Welcome to the show!
Being a DM is one of the more rewarding things you can do in the gaming space. It is the only opportunity I've ever had to truly create anything I want. After some time DMing you will struggle to enjoy videogames the same way, longing for the same levels of creative freedom. On the other hand, the pressure has never been higher.
Running a game can be very daunting for folks not used to it, so I thought I would put together some resources I've found extremely useful over the last 12 months of DMing. I'll try to update this post with new information as I find it.
Basic Starter Kit
- DM Cheat Sheet v2.0
- DnD 5e Basic Rules
- Initiative Tracker
- Some of of note-keeping software
- Make like 20 NPCs and store them somewhere that is easy to get. I use this site.
- A starting basic adventure.
- Dice or a dice-rolling app. iOS or Android
Once you have all that, sit down and read through all of the basic rules. Feel annoyed and overwhelmed? Welcome to being a DM at first. Power through and then take a break and listen to a podcast.
- https://www.jointhepartypod.com/ is a well-made DnD 5e podcast that explains all the rules as they go. This means you will get an explanation for what the characters did and why the GM did what they did.
After listening to the rules and the first 10 episodes of Join the Party, you are almost ready to start DMing. Here are some mistakes I made and what I should have done, so you don't make the same errors.
- Don't let players roll their own characters at home. Make them do it in front of you because even otherwise good people tend to fudge some numbers and make some statistically unlikely characters.
- Ask people to stick to classes and races in the PHB, or the players handbook, at first. This reduces the number of things you'll need to account for as a new DM and also prevents players who enjoy creating super-powered characters from taking too much advantage.
- Do a few practice sessions of combat where you alternate between being the DM and being the player. It'll get you more experienced with combat.
- Spells work under more complicated rules, so try a few of those out as well.
- Have a session 0. This is where you all meet, chat about what you expect from the game and what you like. Here are some things you are going to want to discuss before you start playing together:
* Do you like exploration, combat or role-playing? See what parts of DnD your particular group likes
* How important is following the rules vs keeping the flow going? You are going to have to make judgement calls in the middle of games that might not be right or consistent with the rules. See if players are ok with this.
* Do you care if we do a custom campaign vs pre-written adventures? At first you'll want the security of the pre-written stuff
Alright you professional DM, you are out there rocking and rolling, going through some pre-written adventures. Hopefully you are getting the hang of combat encounters and figuring out what parts of DMing you like vs which are a chore. For me I hate combat but love improv storytelling, where I try to say yes to the player whenever I can and build on top of their responses. But everyone is different.
Here are some things you will want to start to think about as you master the basics and begin to feel more comfortable in the chair:
- Do you want to roll in front of players or behind the screen? This is a style decision and one I encourage people to think about. Rolling in front of players can be exciting since you also don't control what happens, but you need to be ok with what might happen as a result.
- Start to add more flavor to your scenes. Maybe instead of "the sword misses" it "embeds itself into the stone". The more layers you start to add to the world, the more your players will get invested.
- Don't be afraid to let things go off the rails. Games are often the most fun when players do something really unexpected, so don't be afraid to let that ride as long as it doesn't break the whole session. It is often as exciting for you as for them.
- Maps! Visual aids help a lot when running a game. For in-person games I use a dry erase board and online I tend to steal maps from the following:
- Dyson Maps
My Favorite Pre-Made Adventures
- Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
- Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
- Tales of the Yawning Portal
Common new DM questions
- Q: Can I buy the PDFs of official DnD 5e adventures?
- A: No, but you can buy them in the DnDBeyond app and search them that way
- Q: How hard it is to write a custom campaign?
- A: Totally depends! I recommend starting with a pre-made campaign and then if you feel more comfortable, writing small branching adventures off that main story. It takes some of the pressure off the daily prep work and lets you start to make a world.