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DnD Beginners DM advice needed!

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So my family like to do family board game, been doing it for a while. When finishing the last one, I, jokingly, said "hey next time, let's play Dungeons and Dragons!"


My eldest lad, he was very excited by this and, after talking to my 19 yr old daughter and her girlfriend, and also my wife, both of whom said they were willing to give it a go, I bought the DnD Starter Set, which contains the Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign and a basic rulebook.


Now, I've played DnD, but it was a loooooooong time ago, we're talking over 30 years now, and I never DM'd, ever, so I'm a little nervous about doing this and screwing it up so they don't enjoy it.

I'm reaching out to you more seasoned DnD players and DM's out there for any advice. Any tips, tricks, guidelines, things to watch out for, suggestions, etc to help me make it a bit more fun.


I know it won't go perfectly and I'll make some errors, as will the players, but I'd still appreciate any advice!

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Ah!  Wonderful to hear, @Coin!

First thing I recommend:  Walk back on the Dungeons & Dragons thing.


'cause there are so many better systems and settings out there as far as accessibility and ease, while still being engaging and meaningful.  Dungeons & Dragons has market dominance to the point where "tabletop roleplaying game" has been called "D&D" much in the way that "tissues" are called "Kleenex."  It has nothing to do with the quality of the product, but everything to do with marketing.


So, to make things easier on you and your family, I strongly recommend an entirely different system!

What's your flavour?  Do you want something minimalist, easy to learn, and flexible?  That would be my personal recommendation.

What tools do you have at your disposal?  Do you have any particular dice, decks of cards, miniatures, map tiles, or other game pieces which you can cannibalize for play?  This will help narrow down which system to use.  Seeing as you already bought the starter kit, we can utilize the materials from that.

What's the setting?  This one surprises some people, but choosing a system totally depends on the setting; it's theme and tone.  Game rules are often treated as interchangeable, what with all the conversations and reskins out there.  But the truth of the matter is, the rules help craft the story.  You don't want to use the Dark Heresy ruleset for a game of fun and laughter and joy, for example.  Similarly, a campaign set in the Warhammer 40K universe would be a bit tricky to run with the rules from All The Little Things.

Give it some thought.  I can definitely help you with some free systems which might do you better than D&D.


Regardless of if you run with D&D or pick up a friendlier system, there are three key tips I strongly recommend:


1)  Know Your Audience.

Know their expectations.  And the best way to -know- is to -ask.-  Have a conversation with your players, first and foremost.  Do they want to be murder hobos?  Do they want to have an epic adventure?  Do they want to tell their characters' stories?  Do they want intrigue or power or silliness or . . . et cetera.  Take some time during Session Zero to find out what everyone wants from the campaign.  And since they're all new to it, help them through this process by guiding them along in terms of what you are confident that you can offer!  Give them options based on a reasonable reading of your own abilities as GM.  That can be tricky, of course, especially when just starting out . . . back start small, and build you way up to bigger and better things over time!


2)  Remember That This is a Cooperative Experience, NOT Competitive.  That -Includes- YOU as the GM.

You're not here to "Defeat" your players.  You're here to work with them to craft a mutually beneficial experience.  If they want things to be challenging, then by all means; challenge them.  But chances are, starting out, they'll be looking to you to -help- them.  Give them hints.  Offer them opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than punish them.  Don't say "no" to anything.  Say "yes, but there's a cost/catch/complication."  This also makes for more engaging story telling!

Also, it helps to know the strengths and the weaknesses of your players as people, NOT in terms of their characters.   Lean on them for support, just as they lean on you.  Work together!  Is one of your players really good at remembering minutia?  Ask them to be co-GM and have them help you with remembering rules (less important with a softer system, but almost a requirement with D&D).  Is one of your players really good at descriptive articulation?  Ask them to help set the scenes in terms of sights, sounds, and smells.  Is one of your players really good at understanding motivations and has excellent empathy?  Ask them to give you a hand fleshing out NPC characters.


3)  Debrief After Every Session!

This is one which eludes a lot of people, even veteran GMs.  It's always good to give players a chance to review the things they liked and the things that bothered them after a session.  This feedback can be instrumental to crafting positive criticisms of your actions as GM.  Focus on building up more of the good, and weeding out the bad.  Each new session should (hopefully) be better than the last!

Sometimes the feedback will be negative in regard to another player.  As GM, you've got to take the responsibility here to work with that.  Get the details on what went wrong, and then work with each player to ensure that things can be resolved.  Sometimes those resolutions involve having to ask someone to bow out, but that should be treated as a last resort.  Ideally you can find compromises which appeal to both/all players!  Be prepared to think outside the box.


If you have any specific questions, I am more than happy to help!  This is the stuff I live for!

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21 hours ago, ImpousVileTerror said:

Ah!  Wonderful to hear, @Coin!



If you have any specific questions, I am more than happy to help!  This is the stuff I live for!

Wow, there's a lot there to digest 😄


Many thanks for the advice, it's really appreciated. 

I think I'm going to stick with the DnD set I bought for several reasons. For starters, my son has been watching some videos for a while now on Youtube of playing DnD (not this campaign, thankfully) and he's really excited to try it, he's even read up on the basic rules etc.

Secondly, my daughter knows what DnD is after being a massive fan of Community, Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things, so I think trying to get her to play  something else might put her off, somewhat!  (Seriously, her love for Community rivals my own, she's Troy to my Abed, we even own a mug each for Troy and Abed in the Morning 😉 )
Thirdly, it comes with pre-rolled character sheets for them all, which should hopefully helps us getting going quicker once I explain basic concepts for them all. I remember when I was younger my friends and I spending about an hour just rolling characters, if I try to get them to do that, I think it might put them off before we even get started!


