View Full Version : First Time DM Advice

2011-04-13, 08:35 PM
I've played DND (3.5) a few times. But, at the school I'm at, none of my friends have (sure, there's a club, but I don't really know many people there), and I want to start a campaign.
Are there any suggestions for DMing for the first time, simple house rules, or an online guide? Any personal suggestions would be welcome as well.

2011-04-13, 08:47 PM
My General tips:
-Figure out the story for the first adventure and by the time that's over figure out the larger campaign, once you do flesh out the major actors in the story other than the party and figure out what they want. Once you've done all that you'll be much better prepared for when your players do sandbox, and better be able to pivot when the player's actions change the story. Make sure there's space in this for odd side quests when you need to do something different for a session.
-make your players come up with a background for their characters, not only will this help them to make players they're interested in playing, and will give you some material for plots/subplots.
-since you just starting out don't get discouraged when your players either need assistance (you cheating) or blow through encounters. It'll take a little to get a feel for what they're capable of but you will, and they're much less aware of how lopsided things are in general than you are.
-Make the players make spare copies of their character sheets and keep them somewhat updated that you can hold on to for when they forget to bring theirs.
-have at least 1 dedicated notebook for the campaign, reserve the last few pages to keep track of party XP.
-People really don't like getting killed, do it when they deserve it (like they totally ignore common sense and basically ask for it) and do it when they've stopped fearing death, but not much more than that.

2011-04-13, 08:52 PM
1: Learn how to take 15 minute smoke breaks whenever something surprises you, even if you don't smoke to make changes to your campaign as necessary.
2: Quit smoking. It's bad for you.
3: Every once in a while, when you're feeling a little surprised by the party, but not hugely so, try to wing it. Gain EXP every time you do.
4: Slowly level up to a level 5 DM, where you learn the class ability "improvisation" which lets you deal with an unplanned situations without screwing up the situation.
5: Replace smoking with improv.

Improvisation, it'll save your life from smoking.

2011-04-13, 09:42 PM
-Make the players make their own characters so you have something to hold hostage
-Describe things for no longer than 30 seconds
-Have a plot and locations (locations are more important)
-be ready to throw out that plot and those locations
-plan encounters
-plan more encounters than you think you need
-tell everyone to be there an hour and a half earlier than you need them to be. If they show up, awesome
-plan meal in advance if possible
-don't get mad unless you have a really good reason to be
-extend encounters in lazy ways if you lose too early, play it like an ambush and you planned it all along
-entertain players if they're covering for something you didn't think of with a good explanation
-ask players who are about to die from something really dumb if they REALLY want to do it. Do this three times, each time
-Have awesome bosses and some memorable NPCs and let your players be awesome and all of your inevitable failings will probably be forgiven
-Congrats you're stuck as DM

2011-04-13, 10:04 PM
Keep a contingency plan or seven. Clever players can derail any plan you put in front of them without meaning to. Yes, even that one.

2011-04-13, 10:27 PM
Thank you, these are all great pieces of advice, and please, keep it coming. Any advice for players who have never played before?

2011-04-13, 10:45 PM
This (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=76474) is also a good source of advice for beginning DMs.

For beginning players? Hmm....I'd say ignore whatever you've read on the internet and play something that sounds fun :smalltongue: The optimization can come later.

2011-04-13, 11:52 PM
This (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=76474) is also a good source of advice for beginning DMs.

For beginning players? Hmm....I'd say ignore whatever you've read on the internet and play something that sounds fun :smalltongue: The optimization can come later.

That guide is gold, thank you!
What I meant was DMing people who have never played before.

