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I picked up the Dungeons & Dragons 5e Starter Set for my 9 year old for Christmas. That is where I'm at. All I've done. I've never played the game before and am totally new. I am pretty sure I will be the DM who introduces this game to my son and a couple of his buddies.

Questions:

  1. What do I need to do to be prepared to DM? I'm terrified I'm going to screw this up and turn off these boys from D&D.
  2. The Starter Kit comes with 5 pre-made characters, are they standard or are the pre-made characters random?
  3. If the characters are standard where do I find the miniatures for them?
  4. Maps? What the heck? Do I need them/Should I use them? Where do I find these?
  5. Anything else I should buy?
  6. Tips? Suggestions? I would like to introduce this game in a cool way. I figured I would set up the table in the middle of our rec room, buy some pizza, dim the lights, possibly dress-up, etc.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding the hold votes: I don't think this is “Too Broad”. We have the related question I'm at a loss with “Dungeons and Dragons.” How does one play it, anyway?, and this question here is similar but helpfully more specific: how to get started specifically with the Starter Set. (I do see how the list of questions makes it look “Too Broad”, but as a whole that seems more like a list of panicked “what else don't I know?” than a set of distinct questions that could be posted separately.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 21 '17 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm having a hard time seeing how this question isn't a duplicate, but that's what my gut's telling me. I'd love few more sets of eyes on the pair =) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Dec 21 '17 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ And here, Darren, for your further reading, are a bunch of questions regarding the 5e starter set. Role-playing Games Chat is also a great resource--there are almost always 5e experts in there in case you need to think through something. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Dec 21 '17 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 After pondering it, I think the other is more about how to prepare / how much to read in order to make use of the Starter Set, which is a bit more specific yet. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 21 '17 at 20:58
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What do I need to do to be prepared to DM? I'm terrified I'm going to screw this up and turn off these boys from D&D

You need to read through the rule booklet, the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, and be ready to roll with whatever happens and have a good time.

The Starter Kit comes with 5 pre-made characters, are they standard or are the pre-made characters random?

They're standard ones for the adventure. Starting with them is probably a great place if you're not sure where to start.

If you want more options, you can download more "pregenerated characters" from the publisher's web site. (You can also download the "Starter Set Character Sheets" there, so you can print them out again in case one of the ones in your box loses a battle to a can of soda or you end up wanting to play the adventure again after you're done.)

If your players really want to customize everything, you can get the online Basic Rules and work through the character creation rules. I'd really advise against this approach, though, until your group is more familiar with the game. There's a lot of choices, and you need to play for a while to get a feel for things.

If the characters are standard where do I find the miniatures for them?
Maps? What the heck? Do I need them/Should I use them? Where do I find these?

There are two main approaches to playing D&D (and options in-between): The first style is generally called "theater of the mind" style, where everything is just in your collective imaginations. The DM describes the action, and players imagine how their character would respond. You occasionally make judgement calls on whether somebody is close enough to be within range for an effect, but there generally isn't much of a focus on exactly who is where. The second style is more tactical, where you track where each monster and player is more precisely, generally using miniatures. Either approach can work great. If you're new, I'd suggest starting with theater of the mind and seeing how that works before going to buy maps and miniatures, unless you know that what's going to interest your group is playing with little miniatures. The adventure booklet has maps in it, but that just can be to help you visualize how big things are and what's where so that you can describe it to your players. Don't worry about exact locations of things unless you really want that more tactical approach.

If you really want to try out the maps and miniatures approach, find a grid to use (It can be something simple like printing out some sheets of 1-inch squares, or something like the back of some kinds of wrapping paper), draw rooms on it with pen or marker, and use random objects you already have as tokens (coins, Lego minifigures, pawns from other board games) to represent the player characters and creatures in your battles.