Plus, I've played it when I was young so I'm at least a little familiar with it!


One thing I've seen mentioned on lots of other sites I've been reading is to not be too slavish to the rules, at least for beginners, but to go with the flow a little more. Does this sound right to you?


Luckily, I know the players very well, it's my wife, son and daughter, as well as my potential future daughter-in-law so I can play to their strengths to keep them involved with it. Plus, they trust me so are a lot less likely to debate whther I've got the rules right or not 😄


I also appreciate @Ashingtonadvice about not splitting up the group. Hopefully that won't be an issue with this campaign, but I'll make sure it doesn't happen 😄 


Any other hardcore Do's and Don'ts out there?


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Definitely don't be a slave to the rules.  That's solid advice!  It relates back to the #2 Tip I posted.  Fudge things in your players' favour if it helps keep them engaged and enjoying themselves.

It's also part of why I personally recommended against D&D.  There are people who will argue rules until everyone is blue in the face and walking away from the table.  D&D's rules have been known to invite a lot of arguments.  So, being flexible and saying "eh, we'll wing this part" is generally in your best interest.


Also, subject matter comfort levels.  I don't know the sort of dynamic you have with your family, and where taboos might lie, but I've found that while playing with complete strangers that it's usually handy to have the Blackball option.  Basically, if someone is uncomfortable with something, they can put forward their signifier to the GM, and you just move on without dragging it out.  

I've usually seen it invoked during scenes of violence or intimacy, or mentions of mental illness or insanity.  Again, not sure what your personal family dynamic is like, but having something like that available to your players (and yourself) could be helpful too.

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It's like with any game - people are there to make their own fun and enjoy each other's company.  Sounds like the experience will be mostly new for everyone, not just yourself, so I wouldn't stress about messing things up - especially if you're following a pre-made adventure.  If you're concerned about arguments, just tell them up front that you have five basic rules:

  1. Your decisions are final;
  2. Everyone (and I mean everyone) is there to have a good time;
  3. Your decisions are final;
  4. You're happy to consider brief input; and
  5. No, really, your decisions are final (until debriefing - but don't tell them that).

And while I agree with pretty much everything ImpousVileTerror said, I will say that I think D&D 5e is a good system for introducing (or re-introducing) people to tabletop RPGs.  It's straightforward, IMO moreso than previous editions, and much more so than many of the games I've played.  Sure, you could do better, you could also do much, much worse.

Edit: Oh, and one final piece of practical advice - tell your players that their characters already know each other from the start. Don't have them meet on the road. Don't have them meet in the King's court. And for all that is holy and unholy, do NOT have them meet in a tavern.

Edited by TheOtherTed
Call me Columbo - "just one more thing..."
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  • 1 month later

D&D is a rule system, the type of game you play is up to you.  It can be just combat.  It can be exploring with lots of traps, hidden doors, etc.  It can be a social adventure talking to people, getting information, tricking them, etc.  It can be a practical game of stone dungeons, iron swords, etc.  Or it can be a fantastic game of magical realms, castles on clouds, shapeshifting dragons, etc.  So decide what you and the players want out of an adventure. 


The most important thing is that people have fun and cool things happen.  I am bad at this personally - I try to follow the rules and what is written for the module.  But think of it as fan theory - if the module says the bartender is unimportant but a player suggests that maybe the bartender is secretly a spy for the king - and that seems cool - then go with it. 


Provide short but detailed descriptions of people and places.  You are in a dark forest with giant trees 100 feet tall, and little undergrowth - the only sound is of distant birds.  Let the players imagine the rest.  You need some details - You are in a forest - does not really set a scene.  But describing all of the details bogs things down - the players can ask for more details (what type of tree are they) if they want.

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The rule system -does- play in to the setting, significantly.

I wouldn't recommend someone play a sunshine and gumdrops style setting with the Dark Heresy rules, for example.

Likewise, I wouldn't recommend the rules for All The Little Things to someone looking to play a game set in a grim and dark far future where there is only War, Madness, and Corruption.


I mean . . . you could, in either case.  You'd just be getting some rather dissonant gameplay compared to your setting's themes.  And hell!  Sometimes that's what you want.

But absolutely 100%; the gameplay DOES matter to the setting.

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Just finishing up Phandelver and it is a lot of fun.


Unlike older modules, you can have multiple hooks at one time, and once they start exploring the wilderness, they can loose the main thread - so just be ready to help guide them a little. Oh and read up on Venomfang online and how people handle him - he's an easy TPK so be sure to role-play him not just have him breathe on everyone...


Oh - and if you like DMing and creating adventures - as you can see from my sig, AE is a good story telling device too. 🙂


If they do end up enjoying it and want to continue the adventure, I hear Storm King's Thunder is a good follow-on. By the time they make it to THundertree they will know if they want to keep going, so get your next adventure early enough to throw in a few hooks that can continue the story.

Edited by Ankylosaur

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  • 7 months later

I'm getting ready for to be the Dungeon Master either. Usually, my elder brother was on our company, but he moved with his wife to New York. I'm happy for them, but we've lost our DM. So I decided to try myself in this case. My brother was a great DM, but I want to improve myself and make some innovations. Moreover, I read a lot of different guides on dndguide.net and forums. There is a lot of helpful information. Every time I find new facts or advices which amazes me. Dungeons and Dragons world is so huge and unpredictable. I totally love this game. Thanks for your advices guys 😊

Edited by ann_ferg
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