D&D 5E 2016 5th edition D&D Dungeon Master Survey


Hello! I am conducting a survey for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons dungeon masters to get a better idea how DMs prepare and run their D&D games. If you are a 5th edition Dungeon Master and have a few minutes to spare, I would greatly appreciate your response.

You can take the survey at:


Thank you very much!

Mike Shea

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Every question in this survey fails to have an accurate answer for me as an option by being entirely "this" or "that" with no "some of both" types of answers. As a result, I feel the information gained by the answers that I can select will not actually provide the stated desired idea of how I prepare and run my D&D games.

Further, some of the questions are ambiguously worded. I cannot be sure if "For each session, how much time do you spend on developing the story of the adventure?" is meaning to ask me how much time I spend doing prep work that develops the story (next to none) or is meaning to ask me how much time during a session of play gets spent developing the story (basically all of it, in one way or another).

So I've answered assuming all ambiguous questions were talking about prep time rather than play time, and limiting my answers only to one of the three distinctly different ways in which I prepare for sessions and selecting the nearest matching answer for questions about how I run games (though the nearest match was often very far away, much like rounding 1.5 to 10 rather than 2 because the choices for answers are all 10 or larger values).


Elder Thing
I also had a bit of difficulty, in that the answers to the questions are not the same for every session I run. A lot depends on how far we made it in the previous session, and what seeds I have sown have taken effect at any given point.


I crit!
I do both grid, non-grid, and map but griddless combat styles. My preference is totm but I often run on the grid for player preference.


D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I filled your survey Mike. In short i run a GREYHAWK campaign using published and homebrewed adventures twice a month with maps and miniatures with about an hour preparation (this reduce prep time before a session to only a couple of minutes). Many of this time goes on thinkering and can run longer when i need preraring props and handouts.

Things to i find helpful to run a D&D game apart from maps and minis are condition cards, an initiative board and Sly Flourish Building Encounter Guidelines :)

Things i find that help run great D&D game is to be overly descriptive and making voices help make NPC and monsters more alive and fun to interact with.

I answered as best I could. The trickiest question for me was about the setting...I essentially could have answered "all of the above" because my game consists of 5 prime material worlds (Oerth, Toril, Athas, Golarion, and a homebrew world, Arta) and all of them are connected by the planes, where Sigil tends to be the major hub.

I put homebrew for lack of a more specific answer. I imagine that a lot of other folks will struggle with this one. The prep time question had the word "about" so I ball parked all of that easily enough.


Hardest part of the survey was the parsing out of specific preparation. Most times, these parsed events are interrelated and they are conceived and developed at the same time.

Although, one of the misrepresentation of workload involves some of my favorite tools. They save me tons of time producing quality materials for the players and myself during the game. However, much of the work was done long before the adventure began.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
There was questions about prep-time on world/setting building - when you publish the results I'd love to see how that varied for homebrew vs. published settings.

Oh, and a question not asked: What tool would I most like to have for preparation but don't: PDFs I can cut-n-paste to my prep. Spell descriptions, an uncommon condition that's going to come up, monster stat blocks, etc. Having that handy without cracking books (or cracking them for other things without losing the main stuff I need) would be a huge help.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Although, one of the misrepresentation of workload involves some of my favorite tools. They save me tons of time producing quality materials for the players and myself during the game. However, much of the work was done long before the adventure began.

Agreed - a lot of up-front work saves me session prep. Also as I run semi-sandbox, whole arcs and such change not just from character options but also from player interests so I will every few months also spend a chunk on reconciling out campaign arcs and such. Not prep for any particular session, but time spent at a higher level.


Gaahh! Why is it so frustrating when surveys ask you questions and don't really let you give useful answers. I filled it out but I feel like maybe I shouldn't have since my data was not very accurate. Even just trying to average out how much time I spend on different types of prep over the different types of games made my head hurt. In my homebrew game, how do I separate time spent on magic items from time spent on "the story of the adventure" and from time spent on "campaign and world building", I have found that working on any of those things in a vacuum is often a mistake and less fun. But then to average that out over every session of not only my homebrew setting, but any published stuff I run, way too much number crunching to give accurate answers.

Then the questions like "DO you run in Forgotten Realms, Other settings, or Homebrew" :erm: Uhm, yes?

I tried anyways, hope it helps.


I just wanted to thank all of you who took the survey and for the feedback on the forum. While I can't change the existing survey at this point, I will certainly note the trends in feedback I'm seeing, such as the asymmetry of where people spend their time.

If you haven't yet taken the survey, I would really love your feedback.




Not the easiest thing to fill in - I run three games with entirely different frequency, location and setting. One's mostly weekly, during lunch hours at work, one's biweekly on roll20 and one is every 6-8 weeks in someone else's home, a couple of hundred miles away.


I am running a Greyhawk game too - the party are 14th level and just went into the Chapel Room in Return to the Tomb of Horrors (modified to fit my metaplot).

Last session they discovered Orcus and his minions have set up King Xavener of Ahlissa as an unwilling puppet and are sending and army south to destroy the Tomb (Orcus doesn't like the idea of Acererak's plan AT ALL).

This all links to the current status of Ivid the Undying (who is actually the Ghoul Emperor from Tome of Beasts) and the dark magic around Rauxes.

The Warlock in the party works for Razcoreth the Dragon of Dreams (from the Feywild) and the party had to escape a seriously nasty ambush by Baba Yaga in Werewolf Vale a couple of sessions ago.

