So I'm the completely inexperienced DM for a D&D group and I have no clue what to do. Any advice? Thanks!
I’d be glad to help.
I’d like to start off with a simple story, one of when I was thirteen years old and in a similar position at the table as yourself - the DM’s seat. My first game was some of the most bare-bones, brik-a-brak, Bizarro-land D&D you can imagine. I had a sprawling, nonsensical, maze-like dungeon map scrawled out onto the back page of my mathematics book in pencil crayon. We used a printed out PDF version of some outdated rules set that I don’t even believe was anything close to genuine. We didn’t have any dice beyond the ones scrounged from board game boxes like monopoly and snakes and ladders, so I made my own out of cardboard and sellotape. Without any d20s, I decided that we were instead going to use two d6s and two d4s, as 6+4+6+4 equaled 20. Our mini figures were bottle caps and pennies, and the dungeon tiles were inch-square tiles cut from cereal boxes that I had been preparing for weeks.
Despite all of this disastrous preparation, I cannot remember anything poorly about it. I only know that it somehow worked and I stuck with it. I improved - exponentially so. And so will you.
Like anything in life that takes time and commitment, you can only be patient. Even now I recognise the failings of my games. I can still see the bottle cap mini-figures and raggedy dice equivalents in my story and narrative - concepts that I would never have even been close to comprehending had they been introduced to me at the beginning.
Therefore, i’d wish you the best of fortune for your game, but I think we both know that you’d settle for a solid 6/10 on your first-try. So let’s discuss how we can reach that golden standard.
Start at level 1, introduce a very understandable setting, and don’t feel as if you have to try anything you aren’t comfortable with just because other DMs have done it. Maybe bandits have kidnapped the local mayor’s child, maybe the church has accidentally uncovered a hidden catacomb entrance in the graveyard, maybe a nearby cave needs clearing out by a shepherd?
These low-power, tactile plot-hooks are great for first-time players and veterans alike. Now you have a framework, it is time to assess your options.
Let’s go with the bandit kidnapping example for this, although feel free to try whatever you want and change the details as you see fit. Nobody, not even you, wants every conflict within the bandit dungeon hideout to be a square room with 3 bandits. It will get repetitive. An incredibly easy way to address this is to mix things up. Maybe one room is partially flooded and a makeshift walkway is how you get from one side to the other, maybe the bandits have a room with a cage full of pet … ostriches, or boars, or fishmen, who they will release if attacked, maybe the entrance has a single, absent-minded guard sitting on his lonesome, only he has a large, brass gong beside him as an alarm? It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make perfect sense; it’s D&D, we gave up on cohesion when we sat down at the table in the first place.
Introduce an element to the adventure that inspires urgency in the players, that’ll disencourage them from dallying about. Maybe the mayor will refuse to pay them if the do not complete the job in a week, maybe the mayor has learned that the bandits will sell the victim off to slavers or another rival baron if they do not hurry, maybe the victim has a wedding in a week’s time that they simply must be rescued for? Choose one, stick with it, make it important, be careful to make it fair - not too generous, not too harsh. 1 hour is too harsh, 1 month may be too generous.
Go full M. Night Shamalamading-dong on their asses. Throw something totally unexpected in there that you will do next session, right at the end. Maybe the child is working for the bandit king as is planning to betray their father and must be convinced otherwise, maybe the cave enters onto an underground smuggler’s city and the child is lost somewhere within the hive of scum and villainy, maybe the bandits all work for a necromancer who teleports away with the child as the players arrive to free him, leaving his evil, undead minions to fight on his behalf? Just make sure to give the players something to follow - like a clue - so that they know what they have to do next. Because when the players are excited to continue, you have done your job, good sir.
Here are some YouTube channels who I’d highly recommend you watch, since their content has inspired me on countless occasions.
Drunkens & Dragons - This guy is crazy entertaining, crazy talented, and just plain crazy. He is very good for ideas and mechanics to make your game awesome and cool, and doesn’t go so deep into complex topics that an amateur will become intimidated.
Matthew Colville - A fantastically enthralling listen awaits you on the other side of this hyperlink. He is entertaining, interesting, and answers a lot of big, broad questions you may have about more vague and itty-bitty game things.
How to be a Great Game Master - This channel tackles some of the more troublesome issues that you may get worried about, specifically problems that you may feel guilty for as a DM. He handles both sides of more controversial issues in a reasonable, well-adjusted manner.
