Tips for a first-time DM?

  • Hey allies! So a few of my friends have approached me wanting to get into D&D as i'm the only one who has experience with it. We decided to start getting together for a D&D adventure, with me as the DM so i could teach them the ins and outs via a playthrough. However, i've only ever been a player in D&D so this will be my first time as DM - i wondered if there's anyone in the forums who could give me a few tips? Are there any common mistakes of first-time DMs i should be aware of?

    L&R !!

  • Be more patient than Gandhi.

  • Say yes to more than you think you should but don't be afraid to point out details the player may have missed. "I want to grab the torch off the wall!" exclaims the player who forgets that they were recently doused in lamp oil. You say "Make a perception check" They roll and as long as it's not a one you say "you reach towards the torch and the smell of lamp oil fills your nose from your clothes as your hand wraps around the bottom of the torch." this gives them an out but you still let them start to do what they wanted to.

    Avoid railroading your players. Yes you have a story in mind and players will always find a different way of going about things so go with the flow. They shouldn't fight your Big Bad Evil Guy until level 13 but they make a straight line to the fight at level 5? Have the BBEG and some minions beat them up some and throw them in a dungeon. Let them find a way out and realize that they aren't ready yet. Then lure them elsewhere with legendary gear so they level up seeking what they need to win.

    Avoid arguments while playing. Sometimes players dislike something that happens during the game and try to argue. Don't let it happen during the game and drag down the whole session. Explain quickly that you will be glad to talk about it after the session and move on. Then after the session listen to them and work toward a solution. Always be willing to meet your players halfway in these situations because if your players aren't having fun then what is the point?

    Give your world consequences. Your party getting a little kill and loot happy? Have wanted posters for them start popping up along with a few bounty hunters. Don't encourage murder hobo behavior if these are supposed to eventually be the heroes of the realm. If you are paying an evil campaign (not suggested for first time DMs) have heroes come against your players again and again getting stronger each time.

    Don't let any one player dominate the party. It sometimes happens that players will have ideas of what other players should be doing and will be quite verbal about it. Gently point out that they are meta gaming as their character couldn't possibly know what is going on in the other players head. "I think you should tell him that we will kill everybody if they don't do what we want." says player that doesn't have a character involved in the scene. "Well how would you get that message to player that is in the scene? How would you even know what was being said?" you say with a smile. If they don't take the hint drop the gently part and be clear about how you will not allow meta gaming during combat (telling people what to do out of turn) or social encounters (telling people what to say in front of the people they are talking to) and you will curb the worst of this behavior.

    Talk to your players. Before you begin talk to everyone and make sure you are on the same page. If half your players want a dungeon crawl/loot grab and the other half want a heroic story then nobody is going to be happy every session. See what they want and then when everybody agrees on anything make sure to make that happen.

    Don't allow players with bad behavior to ruin your game. As a DM you are the leader of the gaming group. If someone is making other players uncomfortable or is abusive toward other players don't let them play with you.

    Have fun. Seriously some people forget why they started playing or get so wrapped up in the main quest they forget to have fun along the way. Always have a few ideas of fun side quests in your bag of tricks so if the group gets too focused or intense have a wizard that accidentally turned itself into a sheep come up and ask for help. Maybe the local kids have a game of getting heroes who pass through to do something amazing for a sick friend of theirs. Whatever it is be sure to have 3 or 4 of these handy always.

    When in doubt act like you are certain and move on. It's your universe so what you say goes. Don't forget that.

    If you want your players to do more than give them incentives. Want more role playing from them? Speak as the non-player characters and reward them when they do the same with their characters. Want them to pay attention in combat? Add a "ready at the beginning of your turn XP bonus" and watch everyone start writing down the initiative order so they can be ready.

    Give bonus XP but make your players tell you what they believe is worth it. Do this via email so send out a base XP email and they reply with what they did that deserves more. It will give you a really clear view of what they think is important in the game and you can give them opportunities to shine this way.

    Sometimes throw your players for a loop. They have to make it out of a cave as it is collapsing? Whip out a hourglass and make them do quick dexterity checks. They are about to fight the BBEG? Have a friend who plays with a different group come and play the BBEG. They finally find the second piece of of an ancient artifact? Have it be the same as the first. Watch it dawn on them that one is a fake.

    Feel free to start with store bought adventure and then work it into what your players want. The Mine of Phandelver for example comes with some hooks at the end which you can spin your story out of. This will give you weeks to see your players in action and start to write your story for them.

    Set a hard rule for how many players can be absent for a game night. I have 8 players at the moment so if 2 or more can't make it we don't play. I offer one shot games from other systems or card games on those nights.

