So, in this series, I would like to record my efforts as a first-time Dungeon Master. This is a daunting enough task as it is, without helping some new players get to know the game as well. Now, you could say, trying to DM advanced players may cause a bigger headache for a new DM as they are more comfortable with the rules and ways around the game. They would be more likely to go off on a random adventure that you did not intend on (or even plan), or suggest options that you are not comfortable with or even know about. Though on the bright side you are not worried about teaching them the basics, getting them to understand their character and how their dice works, etc, etc. Depending on the player, they might even help you or other players, making your life easier.
Setting the Scene
I wanted a simple adventure both for myself and the players. This adventure was to introduce them to the massive world of D&D and hopefully get them hooked. I wanted something where the players and I would get the chance to try all the major bits and mechanics of the game in a small 1- to 2-hour game.
There are plenty of adventures out there aimed at levels 1-5, but I thought as a new DM, creating my own campaign would help me get a better understanding of creating a world and more importantly “thinking on my feet” as I believe this is the best quality of a successful DM.
Knowing your players
The first thing I did was talk with the players and ask them what they wanted (or could see themselves playing). The players were two guys I work with, neither of which are all that “Geeky” but they both showed an interest in the Rogue type character. I did refer them to the Players’ Handbook and told them to look at the base classes. The book does a very good job in explaining the classes and giving the player a better understanding of all the different classes in the game.
I encouraged this decision for the Rogue as this class has a bigger need to be versatile. Being a Rogue means knowing how to sneak, barter, hide or disable traps – the utility monkey of the group (keep in mind, this class is very squishy). This worked very nicely as I was thinking that a series of dungeon crawls/small encounters would be an easy progression for both DM and Players, plus I didn’t want to focus on one thing, like fighting or spells (that would come naturally in a game of D&D).
The 2 Rogues and the Cursed Amulet.
I have to give credit to our Resident DM for giving me this idea (Asking for help from a more experienced D&D player is always helpful, both as a DM and as a Player). He suggested using a cursed item that would cause the group to progress through the story (this is the “hook” of the story). This would give the party a reason to “Go to that merchant”, “Find out what he knows”, “Go down this cave to find the evil wizard”, etc.
The basic idea would be that the 2 Rogues would “find” an amulet (or have it land in their laps – under suspicious events?) and being Rogues, would want the treasure, not knowing it was cursed. This would then allow you to have “random and unfortunate” events happen to them until they realise that it’s the amulet that is causing all these troubles. Having a piano fall out of the window; causing them to make a Reflex check; having someone mistake them for someone else; causing them to use a speech check or deception…
This could carry on until you had gone through most of the major checks or until they “clock on” to the curse. I think when they originally get the amulet, you can set up some spooky event that makes them question “what is with the amulet?”, such as dark clouds or a disembodied voice that they can only hear. That’s when you can get them to go to a merchant/wizard to give them more information and to get them to use Barter and Gather Information checks.
I would then get the Merchant/Wizard to point them to an old curse/rumour and advise them to go to the next location/dungeon to remove the curse.
Dungeon, No Dragon
Having a dungeon crawl in D&D is a given, and no! there will be no Dragon as I know how dangerous they can be (as we have spoken about before in Dragons: A DM’s Best Frenemy). In one of my first campaigns, my character ended up “bumping” into a Red Dragon. As a Level 2/3 this nearly killed me and if not for the DM making some choice rolls, I would be dead before I even started our campaign (I did get 3 baby Dragons out of it). So, to introduce a Dragon to new players would be madness. Plus, being new to DM-ing, I would not feel comfortable handling such a big encounter.
Now after the players have had their chance to gather information and even try their hand at shopping, they can be guided to the “area of interest”: a forest, sewer, castle, or even an abandoned building. This is where you can now have fun with traps and hidden doors – allow the players to try sneaking or searching for clues. We have an article on how traps add to your game.
The dungeon does not need to be too extravagant. I would plan a simple layout with a trap or two – maybe some short-cuts and some dead ends? As this is the first time both player and DM will be playing this area, there is no point in planning all the possibilities that could happen – make a list of the things that you wish your player to experience or have the opportunity to witness and keep it basic as you want to give them a taste (not kill them). I have seen many memes about the story a DM has planned and for the players to go down a different route.
Boss and creatures
This is where the real fun happens: action and loot. Be careful here as I found it very easy to get carried away, throwing different creatures and situations at the players. Keep an eye out on the level of the party and the CR rating of the creature and/or the adventure. As you have more experience with your players you will find out how capable they are and if they can handle the higher-rated encounter.
(Bit of a tip: As the party goes through this dungeon, your players may have had some damage or used up spells or equipment. Don’t be afraid to adjust the encounter to make it easier/harder – the players don’t know and this is your way of helping your players, and making the adventure fun!)
For this Adventure, I thought that a simple fight with some rats or random creatures that have made a home in a ruined cave/building would be a good challenge. This is a great opportunity as a DM to ask yourself “Why are these creatures here?”. Is there a curse that is keeping a ghost or skeleton around and can your players break the curse? Review your location – use the environment and what lives in the local wilderness as inspiration for your encounters.
The main reason for my players to be here would be to rid themselves of this cursed item that has been plaguing them. I would have them place the item back in the grave or room that has clearly been sacked. Do take your time to describe the location, smells, sounds. Remember you are telling a story here.
Maybe have a shrine that the players can place the amulet on? With this, you can explain how the amulet reacts and how the players feel at peace – or even a voice announcing that the players are free?
I guess that is where you can leave the adventure or see what your players want to do next? They may want to search the room/area. There is nothing stopping you from adding a hidden room and this would be a perfect way of giving the players some loot (if they can find the room!).
I hope this helps all budding DMs; this is just a very brief explanation of my thought process of running a game for the first time. In no way do I say this is the best way, but maybe this can help you do your own story? If you are interested in how this story of the 2 Rouges and the Cursed Amulet unfolds, I hope to run this game soon and I will link the story here.
There are plenty of resources out there – if you know any good sources, please link them in the comment section so others can use them. Tell me what you think of the story – do you have any suggestions? Please add them in the comments below.