2011-04-14, 12:09 AM
Oh, I gotcha. I do that a lot, and I've had good luck with explaining the basic idea of D&D as "If you want to do something, you roll a d20 (this one), add stuff to it (I'll show you when you get to it), and hope for a high number." After that, I'll go over the races and classes briefly, and ask what they're interested in playing. Once they've picked race/class/general idea for the character I like to narrow it down for them and offer what I think are the most useful options for each item (skills, feats, equipment, etc) rather than overwhelming them with all their choices. Character creation is the hardest part, but once you're done with that, I just remind them where everything is on their character sheet and start playing. Then I show them what to use as their modifiers each time they want to do something (which generally only takes a couple of repetitions). I also point people towards the Player's Handbook (or if they don't have access to one, the SRD), but those are often more useful after you've played a session or two so that you have an idea of the sorts of things you can do (they're hard to just sit down and read :smalltongue:).

That helpful?

Gamer Girl
2011-04-14, 12:52 PM
What I meant was DMing people who have never played before.

1.Take a couple minutes to explain the basic idea of role-playing. ''Your pretending to be a character in a fantasy world''. And so forth.

2.Take a couple minutes to go over the rules. Not all the rules. But for 3.5E D&D everyone should be familiar with the whole d20 idea.

3.You want lots and lots of D20 checks so that people get used to the idea and how to do things like add bonuses. For example, have them swim across a river, or balance across a rope over a ravine, or climb a tree.

4.Make it clear that the rules are just a framework, and that their character can attempt to do anything. You want to break people of the habit of ''asking if they can take an action'' before it even starts(and it will). Tell them to never ask if they can do something, tell them the answer is you can always try.

5.Avoid anything overly complicated, like grapple checks or other combat actions. Let them get used to 'normal' combat first.

2011-04-14, 03:45 PM
Collect their sheets! Not for control reasons, not so you can scheme and see their weaknesses. No, you take their sheets so that a) you can keep a master copy for when they inevitably get lost, and b) you can make a "cheat sheet."

Type up and print out a basic list of the rolls each player is most likely to make. (attack rolls, saves, turn checks, etc.) Jot down the basics of their class abilities, feats, magic items, and favorite spells. List the page number and book where their abilities, spells, feats, etc. can be found!

In my experience, someone can "get" the whole idea of the game and be really into it, but still get hung up on the actual mechanics. Heck, even experienced players can get confused if they're playing a class they're unfamiliar with. I had a GM once who made a cheat sheet like this for his players, and we loved him for it. (Then, once they get more familiar with the game, they can start adding other things to their cheat sheet. Does your character like feinting in combat? Jot down the rules on feinting, so you don't have to keep looking them up.)

2011-04-14, 05:45 PM
Read my signature's link.

2011-04-14, 06:21 PM
One of my favourite techniques for new players, even a whole groupful, is to give them all something important and significant to focus on for their character, usually of their choice. Make them royalty, the last of a lost religion, carrying a critical message from X to Y, the last known surviving student of <fill in Uber-dude/dudette here>. Making the players and their characters feel special in ways the character sheet can't will make them feel invested in the characters and the world they're in. :)

Lord Vampyre
2011-04-14, 07:13 PM
Unfortunately, you are going to run your first game with a full group of newbies. Although, its not the most ideal situation, it has many advantages.

First, you won't have to worry about any rules lawyers.

Second, you don't have to worry about optimizers breaking your game.


- Get basic concepts on what your friends want to play, and then just have the characters ready for them when you start playing your first game.

- Let them in on the rules they will need to know as you get to them. When they get into combat, let them know what their options are. If they are coming up on a trap, tell the thief-type character that he should probably search for traps while in a dungeon, or breaking into a wizard's tower, ect. Basically, let them know when they can do something, if they appear at a loss for ideas.

- If your not sure about a rule, just make a ruling and then look it up after the game. You can always let them know later that you need to make a change.

- One last word of note: DON'T TPK A GROUP OF NEWBIES!! Now, many of us thrive on a challenge and don't mind losing a character or ten, but when you kill a player's first character when they are trying to learn the game, the game tends to become frustrating instead of fun. Now, you don't really want to have fudge dice rolls, so you should really try under-powering the encounters while they are learning the game. If it seems too easy, you can always throw more of them at the party; and then have the horde route when they see how powerful they PCs are. I've always enjoyed my characters routing the invading army single-handedly.

And most importantly: HAVE FUN!!!!!!!

