D&D 5E Regarding DMG, Starter Set and Essentials kit: Are they good for the starting DMs?

Alby87

Explorer
Hi! I'm writing this thread because in this forum I'm noticing several thread speaking on the role of the DMG: For some people it's a good reference book but not a starter book. For others the Starters and Essential Kits should be the real "starting" DM guide, for other the PHB, except for the missing magic obejcts list, is as good as is.

I wish to collect more about your tought about this question: "Is the official printed material available for D&D enough for starting playing the game as it is devised?".

Let's, for this example, imagine people which never had contact to RPG or D&D before, no access to external world or third parties book, nor Internet, Youtube and the stuff. Only the three starter and essential boxes, the core book slipcase (PHB, MM, DMG) and the core expansion slipcase (XGE,TCOE and MMOM).
How they will play?

My idea is that, WotC materials alone, the LMOP and DOIP will teach you how to DM, (no access to Stormwreck, don't have it) because they teach you the base of the game. The main cycle, the skills checks, the saving throws, and so on. Hiding and Vision might be explained better in the boxes than in the PHB!
The combat I think has a problem: they rely on the theater of the mind, but a lot of usefull information on how to adjudicate spells range are not tell (there is that sweet table on the DMG that tells how much peple is affected by cones and so on).
I think that is a conseguence of the 4e "you must use a battlegrid" fiasco. The starters give little advice on how to run a Thatre of the Mind combat but at the same time don't tell anything on battlegrid. This might be confusing.

Another problem is the how mapping is handled: they say to use it to explain or to draw for them, but no advice of "player could draw map too". This could have been a good advice, something that the old OD&D/BD&D boxes stressed a lot.

The adventure part (the town, the NPCs) advices are good... better than I remembered. There is even a small part of Wilderness trecking (but not resource management).
What the boxes and the PHB are missing is a good character sheet rundown. It's not a super complicated sheet, but it would have been nice to have something to explaine to complete new gamers how to use it.

So... the boxes really helps new DM to run published adventures. The DMG gave this information for granted, so the Core book trilogy is not helping completely new people. PHB was designed for new gamers, but the game core books was not designed for new DMs. And, this is what I think is the source of the most of the discussion: it takes for granted a skill a lot of DM want to have but no official materials, 5e, is giving them: how to create adventures. There are really a lot of tables and inspiration ideas on the DMG, but nothing like a tutorial, boxes style, to tell how to create a good dungeon map, how to populate it, how to put traps and so on. Same for Wilderness: terrain, cities, roads... If you have this skills from other sources, then the DMG is a mine of information.

TCOE recognised a Session Zero guide was missing everywhere, so they made it. XGE recognised the missing wilderness random encounter tables (in the DMG were spoken of but not presented), and they made it in that book.

So... rearraging the DMG in OneD&D will sure be a goal, but what Wizards shoul publish should be an "Beginner's DM" box, with a lot of tutorials, like B1-B2-X1-CM1 modules: tells the DM how to create not stories, backgrounds, NPCs (that's the DMG area), but playing pieces like maps, traps, areas. To better explain what's missing, from me, is:
Totally newBasicMediumAdvanced
PlayersLMOIP/StormwreckDOIPPHBPHB
DMs
LMOIP/Stormwreck
DOIPMISSINGDMG


Yes, outside of WotC are there a zilion of those books (like Lazy DM's trilogy) and many blogs, I recognize that.
I hope you found this reading interesting, naturally those are only my 2 CPs.
 

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pointofyou

Adventurer
My experience and perception has been that the materials are fine if the DM is new to Fifth Edition but otherwise has some experience with running D&D. Where they fall flat is if the DM has never run a game before. Where they absolutely implode is if the person who wants to DM hasn't ever played a TRPG before and has no mental model for how play is supposed to happen. When 5e was written most new DMs were in the first category. As time has moved on more new DMs are in the second and now the third categories and the materials need to be written or rewritten with those people more in mind.
 
