How to become a Dungeon Master?
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
If you want to DM your first D&D session you just need 3 things:
2. The Rules
3. An Adventure If you prefer playing in-person but there just aren’t any games around your area, then you could organize your own group of friends, and learn how to be a Dungeon Master yourself!
I don't think you need to go out and buy the 3 core manuals (The Player's Handbook, The Dungeon Master's Guide, and The Monster Manual) if this is your very first attempt. You may find you don't enjoy being a DM. There is no sense in spending lots of money on something you might not enjoy. Instead, use as many free resources as you like, and buy the books later when you ultimately fall in love with the game, but not before!
Wizards of the Coast has the basic rules available online or The 5th Edition D&D Starter Set which contains a decent starter adventure called “The Lost Mine of Phandelver,” some pre-made characters, a set of dice and a printed copy of the basic rules should you choose to spend money on it.
If you are a cheapo like me, follow this plan:
Step 1: Gather 3-4 friends who are interested in playing with you. You are not limited by this number, but the more people who play, the harder the game is to manage as a DM. Make this easy on yourself and don't add too many people starting out.
Step 2: Download and print out some pre-made character sheets that Wizards of the Coast has provided. Once your friends are hooked, then they can build their own characters from scratch. While it is fun to build new characters, it is not necessarily fun to learn how to build new characters for your first run. Keep it simple and use pre-built characters for your first run!
Also, be sure to check out and refer this in-depth post all about character sheets to your players. In this post, we go over every field so they'll know exactly what everything refers to.
Al that Wizards of the Coast has provided. Once your friends are hooked, then they can build their own characters from scratch. While it is fun to build new characters, it is not necessarily fun to learn how to build new characters for your first run. Keep it simple and use pre-built characters for your first run!l
Step 4: Acquire an adventure. Back when DnD was first created, the creators had their own adventures but chose to leave them out of the game because most of the fun comes from creating your own adventure.
Download a DnD adventure
If you prefer using an existing adventure, the Starter Set has one that will take up to 6 weeks to complete, or you can download some low-level adventures here.
If it is your first time, I recommend creating a "one-shot" quest in that it will begin and end during the same session without a need for everyone to remain committed to see its conclusion beyond the day they have already committed. To do this properly, we can assume this session will last at least 4 hours, and you'll need few "encounters" or obstacles to prevent the party from completing their quest. Some common types of encounters are battles, traps, and puzzles.
Before you set out on your journey together, it is important to build some context as to why your players are together, and why they are going on this adventure. A decent introduction to a plot setting could include something like:
"You all have just joined our adventurer's guild. To test your might and will, we have a bounty board on the wall with various quests and rewards. Choose your quest carefully, for the dangers are real. Our guild specializes in victory, so new recruits are restricted to taking level 1 quests until they prove themselves."
Then you have your players look at several level 1 adventure options that you have created or curated from other sources. The group votes on the quest. As a DM, I caution you to be persuasive in how you guide your players to make choices. If you have a specific adventure you prefer to run, make the rewards better than the other quests. However, giving the illusion of choice to your players will make them more engaged.
Once everyone has decided on the adventure, have the party venture to the NPC that has made the request. Interact with the NPC, obtain any information you can from them, buy any items you wish before heading into the area, and begin your journey!
Now if you are creating your own adventure
Start with a Battle! Since battles are the most common type of encounter, and since all the players will be level 1, it serves you to place easy enemies in your battle encounters.
Some easy monsters include:
Rival Human NPCs
Twisted forest creatures controlled by an old hag
Ankhegs, Giant Centipedes, or Spiders.
If the battles are too easy, just add more low-level monsters, but be careful because level 1 parties are easy to kill as well.
Next, let's add in a puzzle or trap. This can be as easy as solving a riddle like saying "open sesame" or moving stones around to match petroglyphs on a wall, to hazards that appear if the party fails to complete the puzzle correctly. The results of this encounter could spell disaster for the party. You could give clues within the dungeon for this puzzle. If you are not sure how to make a compelling puzzle, so a quick google search for "dnd puzzles" for some tried and true examples.
Once your party has cleared the puzzle and or trap, you will want a mini-boss encounter. This doesn't have to be different monsters than before, you can simply add more of the same monsters or make their hit points higher. Maybe the monster hits harder or has a special ability that the previous monsters didn't have.
It is common that boss monsters might hold a dungeon resource like a map, treasure or a key item to the quest. Let's make this mini-boss hold loot, like a lever of some kind, which will come in handy later on.
Finally, there should be a final room with an important treasure, surrounded by another puzzle or trap. Make your party use the lever to move a contraption so that the treasure can be retrieved, but as they retrieve the treasure, a trap springs, and now they must either run quickly to escape the dungeon, or they must defeat an even tougher monster to escape!
Once your players have hopefully succeeded, celebrate their victory at the pub or the guildhall! Congratulations on completing your first Dungeons and Dragons adventure!
Beyond setting up the adventure like this, I recommend drawing out what your dungeon could look like. Typically this is done with grid paper by hand, or you can use a dungeon creator online like this one.
Other key items to start your adventure:
If you play at a game store, many of these items will be available.
A Polyset of dice - These are offered in sets generally, but you may want to get a few of each of the following: d20, d12, d10, d8, d6, and d4.
A few notebooks and a bunch of pencils - There is a lot of note-taking during each session. Some players love documenting the entire journey as a story to retell in the event one of the players cannot make it to a session, or if they wish to keep track of what the party has previously done. The better the notes, the more cohesive the story plays out.
Some printouts of blank character sheets - Sometimes characters need to be created on the spot if a player’s character perishes during battle, or if someone new joins. It is helpful to come up with a few NPC characters that could integrate into the story as player characters should the need arise. Gridded paper - You may want to draw out a world map, a town map, individual houses or dungeon interiors to help the party better immerse themselves in the story.
A dry-erase battle-mat - As you encounter enemies and NPCs, their location in reference to the various party members will matter.
A big enough table to play on.
A venue with enough space - A pub, public building, game store, or living room
Now that you've gotten your feet wet as a new DM, how did you like it? Leave some comments below about how your first adventure went. If you thought any of this was helpful, consider sharing our content. Thanks!