Updated: Feb 27
One of the biggest hurdles a new DM runs into is creating an interesting scene that will entice their players. If they have any idea of what they want to do, what they tend to do is barely any details of their scene or explode with too many details in one go. In either case, no-one has any idea what may be going on. In my experience, it tends to be the first one. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it.
While it is generally just a group of friends that in the game session what the DM basically doing is a public speaking role. They create everything, world, story, enemies, allies, etc. and then in front of their group (usually 3-5 people) now how to speak about as if they are an expert and fluently so that the story being crafted is an enjoyable one that the players are going to participate with for anywhere of 2 to 6 hours. And you thought there was a lot of pressure in doing a 5-minute speech in speech class in high school right?
Obvious but true, practice!
So, let’s get the obvious tip out of the way. Number 1 way to get better at doing a scene is just simply doing it more. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get and the better trimming of a scene you can do so that it’s just enough to convey what you want but not enough to be boring. Along with trimming, the more you do it with your group the better feel you will get on what the group likes vs dislikes. Letting you tailor your scene to the thing they will enjoy and wish to explore further.
What kind of scene are you going for?
Now that the obvious one is out of the way here are a little meatier tips on what you can use to help build your scene. First, determine what kind of scene you need. Are you needing an epic meeting of the main bad guy and the heroes? Is the group meeting the king for the first time? Are they surrounded by enemies about to be meet their end? Or are they simply going to the tavern to get a drink and unknowing starting their next quest?
What scene you need will determine the amount of details needed and more importantly if it needs to be a knowledge dump or not. Backstory’s or finding caches of hidden info (long lost library, spies hidden base, etc.) are going to be information dumps, where are the sudden quest won’t be, and secrets that players uncovering in locations will start simple and then go deeper.
The next tip would be the telltale tip of "start simple" and only go complex when you need. 90% of most of your scenes don’t actually need the level of detail you may think. Don’t fail into the trap of describing every little thing. That’s a great way to bore everyone fast and makes it look like you just adore the sound of your own voice. You’ll do plenty of talking already trust me. But how do you gauge what is just enough? Read books of course!
No seriously, I’m not just trying to be a jerk here. Writers have to create a world that your imagination will fill in with every word and just like DMs they run the risk of being too wordy or putting too many details that it will put off the reader. They are great references to pull from when trying to get an idea of what you need. The even better part is unlike most writers you have extra people(player) with you to craft your story! So you may be able to start super simple just enough to get the characters where they need to be. Then your players start asking questions that let you fill more.
Don't forget the notes!
Finally, let’s round out this set of tips with the next seemly obvious tip of have your notes ready. Until you have been doing it for a while you generally won’t be able to just pull a scene out of your hat. Heck even when you have been DMing for a few years you still plan out the important scenes. DMing requires notes, lots of notes! So, take notes of your scenes. Especially the ones that you may be coming back to often. When planning your scenes don’t be afraid to go all out at first.
Contradicting my self right? Not so! The keep it simple advice still holds true but if you feel that your notes of the scene just doesn’t seem enough then write more. After you think you have a good amount that you are happy. Then wait a bit. For each individual the wait time is different. Some it’s a few minutes, some it’s a day or two. Find yours and wait that amount of time and then re-read your notes. Compare all of them. Which ones do you absolutely need? Which ones are just extra that if the player asks for would help fill out the scene? Which ones are just overwriting?
A basic example
So let's have an example of all this. The group is at a tavern knowing that the tavern was of decent size, probably able to hold 30 people or so comfortably and that they are just a hand full of patens in now is needed information. If a player asks to take a deeper look, then finding out the chairs and tables look to be cheap and newly replaced along with the door showing multiple signs of being replaced often setting the mood even more! Tell them though that the mug they have is cracked with rust all over and looks like it will just fail apart, well that’s just over-kill now. You may not think that now. But, you are just reading the words and with reading, we want as much info as we can get. When you are playing in a game session you really just want enough to set the mood and move one to your true objectives.
These are just the basics!
There are many subtleties when crafting your scene. But these tips should help you get the basics down. As you go on you will develop your own style of creating your scenes. You will even get to the point you can just make a good one on the spot! So let me know how you create your scenes. How were they received? I would love to see what amazing things you came up with.