DM Lessons

an Introduction to DMing


10/24/20234 min read

So, you want to be a DM in Dungeons & Dragons or whatever your Tabletop RPG of choice is?

If you are shiny and brand spankin' new.. Let's roll through some basics:

  1. Familiarize Yourself with the Rules: Make sure you have a good understanding of the game rules, especially the core rulebooks. This will help you run the game smoothly and answer players' questions. I know this sounds obvious, but some people dive straight into the telling a story without understanding how to smoothly handle combat.

  2. Start Small: As a new DM, it's often best to begin with a simple adventure or one-shot rather than diving into a complex campaign. This allows you to gain experience and learn the ropes before taking on larger stories. Players want to explore your world, but you might not be ready to give them full agency (#8). So start small.

  3. Communicate with Your Players: Have a session zero where you discuss expectations, house rules, character creation, and any other important details. Regularly check in with your players to ensure they're having fun and address any concerns or feedback they may have. Addressing concerns and taking feedback / critiques are one of the hardest things to handle and accept. This takes time, but start by just listening and taking notes. NOT knee-jerk reactions.

  4. Prepare but Remain Flexible: Planning your sessions is important, but players can be unpredictable. Be prepared to adapt and improvise when necessary to keep the game flowing and enjoyable for everyone. Speaking of...

  5. Encourage Roleplaying: D&D is a collaborative storytelling game, so encourage your players to immerse themselves in their characters. Create opportunities for roleplaying between players (This also gives you a change to breathe and prep and take notes) and provide NPCs with distinct personalities to interact with. I keep a cheat sheet of NPC names ready to be used (if needed) and some basic characteristics / styles. Once I create something that needs to be remembered, I add it to my world.

  6. Use Descriptive Language: Set the scene by using vivid descriptions to help your players visualize the world around them. Engaging the senses can enhance the overall experience.

    Why would you say:

    "You enter the Jilted Weasel tavern. There are various patrons around the room, a bartender at the counter and a bard playing music."

    When you could say:

    "As you step into the smoky tavern on the Jilted Weasel, the air is thick with the scent of ale and a hint of burning wood from the roaring fireplace. The dimly lit room is filled with a mix of rough-hewn wooden tables and chairs, occupied by a diverse group of patrons. The walls are adorned with old tapestries depicting long-forgotten battles and mythical creatures.

    At the center of the room, a small stage is bathed in the warm glow of flickering candlelight. A bard stands tall, strumming a lute and captivating the audience with melodic tunes. Their voice carries through the air, weaving tales of heroes and adventurers, love and loss. The bard's fingers dance effortlessly across the strings, creating enchanting melodies that blend with the clamor of the tavern."

  7. Balance Challenges: Provide a mix of combat encounters, puzzles, social interactions, and exploration to cater to different player preferences. Vary the difficulty level to keep things exciting, but also ensure a fair challenge.

  8. Embrace Player Agency: Remember that D&D is a collaborative game, and the players' choices should have consequences. Allow them to influence the story and give them opportunities to make meaningful decisions.

  9. Have Fun: Enjoy the journey and have fun with your players! Embrace the unexpected moments, embrace the laughter, and create memorable experiences together.

Remember, being a DM is a skill that develops over time. Embrace the learning process, be open to feedback, and continue refining your craft. Good luck and may your adventures be epic!

Aside from those core principle's, always remember the following:

You do you

if you are more comfortable in a certain thing then go for it. If you are comfy, we'll adapt because we'll get comfy.

For me. I run 100% open worlds meaning if you want to do something Im not ready for. Ill wing it. if you turn an enemy into an ally, I'll adapt. If you ignore the campaign and go onto your own adventure.. that's OK to. Ill find opportunities to give you hooks that you can ignore or take. either way I roll (role) with it.

For you, that might be. "I'm open to whatever but guys try to stay on track cause I am not super comfy with massive on the fly improve world building." — if you tell us that, we'll stay on track. with some minor bits here or there. and we wont feel railroaded.

Always remember the Rule of Cool. If it makes a memorable moment or give a character an opportunity to be the hero they want to be - They are certainly willing to try. And when the rolls allow it, let it happen. and allow the character to tell how it happened.

Never blow over "down time" activities

Most character and team building don't come from combat but from activities like discussions around campfires and on watch and shopping. If you think of characters as real people. They only spend 10 minutes a day fighting, 8 hours sleeping, 2 hours eating. That leaves 14 hours of exploration, research and talking.

You can ROLL for what an NPC knows and fake it. Give them a DC with proficiency if it makes sense. Maybe the towns guard (DC 14) has a gossipy wife or the mayor plays in a card game with the local corrupt merchant (DC 12). Asking a researcher for help in a library might give you advantage AND lower the DC from a 17 to a 13. - I do this all the time.

Don't be something you are not

Don't try to mimic a DM [like Matt Mercer, B Dave Walters, Aabria Iyengar, Brennan Lee Mulligan, Devan and Dustin (RockPunch ATL), Chris Hislop, etc]. Their style is theirs. You should do yours - but watch what they do and how they manage players. There are lots of ways to manage players without "leading the discussion."

Sometimes you just need to know when to talk and when is it OK for them to lead as a player.

Best of luck and Happy rolling / role-ing