If you end up really liking the miniatures approach, you might want to get a dry-erase or wet-erase grid board. Wizards of the Coast publishes their own D&D Adventure Grid, but there are a variety of options from other publishers as well. (They don't need to be D&D branded, you're just looking for something with 1-inch-or-so squares that can be easily drawn on and erased.) As for miniatures themselves, there are similarly a lot of options from a lot of publishers, in a lot of price ranges. One option is just little cardboard squares that just show a position on the board. Another is full-fledged miniature figurines, generally made of plastic, pewter, or metal. (Some people enjoy a hobby of painting these as least as much as they like playing the game.) I recently bought the Arcknight Flat Plastic Miniatures DM Starter Set, which has printed graphics (including I think every creature you'll meet in the Lost Mine of Phandelver) on little plastic sheets which pop into little stands, giving a bit of three-dimensionality while not having the cost or taking-up-space-on-my-shelf that full miniatures would have. But all of that is "extras" I'd only recommend if you're looking for more things to get and if everybody's going to like using them; it's certainly not needed at all in order to play and have a great time.

Some people use digital maps, either because they're playing entirely online, or they use a large display or projector on or near their table and track monster and player positions on their screen. For Lost Mine of Phandelver specifically, the illustrator has digital maps of the adventure available for sale intended for this use, though one could print them out too if one wanted to mess with getting the scaling right and either put together multiple papers or find a large-format printer. Again, this is an option you don't need at all, but since you asked about what you might want to buy or use I wanted to include the possibility for completeness.

But even though I just spent a lot of words describing various ways of using maps, really, doing everything in your mind will work great. Only use something more complicated if your group will find it more fun and worth the cost.

Anything else I should buy?

The premise of the Starter Set is that it has everything you need to get started, and it really does. You may want more sets of dice, just so you don't need to keep passing the ones in the set around the table, but it's not really needed to start.

Tips? Suggestions? I would like to introduce this game in a cool way. I figured I would set up the table in the middle of our rec room, buy some pizza, dim the lights, possibly dress-up, etc.

Sounds like you're off to a great start. Feel free to check out our chat room, browse questions here (see the and tags in particular), and look elsewhere on the Internet for tips, but really just don't worry about "screwing things up". Since sure you will make mistakes, and you'll discover things you wish you'd done differently, but the point of the game, like all games, is to have fun. Work on telling a fun story as a group, and don't let worrying, perfectionism, or even the rules get in the way of doing so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "generally isn't much of a focus on exactly who is where." Exact locations are unimportant, but it can be incredibly helpful to be very clear about exactly how far apart any two characters are. I've seen many situations where archers shot a bow at an opponent and then were later startled when the opponent attacked back with daggers. They'd assumed they were 50+ feet out, instead of side by side. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Dec 21 '17 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might also be helpful to watch some of the videos of people playing D&D on the official Dungeons & Dragons YouTube channel. \$\endgroup\$ – bgvaughan Dec 21 '17 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ “doing everything in your mind will work great” I don’t have much experience with kids, but OP is asking about a group of 9 year olds. Maybe maps and miniatures would be a good way to keep them focused and committed to the rules? A simple flip chart paper (they usually have large squares on them), pencils and some miniatures would be enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Dec 22 '17 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't even have to buy a grid board with squares already on it. I made mine for our games by drawing a grid (only the points, not the lines, but you could do both) using permanent marker onto a dry-erase whiteboard. The grid remains (maybe needs an occasional touch-up after every few sessions), while terrain etc. can be drawn on in whiteboard markers. \$\endgroup\$ – Angew Dec 22 '17 at 9:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michael Well, that's why I suggested starting with theater of the mind, and then trying out some simple paper-and-tokens if they want to try to map approach. Every group is different; I know some kids use their imaginations constantly and would do great with just that. My kids love playing with the minis and wouldn't let me not use them. You have to go with what will work best for your group. But I try trying to answer "What else should I buy" mainly, and you don't have to buy anything else to get started. Other accessories can be added later when and if desired. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Dec 22 '17 at 12:24
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  1. When I GMed something for the first time, I remember having very similar concerns to this point. The best advice is to relax, and be flexible! The purpose of the game is telling a cool story, not being absolutely flawless in execution. And if all else fails, the GM is always right :D

  2. In starter kits, the pre-generated characters included are not unique to the set; meaning, another starter kit would have the same characters inside. These characters are useful for being able to simply hop right in, without having to worry about character creation.