When I played BOTW I fell in love with the Gerudo from the character designs to the environment of the town to the lore and culture of the women so I’m now working on making a lesbian romance comic based off it.
It will be between the spunky, smart alec, adventurous Jelani (on the left) and her kind, confident, loyal childhood friend Kamala (in the center). The last one is just Jelani’s mother who I haven’t decided on a name yet but will have a supporting role to the girls, especially Jelani.
A lot of it is still in the works (I have a TON of script writing to do and I still need to decide on a title name too lol) but I felt the need to conceptualize some of the faces of the main characters and I’m happy how they’ve turned out! Next is designing their clothes!
Having healthy hair as a Black girl is better than just having long hair. Please don’t ruin your hair as a means to keep the length. You’ll end up regretting it. Long hair isn’t everything, no matter what you grew up being told.
Rather an archenemy, who had tormented him all his life. As a child, he was afraid of sleep, because too often the sheets were soaking wet in the morning. Shame and guilt were well known feelings for him back then. As a youth, he feared sleep because a new day awaited him. A new day full of the harassments of his classmates. As an adult, he fled before sleep, because demons heeded him and tormented him. And of course, the drugs caused sleep problems too. The nights in which Sherlock slept dreamlessly and woke up in the morning refreshed were rare. They became more frequent when John Watson stepped into his life. John was like a calm focus.
But good things never stayed in his life for long. A lesson Sherlock had learned again and again in the past. The fall snatched him from John. Removed him from the peace which he had hoped to finally have found. The fall brought him far away.
In the next two years, he slept worse than ever. On narrow beds in cheap, dirty hotel rooms. On the ground of an abandoned shed. Some nights under a bridge. He often stayed awake for three whole days. Wanted to take care of the next job as soon as possible. Sometimes, he was so exhausted that he was hallucinating. John, mostly. Sometimes he couldn’t stand it any longer. Sometimes, he just had to sleep. So he went to seomeone, who could sell him something which would help him sleep. He knew where to find those people, without risking being revealed. He then laid down on a hotel bed and slept for several hours. But only after locking the door and placing a trap for possible intruders. Even then, he didn’t feel safe. And his sleep was full of shadows that chased him.
And then came Serbia. For the first time, someone used sleep as a weapon against him. For the first time, he was really prevented from sleeping. For days. Until he thought he was going crazy. At some point, he lost his sense of time. It was always bright. It was always noisy. There was no day and no night. Everything was always the same. When Mycroft came, Sherlock first considered him another hallucination. He had many hallucinations in this cellar in Serbia. But Mycroft was real. And he really got him out. Sherlock didn’t remember much of this. Only the pain, when strange hands lifted him on a stretcher and carried him out of the cellar. A starry sky above him. Cool air. Snowflakes melting on his face. And finally, the stab of a needle in his arm. Sleep. For the first time in two long years, he slept dreamlessly and deeply. For several hours. Until he came to in a private clinic and realized that he was back. That he could go back to John. John.
When he finally stood before John, he was punched him in his face, thrown on his back and called a bastard. But then John pulled him into his arms. Sherlock let it happen. The wounds on his back were throbbing with pain. He closed his eyes as John suddenly said, “You … my God, you’re bleeding. What happened?” Too much, Sherlock thought, not resisting when John took off his shirt, muttering a broken, “Jesus”.