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Oofta

Legend
My experience and perception has been that the materials are fine if the DM is new to Fifth Edition but otherwise has some experience with running D&D. Where they fall flat is if the DM has never run a game before. Where they absolutely implode is if the person who wants to DM hasn't ever played a TRPG before and has no mental model for how play is supposed to happen. When 5e was written most new DMs were in the first category. As time has moved on more new DMS are in the second and now the third categories and the materials need to be written or rewritten with those people more in mind.

How many people starting D&D have never actually seen it being played either in person or on a stream? It's not like people live in a cave only to stumble upon the holy books.

I don't think starter kits will work for everyone but they're the best we can do. Seriously, expecting one tool to work for every possible situation (unless that tool is a sonic screwdriver of course) is always going to end in disappointment. That's why they're experimenting with other things like a sample encounter with associated video for example. Give people different options.

But the number available at people's fingertips for learning how to play is vastly more than we've ever had in the history of the game, I assume it's one of the reasons for continuous double digit growth. We picked it up from awful Gygaxian prose back in the day, I assume most people can muddle through running a game. They'll make mistakes, learn and get better, make more mistakes, rinse and repeat.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
How many people starting D&D have never actually seen it being played either in person or on a stream? It's not like people live in a cave only to stumble upon the holy books.

I don't think starter kits will work for everyone but they're the best we can do. Seriously, expecting one tool to work for every possible situation (unless that tool is a sonic screwdriver of course) is always going to end in disappointment. That's why they're experimenting with other things like a sample encounter with associated video for example. Give people different options.

But the number available at people's fingertips for learning how to play is vastly more than we've ever had in the history of the game, I assume it's one of the reasons for continuous double digit growth. We picked it up from awful Gygaxian prose back in the day, I assume most people can muddle through running a game. They'll make mistakes, learn and get better, make more mistakes, rinse and repeat.
I'm sure there are people coming to D&D without good mental models of play. I've interacted with some of them. Why should people new to the game now make the same mistakes we did thirty or more years ago? Why should WotC offload actual DM assistance and instruction to Sly Flourish or The Angry GM or Matt Mercer? Death of the Author not withstanding it seems to me as though the people in the best position to teach people how to play or run the game would likely be the people who wrote it. I gather that happens all the time in indie-game spaces.
 

Imaro

Legend
I'm sure there are people coming to D&D without good mental models of play. I've interacted with some of them. Why should people new to the game now make the same mistakes we did thirty or more years ago? Why should WotC offload actual DM assistance and instruction to Sly Flourish or The Angry GM or Matt Mercer? Death of the Author not withstanding it seems to me as though the people in the best position to teach people how to play or run the game would likely be the people who wrote it. I gather that happens all the time in indie-game spaces.

Honestly... because it's one of the greatest strengths of being the market leader and vastly more popular than any other ttrpg. You're literally asking why they should leverage one of their greatest advantages for having the D&D brand... I guess my question would be why would they not want to use those externalities to their advantage?
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Honestly... because it's one of the greatest strengths of being the market leader and vastly more popular than any other ttrpg. You're literally asking why they should leverage one of their greatest advantages for having the D&D brand... I guess my question would be why would they not want to use those externalities to their advantage?
Because if they actually help people figure out how to play the game people will stick with the game longer and plausibly exchange more of their hard-earned money for WotC's goods and/or services? And the more people stick with the game the more they'll recruit more people?

The approach in the 5e DMG is absolutely the right approach if you're focused on retaining players or recapturing players who've drifted away. It's pretty much the worst possible approach once you start attracting more people new to the game overall. The old players you could count on their ability to fill in the gaps in the instructions with their memories of past play. The new players cannot do that.
 

Imaro

Legend
Because if they actually help people figure out how to play the game people will stick with the game longer and plausibly exchange more of their hard-earned money for WotC's goods and/or services? And the more people stick with the game the more they'll recruit more people?

Is WotC struggling with this? I don't see any evidence that players introduced to D&D via external means leave the game quicker or spend less money...

The approach in the 5e DMG is absolutely the right approach if you're focused on retaining players or recapturing players who've drifted away. It's pretty much the worst possible approach once you start attracting more people new to the game overall. The old players you could count on their ability to fill in the gaps in the instructions with their memories of past play. The new players cannot do that.

