I am pretty new to Pencil and Paper RPG's, at this point I have been playing a loose interpretation of D&D3.5 for a couple of months. Probably about 6 sessions. But I don't know a lot of the RAW because the world is mostly homebrew, and the rules are somewhat fluid. The DM does not care much for RAW so he pretty much makes things up as we go along. Usually he rules in favor of whatever makes the most sense at that point in the narrative.

I don't mind this, but I think I would like to run a game as close to RAW as I can get. I think this is something that I might enjoy, but as new as I am, I am a little bit nervous about trying to DM. I currently play a lvl 16 Cleric in my other game and even managing her is a lot to take in. Am I too new to try this? Should I wait a few more months? What can you suggest to help me get started? I do not own any core books, I mostly just get my info online. Is the DM Guide mandatory for running games? What is in it? Any help you can give would be great! I am planning on asking my current DM to play, so he can give guidance and support if necessary.

Update: Thank you all for your help and encouragement. I was at my LGS last night for our weekly session, and I found a copy of the DMG for $17.00. I decided that at that price, I had to get it. I will probably pick up a copy of the PHB if he can get it too. So I will most likely be running a game next Thursday 07/17/14. I think I will run it at lvl 5 so the characters are simple, but still have a little flavor. I am restricting characters to PHB1, no matter how much one player complains (he always has to have something convoluted). I told him I don't care if pulls shenanigans I just only have access to core material and need to be able to look it up. Plus, I only want to be looking at core for now anyways. I told him don't worry, this game will most likely just be a 1-off. Then, if I want to keep running games I will start them at lvl 1 in a proper campaign.

Update We just played the first session last night. I couldn't bring myself to play a module, So I went with a world that I made myself. It was so much fun. I think I almost enjoyed it more than playing. The PCs took the game in a way different direction than I was expecting, but, I just kind of went along for the ride. Of course we spent only about 10 minutes in content that I had prepared for, but that's ok, what they came up with was certainly interesting. I had a really easy good campaign in mind where they could be heroes and they went completely evil. They played a CN Rogue, a CE Necromancer, and a CE Warlock who planned on taking hellfire. It wasn't even 10 minutes and they were murdering a homeless man to squat in his abandoned home, and then hiding him under the floorboards and burning the house down to hide their tracks in the morning (LOL, they found three scrolls later, little do they know that one of them is the deed to the building they just burned down.) But I am really excited to continue. I am taking a couple of weeks to flesh out the cities since that is where they seemed to have the most fun, but then we are going to try to continue for a while longer. They want to see if they can take over their own country.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "...we spent only about 10 minutes in content that I had prepared...." You were worried that you were too new to be a good GM? There aren't too many GMs who can improvise like that and still make it fun for the players. The only thing I can think if is, next time have a conversation with the players first to come to an understanding about what the characters and campaign will be. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadoCat
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 18:14

8 Answers 8


I am a little bit nervous about trying to DM {...} Am I too new to try this? Should I wait a few more months?

This is perfectly fine. Everyone has to start somewhere. Try not to be nervous. Assuming your players are understanding, they likely won't expect much out of your campaign (which is a good thing when your are a new DM).

As a bit of information about "what it takes" to run a game, when I first started DMing with AD&D 2nd Edition circa 1992, I literally had never played any type of Pen and Paper RPG... and neither had the people I started playing with. So you're never "too new". :-)

With that in mind, here are some tips to get you started...

Read The Books

I think I would like to run a game as close to RAW as I can get.

This is good. Any system you run, you will want to know as much of the rules as possible even if you don't use them.

For D&D your reading list should be:

  • the basic Player's Handbook
  • the basic Dungeon Master's Guide

Read these cover to cover at least once before DMing a game. Likewise, you should really grab a copy of a Monster Manual and peruse that as well.

I do not own any core books, I mostly just get my info online.

Since 3.5 is part of the D20 system, you should have no issues being able to look through most of this online. To get you started, there is the SRD20, which includes updates for 3.0 and 3.5.

Note that there is also the Pathfinder SRD by Paizo Publishing. Don't be confused - Pathfinder isn't official 3.5. And while close in many ways, it is a different game system.

