Regardless if you’re starting a new table, or running with an old one, here are some essentials every DM needs in their tabletop games arsenal.
#1 - A Plan. Some DMs enjoy the added challenge of creating their own worlds and filling it with unique monsters when it comes to the board game Dungeons and Dragons, while others find this a bit overwhelming and a source of unnecessary anxiety. In fact, if you are a first time DM, it is suggested you go with a prebuilt, Adventurer Guild campaign. Few first-time homebrew campaign board games top the expertly crafted adventures that come from the Adventurer’s Guild. Of course, once you get some practice adjusting monster stats and are more comfortable homebrewing, then feel free to do so. Just at least for the first time, run a premade campaign to get a feel for how gameplay should go. Some popular premade campaigns for 5E are The Brain Gorgers Appetite for new characters, Into the Deep Dark for lower-level characters, and Edge of the Endless Sea for mid-level characters.
#2 - After you decide on a campaign, collect your world building equipment. A lot of DMs choose to use D&D boards, better known as game mats. These come in a variety of ways. Some game mats have premade dungeons and are only good for certain campaigns or a couple of run-throughs in a homebrew campaign before players catch on and memorize the layout. Most DMs prefer a reusable hex or square grid, such as this 1-inch square/hex reversible grid or this 1.5-inch square/hex reversible grid. These are great for drawing up dungeons as well as town buildings such as taverns, Inns, and the homes of the local nobles for the party rogue. Make sure to pick up some water-soluble markers like this 4 pack. These allow for continually changing dungeons and easy fixes.
#3 - What is a town or dungeon without a little 3D immersion? Bring the local pub or a townie’s home to life with this table set and hearth. Add some tombstones to up the creep factor of the local graveyard. While you may think that things like this are just too extra, you might be surprised by how much this helps player immersion and interest. Tell the party that they stand in front of a treasure horde is not quite as effective as showing them the treasure. Seeing the bone altar is more chilling than being told you stand in front of one. As it goes with any good story, you want to show your players or audience rather than tell them.
#4 - If you’ve played D&D before, you know there are several options for PC and NPC representation. Tokens, D&D paper miniatures, and D&D miniatures are all valid forms of representation. Beginning players might have a couple of painted miniatures they picked up specifically for the campaign. More invested players might have found custom D&D miniatures to use. As a DM, you are going to want D&D miniatures bulk style and preferably cheap D&D miniatures. A couple of reasons for this, there is never only one skeleton or zombie lurking about, and the second is, again, the immersion aspect for the players.
Nolzur’s marvelous miniatures offer a wide variety of D&D miniatures unpainted such as PCs like rangers and wizards as well as NPCs like this ettin. While you can find some D&D painted miniatures, unpainted miniatures are often cheaper, more varied, and customizable. Now, if you decide to buy your Dungeons and Dragons miniatures unpainted you will need to prep them before the first session. If all of your players need to paint their miniatures consider doing some D&D miniature painting at session zero. If you find that you are in need of a miniature paint set for your Dungeons and Dragons painting, consider this starter set, from Nolzur’s marvelous pigments.
#5 - Dice. Now, there some who might say that you really only need one set, but dice goblins know better. Dice are extremely important in D&D. They dictate everything from damage to how well the bard managed to talk his way out of yet another precarious situation with an angry husband. While most consider D&D more of a strategy game, it also relies heavily on chance. Sure, your fighter can hit hard enough to one-shot the bandit, but will the dice allow it? Dice, dice towers, dice trays, and even dice jails have become a fun and unique part of the game. You can pick up your average set like these silver tetra dice or this set of prophetic vision jade dice for around $5-$10 online or at your nearest game shop. You can also get some fancier dice sets, like this set of psionic dice and this ghostly grudge set for between $15 and $25. Custom, gem, and other types of unique dice can be ordered (from sites we can’t disclose because then we’d be enabling your growing dice addiction) and range from $50 to a couple of hundred dollars. *Please purchase dice responsibly*
#6 - The ability to be flexible. Regardless if you are DMing tabletop games for kids or adults, flexibility is one of the most important things you will need. Scheduling will be one of the harder things to do with any party. More so with adults because you’ll have to work around work schedules and appointments. Flexibility in gameplay, deciding what characters can and can’t do, and the flexibility to totally rewrite parts of your game after your players break it are all very important. If you get stuck in-game and you’re not sure what to do next, there are always social media groups willing to give you advice. New DMs, as well as our sage DMs, are always welcome in online groups. If you are looking to DM but need a party, you can also check social media sites to find players near you, or if you want to DM online, players willing to join a long-distance online party.
Written by: Melissa Crosby