I'm a 16-year-old male, and I have been interested in tabletop RPGs for a long time, especially D&D. I sorta dove into D&D really fast and hard by buying the Red box, Dungeon Master Kit, Monsters Vault, Players Handbook, Rules book, and even the Shadowfell Campaign not quite knowing what I'd get myself into. I've done tooonnsss of research and even watched live games on Youtube.

For the most part, I'm basically on my own, My friends are somewhat interested in it and want to play, but expect me to Teach/Dungeon Master the game for them, I'd really wish to do this, but need more insight and expertise. I've played the solo Campaign in the Red box and even thought about joining a local group from a popular gaming store in Phoenix, AZ called Imperial Outpost. But I'm not sure if they would take a newbie like myself. Any advice?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome to RPG.SE. So you're mainly asking how to get started as a GM? We have a bunch of previous questions (see the new-gm and new-players tags) that may answer this for you... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 22:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most gaming clubs are happy enough to have newbies. If it's a private gaming group that just hangs out there, then yeah, it's less likely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of Where can I find other RPG players? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 10:04

6 Answers 6


You're new to RPGs and you're looking for the sign that says "New GM Orientation"… but there isn't one. Most of us learn by doing, or by playing with a more experienced GM. There isn't really any beginner's bible. We do have some already-answered questions around here that should give you some context for your experiments, though.

  1. Consider if you actually want to GM right away or if you'd rather learn by playing in someone else's game. (Or if you're open to both.) That will affect how you approach the rest of the process.

  2. Find a group. You need one of those either way. It can be online or in person, but it's easier to learn the craft of GMing in person, whether learning by doing or learning by playing in someone else's game. You might have to explain what roleplaying is if you're pitching it as a new activity to friends, so reading up on that might be good. There are some good examples of what roleplaying in D&D is like as well.

  3. If you're GMing, figure out how to start the actual game. There are a few different ways you can start the game. Eventually you'll learn that how much and what you want to prepare before the first adventure is just a matter of your taste and GMing style, but until then you have to just get started and see how it goes.

This is just a very high-level overview of the process. Follow those links to the detailed sub-steps of each of those, with their own variety of decisions and possible different paths you can take.

From there it's all a matter of growing in skill and techniques through experience. GMing a game has a lot of bits and pieces to it – plot, developing situations, improvisation, acting, crunching math for NPC stats – and it can feel overwhelming. Greg Stolze has written a good walkthrough of the things that a GM does, putting them in context, giving advice, and presenting them in a not-overwhelming way and order, so that the bits all sort of fit together. It's called How to Run Roleplaying Games, and I highly recommend it. It's not the only way to understand GMing, but it's a good summary of the process of GMing in a mere 13 pages, and gives some things to try. It's worth a look.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. This is how I got started with RPGs. Taught myself how to DM and invited my schoolmates who weren't already in a game. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for all the links. This is a fantastic resource, just in terms of directing new players to tons of other great resources. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:15

Getting started as a DM

I had the same problem a few months ago. My friends wanted to play and wanted me to DM, and I had absolutely no experience in the game at all. I skimmed through the player's handbooks (it was all I had), and after a few days of being absolutely overwhelmed, this is what I did:

Read the chapter on combat very carefully. There's a lot of information in there (of course), but there's also a lot of flavor for DMs to use in regards to skill checks, attacks, stuff like that.

Made a few sample characters. You've watched games on YouTube, there are also videos on stuff like character creation, they're pretty much how I learned to make the characters. For my first campaign, I pregenerated the player characters so I would know what they were capable of and there wouldn't be any surprises until I had more experience.

Now, this part might be pretty controversial; I only really skimmed the stuff that wasn't combat. The majority of my first campaign (a mix of Keep on the Shadowfell and me not having any idea what I was doing) was "You are walking. Oh no kobolds!" It sounds awful, but it was a lot of fun for the group and the group having fun is the most important part of being a DM. I had an idea of skill checks, skill challenges, magic items, stuff like that; the initial purely-combat sessions gave me time to bone up on the rest, and everyone in the group learned a lot and had a great time (which is the entire reason to play!)

Joining a group

If you think joining them would be a good thing to do, ask. Communication is one of the most important parts of being a DM, so take it as your first practice session and see if they'll have you. :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for experience! And for pointing out that perfection isn't the goal, it's building momentum and having fun. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 0:02

One piece of advice I have would be to check out other games than just D&D before playing D&D; it's not necessarily important to do this from any real rules or whatnot perspective, but more or less every full-length game, and several shorter ones, has a guide to GM'ing or such, and while none are particularly true more than another, everything you read serves to help you GM better; it's like writing-contemplating and doing lead to improvements, and you have to do both.

If you're just looking for a lot of things, try going to DriveThruRPG (disclaimer; I'm a featured reviewer for them), or 1km1kt (disclaimer; I'm an pseudo-active monkey) and looking through their free games sections; a lot of quick-start guides are free and contain a cursory GM advice section, and several games on 1km1kt (though I can't recall which off the top of my head) are also important. Look for guides that focus on:

  1. Advice player-GM relation as a cooperative storytelling experience
  2. Advice for how to handle players and table management (less crucial in a long-term sense, but some of my first games were kinda crazy because we didn't have ground rules)
  3. Advice for how to handle the mechanical elements of running a game

I recognize that most of this is based off of personal experience, so I'll share my quick thoughts for a novice GM, having walked a couple of my players over that gap across the years:

