Turn Order’s DM Tools & Tricks


So, you’ve found your first group of players, you’ve decided on a system that works for everyone involved, and now your head is reeling with the manifold possibilities and responsibilities wrapped up in managing this experience for everyone. You want everyone to enjoy themselves, but you’ve also got some rad story ideas, and also you’re still wrapping your head around some of the finer details of the ruleset of your new TTRPG system, and also two of your players sometimes have a bit of an adversarial relationship and, and, and…

It’s a lot, and it’s understandable that the mind might reel at the sheer scope of the task before it, but all is not lost. You’re not the first, not the second, and nowhere close to being the last person to take up the mantle of Games Master, and as such there exists a bounty of knowledge, skills, and tools for you to access.

Hello and welcome back to the fourth entry in a series of articles we’re calling “TTRPG Essentials,” each of which focuses on welcoming you into the robust hobby of tabletop roleplaying games. If you want to read the articles that preceded this one, you can find them here.

Today’s article is going to be focused on introducing new Games Masters to some of the many skills and tools that can aid the Tabletop Roleplaying experience, and as such we’ll be covering as wide a breadth as we reasonably can. As all those articles that preceded it, this article is in no way intended to be exhaustive and is instead written with the intent of introducing you (the reader) to a vertical slice of the resources available to you within this hobby.

With all that said, let’s get to it.


As we discussed in our very first article,

Also known as a Game Master (GM), and Storyteller (ST), the Dungeon Master is the individual who crafts and presents the world that the other players will inhabit. Every single non player character falls under the purview of the DM, enemy or ally alike, and so they roll dice on their behalf. The DM also usually knows the lion’s share of the rules, both to aid the players who may not, and to guide the design of encounters within the world. Again, if BG3, the engine itself would be the DM. Unlike the player, the DM will have access to a massive breadth of stat blocks (both custom and pre-built) to represent everything in the world. Not all DMs are alike, as some prefer their worlds to be more improvised, others will spend hours at a time crafting individual cities, and most do a fun mix of the two. Ultimately, as is the case with the player’s relationship to their character, the DM decides what style best suits them to explore the world they plan on placing the PC’s within.

Now all of that said, that description is missing something rather important, namely your shared responsibility with the rest of the individuals at your table. The narrative, the experience, the personal enjoyment of all of those at your table, the responsibility over all three rests upon your shoulders just as much as it does your players. All of the skills and tools mentioned in today’s article have been carefully selected to highlight ways in which you as GM might best do your part.

Community Toolbox

As mentioned in our second article, the online community for the system you’ve selected as your first is going to be one of the single greatest resources at your disposal as a first time GM. This is because if your system has been around for more than six months, it’s extremely likely that the road you travel was paved by the footsteps of those before you.

Live reenactment of a TTRPG Discord community

Discord Communities can be a fantastic example of this, as most system-specific communities will have both a specific board for running the system in question, as well as a true bounty of tips, tricks, and tools located in the pins. As well, due to the communal nature of this hobby, you can always also just ask. Most folks in the hobby love welcoming in new players, and some may direct you to specific pins, or even be comfortable answering direct questions or providing advice.

In a healthy community, gatekeepers only exist to bar entry to the bigot, the fash, and the bully. As long as you’re none of those three, you should find only peers and mentors.

Boxed/Module Play

Have you ever played an open-world RPG and when finally introduced to the world at large, and told you can go anywhere… you find yourself overwhelmed? When learning a new system, sometimes the sheer breadth of possibilities available to you, coupled with the demands of introducing the rules to your new table can feel pretty damn similar.

This is where pre-written scenarios and modules can come in, providing your table tools like narrative impetus, pre-designed enemy statblocks, a decision map, and many others. Some even come with pre-gens, pre-generated characters for your players to effectively “try before they buy.

A particular standout for this last tool can be found in Cyberpunk: Red, wherein the rules as written allow you to quickly generate a number of characters for your table to pick between.

The contents of your boxed starter set may vary.

As discussed before, we also have D&D stepping into this space with a boxed product you can buy at your local bookstore. They’ve had several names and price-points over the years and editions, but it’s usually a safe bet to assume that something labeled “Starter Set” or “Essentials” is going to be the one they want new players to pick up. These can contain maps, minis, dice, GM Screens, and various other “premium” items, but you can almost always assume they’ll have pre-generated character sheets & pre-written scenarios as a baseline. They’re in no way the only system to sell a boxed or premium starter set, but as this one is where a large number of hobbyists start their journeys, it bears mentioning.


There are so many jokes in this hobby about scheduling, and to be perfectly honest, it’s easy to understand why. Trying to get a group of individuals together, specifically individuals with jobs, families, and whole-lives, it can start feeling like you’re herding cats.
Sometimes the best tool at your disposal for this can be a scheduling app like Lettucemeet, which allows you to provide a scope of time and dates, and then share the link with others to fill with their availability, giving you a top-down view of your shared schedule.