Starter set...Starter set...even better because
1. The buy in is magnitudes smaller than the core books for a game you've never played and aren't sure you will enjoy.
2. They are more willing to stock them in mass market retailers because they come in boxes and can be marketed like boardgames.
 

Oofta

Legend
I'm sure there are people coming to D&D without good mental models of play. I've interacted with some of them. Why should people new to the game now make the same mistakes we did thirty or more years ago? Why should WotC offload actual DM assistance and instruction to Sly Flourish or The Angry GM or Matt Mercer? Death of the Author not withstanding it seems to me as though the people in the best position to teach people how to play or run the game would likely be the people who wrote it. I gather that happens all the time in indie-game spaces.
Why would they ignore the fact that people are offering this advice at no cost to them? Plenty of benefits with minimal risk.

Indie games have to provide stuff because no on else is going to. WOTC did have a stream run by Crawford, but for a variety of reasons things like Critical Role was a huge hit (along with others) so the WOTC version is no longer required

There are also plenty of advice postings on DndBeyond which is now part of WOTC. They just published a free encounter with associated video, not to mention multiple starter sets. Not sure why you ignore all of those.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Is WotC struggling with this? I don't see any evidence that players introduced to D&D via external means leave the game quicker or spend less money...



Starter set...Starter set...even better because
1. The buy in is magnitudes smaller than the core books for a game you've never played and aren't sure you will enjoy.
2. They are more willing to stock them in mass market retailers because they come in boxes and can be marketed like boardgames.
The people I know who tried to pick up the game from a Starter Set without any prior experience quit and so far as I know haven't tried again. Anecdotes are of course not evidence and neither is just one.

Yes but the Starter Set doesn't teach people how to DM any more than the DMG does. The Starter and Beginner Sets can be shelved like boardgames and among the boardgames but I haven't seen any evidence they're being marketed like boardgames. Given D&D isn't a boardgame I don't think that'd be a great approach anyway.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Why would they ignore the fact that people are offering this advice at no cost to them? Plenty of benefits with minimal risk.

Indie games have to provide stuff because no on else is going to. WOTC did have a stream run by Crawford, but for a variety of reasons things like Critical Role was a huge hit (along with others) so the WOTC version is no longer required

There are also plenty of advice postings on DndBeyond which is now part of WOTC. They just published a free encounter with associated video, not to mention multiple starter sets. Not sure why you ignore all of those.
So the top-listed piece of putative advice on D&D Beyond is "5 Tips to Making Your Dragons Funny with Improv." I'm sure that's excellent advice and something new DMs should focus on before learning anything about the game.

Sarcasm aside the top-listed New DM advice is for Stormwrack Isle which I have not read. The advice on Beyond doesn't not inspire much desire in me to read or run it. On the other hand there's an article by Mike Shea which is likely to be quite helpful but it gets back to the outsourcing of such basic instruction.

It is easy for me to see the prevalence of outside advice as reflecting the game being poorly written or at least written without any thought to people new to the game or the hobby trying to figure it out. It seems to me that all the advice available on the Interwebz will serve only to sow further confusion. But perhaps I am dim or at least easily confused.
 


pointofyou

Adventurer
A quick search tells me those videos probably are about 500 words each. They must have chosen those words exceedingly carefully because that doesn't seem anywhere near adequate.
 

Stormonu

Legend
My experience is most people start out as players, and become DMs later. I think there is some of that ideology in the starter sets that someone whose had previous DMing experience will run the game, they just may need a refresher. If a group picks up the starter set with no prior frame of reference they can still muddle through it (plenty of people have done it in the past and still do today), and will generally get better as time goes on. I think the sets do a pretty good job of covering the most pertinent situations that will come up, and the rest is learned with experience. The starter set should get you started, the DMG is the complete reference once you're ready to move past the basics.

A case where someone has no previous D&D experience, no video/social media access and chooses to pick up the DMG to learn, I'd highly discourage it. It's just not going to end well and I don't think the DMG should be written with that utter novice situation.
 

