When I started playing D&D, 3.5, about 4 months ago, I was very impressed with how Jeff, Ian, and Lyric DM’d. I thought to myself how long would it take me to get the point where I could DM. Having just started playing, I assumed I needed to know more about the game, which is true in some ways and not so much in others. It’s not so much that I needed to know more about the books and the information inside them, but that it was also about being well prepared. You don’t need to know every page of the Dungeon Master’s Guide or other manuals to be a DM; this knowledge comes with time after years of gaming. What I did do, though, was base a campaign around something that I had knowledge in. In this case it turned out to be the Drow and the underground labyrinth that is known as the Underdark. I had a pretty well-rounded basic knowledge of the Drow, from them being a society that is matriarchal, militaristic, and heavily influenced by religion. Using this along with the book “Drow of the Underdark”, ISBN # 978-0-7869-4151-3, I crafted my campaign with help from this book.
For my first campaign, I wanted to keep things relatively simple since it was for my first experience, I started all PCs (player characters), at level 5 and 7, to try and give me a bit more free range of movement regarding enemies and tactics. With first and second level characters you have a shorter list of enemies and monsters to use as a DM; at least it was for me, not knowing how to use higher level enemies with lower level characters. To really help myself and the other players, I used graph boards, interlocking dry erase graph boards. I mapped out my dungeon on these boards, and using miniatures, which made the experience easier on me not having to remember where everyone and everything is. This also saved time as I had these boards drawn out well before the campaign, saving me from having to waste time and draw while playing. When it came down to the encounters with various monsters, this is what I personally did; using note cards I had cheat sheets for all my monsters, with their stats and HP, etc. This cut down the time between switching back and forth between different pages and different Monster Manual books. Another thing that I did to try and speed up the downtime, initiative-wise anyway, I pre rolled the monsters initiative. This was something I did before the game even began.
The only problems I had was my overall nervousness; I didn’t want to screw things up or explain situations badly. My biggest flaw as a DM is that I’ve not yet been able to tell things so descriptively that the players could visualize what was happening in their own heads. This is something I actively try to better myself at and have for the most part. For example, instead of saying a PC hit or missed, describe what you imagine happening in your head. Say Silian fires an arrow from his bow he deals 8 points of damage, what I try to do is think to myself where on enemies body would the arrow hit to deal 8 points of damage, then describe and say what would happen. I.E., Silian fires his arrow for 8 points of damage and strikes the Orc in the shoulder. I’ll then roll a d100 to decide if it was his weapon arm, and if it was he then may or may not have dropped his weapon, stumble or lose some movement.
Some of these rolls are even covered in the “The Critonomicon”, ISBN-10: 0-9769310-0-1 : this book is a must have DMs I love this book. Very hard to find and can be expensive, but if you find it for a good price, whether on E-bay or Amazon, this book is definitely a must-buy. The book is made up of multiple charts for the DM to use for critical damage, fumbles and spell mishaps. The charts are further broken down in to quick tables of a few effects to large, weapon specific tables giving many varied results. The information is designed so the DM can tailor his needs based on what his campaign may require. The book is full of charts, well organized, easily referenced, and can be used for all versions of D&D.
Being a DM turned out to be a blast, and I have dungeon mastered several games since. The most intimidating part of the entire ordeal was the first campaign, so once you get past that, you’ll find that DMing is just as fun as being a PC. Especially when you realize you hold all the dice, figuratively and literally.