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15 December 2020

How to Run Your First D&D Game


Everyone finds Dungeons & Dragons (D&D, dnd, DnD, etc) in a different way. You might play a roleplaying game (RPG) like World of Warcraft, the Witcher III, or one of the Baldur’s Gate games and yearn for a more creative gaming outlet. It’s possible you hear your friends talking about D&D, discover an actual play series such as Critical Role or The Provokers, or spot a funny meme in the wild. One of these events might spur you to seek out a D&D group or better yet, create your own. 

Regardless, for the purposes of this article, you’ve discovered D&D and want to play it.

This article will provide you a pathway to success. There’s no need to blaze the trail if it has already been paved!

Gather a Group


The premier step is to gather a group.

As you will be the one reaching out and gathering members, you should take the mantle of Dungeon Master (DM).

In D&D, the DM is the world. They play the villains and allies, environments and elements—everything besides the Player Characters (PCs). In addition, they are the rules referee. They make all rules calls and decide what goes at the table. When it comes to these two aspects, they are supposed to be impartial. But they should also try their best to ensure the players (and themselves) are having fun.

So, as the DM, you need to gather your group. For your first game, I’d recommend finding four players. Larger groups might hinder your experience.

Mine through people you know to start. These folks could be people you think might have fun playing D&D, have shown interest in the game before, or be complete strangers to gaming in general. Really, D&D is playable by everyone as long as each individual brings their imagination, an open mind, and a pension for fun to the table.

After you’ve exhausted that list and aren’t at the recommended number of players, reach out to friends of friends who express interest. 

Art from Rime of the Frostmaiden, by April Prime.

As a last resort, you can post online (I suggest this subreddit) for people interesting in playing D&D. This, however, scrambles things. Since you do not know these people, you need to make sure they're a good fit for your group. In your looking for a group (LFG) post, mention your interests when it comes to D&D, what you’re looking for (and not looking for), and what the plan when it comes to number of sessions/times/etc. With a group of random people, you should run a single session adventure first. Don’t commit to a long-lasting one if you don’t know them.

Here are two examples of LFG posts. One is a poor post, the other is stellar.

I am a DM looking for players to play D&D. Who is up for it?

I am a DM looking for 4 players to play a D&D 5e adventure. It will be one session on Saturday, December 19th, 2020 at 1:00pm EST. The characters will be 1st level and it will last 3-5 hours. Please be mature and looking for a mix of roleplaying, tactical combat, and a tad of exploration. Who is up to play?

If at the end of your search, you have at least one other player, you’re good to go.

If you’ve not succeeded, continue looking and don’t give up hope. D&D is not a game that can be played solo, unfortunately. You can build your world, plan a campaign, and think up cool scenarios in your head for hours. But without at least one other player, you’re not yet playing D&D—you’re just plotting it out! Given time, I am confident you’ll be able to find at least one other to join you in your quest.

With a group gathered, it’s time to stride onward.

Collect Supplies


D&D is a malleable game. You can play it with minimal supplies or an entire basement of maps, miniatures, and other D&D knick-knacks.

To run your first game, you don’t need much. You can even start playing for free using the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition, found on the Wizards of the Coat site here.

Otherwise, you’ll need the following:
  1. Paper and a pencil or a computer for notes
  2. The Player’s Handbook to reference rules and help create the PCs
  3. A set of polyhedral dice to roll for attacks, ability checks, and nearly everything else
Ideally, you should also read the Player’s Handbook so you have a firm grasp on the rules. Remember, as the DM you’ll be the adjudicator. You don’t need to memorize the entire book, but you should know the basics and be able to make a call or reference the correct chapter when necessary.

Once you’ve obtained that list of three, you have everything you’ll need to physically play.

If you want to outfit yourself with a few more armaments, take a gander at the following; if you’re set, move to the next part!
  1. The Monster Manual to populate your adventure with monsters
  2. The Dungeon Master’s Guide to help build your world and tailor your game to you and your players
  3. A battle map so you can visualize the battlefield
  4. A set of miniatures to represent the PCs and monsters in combat and exploration
Supplies collected, it’s time to move forward.

Scribe a Start


Preparation is vital for your first D&D game. You have an important decision to make: do you want to run a published adventure or create a quest of your own design?

There are plenty of easy-to-run starting adventures for new DMs and players. Honestly, I’d suggest starting with a written out quest unless you have some semblance of experience running or playing roleplaying games. 