To be clear, the rules you should study are the SRD20 rules above. Unless you are running a Pathfinder game, the Pathfinder SRD is not what you should be reading -- but it may be suitable for a change of pace later on.

Besides dice & game mechanics, the parts you should really focus on studying prior to running your first game are simple combat & intiative, actions in combat, injury and death, general magic, ability checks and saving throws. These are the rules that are used most often and are the most important rules for you as a new DM. Almost all of the other stuff can be fudged.

As a final comment on reading, having as good a knowledge of these books as possible will aid you immeasurably... but don't sweat memorizing them. Your knowledge doesn't need to be encyclopedic and it's ok not to know some (or most) of the rules. But when things "come up" in your game (and they will), you will be much better prepared if you are well read.

Is the [Dungeon Master's] Guide mandatory for running games?

Erm, maybe?

The DMG isn't "mandatory" for running a game in the sense you can make up rules, but you will be sorely lacking if you haven't read it at least once and don't have a reference copy (even if it's a few select print outs or a laptop open to the SRD20).

Don't forget that often understanding DMs will likely let you borrow their DMG or other books as long as it doesn't interfere too badly with their own games/adventure creation.

What is in [the Dungeon Master's Guide]?

In D&D, the DMG is generally the "other half" of the rules assuming the Player's Handbook can be considered the first half (or the third part of a trifecta that makes up the core rule books if your count the Monster Manual).

Essentially it covers all the stuff the Player's Handbook doesn't -- what the players don't need to know to play but what you as DM (roughly) need to know rule-wise to run a game world.

That being said, the SRD20 link above covers everything you need to know as DM to run a game, and for these purposes, the DMG can be considered mostly "flavor".

How To Be A "Good" DM - Cliffnotes Version

While there are many nuances to being a good DM, arguably the most important things when learning how to DM are:

  • How to tell an interesting story with the help of your players (collaborative storytelling)

  • How to keep your players alive and NOT to kill them

  • How to keep your players happy (give, give, give!) without throwing your game out of whack

  • How help your players have fun (to the point they are saying "Wasn't it cool when...?")

To this end, there are a number of guidelines that generally apply:


  • Listen to your players and don't simply dismiss them. Remember, it isn't just your game -- it's yours and the players. You need to strike a balance that makes you and your players happy. If your players are subtly or overtly complaining on a regular basis, you are likely failing this test.

  • Ask some form of "What do you do?" as much as reasonably possible. Getting player's to help tell the story is an integral part of creating a fun game.

  • Say yes to and incorporate player input about the game. Whether they want to try a cool non-standard action, have thoughts on their own characters or the game world or are giving hints about how they think the plot might unfold or what they may want for their character, say yes -- unless (and only if) it would break the game too badly.

  • Player input often makes a DMs job of creating a world (and a fun game) much simpler. Don't waste it. Talk to your players regularly before and after sessions. Don't ignore unresolved play issues.

Decide How Your Game Operates For Maximum Fun

  • Don't be a rules lawyer and don't let your players be ones either.

    Don't be slavish to the Rules-As-Written if they are no fun. Don't let player's force you into doing things solely for their advantage because of how they interpret rules. Do listen regarding player interpretations of the rules and consider carefully what they are saying (especially if they are pointing out something valid and correct... or if it may add fun to the game).

  • Be firm and consistent about how your game works. Fluid games are fine, but games with fairly firm guidelines on how things are resolved in-game (by the book or house rules) are easier for a DM to manage (especially a novice one). And remember that you should know the rules (wherever they come from) before you break them.

  • Use a DMs screen to hide dice rolls and other DM-only information. You lose a lot of flexibility as a DM to control your game world by rolling in the open. If players don't trust you to role behind a screen, there are bigger issues you need to deal with.

    Likewise, don't show and tell monster stats. Here is the reason why I suggest this approach.

Get Encounters "Right"

  • Easier is better. If your players are coming close to (or are actually) dying even once a game, you are likely making things too difficult for them. Players will complain about things being too easy, but will hold grudges and leave a game that's too hard. When in doubt, dial it down.

