent Baker in Dogs in the Vineyard, first edition, pages 91-92:

"Drive Play Toward Conflict

Every moment of play, roll dice or say yes. If nothing’s at stake, say yes to the players, whatever they’re doing. Just plain go along with them. If they ask for information, give it to them. If they have their characters go somewhere, they’re there. If they want it, it’s theirs. Sooner or later— sooner, because your town’s pregnant with crisis— they’ll have their characters do something that someone else won’t like. Bang! Something’s at stake. Launch the conflict and roll the dice. Roll dice or say yes. Roll dice or say yes. Roll dice or say yes.”

While I am a fan of player empowerment and I encourage that “yes and” builds better narratives than saying no, this feels like an irresponsible and arbitrary way to go about world-building if it’s applied to EVERY SITUATION. Not to mention narratively uninteresting if the only opposition is based on the luck of a die roll.


strmod asks:

Scene : Your group informs you that you promised them an epic role playing session last night. You didn’t remember that on account of all the merriment.

You have just 1 hour to prep a whole 6 hour session.

How do you do it?

Oh, you mean every week?

I once had a conversation with a fellow-GM friend about last minute preparations as he would (at the time) prepare in ways that were very different from the ways that I would.

Looking at his notes, I noticed that rather than prepare all of the things that could happen, like I used to do, he had single lines of plot notes and threads that he wanted to establish, followed by enemies and environments for encounters.

To which I asked, “How do you fill time with such little notes?”

He responded, “Players are like a gas. They expand to fill the space.”

Honestly, without sarcasm, preparing a multi-hour session in a very short amount of time is something I do too often. I have specific milestones that I write notes for and attempt to steer my players towards, but most sessions are very specifically me giving them spaces to occupy and letting them occupy those spaces.

This often leads to very, very front-heavy preparation on my part. I try to have a clear understanding of the entire “setting” that a game will take place in before starting the first session so that I can make sure the moving parts have depth rather than breadth. 

If that fails, there’s always random fight tables. 1dX chromatic dragons should keep them entertained for a bit.


That’s a really interesting way of describing the situation. But really, I do prep very much this way, too. I learn locations, general motivations of NPCs, and jot down some ideas for interesting encounters, slap on a stat block or two, and just kind of run from there. I mostly feed off of the energy or interaction at the table. The session sketch gives me an idea for where things are, but it gets fully rendered at the table based on how players interact and what feels right. Granted, the time between games is usually spent letting session ideas percolate and I still need a chunk of time before game to let those juices carmelize under the influence of coffee and anxiety, thus producing the scraps of notes I bring to the table. 

Tuesday Questions!



This long day has caused me to miss most of the daylight I usually use for Tuesday Questions. I don’t even have time to prepare a joke that i’ll randomly bold to create a nonsensical theme!

I am totally unprepared for this. 

Wait! That’s it! I can answer questions about being totally unprepared! 

It might be last minute, but I want to hear from you all! There is always time to have a good time after all!

Double points for tabletop related questions.

Triple points for being totally unprepared.

Let’s have some spontaneous and non-planned fun today folks! 

Improvisation! Surprises! 

In a tabletop RPG how much railroading is to much railroading? I'm setting up a one shot and deciding how much exposition to include. Within the expo I'm having players introduce themselves and read a written statement from their faction. To much?


Generally, railroading is too much when a player realizes they’re being railroaded and stops having fun because of it.

Railroading is usually a taboo term when it comes to tabletop games, as it generally means the restriction of player choice. However, while a GM can certainly react to any situation, they certainly cannot plan for every situation.

That being said, if a GM is attempting to tell a story and the players are looking for a story to be told, some sections have to be on-rails to get important details out of the way. The length, duration, and experience behind these sessions is completely up to you, but it’s not uncommon.

Which leads back to the initial point. If a player realizes they’re being railroaded and stops having fun because of the railroad, then it is too much. If they realize the railroad, but are enjoying the experience/story for what it is, then the railroad is not a detriment to the game. 

