Getting Started in Dungeons and Dragons as a DM

So you’ve got the itch. You’ve finally decided to run your own Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign as the Dungeon Master (DM). So where to start? D&D can be a daunting hobby to get into. There are so many things to consider. Minis. Books. Dice. Storytelling. Regular preparation. And then you have to find a few more friends who are willing to come along on this long-term adventure with you! If you can get a group together and get going, the effort is totally worth it. The memories of the adventures your party will create together while playing D&D will last longer and be more vivid than any experience a video game can provide.

So what stuff do you need to get started?

Buying stuff is fun for some people… but some people hate it. You can have a lot of fun with D&D just with paper, pencils, some dice, and access to the basic rules… but it will take some work. Here are some things you might consider buying if you’re setting out to DM. Note, As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Purchases made through these links are at standard Amazon prices, so if you do want to pick something up, support the site and use a link.

Buy the D&D Players Handbook (PHB)

You’ll need a copy of the PHB (paid link) so that you have access to the rules of the game. The PHB has information ranging from basic stuff like how to build a player character, to how much damage a character should take if they fall from a 40-foot cliff.

These days, you have a few options when it comes to buying the PHB. You can get the physical book, or you can get access to a digital version on D&DBeyond.com. A few years ago I would say go physical everyday all day. However, after DMing for the past few years I have come to appreciate one particular feature of D&DBeyond’s digital offering. As a paying DNDBeyond user, and as the DM of a campaign, you can share your digital book with your players and your players can use D&DBeyond’s free account. This means your players won’t even need to buy a PHB on their own, they can share yours online.

Details follow.

It’s right here. “Share unlocked content with other players.”

With this, if you have the PHB digitally on D&DBeyond, and then you create a campaign, any players in your campaign can access “your” PHB digitally. However, access to this feature will cost you approximately $55.00 USD per year (as of writing) to maintain your D&DBeyond Master Tier subscription that enables you to share your content with players in your campaign. To really play D&D smoothly with a group, all players will need access to the rules in the PHB, so if they haven’t bought their own copy, this is one way to take care of that.

The players that need to access your digital PHB will need to make an account on DNDBeyond, but a free account will do. They can also create their character on DNDBeyond, which is actually quite convenient as it enforces the rules, and you as the DM can see their character sheet online.

Yes, it is possible to loan a physical PHB (paid link) to your players, but in practice I have found that to be a bit tedious as inevitably the players will turn to the person with the PHB for frequent rule clarifications. Moreover, your players won’t be able to “study up” at home as easily. Sure, you can let them borrow it, but then you’ll be without a PHB for a bit as well.

Buy the D&D Essentials Kit

The D&D Essentials Kit (paid link) comes with pretty much everything you need to get started running your first adventure as a DM. It has dice, and an famously good adventure module called The Dragon of Icespire Peak which is suitable for a good range of player characters. It also has nice touches like blank character sheets on sturdy paper, a DM screen, and even punchable cards with descriptions of quests and magic items.

After you have read a bit of the adventure from the Essentials Kit, get on YouTube and check out Bob the World Builder’s DM guide for Icespire Peak. This will give you some ideas on how you might run this adventure for your group.

Consider Buying the D&D Monster Manual

Another book… The Monster Manual (paid link), one of the core DND books. Is it necessary for a beginning DM? Maybe. The Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure that comes with the Essentials Kit will have all the stat blocks for monsters and enemies in that adventure. You can also probably find stat blocks for monsters that you want to use online if you Google around a bit. An advantage to having the actual Monster Manual is that you will have hundreds of other monster stat blocks at your fingertips when you want to swap something out or add something new to the adventure. Also, the ability to browse the Monster Manual is great fun, and just flipping through it and reading about each monster may give you ideas for new adventures.

A Battlemat, of Some Sort

Buy a dry erase grid and some dryboard markers. You’ll want something like this to run combat in your game. The player character moves 20 feet? That’s 4 squares. The spell range is 60 feet? That’s 12 squares. Chessex makes a good Battlemat (paid link). If you don’t want to spend money on a battlemat and markers, you can also try getting some wrapping paper that has one inch squares on the opposite side. This can make for good one-time use paper.

Note, during non-combat role playing moments you won’t need to use a grid or battlemat, it can all be theater of the mind. However, once a significant fight breaks out, you’re probably going to want a mat of some sort.

That’s a Wrap

That’s about it for absolute basics. Eventually you’ll probably start looking at minis, more dice, expanded rule books, and then you’ll look for more adventures to run if you’re not looking to create your own. By the way, one excellent starter adventure that is also free is called A Most Potent Brew. This adventure will take one or two sessions to run to completion. It’s really great. Give it a shot, might be fun!

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