- Lack of interest in ads
- Lack of player motivation
- Running a Play-by-Post game for the first time
- Helping the PCs do well
- Providing enough information to the players
To begin to address these issues, I’ve decided to take into my own hands the writing of an article (or series of articles) detailing some principles that I think can be applied nearly universally to several of these issues.
As to the first issue I listed, there is an excellent resource as for the formatting and wording of advertisements for games that can be found here. It has been looked at decently enough (600+ views), but no one has ever commented on it, so I’m not sure what sort of interest it actually got. It is however an excellent resource if you’re looking for somewhere to start as far as advertisements go. There are a few things I’d like to add to it, however, and I’d also like to detail some roles that the DM takes on while in game. Often, in the core rulebooks of certain systems, the writers have taken the time to explain the roles of the DM. However, because of the location of such information (usually right at the very beginning), most people tend to skip it I believe. So, what makes an ad and a DM? Let’s take a look.
Professionalism is the biggest thing about being an ad writer and DM. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, then how are other people supposed to know what you’re talking about? Take time to draft your ad. Leave it alone for a day or so. Then, come back and re-read it. Proof it. Edit it. Change things you decided you don’t want. Players can only apply for games that they don’t have to decipher what’s going on. Players want you to be direct, correct, and intentional. Extraneous information can go other places, namely the handy-dandy sub-forums of your game. Get in, get out. Tell players exactly what they need to know, and leave it at that. Lists can be your best friend here, especially when you’re trying to avoid long-winded sentences that can leave the reader at a different place than when they started.
The same idea goes for your campaign. Make sure you understand exactly what’s supposed to happen and when. But don’t make the game a straight line, unless that’s exactly what you plan to run and advertise. Players who make decisions are players who are involved in the game. Giving players the space to do that is vital to a successful game, but when push comes to shove, you need to have the next stepping stone, and it’s your job to make sure that the players understand that ultimately you decide where the game goes.
You’re in charge, so don’t be afraid to let it show. If you don’t want something in your game, make certain that people won’t ask you about it. Again, lists are very handy for this. Having a list of all the things you specifically do and don’t want in the game can make or break a player’s decision to join. If the player reads your “Don’t do this” list and decides that the game isn’t for them, then they probably weren’t the sort of player you were looking for anyway. Remember, you are the Dungeon Master. You control of what sort of game the players ultimately experience. You say what flies and what doesn’t. If you don’t want Chaotic Evil Sorcerers who focus in Necromancy, then by all means, don’t allow them.
Although, it is noteworthy that there are some things you won’t think of. You weren’t expecting a player to apply with a Beguiler/Knight/Marshal/Barbarian/Warblade. At this point, things start to come down to how well you handle interaction with your players. If the player can reasonably explain why they want to play the multi-classed monstrosity, then perhaps you should allow it. Being open to ideas and suggestions is a large part of encouraging players to want to play in your game. If you aren’t going to allow multi-classing period, explain why. Players have a right to know the reason for anything you do, in-game and out-of-game.
In line with that, it's okay to say 'no'. If you feel that a player, book, feat, etc. wouldn't fit in with the game/setting, it's okay to say so. A lot of hassle can be avoided just by saying 'no', but if a player asks why, make sure you can explain your decision to them. It's not fair to them for you to say 'no' just because you can. However, a warning: once you've made your decision, stick to it. If you can't immediately commit to an answer, say you need to sleep on the question or think about it for a day or two before you answer. Once you decide something, it's best to not go back on that decision, for the sake of fairness for all players. Why should Player A get access to a book, but Player B shouldn't?
Similarly, if a player asks about something, make sure you are clear and direct in your answer. If you don't want a player to be doing something, just let them know. Don't say, "Oh, okay, you can do that, but you'll get in a lot of trouble with a bunch of people." That's neither fun nor fair. Granted, some things require responses like that (based on setting and such), however, if you're trying to get a player to do what you want, just tell them you want them to do something. If you want them to take out their levels in DoctorNinja, tell them so. This point mainly pertains to character creation, but certain things in-game can be treated similarly, such as when a player wishes to cast Burning Hands in the sewers that span throughout an entire city, which would cause said city to explode and be destroyed. It's because of things like that that you must always be sure to explain why you say you want something a certain way.
Be nice. DMs, while they are ultimately the decider of the fate of the players, are there to provide a fun and entertaining experience. A great way to do this is one of the simplest: Be nice. Answer questions, make jokes, get along with people. If the players think you’re just a distant figure who controls the game, you’re little more than a person out to get their characters. The players won’t really be able to understand where you’re coming from if you don’t get to know them. The players may even resent you for not communicating and being interactive with them, and Player-DM friction is a no-no. The last thing you want is for the players to hate you. This kills games faster than anything else. If you’re a jerk, you’ll be treated like one.
