I Made These 5 newbie DM Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

A few weeks/months (who’s counting) ago I wrote a piece on D&D Etiquette. It was a popular piece but I was very conscious of one criticism – that it was written entirely from the perspective of how to be a better player. This is fine, but I feel there are plenty of things for DM’s to learn too, especially me, as I’ve only been running my first campaign for a couple of months.

Here are 5 flaws that I’ve discovered with my own DM style:

Don’t Be Pushy!

When I started my campaign with my mates, they were both graciously up for giving it a go, but neither of them were totally sold on the game. You might of described them as lukewarm? Like a bellend I enthusiastically sent them multiple prods and pokes about writing their character’s backstories, and asking them to read up on their spells etc… Anyway, this had the effect as to basically exhaust them. As far as they were concerned, here was a game that they’d agreed to give a go, and before they’d even sat down for session one, there I was, pestering them to do homework, read up on XYZ, and watch a dozen YouTube videos!

Needless to say, this is bad. You don’t want to start your campaign with jaded players. Instead of being too pushy with unsure players, I’ve decided you need to step back, and let the game take it’s insidious hold upon them in it’s own time.


Looking for a photo of me in this definition…

Boring Combat Environments

This is a common challenge to all new players, most will just swing their sword or fire their bow which isn’t a typically inspiring fight for anyone.

I feel I let my guys down here. As a new DM I failed to go into enough detail about the environments my PCs were entering. You have the power to point out features of the environment that players might use, so really go to town. For example, some of the things you might mention about a new area include:

  • Does the room contain a pit of some kind?
  • Any large flammable tapestries hanging from the wall?
  • Chandeliers?
  • How about barrels of explosive contents?
  • Is there a roaring campfire in the centre of the room?
  • What about cages of wild starved animals?

Hopefully you get the point. Environments shouldn’t be bland, they should extra spicy.

Prepare Your NPCs

I’m sure they do it to catch me out. The module says that Ogden the Wise, a fearful pyromancer, wants the players to ask the banshee about who planted the tree of wisdom…and that’s it. Cue perfectly reasonable, yet difficult to answer questions from my PCs.

Rather than fumbling around making up some comically transparent nonsense on the spot, I do a lot better if I prepare for the session to familiarise myself with the given NPCs. Sometimes this means making some stuff up myself in advance to fill the gaps. So be it.

Learn How Magic Works

I play a rogue. To me, magic is something that happens to other people. How hard can it be, I thought, to outsource this nuance of the games rules to the relevant players?

Very. Apparently. See the problem is that all the magic classes are slightly different in how their magic system works, and #Reasons. So when my new players inevitably didn’t know how their magic worked… well, neither did I.

That slowed the game down dramatically. Don’t be me, know how your players magic works in advance!

Not knowing how spells work is ridiculous

Not knowing how spells work is ridiculous

Character Creation Needs to Go Smoothly

This is pretty much the DMs first test, it doesn’t exactly fill your players with confidence if you can’t guide them in making their first character without making errors.

Hello!!! (Whoops)

There’s quite a bit to potentially get wrong here so errors are easy to make. Next time I’m going to make everyone’s character’s in D&D Beyond’s excellent character maker, then I’ll print them out for them to have at the table. Hopefully after a few runs of this I’ll actually get to the point where I don’t need to the online resource, but for now everyone should know that it’s a great free tool.

D&D Beyond Character Creation Tool

D&D Beyond Character Creation Tool

1 thought on “I Made These 5 newbie DM Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

  1. Always keep them begging for more.

    That’s a hard one. But you can do things like ending on a cliffhanger. “Ok guy and gals, as you enter the final massive chamber on your map, you look around seeing strange stone obelisks glowing with a sinister energy. At the end of the room on a pedestal lies a glowing object that you can’t quite make out. You hear the grating noise of stone upon stone and turn to see a withered hand is emerging from under the heavy lid of a sarcophagus….Whoo! I’m beat, going to have to call it a night!”.

    Also in treasure allotments. The modules we used (back in the old days), often gave out 1000s of gold pieces. Some times in just one room. Also a lot of magic items. My brother ran an awesome campaign, and we only earned one magic sword plus a couple miscellaneous magic items for our group. So we were always looking for more.


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