How to start as a Dungeon Master

Dungeon Master

You have started as a Dungeon Master! I first want to congratulate you on your bold and wise decision to be constantly stressed, on edge, since you never know what your insane players will do, and forced to have all the answers when you stare blank-faced at your adoring players.

In order to start as a Dungeon Master learn the rules, learn from mistakes, be on the same page as your players, and don’t give up!

But seriously, you have started a wonderful journey that is going to be amazingly fun… I hope. You see, in order to be a Dungeon Master, you must have a reason. Did you want to share your creativity? Did you not like your previous Dungeon Master? Were you the only one who would be a Dungeon Master?

All of these are wonderful reasons why, and I would love to hear why you became a Dungeon Master in the comments below, but let me tell you how I started as a Dungeon Master.

My Story

It was on a warm sunny day, and I along with my friends did not want to venture out into the blistering heat. (We lived in Washington, and our norm was grey, cloudy, possibly rainy skies. The sun was weird and unpleasant.) Deciding to be like troglodytes, we didn’t know what to do inside the house that would accommodate all four of us.

My father, being a huge Dungeons and Dragons nerd himself brought out some tattered books and described this odd game called ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ We were curious since we were all nerds looking for a game to play, and he taught us. There was one problem, he was a competent adult and we were dumb children in elementary school.

Things didn’t go well. My father brought out a classic module, ‘keep on the borderlands’ and we just wanted to kill everything. He had to explain how to play at least a thousand times, and we frustrated him since he wanted and was used to somewhat competent players. I mean, let’s be honest here, competent is the golden standard for most DMs.

The rules, rules, rules!

He not knowing what to do with us tried to have us go over every rule, but we thought that was dumb and heads clashed. In first edition, the rules were clunky and meant to represent real life. Would a warrior be trained in every weapon? Think about it, when did you last see a knight use a scimitar, polearm, and longsword with the same skill in a show? The answer is never since people specialized, and that is how it was in first edition.

Is that all? Oh, great gods above and below no! Plate mail gave you better armor against slashing, but less armor against blunt weapons and every piece or armor/weapon did this. Ranged weapons did this at different ranges, and it was a total nightmare!

Today, we only have a few universal rules.

Do you know why we only have a few universal rules? It is because Dungeons and Dragons is a game. Not a real-world combat simulation, but instead a roleplaying game with combat.

These rules were just the start. There were so many ridiculous rules that we just didn’t want to play. I, of course, being the oh so brilliant child saw potential in this flawed game, and decided to learn how to be a Dungeon Master!

I read about ¼ of a module and started to play with my friends that day. How did it go? Well…. Just as you would expect. The players were lost in the desert, thirsting for something to drink, and they uncovered the top of a pyramid. Everyone clambered in as quick as they could, setting off every trap, and no one died.

How did no one die? That day I found out my superpower, the power of terrible rolls. My brother also found out his superpower, being the luckiest human on the face of the earth. With these two things combined, nothing I could do would ever harm the party if my brother went first.

Was it just the dice? We switched dice and the results were the same so no, I just roll a lot of 1s. With this superpower things became too easy, monsters were a joke, and the game wasn’t too fun. So what did I do?

I introduced the drugged up natives!

That is right! This module that I ran, ‘the lost city’ had drugged up people. From that point on I had no idea what I was doing and everything went oh so wrong. I panicked, made strange creatures, and I will save that story for another time.

Have you felt this way?

Not like a child leading children through a dungeon with drugged up people, but a Dungeon Master who was floundering about not knowing what to do? Was it because you were not prepared? Did your players go completely off the beaten path of sanity? Did the players actively try to thwart your game? Do you not know what to do?

These are all common feelings for Dungeon Masters so do not worry if this happened to you. There are some things that you can do to help fix these problems, but leave a comment below talking about your biggest Dungeon Master screw up.

If you screwed up, the first thing to do is

Talk to your players. They know you are new, inexperienced, and going to make some mistakes here and there. If you really screwed up, you can ask for a load.