  • Start off slow with treasure (gold & valuables), magical items, and experience. There is an art to giving these out and one of the easiest ways to create havoc in your game is to give out too much too soon.

  • Try not to leave any player on the sidelines for too long. Try to make sure everyone benefits from an encounter (both with fun and with useful items).

  • Your job is not to punish players. Don't take things they do or say personally. You don't need to "train" your players or get revenge on them. If you aren't having a good time DMing, you can always stop running adventures or find another group.

Use What You Know

  • Think of all the times your were bored, upset, confused, felt left out or otherwise weren't having fun. Try avoid these situations when running your game.

  • Think of all the times you have really had fun playing as a character. Then as a DM, try to create similar scenarios in your own adventures. Your players will likely have as much fun as you did.

  • Watch players. They will tell you minute by minute about how much fun they are having in-game by things like tone of voice and body language. If things are dragging, trying to figure out a way to pick things up and move the story along (create interest).

Advanced DM Tips

  • Learn to properly use the Magician's Force and dice fudging.

    Despite the very first two items (listening and asking), and the fact that RPGs are collaborative things, there will be times when you need to have things happen in your game.

    In addition, at times, you will need to help players without appearing to do so (such as when they make terrible mistakes that, if you didn't manipulate the outcome, would be no fun for anybody). Don't do it often, and certainly as a novice start small, but try to practice these skills when you can.

  • You will fail. No DM has ever run a game where everything went perfectly. Your job as DM is to keep the players having fun, but you won't always succeed. Just keep at it, and, as a novice, don't be too hard on yourself -- let your players decide how much fun they are having.

Running Your First Adventure

Since your a novice, even though you may be playing with people who are more experienced than you, it's probably a good idea to keep it simple. Don't get into any grand adventures just yet.

Like others have already stated, start small. 1st - 3rd level characters are likely best. At these levels, there are far fewer powers and abilities to deal with, and monsters have fewer abilities as well.

As far as an adventure is concerned, start with a simple one you can play over 1-5 sessions without getting too much into the idea of a grand campaign. The simpler, the better. You can always build into to a larger story arc later.

Regarding the subject of creating an adventure or DMing a pre-made one, as a new DM I would choose the latter (pre-made). Anything that's even of moderate quality will give you a much better idea and potential blueprint of how to design your own adventures well.

It will also give you a very early handle on what do when your players inevitably stray from the things you have planned for them and how to come up with things you have no plan for at all.

If you insist on making your own adventure(s), you will likely need to learn about (or at least consider) the following things:

  • Basic plotting (e.g. 1. Party gets into town 2. Party hears about local bandits 3. Party defeat bandits besieging town but 4. Find a clue that it was the mayor who hired the bandits in the first place... 5. ??? 6. Profit.)

  • Planning major and minor NPCs (stats, general personality, what they do in a limited number of scenarios -- i.e does the mayor spill the beans if confronted, what happens if the party simply attacks him?, etc.)

  • Location design & mapping (elementary medieval services as well as fantasy tropes such as magic shops plus multiple special locations -- mayor's office with secret door, bandit cave, etc.).

  • Real estate planning. Believable (and fun) settings include a variety of man-made and natural locations. There is nothing wrong with themed quests, but exploring a bog-standard dungeon every single game (even an upgraded one with shiny new monsters and even more devious traps) will likely get boring for everyone rather quickly.

  • Designing in-game materials (e.g. bandit treasure map handout for the players found in the bandit cave.)

  • Handing out treasure and experience (per encounter and per adventure)

  • Creating world flavor (e.g. do the the bandits have a theme song? ...dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna, dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna, baaandits!)

  • Creating notes for yourself (and then learning about how to properly ignore them)

  • Managing your time (how many hours a week do you really to want to devote to this?)

  • Roleplaying everyone except your cleric

Thankfully, these are all much easier at lower levels and on smaller scales.

Four things that are absolutely indispensable when creating adventures are monsters (creatures and NPCs), monsters with treasure, treasure tables and magic items. All your other DM tools (such as town maps, NPC resources, etc.) will start small and likely grow larger later as you design and run more adventures.

