View Full Version : How can I best prepare to be a DM?

04-20-2010, 03:57 PM
I haven't played DnD since I was in highschool, which was quite a while ago. I've been trying to find a DnD group to join for several years now since I moved to Northern California. I've forgotten much about the game and it has changed much since I played. I've managed to find many people that want to be part of a game but none that want to be a DM.

I really do want to be a DM and love the concept of creating and improvising adventures. I would love to just invite a bunch of people over and host a game, but due to my inexperience and being so out of practice I don't think it would go well.

Should I just go for it anyways of keep looking for a group to join to build my confidence and knowledge first? Or is there any suggestions on how to best prepare?

04-20-2010, 06:11 PM
My first reccomendation would be to play in several games to get an idea of what you like and don't like in a game. If there is no game around to play in. I would start simple. Keep it to the core books until your are comfortable. You will make mistakes. The trick is to learn from them and not repeat them. The bottom line is for everybody to have a good time.

04-20-2010, 06:31 PM
The first idea is to get together with some people to have fun.

Just let people know you're willing to try but to be patient; maybe you can even find some folks who can help out with rules issues and such, so all you have to do is think up storylines and adventures. DMing really isn't that hard. If you want, just start by running a few short encounters to see how it goes. Don't get frustrated, just rule as you go (or take advice) and then look stuff up after the adventure. After a few tries, it'll be fine. Usually people are just happy to play and they can't fault a beginner too much (and if they do, invite them to run instead).

04-21-2010, 12:32 AM
I would just be honest with people. Tell them you want to DM, you haven't done it in forever, you don't have every little rule memorized, and that it will probably be pretty rough going until you get the hang of things again. When you start, everything is a learning experience, for everyone involved. If you have the opportunity, by all means play in another group. It'll give you a chance to figure things out in more relaxed environment. However, it sounds like you don't have that luxury. So jump in, like Calm already said, most people are just happy to play. Honestly, I would be happy to play with you or any DM like you. As it has been my experience that those DM's who can admit that they aren't perfect usually end up being the best ones. Simply because they aren't rigid a-hole ego maniacs like myself.

You'll do fine, now get out there and kill those Adventurers!!!

04-21-2010, 10:48 AM
In addition to keeping things simple by just using the core books (DMG and PHB), I would suggest that the first several game sessions just be a specific encounter instead of trying to kick off a large adventure from the begining. This will allow you and possibly new players a chance to get used to the mechanics. Also, don't just go the route of the characters are fighting whatever creatures. Have some sessions that are more focused on using the character's non combat abilities as well. Good luck and be sure to ask questions here. There are plenty of DM/GMs that can give you answers and advice. Remember, even the really good DM/GMs had to start out where you are currently.

04-21-2010, 11:40 AM
Easy. Tell them roll 3d6 6 times in order there's your stats. :biggrin:

No really your halfway there already.
You have a group.
Decide what edition, doesn't matter which one.

If everyone has played before it will come back to you fairly easily.
If not everyone has played before, doing the single encounter to get a hang of mechanics is an excellent starting idea. It can let folks try a few things with a character to tweak it.

Grab a starting module for what ever edition your running.
B Series for Basic and 1E, maybe for 2E as well. Specifically B1 In Search of Unknown or B2 Keep on the Borderlands
For 3E, there were several intro modules that were available for free.
And 4E also has a good intro module that I've read.

Read the module throughly. Make notes, heck even change a few personalities around if you like.

But no matter what you have to follow the most important rule.


04-21-2010, 12:17 PM
Cool, well I think I'll just jump right in then. Or perhaps wade in through an encounter or two. :biggrin: I just think back to one particular person in my games that used to be rather annoying when it came to rules just as they were written. He would rattle off page numbers and paragraphs of rules. I'll just ensure I don't invite someone like that, or like someone said, just ask if they'd like to DM.

04-21-2010, 01:53 PM
I don't recall ever playing with you. :D

I used to be bad about being able to rattle off an obscure page reference.

04-21-2010, 11:27 PM
I recommend clearing the table in front of you, then slamming your forehead into said table until the desire passes.

