DMing/GMing in the Abstract

Ah Picaso.... Master of Abstract

First of all, I better get this outta the way—HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Alright, now down to the important shizzy.. role-playing.

Important to Note: These are some blogs or sites that have really aided me in my quest to refine DMing in the Abstract, and also just to continue growing as a DM (RPGBLOGGER Horn toot).

Chatty DM– He’s just the shit, all I got to say about Chatty.
Newbie DM– I may not be a newbie DM (been doing it for over 15 years now), but he’s got some really great advice!
Critical Hits– Dave the Game has great ideas and concepts, and always takes the time to reply to your questions!
Role-playing Tips– Johnn Four is another person who takes the time to give you feed back on questions and ideas! His RPG eZine is awesome, and is PACKED with great DMing info.
Gnome Stew– Great site with some great ideas thrown out there. Keep clear of Telas’s gun though ^_^ Ran by Johnn Four and Mike. Mike goes insanely in-depth in his analysis of the different aspects of role-playing and DMing.
You Meet in a Tavern– A truly great forum. Everyone there is really nice, positive, and gives great feedback about your questions and ideas. I have yet to meet a troll on there.

Alright enough dry humping, onto what I came here to post about.

When I first took up the mantel of DMing, I wrote EVERYTHING out.. Every little piece of information that popped into my head made its way onto paper. Needless to say, my session notes, on average, were about 12 pages, and would last us 2-4 sessions.

An important note: When I started DMing, I had been a drama nerd for a couple years in junior high and was then in high school getting started in the theater department there. While learning acting skills, one of the important lessons drilled into us, was the art of improve, and how and when during a stage production it was appropriate (especially if the actor next to you forgot their lines), and how it can progress the story, and possibly, no one in the audience knows that there was any mistakes.

So I knew that I wanted to really include improving in my games, because I didn’t want to railroad my players. So right from the get-go, I really tried to incorporate improve DMing, or just going off what my players gave me as ammunition, to propel the story forward.

As I continued to DM my notes became shorter and shorter. I also knew, as my schedule became busier I would need to down my prep time.

As far as my notes go now, they are just bulleted points now.

Here’s an example from a previous post:

Here are the notes I have on Cyrian:
Cyrian Gal (Human, Male) Illusionist lvl ?
1. Travel to Aundair to the ruins of Floating university, Cyrain rumored to love that school.
2. Find village that has been put under enchantment by Cyrian.
3. Breaking curse also lifts enchantment on local goblinoid tribe that blames village and attacks.
4. Find way past enchantments that Cyrain has placed.
a. Goblins know of way that will take them past.
5. Face Cyrian Gal.

This is all I had written down for a session, and it lasted 2 sessions (12 hours) due to improving and just going off of what my players gave me. It is also important to note that the actual sessions looked nothing like this, as you can see: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I have been a big professor of the awesomeness of Dave the Games 5×5 method, and have stated that many times on my blog. I’m pretty sure by this point, Dave is sick of getting ping-backs linked to my site. Oh well… He can deal with one more.

The above example is my use of the 5×5 Method. I love it, I use it. Very little prep, but in thinking within these confines, tons of ideas pop up in your mind, and it gives you a multitude of different avenues to take your adventure down, depending on the actions of your players.


When I first started DMing I did maps in great detail, again with tons of information at the ready, only to have my players thwart the dungeon or compound or whatever, in a very short time (or I’d have players who weren’t BIG dungeon divers and the adventure started to drag).

EVERY so often I get a bug up my butt and still do large dungeons, but I have pretty much left that behind me.

So what do I do now? Two things…

One– I use the 5 Room Dungeon thought up by Johnn Four. This is brilliant. It is simple and it is easy. And as he says it doesn’t HAVE to be just five rooms. It can be more, or even less.. I’ve had dungeons be 10 and 15 rooms.. I just make sure that the key formula is still there.

And as part of this philosophy I now limit my dungeon to one page. I discovered this concept on ChattyDM’s website. It is another great way to keep your prep low, but give you enough detail to make your sessions awesome. Look through the codex, there are a TON of maps already done, btw, for you to use at the ready!

Two– Much of the time I honestly don’t use a map anymore. I have traps bulleted, and a lay them out as I say them come up to a door, or a chest, or a point in the floor. I know the “feel/theme” of my dungeon, so I can describe how it looks, feels, smells, etc.. But I really don’t need a map anymore. I do this because I can make the dungeon go on as “long” as I want if the group is having fun trudging through it, or I can make a “POOF- you are at the X marks the spot moment.” And it works very well.


As I have stated in my Revised House-Ruled Game Mechanics I run monsters a little differently than what is stated in the 3.5 MM.

I used to have my monsters mapped out, all their stats, save throws, etc. And some I honestly still do (boss monsters/encounters). But usually all the numbers or “concepts” are in my head. I know what the DC to make a monster tough should be for its saves against the players and also to resist the player’s spells and abilities. I also have an idea of what would be the damage of an “ouch” ability for the creature and then ones that will be moderate to low damage that the creature will fall back on and use regularly.

The Point?

I just wanted to share how I DM now. I have very little prep time or notes, and I am able to still propel the game along in a compelling (at least I hope) manner. I just want people, especially people new to the DM chair to know that it is possible. It just takes work and the ability to analyze your strengths and weaknesses and improving on them.

Just remember the overall goals:

You should DM for enjoyment. Both for yourself and your players.
The “Say Yes” rule is awesome and really lets the creativity of the players shine! Just don’t be afraid to say NO if it hurts the story or doesn’t compel it forward.

Alright, I’m done rambling!

About wrathofzombie

I am a History major attending a community college until I can get more financial aid and attend a four year school. I am living in NJ with my girlfriend who is currently wrapping up on obtaining her PhD in Toxicology. I love Star Wars, Role-playing, video games, working out, reading, writing, and hanging with my girlfriend, dog (Perfect), and two kittens (Birch and Brambles). My main focus on this site will be my discussion of Role-playing games and ideas and hopefully contribute something worth a damn. View all posts by wrathofzombie

2 responses to “DMing/GMing in the Abstract

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