Tips For a First Time DM

Cid Silverwing

Paladin of The Light
Jul 27, 2008
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Running a 5e game for a year. Here's my advice:

Your rule is final. No one gets to tell you otherwise. Don't be afraid to assert yourself if anyone starts giving you shit when you're clearly in the right and your interpretation of the rules (and house rules if applicable) is reasonable. You choose whether you WANT to roll dice or eschew them for the purposes of plot too. I'm of the habit of overruling critical failures when they start interfering with my players' ability to fight or do anything.

You can never plan for everything, so don't bother. Allow improvisation, impress your players with fast thinking, and let them impress YOU in turn. Player-DM chemistry is crucial.
 

Erttheking

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Apr 23, 2020
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There are two rule Zeroes. The first is have fun. The second is that the GM is always right. Sometimes players get hung up on really unimportant things or just act like jerks at time. And then there are other times when you break rules in order to make things more fun.

Just don't abuse the GM is always right, otherwise you'll be playing with an empty table.

Oh, and have a break of some kind, most likely for dinner.
 

Saelune

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erttheking said:
There are two rule Zeroes. The first is have fun. The second is that the GM is always right. Sometimes players get hung up on really unimportant things or just act like jerks at time. And then there are other times when you break rules in order to make things more fun.

Just don't abuse the GM is always right, otherwise you'll be playing with an empty table.

Oh, and have a break of some kind, most likely for dinner.
The GM isnt always right, they just have final say on the rules. Shouldnt put it the way of 'always right' cause it can inflate people's heads. DnD is co-operative even when the DM is sending waves of monsters to kill the players.

Plus sometimes the DM favors certain players unfairly, or hates on certain players unfairly, and cheats solely to punish the players. These things arent right even if the DM is doing it.
 

Erttheking

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Saelune said:
erttheking said:
There are two rule Zeroes. The first is have fun. The second is that the GM is always right. Sometimes players get hung up on really unimportant things or just act like jerks at time. And then there are other times when you break rules in order to make things more fun.

Just don't abuse the GM is always right, otherwise you'll be playing with an empty table.

Oh, and have a break of some kind, most likely for dinner.
The GM isnt always right, they just have final say on the rules. Shouldnt put it the way of 'always right' cause it can inflate people's heads. DnD is co-operative even when the DM is sending waves of monsters to kill the players.

Plus sometimes the DM favors certain players unfairly, or hates on certain players unfairly, and cheats solely to punish the players. These things arent right even if the DM is doing it.
Fair point
 

Saelune

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Silentpony said:
Fijiman said:
If they don't die within the first five minutes you're doing it wrong.
Pfft! Hate to let you be DM
Twist ending, Fiji is your friend that killed you in that one game.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Oct 1, 2009
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Saelune said:
The GM isnt always right, they just have final say on the rules. Shouldnt put it the way of 'always right' cause it can inflate people's heads. DnD is co-operative even when the DM is sending waves of monsters to kill the players.

Plus sometimes the DM favors certain players unfairly, or hates on certain players unfairly, and cheats solely to punish the players. These things arent right even if the DM is doing it.
These are important points. As a GM I think that one of the biggest strengths you can have is to know when to concede or let things slide. Some times it simply is better to let the players have an even 100 gold instead of the 98 you randomly generated or it is better to not enforce a rule because it'd be detrimental to the session or player morale. In the end, the game makes or brakes on whether everyone can have a good time and despotic GMs (I've met a few) can really ruin that.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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Jun 5, 2013
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Saelune said:
Silentpony said:
Fijiman said:
If they don't die within the first five minutes you're doing it wrong.
Pfft! Hate to let you be DM
Twist ending, Fiji is your friend that killed you in that one game.
I'd believe it!

But in more seriousness, I'm okay with characters dying, but DMs need to remember the point of the game is to play it, not not play it. People are there to have fun with their friends, roll play a little, drink mead and ale and sing songs about wenches and lava spiders, not get one-shot-no-scope before even the first round of combat has started.

If you're going to play the game straight with no backsies and perma-death, then the DM needs to tell the players to have multiple characters they're willing to let die, so no one is literally told to go play games elsewhere, party over.

And for the record my Gama World character was the best character ever! He was a crazed hobo, with a broken bottle and trashcan lid as weapons, with incredible charisma and from the luck of the draw deck of trait cards, double specialty in Mind Coercer and Mental push.
 