Seriously, the best method is to do it. If you have played the game and know the system (I did not when I started) you are half way there. Practice is the only real teacher in this case.

Basic GMing Rules

1: Garry's First Rule of Fantasy
A) Do not change reality more than necessary to make your Universe work. Real world physics are you friend, you do not need to explain gravity, weather, or in general how the world functions. So don't complicate things that do not require complication. Adding super science or magic is complication enough.

B) All role-playing games are fantasy, even if it is not. Of course it's fantasy, if it was real you would be living it, not playing it in a game. Even the modern games or science fiction games are a fantasy.

C) Fantasy is not an excuse for sloppy writing or world building. Never ever. "Fantasy" is not an excuse word that means you don't have to do your homework or keep track of things. Good fantasy is internally consistent. We do wish to write a good fantasy.

And we do want good writing. When I was talking with Melissa Scott (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Scott_%28writer%29) at ConFusion and Her Friends (http://archive.stilyagi.org/cons/2003/) some years ago (2003) I mentioned running a D&D game for 27 years (at the time) Her eyes got as big as saucers and she said "That is writing too!" So you have it from a pro, and a well educated one. Your RPG writing is writing. Treat your game with respect, take writing it seriously and it will furnish you and your friends decades of enjoyment. Last note, just don't take yourself seriously.

2: Write to your audience
Know your players. Ask what they like and what they want to see in the game. Vital, ASK. Don't assume, poll the players, inquire and check things out. Their role in the game is as important as yours.
On that note seek adventures of mutual enjoyment. If you are a sea adventure bunny (like me) and your players are not (like mine), then don't write sea adventures. Write something you both like. You are part of your own audience. If you don't like what you are doing it will show and enjoyment will be lessened.

Explore the limits, but be careful. Pushing the limits can be a good thing if you do not push then too far.. Push people's limits too far and they get uncomfortable. uncomfortable people are not having fun. People that are not having fun stop coming. Don't even go there if you do not know your players very well indeed. It's a game, not a psychological test.

3: The Rule of Yes
A) Unless there is a compelling reason to say no, say yes. Playing a game with Dr. No isn't any fun. Players want to have fun and to do things. There is a time and place for obstacles, learn and know that time and place. Trying to find a royal blue shirt or spell components in the market is not that time.

B) A roll is not required for everything, even if a roll is required. Use judgment in applying the dice. Dice are random, random isn't vital even if the rules say it is. Remember the Rule of Yes.

4: Keep encounters open ended
A) An encounter with one solution is bad. I do not write encounters with a solution in mind. I present the problem, and let the players tell me how it will be solved. Remember they are creative too. Use that.

B) Frustrated players are bad. Look back to the Rule of Yes. If your players cannot solve something because you wrote in a single solution they didn't think of, they get frustrated. This makes the GM look bad.

C) Use any reasonable solution, be open to solutions you didn't think of. As above, rule of yes and keep and open minds. You have one brain, your players have one each. Use the brains around you to improve the game.

Don't script. Players will do the unpredictable. And that is that. You want north they go south. You have the old gypsy with the legend they visit everyone but. When that happens, punt. If an encounter is important, it can be fit in elsewhere. Only you know how the scenario is assembled. No one will smite you if you shuffle the parts. If the Vicar has the legend and not the Gypsy you don't loose GMing points.

Most Important, have fun. The game is played for fun. If everyone is having fun, you are a successful GM.

Garry Stahl: 2009. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.

04-22-2010, 03:16 AM
Good DMing is knowing how to maintain a healthy balance of sticking to the rules and improvising. Go through the rule book a couple times and make sure you understand it fairly well. Then go through some test scenarios on your own to get a good feel for the problems you'll run into. Knowing the game's mechanics will make the game run much more smoothly. Consider how the things you want to happen in your storyline will actually happen on the game board.

Remember that the players are quite often a wildcard, and they will think to do things that you never considered. Be ready to improvise something if they decide that they don't want to go into that ominous cave with the "keep out" sign.