Way too much. I’m so tired, John. * John changed his bandages at Baker Street. He asked how it had happened. Sherlock told him about Serbia. “Jesus,” John said again behind him. “Jesus …” And then, John said in a trembling voice that he still needed time. Time to process it all. To terminate the contract of his new apartment. Time. A little time. “Okay,” Sherlock said. Although everything inside him shouted. Stay here, John. Stay. * Sherlock couldn’t fall asleep that evening. Neither could he the next night. He wasn’t really surprised. After all, insomnia was nothing new to him. New, however, was the heavy feeling in his chest, which began on the second day without sleep. Something took away the air, so he couldn’t breathe properly. He lay on his side in his bed, staring at the wall, panting. Something … was wrong. Panic slowly began to devour his thoughts. Suddenly, he felt as if he was in a dream. No. No no no. Outside, a car drove by. Loud music, noisy … Loud music. Serbia. Am I still there? I am … No. Sherlock bit his finger. Squeezed his eyes shut. I am not there. This is real. I am … But are you sure? A voice lurking in his head asked. Are you really sure? Maybe this is just an illusion. Maybe you’ve really lost your mind … Sherlock jumped up and started pacing the room. He tried to breathe calmly. Pressed both hands against his head. Nothing helped. Nothing … The panic grew stronger. His chest ached. His hands trembled. He looked around. What … What should he do? His eyes fell on his cell phone on the night table. He swallowed. John … John always helped. John was … But John did not want to see him now. John had asked for time. He couldn’t … Sherlock whimpered desperately and took the phone. Because of the veil of panic, he dialed John’s number without really realizing it. John answered almost immediately. “Sherlock?” Sherlock pressed the cell phone against his ear and squeezed his eyes shut. Pain. So much pain. Oh God … “Sherlock? Are you … Is everything all right? ” Why did you call him? Do you want him to see how weak you are? “Sherlock. Please say something!” Sherlock bit his lip and then stammered into the phone, “John. John … I can’t … I think … can you … Can you come here, John? I … please …” Pathetic. So pathetic. Do you really think he will come now? Now, after seeing how pathetic you are? Sherlock whimpered. And then John said on the other end, “Yes. Yes of course. I … I’ll be right there. God. I shouldn’t have left you alone … but this is, it’s difficult. Damn. Try to breathe slowly, yes? Everything will be fine.” Everything will be fine … Sherlock felt tears rising in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around himself and waited. * After a while, there was a quiet knock on his door. Sherlock flinched and looked up. John was standing in the doorway. John. “Hey,” he said, frowning worriedly. “Are you allright?” Sherlock shook his head. He looked down, ashamed. “I … I’m scared … I paniced and I’m thinking … It’s stupid but I’m scared that …” “That you are still in Serbia?” Asked John and Sherlock looked at him in surprise. John smiled sadly. “I know a little about these things, you know? About feeling like … being caught in a dream or an hallucination.” He went to the bed and carefully sat next to Sherlock. “It feels like this isn’t real, right?” “Yes,” Sherlock whispered, swallowing hard. “That’s exactly how it feels.” John looked at him seriously. Then he slowly laid his hand on Sherlock’s trembling shoulder. “But it’s real. You see? I’m here. And you’re here. Everything is fine. I’ll stay here if you want. Ok?” Sherlock nodded hesitantly. John continued to look at him intently and worriedly. “And you need to sleep, Sherlock,” he said seriously. “Your wounds need rest. And your mind needs rest. You really look terrible.” “I know,” Sherlock said, running a trembling hand over his face restlessly. “I know … but I … I can’t. I need … I don’t know … ” “What do you need?” John asked, looking intently at him. Sherlock swallowed. He looked down at his trembling hands. Then he looked at John again. He took a deep breath. “You,” he whispered. “I need you.” * “Is this okay?” “I … yes.” “Relax, yeah?” ”Ok.” They were in Sherlock’s bed. Together. At first, Sherlock was frightened by the proximity. But John had soothed him. And slowly, Sherlock had begun to relax. To breathe more calmly. John was warm. John smelled good. John was there. Was real. “Better?” John asked, smiling at him. “Yes,” Sherlock said, swallowing. He was so tired. But the panic still lurked in the background. John seemed to sense that. “Here,” he said, and put his arm gently around Sherlock. “Put your head … yes, exactly.” Sherlock held his breath briefly. He was now lying with his head on John’s chest. And … he could hear his heartbeat. Even feel it. “John,” he whispered in surprise. “Yes. It’s all right, yeah? Close your eyes. Sleep. I’m not going anywhere.” Sherlock sighed and closed his eyes. He listened to John’s steady heartbeat, and felt that he was slowly slipping in to the sweet embrace of sleep. And suddenly, for the first time in so long, he wasn’t afraid of it. John was there. John was safety and home. And before he finally fell asleep, he thought he heard John whisper, “Thank you for coming back to me, Sherlock. Thank you.”
Sleeping was good when John was with him. This was the conclusion Sherlock came to in the next days. It was wonderful to wake up with John by his side. To listen to John’s steady breathing and to feel his warmth. He slowly began to like sleep. To get a better attitude towards it. He started to overcome his trauma. It took a lot of time, but he didn’t have to do it alone.
An anon requested sleepy Sherlock. I don’t know if this is exactly what you wanted, anon, but I hope you like it a bit :)