  1. It's a game. Rules are flexible, and unless the game is particularly heavy on simulation aspects (D&D is not), you can usually bend rules entirely or throw them out the window. You'll get a handle for this.
  2. Unless you happen to be a demigod with the ability to see the future, what you have written will change under fire from your players. You can only ever count on a broad goal, and don't plan on players taking a specific route to their objective.
  3. Find a good group. Some people suggest this first, but I recommend mastering the first two bits first, because in order to find a good group you have to accept a balance between the GM's role as narrator and his social contract to his players. Mind you, you can do this with a good group, but before I seriously GM'ed my first game, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it.
  4. Turn people away. This sounds a little mean, but as a GM you need to keep a schedule-I've never had a game survive a two session hiatus. If you're dealing with eight players, as my first Shadowrun game did, you will be miserable. Fortunately, all the interpersonal dynamics played out well, but I've seen games with four people that end in a burning fire because the players hate each other. Don't let exes sit next to each other, ever. Also, I've tried to play Vampire the Masquerade with a guy who played a seriously over-crazy Malkavian who tried to be a gun-bunny. Not every player is right for every game; someone who's a science geek may enjoy sci-fi when they wouldn't enjoy other roleplaying, and if you put them into a fantasy game they may grow disillusioned with the game, though my experience has been that genre matters less than playstyle (D&D is very middle-of-the-road here, though 4th's more combat oriented than some of the others).
  5. Master the rules. You can get by for the first session with a basic knowledge of the setting and some ideas about what you're doing-I've found that players tend to be more malleable with their characters at this point, so if you subtly suggest something they'll do it, but by the second or third they've usually come up with either a somewhat deep character or a rather archetypical character that won't go with the flow as well, and you never know when someone will decide to turn the epic quest for herbs to heal the village's plague into an attempt to magically turn back time.

In addition, if you want to run an epic campaign you may want to start keeping a "binder"; I keep all of mine in files on my computer, but I've seen some truly big binders. It'll save you from some embarrassment down the road when everyone's asking about what happened the important NPC that you've been calling by the wrong name (and describing differently) the whole time. My head gets me through a session, but I still need statted out NPC's (when it matters, you can often run approximations, especially easy in D&D thanks to the hit die/BAB/Fort/Will/Ref system, but I like to have complete stats with special surprises for the characters that need more thought and depth to mechanically represent-who would've guessed that the wise old wizard leading them used to be the leader of a barbarian horde?).

One last piece of advice: Have fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A good mix of advice on different topics, here. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 4:59

My advice here, is talk to your friends.

This thing is important for you. You just need to tell it to them. If they are true friends, then you can count on it they'll help you. Quite possibly you have similar interest, and whatever you like is not anathema to them. They'll get along. Indeed, you said they are somewhat interested in the game. That is a good start. First, you should probably give them the solo Campaign so they can get a feel of the game. Then, if they are still interested, you just start gaming. That is that simple. You gather your friends, you order pizzas and sodas, and have fun. Just like the guys did in E.T.

Your friends expect you to teach and DM the game for them. Well this is natural. This is your interest you want to share with them. Start sharing. I expect you to do this. You say you need more insight and expertise. You don't. You need a comforting and relaxing environment where you can have fun - you need your friends. Just tell them that this is gonna be so much fun, and it will be all the more fun if they take their parts in creating the game. Have them watch and read background and inspirational materials, have them know the rules, and have them help you with your tasks as a DM. If so, it will be fun. Probably, it will not be a very memorable game, but fun anyways. Looking back now, my first couple of DMing sessions were a disaster from almost all perspectives (plot, storytelling, rules-lawyering). Still we enjoyed it. Novice GM, novice players, no one was in the loop, still we wanted hard, and we very much enjoyed the thing.

Of course, you should also go to the Imperial Outpost and ask the gaming group if they'll have you. Practice is practice, and if you play a few sessions with experienced players, it will help you get a good grasp of the basics. And if they don't take you, they will still help you with good advice. In my experience, gaming outposts are truly friendly places. Role-players are a niche subculture, and are happy to welcome and aid newcomers. Still, playing with your friends is the most fun, so if possible try to game with them.


I think you should try and DM a game for your friends. While I'm sure it would be fun to play with the gaming club, I would imagine playing with your friends would be even more fun. As for being a newbie on the rules, 4th edition D&D isn't terribly hard to play. Just give a quick run through of the PHB and the DM guide and you should be good to go. As for advice or problems that you run into along the way, just refer to this website and other equivalent ones as I'm sure any questions you have will have been asked before.


Big, tough question. I had similar questions myself in highschool and ultimately wasn't able to find answers at the time and as a result didn't get into RPGs for another few years. I would say experience is the best teacher of all, you will make mistakes and learn from them and so long as your players are understanding this won't be an issue.

Here are my suggestions for resources to help you GM.

1) I would highly recommend getting your hands on DMG2 as well as it has lots of real advice for running a 4e campaign and a couple of nice variant options and tables to make you job as a GM easier.

2) Stick with modules for awhile (pre-made campaigns and adventures from WOTC). They can take a lot of the skull sweat off of you int terms of creating encounters and balancing adventures and help you get a real mastery of the system from a GM perspective while teaching you how to balance encounters and treasure drops at the same time.

3) Sign up for D&D Insider. I know you just spent a bunch of money on books, but the Insider has a lot of really helpful tools like the online compendium which basically has everything from all the books and the magazine articles fully up to date with errata. It also has some nifty GM tools like monster builder to create custom monsters and lookup just about any monster possible and also export their stats.

4) Iplay4e has a great encounter import and tracking feature where players can upload their .dnd4e files from the character builder into your "campaign" and then you can track them and your monsters in inCombat. You handle the monster side damage and moving imitative along while their version of iplay4e helps them keep track of which powers they've spent and what their health and surges are at. It syncs as well so you can see their damage and status effects from your screen.


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