Your first few games of Dungeons & Dragons can be daunting, and doubly so if you’ve elected to fill the role of the Dungeon Master.
While at the table, the DM will need to fulfill multiple positions including coach, referee, and narrator. The following three tips will ease you into running the game and ensure that you and your players have an unforgettable experience playing the fifth edition of the world’s greatest roleplaying game.
Start Small. Many Dungeon Masters want to create their own worlds and narratives, but crafting elaborate adventures and campaigns is an immense task early on and a rudimentary understanding of the rules can hinder the momentum necessary to drive a complex story and result in a disheartening first experience.
Whether running the introductory adventure The Lost Mine of Phandelver – found in the 5th Edition Starter Set – or an adventure you’ve made yourself, it’s important to start small and allow yourself plenty of room to make mistakes.
Read the rules found in the Player’s Handbook, pick an environment, choose a setting, read up on one or two types of monsters, and send your adventurers on a short quest that requires them to traverse this environment in order to interact with these monsters in this setting. Give them some gold and one or two pieces of equipment if they successfully complete the quest.
Leave Room for Improvisation. It’s impossible to prepare for everything that your players are going to think up. Time spent fleshing out intricate backgrounds for the good people of Daggerford is wasted when your adventurers decide that they don’t want to go to Daggerford, but instead would rather sleep in the woods on the outskirts of town. In order to save yourself from wasting hours, or even days, of preparation, you should avoid going into too much detail when creating non-player characters, locations, monsters, etc.
Give every non-player character you make a name and one or two defining features (such as a big scar on their right eye or six fingers on their left hand) so that players can easily identify them, but let the finer details come out while you’re actually playing the game. Once a character, location, monster, etc. has shown up in your game, keep an index card with their name and key features – as well as what happened to them in the game – on hand for later sessions.
Stop. Collaborate and Listen. Often times new Dungeon Masters confuse their role as a litigator with that of a tyrant, but Dungeons & Dragons is a collaborative storytelling experience, with both the DM and the players contributing to what’s happening in the narrative. Being responsible for creating the entirety of the world that your players inhabit is intimidating, but remember that you are all gathered together to play a game and have fun – yes, even the Dungeon Master.
Get into the habit of asking your players questions about their characters, such as “Having been here before, what’s your impression of Baldur’s Gate?” and “Have you fought bugbears before? If so, how did that go for you?” This gets players in the mindset of thinking about the world from their character’s perspective and allows them to contribute to the world-building, taking some of the load off of you.
If you’re really comfortable with your group, you can even field them questions like “What’s a good name for a nervous shop owner?” and work together at the table to come up with a non-player character’s foundation. The more you include your players in your world, the more invested they will become.
There’s no limit to the number of tools available for a DM to consider, but keeping these three tips in mind will help any new Dungeon Master feel right at home.
If you’re interested in learning more about being a better Dungeon Master, check out Matt Colville’s YouTube series Running the Game here.