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Any tips/tricks for a new D&D DM?

Lividlegends

First Post
A couple of friends want me to jump right into DMing, and I am not opposed to it but I have minimal experience mastering any table tops. Anyone have any tips?
 

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thanson02

Explorer
A couple of friends want me to jump right into DMing, and I am not opposed to it but I have minimal experience mastering any table tops. Anyone have any tips?
Well,

1. Do practice runs with the mechanics. So run a few combat, social, and exploration encounters to get comfortable with how they run.

2. Start small and the go big. Too often, new DMs try to go with the big epic story arcs and they end up biting off more then they can chew. Also, they try to come up with all their own stuff right away. There is nothing wrong with premade adventures. If anything, they work well as a track to follow.

3. Use your play experience to set your play style: if you have played before, take your bad experience and do the opposite of them. Then pick through the good stuff and add that. That will start you off in a good place. Then I would find DMs online and watch the ones you enjoy. You will pick up on little things you can add to your game.

That should get you started. ��

Sent from my XT1096 using Tapatalk
 
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Solid advice from Thanson02. I’d add talking to your players about the kind of things they have fun doing. Do they like combat? High-difficulty, low-difficulty? Are they big fans of social interaction and role-playing?

Sometimes being a good DM is more about being the right DM for your group.

And don't be afraid to pause play when you need to look up a rule. Since you're new to DMing, they should be understanding. And the more you know, the less you'll need to do so as you go on.

Matt Mercer’s GM Tips are also really good to watch:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7atuZxmT9570U87GhK_20NcbxM43vkom
 



machineelf

Explorer
Here are some things I've learned:

Expect to make mistakes, but don't sweat it. Everyone does, especially when starting out. Your players will have fun anyway, because role-playing games are fun. DM'ing is a bit of a skill, so you'll get better the more times you do it.

Don't try to play your own character while DM'ing. Just give up playing a character while you DM. You get to play all the NPCs, so let your players play their characters. When I started, I really wanted to play, but no one else wanted to DM, so I tried to have my cake and eat it too by DM'ing and also playing a character. Big mistake. It takes time away from the other players, and most of all there's a conflict of interest. Even if there isn't one, your players will think there is. Over time I learned I really loved to DM and I didn't need or want to play a character while I DM'd.

When a player tells you that you've gotten a rule wrong, be willing to admit you're wrong and be willing to investigate it. You may want to look into it after the session is over, so as not to slow the session down. But if everyone is fine with it and it's quick to look up the rule, go ahead and do it. Tell your players from the start that you're new to DM'ing so you will try to get all the rules right, but you might make some mistakes. Assure them that you will do your best to be fair about everything. They should be patient and nice with you if they are good people. If they are jerks about it, then you don't want to play with them anyway. :) Of course, the more you DM the better grasp you will have on the rules. Once again, don't sweat it. You will make mistakes, and that's OK.

Some practical tips:

Do as many rolls and setup as you can ahead of time. This includes encounter rolls or whatever. Basically you don't want to be pausing for a long time to make a lot of rolls to set something up, if you can help it. Any rolls and setup you can do before the session begins helps a lot.

You don't want to railroad the adventure of course, but you will probably have an idea of what your players may do given the scenario they are presented with. So make a play-list of sorts, outlining the possible and probable encounters and story plot elements they will come across. This will help you organize things in your mind and keep your flow smooth. Your players WILL do some unexpected things and make unexpected choices. So just go with it. Move story plot elements around on the fly as needed. Have some backup encounters ready that you can just throw in anywhere if you need to.

Get all your monsters together ahead of time so you can transition to the fight as smoothly as possible. So, this might mean writing down all the monsters they will fight in a notebook, with their hitpoints and whatnot, ahead of time. It might mean bookmarking the monsters in the monster manual.

My monster manual fell apart, and so I took every page and put them in individual plastic page protectors and put them in a big binder. So now when I set up a session, I can take the individual pages of monsters they will encounter out of the binder, and put them neatly in a spot where I can use them. It eliminates flipping through the monster manual. As a bonus, I can use dry erase on the plastic covers, to mark off spell slots used for the casters.

Speaking of spells, if you have any magic caster monsters, familiarize yourself with their spells, so you don't have to flip through the PHB constantly. Make notes if you need to. Also, for any encounter, take some time to think about the tactics the monsters will use, or the spells they will likely use, ahead of time. So when you get to the battle, you don't have to waste time figuring that out then.

All these things should help with the flow.

