I first started to DM because the previous one decided to leave. I was thrown into the deep end and had to learn the hard way. There was no one to help me when I first started so I’m creating this list to help others who are starting.
Becoming a DM is a learning process but after experience and practice you will improve
Here are the top 5 things I wish I knew before DMing
Pick a system you are familiar with
Running a system you played before gives you the helpful edge when trying to run it. This way you already know the basic mechanics of combat, skills etc. and do not have to worry about learning them. This prior knowledge provides the building blocks it you can work off of when running the game for yourself.
These are by far the simplest ways to get your feet wet when starting to DM. It gives you a story with enemies, puzzles, loot already planned out. A lot of these also have descriptions of rooms of that the players enter helping you learn how to describe the surroundings.
The enemies are fair and balanced so you do not have to worry about killing your party by accidentally overpowering them. Premade campaigns are a great way of getting you introduced to how combat works.
Know with the rules of the game you’re playing
This may seem obvious but knowing the rules can help you. Many players will learn how the character works and will rely on the DM for more technical questions. Knowing them can save you time and effort in the long run.
Don’t make up rules if you don’t know the answer. It will only hurt you and confuse your players
This may seem like the easy thing to do when a player asks you a question and you don’t know the rule for it. However just like lying, it is hard to say the same rule twice. If the player has to the same question months down the road chances are you will not remember what you said before.
As a DM for a long time, I still don’t remember all the rules of the system I am DMing for. This is shown even more when you’re running games on multiple different systems. It is fine if you miss some obscure rules that are not use very often. Just remember to be honest, explain your players that you don’t remember that you have to look it up. Most of the players will understand.
One of the best ways to help you know the rules of the game you’re running is to create a cheat sheet. I use cheat sheets to help me remember the rules for conditional effects, material hardness, and what skills do. This can vary depending on what you are having trouble remembering or feel like you would forget.
The best thing about cheat sheets is that if you keep coming across a rule you don’t remember just add it to the sheet.
The dreaded note taking
A lot of times players will do things you do not expect. This could be talking to a random NPC in the bar or investigating an aspect you were considering. This means you’ll have to improvise. While improvising can be tough not remembering what you said makes it tougher. Always write things down, this will help you remember things you made up. You can always go back in later and flesh out the detail and depth.
The fine art of fudging roles
Fudging roles the act of rolling the dice and then choosing the number that die rolled because you’re unhappy with the original roll.
Be wary about doing this because this can leave the players feeling like you are cheating them. Most new DM’s will feel inclined to do this during boss fights when they are not hitting as well as they wanted to.
It is fine to find roles every once in a while but I would restrict it to storytelling purposes as opposed to combat.
Let the dice fall where they land, you could get a better story
As mentioned above is fine when the rules don’t go your way and gives players a sense of awesomeness. This is one of the easiest ways to get players their moment. A moment is when a player’s character does something spectacular and lets them stand out from the group for a short while.
Creating moments for individual players will become easier with experience but before then the randomness of roles can help you with this.