The D&D learning to play stuff is on YouTube, with directions to check there in the modern Starter Set


There's also this other Learning to Play series with less specificity towards the Starter Set



Both are fine to good

First video alternate title: What is D&D?

Second Video alternate title: How to Play D&D (i.e. the play loop from p6 of the PHB)
  1. The Setup = The DM describes the environment.
  2. The Decision = The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The Result = The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.
The both do a solid job, IMO. Quite adequate for what they were trying to accomplish, in any case.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
My experience is most people start out as players, and become DMs later. I think there is some of that ideology in the starter sets that someone whose had previous DMing experience will run the game, they just may need a refresher. If a group picks up the starter set with no prior frame of reference they can still muddle through it (plenty of people have done it in the past and still do today), and will generally get better as time goes on. I think the sets do a pretty good job of covering the most pertinent situations that will come up, and the rest is learned with experience. The starter set should get you started, the DMG is the complete reference once you're ready to move past the basics.

A case where someone has no previous D&D experience, no video/social media access and chooses to pick up the DMG to learn, I'd highly discourage it. It's just not going to end well and I don't think the DMG should be written with that utter novice situation.
I muddled through DMing when I was new to the hobby. I do not dispute the value of experience but I think it'd be a good thing if the books didn't make muddling through mandatory.

If there is any TRPG someone is going to purchase with no prior history with or knowledge of the category it's D&D. I think it'd be a good thing if the books were helpful to such a someone.
 

Let's say you want to learn a language. In order of increasing usefulness, you can
1. Buy a grammar book and dictionary and read them
2. Buy a text book and work through the examples, and/or use an app
3. Take a course that combines a text book with live in person interaction
4. Move to a foreign country and muddle your way through

In my experience, the last one leads to many awkward and frustrating situations, but has the best results, and fairly quickly. If you move to a place where you truly cannot get by in your native language, you learn to communicate quickly. Meanwhile, all of your everyday interactions, from whats on TV to what you hear on the streets, force you to engage with that language. But if you can't immerse yourself in the language, you're better off learning through and with others and with the aid of materials (a textbook, etc) that are specifically designed for teaching.

Good textbooks will teach the elements of a topic step by step with clear exercises for practice. There might be a limited glossary in the back, but fundamentally they are for incremental teaching and not reference. Good reference books, on the other hand, will organize materials for those already familiar with the language who might need to look up a grammar rule or a word.

So to bring this analogy around, when it comes to DMing the best way is to just start a weekly game, mess up, and try again. Second best might be playing with people who are experienced or new but interested in learning, so you can learn together. Third would be a text specifically designed for instruction (starter set). Last would be trying to learn only from the reference books (core 3 books).
 

I started DMing with the original 5e Starter Set and the PHB, having only ever played actual tabletop briefly once decades earlier (though I had played Neverwinter Nights 2, so there was a fair amount of general D&D game concept and lore familiarity). It was all I needed.

Since I had the PHB and a set of dice the only material in the original Starter Set relevant to me was the adventure, but it was still worth it (I think I paid $16 on Amazon, which per dollar made it easily my best D&D purchase outside the PHB). Basically what makes the original Starter Set, Essentials Kit, and presumably the new Starter Set (which I haven't seen yet) work is that they have manageable easy to run adventures written with a little handholding for new DMs, and all the things you would need to cross-reference the DMG or Monster Manual for in short appendices in the back. They are also simple modules with lots of loosly connected things going on, such that you can expand, change, or improvise with minimal consequences, rather than having every change break a dozen other things in a typical overly intricate and sprawling WotC adventure (which I think also suffer from being too vast for the authors to keep the details straight, much less the DMs). I wish all the 5e adventures were written like these.

Note that while I ran a game having never properly played 5e, and only sort of played 3.X, doing so did require sitting down and reading most of the PHB, as well as a lot of stress and mistakes that wouldn't of been as pronounced if I had played a bit of 5e first, ideally with someone helping me learn the rules. But if you don't have 5e gaming opportunities in your life, or find the prospect of reading a book and running a game less intimidating than going to find a game to join, it is a perfectly viable option.

