Top Tips for Beginning D&D Dungeon Masters

Top Tips for Beginning D&D Dungeon Masters

So, you've decided to take on the mantle of Dungeon Master (DM) for your first Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game. Congrats! You're about to embark on a thrilling adventure, but it can also feel a bit overwhelming at first. Fear not! With a little preparation and the right mindset, you'll be weaving epic tales and guiding your players through unforgettable quests in no time. Here are some essential tips to get you started.

1. Understand the Basics of the Game

Before you can run a game, you need to understand how it works. Start by reading the core rules. Don't worry! You don't need to read the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual cover to cover, you just need to make sure you have a decent idea of the mechanics so that you can run the game and answer questions for the players. If you don't have the core rulebooks, that's okay, you can access the D&D rules free right here.

For a quick overview of the rules and to get a sense of how the game is played, check out D&D Beyond, an invaluable resource that offers digital versions of the rulebooks, character creation tools, and more.

2. Start with a Pre-Made Adventure

Creating your own campaign can be daunting, especially if you're new to the game. Luckily, there are plenty of pre-made adventures designed for new DMs. Don't feel like you need to run these adventures exactly as is, that's practically impossible thanks to your players having a great deal of input, but they provide a structure that lets you get a feel for the game and will help a lot when you start introducing your own homebrew. Lost Mine of Phandelver, included in the D&D Starter Set, is a good starting point. It provides a well-structured adventure with plenty of guidance on running the game.

You also receive an adventure completely free of charge with every Only Crits purchase, so if you're hunting your first dice set you'll have something to play along with it!

3. Know Your Players

Understanding your players' preferences and play styles can make a huge difference in how enjoyable the game is for everyone. Are they more interested in combat, role-playing, or problem-solving? Do they prefer a serious tone or a more lighthearted, humorous game? Tailor your campaign to suit their interests, and you'll have a much more engaged group.

The easiest and most straightforward way to achieve this is by running a session 0, in which you talk to the group about everyone's expectations and desires. It's incredibly important to communicate with your players through the campaign about how they're doing as well, but laying a foundation is vital. A super useful tool in building those foundations are RPG consent checklists, that ensure everyone is comfortable at the table.

4. Keep Things Simple

As a new DM, it's easy to get caught up in the details and feel like you need to know everything. You don't. Focus on the core mechanics and straightforward encounters. As you gain more experience, you will naturally gain confidence and find yourself introducing more complex elements. If you try to do a massive worldbuilding, multi-generational story with homebrewed mechanics and custom classes right off the bat it's very easy to get lost in parts of the game that aren't as important as having fun.

5. Be Prepared, but Stay Flexible

Preparation is key to running a smooth game, but it's equally important to be flexible. Your players will inevitably do things you didn't anticipate. Instead of trying to force them back onto your planned path, go with the flow and adapt your story to their actions. This can lead to some of the most memorable and exciting moments in your campaign. This advice can seem a little vague but it's still important to note because it's easy to get too hyper focused on the story your trying to tell and forget that the players are also telling their own story. Identify what's really important to you, whether that's plot points, a certain combat, a character moment, and allow everything that's less important come and go depending on the players' actions.

6. Create a Comfortable Environment

Make sure your players feel comfortable and welcome at the table. This includes setting clear expectations about game rules, table etiquette, and what kind of content is appropriate. Encourage open communication and be receptive to feedback. A positive, inclusive atmosphere will make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

This harkens back to knowing your players and establishing everyone's consent levels. Just keep in mind that it's an ongoing process, and applies at every session to every player (including you).

7. Use Visual Aids

Visual aids can help bring your game to life and make it easier for your players to immerse themselves in the story. They're not always an option, but when they are they can make games flow much easier. Consider using maps to cut down on time spent describing distances and monster art to enhance your descriptions. There are plenty of online resources where you can find or create these aids, such as Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds.

8. Learn from Others

There are countless resources available to help you become a better DM. Watch live play sessions like Critical Role or Dimension 20 to see how experienced DMs run their games. Join online communities like the D&D Subreddit or D&D Beyond Forums to share tips and ask questions. And perhaps most importantly, play. Learn from other home DMs and from the players sitting around your table.

9. Practice Improvisation

No matter how much you prepare, you'll need to think on your feet during your sessions. Practice improvisation by coming up with short, impromptu scenarios or characters. This will help you feel more confident and capable when unexpected situations arise during your game.

10. Have Fun!

Most importantly, remember that D&D is a game, and it's meant to be fun. Don't stress too much about getting everything perfect. Your enthusiasm and enjoyment will be contagious and make the game more enjoyable for your players. At the end of the day the fun is all that matters.

11. Get cool dice (optional)

Dice elevate and exclaim your characters and choices. They show personality and sound nice. They're just great, and we're not biased just because we run a dice company. You can check out our full collection here, just on the off chance you're interested.

Helpful Resources for New DMs

  • D&D Beyond: Digital tools and resources for D&D.
  • Roll20: Virtual tabletop for playing D&D online.
  • Fantasy Grounds: Another great virtual tabletop option.
  • Critical Role: Popular live play show featuring experienced DMs and players.
  • Dimension 20: Another fantastic live play show with creative storytelling.
  • D&D Subreddit: Community for sharing tips, stories, and advice.

Wrapping Up

Starting out as a D&D Dungeon Master can be a bit intimidating, but with these tips and resources, you'll be well on your way to creating amazing adventures. Remember to stay flexible, keep things simple, and most importantly, have fun. Happy adventuring!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.