VI. Running the Adventure

Things to keep in mind while the party is adventuring.

This is part VI of a guide for running your first Dungeons & Dragons game. Start at the beginning.

Artwork © Dean Spencer

Things to remember

Don't be afraid to pick up the pace

There is a good chance that your first game will run slowly. Encounters may drag on a bit as you and your players get comfortable. This is not the end of the world, especially in your first game.

As the Dungeon Master, you are responsible for the game's pace. You should strive to keep up your players' forward momentum. We've included pacing tips in The Green Blight. Don't be afraid to use them if you feel that an encounter is dragging.

Take a 10 minute break after the first 2 encounters

We placed callouts for breaks in The Green Blight, but it deserves repeating here. Planned breaks are important. A game session usually lasts 3 - 4 hours which is far too long to stay focused and sitting. Keep the breaks to 10 minutes to maintain momentum and immersion in the game.

Do not judge the quality of the game while playing

Dungeon Masters often feel like they did a bad job only to have players say the next day, "That was the best game I've ever played!" Reflecting on how you can improve is fine, but do it after the game.

Address players by their character names

If your friend Jane is playing the elf wizard named Galadriel, use the name Galadriel when you address her:

What is Galadriel thinking right now?

What did you roll, Galadriel?

It's more fun and it helps with immersion.

Only roll dice when there is a possibility of failure

The Core Rule in Dungeons & Dragons is to roll a d20 to determine an outcome when the outcome of the action is uncertain. There is no need to roll for every little thing.

If Bilbo the rogue wants to high-five a bar patron who is waiting with a smile and their hand up, let it happen! If an angry king drags Bilbo before the court after he stole the royal jewels, and Bilbo asks for a high-five... you should probably ask for a Charisma check.

Encourage player ideas

Your players will do all sorts of surprising things. Instead of thinking "How can I get them to stop doing that and get them back on track?", try asking yourself: "How can I let them incorporate this idea and then guide them back?"

Case Studies for Encouraging Ideas is an optional section that dives deeper into this idea by providing some concrete examples.


Use the 5 senses

The Green Blight has descriptive text you can use during the game for each location. When you need to improvise, remember all 5 senses.

What do the characters see, touch, smell, taste, or hear right now? You don't always need to describe all 5, just keep them in mind.

Examples using the 5 senses

  • The forest canopy is dark green – like a rich, felt cloak.
  • You smell the burning coals, and hear the steady clanging of the blacksmith’s hammer as you walk into the village.
  • You enter into the ruins and immediately feel the air become heavy with a stale dampness. The smell of mold fills your nostrils. It feels much warmer than outside without the wind.
  • The roast chicken looks perfectly cooked – the skin would crackle as you bit into it.

Show pictures of things you describe

This is optional, but it has a great impact on players. You can use the provided images in The Green Blight to show people and locations during the adventure. We recommend you describe them before you show the picture. It will help hone your skills.

Bring the characters to the action quickly

Avoid over-describing areas you don't actually want the characters interacting with. The more interactions they should have, the more you should describe something.

The Green Blight provides brief descriptions for each encounter.

Make the world seem real

Do this by priming and cultivating your fantasy imagination, using the 5 senses, and showing pictures if you desire.

If you followed the steps in Game Preparation, you are ready.

Social Interaction

Use voice acting or third person voice to bring Non-Player Characters to life

Adopting a unique voice for different NPCs makes them memorable. It can be a lot of fun to act out each character as your party interacts with them. You don’t have to be a great actor for this to entertain your friends.

Third person voice is another good approach. It's okay if you're not comfortable putting on different voices and acting as if you are each NPC. You can still engage your players by using the third person voice. If you were acting out Shane the Blacksmith, you would use your regular speaking voice and say things like:

Shane smiles and says: Thank you for your patronage.

Shane moves from side to side, shifting from one foot to the other, as if he is anxious about something.

Shane follows you up to the tavern door, singing all the way.