  3. Miniatures aren't really required, but some people prefer using them to help keep things clear as to where everything is. If there's a specialty store nearby that deals with board games, I would check there first.

  4. Pretty much verbatim the same answer; Some people like them, some people don't. Your mileage may vary.

  5. A GM screen is another useful purchase, as it acts as not only a quick reference for rules and mechanics, but it also keeps people from taking a peek at any notes you may be keeping.

  6. Don't be afraid to chew the scenery a bit. Some of the most memorable characters are the goofy ones. If something gets missed in the excitement, don't stress about it. Even veteran DMs make mistakes. And above all else, have fun!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Especially when starting, don't worry about forgetting/following the rules. Your #1 priority is improve a story for everyone to have fun. If you don't know a rule, make one up and communicate what you're doing for now. Then look up the real rules after the story ends, and rediscuss. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Dec 21 '17 at 21:13
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The main things to remember as DM are

  • You are "god" - In your D&D game you can change any rule you want. If you feel something would be better for your game than the standard rules you can do it. (My first DM would hide his dice rolls so that he could fudge the numbers for story/fun reasons as we were learning, not too much usually but if something was close he might change the roll +-1 or 2)
  • Be flexible - You cant predict everything that's going to happen so you need to be able to react on the fly based on what they do. My last session had another player turn what was supposed to be a short, simple encounter into a session long event because he decided to blow up the person who pickpocketed him in the middle of a market. He was promptly arrested, leaving the rest of us to try to get him out. Try to reward ingenuity, our Paladin used an ability that the DM forgot about and was able to sense an invisible demonic creature before it surprised us, this put us on alert causing it to back of. We were able to avoid an encounter entirely. (Our DM gives story xp as well as combat xp so the paladin got some for that.)
  • Its about having fun - What is fun depends on the group, if they like following the rules more closely or winging it and being loose with the rules you'll learn and you should try to adjust to it. Since its everyones first time I would try to be lenient but my group has a player that will try dumb things for fun and has gotten multiple character killed because of it. He understands it was his fault and still has fun doing it. We also have a player that is better at roleplaying than fully understanding all the rules so our DM gave him some over powered abilities to compensate for his lack of knowledge(and because the DM knew he wouldn't abuse them).
  • You will probably get something wrong and that's fine - You can adjust things as you learn. My first campaign I was overpowered because we didn't understand how attack actions worked and I was using too many special attacks.

I learned playing 3.5 and I feel that 5e is more simplified while not being over simplified, I think its a good place to start and I like it so far.

I would recommend trying to go through some mock encounters for yourself first, preferably with someone else who knows D&D but if not that you can do by yourself. This will allow you to get a better feel for how turns should play out before you are playing with the kids.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a perfectly fine answer, but to a different question for a different querent. The original post has a list of questions that are seeking to be addressed and I feel you've only partially addressed question 1, without accounting for the querent's lack of experience in your answer. I think you've the ability and knowledge to answer this, but need to do so in a manner more accessible to the querent. I recommend reposting and providing direct answers to each question individually, then incorporating your opinions and experiences as supplemental information. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Dec 22 '17 at 17:02
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First off: Relax. You don't have to be perfect, and the starter set is DESIGNED for a DM that has no idea what they're doing. It'll introduce concepts a bit at a time. Your main concern will be keeping an eye on the kids and making sure they're having a good time -- and going along with their crazier ideas as best you can -- rather than ensuring that they're following the rules or the campaign perfectly. It's okay to get things wrong -- just call them "house rules" if you must -- but you can also review your decisions afterwards and figure out how to do it better next time. Kids will forgive a "Oh, I misread this rule, here's how it actually works" as long as they're interested in the game itself. Your role is largely going to be an entertainer rather than an adjudicator or referee.

Second off: Read the included rules. Read the first sections of the campaign (and skim the rest) Read the character sheets -- they'll tell you what each character is capable of. Understand the basic of how skills and attacks work (Roll d20, add the relevant modifier, if it's equal-or-greater-than the target number, success). You'll also want to glance over the magic spells used, because you're probably going to be explaining them more than once if you get a magic user in the group. (It might also be helpful to have a selection of spells available for them if they're not interested enough to pick them themselves).

