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LordNightwinter

DMing for the New Guy

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Being a DM or GM can be difficult at times, but also rewarding. It takes some imagination, patience, and a dash of masochism at times depending on your players. When I started out I was awkward and unsure of myself and I had a very basic grasp on the rules of 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons. During my first session I was a nervous bundle of “Um”, “Let me look that up”, and “I don’t know just roll me something!” and all of that is to be expected. Nineteen years later I can quote rules straight from the book and run a very successful and memorable (at least that’s what my players tell me) campaign from level 1 to level 14 without sitting down to plan or prepare.


So new we down to the point, here are some tips for the new guy running a campaign. I’ve compiled a list of blurbs and advice that I’ve given out to my players as they’ve branched out and begun to form their own satellite gaming groups out there in the world.



  • 1.) Your campaign will not follow the ‘tracks’ you lay. No matter how much you try your characters WILL find a way to either derail you or break everything you’ve had planned. So what do you do? Put an impromptu path down that leads to almost the same scenario, redress it and remake it to fit what your characters end up doing. That way you don’t lose your work and your characters don’t feel as if they’re in a video game following a pre-set path.
  • 2.) Improvise! If your characters spend an entire hour debating in character about a murder mystery and have come up with a viable solution or scenario there’s nothing wrong with adjusting the campaign to reflect it just to give them that big morale boost.
  • 3.) Don’t improvise! On the same note as above if your player character’s solution doesn’t seem right sometimes you have to give it to them straight. It can keep things interesting, but make sure to balance it out with a few wins, drop them a hint or two. Sometimes you win sometimes you lose.
  • 4.) Flavor text can make a game but don’t go all Stephen King on them. There have been some campaigns or scenarios where I have started off with a blurb of flavor text, usually involving the same god that always gets them into trouble. I got a standing ovation from them one time. It was hilarious and touching at the same time.
  • 5.) Re-skin things to keep it interesting. Killing kobolds, higher level kobolds, then even higher level kobolds can get very tiresome. Give them something different but in flavor only. Use stats from the monster manual but throw a new monster at them. For example, change the fire beetle’s damage to cold and turn it into a lizard.
  • 6.) Throw different terrain at them. Sometimes your average dungeon is a great setting but dungeon after dungeon gets boring. Give them an underground jungle lit by an odd floating orb that represents the moon and sun. Give them a series of ships lashed together after an orc raid burned a string of fishing villages, sort of a floating village turned abandoned floating dungeon. Give them a series of tunnels carved into a glacier.
  • 7.) Have a reoccurring villain. Have a villain that keeps popping up and causing trouble. Maybe he gets away, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe his dark masters resurrect him, maybe he reanimates using ancient magic he pilfered for just such an occasion. Have him turn up as a diplomat working for a rival city which grants him immunity and lets him scheme and plot with relatively few consequences. Eventually your characters will kill this villain, but who’s to say his employers won’t send another of their agents after the party in retribution.
  • 8.) Have the characters meet themselves. From time to time my players decide they want to start over or we side track when another DM takes over. Sometimes we just decide it’s been long enough and we need to start over. If that happens then bring a memorable character to bear as an NPC! Unless the character is retired make sure that the owner is cool with that. Be respectful to their characters. A powerful wizard is not going to just give his magic staff away. However if the characters perform an astounding service for him, or find him a replacement that’s another story.
  • 9.) Follow the rules but be ready to bend and break them. The rules of any given system cannot cover everything. That would be impossible. So be ready to fudge a few rolls and make some things up on the fly. There have been several times when I’ve made up a ‘luck roll’ behind the screen using percentile dice and an arbitrary number depending on what the characters are trying to do.
  • 10.) Player vs. Player never turns out well. I do not pit characters against one-another. Even if I did I would not do it without the consent of the entire group. Before running through a scenario such as this I make sure to talk to my group and make sure they’re comfortable with it. Inevitably it can have consequences.
  • 11.) As the DM you’re not there for WINNING, WINNING. Your job is to spin the tale and stimulate the player’s minds. Give them something to think about. A puzzle, a scenario, a murder mystery, or a good old-fashioned dungeon run. Your ultimate goal is not a TPK (Total Party Kill).
  • 12.) Above all else, have fun! You and your characters are there to have fun, which is the bottom line to playing these games. You’re there to socialize and imagine yourselves in a faraway land doing incredible things.

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