Tips For New Dungeon Masters
Hello and welcome to The Goblin Gazette. Karthas here and today we will be talking about some tips for all you new Dungeon Masters out there. My hope is that this guide can answer any questions you may have. If you have any questions feel free to leave your questions below! You can also check out my other post where I talk about common mistakes made by most new Dungeon Masters!
So you’ve decided that Dungeon Masters are cool and you want to be one. Maybe it’s because none of your friends wanted to do it or maybe you just really enjoy world building. Either way, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Dungeon Masters are usually expected to be the most familiar with the rules, keep the story moving, and keep the players involved. Not to mention you have to make the story, the encounters, and the entire setting! Take a deep breath… don’t worry we’ve all been there, follow these steps and your first session will go off without a hitch!
Keep It Simple
I get it, you have this awesome story about a battle between rival factions, or a doomsday prophecy by Dragon Priests. That’s great! But let’s save that story for another time. Chances are as a new Dungeon Master you are still figuring out the rules, you’re certainly not ready to plan for a boss encounter 5 sessions in the future. Not to mention your players are probably relatively new to D&D as well. So save that story, write it down and use it at some point, just not right now.
Let me give you an example of a very simple session I always run for new players. If you’re struggling to come up with a simple story use this!
Plot: The players have been hired by a local farmer to investigate some missing goats. They head into the woods nearby and discover a group of goblins huddled around a campfire. Once they have dealt with the goblins, they are able to find an entrance to a goblin cave. Inside they move through the cave encountering traps along the way (false floor, trapdoor, ambush). Once they get to the end they find a goblin warchief has been stealing the goats.
See simple, fun, and easy. Like I said, I use this story for all of my new D&D players and they always have a blast playing!
Make Sure Your Players Are Ready To Work Together
If there is one thing that drives Dungeon Masters nuts it’s someone who isn’t a team player. As the Dungeon Master you want to make sure everybody is having fun. If you have a player who is constantly trying to betray the party, wants to secretly be evil in a good party, or is a loner, tell them they need to shape up or ship out. While this may be fine with a group that is really big into role playing, it will turn new players off immediately. Betrayal never feels good, and it’s a sure fire way to turn new players off to D&D.
Now you may be thinking, “But Karthas that is mean!” No it’s really not. Look at it this way, by the time you sit down to DM your first session you will have already spent many hours preparing the story, learning the rules, and designing maps. Your players on the other hand haven’t had to do any prep work except for maybe making their characters. The last thing you want is for all the time you spent preparing to be flushed down the drain because someone decided they didn’t want to be a team player.
Try To Get A Good Party Composition
This one is by no means a requirement but I have found it to be helpful. Most newcomers to D&D are interested in one thing, killing stuff. That is fine, and a party of 4 rangers could probably make their way through a few campaigns without any problems, but eventually you will notice the lack of tank and healer.
So you may be wondering what to do. Well there is some good news. In my experience most player preferences tend to vary and you won’t need to try and convince anybody to be a particular class. With that being said the slot that I usually have the most trouble filling is the healer. And while Healing Potions can certainly help fill this role, they may run into trouble down the road.
But if you feel that your party needs a healer the best way I’ve found to get people to sign up as the healer is to suggest it to the person who you think would make a good party leader. Typically the healer is the glue that holds the party together, literally and figuratively. If you let this person know that the healer tends to be the party leader and kind of calls the shots, people will jump at it.
Under Prepare Your Session, Over Prepare Your World
You may be wondering what this even means, well allow me to explain. Under preparing your session means you have a rough outline of what the players will be doing during the session. You will still need to put together the encounters, traps, and puzzles you want them to come across, just don’t plan out every single decision that they will make. Players have a way of coming up with something you didn’t think of. Over preparing your world means laying the foundation of the world the players will be in. If the players are going to be in Greenpine all game, have a lot of descriptions about the town. Who is the leader, the captain of the watch, what is the history of the town. Come up with a few notable locations and people. How does the town feel about magic? About gods? Adventurers? All of these things will help the players to visualize the town. And when, not if, your players decide to veer off the path you’ve planned for them you will easily be able to make up some stuff without having to wrack your brain for something.