Third person voice is also a great way to describe how an NPC is moving around when you are playing online. It can be difficult to show posture and physical actions through webcams.

Give Non-Player Characters motivations

The Green Blight provides motivations for every NPC. This makes it easy to decide how they would react to things, or answer questions. This helps you decide how an NPC would act in any situation.

Reminder: Easier NPC Acting

As you read through the adventure during Game Preparation, 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.

Roll dice when players want something to happen that an NPC would resist

Social interaction works just like interacting with monsters or the environment. Roll dice when there is a possibility of failure. In social interactions there are often Charisma checks or Intimidation checks. There can be other kinds of skill checks depending on the situation.

The Green Blight clarifies which type of skill check is called for in most social interactions.


Track initiative in plain sight

When combat begins, players and monsters roll initiative to determine their turn order. Figure this all out at the beginning, write it down, and then put it somewhere the whole group can see it.

This encourages fast action and helps your players help you.

Describe the situation at the start of each turn

As the Dungeon Master, you are responsible for having a grasp of where everyone is roughly located, as well as the features of the landscape. At the start of every turn, describe to the player the situation they are in. This helps give them clearer choices and has the added benefit of making it much easier for everyone to visualize the battle (including you!)

Okay Crystal. There is a one-eyed kobold right beside you holding a wicked blade. The two kobold archers are close enough for you to move to, but you would have to climb up a steep ridge to get there.

What do you want to do?

Describe monsters using visible quirks to help keep track of who is who

Don't describe them as kobold 1, kobold 2, and kobold 3. Call them ugliest kobold, one-eyed kobold, and short kobold.

Think like your monster would

Trolls are dumb so it's okay to make dumb moves the players can exploit. Bandits are smart so it's okay to make smart moves, like focusing on the wizard first.

Give roleplaying opportunities

Roleplaying does not pause while combat happens and then resume afterwards. Quite the contrary: combat can offer some of the most exciting moments for roleplaying.

You can encourage your players by giving them clear invitations to describe combat.

Describe how Crystal finishes that kobold archer!

Bias to action

It doesn't matter if you pick the "best" strategic move for your monster. It matters that you keep the action moving. You should not hesitate to ask your players to take action in combat. Gently remind them to make a move and not worry about it being the "best" move. Example prompts:

Crystal while you are trying to look up the right spell, that goblin archer is drawing his bow and starting to aim it. You should choose one soon. There will be plenty of time to review your book after the fight!

You should make a move soon, this is a life and death situation!

It's okay if you spend your spell slots, I have faith the party will find ways to recover them!

Combat can end many ways

You do not need to kill everything. Killing every enemy in the room is only one possible conclusion to combat. In Dungeons & Dragons, there are countless other resolutions.

Weak enemies can flee when they watch you make quick work of their boss. Players can knock creatures unconscious, parlay, or trick them into thinking reinforcements are coming.

The Green Blight outlines several possible resolutions for every encounter. We're sure you can come up with even more, and encouraging player ideas will take you in directions you never imagined.

When you feel stuck

Remember the Core Loop of D&D

The Core Loop

The Dungeon Master describes a situation → The Players describe what they want to do → Dice are rolled to determine whether the players succeed, or if there is a complication

Remember to slow down

In the middle of the game, when all your friends are staring at you waiting for a decision, 1 second of real time can feel like 5 minutes to you. Take a deep breath, imagine the scene in your mind's eye, and then describe it as best you can when you feel comfortable. People can wait.

When a ruling is uncertain, make a judgement call

Making judgement calls is part of your role as Dungeon Master. Don't sweat it. It is far more important to make a call than to hesitate until you have perfect information. Enlist help from your experienced players and ask if they have a suggestion.

If nobody knows a rule offhand, make the call based on the rule of cool - what would be the most fun outcome? Ask your notetaker to write down the unknown rule so you can look it up before the next game.

DMs making judgement calls is completely normal and sometimes called Rule Zero.

If you really feel that you need to pause the game to look up a rule, google it. You will quickly find an answer to almost every situation that can come up in D&D. Avoid looking rules up in books.

