We have recently started playing DnD 5e with a group of real life friends. I have many years of experience with various PnP games under my belt and have also played DnD for a good amount of time and would call myself experienced.

My friends on the opposite have never played any PnP games. They are enthusiastic and willing to learn and creating our characters already went quite well - everyone got a character they are very happy with and understands their strengths and weaknesses.

The first campaign we played was led by me, it was a short, simple introductory adventure I made myself and was mostly built to show them the game mechanics by more than subtly hinting towards what they could potentially do in a situation (being on the look out for traps while in a cave system or maybe checking if the intentions of their opposite are what they seem to be, stuff like this). I think they got a good grasp of the game and when we ended the campaign at level 3 they were looking forward to playing another one.

For this second campaign one of the players now asked me whether they could lead it this time around. I would join the group with a fresh level 3 character. I agreed to this as I personally prefer playing over DMing. However, them being new they aren't too sure about most mechanics, how to balance out encounters in a decent fashion and so on. They created their own story, set in resemblancy of a fantasy universe they really enjoy, but in many occasions started asking me how to overcome some obstacles they are facing. Those are often related to language barrier problems as English is not their native language and it is sometimes hard for them to follow the English material and guides.

I have helped whereever I could, but it becomes increasingly hard to do so without getting to know the whole story beforehand.

So, with all of that backstory (sorry for the chunk of text) let me come to my questions:

  1. How can I help our new DM to lead the campaign to be successful without getting to know all of it before we even started?

  2. How can we all enjoy the campaign without me leading the group by pointing out mechanics/ideas all the time (which gets obnoxious I fear) that they might not have considered yet?


Thank you for all your input, wanted to give a quick update: I talked to them regarding NathanS' answer regarding Co-DMing and they reacted really positive. We talked about the whole first chapter of their campaign and already found some issues and places where the PCs will probably not do what the DM intended. It was definitely a good idea to do this, I am now really looking forward to the campaign and how the others are going to play along (or not).

HellSaint's answer to give them DM tools is also definitely something I will keep in consideration for the future. I already translated some of my spreadsheets and will do so for some more and give them to them to work with. I will definitely try to provide them with tools in our native language so that the language barrier towards English is as minimal as possible. I started translating all spells and mechanics for that reason, too so that they have resources they can build upon.

Thank you all again for your input! I am now looking forward to a successfull campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this might get put on hold as multiple questions don't work well in a single thread on here. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Apr 24, 2018 at 12:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I feared so myself but making 2 questions out of it with basically the same context is also not really a good way to go about it, or? Not sure though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Apr 24, 2018 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think 2 questions being very similar is allowed, but honestly I am not the expert so you might be best waiting until this accrues some close votes from those who have that authority. Just as long as you are prepared for the possibility. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Apr 24, 2018 at 12:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think while those are written as two questions, they are actually just one question. Don't worry. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Apr 24, 2018 at 12:58

3 Answers 3


Be a Co-DM

This may not be your preferred option if you were hoping to simply be a player this time around, but judging by your situation, it sounds as though the current DM isn't quite experienced enough to do this by themselves yet. In this case, it might be worth Co-DMing this adventure, helping with things like balancing encounters and whatnot, but allowing them to decide the plot and what kinds of monsters should turn up.

As for your PC, they could essentially become a DMPC, where you don't make any meaningful decisions, deferring to the decisions of the rest of the group. However, playing a DMPC can also allow you to throw in an idea if the group is struggling to solve a particular problem (although careful not to give them "the solution" unless the DM is OK with it).

You could also embrace the character by having them suggest things that suit their personality, but isn't necessarily the best thing to do in the situation. For example, if your character was gung-ho, then they would suggest just rushing the enemies they have spotted ahead, even though there may be other options that the rest of the party can figure out. They will then see your PC as a character with their own ideas rather than simply a source of secret hints from the Co-DM.

This will, of course, mean that you'll know the story, and thus can't be surprised by the twists it may have or any other reveals and surprises, but this I'm proposing as an acceptable trade-off under the assumption that the current DM isn't quite ready to simply take the reigns by themselves. Of course, the intention here is to essentially "train them up" so that you can just let them DM in future (as and when they want to, of course) and you can just be a player (except when you want to DM, of course), but for now Co-DMing with them to help them out would be my suggestion.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I could definitely bring that up as an idea. I don't want to give the impression of trying to "steal their campaign" though. But definitely something I will talk about. Also it would certainly fit my PC, a Paladin who definitely has some character to him. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Apr 24, 2018 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ben Yes, if you can suggest it as an option, they may feel relieved for having some more help, but without them feeling as though it's being imposed upon them. And as for not "stealing the campaign", this is why I suggested that you only help with balance and stuff; they would still be the "main DM" making all the creative decisions about the plot and the world, so they will still feel like it's "their adventure". Anyway, glad to be of some help, hope it all goes well :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Apr 24, 2018 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a player you can also lead by example as far as mechanics are concerned ("Hey, <rogue>, you're good at Athletics, could you climb that wall for me and throw down a rope?"). If you are co-DM-ing, you just have to be careful not to use your 'inside DM' knowledge while playing. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Apr 24, 2018 at 13:56

If you have access to published adventures, run them instead

I know he probably wants to create his own world, make his own encounters, do his own thing, but clearly he is having problems with that. I would recommend him to run a premade adventure first. It helps to get the grasp on mechanics, balancing and everything else.