Hmmn… this kind of sounds like “It’s not cheating unless they notice.” :P 

Exposition is not railroading, though. Setting up the world is not railroading. If, in times of decision-making, a player’s choice has no influence on the narrative, you’re railroading too hard. If you could tell the story in a novel where the players simply observe, you’re railroading too hard. If the players’ influence on your story is predestined or fated to end only one or two ways, I would say you are railroading too hard. Players have a knack of picking option Q after options A, B, and C are presented, and if your story is not flexible enough to react to option Q when you learn what it is (at the most inconvenient time, of course), then you may be railroading too hard. 

Granted, one-shots are much more forgiving for this because they have to be a pre-packaged stories. Generally when I work with story-arcs, I’ve been finding timelines to be really handy. I know the major events that will happen, and the lynchpin points where players can interact. However, those lynchpins are always open-ended questions rather than multiple choice (or single choice! D: !) to avoid a fixed narrative rather than the collaborative story-telling experience of tabletop. 

Tuesday Talks: When You’re Really Just an NPC


For the first foray into the realm of Tuesday Talks, this is a discussion by request. We all know our PCs and our NPCs, but there are times when those lines blend. Sometimes it’s an NPC overstepping their bounds as the DM railroads the party too hard, but the focus here is on what happens when a PC isn’t really a PC and what should be done about it.

Sometimes a PC just… doesn’t step up their game. A PC is supposed to engage with the world around them, take up a cause or adventure of their own, and be something different than the standard NPC is. When it comes to typical fantasy settings like most D&D campaigns, this means not being a farmer or a bureaucrat and actually stepping out into the world to adventure and take risks. In the realm of our pokémon campaign, it means not simply being a random trainer who wants nothing more than to train their pokémon and collect badges or simply stay on a ranch and breed pokémon. In both of those settings, this is the role of an NPC. It’s a story told by every character in the setting that isn’t a PC already.

What do you do when a PC never really takes their role seriously? As a DM, it can certainly be frustrating when characters have no drive or desire of their own, essentially being nothing but random tagalongs on the story forcibly fed to them, but as a fellow party member it can be just as frustrating if nobody else seems to care about engaging in a meaningful story or plot. When is the line drawn and recognition that a character is really just an NPC made? How do you handle the transition to NPC status with the player? What if it’s a whole group? Do NPCs belong at the table or do they need to be retired into the setting?


I tend to encounter this a lot as a GM who prefers character-driven narratives, but sometimes I get such a bad read on my players that it feels like I’m just throwing enemies at obstinate NPCs. I have encountered (and played) a fair few characters who, quite frankly, don’t feel like they want to be adventuring even when the plot kidnaps them, kicking and screaming. Their next motivation is to escape as quickly as possible and try not to die in the process, and character growth is limited to accidental XP gain by completing the quest called Not Dying. 

I’m curious about solutions for this for a number of reasons. I am absolutely mortified when I create a character who is strangely “stillborn” at the table, and am consistently terrified of repeating this whenever I make a new character. From a GM standpoint, I want the PCs to feel like Main Characters and tell their own story so I can throw meaningful plot hooks at them without them escaping or shoving their plots under a mattress faster than a middle schooler writing fanfiction. 

That is the hard part of being an improv GM. Finding ways to add meaning to scenes the players have picked, instead of revealing meaning in the scenes you have planned. But it’s the easy part as well. Players will give you ideas if you let them, lots of ideas.

Bryan Young lays down some excellent advice on improvising as a gamemaster. (via unpossiblelabs)

Great advice.  You shouldn’t be looking for ways to motivate your players.  You should be listening for how they are already motivated.

(via lawfulgoodness)

Remember that the purpose of the game is to have fun, so if you have trouble interpreting a particular rule just make a judgment call and move forward. Set the expectation with your players that although you are the GM, you are new to this. It’s better to be clear about this up front rather than try to pretend you know the rules inside and out.
Advice for first-time game masters: Run Your First Session (via unpossiblelabs)