III. Game Preparation
Steps you should take to prepare for your first game session. You should follow them in order from top to bottom.
Assemble the party (2 weeks before)
Now is the time to send the call for adventure! You will need 4 – 5 friends to form the adventuring party. Prefer friends who are easy going and want to have fun, over friends who know all the rules. Friends who are easy going AND know all the rules are ideal. They will help you learn as you play.
Tell your friends you will be organizing your first D&D game and ask them to join you.
️Our guide recommends a group size of 4 - 5 players because that is how we designed this guide's free adventure The Green Blight, and that is the typical group size for published adventures.
The truth is, you can make D&D work with any group size. You can even start with two people. We recommend D&D Duet for specialized advice and adventures for two.
A note on group size
When organizing a D&D game, the size of the group matters. Published games are usually balanced for 4 - 5 Player Characters. If you fall outside this recommended range for our adventure The Green Blight, you risk unbalancing the game. Challenges will be too easy or too difficult.
Too few people means less possible interactions, and interactions help drive the story.
Too many people and your job becomes much harder as you try to manage everyone. Each player gets less time in the spotlight and distractions can easily occur.
Adjusting group size
If less than 3 of your friends want to play, approach those whom you want to develop relationships with. Try asking people you assume have no interest in D&D – they will surprise you. Many people have always dreamed of playing D&D but have never raised their hand and asked to join. You could make their day.
️If more than 4 of your friends want to play, split the group and run multiple games. This will be the perfect chance for you to practice. You will enjoy seeing a different story unfold in each group, even though you run the same adventure!
Choose the time and place (2 weeks before)
We recommend organizing the time and place 2 weeks before assuming most people have busy schedules and prefer advanced warning. For tricky schedules, we recommend using something like Strawpoll to help coordinate. Put the chosen time in your calendar and ensure everyone is on the invite list and has accepted the meeting.
To reduce the chances of people cancelling, you should have a conversation with them to confirm. They might forget a calendar invite but they won't forget talking to you and feeling your excitement about the game.
Set expectations (2 weeks before)
You can use our expectation setting email template below. Do not send it at the same time as the time and place email, otherwise it will get lost in the shuffle of calendar coordination.
There is essentially one expectation for players: Support everyone having a good time - including the Dungeon Master.
This small step will ease your burden on game night. You are just starting out as Dungeon Master and won't know every single thing in your first game. Your friends should understand this and be ready to help you out during the game.
Sending the rules in advance will increase the chance that more people have a grasp of what's going on during the game. You should clarify that people don't have to read the rules. You don't want to scare anyone away with homework. But it doesn't hurt to suggest it, and to encourage the keeners.
Expectation setting email
Subject: Basic Rules for D&D Hey everyone, Thanks again for joining me for the Dungeons & Dragons game on ||DATE||. I've attached a copy of the Basic Rules if you want to brush up on how to play the game. You only need to read Part II and maybe Part III if you want to learn about spells. Don't worry if you don't have time to read it, we'll figure everything out at the game! This is my first time running the game so I'll ask everyone to be patient with me as we figure things out together. I won't know every single rule at the first game but I'll know enough to get by. As long as we all bring our appetites for fantasy adventure, I'm sure the game will be fun! I'll be in touch in about a week with your character selection. Thanks for helping make this happen, I couldn't do it without you! ||SIGNATURE||
Gather Supplies (1 to 2 weeks before)
There's tons of D&D supplies out there to buy. But you don't actually need very much for your first game, and there's a free version of everything.
Take a look at the Supplies section, and gather everything you need. In particular, you will need a copy of the D&D Basic Rules, The Green Blight, and the character sheets to finish working through the rest of this section.
Read the D&D Basic Rules (1 to 2 weeks before)
You don't have to read this cover to cover! You only need to read the following:
- Part 2: Playing the Game, all chapters (20 pages, ~60 minutes to read)
- Part 3: The Rules of Magic, chapter 10 (4 pages, ~12 minutes to read) - don't worry about reading all the spell descriptions in chapter 11.
You can come back and read through the rest any time you like, but those pages and this guide are all you need for your first game.
This rule book explains how to actually play the game. By this point you should have a grasp of the basic rules, how spells are cast, and how you would actually play.
