RPG Game Master

D&D Dungeon Masters Level Up Too

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Hey nerds! This weekend I had the unique experience of getting to play in a party being helmed by a player I taught the game to in the first place. It’s his first big fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and I am filled with the twin senses of overwhelming pride and absolute horror.

If you’ve been in this situation there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I’m going to do my best to illustrate this for you.


D&D Dungeon Master do’s and don’ts

D&D Dungeon Master
Cover of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. [Art by Jeff Easley]
First, let me start by saying he did a lot right. He touched base with every single player before the game started, asked us for backstories, and prepared how he was going to get us into the game in advance. He was animated, on his feet, speaking in the voice of his NPCs. He had clever, engaging names for his locations and a well-constructed backstory for his setting and what was going on in it.

On the other hand, he also completely railroaded the party. He dragged us into another plane of existence and made it clear this game was going to be about hopping into different dimensions, that we didn’t get to keep the money we earned there, that there wouldn’t be any recurring NPCs but the obnoxious one who pulled us into this hub world to begin with and said “yeah you’re going to do this or you just die.”

Inexperienced vs. seasoned D&D players

I noticed something, though, while we were playing. There were three new players at the table, and four experienced ones. The experienced players were not into it at all. One of them even left early, but the new players absolutely loved it.

The thing is, I can remember being that boosted Dungeon Master, once upon a time. I remember having a lot of fun doing some very stupid things back in high school, and I feel like a player who had been at it for a while wouldn’t have liked that nearly as much. The thing is, he’s going to learn. He is going to get better. But only if he has players who are willing to stick with him and see it happen.

We talked about it after the game, he and I. We ran a postmortem about what he could have done better, and also what I thought he did really well (because let’s face it, you learn as much hearing what you’re doing right as you do hearing what you’ve done wrong) and he took it much better than I anticipated he would.

New =/= bad

What I’m getting at here is he isn’t a bad DM, he’s a new DM, and I cannot wait to see the kind of DM he becomes when he has a little bit more experience under his belt. I’m really glad he has some newer players who are willing to take that journey with him and I think, even though there were some real holes in what happened that night, I’ll probably keep attending his sessions.

When I was new and taking my first turn behind the DM screen for more than one or two players, I had this guy George who played with us. I was terrible starting out. I didn’t know all the rules for combat, sometimes there were moments that I’d get frustrated and deus ex them instead of rolling with the punches or just being honest that I’d slipped up, but he stuck with me. This guy had been playing for years, and I know he didn’t miss some of the obvious mistakes I was making but he was always there with a little smile and a bit of advice after the sessions ended. It usually got marked up to “do a little more research next time,” but that comes with experience too.

I’ve seen the conversation come up a lot that this is a game that requires a DM to play but we don’t have a good mentor system for making new DMs. Learning the game is difficult, especially when you don’t have a lot of people to play with in the first place. That is why I feel this is an important experience to share, because in this one’s humble opinion, this is how we do it.

The right stuff

What a good DM needs to get started is a love of the game and a lot of enthusiasm. The guy I’m talking about has that in spades. You can tell he is really into the game he’s running. All that other stuff, the articulation, the crunchy bits, will come to him in time, but only if he has players who stick with him until he gets to that.

So that’s my suggestion for the week. If you have a D&D Dungeon Master who’s just starting out and is frustrating you or other players with details or lack thereof, try to remember we all have to start somewhere. The best DM’s were newbs once too, and the best tool we have to teach them to get better is just to support and play with them in the first place.

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Follow Megan R. Miller:
Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

2 Responses

  1. HighTimeRodeo
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been getting backlash from some of my players because I don’t know all the little pieces of combat and it’s really frustrating because I know I’m picking it up as we go.

    This made me feel so much better about the fact that I DON’T know it all yet. I started out as a player (a fighter), but my game has just been put on an indeterminate hiatus, so I won’t get the chance to learn the other bits of the game.

    All of this is to say that I’m glad that I’m not the only one who doesn’t know all the rules before I start DMing. 😀

  2. A. J. Kinney
    | Reply

    This is great advice. I am lucky with my group in that I am only one of two who are willing to DM regularly. The rest of the players forgive me my mistakes because they are happy that they are not in my position.

    To all you new DM’s, keep it up. I have been DMing for about ten years now and I make mistakes all the time. Stick with it and those players who truly appreciate you will stick with you. They are the ones you are running the game for after all.

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