This article takes a look at the most common mistakes that novice D&D Dungeon Masters make. With this advice you can start putting together better and more fun games.
Being a Dungeon Master in a D&D campaign can be a daunting task if you’re new to the role. To help, I’ve put together a list of eleven short tips that will help your games run smoother and allow your players to have more fun during the gaming time you have together.
Tips for D&D DMs
Eleven helpful tips for beginner Dungeon Masters looking to improve their game for the next campaign.
Tip #1: Don’t be Afraid of the Rules
This is a common mistake that all new Dungeon Masters, from the beginner to the experienced, make. It’s understandable—the D&D Rules can be pretty daunting, often times causing Dungeon Masters to create their own homebrew rules instead.
The simple truth is, the D&D Rules are there for a reason. They’ve been playtested and fine-tuned over the years to work perfectly. They were created to be used. So, use them. Over time you’ll learn how to use them effectively and your games will improve.
Tip #2: Don’t be Afraid to Use a Module
This is another common mistake made by novice Dungeon Masters. Many new DMs are scared of using a published module because they believe they are not creative enough to run one.
The simple truth is, if you’re a novice DM, a published module will help you get over that fear. They are well-written, and they lead you along a path from beginning to end. They are essentially a pre-written game, and they give you a lot of tools, advice, and support. What’s not to love?
Tip #3: Don’t Have a “Theme”
Many new Dungeon Masters believe they are not creative, and so they take on a “theme” to help them run their games. That could be anything from a certain era (ie. the Napoleonic Wars), a certain location (ie. a jungle), a certain environment (ie. the Underdark) and so on.
But, this is a mistake. The best Dungeon Masters have no theme. Instead they let their imagination and creativity flow freely. They let their games develop organically.
Tip #4: Don’t Forget the NPCs
One of the best ways to help your game flow naturally is to have your NPCs act naturally. This is something that many novice Dungeon Masters forget—they simply place a few NPCs down and let them do whatever they want. They might say a few lines and then just stand around.
But, if you’re going to create an NPC, it needs to be a character. It should be a living, breathing person with motives and desires. This will help your game flow naturally, and your NPCs will feel real.
Tip #5: Don’t Forget the Party
This is another common mistake. Many novice DMs have only a vague idea of what their party looks like. But, when you start actually playing, the party will grow and change.
Instead of being vague, create a detailed and colorful picture of your party. Give them personality and history. This will help you roleplay better and it will help you understand the players better.
Tip #6: Don’t Forget the Combat
The same goes for combat. Many novice DMs do not give combat much thought, and so it ends up feeling flat and boring.
Instead, put in the time to create a combat encounter that is dynamic and exciting. This will help you run combat better, and it will keep your players more engaged.
Tip #7: Don’t Forget the Players
The same goes for the players. Many novice DMs ignore the players and what they are doing. But, if you want to be a good DM, then you need to understand your players.
Pay attention to what they do and how they behave. You’ll learn a lot about their personalities and what they like. You’ll also learn what challenges they like to face—and you’ll be able to tailor their adventures to that.
Tip #8: Don’t Overplan
This is another big one. Many novice DMs overplan their adventures. They write out every detail, every encounter, every NPC, every magic item, and so on.
But, this is a mistake. Instead of overplanning, you should create an “events” list. This is a list of events that will happen during your campaign. You need to know what they are, where they’re going to happen, and what they’re going to be. You also need to know what the consequences of each event are.
Once you have that list of events, you can prepare. You can think about each event and what you’re going to need to run it. You can work out the details and prepare the materials you need.
Tip #9: Don’t Forget the Reward
This is another common mistake made by novice DMs. They create an adventure but forget to think about the reward.
But, the reward is an important part of any adventure. It’s the culmination of the story, and it gives the players something to strive for. Without a reward, the players will lose interest.
Some rewards might be tangible (ie. gold, experience, items), but other rewards might be intangible (ie. glory, fame, personal growth).
Tip #10: Don’t Forget the Story
The same goes for the story. Story is an important part of any adventure, and the players will want to know what the story is.
So, think about the story. Think about how the adventure fits into the larger story of the campaign and the history of the world. Then, think about the climax of the story and what will happen.
Tip #11: Remember to Adjust
The most important tip for new DMs is to remember to adjust. You need to pay attention to your players and what they’re doing. If they’re having fun, then you’re doing a good job. If they aren’t, then you need to change things.
And, you need to pay attention to yourself. If you’re having fun, then you’re doing a good job. If you’re not, then try something else.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget to Have Fun
The most important tip of all: don’t forget to have fun. If you’re not having fun, then it will be hard to run a good game. It will also be hard to keep the players engaged.
Have fun, and your players will have fun.
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