Resources for the Newb DM

So, I still haven’t run a game…  it’s a little sad, really, since I’m dying to give it a try.  It’s just…  well…

For starters, learning the ins and outs of being a DM is actually quite complicated.  Sure, the basics are pretty easy to understand.  You apply the rules of the game to the world in which the characters interact.  But there are so many details and intricacies that can make the game so much better, and these are what can be difficult to pick up.  Things like how to set the scene and provide details that get the players’ imaginations running, how to bend the game a little bit and really create something unique, or what to watch for in your players to tell you the types of games or encounters that really get them engaged.  And these are just a few of many, many things that a DM can work on to improve their skills.

It’s rather intimidating, and yet very exciting at the same time.  All these things to know…  So many cool ideas!  But it’s hard to learn if you don’t practice.

One of the main reasons that I haven’t run a game, yet, is that I really don’t have many people I can draw in to be players.  Most campaign settings rely on having right around four characters or so to make everything balanced.  Sure,  you can re-balance the game a bit, but that can be a lot of work for an entire campaign setting.  I’d rather have a campaign laid out for the number of characters that will be playing.  And right now, the only player that might be able to play is my SO.  So, I’m currently working on writing up my very own campaign specifically meant for a single character.  Sure, it might be challenging, but why not?  I’ll learn a lot in the process.

Speaking of learning, I have a number of resources from which I pull all sorts of ideas.  But, I have a couple of places, in particular, that I really have been leaning on to help design my solo campaign.

First, if you’re not sure what you want, try checking out Don Jon.  It’s filled with all sorts of random generators for maps, towns, NPCs, items, dungeons, treasure piles, inns, shops, and plenty more.  Try playing around with some of these and see what they spit out.  Something may just pique your interest and give you a fantastic idea to use in your own game.

Random generators are cool and all, but if you really want advice there are lots of blogs, forums, and articles about D&D to read through.  Honestly, it’s almost overwhelming how much material you’ll find.  But, I’ve stumbled across one particular blog that has really helped me understand more about DM-ing than anywhere else, and that’s The Angry DM.  This writer has an advice column to help answer various questions for DMs and players, and they’ve been extremely helpful to me.  In addition, they write lengthy articles on all sorts of topics that focus on how to implement unique ideas or twist the rules a little bit to create the best game possible.  Do check him out, the blog is highly-recommended reading.

In fact, The Angry DM has just started a series of articles that will detail his thought process as he creates an epic mega-dungeon adventure.  You can be sure I’ll follow that closely, as it will certainly help me understand what goes into designing encounters, traps, monsters, daily requirements, when to break between sessions, pacing the story properly, how to encourage the players forward, secret areas, and building a fantastic story.  I’m really excited to continue reading this series as the articles come out.

Forums can also be extremely helpful when trying to answer questions about how to handle certain situations or to get suggestions on where to advance your story.  One of the most-popular forums out there is Enworld.  There’s a TON of information out there.  And, if you have a question on something, try searching there.  I can nearly guarantee that someone has probably wondered the same thing and already asked about it.  Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with an answer on your own, so don’t be afraid to lean on others for help.

As for keeping track of your adventures, even during the planning phase, there are numerous ways to accomplish that task.  The most-basic method would be to use a word processor, like Word.  Unfortunately, it’s very linear, which doesn’t lend itself well to the task of story-writing or encounter-building.  If you want a place to write your campaign, there are a few software packages available for this type of writing.  They’re typically meant for novels, but they seem to work well for RPG campaigns, as well.  One such option is Scrivener, which is pretty popular with writers.  Another option might be a wiki, where you can link together various people, places, and things to help weave your story together.  It still may not be great for encounter-building, but it will help you track and log as you plan and play.  If you want to do this in an area where you can share the wiki with your players, try looking at Obsidian Portal.  You can build your wiki, and they have specific pages to create characters (PCs and NPCs) and places within your setting.  if you upgrade your account, there are also additional features for pushing messages, notifications, a calendar, etc.  It was specifically designed for tracking RPGs.

Thus far, these are the resources that I’m tapping into as I begin building my own adventures.  I hope they help point other new DMs toward helpful information.  If you have any other resources that you’d like to share, post them in the comments!

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