Here at the Dice Dungeon we know how difficult it can be for new Dungeon Masters reading through the dungeon masters guide and feeling overwhelmed. We decided to ask our friend, and Dungeon Master, if he had any tips for the people out there who are running their own game of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.
*Disclaimer, the following tips are optional and are by no means the perfect way to play Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. You will have to find the ‘perfect’ way for your own table but it can be dangerous to go alone! So make sure to take these tips with you.
If you are deciding to run your very own homebrew world it can be very easy to get a little carried away creating all the history, politics and factions that will bring your world to life. I would recommend starting with a single location for your players, spend time bringing that location to life, having it fully fleshed out for the adventurers to explore all the plot hooks you have laid out for them. Starting like this will also help you learn about your players and what they are interested in from your game, which will help when building the key stories for your world.
2. Be The Narrator
Playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition often feels like as the Dungeon Master you are fighting against your players. You get annoyed at their clever tricks to slay your beasts, and they suspect every NPC they meet to be secretly evil. As the Dungeon Master I feel you should be there to tell the story of what is going on, to spin the tale of the triumphs of the heroes or the fall of the villains or even just the story of the simple peasant going about their life, that is in no way evil whatsoever…. Nope… Definitely not evil. Each defeat of a tough encounter should be celebrated by you for the players, likewise you should feel bad for their terrible loss to one of your creations if the encounter was more difficult than they expected.
(However if your players are just muder-hobos then feel free to have no remorse about slaying each one of their characters one by one… Definitely not evil!)
3. The Players Are The Story
Following on from narrating the story, one of the important things to remember is that the story of your Dungeons & Dragons world revolves around your players. They are the heroes or the villains of the story, so why not make it personal? Linking the players backstory into the main overarching story of your world can be a guaranteed way of keeping them engaged in the diverse history you want to build. Don’t be afraid for your BBEG to say the classic line “No, I am your Father”. Let your players be a part of the world building, helping to create their home towns or creating some NPC’s in the faction that they work for. Just make sure they leave a few gaps for you to fill in that they wouldn’t know, their characters don’t know everything.
4. Prepare for the Unprepared
One of the most difficult things about running a game is preparing what you will need for the upcoming session. Your players will always find a way to throw a spanner in the works, turning left when you were sure the only way they could go was right or asking the Goblin what his name is, now they have a new party member named Boblin the Goblin. There are a couple of things you can do to help minimise the damage of an unprepared choice your players might throw at you. Have a list of names ready, this will help when your players decide to ask every person's name in the local tavern, you can even split them into gender or race in order for the names to feel more natural. Short bullet points in your pre-session notes about the local area can help if they start to wander too far off the trail you have laid for them, landmarks or local rumours will help create small story hooks that they might find whilst out adventuring.In these bullet points you can also include a handful of small random encounters, a combat encounter is a sure fire way to delay the party to give you more thinking time. Lastly there are lots of name generators out there, if you have the internet handy behind your DM screen, you can get a generator for almost anything, from taverns to what the town mayor looks like, having these already loaded for quick access can be a lifesaver.
5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Rewards
So, your players have found a magic item but you have made it too strong for their current level and it feels overpowered? That’s ok, there are plenty of things you can do to help! Please don’t just steal it whilst they are sleeping, that trick is kind of cheap and your players will likely get upset. The typical way is to create more story for that magical maguffin, maybe it used to belong to an all powerful Lich, who has been watching the players and they have sent their minions after it in order for them to be awakened. The only way the players can stop this Lich then is to go on an epic journey to drop the item into a volcano destroying it for good and stopping the Liches return…. Okay maybe not that specific, but the item becoming cursed or wanted by greedy folk is a great story hook and a way to introduce a new side plot or factions to your world. Or they could lose it in a game of cards that is totally not rigged in the DM’s favour….
6. Get Physical
Everyone enjoys having something physical in game, whether it be handouts, miniatures or puzzles. They aren’t necessary to play Dungeons & Dragons but they take your game to the next level of enjoyment for your players. I have found using small physical puzzles are great to use around the table, they can cause great enjoyment or frustration when the players aren’t quite sure how to solve it. Some favourites at our table are the Hanayama Metal Puzzles, they have proven to be a great asset to any dungeon crawl, just make sure you know how to solve it before you give it to your players.
7. Live By The Rule Of Cool
The players want their character to be epic, the monk wants to run up walls, do a backflip, and land on one leg just to kick some creature in the face. The barbarian wants to behead all the goblins they kill, as they strike them down with great weapon master. Try not to say no to the crazy ideas your players have, try to roll with it as it usually makes for one epic story at the table. There are limits to what you should allow though, the bard shouldn’t be able to seduce every creature that they meet, however try to find a story reason as to why it won’t work, maybe the bard just isn’t quite the evil dragon queens type, maybe he’s just too short
Bonus Tip: Have Fun And Be Kind
A lot of times Dungeons & Dragons is used to escape from the world we live in especially in the unprecedented times we are living in right now but the main reason it is played is to have fun, it is a game after all. Not every player will want to play in the game you want to run and not every dungeon master has the character of Matt Mercer, the deviousness of Chris Perkins or the creativity of Mark Hulmes but if you and your players are having fun at the table whenever you meet, then your game is just as good as any other out there.
Dungeons & Dragons also isn’t the only game out there, there are plenty of tabletop roleplaying games to satisfy anyone's needs, the most important thing is having fun.
Thank you for reading,