Running a D&D game had always sounded daunting to me. “Not just anyone can be a DM,” I had heard. “It takes a lot of preparation and experience.”

I’m a relatively new D&D player, but I’ve thought about becoming a DM for a long time. I’ve been collecting AD&D adventures since my late teens, but before the prevalence of Google, I wasn’t sure what to do with them and I was too shy to ask.

Recently, more and more of my friends have shown an interest in learning to play. Like me, they felt intimidated by not knowing the rules or how to roleplay. As a group of relatively shy people, playing with strangers sounded even more intimidating to us. So I decided that, even though I was only a new player myself, I would learn how to be a Dungeon Master.

FIRST ENCOUNTERS

My first order of business was to join an existing game in order to better learn the D&D rules. I went to the Wizards of the Coast website and found a D&D Encounters drop-in night at my neighborhood game store. Joining a game full of strangers can be challenging for a shy person, but it was worth it! The group was very friendly and welcoming, both to me and my elf miniatures. The other players happily explained the rules along the way as we embarked on a series of weekly two-hour adventures. I made some new friends, and after a few games, I began to understand the game mechanics and turn actions.

I also started watching games on the Wizards of the Coast D&D YouTube channel to get a better idea of different DM styles. The internet has been a great resource for finding DM tips for new players. I’ve also gotten a lot of tips from seeking out other Dungeon Masters and asking them how they run their games.

ROLLING INITIATIVE

Once I felt comfortable, I set up my first game night with my group. I started with my favorite Wizards of the Coast board game—Dungeon!—which feels to me like D&D for people who have never played before. This game is a great introduction to the mechanics of dice rolling, action and turn order, and the concepts of hit points and armor class. Fighters in the game have a relatively low armor class, so they don’t stand much of a chance against higher-level monsters, but they need the least amount of loot to win. Wizards can teleport and challenge higher-level monsters, but they need to collect more treasure to win. I also saw the game as a low-risk way for my shyer friends to begin to imagine themselves as their characters without being expected to “perform.”

After that first session, we met the following week to play The Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure from the D&D Starter Set. There was some uncertainty at first. What was roleplaying like? How did the rules work? I presented my friends with the pregenerated character sheets, a full set of miniatures, forest images of the Forgotten Realms, forest tiles, and fantasy soundtrack music. I wanted the experience to be visually appealing and immersive. After picking our characters, I had everyone introduce themselves and decide how their backstories were connected. Then we got started on our adventure. It was thrilling to lead my friends through a dungeon crawl in a goblin-infested cave and watch them defeat a goblin boss.

REWARDS AND DEVELOPMENTS

One trick I learned from D&D Encounters nights is to end the session just after a new adventure hook has been set up, to bait the players for the next week’s game. I also learned the importance of encouraging shyer players to take risks in their decision-making. I think D&D is a great venue for players to take initiative, pursue leadership roles, and take risks to achieve goals they might shy away from in real life. This sense of accomplishment could influence the way they feel in their everyday lives.

My first game as DM left me with the impression that I would need to prepare more in the future. It would have been a lot easier to run the game if I had know the adventure hooks and characters a little better in advance. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was much more accessible to the players than I had imagined. My biggest takeaway from the experience was to just keep working at it, and to not feel intimidated by my status as a new player and DM. I wasn't the perfect Dungeon Master on my first try, but I'm still working at it. Thankfully, my friends are eager to explore the creative possibilities D&D has to offer, and another night of high-fantasy adventure is on the horizon.


About the Author

J.M. works in video production at Wizards of the Coast. Her D&D adventures are inspired by the art of Dave Trampier and heavily art directed on a miniature scale. Her passions are making animations, encouraging female gamers, and media literacy.