The Secret To My Success As A Game Master

In one of my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, I recently leveled up my players and gave them access to some a few magic items each since the next adventure hook they chose was to explore an incredibly dangerous area that can cause magic to go haywire. In the time since that session, I’ve been working with some of them to select the items they want and ensure that they understand their new abilities or powers. It is fairly typical for this group, but it’s something I provide to any player who needs it because I have a fairly broad knowledge of the content and I know enough to find anything if I can’t remember it. It’s a useful skill to have as both a DM and player, and I feel like I’ve managed to present myself as a resource to other players and DMs alike without being overbearing.

While I was helping one of my players, he marveled at how well I seemed to know everything and how thorough my mental processes where for talking about one of the characters I am playing (which I was using as a reference because it is similar to his character). Since he often struggles with remembering all his magic items, his resources, and what all his abilities can do, he asked me how I managed to remember all this stuff. I told him the simple truth. It’s repetition. I have a pretty good memory, sure, and I have spent most of my adult life developing the ability to remember things in a broad, general way since that’s an important part of literary analysis, software testing, and storytelling, but stuff only winds up lodged in my memory because I read it many times over.

The reason I seem to know the stats of my players’ characters by heart is because I’ve reviewed them a dozen times or I’ve reviewed the important bits enough that I can figure them out on the fly. The reason I know all of the various dice and move combos for the characters I play is because I review everything on my character before each session and frequently browse through my character sheet when I’m taking a break at work. I’ve read it so many times I would be moderately embarrassed to admit how many times I think I’ve done. The same is true of monster stats, sections of the various rulebooks, adventures, my own notes. Everything. I read it over and over and over again. I think about it constantly. Any time I have free mental space, I’m thinking about stories or D&D games or my characters or cool ideas for new games or different tabletop RPG game systems entirely.

Sure, in the context of a week that might not seem like a lot of time if you consider that I also work a full time job, write blogs, play video games, read unrelated books, watch TV shows, do errands, and everything else that goes hand-in-hand with living a healthy adult life in the Midwest of the US, but I’ve also been doing it for years. I’ve been doing it non-stop for years. Making up new game content, developing new stories, theory crafting, exploring custom mechanics, all of this stuff is one way I relax. If I could somehow total the number of hours I’ve spent thinking about roleplaying games, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it has passed 10,000 hours. I’ve definitely spent at least that much time thinking about stories in general, aside from the hours dedicated to tabletop gaming. Doing the math, over the 12 years I’ve been running TTRPG games, it would mean I’ve spent an average of just over two and a quarter hours a day thinking and working on them. Which feels entirely reasonable to me, given that I also know I listen to an average of 3 hours of TTRPG podcasts a day.

I’m by no means a master storyteller or a top-tier game master. I’m still learning and improving because you really can’t just chalk this stuff up to a flat number of hours and say that’ll get you to mastery. It does definitely helps explain my skill and almost encyclopedic knowledge when you consider just how much time I’ve spent on this pretty much every single day since 2010 when I first played D&D. It would be difficult not to remember all of this stuff if you spent that much time on it.

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