Your First Session as a Dungeon Master

Becoming A DM


Dnd is an insanely fun hobby, that is very rewarding. But finding other people to play with can be a challenge. Many players at this point give up trying to find a group, and just wait for the opportunity to come up for them to play in a game. Most of the time this game never comes. However some players decide to take initiative and start their own games. If you are that player congratulations! I am proud of your initiative. You are about to step into the wonderful world of being a DM.

Your first world

When you first begin to DM there is one thing that every DM needs. And that is a world where your players can play in. There are 2 approaches to this.
Option 1.) Buying a module. This is the fastest way to get to playing a new world and is the tried and true method for getting into Dnd easily. If you are more interested in playing asap, then this is for you. The Starter Set for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons is a great place to start, and everything you need is in the box for only $20. Many other rpgs also have starter sets that allow you to play the game at minimal cost. And if you guys decide you like it, you can go from there and purchase other things to help you play Dnd. Here is the link to the starter set on Amazon.
Option 2.) Building your own world. In my opinion, one of the most fun aspects of DMing is getting the chance to not only craft your own world, but also having your friends explore it. However, building a world is no easy task, and will require a much larger time commitment than playing with something like the Starter Set. But the overall experience is far more satisfying than playing something that you pulled out of the box. This method also does not cost any money to try. You can use the basic rules they have available on the D&D website, along with free dice rolling apps that you can find on the google play store. Unfortunately the app store does not have free options.
If you have no experience in building a world, I would use the tried and true method of simply starting your players in a small town. Do not plan anything else except this small town. Throw in 4-6 different houses, make one a tavern, and start with the cliche “You all start in a Tavern”. This method while simple, is very effective, and can provide enough ideas for you to start with that you won’t have to worry about the rest of the world. Then have 3 different plot hooks that your players can follow. Plot hooks are essentially one sentence lines that say something about the world that needs fixing. For example “the hobbit Alesha has lost her brother in the abandoned mines”. Stop right there. There is no need to write anything beyond that, as the more you write about the story the more you will want the story to play out that way. This is called railroading and is probably the least fun anyone can have at Dnd. By having only one sentence and then not writing anything more, you allow your players to create the story, which is a much more enjoyable experience for all. Make 2-3 of these plot hooks and your players will be able to go any where they want to in your world.

I’ll be writing about worldbuilding more in a future post. Until then stay tuned.

Gathering players for your game

Again I see 2 methods to this.
1.) Asking your friends to play this game with you. This is probably the easiest method, but can be quite an intimidating task. D&D is often seen as a nerd’s hobby, who would want to do that? The answer may surprise you. Often enough, if you simply reach out to your friend’s that you want to play D&D they may surprise you in saying yes. I once went on a group date with these girls to homecoming. When we came home we asked them if they wanted to play regular boring board games like Apples to Apples, or Monopoly. Instead they asked to play D&D. Surprised, I pulled out some character sheets and had one of the best dates I’ve ever had, far better than a stuffy dance and some Monopoly! The reason they asked to play D&D though was because me and friend talked about it to each other during the date. So never hesitate to ask your friends if they want to play, as they might just surprise you. When I started the D&D club back in high school, I asked a bunch of my wrestler friends if they wanted to play. Half of the club ended up being composed of wrestlers. 
2.) If your friends aren’t into it don’t give up! There are thousands of people who would love to play. There is even a subreddit called /r/lfg, that is for this purpose. That stands for Looking For Group. I’ve personally used this sub to find a player, and within minutes of me posting a comment on one of the posts, I had someone requesting to join my group. She turned out to be a phenomenal player and was an amazing addition to our group. Reaching out on the internet can be a daunting task, but I personally found it as a great way to get a new player.

