I promise I didn’t
ignore you! I’ve been real busy this week, and wanted to treat this
question with the respect it deserves. Thanks for asking me…and
assuming I’m a good DM, lol. I try to be good by following the cardinal
rule: if you and your players have fun, you win! It’s easy to think it’s
you v. the players as a DM, but really it’s a story you’re all making
together, you help keep it going smoothly but it belongs to all of you.
Once you look at it all from that perspective it gets less stressful,
for me at least. Now I know it’s kinda weird since I did kill my players
in that picture you saw going around… But that was a one shot. And
there were ample opportunities for them to reverse the tide, but the
dice were not on their side.
Anyway. I’m sure you’re looking for more concrete answers. Here are the most important things I did in learning to DM.
1. Watch D&D games
watched Critical Role for a few weeks. After years of being
afraid to DM, Matthew Mercer made it look easy and fun. He told fun
stories and had varied characters and his players were so invested! The
more I watched the more I wanted to play. And the best part about
watching Critical Role is that there are 102 episodes and counting. Tons
of material to mine for ideas. Another good one is The Adventure Zone
podcast. It starts out a little slow for my tastes but once you
get into it it’s AMAZING. I love the story in this one, it’s a great way
to show you don’t have to stick to typical fantasy tropes to have a
great game. Any genre can be a fun game.
While watching, I paid
attention to what kinds of rolls the DM called for in situations, how
many monsters you could throw before combat gets hazy, how hard it is to
DM for lots of people, how long combat takes, how to describe effects
based on dice roll, and most importantly, when to stone face your
players and when to laugh like the evil genius you are.
2. Get tips from experts
so, now you think you could probably do the thing, but you don’t want
to screw it up right out of the gate. I spent years too scared to DM
because it seemed like there was too much to know. I went looking for
words of wisdom and found the aforementioned Matt Mercer’s GM
Tips. It’s a great series of videos that are short and helpful,
split up by topic. Another great series of videos is anything from
Matthew Colville, whose Running the Game videos are probably the
second largest influence on my work as a Dungeon Master (after Matt
Mercer). I also read tons of articles from the official D&D website,
like the Sage Advice column. I read every Unearthed Arcana article and thought about how those adjustments compared to the Player’s
Handbook. I signed up for the Roleplaying Tips mailing list run by Johnn Four, whose advice is probably the third largest influence on
my DMing. I heavily recommend it also because it’s great to get a
reminder to work on D&D every few days when a new tip arrives in
your inbox. Seriously the best mailing list I’ve ever been on. He also
answers questions and solicits answers from the community, so he’s a
great resource for obscure wonders.
3. Join a community
kind of follows from the previous point about advice from Johnn
directly. If you’re really struggling with the density of the Core
Rulebooks and are daunted by the many columns and tables, a community
can help explain things. For instance, I had a lot of trouble parsing
how exactly XP adjusted values work. I asked online, and someone
helpfully pointed out the reference and made an example so I’d get how
to use it myself. Tumblr is good, but I prefer reddit for D&D
things. Some great subreddits are r/DMAcademy, r/DMToolkit, r/DnDBehindtheScreen, r/mattcolville (yes, that same Matt Colville), r/UnearthedArcana, and r/worldbuilfing.
There are a number of other forums specifically for D&D that
I have accounts for but never use, mostly because I am still recovering
from my forum days… I won’t date myself and say how long ago.
4. Google is your friend!
google everything I need for D&D. Sometimes, even though I
know the information I want is in my PHB, the book is on my shelf and
I’d have to search for the info. The internet can tell me what I need to
know NOW. So! Here’s my advice for googling D&D stuff, along with
some of my favourite links.
Rules: Include ‘5e’ or ‘fifth edition’
along with the keyword you’re looking for. This will reduce your chances
of ending up on a site intended for players of another edition.
Spells: Don’t google them, go to dnd-spells.com. Seriously. This website saves my life every time I play D&D. You can also make spellbooks for your characters and then generate pdfs before your game! It’s MAGICAL!
Homebrew monsters can be fun but be careful when implementing them in
your game. If you need help building encounters (like I do), use Kobold
Images: Google image search can get you really
general or really specific stuff. If you want random images to inspire
you you’re better off looking at something like The MET.
Names: There is one site to end all sites for this. For all other generators, see donjon.
5. Steal like an artist
have a lot of fun watching, reading, and playing other types of media
and thinking, “I’m going to steal that for my game.” I love comic books
for example. Recently, I decided to put Iron Man into my game. Not for
any reason, just because it would be fun. I didn’t simply put Tony Stark
as a rich human noble into my game and wait for my player to meet him
so I could do my best Robert Downey Jr. impression. I thought about what
makes that character exciting and recognizable and transported it into
the steampunk world of my campaign. I changed his name and race. I made
him an Artificer, a Gunslinger protective of his prototypes (*waves at
Taliesin*), who could also build Mech Suits that are as much works of
art as they are feats of magical engineering. I gave him an assistant
with a romantic love triangle and let him loose in my world. It was so
much fun to watch my player figure out my inspiration! Not every NPC
needs this level of detail, but all your choices should circle back to
‘How well would this work in MY world?’
By taking inspiration
from the things you love, filling in the ‘gaps’ to breathe life into
your universe should come easily. I didn’t know Tran Intubi (Tony Stark)
had a gallery of retired mech suits in his Tower but I described as
such in-game. The description came naturally when I had a base
inspiration to rely on.
I hope that was more helpful than long-winded!