Dungeons and Dragons has been an entertaining pastime since it’s release in the 1970s, reaching its 5th edition in 2014. If you are entirely new to the game, or you’ve been playing for a while, you might feel the itch to try being the Dungeon Master, or DM.
There are some things you need to know before stepping into those shoes. These important tidbits will help you become a successful DM and make the game more fun for everyone involved. Dungeons and Dragons is a fun game, but it can be difficult to jump into, so we hope this helps you begin your journey.
10 Size Matters
As comedic as this entry’s title is, it is one lesson that is learned quickly by many new DMs. After binging content like Critical Role or any of the Stream Of Many Eyes one-shots, it can be tempting to pull together a large group of players. All of your favorites are doing it, so why can’t you?
The reason they can do it is a wealth of experience that first time DMs don’t have. Large groups become chaotic at the tip of a hat, and a lack of experience with these situations can lead to disdain. We recommend a small 2-3 person party for your first time.
9 Plans Will Absolutely Change
In preparation for your first meeting, you’ll put a lot of work into creating an idea you plan to run. Whether that is a homebrewed world where all your characters are college students transported into the game, or you’re running the Lost Mines of Phandelver, you need to know that these will change.
No matter what, there will be moments where you expect your players to behave a certain way, but they go against that to break into some random NPC’s home. It might be annoying at first, but it can create some of the best moments.
8 Challenge Ratings Who?
One of the most confusing parts of Dungeons and Dragons are challenge ratings for monsters. Challenge ratings, or CRs, are the guidelines that Dungeons and Dragons uses to determine the power level of monsters as well as how you should hand out XP if you’re using that method of leveling instead of milestones.
The easiest way around this issue is to gauge your party against what the monsters can do. If there are two characters at level 3 and have a max of 20hp, don’t use a creature that has multi-attack with 12 average damage.
7 Players Have Free Will
An expansion of plans changing, you must recognize that some people don’t like being railroaded on a quest if they don’t need to be. If, during a session, the heroes decide to talk to the villain and join them, then that is the new path they are on.
Players will find ways to circumvent your plans, no matter how meticulously you have addressed every choice they could make. Part of the fun is that anything can happen. As a DM, this needs to be accepted as fact.
6 Allow Fun Moments
The most fun that can come out of Dungeons and Dragons are not scripted moments that have to happen for the plot. Rather they are the little moments when the party meets Thimblecrunk the Gnome, a space-filler NPC, at the bar and have a rousing conversation with him.
These moments need to happen in a story because levity needs to be included in stories. These fun moments you’ve heard of, such as the Great Gazebo, come from minor moments that impact the shape of your whole experience.
5 Study As Much As Possible
This sounds like the least fun part of Dungeons and Dragons, but it is important to know what you are doing. You really do need to have a familiarity with what is going on in the game, and that can be found in the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Be assured, you don’t need to know every piece of lore and content in these books, but you need to know the essentials. If you enter the game not knowing how initiative works, it is going to create an unpleasant environment for you and the players.
4 Rules Matter Until They Don’t
That being said, there are so many rules, rules substitutes, optional rules, and suggestions in both books and online that it can be overwhelming. This is where openness comes into play. Sometimes a player has a suggestion for a house rule and you can incorporate that.
Other times, the rules have specific requirements for things, but if you’re running something casually for fun, then encumbrance and exhaustion might not need to be put into your game. It is about what works for you and your players.
3 It Isn’t Your Story
If there is anything that you need to learn before your first session as a DM, it is that you might be assisting in telling the story, but it is not yours. You are a part of the group that is making the story. Yes, you should put out story beats, but that doesn’t mean you have final say over everything.
Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative storytelling project in the form of a game. If you don’t want someone doing something because it doesn’t fit with the story you imagined, you should probably rethink DM-ing.
2 You Will Make Mistakes
You will accidentally give your players an ultra-rare item because you misread something, or accidentally commit a total party kill because you sent three level 2 characters against a mind flayer. You’re a human trying something new, these things happen.
The best thing to do is learn from these mistakes and try not to make them again. Your players will understand because they’re going to make mistakes too. Work together and help each other as necessary.
1 Help On Both Sides
Speaking of helping each other, there are going to be different level players on both sides. If you are starting as a DM, you’ve likely been a player before or one of your players was a DM before. Since you are a team, it is important to help each other and to accept that help.
If you notice that a fighter isn’t using reactions or their second attack, you can help them out. If you have questions, you should feel comfortable asking your players, especially if they have been in your shoes. Have fun and work together.
Since new players are still jumping into Dungeons and Dragons 5e, there are some things you need to know before becoming a Dungeon Master.