2011-04-15, 12:20 AM
For new players:

1. Explain how things work and walk them through the creation of a group of first level characters.

2. Show an example of combat.

After this, they usually pick up pretty quickly. I'd suggest starting them at level 1, simply because starting above that can be a bit overwhelming with the masses of class features.

For new DMs:

LEARN TO IMPROVISE. My players were going from Point A to Point B and got bored along the way. So what did they do? They went to go get a Silver Dragon. Because they felt like it. And they darn well got themselves a Silver Dragon. You can either be the awesome Free-Flow DM that rolls with the punches, allowing for some amazing stuff to happen, or the hated Rail-Roading DM. Guess which one you want to be? Always have backup plans. I find it easiest to know a number of events that I want to occur and simply squeeze them in when the situation is appropriate. Linear planning never ends well when players are thrown into the mix.

KNOW THE MATERIAL. Make sure you're confident in the rules. If the players find reason to question your knowledge, things can quickly devolve into rule debates which aren't fun for anyone.

BE CONSISTENT. Especially with new players, inconsistency can really confuse people. Make sure that if you make a ruling one way, you make it that way every time.

MAKE SURE THEY'RE HAVING FUN. As the Dungeon Master, you have one job and one job only: Make sure your players have a good time. It doesn't matter if you didn't accomplish any storyline, or hardly even played as long as people enjoyed themselves. You're in charge of making sure everyone leaves the table satisfied with their experience. If there's something bothering a player, or they don't like the way things are going, change it.

HAVE FUN YOURSELF. If you don't enjoy DMing, then you shouldn't do it. This is a GAME. A darn awesome game, but a game nonetheless. No one is forcing you to DM. Okay, maybe your friends are, but really it's up to you. Make sure that you enjoy what you do and you'll find that you'll be a better DM. Make a world so awesome and a storyline so compelling that you're bursting with want to tell it.

EXPERIMENT. Try things out. See what works and what doesn't. Things really depend on your personal style and your players. Eventually you'll hit your stride.

Hope this helps.

2011-04-15, 02:19 PM
1) No plot survives contact with the player party

A lot of people have talked about improvisation. no matter how well you plan the game, no matter how many contingencies you prepare, there will come a moment when the players do something you weren't expecting. if you can improvise around that then the game will go a lot more smoothly. That said itís your first time in the throne of DMiness so no one is going to expect a perfect performance. Do your best and have fun doing it. But don't get hung up over making everything perfect and preparing for every eventuality. And yes you should make sure you have a throne of DMiness. It is a fact that people in a group automatically feel like deferring to the person who is sitting in the chair with arms, having the best chair gives you a slight psychological advantage which can be handy.

2) Nothing is set in stone until you tell the players (and sometimes not even then)

Building on what Iíve said above, this is an important "trick" to bear in mind when you do come to improvise. DMing involves telling a complicated story, you will want to prepare it before hand, probably in some detail. But its always a story that changes in the telling, very few games end up being played the same way the DM planned them and often the best games are the ones that don't. if you want to change something that you have already told them then you can do, maybe an NPC was lying. Maybe the map was badly drawn. They don't know what was planned before hand. This will let you adapt the story as you go along.

3) Let the players drive the plot

Or at least feel as though they are. Obviously you are writing the story and you will want to stick with what you are writing. But players will be happiest when they feel that they are having an impact on the direction of the story. You don't have to go completely off the rails. But can do more subtle things. You know you are going to be writing in a new NPC, rather than making up someone new, take a character who was just going to be a random extra and use your new ideas to make them more important and fill the role you had planned. when the guy you called bob because you didn't already have a name for him when the players asked you turns out to be the retired Sir Robert de Lac veteran adventurer and priceless source of information on the Villains past activities the players will feel satisfied, because they were the ones who decided to find a guy who could fix the broken sword that they weren't supposed to be keeping.
if they come up with an answer to a puzzle that is better than the one you thought of you can go with it. They will be more satisfied than being told to guess again.

