View Full Version : Becoming A Dungeon Master Without The Aid Of The Experienced

11-25-2007, 11:53 AM
My wife and I are brand new to Dungeons & Dragons. When we eventually host games we both will DM a group together. At this point we are just trying to figure out what the best way would be to tackle learning D&D. We do own several things already which are listed at the end of this post.

We would greatly appreciate any advice, suggestions, recommendations for learning tools/products, links to guides or other online resources, etc... on how to go from knowing nothing about how D&D works, real life roleplaying, or how D&D is played -- all the way to knowledgeable DM's ready and capable of hosting a, successful and enjoyable, one/two year campaign for local players.

Additional Information

Previous PnP Experience
We've played plenty of BattleTech (BT, CityTech, Battle Force, Battle Space, and AeroTech) so we are very familliar with complex pen & paper rules. We know D&D is far more vast and complex than BattleTech but at least we have some Pen & Paper experience under out belts.

Why We Need To Learn Without "Hands On" Experience/Aid
I've been a long time video game RPG fantatic but due to an injury I sustained I can no longer play them. D&D has always been something I wished I could play but I never knew anybody who played. After doing a little research and finding this website I now know that I can get a group together if I become a DM.

Due to the fact that I have two young children it really isn't possible for my wife and I to travel to participate in other peoples games. Being able to play online for an extended amount of time is hard on my hands, not to mention probably full of "hold on guys" as the children require attention every twenty minutes or so. So the learning process needs to be primarily restricted to the two of us without aid from experienced players, minus the advice received in these forums.

Owned Core Material (v3.5 Releases)
Player's Handbook (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=products/dndcore/175240000)
Dungeon Masters Guide (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=products/dndcore/177520000)
Monster Manual (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=products/dndcore/177550000)

Owned Game Supplements
Ptolus (http://www.ptolus.com/cgi-bin/page.cgi?ptolus) (Ridiculously Large Book)
The Ptolus setting can be used on its own or inserted into an existing campaign. Actually, it's both a setting and a mega-adventure that will take you from 1st to 20th level. 640-page deluxe full-color hardcover with bound-in fabric bookmarks and glued-in envelope containing double-sided poster map, 24 handouts, and CD-ROM.

Rappan Athuk Reloaded (http://secure1.white-wolf.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=28&products_id=795) (Box Set)
Detailing 36 dungeon levels and dozens of wilderness areas.

Book 1: The Dungeon of Graves - 232 pages of dungeon crawling
Book 2: Servants, Slaves and Food - 96 pages of monsters and NPCs
Book 3: Pathways to Damnation - 56 pages of maps.

Wilderlands of High Fantasy (http://secure1.white-wolf.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=28&products_id=670) (Box Set)
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy Boxed Campaign Set is the definitive Judge’s Guide to the Wilderlands. A companion Player’s Guide to the Wilderlands, this boxed set is unmatched in scope and detail. Far to many box contents to list here so check out the link.

Tomb of Abysthor (http://secure1.white-wolf.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=150) (64 pages)
A fantasy adventure published for the D20 system for 4 to 6 players of the 2nd to 8th level and higher.

The Vault of Larin Karr (http://secure1.white-wolf.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=158) (96 pages)
This adventure is 100% compatible with 3rd edition rules. It takes PCs from 4th to 9th level on a variety of exciting adventures.

11-25-2007, 12:28 PM
I would think that since you've already played Battletech, you have the general skills needed to run games. My biggest advice as far as running DnD games is to find out what your players are looking for in the game.

Do they want some high fantasy, legendary heroes style game?

Do they want something less, say a band of 'thieves' who steal from the rich and give to the poor?

Do they want a game where they are part of the oppressive state, keeping the pesants in line?

Answering this question will help you determine how to approach the new game you are looking to run. Personally, I prefer story driven games, that's not to say that we don't have combat during every gaming session, but my players and I are telling a cooperative story, which gets richer with every session.

Knowing what your players are looking for in the game and how to give that to them is as important as knowing the rules. As far as resources to check out for gaining experience as a DM, you might want to check out the Dragon's Landing (http://www.dragonslanding.com/dli/) podcasts, or Johnn Four's Roleplaying Tips (http://www.roleplayingtips.com) newsletter.

I'm sure there are other great resources out there, but those are two that I find very helpful.

11-25-2007, 01:30 PM
Firstly, read the DM guide with special attention on the dungeon mastering section. Go over the crunchy bits of the PHB. Rinse and repeat as necessary. A knowledge of the rules is very important to keep things moving and gain player trust.

