Sorry for the major delay. I thought I should focus on actually writing our D&D campaign rather than just talking about it, which consumed my every free moment (our first weekend went really well!). And then I wanted to enjoy playing video games and reading books and not looking at words at all, then work got worse but I finally found a new joooob…
Anyway, let’s get to the good stuff. More on: how do the Dungeon Master thing?
The Dungeon Master’s Guidebook suggests making a handout, and it turned out to be one of the best little things I’ve made so far. A handout should be short, your friends aren’t signing up to read a novel. Mine was two pages and one extra paragraph long.
The purpose is to inform your players of world-building facts that everyone should already know about. Start with general knowledge, like, do you have different week-day names? Do you have an alternate calendar? Then break it down into general political knowledge. What are the political tensions that common folk are aware of? What’s the most important bit of historical knowledge people know about your starting village, town, or city?
For instance, I wrote 100 words about the kingdom, explaining that the King had recently been killed in battle during an attempt to expand the Kingdom’s border. Now that the King is dead, the people are worried that their enemies will attack a weakened country.
For history, I wrote 70 words explaining that the player’s ‘starting city’ was once ruled by elves, but 100 years ago it was overthrown by the current Kingdom. I also mentioned that the Lord Mayor in charge is a paranoid man, making city security tight.
My player handout:
Next, break it down into local points of interest. As DM, this is the most useful creative task. My players kept rereading it during breaks, psyching themselves up for future exploration, but I keep referring back to it for inspiration. Local points of interest can be mines, ruins, and haunted forests. It means important buildings with scandal or where strange things are happening. It points out the obvious places of worship and sites of cultural practices. If you made a local map, as talked about in my last D&D noob post, you can look at that for help or add to it as you write.
Another handy-dandy task is to write about notable people. I wrote a maximum of 50 words for one character. I chose the Lord Mayor, a few nobles, the Captain of the City Guard, a local celebrity, and a famous seer.
Your handout can also contain information about the surrounding land. Is there a nearby battlefield? What do people know about the mountains? What’s the local town or village? Are you close neighbours with other races?
Finally, I added a couple of small paragraphs about gods and magic. One about the way the gods are viewed to help or hinder and major points of their worship, and another paragraph about the rules of magic.
I think the key trick here, even if you have a creative surge and think of a hundred points of interest and lore, don’t put it all in your handout. D&D is about discovery, so players will want to learn about the world through experience. A handout is basic and contains general knowledge. It will get your players excited to go adventuring through your world and give you point of reference for future quests.
Map Making Tools
You’ve probably seen people with beautiful boards or tilesets for their gameplay. And let’s be real, you want them. I want them. But they’re so expensive. Don’t worry, my friends, I’ve got a cheap solution for you.
If you like easy crafts because you’re a busy person:
Don’t go buying 1-inch square graph paper. I downloaded 1-inch graph paper for free from here. Then I printed out as many sheets as I wanted, stuck them all together, and created a nice big map that cost only a few pence in printer ink.
Next, I pencilled the rough layout of the house I wanted, then inked it with a pen, a ruler and patience. Now, I could have left it there. But oh no. I like pretty things.
I google-image-searched things like ‘marble texture’ and ‘carpet texture’ or ‘cobbled stones’. After printing out the results I liked, I blue-tacked my map to a window, placed the textures over the intended room and traced the shape with a pencil. This meant I wouldn’t waste my time or paper by trying to measure everything to fit. If I accidentally cut textures too small, I filled in the edges with more pen ink.
As you can see, I still wasn’t satisfied. I added plates of food, dining tables, armchairs and ovens. This is where Patreon comes in… Check out my post about amazing DM artists over here:
Get Amazing, Unlimited Maps and Miniatures for as Little as $1 a Month
Let’s Make Miniatures!
In a previous post, I wrote a step-by-step guide on how to make decent looking miniatures out of lollipop sticks and bottle caps. These were to represent a lot of nobles attending a party. Above each character’s head was a simple crest, which I made on Fantasy Name Generator. Their Coat of Arms Generator is so easy to use! And once you’re in, you’ll find yourself dabbling with the name generators, the town creator, plague names…a limitless well of randomly generated ideas.
No Props? Prop-osterous!
It’s fun being able to give out props. My players were investigating a murder mystery. So when they searched for clues in the victim’s study, they found two hand-written notes on parchment paper. I handed these notes over to the people who discovered the clues. These were passed to (or directly given) to the guard PC in charge of the scene. She hid these clues from the others until it became appropriate later on for the PC to share these props with the other players. Having physical clues also helped keep the PCs focused on their quest.
I also bought a set of dice for everyone. When they’d completed their quest (after two whole real-life days of playing!) and went back to claim their money, I (as Guard Captain) tossed everyone a little drawstring bag and everyone was excited to see a new set of dice.
And that’s it, really. The rest was all in the writing. I had a lot of separate documents for all the different places I hoped the players would visit. For the most part, it didn’t matter what order they went to each place. They had two starting choices, which would lead them to more places of choice.
I wrote down key dialogue for each place and I wrote down some incidental events. That way, improvising was a lot easier. Ultimately, I knew every NPC who was involved in the plot, making it easier to throw in clues and adapt as the players learned things slower or quicker than I expected.
I found it helpful to think of each area/building as a separate entity that could be visited almost at any time (I did add consequences for players who delayed following obvious leads, such as letting suspects escape). That way, the players felt a sense of freedom to their choices but I also got to feel in control of the story’s eventual direction.
I did also use the official D&D Monster Manual when I planned enemy encounters. Thankfully, aside from all the fabulous fiends it mentions, there’s also a section simply for mages, commoners, cult leaders and basic skeletons. The stat tables are easy to adapt, but I didn’t need to bother at this early stage. It saved me loads of time using the Monster Manual and even gave me ideas for future fights and stories.
After a very successful murder mystery quest, I now need to think up something equally exciting for our next weekend… Aaaah!
Got any tips for writing a continuing campaign? What props have you made? What memorable moments happened during your first quest?
3 thoughts on “How to Start Playing D&D for the Total Noob (aka: Me) • Final Push”
Thanks a ton for the break down! I’m starting a D&D group with some friends later this month and I’m the DM, so this stuff has been invaluable to me. Many thanks, madam.
Thank you for saying so, Victor! (No need to call me “madam” 😉 ) GOOD LUCK FOR YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE! Please share with me what you learn from your own experience. I would honestly find it super helpful. I hope you all have a great time! How many will be playing? What will they be? I’m excited FOR you.
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