If you’re using Discord, and possibly playing online entirely, you can even go a step further. Hammertime is a tool that allows you to share a date and time that automatically adjusts to the reader’s time zone, ensuring that nobody show up to the chat 4 hours early (or late).

Narrative Design

As this hobby has an improvisational nature, there’s sometimes the belief that the majority of GM’s simply run their sessions on the fly, creating whole set-pieces, gripping NPC’s, and obstacles for their characters as required. After all, this is a game where your players can go anywhere, and do anything, how could you possibly be expected to plan for any of that? The answer? You don’t.

After all, you’ve listened to your players as they created their characters. You know their drives, their hopes, and their goals. What remains, is the narrative that you might weave around them.

The world you craft as a DM needs to take inspiration from everyone at your table, otherwise you’re just like this lady. Missing the whole wondrous world of possibilities all around you! Also the completely normal peacock. Not sure why he’s here.

Twine is the tool that can help you do that. Originally designed by Chris Klimas for making various types of interactive fiction, Twine utilizes hypertext to allow you the map out a narrative, or rather the flow of one. No programming knowledge required.

Using this tool can allow you to map out key moments, set-pieces, and the points in which your narrative might diverge based on player choice. As a result of the simplicity of the software, this tool need only be as complex as you require it to be. With an easy to update, intuitive design, this tool is a wonderful asset for any GM.

Besides literal narrative design tools, another important skill or lesson is to prioritize and encourage player agency over any preconceived notion of authorial intent. This is an interactive medium, and as such you should always leave room in your narrative for your players to alter or challenge the world around them. After all, their fun IS your fun, and everybody at the table should be each others biggest fans. Anything you can do to encourage this is your number one priority.

Communication & Safety

No matter the story, no matter the system, no matter the themes or topics explored, your table must be a safe one. This safety extends to everyone at your table, including you. The best tool at your disposal to ensure that this is the case, is communication.

Establishing expectations and a degree of mutual understanding are an excellent way to initiate this communication, and there are several assets to facilitate the process. One of the best and most intuitive of these assets is consent tools. Despite what some in the hobby might have you believe, the use of these tools is not, and should not, be a contentious topic.

As mentioned above, the safety of everyone at your table should be non-negotiable. If an individual at your table takes issue with this fact, nobody at the table owes them a debate. There’s no place for bullies in this hobby.

Pictured: An example of a safety and consent checklist utilizing Lines & Veils. Courtesy of Monte Cook Games

Consent & Safety tools can be as formal and informal as suits your needs. Some tables might be comfortable with open discussion of topics or themes that they would rather avoid, whilst others might find the veil of anonymity better allows them to express these facts. A simple conversation with your table will tell you which of these is best suited for your needs.

A few examples of consent & safety tools are:

Lines & Veils
A checklist of topics, themes, and various acts that might come up in a game. This sheet allows your players to indicate which themes they are fine experiencing, which topics might require discussion (Veils), and which topics they would prefer to avoid entirely (Lines), by filling out either the respective Green, Yellow, or Red bubble. Most versions of these sheets also include copious room for either the GM or players to add additional topics that might not otherwise be mentioned. After the form is filled out, it is handed to the GM, who will then compile a list of the listed lines and veils to share with the table. The most commonly utilized version of this tool is printed by Monte Cook Games and is a free download.

Designed by John Stavropoulos, the X-Card allows your players to clearly indicate a need to pause, stop, or otherwise shift scenes due to their current comfort levels, no questions asked. Much like the other safety tools listed, simply the introduction or an explanation of this tool’s inclusion can establish a better degree of understanding across your table.

Script Change
This tool provides everyone at the table a higher degree of granular control over the flow of play in difficult moments by utilizing a number of clearly marked cards. The Fast Forward card indicates that a player would appreciate a fade-to-black from the current scene, and to transition to the next. Rewind allows a player to indicate that they would appreciate another attempt at a scene that just occurred. Slow-Motion indicates that a player would appreciate if the current scene was handled cautiously and carefully. Finally, the stop and pause cards do precisely as described, and indicate a need for a break from the current scene (whether temporary or permanent). These tools can be excellent if your game is exploring difficult topics or themes, as participatory consent is a fluid thing and moment-to-moment comfort can shift quicker than some players might be comfortable communicating with words. Script Change was designed by Brie Sheldon.


Whether or not you include any of these tools at your table, it’s imperative that you maintain the flow of communication. This might mean one on one conversations after the session, after-session table check-ins, or even just making absolutely certain that everyone at your table knows that they have a voice, and they will be heard.

As always, if there’s something we covered only briefly in this article that you’d like us to speak more on, let us know in the comments!

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