Start small and build as you are more comfortable. It might be best to start with just the core rules slowly add to them. It might also be helpful to start with fewer players or players that aren't extensively experienced.

Coming from a wargaming background, you might need to try not to be confrontational. It isn't the players versus the DM. A great deal of the fun being a DM is in creating, role playing, and the joy of facilitating everyone else's fun.
Make a conscious effort to give your writing and narrating some flair. Add details so others see what you do. Adjectives, adverbs, and figurative language can really help.

When all else fails, improvise. It is best to be ready for things that may come up. If you know the monsters the characters will be fighting have the improved grab feat, look over the grappling section before play. Of course, players have a tendency to come up with things that are unexpected or test you by going in a different direction than logic would dictate. Make it up as you go along, just be careful not to contradict what is already set or the rules.

www.roleplayingtips.com might be helpful.

Digital Arcanist
11-25-2007, 02:09 PM
They are bundling D&D for Dummies and DM'ing for Dummies with the PHB and DMG respectively. Both are nice books but the DM book does a great job explaining encounters and campaign design. They are like 10 bucks to buy individually and I think you would benefit from it.

Running a pre-made adventure is a good idea as well but make sure you STUDY that book prior to playing. Nothing pisses a player off more than a DM who isn't ready to play. It is easy to get lost in many of the adventures because sections will often reference other parts in the book without giving page numbers and you have to sit there and find it while your players wait.

I agree with everyone else that if you played Battletech for so long then you should be fine at DM'ing for D&D after you learn the rules.

11-25-2007, 02:21 PM
You have a huge leg up because you know how to play Battletech. D&D is no different, just different rules with more opportunities to roleplay.

The best advice I can give is as follows: Don't sweat anything other than having a good time. If people have fun, you have done something right.

The verbose advice:
Start simple and just focus on the combat/mechanics of the game. Sit down with your wife and run combats with characters and monsters of different levels. This will give you a both a chance to see the rules in action and try things.
When you invite other people to play, be up front about telling them that you are getting started. Even if they are experienced, this should help them clue into the fact that you can't cite the rules from memory.
Run a short 'starter' campaign. Pick up a few modules that will take characters from level 1 to 10 by the time you are done with them (you have some already, good!). Run the modules as a learning experience and by the time you are done you will know enough about the game to know exactly what you want to do. By having a defined ending, you can close the door on any awkward learning points and balance issues that get out of control and start fresh with a new game/setting (unless you choose to continue). This will also give you a year or more of gaming.
Heed rabkala's advice. Coming from a tactical gaming background you may want to reflexively 'win' the situations you DM. That's not your job! You are there to help the players have fun! :)
Focus on fun. If it's fun, even if the rules are being broken -- you are doing the right thing.Good luck! We are here for you (bring your players and wife!)

If you are super confused about anything we can help.

Just in case you don't know about it, there is a site for video game players with similar issues to yours. They may be able to offer solutions that let you play your video games too! Here's a link: AbleGamers.com (http://www.ablegamers.com/)

Digital Arcanist
11-25-2007, 04:12 PM
You may have been a rules-lawyer in your BattleTech days as a player but I know from experience that a sworn enemy to the DM is a rules-lawyer. As a new DM it may be crucial for you to nip them in the bud before you start playing. Being new to the system of D&D, a knowledgeable player may sound like a boon but they tend to commandeer the game if you let them. Don't rely too heavily on your players for rules because they will use it against you. Having your wife help you is a great thing starting out and I hope you guys can work together seamlessly.

I wish you luck and as everyone else here I offer you whatever knowledge and experience I have.

11-26-2007, 12:02 PM
Thank you very much for all the feedback. I greatly appreciate it :p

I definitely plan on being a human rule repository by the time I start hosting my first long term campaigns. I may run a few mini-campaigns in the beginning to get the hang of hosting with real players but other than that, I shouldn't have to rely on the players for help with rules. I understand fully that I cannot think of it as Mulsiphix VS The Group but I really planned on pushing my players. Not to the point that it isn't fun but I've never really enjoyed "cake-walks" as a player or spectator. I think I should be able to strike a balance between fun and challenge with little ease.

I definitely don't plan on killing anybody and I refuse to run a campaign where anybody can die and not be able to come back. There would be penalties for death, enough to discourage it, but it shouldn't be a deal breaker for anybody. I really wanted to put together puzzles and really well laid out, monster wise, dungeons that keep the group on their toes and justify the amount of treasure to be had for those who remain vigilant :). More than anything I want my players to have fun. I just want them to do it without me handing them the world on a platter.

