You’ve landed on this page because you’re special. You actually want to BE a Dungeon Master and revel in all the power this comes with. But know this! With great power comes great…..Responsibility!
As I said in Part 1, DMing can be a lot of work. However, if you enjoy world-building and story-telling, the work is well worth it. One of the beautiful things about role playing games is the main pieces of equipment required to play is the imagination of the players. That being said, there are some tools you’ll want to acquire before running your own campaign:
- Variety of dice – you can get by with the same 7 dice set you use playing DnD as a character, but having duplicates (of varying colors) helps when you are rolling for multiple enemies or non-playable characters.
- Playing mat that you can write on with dry erase markers
- Dry erase markers – these are very handy for drawing the perimeter of a room, or for demarcating specific areas in a fight (ex: spell that has lasting effects in a certain area).
- Writing pad & pencils
- DM screen – this can be as simple as a folder behind which you role your dice
- Figurines – there are a variety of official and unofficial DnD mini figurines for sale out there, but really you can use anything. Legos, pieces from a board game, children’s toys, etc. For random villains and encounters you can reuse certain pieces over and over again. For example, I’ve used dimes, pennies, glass beads from a craft store, and even coasters (for really big bad things).
There are also various TTRPG accouterments that are not necessary to play the game, but can make it more fun:
- Dwarven Forge’s Miniature Terrain Sets
- Hero Forge’s Custom Miniatures
- D20 light up dice
- D20 cupcake molds! Yum!
Undoubtedly many of you reading this have played DnD before and know these basics already, so I won’t be covering that here. For the absolute beginners out there, check out Helen’s Dungeons and Dragons Diary, where she chronicles her experiences playing for the first time.
As I mentioned in Part 1, who you play with, and who they play as, will define the campaign. I highly recommend requiring the character sheets be provided in advance so you can weave character back stories into the overarching story. Set a deadline for when you want character information turned in, because the procrastinators in the group will do what they do best.
Throughout the character sheet creation process your players are going to ask you questions such as: will this be a hack and slash campaign? will you require a lot of role playing? In order to answer these questions you’ll need to have a rough idea about how your campaign will go. I prefer a game that is more on the role playing side, but there are a lot of players happy with just killing and looting all day long. For my current campaign I asked my players for fairly developed backstories at roughly 2,000 words in length. Given that all my friends playing DnD are also writers, this wasn’t a crazy expectation. You may feel perfectly comfortable not requiring any back story at all. You may even want to write your characters’ back stories for them.
They’ll also ask rule based questions, such as: Will you let me multi-class in this ridiculous way so I can get a +3 wisdom advantage? I like to restrict the amount of power my characters can accumulate, so I limited my players to picking from tier 4 and 5 class choices. I learned in my first campaign that it can be very difficult to reign in powerful characters, and equally difficult to keep the challenges…. challenging.
I also limited them by not allowing full magic users (like the warlock or warmage). I personally dislike the mechanics of magic, so I decided to create a world with much more limited amounts of magic going around. In fact, my overarching storyline is to locate the hoard of magical items accumulated by the last known wizard and bring magic back to the land.
When you are preparing for your first session, and you have the character sheets of your players in front of you, think about your friends’ motivations for playing the game as you start coloring in the outlines of your campaign. The types of characters and back stories your friends have written will provide a lot of insight into how to create an enjoyable gameplay experience for them. The happier your players are, the better the campaign will be.
For example, in my latest campaign I have the following mix of characters:
- Halfling Rogue: this player’s backstory is humorous and includes a nonmagical raccoon companion named Senor Bandito, with whom he snuggles with at night. He was quick to point out that the raccoon is the big spoon.
- Unseelie Dragonborn Fey Marshal (long backstory, but it’s legit): A tragic story of loss of family and origins due to a heroic deed gone wrong. She leaves everything she’s ever known on a quest for revenge.
- Elf Ranger: By far the longest backstory I received, this player is committed to motivating his character in multiple ways, via the protection of his family, escaping his murky ne’er-do-well past, finding his long lost vampiric father, reuniting two lands… the list goes on.
- Human Samurai: this player’s story filled up a third a sheet of paper and was only three sentences. He is on a mission to figure out who sent him a sword long thought to be lost after his family was wiped out.
Here is my approach to ensuring the happiness of these players:
- Halfling Rogue: provide opportunities to use him and his raccoon to hilarious effect. Ex: helping get a cat out of a tree, pick-pocketing the mayor, sifting through the apothecary’s garbage cans
- Unseelie Dragonborn Fey Marshal: provide intermittent steps toward realizing the revenge story. Ex: rumors of enemy nearby, run-ins with known affiliates of the enemy, run-ins with new victims of the enemy.
- Elf Ranger: provide an elaborate character development plot that hits most (not all) of the dilemmas in his backstory. If possible make him choose between the importance of two of them. Ex: he has a rare chance to follow up on a lead to his father, but if he does so he’ll be unable to guard his family as carefully as he’d like to.
- Human Samurai: this is my most difficult challenge since the player did not provide me with much backstory, and this is the first time I have played with him. After our first session I realized he has a dry sense of humor and an interest in fancy sword play, so I plan to have some good fights tailored to his skill set coming up.
Having side quests and achievements that each character can use is important to making things fun for everyone. If at any point someone seems to be falling behind either power-wise or story-wise, it is up to the DM to find a creative solution to the problem. Don’t be afraid to take risks!
So now that you have your characters, you have some idea of how to make them happy, and you even have an overarching story mapped out, where is all of this amazing stuff going to take place? In my next post I’ll tackle how to build a world that makes sense for the story you’re going to tell.
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