Building and Running Encounters

Building and running encounters shouldn't be too difficult if you keep the following in mind:

  • Make combat encounters easier, not tougher. In game, if a combat encounter proves too trivial, it's much more believable (and simpler) to have reinforcements or the like arrive than to find a cheesy way to kludge your way out of an obviously overwhelming battle.

  • Combat encounters should be snappy in most cases. The only time you should have a two-hour combat scenario is when your players are determining the fate of the world.

  • Good encounters have tactics. Ideally, creatures and players should be able to use the surrounding environment to interesting effect.

  • Keep a close eye on treasure. There is almost no quicker way to create game imbalance than to give players too much money (gold and valuables) or too much magic.

  • Traps and obstacles (man-made or natural), riddles and puzzles are also encounters. Not every interaction the party has has to be between themselves and NPCs/monsters. Let the party exercise their noggins a bit and interact among themselves.

  • Dilemmas are encounters. Creating situations where the party needs to talk to each other due to different methods of approaching a problem is often a great way to mix things up.

  • Non-combat encounters are encounters too. Whether it is talking to an NPC, or witnessing and investigating a strange event, not every encounter has to involve mortal peril to be fun.

  • Encounters are not filler or time wasters. Make encounters count. Ideally, they are set pieces that A) Give the party something(s) they need (experience, treasure or information) B) Move the story forward in an interesting manner or C) Allow the player to have an experience for the sake of fun.

Lastly, Get Help From The Pros

I am planning on asking my current DM to play, so he can give guidance and support if necessary.

This is an excellent idea.

  • Make sure to listen to their opinion if it sounds reasonable to you, or you are otherwise really in the dark.

  • Don't be afraid to pull them aside and explain what you are trying to do, especially if things go too wrong in-game.

  • Don't be too afraid of spoiling at least some of the plot for them if they need to know.

All in all, learning shortcuts from a good DM at the outset will save you lots of trouble down the road.


Every New DM Goes Through This

We're all new at some point. :) It's normal to be nervous about it. The most important thing when you're starting out as a DM is to have players with some patience. You will have to look stuff up a lot, and there will be hiccups. So long as your players are on board with that, there's no reason why you can't do it. The growing pains pass quickly and then you may find it's a huge amount of fun. :)

If your group is super impatient and demanding, it will be harder.

Running By RAW

Your current DM isn't being overly strict with the rules, which can be helpful in that it makes the game flow faster. 3.5 is a complex system with a lot of rules. If you want to run as close to RAW as you can without a lot of experience playing that way, expect to have to look up a lot of rules. Grappling in particular, as soon as someone does that the rulebook will come open. This will slow things down until you get more used to all the rules.

A good idea to help make this easier is to limit the material you're using. There are a huge number of extra books for 3.5, and you can't possibly know what's in all of them. Start off using only a small set (the three core books only, or those plus one or two favorite other books). That reduces how much stuff you have to look through when someone wants to do something and will make it easier to keep track of what's going on. As you gain experience, you can add more books in future games.

Start At Low Level

This is more advice for reducing complexity. Start at low level characters. They can do fewer things and are easy to understand. They become stronger later, but it happens gradually as you're gaining experience as a DM. It is much easier to start off with them and wind up at level 16 than it is to try to DM your first time with people able to throw around superpowers (along with monsters capable of matching them that you have to use).

This also gives you time to start learning how to balance encounters. The Challenge Rating (CR) and Encounter Level (EL) information in the DMG and Monster Manaul is a guideline, but this is an art more than a science. Part of that is that they didn't take into account the powers perfectly, but a bigger part is that depending on how optimized your players are, a given party can be far more effective than another party at the same level.

You'll have a small pool of monsters to work with against a level 1 party, and can work your way up to learn how to challenge them.

The Dungeon Master's Guide Is Helpful, Not Required

I've been DMing for over a year now, in my campaign. The DMG is the book I open the least. The stuff I need the most is the prestige class and magic item information, and those are in the SRD website.

