The world of a Dungeon Master is a beautiful thing. We grow up playing games and watching movies in brilliant fantasy worlds and the one day, we discover that we can create our own. What makes this better, is that with Role Playing Games, we can explore our creation with others and arguably create a better and more immersive experience than we can find in any video game or movie. While I could continue with more reasons as to why Role Playing Games and specifically, Dungeons & Dragons, can be superior to other mediums, I will put table that for now in favor of a topic I am a little more passionate about; the role of the Dungeon Master. Specifically, I want to take what I have learned in my relatively short time as a DM to help anyone else who may be on the fence of jumping from Player to Dungeon Master.
To begin with there is a misconception that to be a Dungeon Master, one must cut their teeth and do their time as a player first. I hear all the time from people that are interested in running a game but are worried that they are too new or have never played at all. I had played a few Role Playing Games before when my wife and I became interested in D&D. She had never played anything like it before and I had never actually played in that system, but we knew we wanted to play and were going to do what we could to make it happen. I loved the idea of world creation and I knew my wife had already created multiple characters in her head so I decided to try my hand at being a Dungeon Master.
Our group is made up entirely of people with no prior RPG experience so we are all experiencing this for the first time together. That being said, I still gave myself a high level of responsibility as I tend to put more weight on my shoulders in these situations than I probably should. I set my own bar pretty high watching Matt Mercer on Critical Role and wanted to be good. I was able to get it going and my players seem to enjoy themselves and in the end, is that what is important? I wanted to present a couple of things I found to be useful while taking on the role of DM for the first time and especially with no prior D&D experience.
To start out, decide what you want to do. Don’t take on any role unless it’s something you actually want to do. A DM who is taking on that responsibility out of a sense of obligation will lack the drive to create a beautifully vivid world as all they really want to do is play in a world of another’s design. Don’t step up just because you feel that if you don’t, then nobody will. Now if you are on the fence and worried about whether or not you would be good at it but you want to someday try it, then by all means get that Dungeon Master’s Guide and get to it.
That being said, the Dungeon Master’s Guide is super useful, but if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself using the Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual much more often, even more so if you are running a Pre-Made Adventure which I will talk about below. The Player’s Handbook is essential for understanding combat and mechanics as that isn’t covered in the other books. I told myself at first the Monster Manual was not as important but I can’t express enough how nice it is to be able to just look up any creature on the spot with everything you need on them available at your finger tips.
It is a good idea to start out with something pre-made. While Homebrew is awesome, it can be time consuming at first to plan sessions and that just gets exasperated when you add trying to write everything else in as well. There are tons of great campaigns published officially by Wizards of the Coast as well as tons of stuff published on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Start here and see what you like. Now, just because the adventure is pre-made, doesn’t mean you can’t tweak it more to your liking. I have added entire sections to my current premade adventure as well as changed things to better fit my players and the story we want to build.
Have a manageable group when you start out. Don’t try to have too many players as it begins to be unwieldy. It’s typically a good idea to keep it down to around 3-5 players for a newer DM. I still don’t know how Matt Mercer runs his games with 8 players. Besides just numbers, make sure that you are comfortable with the people you are playing with. There will come times when your players will disagree with you and your interpretation of the rules. You need to be willing to stand your ground when you need to and not just give in to avoid confrontation. I have been lucky enough to have players that understand that while they may disagree with me, my world is subject to my rules. It is also important not to take this too far to the other extreme and to avoid becoming a tyrant. Remember you are on the same side as your players. You want them succeed.
This is what I find important for new DM’s who are also new to the game. This is in no way an exhaustive list of how to be a Dungeon Master but I hope it will help some people take that first step. As you continue on, learn from the likes of Satine Pheonix and Matt Mercer as they both have videos on Dungeon Master tips. Above all, remember that while those two are great DM’s, make it your world in the end. Take what you can learn and use it.
You should be ready to go forth into the world of your creation and try to run a game. Remember, nobody is going to perfect and few are even considered great when they start out. What is important is that you’re having fun and creating an enjoyable experience for your players. So get out there and have fun. It’s your world, we just live in it.
What do you think? How did your step into DMing start? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter