by Mike Shea on 22 October 2012
Note: this article updates the two original Tips for New Dungeon Masters articles dated 27 September 2010 and 12 October 2009.
Running an Dungeons and Dragons game can be an intimidating experience for anyone, much less someone doing it for the very first time. In this article, we will discuss a few tips for new dungeon masters to make it as easy as possible.
The most challenging aspect of dungeon mastering is finding and retaining a good group of players. For a first-time dungeon master you'll want to find some people you know and feel safe around — people who won't give you too hard a time if you make mistakes.
Avoid the temptation to start your game higher than level 1. At level 1, things are simple. Monsters are straight forward, player powers are well understood. The game is at its simplest at level 1. That said, level 1 characters are still pretty fragile, even in 4th Edition. Be careful not to wipe out your group with some tough monsters. I wouldn't recommend any creature higher than level 2 or 3 in your adventure. Above all, try to keep the game simple when you first get started.
Don't get too bogged down with some huge story idea in your head. Spend time worrying about the adventure you're going to run. Build a story around that adventure. If you have a setting in mind, get the baseline of the setting down and move on. Don't build out a city full of NPCs. Just make two or three. Keep it as simple as you can from the beginning and your adventure will go smooth.
Build a simple outline for your adventure with a decent story seed, two or three combat encounters, some exploration, and some roleplaying. Don't go overboard. Stick to just two or three NPCs for your party to interact with and keep the design of the starting location and the story areas simple and direct.
Spend some time putting together the right materials so you have everything on hand. If you want a good starting adventure, consider starting with the adventure in the Starter Set or the adventures in the Dungeon Master's Kit and Monster Vault. Wizards released the PDF copy of Keep on the Shadowfell, their first D&D 4th Edition adventure. It's a great adventure with some notable NPCs, a great villain, and a nice traditional dungeon.
Don't stress about things, particularly when the game itself is going. Randall, OldSchoolDM on Twitter, reminds us in particular not to sweat the rules too much. Don't worry about getting it wrong. Take advice from knowledgable and even-tempered players, make a ruling, and move on. Just keep rolling on with the story. Keep it loose, let the players build the story as they go, and have fun. It won't go perfectly it NEVER does but you can keep it fun and keep it moving along without it being perfect. Relax and enjoy it.