This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 17. I spent an hour and a half on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write a second-person how-to.”
Image from Wikimedia Commons, Robert Couse-Baker from Sacramento, California.
How To GM Your First D&D Session
So you want to Game Master a Dungeons and Dragons game?
That’s fantastic! Welcome to the Game Mastering fold. We are lucky to have you.
“So, where do I start?” you ask.
Do you already own the Player’s Handbook?
Do you already have a group of friends and family to play with?
“I do. And we’ve all already learned the basic rules.”
Awesome! You’re already rolling along nicely.
Well, as this is your first time GMing a D&D game, it’s recommended you start out simple: pick up one of the official pre-built adventures released by Wizards of the Coast. These pre-build adventures are expertly crafted and serve as a fantastic introduction to adventure structure. Give the book a quick read-through to familiarize yourself with the broad details of the adventure.
Have you finished?
“Yes, but the book mentions creatures in the Monster Manual and some stuff in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Should I buy those books as well?”
Not just yet. Chances are you can easily google those creatures and anything else the adventure mentions. The Internet is a treasure trove of useful information for GMing D&D and most of the time no dragons are guarding it. For now, let’s just get you going on your first game before investing in more D&D books—there are a lot of them and it can get a bit pricey.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the adventure, it’s time to prepare for your Session One—we’ll go ahead and leave Session Zero for a future adventure; let’s keep on keeping things simple for now.
Reread the first chapter of the adventure book and follow their recommendations on preparing. After that, write up some notes for the first session. These notes can be handwritten or done on the computer; you can print them out or use a mobile device or laptop; whatever method works best for you. Do try to keep the notes fairly short and free of extraneous details, no more than two pages if possible.
For this first session, don’t worry about battle maps or minis. For combat, go with Theatre of the Mind, where everything happens in yours and your players’ imaginations. It’ll require a bit of extra effort on your part to clearly communicate where all the Player Characters are, as well as the Non-Player Characters and environmental obstacles. It can get difficult to keep track of it all as the combat progresses and the details can get muddy, so it might be handy to keep some pencils and graph paper around to quickly sketch things out if need be. You can do it though. Have faith!
“Alrighty,” you say. “I’m ready. I got my session notes. I’ve got my dice. I’ve got graph paper. I’ve memorized all of chapter one.”
Is this an in-person D&D game?
Then don’t forget to pick up some snacks or tell the players to bring their own. After all, this is a social game with good friends and family. It’s a wonderful guilt-free excuse to binge on junk food.
“That’s a great idea!”
Okay, so, you’ve gathered all of your players together and everyone is arrayed around the table with their character sheets, dice, and favorite junk food snacks. You’ve positioned yourself behind the GM screen with your own dice, snacks, and session notes.
You are ready to go!
Start out by introducing the adventure, giving some detail on the setting and recent local events. Describe the location the Player Characters are starting in and what they are all currently doing. Have the players introduce their characters, brief descriptions of appearance and disposition. Afterwards, progress to the inciting incident as detailed in the adventure book.
And it is here this guide shall leave you to it. Good luck and have fu—
What is it?
“Well, the player playing the mad gnome warlock just killed the supposed-to-be-friendly-ally NPC. The NPC was supposed to give them vital information on where to go next.”
Ah yes, early onset Murder Hobo Syndrome. An unfortunate common affliction amongst D&D players. You must now embark on the most harrowing of challenges any GM will face in a game of D&D: improvisation, the skill of making creative decisions on the spot, the art of yes-anding, the bailiwick of bullshitting. In other words, go with the flow, roll with the punches, do your best, and see what happens.
Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine. At the very least, you and your players will have a hilarious story to reminisce about later.
Best of luck and have fun!