Recently I took the plunge into playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time since high school. What’s more, I decided to DM. DM, short for Dungeon Master, is the player who creates and dictates the Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) game to the other players, known as PC’s (or Player Characters). It takes a lot of work upfront, but it’s fun, rewarding, and well worth the time investment.
Now that I’ve gone through the learning process, I want to simplify becoming a DM for other hopeful game masters. So here is a resource just for you that will provide you with everything you need to get started. How to find inspiration, where to get free and legal resources, fun ways to learn the rules, and cool stuff to buy.
If you have any questions or would like to suggest an addition, feel free to let me know in the comments. Till then, best of luck in your DMing journey.
Before you DM for the first time, it’ll be worth your while to watch some people do it well. There are a ton of live streams out there, so there’s inspiration aplenty, but what follows worked for me.
This is a great one-shot to watch. A one shot is an adventure that lasts a single play session, rather than one that’s ongoing. D&Diesel is short, so you can get a quick taste, but also hugely fun. Pay attention to the players reactions to the narration by DM Matt Mercer. I try to emulate his use of voices, but I’m not very good. Even so, I think the effort adds to the atmosphere, so even if you can’t voice act, give it a shot.
I love Dan Harmon, but he seems to inspire love and annoyance from different people. If you’re squarely in the Harmon camp, as I am, then you’ll love Harmonquest whether you’re interested in DMing or not. Spencer Crittenden is the DM here, and he does a fantastic job. Bear in mind that this show edits out all of the slower moments, so it’s not representative of the entire play experience, but it’s hella fun and worth a watch. You can watch it on YouTube or Vrv.co. Either way, you’ll have to pay. Sorry bout it.
You can’t talk about live streamed DnD without mentioning Critical Role, which basically started the whole craze. It’s a great show to watch, but each episode is around 3+ hours in length. I sometimes watch while I code or do yoga. Pay attention to how Matt Mercer goes along with his players ideas. He has a very “yes and” attitude, which I’m trying to get better at. “Yes and” is an improve idea where when someone else (one of your players) suggests an idea, you go with it and build on it, rather than shooting it down.
Learn how to DM
Before you dive in to running your campaign, you’ll need to know the basic rules. Start by watching the many great videos on YouTube that delve into the core rules of D&D. You’ll still need a Players Handbook at some point, there’s no getting around that, but watching the videos is an entertaining way of absorbing all the basic knowledge you’ll need to get started. Here are some I particularly enjoyed.
How to Play Dungeons and Dragons
This animated guide is a great intro into the rules. Much more fun than reading through the Players Handbook. If you’re not sure yet if you want to invest in the books, this is a great place to start. However, you will need a copy to play for reference. You’ll want to watch all of the intro videos, and probably videos on classes of your PC’s, before starting.
GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer
This is my third mention of Matt Mercer, and that’s not a mistake. He’s not only a great voice actor and DM, he’s also great at bestowing his knowledge in quick and easy to understand and utilize chucks. I enjoy the brevity of these videos. It allows me to pick up a lot of skills and ideas without needing to wade through a 30 minute video, which seems to be the norm in the DnD YouTube world. Watch the playlist below, cherrypick whichever feel most relevant to your current issues, and you’ll receive lots great advice without a major time commitment.
Your First Adventure, Running the Game
Speaking of 30 min videos, author, game writer, and DM Matthew Coville is the more in-depth and long-winded type, but his information is clear, full of context, and usually entertaining to watch.
For my first adventure, I literally the exact campaign from his video below, and it went better than I could have hoped. From there I branched off into my own homebrewed campaign, which I highly recommend. If you want to see the process of creating a campaign in action, learn about the various features of an adventure, and get all of the materials for free, then this is a great place to start. I’ve also posted links to some of the materials below.
Things You Need Before You Play
There are a lot of things you’ll need eventually if you plan on playing regularly. However, you don’t need everything all at once. In fact, if you’re strapped for cash, there’s enough free material out there for you to get started with nothing more than a set of dice.
Below is a collection of everything I think you need before you dive into your first game. Skip the books, skip the plastic minis, right now you just want to dip your toe in and figure out if this whole DM thing is for you. After your first session, you can begin getting all that other stuff.
D&D has a lot of rules, and you’ll need to reference them from time to time. Lucky for us, Wizards of the Coast has a free starter rule book for new DM’s. So get the rules here.
Another helpful tool is the app Complete Reference 5e. I believe this app is on both Android and iPhone. I own an Android and it works well for looking up things quickly mid-play. You’ll have a hard time learning how to play if you only use this app, but you’ll save a lot of time referencing things when you download the Complete Reference 5e.
The Players Handbook is about $40, and learning how to build characters from scratch takes a lot of time. Instead, start with Wizards pre-made characters to take some of the load off your shoulders. I think there are 16 characters for your players to choose from. If you have a Players Handbook, make sure you’re players read through their class descriptions before your first game, otherwise have them look them up online. Get premade character sheets here.
