I prepared for X but my players did Y, help?! Questions like that float around the internet. Being a DM can lead to a certain degree of insecurity, but you shouldn’t be insecure. You are a dungeon master, a master of dungeons, creator of worlds, and destroyer of the same! Dragons and Kraken appear at your will and will shiver in fear when you say so.

Preparing for sessions is something every DM does differently, some want 20 pages of planned content with 10 encounters. And some only need one phrase written on the back of a fast-food bill. Finding out how much prep you need is a thing of habit, just try out different approaches until you find something that works for you. I don’t want to tell experienced DM’s that they do it wrong, or to tell inexperienced DM’s how they will have to do it. I just want to give my readers an insight into how I do it since I have found out what works best for me.

This post is the first of a series, where I will explain each topic in a separate, more detailed post. Be sure to read the session example in the first link to better understand the examples of this post.

I try to keep my session notes tidy and simple. Two A4 Pages at most, most of the time it’s half a page to one page long. When you have your notes laying before you while running the session you want to see what’s happening next and you want to know what you are currently doing without having to flip through a small novel. Follow the link to see an example of how I write down my notes.

There are many ways to build in complications, they are after all what makes the story interesting. If the players go from A to B without a problem they won’t feel that they accomplished something. Players need to have something they can feel proud of. The charismatic bard wants to find the best price for potions in the city, the druid wants to sympathize with the wood elves, the ranger wants to make the mountain climb easier and the barbarian wants to fight something.

Player Agency

Every time I prepare a session I also take a short look at all of my players’ backstories again. I think about things that could happen this session and I could tie them to one of their backstories. These ties often animate the players to do something, they create agency. Could I tie the monks’ backstory to a monastery that’s nearby the hermit? Will the veteran fighter know any of the guards stationed at the watchtower at the edge of the wood elves territory?


The first thing everybody will think about when hearing “rewards” will probably be magic items. But there are many more things you can give your players to make them feel rewarded. They could meet the king of the wood elves, help him with a problem and then gain a favor from him. They could do an act of great kindness by saving a beggar in the city and be rewarded with a blessing from the deity of charity.


Always try to keep your session notes loosely tied together, so that you can leave room for improvisation and player choices. Try to not railroad your players straight down a path, without any choices that influence it. Of course, if it’s important for your story, you can send them down a predefined path. But there should be many little choices (with differentiable consequences!) along with it. In our example, the players could want to instead of searching the hermit, go to the dwarven clan where the hermit originates from. This will ultimately help them towards their goal but in different ways.


These are the people that make your world real, do them right and your campaign can be a lot more than a game, it can be a great story. For all important NPCs write down at least a few sentences on their appearance, behavior, goals, and flaws. It is not required that you have a stat block for all NPC’s your players meet.


I guess what I want to say is, that everybody needs to find their own style, DMing is an art form, where, in my opinion, the most helpful tool is improvisation. Try to deliberately leave little spaces in between your notes to be forced to improvise when you get to them. That’s it. I hope I have given you some things to think about. After all, I want you to learn something, even if you say you hate my approaches. You have learned that you don’t want to do it as I do and that’s a win for me.