    Well that is a good starting point but feel free to hit me up if you ever need any more advice. I've been doing this for awhile and I'm always happy to help new DMs when they are starting out.

  • Descentfromgrace said most of it, but I'll give me two cent too.

    I always have a meeting with my players before they've made their character and before I have commited to a setting. If you have some ideas talk to your players about. If every single player makes a scoundrel character it can be hard to run a Tokienesque hero tale and it's annoying to have worked hard on a long setting only to have the players derail it 30 min in, if you've spent hours fleshing out a main quest. I think it's okay to talk to the players about what you have in mind, but listen to what they want too and try to find something that fits everyone.

    When you are preparing you tend to have a clear picture of how the players will go from A to B, but it is very common that the players will overlook something you thought would be obvious or get sidetracked and look in a completely different direction. When you flesh out a quest try to make it possible for it to be solved by adapting to what the players do. If you've made a villain's secret hideout is in a cave in the forest, but the players decides that it too dark and scary and go back to town to visit the brothel, try to adapt. Maybe a player stumbles onto a secret door in the brothel's wine cellar. Sometimes it pays of to be vague, when you are preparing, but how much needs to be planned is a matter of temperament and only you can decide how much to have prepared to fall back on.

    About groupe size. I personally think a groupe of 4-5 people is the ideal with anything smaller it tends to be a bit tougher to keep the energy going and anything larger can lead to a lot of downtime, boredom and the battles tend to be very long. This depends on who you are playing with too, though.

  • @descendfromgrace Oh wow this is great - there's definitely a lot of things i hadn't thought about!

    Thank you so much for the reply <3

  • @naltmank Oh man tell me about it - i feel like my old D&D group almost pushed our poor DM to the limit /multiple/ times :')

  • @Tiggerdyret Thank you! I'll definitely have you and Descentfromgraces's replies handy whilst planning the adventure :)

    I'm almost certain there will problems and slip ups but i guess it's a learning curve and i'm lucky to be playing with forgiving friends!

  • @KTee90 No problem. I'm glad it will be useful to you.

  • my advice would be:

    remember the rules are just there to facilitate the fun, not kill it, use them as part of the storytelling, part of the characters, dont get caught up on technicalities too much

    "in-character" trumps "in the rulebook" if it's something their character would do, let them do it even if it's a bit weird for that race/class to be doing it

    give everyone a chance to shine, try to create scenarios both in the combat and in the story that will allow each persons character to be pivotal to that particular part

  • @KTee90 Yeah, you'll probably make a few mistakes, but I'm sure it'll be fun none the less. Mistakes can be lead to great fun! I think the most important thing is to find out what drives you. If you are having fun and committing to the game people will follow and do their best to make the game run smoothly.

  • Recently me and some friends started up a D&D game.
    Our DM had us rank like 5 different objectives for the storyline he was going to do, so that he had a consensus of what everyone wanted. Apparently it was an idea that he got from the Seven Seas RPG. These included stuff like exploration, monster slaying, intrigue etc. It worked well though because he got to see what we wanted, and could tailor the game to those interests.

  • It's been over a year, how is your game going?

  • @KTee90 I don't have experience playing D&D specifically, but I was a member of LARP club in high school where we played with similar rules to D&D just with worlds and enemies of our our creation. I built one story set in the modern day but with magic and one thing I quickly learned from my players is that no matter how hard you try to think of everything the players will find some way to break the game or will become overly invested in an aspect of the world that you haven't fully developed. As for breaking the game, prepare for a player to say they want to cast an explosion spell on a stalagmite(tite? IDK) in hopes that it will fall on a boss. You might not have considered this possibility and it might not be one of the ways you thought of to beat the boss but try to think about how realistically well that move would work and respond accordingly. Sometimes the random stuff works well. As for players focusing on seemingly random aspects of the world that you haven't fleshed out I would say just be prepared to make shit up on the spot. One of my players decided that he wanted to know the name and backstory of a villain's koi fish and how much the villain cared about it. The koi pond was actually just mentioned to set the scene for the area the players were entering but all the players hopped on this one particular koi fish and wouldn't let go. I ended up having to make up this koi fish's life story on the spot and then had to expand its personality when the players decided to take it with them on their adventure claiming that the koi fish was "too pure for a life of crime". So yeah, just practice filling in random details on short notice and be prepared to have to expand on those details later.

  • A bit late to comment on it, but in my experience, first-time DMs have an easier time when they use premade modules instead of making up their own campaign from scratch. It doesn't require as much prep, and is usually better balanced than a beginner-made campaign would be.