04-29-2010, 11:14 AM
Good DMing is knowing how to maintain a healthy balance of sticking to the rules and improvising. Go through the rule book a couple times and make sure you understand it fairly well. Then go through some test scenarios on your own to get a good feel for the problems you'll run into. Knowing the game's mechanics will make the game run much more smoothly. Consider how the things you want to happen in your storyline will actually happen on the game board.

Remember that the players are quite often a wildcard, and they will think to do things that you never considered. Be ready to improvise something if they decide that they don't want to go into that ominous cave with the "keep out" sign.

Agreed completely. Grab some pre-made adventures and do a trial run or 2 if you feel the need to be "fair" about it. Thinking on your feet is the single most necessary quality for a DM. You control all the reactions of the world at large, so you need to be able to go beyond any scripted/planned notes and wing-it.

And NEVER, EVER make the players feel like they have no choice unless its absolutely necessary to the plot. Always give them a way out and let them escape. Exceptions are plot vehicle or if they have done something blatantly stupid. One of people's reasons for roleplaying is have control of this character they play... its escape from the perceived lack of control a lot of us face in the real world. Never let the players think they are just props in your story - they need to be part of it and have some control themselves.

09-10-2010, 07:32 AM
Basic GMing Rules

1: Garry's First Rule of Fantasy....

2: Write to your audience....

3: The Rule of Yes....

4: Keep encounters open ended....


I know this thread is old and your quote above is paraphrased, but I wanted to tell you that was a really good post. Your advice well written and clear and every DM should strive to follow that advice. I have been playing since the 70's also and it amazes me that even some DMs with years of XP, just dont understand the basic concepts of what you are talking about. Anyways I just wanted to tell you that skafian could not have got any better advice then you gave him. Unless I missed it he didn't even thank you! :mad:

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
09-10-2010, 02:25 PM
Always remember the wise words of http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/images/avatars/rpg1/ava79.gif (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/member.php/6037-Otakar) Otakar (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/member.php/6037-Otakar)

Never make the DM chip in for the pizza! :pizza:

He couldn't be more right.

09-16-2010, 08:18 PM

-Start your PCs at first level. I've seen too many games get out of control with more PC power than the DM could handle.
-Anything Joe Average could do, your PCs can do. Don't make them roll for it.
-You don't have to know the rules, but if you don't, have them very close at hand. So have something like D20SRD loaded up on your laptop.

Not so seriously:

-Have a Magic 8 Ball standing by for the tough calls.
-When in trouble, ask yourself "What Would Square/Enix Do?"
-Create a THAC0 chart to have ready before the game.
-Leave the TV on. That'll keep your PCs distracted.

09-16-2010, 11:54 PM
To go along with the idea of running one off encounters.

Take/Make pre-built level 1 PCs. Ask your players to sort and choose one.
Play a few practice rounds of combat. Against a goblin, two goblins, an orc, a rogue, then a caster or two.
Make it arena style (they kill one set, they get a round to maneuver and then the new opponent enters to fight the party.)

This will give you all an opportunity to get used to combat (probably the more ROLL intensive part of the game.)

Then create little one off scenarios. Tell your players you are not bothering with a script on how the party got together. Work up to this. After one good day of gaming -- you will see where you need to brush up on things *aw man.. I forgot how trip worked... and someone wants to play a monk.*

Then you can create all the cheat sheets or whatever tools for yourself.

THEN come back to the game table with an adventure. This time asking your players to create characters for themselves.

11-14-2010, 03:10 PM
the way i started DMing... start off on easymode. My first campaign was with a bunch of new players and it was my first DM run. I made a few tweaks in the system to make things easier.
-didn't count ammo
-all spells were verbal+somatic (no material components)
-all currency was in gold (prices were adjusted for that) so it was easier to keep track of

the campaign ran like almost any other, only minus those details. the only thing that REALLY took a hit was that spellcasting was a whole lot easier for the mages. Thinking up a plot can be done practically on the fly. Start off in a city, somewhere big. Have 'something' happen and introduce a few characters and a villain. If the villain is someone you like, reuse him as the main enemy. If not, get him killed and make another event.