The Dungeon Master of a Dungeons & Dragons party has the most difficult job in the group, as players need to monitor their own character, while DMs need to keep track of the rest of the multiverse. It can be daunting for first-time beginner DMs to start their first D&D campaign, especially if they have never played the game either. There are different things the DM can do to prepare for their first campaign, in order to ensure a good time for all.
It’s fairly easy to find beginning D&D games in the current era, as many game stores will run starter sessions for those curious about tabletop RPGs. It is advised that new DMs try the game out as a player first under an experienced DM, as this is the best way to pick up the rules of the game and to see how everything unfolds. This option might not be available to everyone, depending on how big their local scene is, but there are tons of options for playing online, as well as D&D streaming shows and podcasts, like Critical Rolewhich can let players experience the game through their computers or phones.
The people who want to become DMs might already have ideas for epic homebrew campaigns in their head, with plans for creating the next Middle-earth or Narnia, while being blissfully unaware that the players will probably burn these fantasy realms to the ground, possibly by accident. The first-time DM should ensure that they’re properly prepared before starting a game, as there’s a lot more going on behind the screen than in front of it. It’s often best to start with a smaller D&D game, as it offers the players and the DM more of a chance to prepare themselves for epic adventures in the future.
Beginner Dungeon Masters Need The Tools Of The Trade
New D&D players have it easy, as they can show up with a character sheet, a pencil, and some dice, in order to be ready for the game, even if the players unknowingly avoid D&D‘s rules. The D&D resources and dice-rolling programs available online mean that even those items can be side-lined if necessary, though many people still prefer physical items for their games. The DM is not so lucky, as they’re expected to have access to the three core rulebooks, the campaign book (if running a published game), and a DM screen at the minimum, though some prefer to run from a laptop or tablet. . Core rulebooks are even available on services like D&D Beyond.
A lot of DMs also choose to invest in a battle mat. These are laminated foldable grid maps, which can be drawn on using hi-lighters or chalk markers, and then easily wiped clean. The purpose of these maps is to make it easy to track everyone’s position in combat, though games that won’t feature many battles shouldn’t be too concerned about using one. The upcoming D&D Terrain Case will have segmented maps that can be clipped together, and the Dungeon Master’s Screen: Wilderness Kit comes with a small battle map, but there are plenty of larger maps available online, which can be used to draw entire dungeons on. There are some DMs who like to have a selection of minis on hand to represent the monsters on battle maps, but coins or six-sided dice can perform the same function. It’s worth checking sites like eBay for boxes of cheap minis, even if they’re figures from games like Pathfinder or Warhammeras they serve the same purpose and are usually the right size for a battle map.
It’s possible for DMs to build a custom DM screen using four pieces of cardboard and some tape. It helps to write some of the basic rules of D&D on the DM’s side of the screen, such as the effects of the different conditions, the modifiers for different bonuses, and the costs for basic commodities. Luckily, there are plenty of official D&D DM screens that have this information written out already. The DM should also consider printing out some random character and town names to keep behind the screen, in case the players go off track, and the DM needs to create some people & places for them.
Campaign Scale Is Important For New D&D Games & DMs
It’s tempting to see something like The Wild Beyond the Witchlight or Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus sitting on a game store shelf and wanting to run it, but DMs should be careful about jumping into the deep end. There are some D&D campaigns designed around a tight schedule, such as Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, where the DM can get by with only learning each chapter of the book at a time, but it always helps to have a broader understanding of the campaign as a whole. This allows the DM to drop hints and foreshadow the events to come while avoiding any events that might contradict future plot points.
A first-time DM should avoid starting an epic campaign or building an entire homebrew setting for their first game, and focus on the fundamentals for their first few sessions. To this end, the D&D Starter Set or one of the low-level adventures in the D&D adventure anthologies (like Candlekeep Mysteries or Tales from the Yawning Portal) is a much better choice. Even just clipping the first dungeon out of the Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure or sticking to another Starter Set like Dragons of Stormwreck Isle and using a single dungeon in isolation is a good idea. These low-level games and one-off adventures are designed to be beginner-friendly for both sides of the screen. The DM won’t have as much to keep track of during these games and can focus on learning the rules and managing the table as a whole. Once they have a few sessions under their belt, they can consider migrating to a more in-depth campaign.
Learning The Needs Of The Players Is A Key Skill For New DMs
Before the DM starts their game, they will need to find some players. This is a lot easier now than it used to be, thanks to the option of forming a D&D group online via social media and other websites to check local areas for players, and the presence of different game shops around in major cities across the world. When starting a new game, the DM should aim for 3-5 players, with the lower-end being more manageable, and the higher-end allowing for people to miss a session and not stop the game. The DM should expect that not everyone will be able to sustain a long campaign, as real life tends to get in the way, and the faces they see around the table will change over time.
It’s vitally important that D&D players and DMs run a Session Zero. This is an informal gathering which can happen in-person or online before the game begins. The purpose of a Session Zero is to lay out any preferences the players have, any subject matter they wish to avoid in their games, the use of any house rules across the board, and any etiquette rules they wish to apply beforehand. Session Zero is also helpful for allowing the group to hash out their character concepts before the game and potentially tie the history of the party together. It is important that every member of a Dungeons & Dragon party feels comfortable during a game and it often falls to the DM to enforce rules, both inside and outside the game, whenever matters need need to be dealt with.
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