On the flip side, there is such a thing as being too nice. If you allow every little slip, every little hiccup to slide, then there begins to be a problem with professionalism. If you forgive a player for not knowing how to roll a skill every single time, the other players may begin to question whether you really care about how smooth the game runs. At that point, it’s either time to take that player aside (via PM) and ask him if he’s sure he knows what he’s doing. As part of the job of being a DM, you’re expected to be able to identify when a player knows how things work, at least at the base level. If you have suspicions about how much a player knows about the system at hand, ask! It’s a horrible thing to recruit several people and then find out three of them have never used the system before. At least if you know about it, you can prepare yourself to teach about the game and system, which ultimately helps everyone.
Be knowledgeable. A wise man once said, “A DM can run any game as long as he knows where to find the rules for what his players want to do.” If you yourself don’t understand the rules of the system and where to find information about certain abilities the players (and NPCs) have, then how can you be expected to run a clean and efficient game? Eventually it comes to you slaving over books for every single action. Granted, this will teach you the game, but it isn’t fun. And when a game isn’t fun, it’s work. And when a game becomes more work than fun, it dies. So know what you’re talking about, where that information can be found (citing your sources isn’t just for people with a Doctorate in English.), and how you as a DM interpret what the book says. If there’s something ambiguous, clarify how that information should be interpreted. If you know what you’re talking about, then you can expect your players to know what they’re talking about.
Similarly, know the many, many useful functions of the Myth Weavers BBC code. If you know how to properly utilize the Private tags, the roll tags, dice tags, OOC tags, etc., you can effectively run through the mechanics heavy portions of games. Make sure that your players know the expected way to format dice rolls, if any. If you’re not very big on how it’s formatted (the “As long as I can read it, I’m good.” attitude) then say so. The whole process of being an effective and entertaining DM is through communication. Being able to communicate mechanical and formatting information is as crucial as knowing the rules of the system/setting you’re running.
Set the pace. A big game-killer is infrequent posting rates. Setting an expected rate of posting can lead to nearly-constant movement of the game. If you can’t keep up, ask the players to slow down. If the game is moving too slowly, ask the players to post more frequently. Be reasonable, though. You can’t expect your players to go from a post a day to seven or eight posts a day (Unless that’s the pace the game is already moving at.). When you need to take a break, make it known! If something big comes up in real life, take the time you need to deal with it. Just make sure you take the time to make a short post about your leave of absence. If you can’t get to it, or the matter at hand is too pressing, then when you return you may find that the players of the games you left have moved on to bigger and better things. If you let them know that you’re coming back, and how soon, you’ll have a set of players eager to get back to the game when you return. Real life always takes precedence over any play-by-post game. If your players can’t understand this, then it’s time to find a new group.
Reasonable posting rates can include a post a day, a post every other day, a few posts a week, etc. Ultimately it comes down to how quickly you want the game to progress. If you have work and school and only have access to the computer for a few hours every day, a posting rate of once every other day or more infrequently may be necessary for you to keep up with the game. It can also be expected that if you have multiple games running at the same time that with some games you need to start reducing the posting rate of some of them. I myself currently run several games and I can’t always guarantee that I’m going to get to all of them every day. As such, the posting rate for some of my games is much more relaxed than others.
P.R.O.P.O.G.A.T.E. Now, this acronym is something that can be explained very simply: Professionalism, Responsibility, Originality, Punctuality, Openness, Generosity, Authority, Tenacity, Efficacy. When in doubt, follow these principles. Some of them are self-explanatory. Others are explained within this article. All of them are necessary for being an effective and generally well-liked DM. Even players can benefit from following the P.R.O.P.O.G.A.T.E. method.
So, what is a DM? He is a professional, a friend, a teacher, a scholar, a writer, and an interpreter. He’s a character, the pace car, an artist, a debater, and ultimately he’s the guy who has to deal with the craziness, unreasonableness, hilarity, and intelligence of the players.
And don’t forget, when in doubt, P.R.O.P.O.G.A.T.E.!
Note: Most of this is my opinion based on observations I've made. Feel free to debate points, point out things I missed, ask questions, etc. This is just to help anyone who may or may not be a first-time DM, and even those who have been DMing for a while. Comments such as, "This is terrible, go die in a fire." aren't helping and will probably be caught by a Mod. :P