Quick Tips For Your First Session As A Dungeon Master

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Do you dream of being the Dungeon Master of your own campaign, but are too overwhelmed or intimidated? Are you scared to take on this important role at the table? Not sure how to go about getting started? Don’t worry! Here are some quick tips that I learned on my own journey as a DM.

Start Out As A Player

Before taking on the responsibility of running a game, try experiencing it as a player first. This will allow you to get used to how the game is played. By experiencing Dungeons & Dragons from the viewpoint of a character, you increase your familiarity with the flow of the game. This will give you a nice level of comfort with it when you make your transition to Dungeon Master. It will also give you some insight as to what you like as a player, which can help you craft stories that you would enjoy playing. Additionally, you can observe what other players enjoy and take that into account when you’re DMing.

You Don’t Need To Learn Every Rule

As the DM, it is certainly your job to know the basics of how the game works. However, there is nothing wrong with having to pause and look up a rule. This is especially true for new Dungeon Masters. Learn the basics of skill checks, combat encounters, understanding monster stats, and how magic works. Instances in which you don’t know the ruling become great learning opportunities for you. As you play more and more sessions, you’ll find that the amount of time you spend looking up rules will lessen. Don’t waste your time memorizing every single rule for every possible scenario. Spend that time instead planning out your session, world building, and writing your campaign!

Have A Cheat Sheet

Many DM screens you can buy have quick reference materials printed on the side that faces the Dungeon Master, such as conditions, creature sizes, etc. However, if there are certain rules that you know might come into play during your session, consider putting together a cheat sheet. For instance, if your story is set on a sailing ship you could prep some quick notes on traveling speeds, stats of the ship, swimming, underwater combat, and drowning. If these circumstances come up in the game, you’ll be ready with answers at a glance. Not only will this alleviate some of your anxiety of the unknown, but it will also make you look like you really know what you’re doing!

Occasionally Fudge Your Dice Rolls

This one’s kind of controversial. I’m of the mind that a Dungeon Master should occasionally fudge their dice rolls to suit the circumstances. When you are first starting out I’d recommend hiding all your rolls behind a DM screen. Obviously use the majority of what you roll. But there are circumstances in which I would recommend a little white lie. If you are rolling hot all night and don’t want to demolish your players or cause a PC death, you could choose to change the roll. If you are rolling low and your enemies aren’t posing any kind of challenge for players, you may decide that a failed attack hits instead. As you become more confident, you can roll out in the open if you prefer. Though, I still keep my Dungeon Master rolls private, just in case. After all, concealing your secrets is what a DM screen is for!

Watch Actual Play Podcasts

Podcasts where they play D&D or other TTRPGs are entertaining, but they can also be educational! Study how the Dungeon Masters running the campaigns play their parts in the game and keep the story going. Observe how they play off the other players at the table and weave their characters into the story. You can watch or listen to several podcasts to get a feel for how different DMs approach situations. Take note of the different Dungeon Master’s styles and improvisational techniques. Being able to quickly think of solutions to situations and consequences of actions is one of the most important skills to hone as a dungeon master.

Don’t Spend A Ton Of Money

You do not need to spend money to be a Dungeon Master. I repeat, you DO NOT need to spend money to be a Dungeon Master. To be clear, I fully endorse supporting your favorite game systems and creators. However many of the resources you need to test out a game are available for free online, usually from the company itself. Give the game a try before making a monetary commitment. After you have a taste for it, you can slowly make purchases to expand your collection. Having all the latest core rulebooks, supplements, and miniatures are a great aspect of the hobby, but not necessary to have a good time!

Try A One Shot Adventure To Start

For your first few sessions as the Dungeon Master, consider running a tested one shot adventure. These are usually intuitive, affordable, and take the storytelling pressure off a first time DM. They can also be studied as a guide to creating your own adventures. You can download one shots from various marketplace style TTRPG websites. Sometimes indie creators will even offer a free one shot when you sign up for their newsletters! One shot adventures offer you the opportunity to experience running a game without the added stress of also creating a story that requires world building and multiple session continuity.


Good luck on your first session as a Dungeon Master! Until next time, stay creepy and happy gaming.

Dan
Dan

Dan is a creator, game enthusiast, former goth, designer, nerd, blogger, and meme historian. He has always loved creating experiences through art, writing, design, and collaborative storytelling. His career is in the creative industry, specifically focusing on graphic design, marketing, and user experience.

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