Learning the rules

As the DM it is your responsibility to know the rules. If you have the chance to read the rules before you play, do so! And then try to review them before the session begins. Rpg’s can be complex games, with different rules to handle different situations. And the rules have the ability to cover almost every known thing under the sun, because chances are your players will do something outside of the written rules. And all it takes to handle all of these things is an understanding of the rules. For example in 5th edition D&D it is not written anywhere on what the exact procedure to do if someone is sinking in quick sand. But if you know the rules you can say something like “make a dexterity save”, that is within the rules of the game. So if given the chance, please try to learn the rules of the system before you play. Nothing kills the flow of the session like having to crack open a rule book right as the wizard flings his spell at the Minotaur.
Now is it required that you know the rules before you start playing? Of course not and I can give many examples where I didn’t understand the rules when I first started to play. Here’s an example of when I first transitioned to 5th Edition D&D. The party wizard had decided to have a duel with a local townsmen. He goes first and casts Fireball. Me not understanding how Fireball works I told him to roll to hit. He scored a critical hit and vaporized this local townsmen. Now according to the rules this should never happen. But the important thing is in the end we still had fun, and even to this day we talk about how Stormagedeon critted on his Fireball. Relax and have fun. Dnd is a hobby, not a competition, and if you don’t understand the rules, it is perfectly ok to come up with something on the spot. Oftentimes that will be more fun and memorable than what the actual rules say.

DMing your first session

This is it. After all your hard work and preparation you are now sitting down at the table, behind a cereal box that you are using as your DM screen. (I even pimped mine out!) The world is ready, the players are here, you have read through the rules twice, and you have the plot hook for the adventure! Now what? This is both the easiest and most difficult part. At this point you gave your players a world and a potential story. It is now their job to do stuff. What this means for you is that you need to react. What many DM’s don’t understand is that DMing is more of a reactionary role than a proactive role. The story follows the players and their decisions, not what you wrote down on a piece of paper before the session. If you have a story written out before hand, you might as well write a book. This desire to control the story, and keep the players focused on what you have prepared is called railroading. Here is an example of a mistake I made where I railroaded my players.
“The Princess has been kidnapped! The King is calling upon all able bodied men and women to help rescue the Princess! This is by mandate of law!” The rogue upon hearing this asks the DM (me) if they can hide as they don’t want to be a part of the search for the princess. The player then rolls and exclaims “I got a 19! There’s no way they’ll be able to find me” The DM frowns and then said “The guards are especially thorough and look in the alleyways. They find you skulking in the corner and drag you out to help with the search”.
This is a really terrible example from my past, but it illustrates my point. Railroading is not fun for the player or the DM. The player has no investment in the story because their agency was taken from them, and the DM had to force someone onto the plot train. No fun for anyone involved and a sour start to an otherwise fun adventure. I went back to this adventure and made one key change.
“The Princess has been kidnapped! The King is calling upon all able bodied men and women to help rescue the Princess! Those who find the princess will receive a title of nobility and 10,000 gold pieces!”
This is a small change but a key one. By putting the adventure in the hands of the players they become far more invested in the story. They are choosing to save the princess because there is a good reason to, not because I told them they had to save her. The majority of players will follow this hook, and will enjoy it. However there are a few players who will ignore the hook and will go do something they find more interesting. And this is a good thing! I played this adventure once with my cousins and after hearing about the plight of the town, they decided it wasn’t worth their time. Instead they go romping up to the northern forest, killed some Gnoll’s, and set the forest on fire. We had a good time, even though it wasn’t what I had prepared before hand. And that’s the important thing. D&D is about having fun, not about telling a good story. A good story can be told but that is up to the players, not you. You can simply nudge them in the right direction.

Conclusion

D&D can be a very complex hobby, with weird dice and arcane rules. Becoming a DM can be a very daunting task, and many are too scared to even try. I hope that this post shows you how you can become a DM with minimal work involved, and still have a good time. If there is one rule about any and every rpg, it is To Have Fun! Some of my most memorable experiences are when we went off script and did crazy and fun things that the rules technically didn’t allow. But we didn’t let that stop us from having fun.
Good luck and enjoy your first session!