For all my players, I write their characters' names down on blank index cards. I fold the index cards in half and write the names on both sides. Then I simply put the cards on my DM screen in the order of their initiative roll. That makes it easy for everyone to see who is about to go next. (I make generic cards for groups of monsters. M1, M2, M3, etc.) Because your players can see when they are about to act, it helps to remind them to think about what they will do on their turn, which also speeds up play. I also use a clothes pin and put it over each card as we go through initiative order, so that I don't lose track or skip anyone.
 
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S'mon

Legend
Run something small and simple, but with plenty of player choice. Old school dungeons are perfect for this - I recommend Dyson's Delve https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/dysons-delve/ or many of the One Page Dungeon contest entries. These bare bones adventures are good for developing important GM skills such as adding your own ideas to published material, while Dyson's maps give plenty of room for choices in exploration.

The classic & best starting point is a simple 'home base' area such as a village or (for SF) a frontier starport, plus an adventure site nearby such as a dungeon or ruin. This creates a natural play dynamic that is easy to run and can support long term play. The home base can have minimal detail, but a few friendly NPCs with one-line personalities is a good minimum to make it feel alive.
 

Xaspian

First Post
Play with friends, or at least people you trust to forgive any mistakes you make. Explain which parts of DMing you find challenging, and ask for their help.

Don't try to overwhelm yourself with getting everything right all at once. Start with simple adventures and ideas, and work up to more challenging games as you grow in confidence. Don't worry if it's not perfect - as long as everyone at the table enjoys it, it doesn't matter if things don't go according to plan.

Delegate some parts of running the game to save your brainpower for other parts. For example, I tend to put one of the players in charge of tracking everyone's initiative, which means it's one less thing for me to think about, and another player volunteers to take notes as a detailed record of our sessions.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Do a DM cheat sheet which list pc name, class, level, hit pts, spell dc, etc. Have a session zero where you talk about what type of campaign you be running.
Say yes but be willing to say no after you said yes. Ex. Jasper your magic missile machine gun sounded good but after 2 sessions it sucks.
Decide on fudging or no fudging (are you going change the dice roll etc after the fact).
Play a lot of low adventures first. This will help the players build their pc collection, and you get use to how the players react at the table.
Be willing to smack players upside the head if they are making you uncomfortable. EX. Jasper the dirty jokes have to stop around the kids, and quit hitting on my girl friend.
Don't drop too much dough into the game. A few adventures, 2 or 3 sets of dice and you are good.
 

Imperialus

Explorer
Run something small and simple, but with plenty of player choice. Old school dungeons are perfect for this - I recommend Dyson's Delve https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/dysons-delve/ or many of the One Page Dungeon contest entries. These bare bones adventures are good for developing important GM skills such as adding your own ideas to published material, while Dyson's maps give plenty of room for choices in exploration.

The classic & best starting point is a simple 'home base' area such as a village or (for SF) a frontier starport, plus an adventure site nearby such as a dungeon or ruin. This creates a natural play dynamic that is easy to run and can support long term play. The home base can have minimal detail, but a few friendly NPCs with one-line personalities is a good minimum to make it feel alive.
I second this. Keep the 'world' small, at least at first. A small home base with a few named NPC's that the characters can get to know that is no more than a day's travel to and from the dungeon they are starting in is perfect. There is a reason that B2, Keep on the Borderlands remains one of the most iconic Dungeons and Dragons adventures ever written even though it is like 40 years old now. I'm almost totally unfamiliar with the current edition of D&D but I understand that there is a 'basic' version of it upon which you can bolt all kinds of complexity. I'd suggest doing just that. Stick to the basic rules. Expand out as you go.

Whatever you do, try to avoid doing some massive Final Fantasy/Bioware/Wheel of Time "chosen one" epic plotline from the get-go. First of all, it'll be totally overwhelming. You'll be trying to figure out how to infodump all sorts of stuff on your players and they'll be trying to keep your b-list fantasy doorstopper straight in their heads. Second, what happens if the 'chosen one' dies? Keep the goals simple. Kill the Kobold king who's raiding the road, that sort of stuff.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
The Adventurer's League "In Volo's Wake" series which you can get from the DM's Guild are good adventures to get players started. But the time you are done the players will be around 5th level and you should be more comfortable. Then move to an AP like Curse of Straud. Starting with published adventures makes prep easier. It is easy to focus so much time on building your world and writing adventures that you forget to actually prepare for game day.

