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 tested approach


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 section.

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 treasure does.  

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 adventure?


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 direction.  


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 rule.


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 hard).


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.  


Be Fair, Be Consistent, Be prepared.


Game on, Game Fans


1 comment:

  1. Some of the best advice I got for DMing as an adult comes from the world of improvisational comedy. The rule is: "Yes, and..." If it's a reasonably interesting and usable detail that doesn't entirely derail the adventure/milieu/storyline, give your players some power and go with it - just be sure to add in something of your own. 5th Edition gives a little bit to this in the rules concerning inspiration.

    So, if a players are trekking through the woods and they run into a troll and a player says, "Oh, is there a bridge around here anywhere?" never respond flatly with a "No." That kills creativity. Instead, try a "Yes, and..." Such as:

    "Yes, and you hear whimpers from inside of turns out the troll has babies in there!"

    "Yes, and (a successful perception check) reveals a pair of beady eyes already up there...a lost commoner is quivering, hiding from the troll!"

    "Yes, and it's totally dilapidated If you wanna climb on it you're gonna have to make rolls with disadvantage."