My wife and I were talking today and decided it would be a good idea to run mini-campaigns with potential long term campaign players. Give them a nice chunk of time to evaluate me as a DM and the environment/atmosphere in which I will host the games. It will allow me to weed out those who have trouble showing up to the games, those who are generally not fun to play with/host for for whatever reason, and most importantly it will give me a good idea of what these players like/dislike about my worlds and DM'ing. That way the long term campaigns will be more enjoyable and *crosses fingers* successful to the very end.

11-26-2007, 01:51 PM
I definitely don't plan on killing anybody

I suggest that you be careful who you tell that bit of information to. As much as being a GM is storytelling and game playing, and mood setting, it's also about information control, even in pretty open games, where you're freely sharing most things. You're a stopgate of information; releasing the information you have in little bits and dribbles will make your players hungry for it. But the trick is that if you don't release enough, they'll go searching in other places (potentially other GM's).

So vary the amount of information that PC's have access to because affects their enjoyment of the game you're running, and that's a fact that crosses almost every game system. Revealing a big piece of information should come at a price for the characters even if they don't know what it is until later on, but the small bits of information should have costs, too.

Anyway, that is my soapbox for the moment.

Inquisitor Tremayne
11-26-2007, 03:12 PM
I find the pre-made adventure modules help a lot. They basically give you everything you need to start playing right away and let a new DM focus on setting the tone of the adventure.

That way when the adventure is over you can now create tone during your games and you have a good idea how to run an adventure AND can use that adventure to build your own.

Just my 2 cp!

Inquisitor Tremayne
11-26-2007, 03:16 PM
P.S. If you have the right people together its not really all that important that you know EVERY rule right away. The most important thing is knowing where you want to go with the story and where you want to take the players and where the players want to go. Save the details for later, they will spring up when you least expect them.

Besides, there is usually someone who still knows more than you.

11-26-2007, 05:28 PM
Very tasty bits of information indeed. I was giving a lot of thought about what players would enjoy the most, without having had the time yet to really research any "Tips For Being A Successful DM". I wasn't sure if it was just the friendly atmosphere, the role playing for the inner thespian in many of us, or if suspense was the key. I guess in all fairness its probably a good balance of all three and being able to recognize when to push one aspect more than the others.

I'm at that stage where I'm taking in new information, my mind is always mulling ideas over, and yet I know that whatever I come up with in my head will probably be very far from the finished product :)

11-26-2007, 09:24 PM
Finished product? What's that? You've just opened Pandora's Box my friend! ;)

11-26-2007, 10:33 PM
Another bit of advice that I can offer is time for an "After Action Review."

If the group decides that you will all play until 10:00 tonight, end at 9:30-9:45, grab a clean sheet of paper and ask people what they liked, and what they didn't like about what just happened - and TAKE NOTES!!

This tactic has saved many-a-beginning DM from total disaster.

Secondly, at the end of the first session, ask the players to consider a simple question: Your character is old - and retired long ago. A child sits at your feet and asks, "What did you do with your life?" This will give you some hints and tidbits for the campaign as a whole. If Player A says that they wanna be famous, and Player B says that they wanna be the next king, that can be run together to make them BOTH happy. I've had players say everything from "I wanna be rich and famous," to "I wanna be the world's greatest swordsman," to "I wanna slay the dragon that killed my family (what dragon? WHAT FAMILY?!?!)." If a character wants to bring the barbarian tribes under their own banner, and you run a city-based campaign, they're going to be dissatisfied and generally ticked off at you.

Can you smell what I'm stepping in here? It's about keeping both you AND your players happy. I think you have a good start, with not intending to kill characters unless they decide they want to die (level 1 attacking the dragon!!). And keep asking questions here!

Really, the only stupid question is the one that isn't asked. What I may consider to be clear and concise in the rules may confuse the heck out of you - and vice versa... so ask!!

11-27-2007, 01:40 AM
Hey, welcome to the GMing fold. It's a great hobby. You want advice on running your first campaign? You probably have plenty already but who am I not to pile on?

1. Adventure Now

Not adventure later, adventure now! If at any point you aren't doing something adventurous, skip that part. Fast forward to the action. If you are reading long detailed backgrounds to your players, summarize it very briefly or better yet, skip it. Skip to the action. If background is important, it will be part of the action.