I have read the DMG, and it contains a lot of useful tips and information on how the rules work in some areas (like wealth, encounter levels, and XP), and advice on how to run a game. It's helpful to have and read it. It is in no way required.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer. I will most likely take both of your suggestions to start the campaign at a low lvl, I was thinking lvl5, and also to limit the materials available. My first time DMing, I don't think I want to worry about more than just the PHB1. That is already a 300+ page book. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 18:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good suggestions - I'd also recommend playing through one of the low-level 3.5e modules such as The Sunless Citadel to ease the work load. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/14163/… \$\endgroup\$
    – RobertF
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RobertF The Sunless Citadel is a 3.0e module and needs some converting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 11:04

Never! Never, ever, ever is someone too new to try DMing. Ever.

I jumped into Shadowrun directly by DMing. I have actually yet to not DM a run (kinda looking forward to playing the otherside). We all have fun, and nobody's complained so far.

I did read through the source book to get an idea. But even then you don't need to. If you can imagine on the fly, keep your players engaged, and make sure everyone gets a turn, then what else do you need? Sourcebooks are just frameworks, after all.

The first time I DM'd was a game I made up over the weekend. That lasted for two years. You don't need books, you don't need anything but a willing group of friends to participate and imagination.

That being said: You're likely going to want some rules. And you're likely going to want to agree on things. Having sourcebooks is nice because, if you're playing from them, there are going to be times when questions arise and you may not want to make a GM call that might have to be reversed later. So, I would suggest trying to get one (PDFs are pretty cheap for them, in my history), or be comfortable being able to rule on-the-fly and have people flexible enough to work with that ruling in case it needs changing later, or stick with it.

Sourcebooks are also great because some people may want to enjoy playing in a setting that has been well-defined and documented. And remember, you don't have to stick to paid things. Look around to see what free versions are available if you don't mind expanding or trying something new.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the encouragement. I think I will go for it! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I jumped into Shadowrun directly by DMing." Were the players all new too? \$\endgroup\$
    – user9281
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, they were. I had experience with the Shadowrun universe, but we were all new. \$\endgroup\$
    – Codeacula
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's no such thing as a "Dungeon Apprentice." Everyone jumps in at the deep end (there is no shallow end); You'll make a few beginners' mistakes, but you'll get over them. There's no real negative consequences for error that you don't have the power to fix. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 7:43

In general, no: plenty of people DM their very first game (usually when a group of friends all decide to try the game for the first time), so it’s totally do-able.

That said, such DMs also tend to be fairly loose with the rules, simply as a matter of expediency and unfamiliarity. It’s difficult to run things close to RAW when you do not know the rules. You definitely do not want to be slowing down play by looking things up, ever if you can help it.

My suggestion, then, that your desire to follow the rules more closely than your current DM is not going to change how you start DMing. Everyone starts in the same place, and there’s just too much stuff to try to internalize it all at once. You can learn the basics, certainly, which is helpful, but details are only going to overwhelm you.

By “the basics,” what I mean is, you don’t need to read specific details of many things until they come up: don’t read the details of how each class works until a character (PC or NPC) wants to use it. Don’t read the details of each spell until someone prepares or knows it. But do know how spellcasting generally works. Don’t get into the minutiae of, e.g., Grapple or Turn Undead maneuvers, but do know when you can use each maneuver and what sort of action it takes (e.g. Grapple and Trip replace attacks, while Bull Rush and Turn Undead take standard actions). Try to prioritize the basic, fundamental, common rules over specific or niche rules.

And then you should start out running things a lot like your current DM: go with what seems reasonable at the time, and keep the game moving. If you have a decent background in the basics, you’ll do fine. But, and this is important, You will make mistakes. This is normal, and it is also the point at which your interest in the rules changes things. Not ahead of time, but when you realize that the way you’ve been running things doesn’t match the RAW. Your current DM would ignore the written rules in favor of what seems to make sense to him, which is fine, but you may want to begin to implement the official rule when you learn of it. This will gradually morph your game into one that more closely matches those official rules over time, saving you from being overwhelmed.