Saelune

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Silentpony said:
Saelune said:
Silentpony said:
Fijiman said:
If they don't die within the first five minutes you're doing it wrong.
Pfft! Hate to let you be DM
Twist ending, Fiji is your friend that killed you in that one game.
I'd believe it!

But in more seriousness, I'm okay with characters dying, but DMs need to remember the point of the game is to play it, not not play it. People are there to have fun with their friends, roll play a little, drink mead and ale and sing songs about wenches and lava spiders, not get one-shot-no-scope before even the first round of combat has started.

If you're going to play the game straight with no backsies and perma-death, then the DM needs to tell the players to have multiple characters they're willing to let die, so no one is literally told to go play games elsewhere, party over.

And for the record my Gama World character was the best character ever! He was a crazed hobo, with a broken bottle and trashcan lid as weapons, with incredible charisma and from the luck of the draw deck of trait cards, double specialty in Mind Coercer and Mental push.
I think in the case of a session one death, you need to just retroactive that that person was someone else then just re-introduce your character and be like "Who as that guy?"

Or really just 'plot armor' them for the first session or two.
 

TheFinish

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May 17, 2010
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JUMBO PALACE said:
Hey everyone!

So I will be acting as the Dungeon Master for the first time tomorrow. I'll be shepherding my girlfriend and two of our friends through the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure that comes with the 5e Starter Kit. I have participated as a player in a pair of campaigns over the past few months and have a relatively firm grasp on the rules and mechanics our group of relatively novice players are likely to run into. Never the less, this being my first time as DM I'm a little nervous improvising on the fly and keeping things engaging. I do have a dry-erase board for drawing maps and depicting battles and have gathered some music for different environments, but for the most part have focused on familiarizing myself with the module and getting ideas for characterizing the various NPCs (which there are a lot of in Mines of Phandelver)

Long story shot, any tips from the veterans for a fledgling DM who is running his first game?
1) Know the rules as best as you possibly can. I don't mean that you should be able to cite page, paragraph and line on how Dim Light affects hit chance; but you should be aware that it does, and you should be able to quickly know where to look it up if it ever comes up. Possessing system mastery as a GM is essential to swiftly and fairly resolve disputes, answer questions, and overall keep the game moving at a good clip. It also allows you to better judge when and how to ignore rules if it suits the story.

2) Keep notes. Of your PCs, of your NPCs, of the places they have visited, what they have done, etc. This will help you keep information much easier, and allow you to craft a better experience by reinforcing elements that your players have liked (such as particular characters). Also, so you don't forget which player has the Great Severed Hand of Khu-Ptah so you can hit him with a curse when they enter a tomb. Classic!

3) Be fair, but most importantly, be consistent. If a rules argument comes up, rule on it and move on. Write down what your ruling was. After the session, look up the rule when you have time. If it's like you ruled, no biggie. If it isn't, make sure your players know what the rule actually is. If you have house rules, always keep them at hand. If you make a ruling on something vague, write it down and always rule that way if (or when) it comes up again. Players will appreciate consistency.

4) The players are not your enemies. You do not win by killing them, this isn't Descent. You win when everyone is having fun. Challenge them, but don't be a dick about it.

And, since you're using a premade module, here's a few more:

5) Know the module back to back. This, like system mastery, is essential, but it's also important for the following point. You are doing this, which is excellent! Keep it up.

6) This is more complicated, but you will have to tailor the module to your party a bit. In general, a d20 derivative module is written with the idea that the party is:

- Composed of 4 players
- They possess: A martial tank, a skill specialist, an arcane caster and a divine caster (whose main purpose is to heal).

In general this means Fighter/Rogue/Wizard/Cleric. And a party like that is great, and well balanced. But your players may not do that. If they don't, look at their characters. Look at what they lack. Then read the encounters, and try to see which ones would be much harder, and try to change them a bit. If they don't have a healer, put more potions in whatever treasure they find. If they have no wizard you will probably have to give them access to magic weapons earlier. Stuff of that sort.

But most importantly: remember to have fun! If you're not having fun running it, or they're not having fun playing, take a break. Talk about why it is they aren't enjoying themselves. Let them know why you find it boring to run. Communication is key to a healthy game.