Running a D & D Game Is Much Like Writing a Story
I was recently asked by some young uns, how to go about playing Dungeons and Dragons.
There is literally tons of stuff out there for new adventurers; books, gaming stores, not to mention the dragons horde of information on the internet! In the past, everything had to be written down; by hand! I have kept quite a lot of my campaigns and characters, but I have also dumped a lot over the years.
But starting out fresh can be daunting, and this group were all ‘newbies’, none had played and none had acted as DM. How to help? By the way, I am talking about old-school, table top role playing game here, not online.
Okay, so first things, let’s get that idea out of your head about the ‘typical’ D and D gamer – we don’t all look like the cast of Stranger Things or The Big Bang Theory – see my post Why You Should Play Dungeons and Dragons; February 15, 2017. I have been playing for 30 years; so not a teenager!
Initially, we had one DM (Dungeon Master) and he was the boss, in charge, god almighty as far as the players were concerned. All games came from bought modules, all games were set in dungeons, all floor-plans were bought pieces. All decisions were the DM’s and the final word was his alone. Not any more.
What I recommend if you’re just starting out –
- Get everyone in group to read at least something of the basic rules. Don’t give one person the responsibility, or the power! Go and look at this site for EVERYTHING: http://dnd.wizards.com/
- Maybe start with a bought module – or find one online. N.B:only the DM will have access to all of this.
- Dice – you will need as a starter pack – 1 six-sided, 1 four-sided, 1 eight-sided, 2 ten-sided and 1 twenty sided. You need 2 ten-sided (2d10) as you will be rolling percentages sometimes. N.B: some people become obsessed with collecting dice, and still can’t find the right one when it’s time to roll!!
- Figures, you need little people. These can be bought from specialist shops, or again, online. Why not hold a miniature painting session before beginning a campaign!
- Get a blackboard; you really do not need to pay for little packs of card corridors, rooms and caves. Draw it as it happens. You can create aerial views, maps and plans, draw objects in elevated view if verbal description not working.
- Character sheets, try and get all players to make them the same, you can find templates in D & D books or online. We have kept pretty much to the original design for 3 decades.
- Use your laptop if you can’t describe stuff – there are billions of images you can find on the internet, this will help create the ambience for your players; “You round the corner and your bullseye lantern picks out this only two feet away!” *show them picture of hideous creature.
- I do recommend you buy a copy of the D & D Players Handbook; General Info as well as the D & D Players Handbook; Magic Users. Ours fell apart and mutated into folders – but – they’re still the same one’s from years ago that we use – it’s all we need.
- A box to store your crap – dice, figures including NPC’s (none player characters), pencils, erasers, chalk, board wipe, post-it notes (I have these so players or DM can pass private messages – you don’t always want everyone knowing what you’re going to do).
- Start with a small campaign. Games can last as long as you like, but if you don’t plan they can drift for months (even years!) aimless and endless and ultimately boring. Based on playing one game night per week of approximately 4 hours, have it last two months tops. Being DM can be hard work – which is why everyone needs to learn the rules and not rely on this individual.
- Don’t be afraid to look up rules as you go along – we still do this, in fact, we had one player who could never remember which dice to roll whenever he needed to make a roll. Keep your D & D rules handy, keep the Magic Users manual on the table too – no-one can ever remember which spell does what and for how long.
- Discuss, don’t argue. There is nothing more destructive to a new gaming group than arguments. People get very passionate about their characters, and if the DM is perceived as being too draconian and kills everyone off, then you’re not going to want to play again.
- DM is the Dungeon Master, who will run the campaign and also voice the NPC’s as well as adjudicate the game. Probably best to have someone who doesn’t mind remembering more rules than everyone else and taking responsibility; for at least your first few games.
- Rules are made to be broken, this is tough. You might have a player who is quite the expert on certain weapon types and brings this reality into the game; “My ranger should be able to shoot down the Drow elf with a single shot as the crossbow fires at 200 mph and it’s tip can penetrate…” yadda, yadda, yadda. WE KNOW, but this is a game and sometimes the damage and range of some weapons seems a bit off. The melee and weapons are designed so you won’t die straight away – if you want to kill the NPC’s with a single blow, then the DM is well within his/her rights to make NPCs that do the same!!! However – if you all think a particular rules stinks, then change it – so long as you are all in agreement.
- Most importantly – have fun!
Running a D & D Game Is Much Like Writing a Story
After a while, you might want to write your own campaigns, we do. We each take turns to DM, which means it keeps things fresh. It also means that you know everything about the story, because you wrote it! When you decide that you want to try creating your own campaign, please realise this isn’t a light undertaking. It takes time, you must do research; because you know one player will ask what Counsellor so-and-so looks like, whats the written language, where can I buy such-and-such, How tall is this, how wide is that etc, etc. You are writing a story that the gamers are taking roles in, each quest should have a beginning, middle and end (at least in your own mind). Make the first one simple, for example – information from bartender is that there’s bandits in them thar hills and there’s a reward for their leaders capture.
If there is one piece of advice I would give wannabe DM’s its this –
you aren’t god, you’re entertaining the others!