Your players can help with this! Let them know that you are learning, and are interested in doing things “by the book.” Ask them to tell you (after the session! except perhaps in dire situations) when you’ve messed up, so you can learn. Many players will not do this because they don’t want to be seen as rude, or as rules-lawyers. But if you let them know you want it, you can leverage their knowledge as well as their time and focus: they only have to learn certain specific rules, that apply to their characters, which gives them time to focus on those rules and learn them more deeply.

You also have to decide just how close to RAW you actually want to play. True-RAW, combined with players willing and able to exploit it, is basically unplayable; at the extreme, everyone becomes Pun-pun and can solve any problem they like with a thought, which doesn’t leave much room for challenge or dramatic tension. So you have to pick something less than true-RAW if you really want it to work. So don’t be afraid, when you realize you were running a rule wrong, to decide that really, you like your way better. Sooner or later, you will have to. Even the most RAW-focused DMs have considerable houserules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. Asking the players is a good idea! It also is a load off to know that I can start off with only the relevant rules and learn spells and what-not as they become available. I understand your point about RAW being easy to exploit, but my goal is to run RAW so everyone knows what to expect, and houserule only what I absolutely need to for playability (for example, Cleric DMM nightstick cheese or wizard infinite gate: solar trick) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 18:23

You're not too new to DM, by any means! You're very lucky, we're in an era where there's a lot of easy advice, good guides, and good adventures to draw upon. Further back, there was a lot less support.

Dungeon Based Adventure to Start

I'm not personally a fan of dungeoncrawling, but it does serve a useful fashion for D&D specifically: it lets you build an adventure without having to worry about adapting too much to random player choices OR trying to railroad them into things happening. Basically, a dungeon serves as a nice static location of hazards and threats, and all you need to do is improvise with the player's choices within a fairly constrained set of options.

Because you've been playing for several months in a game more drifted, your DM may have been improvising a lot, and if that is the case, you will probably be able to get into doing your own improv rather easily after a few sessions. Improvisation is actually pretty easy to a lot of non-roleplayers.

Stick to the Corebook

3.5 has lots and lots of books and options. It's combinations of these that can be extremely complicated and potentially gamebreaking if you don't know how to balance them. Start with the corebook and limit your players to it until you feel better about the rules. If the players are not happy with that, let them know in a couple of months you'll let them re-stat with some of the other character options after you have a good feel for the rules.

Make a Quicksheet

3.5 has a lot of fiddly rules in weird places. Make a 2 sided sheet as reference to them. What's a Move Action? What's a Standard Action? Etc. When do Attacks of Opportunity Trigger? These are things that RAW gets pretty particular about, so it's good to have a reference. It also is useful for players, too.

Your situation, specifically

You've been playing a 16th level Cleric. 3.5 characters tend to get more complicated as you go up in levels - more Feats, more Class Abilities, more Spells to juggle. 1st-3rd level characters are nowhere near that complicated, so it's going to be easier to deal with that part. On the other hand, RAW has a lot of fiddly stuff that takes a while to get used to.

Consider what you think is fun in the game you're playing and what you want to take into the game you'll run, or what you'll want to do differently. Think about that and let the players know, so you can all be trying to do the same thing. Don't be afraid to set boundaries right out the gate - "No evil characters, no Neutral chaotic characters" is a simple, but good example.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you can find one, the 3.5 DM screen has a lot of the base tables and rules inside it. It's surprisingly handy as a quick reference. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 11:02

A few tips from a DM with way too many years of experience :)

Use a "dungeon romp" to get your feet wet. A simple map with traps, random encounters, fixed encounters, and a small treasure horde at the end is a great way to get you used to being in the DM's chair. These are much easier to manage than expansive outdoor maps. They're also a great way to bring a late entry up to level or to provide an individual player with side-events tailored specifically for their character.

Be prepared. Make your maps and create your random event lists ahead of time. Nothing will lose a player's interest faster than the DM having to look up everything while the players sit around waiting. I always had a stack of 3x5 cards handy on which I had already written the basics of random encounters to include creature stats and some brief notes to describe a few details that would make the encounters a little more interesting. When you first start out, 20 or so cards should be enough. You can add to the stack as your campaign progresses and your story develops.

