The very first time I ever Dungeon Mastered a game, I had no idea what I was doing, as most DMs likely do. It was in early March of 2017 and my parents were out of town for the weekend, leaving my sister Eli and I alone in the house. While I had already planned to run a game for some close friends in May for my birthday, I was itching to try it. Sometime over the course of the week I had cooked up the idea of running a game for my sister; just the two of us, a simple game. She agreed to try it as she hadn’t really played D&D up until then, and so I began frantically trying to prepare for a game.
I contacted my friend Matt, the DM for the game that I regularly play in, and he not only offered me some advice but offered to play as well. With two players, I felt that maybe the game wouldn’t be quite so rough. He pointed me in the direction of Kobold Fight Club, which then allowed me to formulate a plan.
The scenario that I cooked up was awful, as one would expect from a first game. I had almost nothing prepared; I only knew that there was a werewolf in the little town that my adventurers stumbled upon and that the man who was to turn into the werewolf had become abusive towards his family. However, no one knew that there was a werewolf in town. An elderly farmer’s chickens were being taken and there were some strange footprints leading away from the farm. I had hoped that these hints would be enough to point my players in the right direction without being too heavy-handed.
Over the course of the adventure, the goblin wizard and the human druid interacted with a nearly blind farmer, fought some particularly stupid goblins, and uncovered the mystery of the werewolf. After luring the wolf into town with an enormous slab of meat, the party took off after the wolf. My sister’s druid was falling behind the goblin and his half orc “ride”, who had just reached the monster and were preparing to roll initiative. This moment is where I learned my first big lesson as a Dungeon Master.
Before the session, Matt had helped Eli pick her druid spells, and he had suggested Moonbeam. This spell when cast causes radiant damage and forces a Constitution saving throw from the target. However, shapeshifters have disadvantage on their saving throw and if they fail they are forced back into their original form. As soon as she picked this spell for Nyx, I knew that the werewolf’s time was limited on my sad green earth. Naturally, from dozens of feet away, Nyx cast Moonbeam on the werewolf as he stomped through the forest, and the creature failed its saving throw with a 3, reverting back to human form. All of this happened before a single exchange of blows because Nyx had rolled well enough to be the at the top of the initiative order. Goodbye big boss battle.
Even though I hadn’t planned very much for this session, I was still utterly surprised with how it went. My first session was incredibly eye-opening however. I learned several important things from this session that I still keep in mind months later.
- The players don’t have to kill something to succeed on a mission
Even though the epic showdown between the party and the werewolf that I had envisioned never happened, my players weren’t upset at all. Eli was excited that she had been able to use her spell to solve the problem, and Matt laughed about the situation. After having DMed multiple sessions, I look back on that first time and sometimes try to remember what it must be like to have players who aren’t absolute murder hobos. Allowing your players to solve an issue in multiple ways is the beauty of D&D, and creativity should be celebrated and rewarded. At the end of the day, if your players had fun and are proud of what they did in the session, you have done your job as a DM.
- Tea is great for vocal chords
Having never DMed before, I wasn’t really sure what to do with NPCs. I had a few planned out briefly, but most of the characters I improvised on the spot. Since I spent seven years acting at a local community theatre I have quite a bit of experience with improv and I have found that I am fairly good at pulling characters out of thin air. I am not, however, a voice actor. That did not stop me from trying, of course, leading me to doing the worst cartoonish old man voice that has probably ever existed. Additionally, I threw a group of goblins at the party earlier on in the session, but before fighting them the party briefly talked to them, resulting in a sort of idiotic Three Stooges-esque slapstick routine and some horribly gravelly voices. By the end of the session my out of practice throat was killing me. Luckily my mom had some green tea in the cabinet that I was able to brew, and some honey to drown out the taste (I am not a fan of hot tea at all). By the next day my vocal chords felt much better. It became apparent to me though that if you are DMing a long session with lots of characters and funny voices, you should be careful with your voice, take multiple breaks, and drink lots of water to preserve your voice.
- Being prepared is overrated
Okay, so “overrated” is a stretch. But it feels like the more I prepare a session, both my players and I have less fun. As a DM, when you have a specific idea in mind, you’re more likely to railroad your players into doing things that match your plan. If you give yourself the basic idea, a few NPCs, and an open village, your players will be able to have fun and go wild. Sure, they might ask to do something that you didn’t prepare for, meaning that you have to stop to look up a rule or make a temporary call on something, but if your players have the freedom to be creative and think outside of the box, they will be able to feel like the heroes D&D allows them to be. Don’t get too focused on your plan for the session that you limit your players fun. Some of the best moments come from pure, unprepared madness.
For my first time as a Dungeon Master, I know that I made mistakes typical of new DMs. But I also know that in the months since, I have improved immensely. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to DM; the important things are that your players had fun and that you were able to learn from your experiences.