Of the APs, I thing Curse of Straud is good because it is more contained. You don't have to worry about the entire Sword Coast. Also, you don't have gaps to be filled like some of the other APs.
 


Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Hold on lightly. Don't try to manage the game. Come up with an interesting scenario or dungeon if you are playing D&D, let the players make decisions for their characters, and let things snowball from there.
 

CydKnight

Explorer
I am a fairly new DM myself having become one by default about 6 months ago. Either no one else wanted to do it or the ones that did were probably not going to do so long term for one reason or another.

Some say the best man for the job is often the one that does not want it. Why? Because they know what the job entails to do it right and they either fear the potential failures or they simply do not want to do the work. For me it was a bit of both. Once I got into it, I embraced it and now love being a DM though I still also sometimes just want to be a player. Here are a few things I have learned so far:

1. Embrace the role. If you do not fully embrace being a DM your game will have shortcomings and the players will notice. If you are going to do it be all in.
2. Preparation is key. Right now I would say that I spend nearly twice as much time preparing for a game session than the time spent actually playing. This may not be true for more experienced DMs but in the beginning you will find yourself having to familiarize yourself with pages of manuals you previously didn't have to know as a player.
3. Be as organized as you can be. This can help your game run smoother. It's no fun for players to wait several minutes between actions while you are sorting through a jumble of paper, manuals, etc. searching for a single rule clarification.
4. Cheat sheets can and will be your friend but only if it is useful information and you are familiar enough with them to access the information quickly.
5. Let the players be the characters they want to play. Set limitations for them if absolutely necessary but allow them to stretch the rules of character creation if they seem highly enthusiastic about their vision of that character.
6. You absolutely must establish ground rules before the first game session begins. This includes how dice rolls are to be made, metagaming, common courtesy, etc. If you think it may be an issue, then address it with the group. It's much easier to establish what's acceptable or not acceptable before an incident occurs.
7. Be flexible. I try to default any 50/50 interpretations to the players. I will almost always give them the benefit of the doubt unless I can make a strong case against it in the rules as written or a pre-established house rule. Some players will not respond well to a DM they feel is being a tyrant and I often see the players police themselves on some things.
8. Know the campaign material. If you don't know the material, then delay or skip the game session. If you buy a campaign module, Do Not open it for the first time at the game table and expect to have a smooth running campaign. You will not. Players often will get very anxious and disengage from the game mentally if they are waiting even a few minutes for you to sort through a page or two of the story. It is also more likely that you will make a mistake like revealing something vital that should be discovered through game play. If you are running a Homebrew (custom created) campaign, don't try to create it as you go at the game table. It's a recipe for uninspired players.
9. Take notes. If you are forgetful like me you will sometimes have a hard time remembering what happened in the last game session and how to proceed with the next one.
10 Have fun. If it's work for you then you shouldn't do it. To many the preparation required to make a game run fun and smooth is tedious work that isn't very fun. I have come to enjoy this aspect and no longer view it as work. It is fun to run through potential scenarios and paths your characters might take and planning accordingly. It is fun for me to plan more challenging encounters tailored to the player's strengths and weakness after becoming familiar with their play style.
 
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1. A session 0 helps get you and your players get on the same page. It also helps if everyone is together when they make their characters. And ask them not to make evil characters. Be clear about what you expect of them as players.

2. Prepare! Have town names, npc names, and details ready.

3. Learn by running a pre-made module.

4. As said by other posters, start small.

5. Make sure you are familiar with the monsters you are about to run, and don't have to look up their abilities during play. You can print out a copy of the monsters and have them at the ready.

6. Be familiar with the basic rules of combat and ability checks.

7. You don't need miniatures, but often some maps, and simple pawns, can help illustrate certain scenes. Especially when combat is involved.

8. Keep a record of all the characters and places you introduce in your campaign.

9. It is better to say "Yes... and", then to say "No, you can't", when a player wants to do something.

10. A regional map, helps with getting the players into the game. It is a thing that both you and your players will often be able to refer to. I highly encourage it. But don't fall into the trap of making it too big. Start small.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
If you are doing Adventure League A title card is nice for the group. Ex Tales of Yawning Portal, Sunless Citadeal DCI 1234456789 Jasper. Xp blank Gp black. Renown 1. Order of Ice cream +1 if brings mint chocolate to dm, Story Award Kobolds know your name. Magic item +5 unholy Avenger.
Correct your mistakes ASAP but only do major recons. Ex. Sorry guys you should only taken 5d10 last night instead of 10d10. Jasper you were not killed last week. Here is you gp back.
 

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