If they're excited and they want to run it right away, after they open it, don't. You owe it to them and yourself to read through the rules and campaign first. (Although if you can read them NOW and sneak the box back under the tree, that's also a good plan). But DO set a time in the future immediately, while they're still excited, and which will give you a couple hours to read through things.

Right before the actual game, re-read the goblin ambush/cave section carefully. For a nine-year-old attention span, you're probably only going to get through the first chunk: the ambush and then the hunt for the cave. If they're restless, stop there; if they're not, plunge into the cave. You'll also want to read a bit of the town, just in case they decide they hate caves and want to skip ahead.

You'll also want to read the rules for combat and for casting.

Do funny voices, if you can.

Spread your attacks out; try to target PCs with high AC/health. You don't want to win; you want to be their party's biggest fan. Make them look good when they win.

Remember that goblins can hide/disengage as a bonus action, which means they can hop out of hiding, attack, then hide again. Players can't do that. The goblins still need something to hide behind, for it to work -- you can't hide from someone who can see you.

Watch them to see which parts engage each player. Make sure each player has a chance in the spotlight of heroism. Don't force them into the spotlight if they don't want to go.

You got this.

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Some good answers here, but none address a key point of your question: your son in 9. The recommended age listed on the box is 12 and up, and yes, there are some definitely adjustments you’ll want to make.

Lots of kids younger than 12 play, but they get different things out of the game than older players. (I DM’d for my kids since they were young, and their friends. And I DM’d for younger players when I was one myself.)

Props help kids visualize

Kids younger than 12 play a little different than older kids. Concrete props are likely to help hold their attention. So, I’d suggest using miniatures, rather than not.

Don’t run out and buy them, though. Use whatever toys you have lying around. (If you end up playing regularly, then revisit, and consider buying miniatures.)

Speaking of buying things, there’s a fair deal of shopping (with fake money) inside D&D, which can be a hassle to do on paper for a kid for whom subraction doesn’t come naturally yet. For a while, I used to use pennies and dimes as props for silver pieces and gold pieces. Toy coins or monopoly money would work too. In addition to helping with the math, it helps keeps kids focused when they have something game-related to fiddle with.

Simple characters for a “Fighting“ Game

When my sons were young, they called D&D a “fighting game“ because the combat was the engaging part for them. When they got older, they started engaging in the actual “role playing” of this role playing game, where they put themselves into the shoes of interesting character they develop.

Keep on ear out for what parts of the game your son enjoys, and play to your kid’s interest. It’s likely he’ll want to play an idyllic big strong hero of some sort, not some sort of quirky, brooding iconoclast. (To your question, the premade characters will probably do just fine for this.)

A minor note on the rules: There’s a specific rule about something called Inspiraction which can give a player’s character a better chance to succeed. In the rules it’s awarded for role-playing your character well. You’ll want to award it to your son fairly often, for anything clever.

Dust off your funny voices

Do you miss doing silly voices for your son with his toys or books? If so, DMing is for you.

One of the DM’s big jobs is bringing NPC’s (the minor characters inhabiting the world) alive. For kids, you may want to keep your characters broad to poing of goofiness, like the characters in kids’ shows.

Laughing is definitely part of D&D, especially with kids, so be ready to ham it up if you can.

Include everyone

D&D is great family fun. If you’ve got other adults in the family, do your best to loop them in. While I’m lucky enough to be married to a gamer, the kids and I had to wage a couple “draft mom” events over the years, when she was thinking of skipping. That mostly involved doing a few chores, generally being on good behavior on game day, and asking her nicely to join the game.

Don’t kill anyone

In D&D there are a lot of ways for a player’s character to die. If this comes up, bend the rules or do whatever it takes to keep the characters from dying. Only change this rule if and when your son figures this out, and tells you he doesn’t want to play that way anymore.

(After that, you still don’t want to kill your kids’ characters. You’ll just need to be more subtle about it.)

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