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So You Want to Be a Dungeon Master?

A Dungeon Master is one of the players in a Dungeons & Dragons game group. The other players each create a single character and use that character to interact with the imaginary world depicted in the game, but the DM plays a pivotal role that goes beyond that of the other players. In short, the Dungeon Master runs the game. You can get along without a fighter or a rogue or a cleric character, at least for a game session or two, but you can't play a game of D&D without a DM.

Because the D&D game is as wide open as the imaginations of the players, the presence of a DM to act as a moderator, story designer, and narrator is essential. The players interact with each other and the imaginary environment through the actions of their characters, and the DM describes each scene, directs the action, and plays the roles of the monsters, villains, and all the other people (the butcher, the baker, and the innkeeper, for example) that the characters meet on every adventure.

As the DM, you aren't competing against the players. You set up interesting, exciting, even challenging situations, and then use the game rules to fairly and impartially allow events to play out. You don't know how things are going to turn out, and neither do the players. That's one of the elements that makes the Dungeons & Dragons game so much fun. When you and the players get together to play out a compelling group story, everybody wins!

What the Dungeon Master Masters

The Dungeon Master (or DM) plays a special role in the D&D game. The DM controls the pace of the story and referees the action as it unfolds. The power of creating worlds and controlling dragons resides in the hands of the DM. As DM, you are the master of the game. The rules, the setting, the action, and ultimately the fun all radiate from you. Sounds like something you just have to do? Well, being the DM involves having a great deal of power. Use that power wisely and with great responsibility so that you and the other players have a fun experience.

The role of DM doesn't have to mean a lot of work and hardship. The fun, excitement, creativity, and decision making of running a game session are in your hands. Although Dungeon Mastering can sometimes be as easy as showing up to the game (just like the other players), more often than not the DM has to do a little bit of upfront preparation so that the game session unfolds smoothly.

What Do You Need for Playing?

The Dungeons & Dragons game has few requirements but lots of options. In addition to players, a Dungeon Master, and an adventure, you need (to a greater or lesser extent) the following items to play the game:

  • The game itself: D&D is a unique type of game, a roleplaying game, that's presented in three core books — Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. There's also a Basic Game that comes in a box for people new to the hobby.
  • Dice: The D&D game uses a unique collection of dice, each with a different number of sides. Dice add a random element to the game, and in fact, turn D&D into a game (as opposed to merely an improvisational activity). A set of D&D dice includes the following:

Number of Dice

Type of Dice

Abbreviation

1

Four-sided dice

D4

4

Six-sided dice

D6

1

Eight-sided dice

D8

2

Ten-sided dice

D10

1

Twelve-sided dice

D12

1

Twenty-sided dice

D20

    In addition to the basic set of dice, it pays to have extras of certain types of dice. For example, you might find it handy to have several extra d4s or d8s when rolling damage for spells such as magic missile or searing light. The players ought to have several sets of dice (one set per player is best), so that they don't have to waste time collecting the dice they need from all over the table.
  • Character sheets: Every player needs a character sheet that details the character he or she is playing. You can photocopy a character sheet out of the Player's Handbook or purchase a pack of deluxe character sheets. Players should use a pencil to fill out their character sheets because the game stats change as the character gains experience and picks up loot. Some Web sites also provide PDF versions of the character sheet that you can download and print for personal use.
  • DM screen: As DM, you need a DM screen. It provides useful charts and tables you need in the game and helps you hide your maps and notes and other accouterments so that the players can't peek at what's to come.
  • Miniatures and a battle grid: The Dungeon Master's Guide provides a ready-to-use battle grid, a play surface where your miniatures can represent tactical situations (such as combat encounters). Other play surfaces are available wherever fine hobby games are sold. Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures booster packs contain a variety of cool monsters and hero figures that you can use to represent characters in tactical situations. Although miniatures and a battle grid aren't technically necessary, they do speed up play and help players better visualize the fantastic situations you put their characters in. (They're also pretty cool and fun to collect, and you can play a more competitive version of the game with them, if you're into that.)
  • Pencils and paper: D&D players need a way to keep notes, track their progress through a dungeon, write down what kind of treasure they find, and otherwise record important game information. For this reason, it pays to have a lot of pencils (with good erasers), paper, and graph paper handy during a game session.

The goal of dungeon mastering

What's the goal of being the DM? Why do you do it? A number of goals exist, but it boils down to this: to have fun. The DM gets to have fun by running the game, crafting the adventures, and narrating the story of the player characters. When the DM and the players both have a fun and satisfying experience, the game of D&D really shines as a social experience.

Whether you like moderating the rules, narrating the story, or creating the adventure — or taking on any of the other expressions of DMing — the reason to be the DM, the only reason, is because you enjoy it. When you have fun, the whole group has fun, and that's what games such as D&D are all about.

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