You’ve played D&D. You have battled dragons, foiled ambushes, stared down Demons and dueled several denizens of the Underdark and lived to tell the tale. But there’s something different now. You like to play a part in the story, but now only playing a part in it is not enough for you. You want to be the judge, the moderator, the storyteller, the world builder. You have seen your DM’s eyes as he lurks behind the screen, rolling dice, smirking as you step on a trap, laughing as your face shows your disbelief when that NPC turns out to be a vile traitor. It seems like he is constantly pulling the strings behind his screen… and that appeals to you.
You want to be the Dungeon Master.
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But what if you don’t remember all the rules? What if you’re too hard on your players? What if you’re too soft? What if you mess everything up and end up making the whole experience yet another one of those stories you recount on game night, about that one DM who just couldn’t keep it together?
Allright, first of all… chill
Being a Dungeon Master means, simply put, that you’ll come up with a story that you and your friends around the table will play out. They are the main characters in the story, and you get to narrate it with their help. You will use some rules (depending on the type of game you’re playing) and some narrative elements to convey the story to the best of your abilities.
You will also do well to remember the following tips:
You’re a storyteller, so tell a story about your players.
Among many other things (judge, babysitter, cat-herder) a Dungeon Master is a storyteller. You tell a story, in which your players take center stage. Their actions dictate what happens next at every turn. Taking this into consideration it is in your best interest to make sure that the story has some elements that relate to your friend’s characters. Things that make them want to keep playing the game and make them become invested in their characters. Before starting to create your story ask them questions about their characters, what they want, where they come from, who their family was, how they ended up adventuring, etc. This will help you make the story relate to your players, and it will keep them coming back to your games for more adventuring goodness.
Make your stories about your players. If you don’t, they might end up not wanting to play with you, and what is a Dungeon Master without players?
Prep work, prep work, prep work.
I cannot stress this enough. PREP WORK IS IMPORTANT. In a game where the Dungeon Master needs to feed off the actions of the players, some improvisation will have to take place. However, proper preparation before every game session is going to help you with the pacing of your game, and slow pacing can kill a game. This is ESPECIALLY true if it’s your first time DMing
Look at how many encounters you could be having within a session. Write down a few notes including the AC, HP, and attacks of the creatures in those encounters. You could also roll their initiatives before the session, and keep those in your notebook. Make a quick sketch of the main areas you will be visiting during your session. Keep those maps in your notebook as well (your notebook is love, your notebook is life). If you’re going to use traps, these are encounters too, so write down how much damage a character would receive from these traps and their corresponding DC or Target Number.
After you run your first session, you’ll notice something was missing. There’s always something that you forget to write down, and stops the flow of play. Take note of that, and remember to write that down for your next session.
Make sure you have: Spare paper, enough pencils for everyone, a pencil sharpener, some erasers, a personal notebook (this notebook is your life, try not to lose it) and dice, TONS and TONS of dice.
Now that you have raided the local [YOUR OFFICE SUPPLIES STORE’S NAME COULD BE HERE! GIVE ME YOUR MONEY!] you are now ready to create a world with a compelling story, or a Dungeon filled with traps and treasure, or an Epic encounter with an Evil Dragon riding Overlord.
But wait… what about…
WHAT ABOUT THE RULES?
Up until now this small article might have sounded very generic to most DnD players, but here’s where my personal take on Game Mastering comes in. By now I’m assuming you’ve played your game of choice at least a few times. So you understand at least the basics of the game. Here’s the rules that you, as a DM, REALLY need to know:
And that’s it. Once you have a strong grip on those, you’re good to go. Yes, seriously, that’s it. You don’t need to know each and every single rule of the book, just the general ones. Want to know why? Because your players will learn and use every single specific rule that pertains to their characters, and they will constantly remind you of them, to the point where you will end up memorizing their spells, keeping count of how many more times they can use a certain attack maneuver, or even what the skill modifier for their most used skill is. This is a thing that happens around every table, and it will make your job a lot easier. And if by chance, one of your players wants to do something absolutely ridiculous that sounds awesome and fun, but that is somehow not covered in the rules, just say “Yeah, sure”. Assign a skill check to what he wants to do and narrate what happens accordingly.
And those are the basics. With a few games under your belt you’ll start developing your own way of running a game. And in time, you could become one of those DMs that everyone talks about, because of how great games are around their table.
Next week (Possibly every Friday from now on) I’ll be going into more specific situations that may arise around an RPG table. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to know about DMing (or playing) an RPG and I’ll work on an article about it.
Thanks for reading