Take it even farther than the town you’re in. Is it part of a Kingdom? What’s the name? What turmoil is the Kingdom currently in? (let’s be honest the Kingdom is always in turmoil). The more background you have filled up, the better. It will come in handy when you least expect, not to mention it helps the players get a better understanding of how they fit into the picture.
Need an Example?
I was doing a game with a mix of new players and experienced. They were in a town and they had to go to a tavern to get information from a barmaid. Instead of simply talking to the barmaid at the tavern, they decided to break into her house and see what was there. Then they decided to break into the barman’s house as well. I certainly didn’t have this planned out, but I knew enough about the town that I could easily make it up as we went.
So what does under prepare mean? By this I mean, don’t plot out every single action that the players have to take, because I can guarantee you that they will throw a big ‘ole wrench into your plans. And if, by some miracle, they don’t do this they will feel like you are forcing them to do everything instead of doing it because they want to.
Now some of the hand holding is implied, you obviously have created a whole story for them. Maybe they need to slay a dragon but instead decide to stay in town instead of slaying the dragon. Well then your players need to understand that if they don’t attack the dragon then it’s going to be pretty boring.
So just have a rough idea of what you want them to do, that way you can think on the fly and, because you’ve really fleshed out your setting, you will be able to keep the game interesting.
Mix It Up
As I mentioned before, most new players will just be interested in killing things. But you and your players will soon find that combat can actually get boring if you are doing it all of the time. Some of the most fun I’ve had playing D&D was not from combat, it was either from a puzzle or the players interacting with a NPC. Now I am by no means a heavy role player and neither are the people I play with, but you will be surprised how much fun a little bit of role playing can be. And once you do get to the combat it will be that much more exciting because it will be something fresh and new.
The Handbooks Are Your Bible
There is a reason that they release new handbooks with every D&D version. The handbooks will make each session so much easier. Dungeon Masters can’t remember every little rule and the same goes for players. Use the handbooks to look up spells, abilities, and anything else you need. As the DM check out the Dungeon Master’s Guide, there is a lot of helpful information in there to aid in running a session. Check out these links if you want to pick up the handbooks!
Rules Can Be Broken
The rule book is more of a reference on how to play. If you want to change something by all means go for it, this is called a House Rule. Maybe you think a glaive should be a finesse weapon, go for it. Maybe you want to make the health potions heal some more, that’s fine. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are consistent and that you have fun. There have been numerous times that I’ve not made my players roll the dice just because I loved how creative they were being. That’s fine. The rule of cool is certainly a valid rule!
There Must Be Food And Drinks
One of my favorite things about playing D&D is the food and drinks! As you will soon discover, a lot of the fun of D&D comes from just sitting around and talking with friends. It’s a great time to catch up and just relax. And food and talk go hand in hand. So make sure you stress to your players to bring food and drinks.
Dungeon Masters Never Brings Food Or Drinks
This isn’t actually a rule and you don’t have to follow it if you don’t want to, but here is my reasoning. Dungeon Masters spend a lot of time preparing for the session. As I’ve mentioned before, you have to learn the rules, build the campaign, design the maps, and possibly make or at least help make the player characters. It’s a lot of work, and that’s all before you even sit down to play. Not to mention you’ll probably be bringing the minis, handbooks, and anything else you’ll need for the game. Let your players bring the food and the drinks, you’ve already done enough.
Well I think that’s it for today. I hope that you’ve found these tips helpful. Remember at the end of the day the most important thing is to have fun. D&D can be a lot to take in, but with a good group and a Dungeon Master who just wants to have a good time, you’ll be sure to enjoy yourselves! Be sure to subscribe for more tips like these!
What tips do you have for new DMs? How can they make their first session go off without a hitch?