First Steps: How to Set up For A New D&D Game

You are ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime by starting a D&D game. That’s excellent! Welcome to the hobby!

With all the information available, getting started can be overwhelming. We’ve put together a list of first steps below to get you ready for starting your very own Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Let’s get started!

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

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Your D&D game is a great opportunity to meet with others and create a special story between you!

Time to Roll Some Dice!

Not playing Dungeons & Dragons? No worries. This advice is universal for any tabletop roleplaying game. In this article, we’ll go over some basic tips for getting started, as well as where to find resources to time-tested advice for running a successful campaign.

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What You’ll Accomplish First

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. You need to do a lot of work before you’re ready to play your first, real D&D game session with your hyper-expectant players.

Below is a breakdown of what you’ll want to complete first.

Select a Ruleset: D&D or Otherwise

I’m using Dungeons and Dragons 5e for this article, but this advice is universal to any TTRPG. If you’re playing DnD 5e, PF2e, CoC, GURPS, Mothership, Blades, etc., it doesn’t matter. This pattern is all the same.

Make sure you come back often for more DM tips from Malice Inn & Tavern!

Learn the Mechanics for Your Ruleset

You don’t need to have every rule memorized. Promise.

You DO need to have a very solid grasp on the core mechanics surrounding roleplaying and combat. At the very least, you need to be able to find a rule very quickly, so know your resources well.

A great way to do this is to read through your main rules, and then watch a group play your selected system on YouTube. It will help you see how the mechanics actually play out in-game.

Select or Create a Campaign Arc

There are tons of amazing resources available for this. Pick something that you are interested in. If you as the Game Master are not into whatever you’ve selected, you won’t have as much fun running the game.

As you’re going through the story (or creating your own), understand this: You don’t need to have every detail of every NPC from every location memorized at this point.

What you DO need to know is the starting area, the NEXT potential area(s), and the major plot points or events for the overarching story. That’s it.

I call this creating a “playset” in your mind, and you can see a more detailed breakdown of how to do this within your D&D game in our article here.

Find Players and Host a Session 0

This is critical to success. Obviously you need players for a D&D game, and a session 0 will start you out on the right path with appropriate expectations from everyone.

If you’re having a hard time knowing where to start with picking up a group, check out our guide here.

During a session zero, your players will have a chance to nerd-out a bit with their character creation, and you’ll get a sense of who needs the most support. I have a guide for running this critical starting session as well. Check it out here.

Gather Your Supplies

There are tons of fun things available for your D&D game or other tabletop RPG, but at the most basic, you need a ruleset, your campaign notes, a notebook, a writing utensil, and a set of dice appropriate for your game.

There are even virtual dice if you can’t spring for physical ones just yet. If you WANT a list of fun things to buy, I have some ideas below for you.

You don’t need to buy a single thing to have fun. Just so we’re clear. If you want to keep this free, just skip the next section entirely.

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Things to Buy, Fantasy D20 Systems: Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.

  • Deck of Stories Genesis Deck
    • Because I just can’t recommend these enough. They could be adapted to a non-fantasy setting easily, but the included NPC cards look pretty fantasy medieval to me.
  • Protect your gaming table
    • These coasters are fun, are etched with D&D class names, and not terribly expensive in case something happens to one of them.
  • Condition Markers
    • While I am a major proponent of making your own tabletop items, having a set like this can really make life easier for everyone to see what’s going on. As a DM myself, it’s great to have a visual like this in larger, more tactical battles as the rounds progress.
  • Fun D20 DM Tankard
    • Completely nonessential in my opinion, but it is fun and it keeps (quite a bit) of your beverage of choice cold for a while. You work hard to make your game great! Treat yourself!
  • Potion Tokens
    • Full Disclosure: I do not and will never use these. BUT other people love them. I make my own deliverables with my darling Cricut and think they’re much better, even if they don’t last as long since they’re made of cardstock (but I can always make more).
      • The link I’m sharing to Cricut above is free to use if you are a Cricut Access member. Please understand that if you aren’t a Cricut Access member and you try to use the file, they will charge you to use some of the vectors.
      • Here’s a free version you can use instead, if you’d like. I do not make any money if you pay for the other Cricut file. Cricut gets all money given for vector file access.
  • Book of Quick Use Puzzles & Riddles
    • If you are trying to have a very low prep time, having something like this on hand can be enormously helpful. Pick a few quest hooks from the resources above, and then just choose one puzzle or riddle. Whichever quest they pick, use that puzzle. Your players don’t need to know how much you’ve prepped for each quest. It’s all about the illusion sometimes. And when you are busy, lazy, or procrastinating, it helps to have shortcuts! We’ve all been there.
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Things to Buy For Any Game Master, Any Setting

  • Awesome, attractive, and highly functional GM Bag
    • For those of us who play in a LFGS, move from place to place to play our tabletop games, or have to pack up for lack of space, this is a great option. It is durable and thoughtfully designed.
  • Faux Leather Dice Roll up and Rolling Mat
    • It has a rugged, masculine look that is generally well-liked, it isn’t real leather (a plus in my opinion), and it’s great for a traveling DM/GM. Also, it looks like a scroll holder when it’s rolled up. How cool is that?
  • A high quality journal
    • Seriously, I own about eight of these in different sizes and colors (though not the fantastic pink color and that may need to change). I love this brand. The paper is creamy and soft, the page numbers are a satisfying font, and even subpar pens have a nicer tactile experience on the page. I always have one of these in front of me when I’m running a game. I would love it if I were organized enough to always use the SAME one, but, you know. Goals.
      • If the cover is too boring for you, and you want something nerdier: though it’s not my personal favorite, you might want to check this 3D Dragon Journal out.
  • Thematic Initiative Tracker
    • Full disclosure: I do not use this and I don’t think it’s super practical, but other people like it a lot. To me, this seems too cumbersome for use in actual combat. But to each their own, and since it’s so well-received, I thought I’d share it with you here.
      • Personally, I use cardstock cards that I Cricut, decorate with washi tape, and hang over the front of my game screen. I can rearrange them quickly and I have Cricut write the names on both sides of the card so me and all my players can see who is next.
      • Sassy note: If you have not tried paper crafting, Cricut, or some equivalent yet because you believe it is for women, please take a moment to think about this mindset. Paper is not exclusively for women. Tape and adhesives are not exclusively for women. Neither is writing, nor creativity. Please, get your head out of the dark ages and make something cool for your players.
  • Metal Coins with Cool Eye Pouch
    • I love tangibility at the table. Can’t say it enough–it is killer for immersion and player engagement. This is an affordable way to get some “real” money at the table. Much more exciting to gamble with. I also use real poker chips when the need arises.
  • Cricut
    • I think more Game Masters should be using Cricut. Cricut does not pay me, sponsor me, or even know that I exist. I just love the flexibility and possibility of the machine, and I have made some really awesome stuff for my players (and myself) with it.
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Closing Thoughts

Once you’ve completed all of this set up, give yourself a little praise. It’s a lot of work to get all this ready, just in the name of fun. You’re doing your fellow nerds a good service, and making the world a better and more fun place.

If you need help getting started or have other tips for beginning a new D&D game, I’d love to read about it in the comments below.

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Love, Malice. I hope you enjoyed the article! I'm here if you have any questions. Feel free to leave a comment below!

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