This week I thought I’d take a quick break from the Cosmic CAL updates (I’m still trying to get caught up. You can see the last post here.) The “Nerd Things” section of this blog is woefully neglected, so I’ve put together a listicle of advice on the hobby I spend almost as much time on as crochet – Tabletop RPGs.
A little background: I saw the first season of Harmonquest, listened to Spencer Crittenden tell people how their characters died, and turned to my husband and said “I want to do what he’s doing.” Wise friends told me to go play the game first. I ignored them and went and bought the starter pack, Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, and Monster Manual. At this point, I’ve been DMing Dungeons and Dragons 5e one shots and campaigns for about 2 years. I’ve probably played in 10 games or less.
Here are my top 10 tips on how to start running tabletop RPGs in no particular order:
- Just do it. Can’t find people? Meetup, Looking for Game, Adventurers League and many more services are there for you. Can’t get the people you found in the same location? Use Skype or a dedicated platform like Roll20. Can’t afford the required materials? There are free rules systems, free online dice rollers, and if you don’t have paper and pens, you can take notes on a digital platform. Can’t find the time? Only run one-shots or set session time limits.
- You don’t need fancy materials to play. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a fancy dice set and am working on my minis collection, but you don’t need any of that. It was only after we had been playing regularly for 6 months that we even got a mat to draw maps on. I was still drawing monsters on tiny pieces of paper instead of using minis for months after that. Some people put the dungeon map up on a t.v. or monitor, project it onto the table, or email their players any reference materials they’ll need. I’ve always used a DM screen, but I made it out of an old binder.
- Your first 50 sessions will not be good. This is the best piece of advice I can give you. I’m not saying they won’t be fun for everyone involved, but you will make egregious mistakes. There are a lot of rules. There’s a lot of lore. There’s a lot of math. Other people are involved. Running a game is juggling all of these things at once while trying to a tell a story and make the environment seem real enough for suspension of disbelief. It’s hard. It’s messy. Just do it.
- You should probably play in a game first. You don’t have to. I prefer running the games, and probably always will. However, the rules and what makes the game fun will make more sense after you’ve played. (I’ve already told my wise friends that they were right.)
- If you’re thinking about it, someone else has thought about it too. This applies to the things not covered in the core rule set and the things that people don’t like about the core rule set. Resources like the D&D wiki, DM Help Subreddits, donjon generators, and Kobold Fight Club are here to help, and those are just scratching the surface.
- Listen to experienced DMs. They’ve made the same mistakes. I’m a huge fan of Matt Colville’s Youtube series Running the Game. The Angry GM is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he gives great, angry advice. Matt Mercer of Critical Role also has tips on the Geek and Sundry Youtube. Always remember – these GMs have decades of experience. You can’t expect to be like them overnight.
- Read, watch, and listen. Forums like the RPG Subreddit and related subreddits are a wealth of information about what players and DMs enjoy and hate. Shows like Harmonquest, and Critical Role are all the fun of an RPG without having to organize it. (Critical Role got me excited about playing again when I was burned out.) Many DMs also publish campaign diaries and there are tons of Youtube channels like Puffin Forest dedicated to RPGs. Podcasts discussing and playing RPGs are great too. My personal favorites are Dungeons and Randomness and The Geekly Oddcast (disclaimer: I’m a panelist on this one).
- Figure out what style you’d like to play. How? See #7. There’s a rule set out there for everyone. Most importantly, communicate what kind of game you’d like to run and find out what the players like to play. Sometimes, you won’t want the same game, and if that happens, you don’t have to play together.
- Talk (and listen) to your players. Fortunately (unfortunately?) you’re not alone in this. Talk to your players about what was fun and what was not fun. Most importantly, if you’re having an issue with a player, talk to them about it. You are running the game, and the DM’s word supersedes the rules as written (RAW), but at the end of the day, what makes a good session is everyone having fun.
- Admit to your mistakes. (See #9.) You’re going to make them. There’s no point in hiding them. I make a point tell my players that I might have to make a ruling quickly to keep the game moving. If my ruling is against the RAW and they lose out on something because of it, I’ll make it right after the session.
Feel free to comment with questions or tips of your own and let me know if you’d like to see more like this! I’ll definitely post some D&D crafts in the future, and I might even post about the D&D bar crawl I’m playing in soon!