When you are struggling to make a decision...

... ask your NPCs

You have given your NPCs straightforward, self-interested motivations. You know that Blake the Bartender just wants to work hard each day and provide for his kids. What would he do in this situation?

... ask your players

Good question! What _does_ the enormous ruined statue look like?

Try reflecting back their questions. It's okay to let your players build some of the world, and they'll get more invested in the world as they create it.

... let the gods decide

All else has failed. Your players anxiously await your decision. You just can't decide if the shopkeeper will thank them or summon the guards. You present a dignified face and say mysteriously: "I have considered all the factors. I just need to check one more thing." You decide if you roll above 10 he will thank them, then you roll your d20 and see what happens.

Sometimes you just have to make up a number and let the dice decide. Welcome to Dungeon Mastering.

When your players seem stuck

Ask simple questions

So what do you want to do?

Tell me what Crystal is doing?

You would be surprised how often that unsticks people.

Put the focus on one player using body language

Square your shoulders and bring eye contact towards the player who is stuck. Make it just you and them in that moment. It helps them ignore the distractions around the table and be in their character. It also makes them feels important, like the camera is focused on them.

Ask roleplaying questions

What would you do if you were Crystal?

Crystal seems to always follow the hard path, what's the hard path right now?

Help your players think like their characters, and then let the characters guide the action.

Have NPCs prompt them with ideas

A passing merchant "accidentally" drops a purse containing a letter with critical information. A thick-headed miner who they met in the dungeon makes an offhand joke which contains a clue to solve the puzzle. A menacing bandit captain brags about his victories at some location you want the players to check out.

NPCs are a fantastic way to reveal information and guide players. That's what NPCs are for.


That was a big one! The adventure is the main point of all this so that section had a lot of information in it. Remember you don't need to memorize everything to play. You can use our cheat sheet and freely skip to the sections you need when you need them. All the most important information is in The Green Blight for quick reference.

The next section Case Studies for Encouraging Ideas is optional. It dives deeper into how you can encourage player ideas during the game.

Here is a bullet point review of what you just read (you can always refer back later in our Cheat Sheet):

Running the Adventure

  • Don't be afraid to pick up the pace
  • Take a 10 minute break after the first 2 encounters
  • Do not judge the quality of the game while playing
  • Address players by their character names
  • Only roll dice when there's a possibility of failure
  • Encourage player ideas (read case studies)


  • Use the 5 senses 🐉
  • Show pictures of things you describe 🐉
  • Bring the characters to the action quickly 🐉
  • Make the world seem real

Social Interaction

  • Use a third person voice: "The Tavern Keeper smiles and says: Thanks for the tip!"
  • Give NPCs motivations 🐉
  • Roll dice when players want something to happen that an NPC would resist


  • Track initiative in plain sight
  • Describe the situation at the start of each turn
  • Describe monsters with visible quirks to help keep track of who is who
  • Think like your monster would 🐉
  • Give roleplaying opportunities
  • Bias to action. Keep the action moving instead of looking for the "best" move.
  • Combat can end many ways. You do not need to kill everything. 🐉

When you feel stuck

  • Remember the Core Loop of D&D: The DM describes a situation → The Players describe what they want to do → Roll dice to determine success or failure
  • Remember to slow down
  • When a ruling is uncertain, make a judgement call
  • When you are struggling to make a decision:
    • Ask your NPCs. What would they do in the situation?
    • Ask your players. They can help describe the world or provide suggestions.
    • Let the gods decide. Choose a number and roll dice to see what happens.

When your players seem stuck

  • Ask simple questions. "So what do you want to do?"
  • Put the focus on one player using body language. Help them ignore the distractions at the table.
  • Ask roleplaying questions. "What would you do if you were your character?"
  • Have NPCs prompt them with ideas

Continue to the next section

VII. Case Studies for Encouraging Ideas (optional)

Examples of how you can reward players for their ideas while still keeping them on track.

7 min read

Next section ⤖