Success as a New Dungeon Master
I played Dungeons & Dragons once. A friend of mine ran a one shot for me and a few others who were curious about trying this game we had been hearing about our whole lives. I was hooked immediately. My Half-Orc Barbarian named Thundhar was a level 1 bad-ass with a battle-axe. When that game ended all I wanted to do was play again. Finding a more permanent campaign was difficult. I wasn’t aware of all the online resources yet so there was only one thing for me to do. Run the game myself!
Over the next 6 months I purchased the Players Handbook, The Dungeon Master’s Guide, The 5th Edition Starter Kit, some minis – I was ready to go! All I needed were some players. My cousin and her husband had expressed interest in trying out the game. To my surprise, my wife was actually really interested in trying as well. That settled it. We would play this game together and by God, have some fun.
In a previous post I highlighted some mistakes I made as a new dungeon master. While they were definitely mistakes, they didn’t ruin the experience. We had way too much fun each session to let DM screw ups mess it up! Below are the things I think I did really well. Hopefully they can help the other new DMs out there get over the hump, and run an enjoyable game themselves.
Personally, I learn best by doing. At the same time however, watching hundreds of hours of Critical Role didn’t hurt either. Critical Role, Geek and Sundry‘s hit D&D show, changed my life. It solidified Dungeons & Dragons as the tabletop game that I would become obsessed with, but it also made me feel OK with being obsessed with it (More on that in another post).
Mathew Mercer, the Voice Actor extraordinaire and Dungeon Master for the group, is truly awe inspiring to watch. The players that make the group Vox Machina are also actors in voice, screen and stage. I watched and studied the way Matt would interact with his players in roleplay of course, but I also payed very close attention to the mechanics of the game. I knew the difference between a “check” and a “saving throw” before I ever picked up The Player’s Handbook.
Watching and absorbing masters of the craft taught me how fun the game could be. It also showed me, through repetition, how combat works with turn orders, spells, movement, etc. When it came time to run my own game, I had already seen things happen hundreds of times so I was ready for anything…almost.
Rolling with it
OK, you can never be ready for anything. The best thing about D&D is that the players make all the choices. The DM just lets them know if they succeed or not. No matter how prepared you think you are, the players can make you unprepared with a single thought! New DMs are fearful of the following moment.
“Oh no! They were supposed to zig! They zagged! Now what??”
I never had that moment of panic. I think I did a good job of seeming prepared even when I wasn’t. For example, there is a named Goblin in the starter set. His name is Droop. He was a sad figure that the players were supposed to rescue from some bigger baddies and get some information from him. My players ended up befriending the little guy and taking him with them on the rest of the entire adventure. The barbarian wore him on his back, Luke and Yoda style. It was very important that this worked. The players were very excited at the potential of this, and made the rolls, so yeah – roll with it.
I roleplayed little Droop for 4 or 5 sessions. His character was essentially like a 6 year old who had totally killed people in the past. It was a blast to play and the players loved him. This was a totally unexpected part of the game, it was written nowhere, but I had to go with it and the game was much better for it.
Creating my own world
I made the decision after watching Matt Colville’s live stream of creating a world with his viewers that I was definitely going to make my own world as well. I wanted something that was totally unique to me. So I made Volarya!
I spent hours creating the map. (I made the digital version using Cartographer, one of my players drew this) There had to be mountains and forests and deserts. I needed to make sure there were oceans and rivers and lakes. Once that was completed I only needed to ask myself 2 questions.
- Who lives here?
That’s it. If you look at a map you just created, and ask that question over and over, you will come up with some amazing stories and settings. I had no idea I could come up with the political turmoil that exists in my world. Just sitting down and asking those questions made the world feel real to all of us.
A couple of my players want to DM their own campaigns and we are all going to play in the world I created. They are picking areas of the map where I haven’t fully fleshed it out yet, and making it their own. Not only did I get to create the overall canvas, but I get to see what other people are going to do with the other pockets of the world I created.
My cousin’s game is going to take place on a huge island in the southern ocean, covered in jungle. Who lives there? Why? I HAVE NO IDEA! I can’t wait to find out.
If you’re scared of starting your own game, don’t be. The best thing you can do is just go do it. Immerse yourself in the game by watching others who have come before you. Understand that you’re not perfect and you’ll never be prepared for everything. Create your own world. Ask the right questions and I promise you, the creativity will come.
Yes, you might make the mistakes I presented in the previous post, and you might make other ones, but I promise you’ll do a lot right and that is what makes it worth it 🙂
Study the game, be open minded, create your world, go play.