As a new dungeon master, you are probably wondering what tools you will need to get started. Most new dungeon masters start with in-person games as opposed to online, so this is what we will focus on in this article. With this in mind, what are the essential tools for new dungeon masters?
The top 10 essential tools for new dungeon masters are as follows:
- Dungeon Master’s Guide
- Dungeon Master’s Screen
- Monster Manual
- An adventure
- Player’s Handbook
- Battle maps
- Dry erase board and pens
There are some honorable mentions that are not on this list, but so basic that you can’t play without. These honorable mentions are paper and writing utensils. You need paper for drawing maps, notes, or anything else! It is the wild card of prep and you will need some writing utensils to utilize paper to it’s fullest. Now that we have the basic items out of the way, let’s get to the real tools for new dungeon masters!
1: Dungeon Master’s Guide
If you want to be a dungeon master, one of the most essential tools is the Dungeon Master’s Guide. You will need this book to figure out loot, get many different magic items, traps, environmental hazards, and plenty more!
I would highly suggest that if you are going to be a dungeon master, that you read through this entire book at least once, if not multiple times. This is your Bible of DMing that will teach you all the most important rules you need to know.
2: Dungeon Master’s Screen
You might think that I am going to tell you how essential it is to hide your dice rolls from the players. If you were on that train of thought, you couldn’t be more wrong!
Dungeon Master screens are tools for dungeon masters to hide their notes, scramble, and reference the rules in privacy.
Players might sometimes be placed very close to you at the table. The Dungeon Master’s screen is there to not tempt the players. It is very hard to not look down at the DM’s notes during the entire 2 hour+ session, so take away that temptation or chance of accidental glancing by putting up a screen.
Unexpected things happen, and we might start scrambling. The DM screen help hide how much we are scrambling, and lets the player’s imagination run wild. Instead of them catching on to you scrambling, they might start thinking that you are planning something. This keeps you from feeling as insecure, and prevents spiraling into further panic.
Lastly, Dungeon Master screens have rules on them. These rules are for important, but less used actions or conditions. Knowing what exactly paralyzed does is great since finding it in a book can be a pain. This item might also help you make traps by providing DCs, trap statistics, and detail all the actions you can do in combat.
Dice are one of the most important tools for dungeon master out there. You need them to roll for random loot, skill checks, and pretty much everything. Rolling dice creates all of the action in D&D, so you will need some.
Not all dice are made the same. If you just get cheap dice you might get a die that is poorly made and favors certain numbers! That would be devastating, so avoid extremely cheap dice, or at least test them out before you buy them. If you just want to get some good dice that won’t be poorly made, then you should get some professionally made dice at Dice Envy.
That takes care of this problem, and saves you from monsters slaughtering your party at level 2.
4: Monster Manual
D&D has a lot of combat. It was meant to be a combat simulator above all else in the past, and this hasn’t completely changed. There WILL be combat in your game, so what will your players fight? Instead of making up stats for monsters that will probably be imbalanced, you should get a Monster Manual.
The Monster Manual doesn’t only provide stats for monsters. It gives you some really cool monster ideas that anchor your players into the fantasy world they are playing in.
This book is also great if you need an encounter right then and there. The players surprise you, go into a new area, and now need to face a new enemy.
5. An Adventure
Your campaign is either going to be homebrew, or an adventure. While it is tantalizing to create your own homebrew right away, it requires a bit of experience to make a good one. This is why you will most likely, and probably should for your first game, start with an adventure module.
Adventure modules help teach newer DMs how to make and play a campaign. The adventure that I would recommend the most for newer players is Dragonheist. Dragonheist gives you an open sandbox for your players, factions, combat, roleplay, a lot of NPCs, and a great setting that is fairly well thought out! You can also check out our top D&D adventures here.
6. Player’s Handbook
While your players should have this book, don’t expect them to. In fact, don’t expect the players to have read anything in the book beyond what they needed to make a character. The problem with this is, that there are MANY more relevant sections in this book.
As the DM, you will be expected to be arbiter of the rules. Therefore, you should read all of chapter 8 (adventuring), chapter 9 (combat), and chapter 10 (spellcasting) of this book so that you can answer all rules related questions that the players will have.
You need to represent characters and enemies. Some cheap ways of representing characters could be dice if there are limited enemy types and few players. The fighter could be the d12, the ranger a d10, and the wizard a d4. The enemies are goblins as d6s with a bugbear as a d8. You can also use board game pieces to represent characters and enemies, or just about anything! The important part is having a representation and not changing it.
But this is very cheap and really asks your players to stretch their imagination.
That is why D&D players get obsesses with miniatures. Miniatures really make the board come to life!
8: Battle maps:
Battle maps are much better than theater of the mind for combat. Instead of just describing things, why not have a physical representation? If you plan to have any combat, you need a battle map to avoid miscommunication that just makes the game feel bad.
The best battle maps are re-useable dry erase battle maps. This way you can draw on them, use the grid to show how far players can move, and even place objects on the the battle map that can removed. This allows you to have the best of both worlds, and will make your combats so much easier!
9: Dry Erase Board with Pens
One of the most underrated tools out therefor dungeon masters is a dry erase board with pens. You can use them for all sorts of things, whether it’s keeping track of characters’ plans, using it to track initiative in combat, or using it to display helpful visuals. You never know when you will need to write or draw something that can be easily displayed for the whole group to see.
At one point in time, I would not have considered music to be essential. After playing with music, I can tell you that it is one of the most powerful tools for dungeon masters available. You don’t need anything fancy here. Get some music from YouTube, Tabletop Audio, or another free source. Find something that you like for play and just have it as ambience in the background.
A bit of tavern music will help the scene come alive. Heavy metal music (if your group is into it) gets everyone into the mood for combat. Music cannot be underestimated in bringing a scene to life, and this is easier to do than ever before!
You most likely have access to a laptop that can play music, and should have the music prepared ahead of time. The easiest way to prepare music is by preparing for your session. You have the environments planned out, and your campaign notes are at the ready. With this preparation, you should know what music to find and for what scenes.
I cannot emphasize enough how impactful music can be to take the players out of reality, and carefully place them into your world.
While every dungeon master and game of D&D is different, I hope that we have helped you learn about the essential tools for new dungeon masters!
Most, if not all of these tools have the ability to be customized to fit your game or dungeon master style. You just have to go out and adjust these tools to truly make your game your own.