Learn to adapt your story. Your players may not figure out what they need to do right away and might go off on tangents which have nothing to do with your plot. Don't be disappointed if they don't find that super-weapon beneath the grate hidden by the pile of trash guarded by the creature they couldn't defeat. Find a way to lead them back there and give them another chance - but be patient.

The rules are more like guidelines. You are the DM. If you need to break a rule to ensure that your party doesn't lose interest or die too soon, do it.

Never make a decision or answer a question which affects player interactions without a hidden roll of the dice. As long as everyone thinks your decision was random, there won't be questions about your fair treatment of all players. Involve the players by having them make rolls against their stats.

Creatures - You want your monsters to remain consistent so you should use the books for monster statistics but the occasional super-creature is okay if it fits into your plot and doesn't wipe out the party.

Learn to ad-lib your encounters. This includes the location descriptions, player actions, and combat. Keep notes if changes are made to adjust for player interactions.

So, it comes down to this: entertaining the players is much more important than following the rules. The rules are useless if no one wants to sit in on your boring campaign.

Good luck.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you able to address the answerer's concern of whether they're too new (I imagine not), and whether they need the DMG in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ From this answer I would infer that he does not believe that I am too new since he is giving me advice should I decide to attempt it (though to satisfy the question you might add "you are not too new"). I also said in my update that I already picked up the DMG so I no longer need that info. I like the idea of the notecards. I already picked up a nice stack with an organizer so I can easily find encounters, NPCs, traps, puzzles, ect. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 17:08

I recommend DMing another system for your first setting, but other than that, go for it.

DMing mostly composes of three elements: Prepare the Story, get the Scene up, know the Rules. The fewer of them you need to get right, the easier it gets.

The first one is easy to get rid of, use off the shelf adventures.

The second one is the hardest part in GMing and the one that makes it fun (until you are ready to tackle the first one). So try to focus on this in your first sessions.

The last part is heavily system dependent. If you tell your players you are going to run an adventure with simple game mechanics you are making your live easier to get the second part right.

After you have learned the Scene part, managing NSCs, keeping track of the plot, and feel saver as GM (that happens after 5 - 10 sessions in my experience) and you still feel like running a RAW DnD game, buy the books you think you need (by then you will have the knowledge to know which ones you need for your gaming style) and go on.

I started with some indie fantasy systems and it was a rough ride. When I first GMed a GURPS fantasy setting I felt it was easy, but at that point I had GMed about 10 adventures yet, so I can't say if that holds up for a beginner (You can get the lite starting rules here.). You may want to take a read of the questions under the tag to get to know some other systems, maybe even ask a question yourself.


Nice to see you worked out your problems with your current DM in your other question. I hope you can now be better at DMing your own thing free of guilt or bad emotions. That said here's some advice: (for after you read Tridus's answer)

Don't use books. Mine are gathering dust while I use http://www.d20srd.org/ 99% of the time during games. It's faster and easier. (You want to keep it CORE while you're new at it and that site is CORE, with Psionic and some extra stuff separated in other sections) I also use it for dice. So yes, I use a Laptop on the game table. You can also show pictures to people if necessary or sounds. It helps a lot.

The only books we use are the campaign setting ones (Eberron currently) and even those I have on pdf form and a player has the actual books in paper. Half the players use tablets to even store their character instead of paper and each level-up they mail me their new sheets (using PCGen or Eberron Character Creator)

Using the rules and your judgement you'll have to strike a balance between fun, fairness, respect and awe. Don't be afraid to relegate responsibilities to your players on mechanics or even story related ones. I mean don't think about the Campaign as a tale you tell, but let the players tell their own tale (within reason). Kind of like cooperative storytelling. If your storyline gets derailed, embrace it and enjoy it. It's probably easier if you base it on an official world (like Eberron), but don't be afraid to add your special touch to it. If you want inspiration just listen to this awesome guy: https://www.youtube.com/user/demonac/videos?sort=dd&view=0&shelf_id=2 Demonac is also the creator of the AGC comic, but I think his youtube story is more accessible or er relevant to your predicament.

Good day and good luck.


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