Dungeons & Dragons: A Lifetime For Improvement

Dungeons & Dragons is a hobby one can have over a lifetime. From a person’s first foray into the world of dice-rolling and dungeon-delving, to their hundredth encounter with a dragon, D&D does not get stale and it constantly evolves. It is a game in which people are meant to have a grand adventure, interact with flamboyant characters, and leave the worries of the real world behind. However, that does not mean one cannot continue to improve session after session, campaign after campaign. In fact, becoming “better” at D&D covers a wide berth of definitions and it is something every player and Dungeon Master should aspire to do.

As I am looking at starting my fifth D&D campaign, I’m jotting down everything I think I can improve at. It’s a long list. I recognize that there’s plenty I’m not great at, some stuff I do quite well, and a select few things I excel at. Nonetheless, I can improve on each and every one of those things, and make my D&D experience better as a result.

Pillar Improvements

So, with this next campaign, I am going to try and improve on at least one aspect of D&D per session and a few pillars of D&D throughout the entire campaign.

I’ve found being conscious of my weaknesses helps me become a better DM. If I know where I’ll probably falter, I know where to focus my energy during preparation or during a session. It might sound strange, but if I know when I’ll fail, I’ll fail to a lesser extent.

For example, I think my top three weaknesses as a DM are:
  1. Tactical combat
  2. Dungeon descriptions
  3. Being upfront and clear with my players
In my next campaign, I’ll be focusing on these three pillars first and foremost.

I know I have issues with tactical combat, especially with large numbers of foes. I need to learn how to control them on the battlefield better and how to utilize their abilities to their full extent. Many times, I’ll run into the same trap of just swinging weapons at the party over and over, but I want to pursue more interesting, tactical battlefields from now on. To accomplish that, I’ll be preparing strategies beforehand for some encounters, reading over the 4e Monster Manual which has tactics inside it, and scouring the internet for information about monster tactics. The goblins shouldn’t simply rush the party with short swords while two goblins support with arrows from the back; the goblins should surround the party, the warriors engaging and disengaging the lumbering party members while the goblin archers pepper the weaker members with arrows from partially covered, high-up vantage points. Over time, I will improve and be able to move on to another pillar, tactical combat firmly cemented in my mind.

Dungeon descriptions are another poor area for me. How to describe them, truly? I’m in the process of reading all of the 5e adventure modules, which should surely help, and I’ve read lots of advice on this. I think I’ve just run too few dungeons to improve at this, but in this campaign, that won’t be an issue — I’ll have lots of room to practice! Right now, my strategy is going to be focusing on four aspects of the dungeon chamber: a sight, a smell, a noise, and its inhabitants. From those four things, I will build a description that isn’t too long and grasps my players attention. I don’t want them to enter a dark and decrepit crypt with four zombies and a skeleton inside; I want them to enter a crypt layered in thick dust that smells of decay and has four, moaning zombies and a one-armed skeleton whose scratching the old stone wall inside. I’m looking forward to this. Dungeons are integral to D&D and I’m ready to shower them with all the love they deserve.

My final great weakness is being upfront and clear with my players. I’ve written a lot on here about standing up for yourself as the DM, ensuring players don’t bully each other, and keeping the game flowing smoothly. The truth is, sometimes I don’t follow my own rules. It’s not for lack of knowing about them, of course, it’s because I become timid or scared to speak up. It’s an issue, an issue buried deep in my psyche. Why am I afraid to speak to these people who are all playing in a world of my own design? Why am I terrified to enforce a rule when they’re all sitting around my table? While I can’t place it exactly, I think it has to do with a fear of being fought back against, ridiculed, or just not listened to. I shouldn’t be fearful of that, my players should respect me. In this next campaign and all future adventures, I’m going to be more up front. Screens shouldn’t be at the table, it’s distracting to me and others; you should generally know what you are going to do on your turn; pointless squabbles and pointless player versus player actions are not tolerated, this is a collaborative game — disagreements need not play out through sword and blood.

Even writing all this out is helping me improve. I know what I need to improve on, what I need to do, and what an improved me will look like.

I encourage you to take the same steps as me. Write out your three biggest weaknesses and pledge to work on them throughout your next campaign or adventure. Then, at the beginning of every arc, look back at your progress. Are you improving? Is it helping? Are new problems arising? If you think you've permanently improved on a pillar, remove it and add a new one. As the campaign grows and changes, you will to. At the campaign's end, you'll be a better DM or player, I guarantee it.

But that’s not all.

Session-Sized Improvements

Remember that I mentioned I’d try to improve on at least one aspect of D&D per session? You should try that too!

In addition to three fundamental pillars of improvement, take note of one part of D&D to improve on every session. They can be big or small, conceptual or concrete. What matters is you’re actively taking steps to make your D&D game better. You’ll notice and your players will as well.

In my next campaign, here are some “single session” aspects I’ll strive to improve:
  1. Combat dialogue
  2. Connected plot threads
  3. Foreshadowing
  4. Female voices
  5. Boss encounters
  6. Travel montages
  7. Character development
  8. Demon lore
  9. Fast combat
  10. Chase scenes
  11. Interesting weapons
  12. Playing on player types
Write out some of your own, and remember to attach them to the notes of your next session! After the session, decide whether you succeeded in your pursuit or failed. If you failed, remember to go back and try to focus on this new aspect again. In good time, you’ll achieve the level you were striving toward.

In Summary

D&D is a game that can be played over a lifetime. Thus, infinite improvements can be made to the way you play. That doesn’t mean you need to change the way you’re playing, you just need to be incremental adjustments that improve the happiness of everyone at the table. Try to do this in two pursuits:
  1. Establish your three biggest weaknesses as a DM or Player and work on them throughout a campaign. At the beginning of every arc, reflect on how you’ve improved.
  2. Attach an aspect to improve on to every session of your campaign. These things can be small or large, and you can improve on them time and time again.
Well, I’m off to go plan the beginning of Caught in Galen and decide what to focus on for the first session. I can’t give too much away here as my players might be reading this article, so I’ll just write one word: callbacks.

Until next time, stay creative!

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  1. I commented on your post on Reddit as well, but this definitely is something that's gonna help me with my goals of being a better DM

    1. Thanks! That's one of my main reasons for writing here: helping people become better at D&D. As a result, you'll have more fun, too.

  2. Lord Caduceus28 May, 2020

    I definitely agree with this as a DM who's been playing for two years: I'm definitely leaps and bounds ahead of where I was when I started. Overall, a great article, and keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you! Keep looking forward and keep improving. It's what we should all strive to do.