2. Don't be Afraid of Published Adventures but make them your own.

Published adventures are ripe with ideas. Steal them. Don't be afraid to rewrite the bad parts. Put your own spin on them. You have some good stuff there. You want some other good adventures:
1. The Savage Tide Adventure Path (Dungeon #139-#150) -- Pirates, Dinosaurs and Demons -- oh, my! A 1st to 20th level campaign already finished. A cutting edge roleplaying campaign from some of the industries best writers.
2. Dungeon Crawl Classics #29: The Adventure Begins by Goodman Games
20 1st level campaign starters. You will love at least one of them.
3. B2 Keep on the Borderlands
Yeah, the old TSR module written in 1979. No, really. It is the definitive starting D&D adventure even 28 years later and it is easy to find at half price books or on Ebay. A keep on the edge of the wild lands fraught with trouble and intrigue. A nearby labyrinth of caves overrun by gangs of monsters and an evil temple. Take the bones and fill them in. Steal the good parts from Rappan Athuk. Update it to your favorite edition. Join the cult of Gygax.

Is the evil temple recruiting the monsters? For what purpose? Have they already infiltrated the keep? Do the monsters hate each other? Could clever heroes get them fighting within their own ranks? Can they do this in time to save the keep from being overrun? Are you really this little keep's LAST CHANCE? And, after they save the keep, they can sail to the Isle of Dread (X1). :)

3. Relax. It's a game.

Have fun. Go with the flow. Get together with friends. Kill monsters. Eat pizza. Pretend to be elves and knights and wizards and stuff. Find treasure. Rescue the princess (or maybe even the dragon!). Have fun.

"Don't fear mistakes. There are none." -- Miles Davis.


11-27-2007, 03:30 AM
Another bit of advice that I can offer is time for an "After Action Review."I was thinking about that earlier today. I wasn't sure if it was the kind of thing players would enjoy doing every time we get together or if that would upset some players. I know some people have very small windows for fun and like to make the most of it when they get the chance. But then again how can you turn down having a campaign evolve to your personal preferences?

Do you think it would be better to have a suggestion box or tell players its alright to bring some ideas they had to the game and I could read over them before we start playing? That or they could always show up a bit early to go over some of their ideas? When such a thing cuts into what could have been valuable gaming time I'm just not sure how anal players might be/get. Has it always worked out well for you?

Many thanks gdmcbride for your advice and suggestions. I was actually looking over a few Goodman Games adventures at my local Half-Priced books earlier this week. I can't recall the adventure titles at the moment but I'll definitely go back and see what exactly they're stocking. I am so in love with Ptolus right now. I've got so many ideas and there are already several places I plan on making some small changes and tweaks to better facilitate the type of atmosphere I want my beginning adventures, just me and the wife, to start off with.

I've gotten so many "don't adventure now" responses and it has been somewhat disappointing. I figure using ready made dungeons and settings would make learning the game easier, especially when it came to working on our DM skills. We plan to tackle leaning D&D head on, so portions of some of the adventures I already own are definitely going to be seeing some usage :thumbup:

11-27-2007, 04:06 AM
Many thanks gdmcbride for your advice and suggestions. ... I am so in love with Ptolus right now. I've got so many ideas and there are already several places I plan on making some small changes and tweaks to better facilitate the type of atmosphere I want my beginning adventures, just me and the wife, to start off with.

Glad to be of service. I can understand the draw to Ptolus. It is a fabulous book. I own it myself and plan to use it in some future campaign.


11-27-2007, 11:35 AM
My wife and I are brand new to Dungeons & Dragons. Welcome, and well met.

When we eventually host games we both will DM a group together. Hmm... never tried tag-team DMing. As a player, I'd be leery of joining the group after hearing that -- especially since you are new to the system.

At this point we are just trying to figure out what the best way would be to tackle learning D&D. Play.

Have you tried to import a DM? I understand that you need to play at your own home, but that doesn't mean you have to be the DM. It's so much easier to learn the system via a mentor. If you can find a player that knows the rules and is willing to coach you while you DM and doesn't get on your nerves, you might learn faster. I still think its better if you play first.

There are some online roleplaying tools that move slow enough and are easy enough to use that it may be viable for you. I run my game online these days; over half of my players are parents, and one of them is a parapalegic -- he has use of one finger, and his voice. I don't think he'd be able to DM, but he plays just fine online.

