Becoming a Dungeon Master for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign can seem pretty daunting, so as a first-timer here is what I have learned so far:
Organization is key
If you’re not organized then the campaign will be spent looking for that rule that you think exists instead of exploring the world you’ve laid out for them. Having notes on locations, npcs, and quick rules helps a lot. Your players will ask questions and you should be prepared to answer them. Tonight I had a Tabaxi ranger questioning an herbalists about how a specific illness was transmitted. Then a player wanted to insight check someone else and, as a DM, you have to know what rolls the person being scrutinized has to make to try to contest that check. Some people can sit down at a table with minimal preparation and improvise everything, which is seriously impressive, but I know that I have to be organized to present the story in a way that doesn’t pause the game all the time.
Improvisation will always happen
The players will almost never do what you expect and a DM can’t create and remember every single detail of a story before it plays out. You have to leave a lot of it open and have a general idea of how things work or how characters act and what they know. It’s the most challenging part, but it also keeps things so interesting. It’s what keeps D&D from being monotonous. Embrace the improvisation!
There’s a story and your players will break it
For weeks I had molded and repeatedly altered a story that I thought would be easy to follow and have twists and turns that made it fun for the characters. They did not do what I thought they would. Let’s just say that my main villain hiding in plain sight was ousted by a Half-Orc paladin using their Divine Sense in that short span of time the villain was around. That’s how my fiend was found out, and I won’t get to do that elaborate and dramatic reveal that I had planned down the line. And that’s the beauty of a game like D&D because the players aren’t being railroaded down a certain linear path.
Be open with your players
Before my campaign I had a chat with my players about what they wanted in a D&D game and some things to remember. We discussed how everyone wanted to roleplay and how sometimes things can get tense during a game, so just keep in mind that people are playing as a character and those emotions may be vastly different from how they feel about you as a real person. For example, the Tabaxi and a Lizardfolk player got along surprisingly well; whereas, the Half-Orc was not a fan of the Tabaxi. The feeling was mutual and they got in an argument, in character mind you, and were completely fine after the game ended. Allow for that tension and resistance in your game because it makes the game feel more real, but check in with your players to make sure all is well afterward.
Honestly the purpose of Dungeons and Dragons is to have fun. Both the DM and the players get to stretch their creative muscles and everyone shares this world that is theirs. It’s a special place, really.
I’m very excited to continue my campaign and see what happens. I know I have so much more to learn as both a player and a DM. Let me know what you’ve learned during your campaigns below!
-Sabrina Arnold (iwouldliketonerd)