Read the included adventure: The Green Blight (1 week before)
By now, you're probably getting a little more familiar some of the nuts and bolts of how the game is played. But we haven't gotten to the most exciting part: the story!
You should now read through our included adventure The Green Blight. The adventure contains all the encounters your players will engage in, as well as the key people, places, and things.
There's lots of information in the adventure, but you don't have to memorize it. You can bring the adventure and our Cheat Sheet to the game when you play. This adventure has been carefully designed to encourage first time Dungeon Masters. It has helpful reminders of the concepts covered in this guide placed inline with the actual adventure.
As you read, you will get an idea of how a D&D adventure is written out. See if you can notice these elements:
- It doesn't tell you what's going to happen, because that's up to your players. Instead, it tells you what's already happening (the villain's evil plot!).
- It shows you a bunch of locations, treasures, monsters, and people that your characters can interact with.
- It is organized into encounters, the moments where the action happens and your players interact with you and your game world. Each encounter emphasizes one of the Three Pillars of D&D: Exploration, Social Interaction, and Combat.
Easier NPC Acting
As you read through the adventure, you can assign each NPC a character you know well from a video game, book, or movie. This bundles up quirks, motivations, and even voices in a package that's easy to remember. Your players probably won't notice and, if they do, they will love being in on the joke.
Decide on player roles and characters (1 week before)
Send each of your players 3 choices of character from our list of pre-generated characters and ask them to choose the one that sounds most interesting to them. We recommend sticking to 3 choices because character selection can drag on for a long time if you send people too many options.
Allowing Custom Character Creation
Some of your friends may have their heart set on creating their own character. If this comes up, you should allow them to do it. Ask them to use the character creation tool on D&D Beyond to create a level 1 character, and then send you the end result.
Advanced tips on character creation are beyond the scope of this guide but don't worry, it will work out fine.
If you want to learn more about each character class, you can find their basic rules and style on D&D Beyond.
Besides character selection, you should all decide on a notetaker and snack bringers.
The notetaker's job is to jot down any rules or questions that come up during the session, so you can look them up afterwards and keep improving your game.
It is a tradition at many tables for each player to bring a snack to the session. This is a way of thanking the DM for their efforts in hosting, coordinating, and prepping the game. In this tradition, the players are the snack bringers.
You are, of course, welcome to break this tradition. If you like the sound of it, but you think your players will contest it, feel free to tell them that this guide said it was a cardinal rule of D&D – a blessing bestowed by the Guild of Dungeon Masters to all new initiates. We won't tattle.
Send a friendly reminder (3 days before)
Send everyone a reminder of the agreed upon time and place. You should also remind them of their agreed upon roles (notetaker and snack bringers). Include the D&D Basic Rules and their character sheets.
Tell them that when the game begins you are going to start by asking them to describe their character's name, race, class, and physical appearance. Prime them for roleplaying by asking them this question: "What actor or actress would play your D&D character in a movie?"
Even friends with the best intentions can sometimes forget their commitments. Sometimes things slip through the cracks. A reminder 3 days in advance helps things go smoothly and leaves enough space for shuffling if anyone's schedule has changed. Don't wait until the same day for this reminder.
Skim The Green Blight (the night before)
This should be your second time reading The Green Blight. Skim through it to jog your memory and increase your comfort level during the game.
Prime your mind with fantastic things (optional, the night before)
When you run the game, it's your job to describe the world and help to immerse everyone in the collective fantasy. It is easier to get in the zone when you've already filled your head with fantastic things. Images, sounds, characters, and stories - these will serve as kindling in the fire of your imagination.
Priming is a technique where you guide your subconscious mind by deliberately filling it with information. Before you go to sleep, watch your favourite fantasy movies, read your favourite fantasy books, or browse fantastic artwork online. Fill your head with all things magical before you sleep, and it will return in spades at the table the next day.
By this point you have done everything you need to prepare for your game. If you decided to read ahead, that's no problem: you can come back and follow the steps when you are ready to prepare for a game.
The next section describes the Supplies you need to gather during preparation.
Continue to the next section
A checklist of things you need, and don't need, before you can play. We have worked to ensure that you can successfully run your first game without spending any money.
6 min readNext section ⤖