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How To Prep Faster For DnD As A DM

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  • Borrow, Mix, And Match Assets In D&D
  • Use Random Encounter Tables

Preparation is critical to any good Dungeons & Dragons session. Dungeon Masters (DMs) get more efficient with experience, but pre-game effort is always required for a smooth game. Being well-prepped as a DM lets you focus on the good stuff—characters, flavor, and detail.




Dungeons & Dragons: How To Run A Plague

A darkness washes over the land as sickness spreads. It’s time for plague Dungeons & Dragons.

D&D is fun because each game is a unique experience. However, creating a formula for preparation as a DM can help you consistently deliver results. No one gets it right every time. But with a formula for game prep, DMs can save time, deliver more consistent games, and, crucially, relax and enjoy their creations. Veteran DMs have some tricks up their sleeves to reduce prep time.

Notes For D&D Prep

Split image of different ways rest and downtime can be represented in Dungeons & Dragons

The importance of notes can’t be overstated. You must know what the party did last time to create a compelling session this time. You may have run the adventure module before, but making notes specific to each group of players makes a difference. Players notice the little details and ways the game world reacts to their presence.

Pre-Session Note Review

Before each game session, look over your notes from last time. These notes should include vital details like where the party finished last time, what time it was, who was present, etc. However, smaller, more personal details can be just as valuable. Sometimes, the players get caught up with an idea you intended as background detail. Following up with these emergent story threads can be fun, as DM. Note-taking facilitates these kinds of side quests.

Post-Session Note-Taking

Most DMs take notes during gameplay. However, taking notes alone after a session can really speed up preparation for the next time. Immediately after a gaming session, the game’s events are clear, your creativity is switched on, and plot hooks and ideas come easily. It might seem like the last thing you want to do, but making notes after a session saves prep time.

Borrow, Mix, And Match Assets In D&D

D&D Xanathar the Beholder surrounded by numerous figures
Xanathar, Guild Kingpin MtG Art from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms by Kieran Yanner

Most DMs own more modules, materials, maps, and miniatures than they can ever hope to use. But this doesn’t need to be a source of despair. You can overcome the backlog guilt by using parts from any module or resource in your current campaign.

NPCs, maps, encounters, monsters, inns, castles, or even entire factions—all can probably be adapted faster than if you can come up with something new.

Of course, there are some thematic limitations. Sci-fi resources might feel out of place in a typical D&D session. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from various sources. Like the personality of a character in a series you’re watching? Borrow it wholesale. When you rename them and put them in a fantasy universe, they’ll feel like something new.

Know Your Encounters

Rogues descend into a magical chamber
Keys From the Golden Vault cover art by Anna Podedworna

As much as D&D is a free-form collaborative storytelling experience, it’s also a series of interconnected encounters. The game world should feel reactive and alive, but the DM retains control, similar to a film’s director. Like in cinema, D&D audiences get bored if repeatedly presented with the same type of scene.

Reading adventure modules and watching videos of other D&D groups introduces DMs to the range of encounter types available. Use these resources to see what works for other DMs and groups. In most cases, following a major combat encounter with another combat feels more like a slog than a challenge.

Note how your players respond to different encounter types. Different players have different expectations. You can’t always satisfy everyone, but adding variety to encounter types keeps everyone engaged. Switching up the location and timing of encounters is OK for pacing purposes. Have a variety of encounter types prepared for a session, and try not to repeat the same formula too often.

Prep Some Curveballs

Dungeons & Dragons collage showing a barbarian on a rino and a charriot being pulled by a flying horse-1

Sometimes, a DM must hold players in their tracks for pacing reasons. It could be because the session is about to end, and the party is about to discover something they can’t possibly finish. Or, it might be because the DM wants to end on a cliffhanger, create suspense, or subvert the players’ expectations. Whatever the reason, curveball encounters can help.

A curveball encounter temporarily diverts the party from its main objective. D&D campaigns are full of this type of encounter. Wandering monsters, traps, and complex environmental hazards are all examples.

You can get as creative as you want with this type of encounter. Interrupt a dungeon crawl with a seemingly lost innocent child or slow the players with an environmental traversal skill challenge. Be careful not to overuse this non-essential kind of encounter. Some incidental encounters peppered into a campaign add realism. Too many start to feel like a series of barely connected instances.

Use Random Encounter Tables

Grunnald and Edgin Darvis by Eduardo Ferigato
Grunnald and Edgin Darvis by Eduardo Ferigato

The Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) contains random encounter tables to get you started. There are also countless resources online to help you create an interesting encounter. Storytelling involves protagonists pursuing a goal and overcoming challenges and obstacles.

The exact nature of the obstacles and challenges is less important than the players’ motivation. You can save much prep time by having a clear, over-arching plot and then treating the encounters as scenes to set the pace and tone.


Dungeons & Dragons: How To Run A Plague

A darkness washes over the land as sickness spreads. It’s time for plague Dungeons & Dragons.

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