I bought the DMG early as well but bounced off of it, and never used it in that first campaign except to add some extra magical items. That's not exactly an indictment of it's quality so much as a the fact that I had just read the PHB mostly cover to cover, and had an adventure to prep, and something had to give. The DMG is not particularly well suited to a brand new DM (or at least poorly organized for them). It lost 2016 me when it began with worldbuilding, a very interesting and compelling subject of very little relevance to someone trying to prep a Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign to run in a few days and still struggling to keep all the base game rules straight.

Generally I feel like the DMG suffers from organizational problems. It covers worldbuilding and adventure design before running adventures. Now this makes all the broad conceptual sense in the world, but even I, the guy who chose to DM before playing, came to the book for help running a prewritten adventure. How many people are ever going to open the DMG for the first time with the plan to create a campaign setting and adventure from scratch and follow through on that?
 
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Oofta

Legend
Something else to consider is that some people just are never going to enjoy being a DM or be any good at it. Doesn't matter what resources you provide, it's just not going to be their groove. There's nothing we can do about that.

So if someone picks up a starter set and decides to not continue DMing we have no way of knowing if it was lack of resources or lack of interest/capability/dedication. With the number of resources available, I'm betting that the vast majority of times it's the latter. The only real way to learn to DM is to do it. Very few people are naturals at DMing, most of us just stuck with it and got better over time.
 

gorice

Adventurer
Let's say you want to learn a language. In order of increasing usefulness, you can
1. Buy a grammar book and dictionary and read them
2. Buy a text book and work through the examples, and/or use an app
3. Take a course that combines a text book with live in person interaction
4. Move to a foreign country and muddle your way through

In my experience, the last one leads to many awkward and frustrating situations, but has the best results, and fairly quickly. If you move to a place where you truly cannot get by in your native language, you learn to communicate quickly. Meanwhile, all of your everyday interactions, from whats on TV to what you hear on the streets, force you to engage with that language. But if you can't immerse yourself in the language, you're better off learning through and with others and with the aid of materials (a textbook, etc) that are specifically designed for teaching.

Good textbooks will teach the elements of a topic step by step with clear exercises for practice. There might be a limited glossary in the back, but fundamentally they are for incremental teaching and not reference. Good reference books, on the other hand, will organize materials for those already familiar with the language who might need to look up a grammar rule or a word.

So to bring this analogy around, when it comes to DMing the best way is to just start a weekly game, mess up, and try again. Second best might be playing with people who are experienced or new but interested in learning, so you can learn together. Third would be a text specifically designed for instruction (starter set). Last would be trying to learn only from the reference books (core 3 books).
This is a useful but problematic analogy. If you do language immersion, you are learning the language as it is spoken by a community of speakers. Generally, the worst thing that can happen is that you learn an unfashionable dialect and people make fun of you.

If you learn to DM by doing, the 'community of speakers' is your own table. We see this problem all the time, including in threads like these: everyone is speaking 'D&D', but no-one can understand each other. We're all mostly speaking gibberish and reinventing the wheel. This problem is probably insoluble, but a responsible approach to teaching would try and establish some kind of baseline.

One interesting point in which the analogy works is that, in my experience and many other people's, immersion learning tends to plateau after a while. Those much-maligned grammars and dictionaries are important learning tools that remain useful to advanced speakers.
 

In my experience, when I started out, I had only heard about this infamous game (late 2e era, mid 90s). I got the black box starter that came with the audio cd. That's all I had to go by. YouTube didn't exist. I finally got the PHB and DMG. I studied those books at the expense of my grades. I had no idea, other than the audio cd how to DM. I just kept at it. There were things that I didn't know until way later (xp for gold). I see it as waaaaay easier to learn how to DM and generally play the game these days regardless of how helpful the 5e DMG is. Even still IMO the 5e DMG is light years ahead of the 2e DMG. I dabbled in 3e (too worried about girls during that time). With 4e I may have looked over the DMG a handful of times. Out of all the editions I've played and DM'd I have found the 5e DMG the most helpful and the one I've read through the most. I think new people will be fine with what's available.
 

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