Whether it is your first time running an RPG adventure or you’re a seasoned Dungeons & Dragons DM, it’s never too late to learn something new. There are plenty of resources out there to help you hone your craft, but nothing feels better than sitting by the fireplace and finding yourself falling into a good book. Join us now as we take a look at some of the essential beginner books a DM should have on their bookshelf.
Dungeon Masters Guide
We’ll start with the obvious one, the Dungeon Master’s Guide. D&D has had a long tradition of splitting the essential books into three tomes; The Player’s Handbook (PHB), Dungeons Master’s Guide (DMG), and Monster Manual (MM). The DMG has oft caused confusion as newcomers to the game have wrongly assumed that it will contain the rules for DMs. Instead, the DMG should be viewed as a guide to running a game, not the mechanics behind a game – rules are the job of the PHB. Grab the DMG now if you don’t already have it. And while you are at it, grab the MM as well – this is the bestiary that contains many of the creatures players will encounter as they adventure. The DMG is full of tips and tricks for running a game, it covers how to design your own adventures, how to create NPCs, is full of item lists, and much more. If you only buy one book, make sure this is it!
The Seven Basic Plots
Creating believable stories is an essential skill for DMs and is one that you will develop over time. A good primer on story structure and what makes a good story will help you no end, and there are plenty to choose from. There is no one, best way to start but if you speak to writers they will often tell you that there are no unique stories to tell and that every story can be traced back to one of seven different story types or plots. The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker is one of the many books that explores this concept further and is a must-read for writers and DMs everywhere.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces & Save The Cat
You may have heard the phrase “story beats” thrown around? There are several theories abound that say that every story can be broken down into a series of “beats” and that there is a pattern that can be followed that dictates the type of beat and where it will appear in the story arc. An adventure is the RPG equivalent to a screenplay or novel and the same rules apply. I have two recommendations on story beats, The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. Both will give you an insight into the highs and lows found within a story and give guidance on pacing and building the right feels.
How To Write Dazzling Dialogue
As well as a good story you need to have outstanding dialog. This is an are that trips many DMs up but can be easily fixed if we think of encounters as scenes within a movie. We don’t want anything too linear but knowing what an NPC will say and how they will say it will help you create better characters and give a better performance. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell is one of the best primers on creating believable dialog. What looks good on paper may not always verbalize well!
The Lazy Dungeon Master
The final set of books on this list are The Lazy DM guides by Michael Shea. These are a series of books that belong on every Game Master’s bookshelf and after the Dungeons Masters Guide should be your next purchase. There are essential tips for preparing for a game and how to interact with players, all based upon years of practical experience and experimentation.
Running a game isn’t rocket science, what’s the worst that can happen? A lot of the common pitfalls you can mitigate by reading the guides and preparing well before the game. Don’t try to wing it, unless the group way off-script. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Fail hard, fail fast, and learn from your mistakes.
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