The Paladin in the party found out his heavily disguised sword is actually the Sword of Kas recently and is struggling to remain LG whilst using it's power and mutual desire to destroy Vecna and his minions... King Belvoir of Furyondy was almost assassinated by the Drow House Despana who were the only ones who knew he had the Hand of Vecna grafted to him...

... the party stopped the assassination attempt only to realise they shouldn't have, and now have made a pact with House Despana which got them into the Tomb of Horrors escorted by a Drow agent in the necromancers academy.

Meanwhile Furyondy is in full civil war... Tenser has lost his magic to the Serpent in an ill-advised ritual to discover Vecna's plans and Kas was rescued by the party from a realm in Ravenloft by the party and has been reunited with his brother.

Oh and the Renee have their palace back now Tenser has moved out, and revealed they are the source of the order of the Amber Magi (from my Curse of Strahd/Kas modified adventure path).

There are various other serious intrigues and plans that the plotline and party actions have conflated into all of this - Melf and Corond; convincing Queen Yolande of Celene to finally intervene in the conflict; an allied Stone Giant Dreamwalker and his people; the missing heir to the true bloodline of the Great Kingdom (rescued from the Goblin Market slave pens in the Feywild - to Baba Yaga's fury) now kidnapped by the Cult of Vecna; help from the Lady of Pain in Sigil (she HATES Vecna after he nearly destroyed the place); Gulthias and the Cult of Ashardalon; the Assassins Guild of Greyhawk; the Circle of Eight and the party's association with Mordenkainen... a recent meeting they arranged between Tenser and Robilar (to talk about the Tomb of Horrors) and an offer by Asmodeus for an alliance of convenience once the party discovered the secrets of Primal Speech and the true significance of mortal souls in the cosmos...

They are up to their necks in trouble! :)
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I filled it out for the campaign I've just wrapped up (which ended in a TPK). I didn't check, so I suspect the breakdown of times on the different bits of prep work probably add up to considerably more than the total. :)


Hi Mike,

I responded to the survey, but over the past few years, I've been using pre-written adventures mostly so I had to respond accordingly with much less prep time. There have been times in my years as a DM that I do completely homebrew, so if I filled out the survey even 2 years ago, my responses would be 3x or 4x the amount of prep. Basically, I like doing homebrew better, but I have not been able to put in the time.

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I just wanted to thank all of you who took the survey and for the feedback on the forum. While I can't change the existing survey at this point, I will certainly note the trends in feedback I'm seeing, such as the asymmetry of where people spend their time.

If you haven't yet taken the survey, I would really love your feedback.



It's a very interesting survey, Mike! Interested to see what conclusions you draw from it!

The session prep time questions were intriguing. I answered:

About 1 hour total prep per session (more like 1 hours 15 minutes)
5 minutes campaign/world building
15 minutes story
15 minutes combat encounters
15 minutes NPC development
15 minutes exploration/roleplaying scenes
5 minutes treasure/magic item selection
5 minutes props (though this varies wildly depending on the session)

Difficult to answer. I gave my best guesses, but the issues that I was running into were:

-I run a multiplanar campaign that theoretically touches all campaign settings. We've already been in a homebrew world, the Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft.
-I make use of a combination of my own designed adventures, official adventures, and sandbox "create your own adventure by living your life" style of of adventures.
-I found it very difficult to assign numbers to preparation time because most of it is done up front and not on a per session basis. Per session I might spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, but there are many, many more hours that have gone on before a campaign ever started, and with a long campaign it is extremely difficult to parse that out to how much applies to an immediate session.
-For tools, I wasn't sure what kinds were most relevant there, and I listed Realm Works (world database for all of my campaigns and settings, and session journal entries), iTabletop (VTT with rooms, maps, an initiative tracker, dice macros, video, and the ability to play uploaded music to the group) and Teamspeak (quality voice chat and an easy format for sharing files, posting links, and sending private messages to individual players.)
But were I allowed more options I would have also listed a shared spreadsheet (Excel Online) for editing character and party inventory, a local spreadsheet for sorting spells by various factors (it's Ari's, but I rewired it a bit for my needs), digital basic rules and OGL, pdfs of previous edition setting materials, pdfs with material I've created, a text file for keeping track of session information, all of that divided up amongst 2 laptops, physical books, some printed cardstock sheets with important DM references, rules, and tables (like a custom DM's screen, but in loose sheets for ease of access), a printed sheet with condensed PC stats, printed copies of each PC's character sheet (rarely needed, but it comes up), printed sheets with all of the spells known by the party (in PHB format), physical dice, calculator, a physical notepad and pencil for quickly jotting down things to take care of after session, as well as tracking monster hit points and placement relative to characters. And two bottles of water.

Wish I had another computer or a gigantic monitor, and an extra table on my other side.


Hi MIke

Really like your Website - been using since 4E days.

The prep questions are a tricky one to answer - I spend a reasonable amount of time either just pondering my game or world, but not much time doing actual writing stuff down prep. Some sessions will have a lot done, others I'll have a rough idea and just wing it for the session. Other times I'll just get hit by an inspiration, and the whole session will do off in a completely unexpected direction. Some times I'll come up with a scene or sequence, and then it's a matter of driving the game in that direction, until it happens.

I'm currently just starting a new Campaign, so enthusiasm is running high, so I'm doing a lot more prep than I normally do.

I do really miss the 4E online tools. I wish Wizards could something similar for 5E.

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