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Monday, September 12, 2016
Getting Started as the Dungeon Master
Realistically, we should have put an article
like this together sooner. It’s nearly impossible to play a game of
Dungeons and Dragons without a Dungeon Master, and we’ve got some ideas and
suggestions to make your first game go off without a hitch. Being a
Dungeon Master can be tricky, so you need to figure out what things you might
need in order to make the job easier for you. Remember, it’s just a game,
and if you aren’t having fun, you might not be seeing the point the way the
rest of us do.
What is a Dungeon Master? Well, a Dungeon
Master is the storytelling player of a game of Dungeons and Dragons. They
are responsible for the world that operates around the other players.
They control the weather, the environment, the people and the monsters
that the other players have to overcome. Nothing serious right, you just
have to control the entire world around the rest of the players and keep them
entertained while telling a story. No Pressure, right?
If you’re panicking, stop, its okay, take a deep
breath. Being a Dungeon master can be as simple or as hard as you want to
make it. No one is expecting you to be Matt Mercer or Chris Perkins on
your first time out, and you shouldn’t either. Focus on the story you’re
going to tell and the adventure you are running.
Our suggestion for the first adventure to run is
probably going to default to Lost Mines of Phandelver. It’s the adventure
that comes with the Dungeons and Dragons Starter set and is a wonderful way to
get acquainted with running the game in both combat and social interaction
challenges. Prepping for the adventure is going to follow our reasonably
Read the adventure all the way through
Take Notes on everything
Read through the section you’re going to be
running for your next session.
Make sure you understand your notes on that
Make sure you’ve read through the Monster Manual
entries for the monsters you’re using. Make extra sure you know how any
weird abilities work.
Make sure you’ve generated any random treasure
the adventure needs you to.
Make sure you know what any of the magical
Read through the adventure section again
We like the adventurer’s league suggestions for
what information will help you keep track of character information. For
every character in your game, record the following information
Passive Perception score
Background Traits that may be important (You’ll
know which ones are going to be important if you’ve done your reading homework)
We suggest a cheat sheet with an extra slot for
initiative so you can track the players in a combat round, (if you can find
let’s say a magnetic one with extra slots for monsters grab that one too).
Having all of this information in one place that’s easy to
reference is going to make life a lot easier for you because you won’t have to
keep asking the players.
We also suggest that you have a Dungeon Master’s
Screen. Even if you don’t use the charts and tables on the screen, it
gives you a place to keep your notes and roll dice in secret. There are
several screens available, and find the one you like the most.
So with a screen, your adventure, and your
notes, you’re ready right?
We also suggest that you have dice. We
think at least three sets of dice for your use is a minimum, and having a
couple of sets of loaners in case someone forgets theirs, or is a new player
and doesn’t have dice.
Writing instruments for any notes you need to
take, or messages you need to pass are also essential.
So now you’ve got your dice, your pencils, your
screen, your adventure, and your notes, you’re good, right?
Yes, you could run your adventure with this
setup and probably have a perfectly happy session. We’ll suggest three
more things for maximum fun.
A Map can be very handy for folks who process
visually. We suggest a blank, square gridded map with 1 inch squares.
The scale is right for most 28mm miniature companies, and with the
addition of dry erase markers, you can draw whatever dungeon/castle/encounter
area you want.
If you’re going to take the step of getting a
map, you probably need something to represent monsters and characters on the
map. You can use anything you want for icons, as long as you can keep
them separate in your head. There are hundreds of providers for pawns,
minis, and tokens that fill this role, so find the one that suits your needs.
This one sounds like it should be essential, but
you can get by without a Dungeon Master’s guide at the table for a little
while. Make sure that you understand any special encounter circumstances,
treasure, and unusual rules and take copious notes. It’s a good idea to
have a complete core set of the rules within arm’s reach, but if you’re running
Lost Mines for your first adventure, you don’t HAVE to have it. You can
get by with the Basic DMG for a while.
We think a bag or container to store everything
in will also get you by.
Now for the hard part, how do I run an
Take your time. Don’t rush through things.
Play out each scene in the adventure, and make sure that the players are
the ones driving the action. They probably want to interact with their
environment and deal with people, things, and monsters. Let them to a
point, but if they’re starting to draw patterns in the dust to a find a secret
door that isn’t there, you can give them a helpful nudge in the right
If you’re running a published adventure (and
there are lots of options to choose from), it will give you text boxes to read
aloud and notes for you to tell you what’s going on in the adventure. If
the players come up with something the adventure didn’t plan for, don’t panic,
as much as you may want to. You are the person who decides how things
happen in the game, and we’re going to give you our best advice on how to
handle a situation outside the rules.
If this is like a situation described in a
different rule, give that rule a good hard thought and if it fits, use that
If the situation isn’t something that’s happened
during a game before, make up the answer you think is the fairest for the
situation at hand. An okay ruling that keeps the game moving is better
than the perfect answer if it shuts the game down.
Be fair without being too nice. Make your
players work for their rewards. An adventure that is too easy is just as
bad as one that is too hard. They’ll thank you for providing an awesome
adventure that challenged them. (Or they should, adventure making is
We look at the role of the dungeon master as
being one half storyteller and one half impartial mediator. You are
trying to shape an entertaining scene for the rest of the players to interact
with while arbitrating the outcome of their actions in a fair manner.
Your job is not to kill the other players or turn their characters’ lives
into a living hell. You certainly can, but that isn’t the way we run
dungeons and dragons.