At the very least, you may be able to find one of these online games where the DM would let you sit in and watch, and then answer your questions afterwords. I would, though we only play twice a month. If you like, send me a PM and we can discuss this.

11-27-2007, 12:58 PM
We don't actually plan on hosting a single group match for at least 8 to 12 months. We're giving ourselves plenty of time to learn the rule system and practice amongst ourselves. At that time we will seek out local players, making it known we are new to DM'ing so that the RP element will probably be a tad underdeveloped and even awkward. In 8 months our youngest will be 2 yrs old and this is a BIG advantage as they generally tend to understand what your saying and have a decent concept of house rules.

As far as DM'ing goes I will be DM as far as the main stories are concerned. When multiple characters are needed, say when talking to a King and Queen or if players happen want to conduct transactions with two different item selling/buying NPC's at once, it would definitely speed things up. For most intents and purposes there will be the standard DM setup as far as the storyline is considered.

This will surely evolve as time goes on but it will be pretty straightforward in the beginning and probably for a good time to come. The main reason there are two DM's is so that my wife can help with the paperwork. I can use both of my hands fine but only for a very short period of time before pain starts to become an issue. I've seen five doctors over the past year but so far a diagnosis has slipped by them all and pain management is the best any of them can offer.

11-27-2007, 03:41 PM
... is available through Noble Knight Games: http://www.nobleknight.com/ProductDetailSearch.asp_Q_ProductID_E_1745_A_Inven toryID_E_2147484658_A_ProductLineID_E__A_Manufactu rerID_E__A_CategoryID_E__A_GenreID_E_

11-27-2007, 03:57 PM
We don't actually plan on hosting a single group match for at least 8 to 12 months. We're giving ourselves plenty of time to learn the rule system and practice amongst ourselves. Thats...a really long time. If you plans are that long term, you may want to consider finding a nearby gaming convention. Its a good way to see how other folks play, and to make some contacts.

At that time we will seek out local players, making it known we are new to DM'ing so that the RP element will probably be a tad underdeveloped and even awkward. You've played enough other games that I wouldn't be worried about your RP skills. I'm not really concerned about your ability to figure out the rules, either. And I'm no longer leery of your co-DMing setup, since you've explained it. You should be fine.

There is the WoTC site for figuring out quirky rules (have fun figuring out grappling) and we'll be here to answer questions. There is no "right way" to play anyway, as long as you and the group end up having fun.

11-27-2007, 05:15 PM
We're also avid BattleTech players. Our live is hardly void of pen and paper gaming but our 1yr old son makes things very difficult. He makes A LOT of noise and doesn't quite grasp the concept of punishment yet. Once my other son was 2yrs old he was easily able to play in the other room without being much of a nuisance for a few hours. With my 1yr old that is nothing but a distant dream.

The second main reason for waiting is that we just entered into a six month lease for one of the worlds smallest suburban houses. I wouldn't feel comfortable hosting a game here. Frankly there is nowhere to sit. Its one of those transitional places you occasionlly have to deal with in life when moving in between real homes. It would be comfortable enough for maybe one other person to join us but not three or four more which is what I figured most 1yr or longer campaigns would have. We've been talking to somebody we met here at the board actually and I think we'll definitely be putting a game together as soon as my wife and I learn how to play D&D.

I can't stress enough how very thankful I am to have a place like this to come to and to be able to get advice and bounce ideas off of other experienced gamers. Between this website and the wizards D&D boards I think I'm set for life :)

11-30-2007, 09:31 PM
We're also avid BattleTech players. Our live is hardly void of pen and paper gaming but our 1yr old son makes things very difficult. He makes A LOT of noise and doesn't quite grasp the concept of punishment yet. Once my other son was 2yrs old he was easily able to play in the other room without being much of a nuisance for a few hours. With my 1yr old that is nothing but a distant dream.

I'm in pretty much the same situation... my answer is to put the kids to bed early and host D&D at my house. If for some reason there is a crisis, I'm there, but for the most time it makes for uninterupted play.

Only think I'd add to what has already been added is to consider how you do your mapping. The D&D Tiles supplement is cheap at 10$ per set, and they can be used in any way imaginable to come up with dungeons and battle scenes. In fact, they can drive creativity as some of the objects depicted in them can have whole adventures based around them if you run out of ideas.

Other than that, attitude is everything. If you are willing to learn and are constantly looking for ways to improve, you'll do fine despite your inexperience. In my opinion, knowledge of the rules come secondary to being able to come up with creative and challenging situations for the players.