4) Everything will take at least twice as long as you expect it to

When you are planning a game leave space for your players to do things you weren't expecting. they will faff about, they will go the wrong way, they will sit around in the tavern debating whether or not they should trust the friendly priest who has asked them to run an errand for him, even if he's still sitting there... even if he is one of the character's uncles... so don't expect to rush through the story as quickly as you wrote it.

5) The Rules are more like Guidelines

if a rules issue comes up don't worry, looking things up can work, but can also distract from the game. you are meant to be telling a story, not sitting there leafing through rulebooks for ten minutes trying to work out whether two bonuses stack or not. if in doubt be generous. if you rule in the players favour then they won't mind that they weren't actually supposed to get that extra +1 to hit, whereas if you rule against them you can expect them to spend hours trying to prove you wrong. the last thing you want to do is get into an argument over the interpretation of the rules. move on. tell the story, make a joke. you are allowed to because...

6) The DM's word is final

This is sometimes called Rule Zero. As Dm what you say goes. please don't go mad with power and try to take over the world. that happens far to often and then the omniscient council of DungeonMasters will have to stop you, and we have games to plan!
The people who wrote the rulebook are sitting in their magical seaside fortress casting spells and writing tomes. They are not at you're table and so you are more likely to be right than they are. Use your authority. But make sure that you use it in a way that the players will respect. In other words...

7) Make sure everyone has fun

Including yourself. As DM you are an adjudicator. You will be called upon to make snap decisions. Always make the decision that you think will be most fun for the most people. Sometimes this is as simple as saying yes rather than saying no when a player wants to do something crazy. if it won't ruin your plot then let them or at least let them try, obviously crazy plans don't always work, but often how they go horribly, horribly wrong is more fun than it would have been if they had gone right, or tried something that worked, or not been allowed to try something silly.

Sometimes you will have to choose between whether to play a trope straight or to subvert it. Will my players be happier if the grand vizier with the goatee beard turns out to be evil, and they predicted it because, you know, he's a grand vizier with a goatee beard... or will they be happier if he turns out to be a good guy after all and they are pleasantly surprised? These are the sorts of decisions you have to make all the time from planning an adventure to running it. The right decision is always the one that most people will be happy with.

those are the seven golden rules of being DM. I hope that helps. welcome to the throne. no one said being a DM was easy. it is stressful, it is frustrating, it is brillient. DMing is the best bit of the game. enjoy it. and le us know how your game goes.


2011-04-15, 02:48 PM
My advice for first time DMs with first time players is to just be flexible. You're going to screw up. Your players are going to screw up. It's okay. I recommend transparency, let your players know that you're knew, too, and be willing to work with them through anything you messed up.

Likewise, I'd recommend starting off small with a campaign. Don't run an epic world-spanning adventure first (trust me, higher levels take some time to run right). Maybe plan a campaign that can start at 1st level and take them through 6-8. Set the stakes relatively low at first, maybe just dealing with a city.

Ultimately communication will be the most important thing for you, as you and your players learn how to work problems out your own way. Remember, there's not such thing as a singularly good or bad DMing style, just what's good and bad for your individual group. Figure out from your group what they enjoy, whether it's grim and gritty noir mysteries, or wuxia inspired kinetic action scenes. Take your time, talk it out.

2011-04-16, 10:14 AM
if it's your first time as well as theirs, you might consider running a prebuilt adventure.

The adventure is already written out, with background info, monsters, plot, treasure all rolled out ahead of time. This will save you a lot of time and energy on your first time out and let you focus on getting the player's hooked on the game.

I haven't run it, but I've heard from dozens on the boards that The Sunless Citadel is a great module to run with new DM's and players.

Another thing that I find helps get new players interested is description - especially in combat. Instead of just saying 'the attack misses', say something like "You thrust your sword at the rogue, but he twists quickly to the side, using his dagger to parry.." or instead of "you hit" describe it like "Bubba the Barbarian's might swing punches through the villain's armor like it's tinfoil."

You don't have to do this for every attack, but giving the PC's something more than just "you hit" or "you miss" will keep things exciting.