How To Run Your First D&D Game as a Dungeon Master

How To Run Your First D&D Game as a Dungeon Master

Congratulations on deciding to run your first Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game as a Dungeon Master (DM)! Being a DM can be a lot of fun and a rewarding experience, but it can also be intimidating, especially if you're new to it. Don't worry, though – with a little preparation and a lot of enthusiasm, you'll be well on your way to running a great game.

Before we dive into the specifics of running your first game, let's start with some general advice for new DMs.


1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes

As a new DM, it's natural to be nervous about doing things right and making sure everyone has a good time. But the truth is that no one expects you to be perfect – not even you! D&D is a collaborative game, and part of the fun is figuring things out together and adapting as you go along. Don't be afraid to make mistakes or to ask your players for help or feedback. Chances are, they'll be happy to pitch in and help you make the game as fun as possible.

2. Start with a pre-written adventure

One of the most daunting aspects of DMing can be coming up with an adventure from scratch. If you're feeling overwhelmed, consider starting with a pre-written adventure. There are many great resources out there, both online and in print, that offer fully fleshed-out adventures that you can use as a starting point. These can be a great way to get a feel for DMing and get some inspiration for your own adventures.

Tempted to write your own adventure, checkout our article which will guide you through the pros and cons: Should I write my own campaign or use a module? →

3. Don't be afraid to deviate from the script

While starting with a pre-written adventure can be a great way to get your feet wet, don't be afraid to deviate from the script if it's not working for your group. The beauty of D&D is that it's a collaborative game, and the players' actions and decisions can often lead to unexpected twists and turns in the story. If something isn't working or the players are bored, don't be afraid to pivot and go in a different direction.

4. Communicate with your players

Effective communication is key to running a successful D&D game. Make sure to let your players know what you expect of them, and encourage them to speak up if they have questions or concerns. It can also be helpful to establish some ground rules for communication and behavior at the beginning of the game.

5. Set the tone

As the DM, you have a lot of control over the tone of the game. Are you looking for a lighthearted, comedic game, or a more serious and dramatic one? Make sure to communicate this to your players and set the tone from the beginning. This will help everyone get on the same page and have a better idea of what to expect.

6. Have fun!

Above all else, remember to have fun! D&D is a game, and the most important thing is that everyone is enjoying themselves. Don't get too caught up in the rules or in trying to do things "right" – just relax and let the game unfold naturally.

Now that we've covered some general advice, let's dive into the specifics of running your first game.

Running the game:

Step 1: Gather your materials

Before you can start your first game, you'll need to gather all the materials you'll need. Here's a list of some of the essentials:

  • Players: You'll need at least a few friends or acquaintances who are interested in playing. It's generally recommended to have a group of at least three or four players, including yourself.
  • A set of dice: D&D uses a variety of dice, including a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20. You'll need at least one of each of these dice, but it can be helpful to have multiple copies of some of them.
  • Character sheets: These sheets contain all the information about each player's character, including their abilities, skills, and equipment. You can find printable character sheets online or purchase them at a hobby store.
  • Rulebooks: The D&D rulebooks contains all the information you need to run a game, including the rules for character creation, combat, and magic. You can purchase a physical copy of the rulebook, or you can find the basic rules for free online.
  • An adventure: As mentioned above, you can either create your own adventure or use a pre-written one. If you're using a pre-written adventure, make sure to read through it carefully and familiarize yourself with the plot and any NPC (non-player character) descriptions.
  • Miniatures and a battle map: These are optional, but they can be helpful for visualizing combat and movement. You can use figurines or other small objects as miniatures, and you can use a gridded battle map to track movement. 

Step 2: Create your adventure

If you're using a pre-written adventure, you can skip this step. If you're creating your own adventure, start by coming up with a general concept and plot. You don't need to have every detail figured out – that's part of the fun of D&D – but having a general idea of where you want the story to go can be helpful.

Next, think about the setting and the NPCs that will populate your world. Consider creating a map of your world and coming up with descriptions for the various locations and characters.

Step 3: Create your characters

Have your players create their characters using the character creation rules in the rulebook. Encourage them to come up with unique and interesting characters, and be willing to help them if they have any questions.

Once the characters are created, make sure to have the players fill out their character sheets and ensure they have a copy on hand. This will help them keep track of their abilities, skills, and equipment.

Step 4: Run your first session

Now it's time to start your first session! Begin by introducing the adventure and setting the scene. You can use descriptive language and props (such as maps or pictures) to help set the mood and give the players a sense of the world they're in.

As the game progresses, you'll be responsible for narrating the story, describing the environment, and playing the roles of any NPCs. You'll also need to keep track of the game mechanics, such as combat and skill checks.

Don't worry if things don't go exactly as planned – that's part of the fun of D&D! Just keep an open mind and be willing to adapt as needed.

Step 5: End your first session and plan for the next one

At the end of your first session, take some time to debrief with your players and get their feedback. What did they enjoy? What could be improved? Use this feedback to help plan for your next session.

It's also a good idea to spend some time reviewing your notes and making any necessary preparations for the next session. This might include creating new NPCs, mapping out additional locations, or coming up with new encounters or challenges.

Running your first D&D game as a DM can be intimidating, but with a little preparation and a lot of enthusiasm, you'll be well on your way to running a great game. Remember to have fun and be open to adapting as needed.

As you gain more experience as a DM, you'll develop your own style and techniques. Don't be afraid to try new things and experiment with different approaches. The more you DM, the more comfortable and confident you'll become.

Some additional tips for new DMs:

  • Don't be afraid to improvise: D&D is a game of improvisation, and it's completely normal for things to not go exactly as planned. Don't be afraid to wing it and make things up on the fly – just be sure to stay true to the spirit of the game and the characters.

  • Encourage player creativity: D&D is all about collaboration and creativity. Encourage your players to come up with unique and interesting ideas, and be willing to incorporate them into the game.

  • Get feedback from your players: After each session, ask your players for feedback on what they enjoyed and what could be improved. Use this feedback to help you become a better DM.

  • Keep things organized: As the DM, you'll be responsible for keeping track of a lot of information – character sheets, maps, notes, and so on. It's a good idea to keep everything organized and easily accessible.

  • Have a backup plan: It's always a good idea to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong or someone can't make it to a session. Consider having a list of pre-made characters or a pre-written adventure on hand in case you need to fill in at the last minute.

Running your first D&D game as a DM can be a challenging but rewarding experience. With a little preparation and a lot of enthusiasm, you'll be well on your way to running a great game. Just remember to have fun and be open to adapting as needed. Happy DMing!