In many video games, there are save points where a player can load their character or party from. This is the exact same thing. Ask the players to let you load the game if your mistake was game-breaking.

If your mistake was not game breaking

Run with it. So the players killed a baddie before you wanted. What were his plans? Did he have an apprentice or ally? Can they carry out his plans? Don’t just give up. Go back to the drawing board and look at the full game, not just the encounter.

This is something many Dungeon Master’s focus too much on, the here and now. While what is happening is important, it is not the ONLY thing happening. Your world should be bigger than one baddie or one plot, let the heroes have their win.

Does that mean the heroes effort was in vain? Do you want your players to quit? Make it apparent that the plan was set back due to the heroes efforts when they find out. Make the players feel accomplished for what they did, and that they now have to beat a bigger threat, the boss of the boss.

Did a player die?

If a player died you have a few options. Lucky for you, it has already happened! On damage control we deal with events that have happened, so check out our article on player death!

Were you floundering or not prepared?

The answer to both is pretty simple: You did not prepare properly. As a Dungeon Master you focused on what the players would face. You focused on the situations, possibilities, names, etc, everything! That is why you fail.

Dungeon Masters need to prepare for the unexpected more than anything. How do you do that? You prepare the environment. You as a Dungeon Master need to know how this town, forest, or swamp would run before the players got there. Your world is bigger than the players’ immediate surroundings.

If you can do that, then you can prepare for anything that the players will do.

Did your players go insane?

We need to narrow this down since your players are already insane. Are they murder hobos? If so well…. We will possibly write an article on this at some point, but you need to be on the same page. Talk to your players.

Why are they thwarting your plans? Why are they killing everyone? Talking to them is the first step. Perhaps the players don’t know what to do. Perhaps the players think that is what they should do.

Be on the same page as your players

Sometimes we have a game planned and think this is amazing, but no one really wants to play. This is the point where you need to ask why your players don’t want to play. Why are they not enthusiastic?

Many times players just want something different. Some players want linear scripted campaigns. Some players want open-ended sandbox campaigns. Other players want mystery, hack and slash, you get the idea.

Players want different things. In order to know what your players want talk to them. Make a game that everyone can enjoy and not just a game for yourself.

Dungeon Masters have to go through a learning period.

A good Dungeon Master is hard to find because they have to go through hardship to become at the very least decent. You read my story above, how well do you think I did at 11 years old? If you think I did amazing, you are an optimist of the highest caliber and I salute you. If you realize that I did terribly and was laughed at by my friends, you are closer to the truth.

No one is just born to be a good Dungeon Master. No one is born to be a good writer, or to be a doctor. All of these things require work, learning, and failure. Was that first story by the writer gold? I would put my money on noooo. Was that doctor able to just subscribe you pills? If they are fake then yes, but otherwise no.

One other thing you will need to learn is how to do a session 0. Check here for more information on a session 0 and how it will help you.

Do not give up!

Being a Dungeon Master is the same thing. You will have to make some mistakes, learn from them, and not give up. The reason why we aren’t doctors is that somewhere we gave up. It could be at the thought of being a doctor, realizing it wasn’t for you, or wanting to do something else. When we said no we gave up. This is why we are not doctors.

If you do not give up being a Dungeon Master you will become a good one. You will fail, you will have some hard times, but the main point I am trying to get across in this is that you will make it if you do not give up.

Why did you become a Dungeon Master? Was it to stop halfway? No, you became a Dungeon Master for a reason. Make sure you do not give up on that dream.

Ask your players for help.

Most players are thrilled to help you become a better Dungeon Master, you just need to ask them once the campaign begins to tell you in private if they think you could improve something. Listen to them and grow. At the very end of the campaign, ask them what they think you could have done better and do it.

No excuses, I know that you can be an amazing Dungeon Master, just do not give up. If you need help, I am here to help you in any way I can.

If you want more personal help.

I do have a youtube channel where I try to help answer personal questions about how to solve Dungeon Master/player problems.

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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