Unsolicited Advice for New and Aspiring Dungeon Masters

Playing Dungeons & Dragons is fun as hell. This isn’t an opinion, mind you, it’s a dang fact. True, the game’s very name conjures up many associations, not all of which are positive. While we as a society enjoy the benefits (and the drawbacks) of not living in an age where people are afraid of expressing and experimenting with their inner dorkdoms, D&D still carries a fair amount of baggage with it. There are a lot of rules. The idea of role-playing a character is off-putting to many. Game sessions take hours. All of these things remain true.

But then you start playing and all of these edges start to smooth over. You find that you only have to worry about the rules that apply to your character, and that you only have to do as much play-acting as you’re comfortable with, and that the hours fly by once the game gets going. Soon enough, you’ve bought your own Player’s Handbook, and your own dice, and you start spending your free time creating new characters, and thinking about what kind of campaign you would run if you were a Dungeon Master.

And then not long after that, you’re bringing up D&D in casual conversation, and one of your friends mentions that she’s always been vaguely interested in playing, but didn’t know how to get into it, and then your other friend is talking about how he would also like to try his hand at playing, and before you know it you’ve also bought a Dungeon Master’s Guide and a Monster Manual and a DM screen and a campaign module and holy crap everyone’s coming over tomorrow to play and you’re note sure if your ready to run the game and no one’s going to have fun and you’ll be out like, five friends after the sessions is over and AGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH

It’s ok. Take a deep breath. You’ll get through this. Not only will you get through this, everyone is gonna have fun, too. I promise. When you’re running your first few games and find yourself feeling in over your head, here’s a few pointers I’ve picked up from DMing that have kept me from losing my cool:

No one expects you to remember everything. Again, D&D has a lot of rules to begin with, and campaign modules are full of specific trap triggers and ambush points and story scenes and weird magic effects and all this other little stuff to keep track of. You’re not going to remember every single thing, and that’s OK! Let yourself off the hook for not remembering that the cave floor is covered in sentient mold, or that the giant treasure pile is a magical illusion, or that the kobolds spring their ambush in this specific corridor, or whatever. You can always go back and correct yourself as long as you’re not a dick about it, or simply move on if that’s easier.

Stay organized, and organize your DM materials in a way that makes sense for you. Even though you’re not going to get yourself hung up on remembering each and every thing that’s happening, you’re still going to have a lot of things to keep track of and a lot of books to switch back and forth between. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to look stuff up that works for you. Personally, I like bookmarking a handful of important pages in the module book (usually just maps, as these tend to be placed at the front of the chapters describing what’s in each location) and keeping a separate notebook of additional reference notes and reminders on each area in the dungeon. This way I have some things directly bookmarked, but not so many I’m having trouble keeping the bookmarks straight. Again, this is what works for me. Maybe you need more things bookmarked, or fewer things, or you want to eschew bookmarks entirely in favor of your own system. Allow yourself to experiment with different ways of keeping track of things.

Remember to relax. As long as you’re playing with friends and people you like, everyone is going to have fun. You may feel as though you’re under a microscope while you’re DMing, but trust me, you’re not. Do you need to take a few minutes to check the module and set up the next encounter, or otherwise figure out what happens next? Take your time! Your players will check their phones or chat or whatever. They’re not gonna sit and stew silently while they think about how much you suck at this.

Ultimately, the goal of playing D&D is hanging out and having fun, and they’re gonna have fun even if you mess stuff up or stammer or trip yourself up trying to remember rules. It’s OK: you got this, and even when you don’t got this, you still got this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s