No matter what you choose, though, your first adventure should contain the following elements:
  • A call-to-action and an enticing reward. This thrusts the PCs into the adventure and gives them a reason to hit the road. The blacksmith bursts into the tavern and cries out for assistance against a tribe of goblins. Or a kobold clan collapses the nearby mine. Maybe an ogre is stealing cows from the local farmer. Beginners might need a clear motivation to pursue the adventure: coin, magic items, or perhaps fame.
  • A villain. He or she acts against the PCs and serves as a foil to their actions. They will also take most of the PC’s ire. The filthy goblin shaman who enjoys finely made weaponry and skinning her victims alive. The ambitious kobold chieftain who seeks to draw capable adventurers into his lair for experimentation. The ogre who just wants to eat and was driven from their stomping grounds by a stubborn hill giant.
  • A fantastic location. This place draws the PCs into the world and allows for exploration of the imaginative. The goblin hideout carved into the trunk of a massive tree. The acidic caverns deep inside a collapsed mine. The dilapidated but floating wizard’s tower that acts as the ogre’s simple home.
Art from Lost Mine of Phandelver, credit to Wizards of the Coast.

Together, these three elements form an adventure: a series of encounters that see the PCs interacting with NPCs, exploring the world, and combating foes in it.

If you feel up to the task and are inspired, go right ahead and construct your own short adventure! Otherwise, here are three excellent adventures for a first D&D game.
  • Lost Mine of Phandelver. This adventure is a part of the starter set for fifth edition and can form the foundation for an extended campaign. It pits the PCs against classic D&D foes and contains everything a first adventure for beginners should.
  • The Burning Plague. This adventure is free and written for an older edition of D&D. However, all that needs to be changed are the stats of the monsters inside, which is a super simple task. It was my first adventure and sees the PCs delve into an abandoned mine to cleanse a foul foe.
  • The Delian Tomb. This adventure is free and created by Matthew Colville, a respected content creator on YouTube and elsewhere. It’s simple, brief, and throws the PCs against staple D&D villains: goblins, in a staple adventuring location: an order of knights' tomb.
Once you have scribed a starting story, you’re nearly ready to run your first D&D game.

Set a Date and Breathe


Almost everything is ready.

You gathered a group of ready, able, and willing adventurers.

You collected a variety of supplies for your D&D game.

You scribed a starting story, whether it was one of your own creation or one written by some of the hobby’s greats.

It’s time to set a date and breathe.

Reach out to your players to schedule your first session. Plan whose home you’ll be gathering at, whether or not you’ll all be eating or not, and the general time frame you’ll be playing. Some say this is the most difficult part, but if you’ve found a group of people who truly want to play D&D, to make time for it and ensure it’s a priority, you shouldn’t have too many issues.

Once a date is set, read over your material and write up a few important notes. Your first set need not be complex, just things you know you’ll need: NPC names, monsters the PCs will fight, important plot points, and where you generally want the session to go. As you DM more, you’ll find out what you need and don’t need to take notes on.

When the day approaches and you’re at the head of the table surrounded by your friends, remember to breathe. You’re all there to have fun and play D&D together. Try not to stress about it and focus on having a stellar time instead! If you think it goes poorly, don’t worry: D&D is a hobby wherein you’re constantly improving. And really, all the matters is that you and your friends have fun. That should be the priority.

Art from Storm King's Thunder, credit to Wizards of the Coast.

Lessons Learned


Like I said at the beginning of this article, everyone discovers D&D in a different way. You might not get the chance to prepare a ton and read this article before your first session. Your friends might ask you to run a game in a few hours time and you might do it, armed with a pencil, some dice, and a fierce imagination. And that's not wrong. You can still easily run a successful first game that way.

I'm just here to try and help the discerning, first-time DM.

Here’s the gist on how to run your first D&D game:
  1. Gather a group of people who want to play D&D.
  2. Collect supplies for D&D—this can be done for free!
  3. Scribe a starting story that contains a call-to-action and enticing reward, a villain, and a fantastic location.
  4. Set a date and remember to breathe at the table.
Once you’ve run your first D&D game, odds are you’re hooked. If you want help growing your pool of knowledge or learning about D&D, don’t be afraid to roam the rest of my articles. I’m here to help you become the best DM you can be.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

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2 comments:

  1. Great to see you laying the foundation for a new DM and/or players, this is the future of the game getting more involved and exposed to the Greatest Game ever created! Keep it up RJ, excellent work here and spot on.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the read. Doing the best I can to spread the word!

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