The Lost Mines of Phandelver is great for that, it comes on the Starter Set and is very clear on what both the DM and players need to know at each point of the game. While guiding the DM nicely, it still leaves some holes for the DM to fill, so he won't be just reading you guys a book.

Two DMs: The "good DM" (story teller) and the "evil DM" (combat DM)

This is a system I have seen on a streamer that I follow. It consists on having two DM - one who creates all the plot and tells the story, and the other creates the encounters and controls the monsters in combat. I've done this once in basically your situation - a new DM that wanted to tell his story but didn't know how to properly control the monsters or create balanced encounters. It would get messy sometimes, mainly when we forgot to communicate decently before a session, but he learned quickly about the combat and was able to tell his story. In the end he even asked me to play the final boss and did a great job on it.

Show him DM tools

DMs, let's be honest - except for very important characters, encounters and dungeons, we usually run some kind of Random X generator. At least I do, many (most) of the DMs I know do, mainly when we want to run some dungeon crawling, for example.

Even if he does not use the random generated encounter, he might use it as a base for what a balanced encounter for that party looks like. I'm not linking these tools because I'm not sure it's allowed here, but you can find them easily.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the input! They are really decided on running their own campaign, I suggested them several prebuilt but they did not like them at all. Same for combat, that's exactly what they want to do and I will be helping with tactics and so on a bit (although they have good ideas there from other sources). Finally for DM tools, I definitely showed them a few and will continue doing so! Thank you for your input, great ideas. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Apr 25, 2018 at 6:31

Have Them Run a Simpler System First

I've run and played in a bunch of campaigns over the last five or six years, across different systems and with different levels of experience across players and GM. From my observation, new GM's that start with a simpler system have a much easier time learning the core values of running roleplay games in general (preparation, improvisation, storytelling, worldbuilding, interpreting rules, et cetera), which can carry them through learning a more complicated system.

Inversely, I've found that GM's that start right off with D&D - even 5E - or a system of similar complexity can get thoroughly overwhelmed trying to learn all these skills at once, and might quit GM'ing altogether. I'm not saying people can't learn off of D&D like so many of us did, but it's a steep cliff to climb, and there are smoother paths to take.

The Fate system is a strong starting point - one of the best GM's in our group started exactly this way, and it shows. Selling points for using it as a training wheels system:

  • Adventures are generally built as one-offs, allowing them to quickly iterate ideas.
  • There are few rules, and a lot is open to narrative interpretation. We played a session the same night we found out about the system, and it went without a hitch.
  • The SRD for Fate Core (the vanilla, setting-neutral baseline for the rules) is free online.
  • Worldbuilding is a cooperative process done before the adventure begins, so you can help guide your friend through their first jab at it ("I know it'd be cool if magic worked like that, but it might be hard for us as players to keep track of all of it", "the main conflict might be a bit too easy for us to overcome", et cetera).
  • The game is heavily focused on improvisation, which is an extremely important skill for a GM when the party inevitably goes off-script.
  • Overall, the system nurtures skills that are core to running any game, skills that can be fit onto any system of rules.

A solid example of how the game is played can be found here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I like the idea honestly, I think DnD is on the easier side of systems. Compared to Shadowrun or The Dark Eye (probably not known outside of Germany?) it's really not overly complex. I feel like you can play DnD quite simplistic and add more advanced features like combat maneuvers, skill usage, saves and so on over time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Apr 24, 2018 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also we kinda already learned a lot about the system, I don't think I can convince them at this point to... just start over with something completely different. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Apr 24, 2018 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Moving from a system one person knows to a system that nobody knows doesn't seem like a positive step, however easy the system is to learn. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Apr 24, 2018 at 23:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ben DnD5E is surely on the easy-medium side of the game systems. Wouldn't say easiest system ever as there are RPGs made to start playing within 20 minutes of reading, but yeah. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Apr 25, 2018 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Learning a system as simple as Fate, in my experience, is less of an obstacle for learning common GM skills than someone having difficulty with the mechanics of a given system. Your issue, as I understand it, is with common GM skills, which playing a few sessions of Fate would fix. If you're dead set against learning a new system, the next best thing is to, as you said, simply play a rules-light version of 5E until the DM gets enough of a bearing to introduce more rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Noah Eadie
    Apr 25, 2018 at 16:58

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