A Letter to an Aspiring Dungeon Master
To be a dungeon master (DM) is no small thing. You are the reason that people are together, in a room, dice and sheets spread on the table, beverages (of your choice) at hand. You command that evening’s ship towards the land of imagination and fun. This seems like a lot of pressure and responsibility. It is, but that doesn’t mean it will be hard. The most important thing to remember is to have fun, both for you and your players. Through this article I will be giving out some ideas to help those who are new to Dungeon Mastering.
Your First Campaign
When creating your first Dungeons and Dragons campaign try to start small and simple. Trying to “go for the gold” too early is something that many an inexperienced DM have done and have watched their campaign struggle under that weight. I should know, I’ve had many early campaigns come to a screeching halt as I tried to make the experience epic well before the story or the players were ready for it. A small town with a goblin problem is always a good starting point for first level characters. Goblins are a good first level challenge as they have a low challenge rating and Hit Points. Unless the dice or the number of enemies are against them, the players should have only a little trouble dealing the final blow, gaining the gold, XP, and glory they have earned.
Dungeons are a big part of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s even in the name. Again don’t worry about doing a leveled, trap and monster filled labyrinth of challenges. Starting out with a basic dungeon will give you the experience of how dungeons work and see how your players work together as a team. Group cohesion is important but I’ll get to that later. Maybe the town that is having the goblin problem is near a mountain range and in those mountains is a cave where the goblins live and are striking out from. An entrance being guarded by a few goblin sentries, two passages leading left and right, both holding several small caverns with a few goblins and gold in each, one main chamber with a goblin leader, a few underlings and some decent loot, BOOM, you’ve got a dungeon.
Know your Players
Back to the topic of group cohesion I mentioned earlier. No two characters will ever be the same. Each race, class, and background option gives plenty of options for players to be different unique characters; especially with additions from the Unearthed Arcana list. Though the amount of options is great for character development it can be difficult to get a group of unique individuals to stay together or have a group mentality. Sometimes when creating a campaign you want that type of play, trying to get the group to come together through some magical or divine force and see how well it comes out. That can be a fun experience but when starting out, having the group start out knowing each other and already be an adventuring group takes all that pressure off of you, the Dungeon Master. Perhaps your group met up at an inn and after a few ales and tales decided to group up to seek glory and adventure. I suggest having the characters give some quick info on before they got together as a group, a lot of the information they will give can be used for later plot points.
Unless you are doing a one shot story you are going to want to keep the campaign going. Using plot devices like hints, notes or npc’s for the players to find and or interact with are the best ways to further the game. It is good to keep in mind that as the creator of the campaign you know how the puzzle pieces fit together, something the players can miss. If you want a plot device to come into play that the players missed find a naturally occuring way for it to come up. This goblin problem could be just a group of goblins harassing a farming hamlet or it could be something a little bigger. These goblins may be just a small group sent out by a goblin boss to raid settlements in the area and will need to be dealt with before they spread chaos over the region. A note on one of the goblins from the cave, or a captured human npc from a nearby settlement could give a guidepost to the next stage of the adventure. If you need help getting started here, check out these D&D tools.
There is plenty of finer details to being a Dungeon Master, but as someone who has been creating campaigns for over a decade you will come across them as you play. But don’t worry, none of them I’ve encountered have ever been truly detrimental. They are similar to growing pains, something small and easily overcome as long as you keep an open mind and continue to advance on the Path of the Dungeon Master. Just remember to have fun, Dungeons and Dragons is still a game after all. Keep that in close to your thoughts and you will never have a bad time.
Till next time,
Dungeon Master Extraordinaire
Read part two: D&D 5e Rules
If this is your players first game, you can provide them this list of what you need to play D&D.