I wrote the following one morning in response to a post on Reddit by a father about to DM his first ever Dungeons and Dragons game. The players were to be his two children, 12 and 9. I thought it might make for a helpful post for anyone else, starting out on their DMing journey - especially with small(er) children!
Have a Session Zero - this can be a 'session' or simply a conversation the day before the first proper 'game session'. In that Session Zero:
Discuss with your players about the concepts of the game so there is common ground to start with e.g. I will present a situation and you, imagining yourself there, explain what you are doing. When you want more details about the location you are in explain how, where you are looking/observing and I will explain what you see.
Also, explain the rough mechanics of combat and the mechanics of attempting things i.e. skill checks
Explain that people will take turns around the table and whilst there will be cross-talk ultimately the person whose character’s turn it is, gets to make the final decisions
You don’t ‘win’ Dungeons and Dragons, you play Dungeons and Dragons
Accept the first (few) sessions will be slower for both you and the player and explain that – it’s a complex game with a lot of depth
No mobiles at the table
People should prepare for their turn whilst the other person is taking their turn
They probably won’t fight, or meet a dragon in the first few sessions – because you want them to have some chance of survival!
Their characters might die – that’s okay – just make it as glorious and heroic as possible
Roll up characters before the first session either as session zero or during a Character Creation Session. It takes time and can wear people out - you don't want to launch into your first session tired!
They should help each other, it’s the party against the world
Most importantly of all – never split the party!
For yourself as a new DM, I would suggest considering the following
Rules should be a guide rather than a stick - when you want to flex to help things along go for it.
When flexing you might want to preface with 'this time let's allow that' - then you don't set a precedent for later
Don't worry about doing voices for characters - that can come later
Expect to have to make things up - it's guaranteed the players will ask you something you hadn't prepared
Try to say 'yes' as much as possible e.g. from a game session I had. Player asks 'Can I run, somersault over the icy patch, push that goblin into the put, spear the other goblin in the throat then assume my combat stance?' - 'Yes but it will take multiple turns, what you can do this turn is...' Which is nicer than going 'Are you kidding me? the goblins get a turn too!'
Sometimes 'no' is the correct answer e.g. can I fly there? No. (Okay, even then 'Yes, assuming you have a magic item that lets you fly' works better. The point is, sometimes something isn't allowed and that's final. You can sugar coat it but sometimes 'no' is correct.
Take breaks and keep the snacks to a minimum (I know, I sound like a stingy person but you don’t need them sugared up too much!)
Sometimes hide your die rolls and sometimes don’t – this creates an atmosphere of tension and gives you the chance to fudge the results should you want to i.e. lie about the die result
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Manipulation The Grinning Frog team