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Dungeons & Dragons: 10 Tips For A First Time Dungeon Master

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and become a Dungeon Master! It's an exciting role that bears a lot of responsibility. As Dungeon Master, (or DM for short), you are in charge of running a game of Dungeons and Dragons for a group of players. You could follow published modules, or run a homemade campaign.

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It’ll be your responsibility to prepare content for the other players to play through, play as NPCs (Non-Player Characters), control monsters in combat, and act as a referee when necessary. With the release of the 5th edition (which all of the materials mentioned in this article will be from), it's easier than ever to assume this role. Hopefully, this list of ten tips will help your first DMing experience go a little smoother.

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10 Read Your "Dungeon Master’s Guide" Thoroughly

While this might seem obvious, it's really a crucial step towards being a good DM in several ways. First and foremost, it contains the rules and instructions on how Dungeons and Dragons is to be played and how you as the DM make sure that the rules are followed. It also has a list of magical items, explanations of the D&D multiverse, and other more factual content.

The other half of the book contains guidelines for Dungeon Masters who want to create their own adventures. If it's your first time, it's probably best to try out a module first but if you have an idea that you can’t wait to do, go for it!

9 Have (And Be Familiar With) Your Own Copy of the Player’s Handbook

Now, if you're going to be a Dungeon Master, why would you need the book made for players? Well, the Player’s Handbook has many of the same rules that are detailed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide but it also has all of the basic options for creating characters, basic items, and the library of basic spells.

These things are important for a DM to be familiar with because not only is there a possibility that you’ll have to reference it to create companion NPCs that might accompany the adventuring party, but you’ll need to have the descriptions for spells as well. Not to mention, as the DM, people at the table will most likely turn to you if they have questions about their characters, spells, and other rules.

8 Don’t Be Afraid To Mark Up, Bookmark, Ect. Your Monster Manual

Obviously, if you’re going to be a Dungeon Master, you’ll need the Monster Manual. However, all D&D books can be a little pricey and the idea of doing anything to them other than carefully leafing through the pages may seem ludicrous. Despite all of this, don’t be afraid to use your books, particularly the Monster Manual.

In the interest of efficiency, you can put marked sticky notes on pages you’ll need during your sessions so you can find monsters quickly and flip between different ones without losing your place. In addition, if you make modifications to monsters, instead of putting it on a separate piece of paper that could get lost, write it in your book! Tiny strategies like this will save you needless page flipping and paper shuffling.

7 Take Notes, Notes, and More Notes

As Dungeon Master, you are essentially an omniscient god in control of an entire world and everything going on in it. In reality, you probably don’t have a god-like memory so taking notes is crucial. Don’t try to keep everything straight in your head because something WILL get forgotten or confused!

Don’t be afraid to pause the action for a second so you can jot something down either. It's up to you to keep track of things. such as what the characters are doing, and so much more. Consider getting a large notebook with divided sections that you can label and keep plenty of writing utensils on hand.

6 Decide What Style of Play You’re Running

There are two ways to play Dungeon and Dragons, particularly when it comes to combat and dungeon crawls. The first style is playing with a gridded map or game board and miniature figures. The other style is known as "Theatre of the Mind." In this style, there is rarely visual props and if there are, it's most likely a basic map and the players picture the action with their imaginations.

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D&D’s rules have a lot of dimensions to them; movement ranges, areas of effect for spells, and many more points to consider. This could be difficult for everyone to keep track of without a visual aid. On the other hand, hauling around boards and figures can be quite a hassle. Discuss it with your players and decide what would work best for everyone.

5 Own Multiple Sets of Dice

Players that are just starting out, really only need one set of dice. However, as the Dungeon Master, you do a lot more rolling than a player. You roll multiples of one kind of die for many monsters all at once or for the damage being inflicted.

While you could only have one set of dice, it would take you longer to roll everything you need to. Owning at least two or three sets will make this process more efficient. Not to mention, nothing strikes playful fear into your players than seeing you shake a huge fistful of dice, ready to decide their characters’ fate!

4 Stay Organized

At this point, it's abundantly clear that there is A LOT going on when you assume the role of a Dungeon Master and it can be difficult to focus. One thing that’ll make the experience more fun is if you stay organized. Keep your materials as consolidated as possible rather than on loose pieces of paper.

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As mentioned in tip four, a large, separated notebook would be most helpful. In one section can be your event notes, another can have town notes, and so on. Following tip three is good as well so you can easily find your monsters for the session’s encounters. Above all, organize in a way that makes sense to you!

3 Be Prepared to Improvise

The best thing about Dungeons and Dragons is that its an interactive storytelling experience between you and your players; a living choose-your-own-adventure story! Due to the fact your playing with three or more other people, there will be a lot of ideas thrown around the table and some of them might just change the course of events.

In addition, sometimes characters die in a bout of unexpected bad luck or get extremely lucky and manage to annihilate what should have been a long fight. When this happens, you as the DM might have to think on your feet to then come up with consequences. Try to keep your imagination and mind open because anything can happen at the table.

2 Say “Yes!”

One of the many hats that a Dungeon Master wears is that of “Rules Referee.” It is a necessary role so that the game is played properly and fairly. That being said, sometimes your players, or yourself, will want to go against the rules or aren’t even covered. In cases like these, the best thing to do might be to throw the rules out the window and say "Yes!"

In many cases, the rules are meant to act as guidelines and a reference when there are disputes between players. However, sometimes everyone will have an idea that's just too funny or epic to pass up. So say “Yes!” and improvise to make it work. Remember, the whole point of playing D&D is to have fun!

1 Consider Having A Practice Run

Being a Dungeon Master takes a lot of hard work and practice to get the hang of it. So, if you’re a little nervous about taking on this role, try having a practice run. You could write up a short adventure of your own or, you could try running the beginner’s set published by the makers of D&D, The Lost Mines of Phandelver.

This starter adventure is very simple, short, and contains step-by-step instructions to help you DM and to support new players. In addition, the ending of the adventure provides a nice transition into what could be your own story or another module that you would want to play as you get the hang of being a Dungeon Master.

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