top of page

When's the best time to start? Before you're ready.

So, this post is actually less Dungeons and Dragons advice than general life advice. That doesn't mean it's not important though – you shouldn't sacrifice your overall wellbeing just to focus entirely on becoming an awesome DM. It should really be more like 50:50… Anyway, this post is about how both in DnD and in so much of life, there's a real tendency to hold off on starting things 'until you're ready'. My advice: don't.

*N.B. The Amazon links on this page (marked with an *) are affiliate links. This doesn't cost you any extra, but I make a small commission from any sales - which helps support the site :)

Are you ready yet?

So, what does this look like in practice? You know what I mean:

I'm not gonna start working out seriously until I know enough about the most effective compound exercises, and the optimal nutrition plan.

I'm not gonna try speaking the foreign language I'm learning until I know it perfectly and don't make any mistakes.

You get the idea. Actually, that second example hits pretty close to home with me – as several years ago I was learning Italian in order to be able to communicate with the family of my girlfriend at the time. I again had the start before you're ready mentality, and had only been learning it for 3 weeks when I was invited over for Christmas dinner, to meet them all for the first time.

And guys, I cannot begin to tell you the horrendous mistakes I made! Slight errors of conjugation or word choice that turned innocuous phrases into bizarre statements that called into question my sexuality, or implied criminal history, or were just flat out embarrassing. Pro tip: if you're talking about the food and you don't know the word for preservatives, don't just guess, people. Seriously. If you know, you know.

Anyway, what did these ridiculous faux pas lead to? Fun, mostly. Everybody laughed, nobody took them seriously, and they became funny stories that I tell even years later. They really were not the end of the world. But more than that, they also were incredible learning experiences! Trust me, I've not spoken Italian for many years now, and have forgotten almost everything I once knew – but those mistakes (and the actual correct ways to say what I'd wanted to) are now burned into my brain!

But what does all this have to do with DnD and DMing? Well, with D&D it's easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information you have to juggle. As a DM, there are a gargantuan number of rules to know, with variations for different classes, and hundreds of different spells. Then there's also the whole storyline and various plot threads, each player's backstories, and dozens of NPCs to keep track of. That's before you even consider the social difficulty of being the centre of attention, or improvising, or keeping track of which voice goes with which character.

It really is overwhelming – which can easily lead to the kind of justifications we looked at before. I'll start once I'm ready. Once I've read the Players Handbook(*) and the Dungeon Masters Guide(*). Oh, and I should probably get the Monster Manual(*) too. I'll also take a few improv classes to help me find my feet with the roleplay. And heck, why not get up to speed on all of Critical Role while I'm at it? You see what I'm getting at...? If you take this approach, you will never start.

Instead, start before you're ready. Everything you really need to know, you can learn in 10 mins (I'd suggest learning the basics of how combat works and about skill checks, and then read through the first encounter in whatever adventure you're running). Then everything else, you can pick up as you go. If you've never played before and you're being thrust into the DM role, then chances are your players have never played either – so they won't know what mistakes you're making. And even if they do, chances are they won't care because they'll be having too much fun!

We're always more critical of ourselves than we are of others – so we'll probably pick up on more things we get wrong than our players do anyway, and when we do notice these things, we can always go and work on them between sessions. Realise that you are a bit uncertain on particular conditions, or rules for cover, or how to calculate someone's spell save DC? Then make a reasonable sounding ruling on it at the time, and then go off and figure it out between sessions.

This is how we learn – by making mistakes. Seriously, there is no other way. Next time you're hanging out with a kid, listen to them talk – they'll make grammatical mistakes all the time. But that's how they learn the language. It's how they get better and figure shit out. We don't ban children from speaking with us, and put them in grammar classes at age 2 and tell them we'll communicate with them in 10 years. No. We encourage them to talk, focus on the message they're conveying, and little by little help them to progress.

It's this same attitude and learning style we need to embrace as DMs. We all learn from our errors - whether that's in school, in life, when learning a language or an instrument, and it's the same with DnD. Wanna get better at playing DnD? Then start playing. Wanna be a better DM? Then start DMing. Not ready? Perfect – that means that now's the best possible time to start.


bottom of page