This post is a collection of thoughts primarily for one of my friends who’s probably going to be running a D&D thing soon. I was planning to send this in a text but thought it might be useful for anyone who stumbles across this to consider.
As a fairly long-time veteran of the game (a bit more than 10 years), I’ve run and/or been in probably a half dozen fairly lengthy d20 campaigns and participated in several others that fizzled a few sessions in. I would like to think I’ve thought about these questions a lot, but these are really some things that I think you should be asking based on further reflection and not necessarily questions I’ve asked myself that often. For the rest of this post, let’s look at five questions a Dungeon Master should ask him- or herself when you’re about to begin an adventure and why you need these answers. All of this is given in light of the assumption that you’re using D&D 5th edition as your starting point.
First, the questions:
- How will we be organized?
- How am I recruiting players?
- Do I want a “Session 0”?
- At what level should we begin?
- Should players roll for statistics, take the average, or do something else?
1. How will we be organized?
Organization is hugely important in anything collaborative, and requiring several people to all show up at the same time is often the most difficult requirement to meet. Are you meeting in person? Online? How long do you expect sessions to last? How will you communicate with everyone? Technology has made a lot of these things easier, but you can’t expect everyone to check a forum post every week.
2. How am I recruiting players?
If you’re like my friend, you might be building off an existing group. If not, think about the interests of people around you–even if they’re not overly nerdy, they might still be interested. I know in my sphere at least people have found Community‘s depiction of D&D humorous and intriguing. Do they like fantasy media? Do they play a lot of video games? Are they into acting or improvisation? All of those might be hooks to bring someone in. On the other side, even if there’s an already existing group, you might have to consider who to continue to include or how their schedules fit together or if you want to recruit any new people to your game.
3. Do I want a “Session 0”?
A “Session 0” is a more formalized gathering where you get the group together before the actual gameplay starts in an effort to make characters and discuss the adventure. It can be very helpful to set expectations and figure out what your players might want as well as coordinating the players into a ready-made group. On the other hand, inexperienced players might find it boring and experienced players might not see the need for it. If you have a group that really enjoys character building, it can often be as much fun as “actual” gameplay.
4. At what level should we begin?
For new DMs and players, I would generally recommend 1st-level characters, though in 5e they’ll be somewhat fragile and may not be differentiated much. The nice thing is that the first couple of levels go by quickly and help you learn your class over the first few sessions. For more experienced players, however, they may wish to start higher so as to feel more powerful more quickly or just have the “tutorial” levels out of the way.
5. Should players roll for statistics or what?
5e kind of assumes you’re not, but 3e and earlier really liked rolling, so this is a question mainly born out of my previous experience with the game. There are arguments on both sides: rolling is exciting and unpredictable, leading you to make characters you otherwise would not have. However, it can also lead to severe imbalances with player stats and hit points, and it’s not exactly fair. You may want to consult your players’ wishes on the matter, but as DM I think the most important thing is to just make a decision and be informed.
We could break down these questions into more detail (and may in the future), but I think this is a good starting point. If you’ve played a lot, what are some questions you think should be asked when an adventure gets going? If you’re not very experienced, what would you like to know?