Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Let me help you narrow down what you need to start on your Dungeon Mastery path. In case you are completely new to the space of D&D, the Dungeon Master’s role at the table is to present the world to the players, navigate the social and combat aspects as the NPCs, all while providing rule litigation for all that happens at the table.
Sounds like a lot, right? Well, guess what, it is not all as bad as it may sound. While your players are stuck within their character sheets and the world you create, you, my dear DM, get the chance to be the goblins, the thieves' guild, the dragons, and the Big Bad Guy (BBG). You control where rivers flow, and where cities lie, and the ancient secrets of the land. Be that information directly from a module or straight from your own creative aspects. Oh, and you get to practice haggling a lot as you control prices at shops too.
Now, if that isn’t a sales pitch that gets you excited, well, you might be dead inside. :D
I’m just kidding. The Good news is your players will also help you do heavy lifting at the table. It is on them as much to drive their game as you facilitate what is going on based on their actions.
Here are some quick links to sections of interest:
So what do you need to start DMing a game of Dungeons and Dragons?
Here is the kicker, you don’t actually need a lot to get off the ground on running a game of D&D. My advisement is the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, writing utensils, paper, character sheets, and some dice.
Outside of those paid features (lol), you need imagination, people to play with, and a space to play. That could be someone’s home, a park, over discord, on google hangouts, or Microsoft teams would work. I HIGHLY recommend not playing by morse code. -... .- -.. / .. -.. . .-
Why the Player’s Hand Book (PBH)?
The player’s handbook is the go-to starter point. It contains rules for character creation and
advancement, backgrounds and skills, exploration and combat, equipment, spells, and much more.
Why the Monster Manual?
If the title is not obvious, it contains monsters of the D&D world. Without monsters to fight in combat encounters, there isn’t much D&D happening.
Why writing utensils and paper?
There is a lot of math, and you need to keep track of your character sheets. Being able to write down what is going on helps with staying organized.
Why character sheets?
These handy dandies have a hidden cost (if you print them) but help to keep the players organized. They also help speed up every action in the game as everyone becomes intimately familiar with where the information is stored for checks, inventory, health, etc. There are free online sheets all over. Here is the link to WOTCs downloadable ones: https://dnd.wizards.com/charactersheets
We also have a product on Amazon. Check out the post here for more information.
Why math rocks (Dice)?
It would be best if you had these to introduce chance (a much-needed element). Otherwise, you are performing an improvisational story in long-form with no genuine risk and no real game elements. I am sure someone will argue this against me, but that is how I see it. If I cannot die because my d20 did not roll me a success, that ‘game’ is not for me. You can get a cheap set at your local store or if you type in dice to your favorite browser. Basically, to get started you need 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d12, and a 1d20. Buying one set allows you to roll more, speeding up things like damage. Buying 40 sets means you are a dice goblin. There is no cure.
Outside the place to play and people to play with (I recommend groups of 3 -5, by the way), you need imagination. One that assisted through spending on additional DM tools or time spent to create the game and world you are going to play in. Either you can find a module for free online or a paid version from Wizards of the Coast (or dmsguild.com). That will mean all you need to do is read it, understand it, and become it for your players once you hit the table. Or you can create the whole thing yourself. But that is another article. Not this one.
But if you do want a quick list to create a dungeon:
First, create an inciting action to begin the story.
Typically, action works best for an opening scene and can drive the group toward the objective.
Guns (spells) going off in a room is far tenser than ordering an ale at a tavern.
Unless that ale explodes… (you may be onto something)
5 rooms in a dungeon
Fill with monsters
Define why monsters are there
Skeletons were raised by a necromancer who was killed by trolls.
Goblins trying to take over a crypt the necromancer was in after his death.
Goblins fighting off trolls and the skeletons who now serve the trolls because the necromancer goofed his spell.
Goblins want a new home. Trolls want to keep their home. The players need the relic at the back of the crypt.
2 puzzles (easy ones – ones like 1+3-6+3-1 = ?)
Easier is better than difficult.
I’ve had simple riddles take hours when they were intended for someone around the age of 8.
Fill it with treasure.
Pointless trinkets like a golden head of the PC’s dead brother
Weird, almost like a thread to another quest?
Finally, WHY are they (the PCs) going to this crypt.
Unless you are using the list from the 2b.
I’m proud of you if you are.
I’m proud of you if you are not.
I’m like Green Eggs and Ham that way. Good with anything, lol.
So what do you not need but is helpful to DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons?
Oh boy, this is 100% a can of worms. There is so much out there that helps each DM in its own way that you can quickly spend countless funds. As it is easier to advise people one-on-one or in the comments (feel free to comment) on specific things that can help, I will talk about items in a generic way. This way, you can understand what might be needed and find ways to help your own game.
Suppose you have one, great. If you don’t have one, pen and paper are great too, but binders for that paper go even further. Those tools will help organize your world and become more effective at weaving stories and lore. My OneNote series on the blog can highlight that a bit more.
If you pick up one with stats and common rules, it can help you run your first game.
Outside of that, it helps keep the table looking neater from the players' perspective.