Miniatures are one of the best things about DnD, in my opinion. They’re so damn cool, and add an extra dynamic to the game. However, like everything else in D&D, they’re expensive when you’re starting out. And even more expense when you dive in. Instead of dropping some serious coin on a bunch of figures, download and print them from Printable Heroes. There you’ll find high quality, printable minis that work just as well as actual figurines for a fraction of the cost. Find printable minis here.
After you’ve run your first adventure and decided it’s something you want to keep doing, there are several more things you’ll want, and some other resources you’ll want to dive into.
All the books – At this point, it’s time to start investing in the books. Buy them in this order:
The Players Handbook
The Dungeon Masters Guide
The Monster Manual
Any campaign of your choice
I included a campaign book there even though I’ve been playing with homebrew content. While I don’t run my games out of one of these pre-made adventures, before reading this I was spending too much time creating content that didn’t really matter. After, I read through one which greatly aided me in knowing how much content of what sort I needed to prepare.
The Home Brewery
Once you start writing your own adventures, you’ll want them to look pretty. Enter The Home Brewery which does an excellent job of making your home brew content feel legit.
You can buy battlemats which have grids and stuff on them, and they look great. I didn’t want to spend the extra money, so I found a whiteboard I had lying around and I use that to draw the environments on. It’s quick and liberating to layout something with ease.
Dungeons & Dragons Lore
These lore videos delve into the various aspects of a lot of D&D’s most iconic creatures, gods, realms, etc. I went through the entire series in a week. It’s a shame there’s not more, but what there is is really great. Lore adds depth to your campaign, and throwing in some little details here or there will make your world feel more real.
Fantasy Name Generators
Coming up with the ton of fantasy names you’ll need is a chore. Use Fantasy Name Generators to come up with names for Cities, Taverns, Wizards, Elves, Pirates, Rivers, Monsters, etc. Really they have just about everything in a very simple to use setup. Generate fantasy names here.
Who The Fuck is my DnD Character
If you’re players are having a hard time coming up with character ideas, this is a fantastic resource. I ran a one shot adventure featuring only characters inspired by this tool, and it was a lot of fun. Get character ideas here.
Fantasy World/Dungeon Generators
These procedurally generated worlds and dungeons work really well. Create a detailed world or encounter with very little effort. Not as customizable as I’d like, but great for what it is. Build worlds or dungeons here.
Short Run Posters
Now that you have a world map, you’ll want to print it out and start drawing all over it, creating countries, expanding on the features of different zones, laying out area’s of interest, etc. I printed my map through Short Run Posters, and it turned out great.
I love being able to show my players where they are in the world, and let the map inform some of their choices. I only layout the areas around my players though, and only draw in cities their characters would already know about, adding more as they discover places. Print your map here.
Finally, once you’ve dived in deep, it’s inevitable that the miniature craze will hit you. Enter Hero Forge, a fantastic 3d printing service where you can design custom characters. They run about $30 a piece, so they aren’t cheap, but they’re great for adding a bit of ownership to the PC’s minis. Trust me, if one of your players buys one, they all will. Check out hero forge here.
There you have it, a collection of all the things I found useful on my journey to becoming a decent DM. I still have a lot to learn, and there is so much more you can do beyond this. I’m thinking about releasing some of my homebrew content for you to play too very soon. Keep an eye out :).
Writing a novel is a massive undertaking. Even a short one will consume hundreds, if not thousands of hours of your life. So it’s no surprise that so many people look for effective novel-writing strategies. What follows is the first post in my series on novel-writing. Through this series we’ll explore my current novel-writing process from conception to wherever the future takes us.
Writers write because they are inspired, don’t they? In film, writers struggle for that perfect idea, for that flash of inspiration. They struggle over a blank page, cursed with genius yet a lack of inspiration for they’re next novel. If we take movies at their word, no writer would ever write until they discovered the perfect, world shattering idea.
Lucky for us, writing doesn’t actually work that way. Good ideas are important, but they aren’t the crux that every novel depends on. Moreover, while inspiration may simply strike some people, most of us have to fashion habits that will coax ideas out of the back of our minds on a regular basis.
So how important is the inspiration behind your next (or first) novel? How do you create habits that ensure ideas come freely and with relative ease? Read on to dispel some common myths, learn a bit about the nature of inspiration, and build the habits that nurture ideas, generating them on a near daily basis.
The Prefect Concept
Do I need the perfect idea before I start writing?
You’re about to devote months, perhaps years to writing your masterpiece but it all starts with an idea. One bud of a thought can fuel countless hours of your life as you tackle the thankless task of sitting in a room, alone, writing. So you should wait to begin until you have the best idea ever, right?
No. In my experience, aspiring writers place too much importance on the idea behind their story. They seem to believe that if they think and think and think, they’ll come up with the perfect concept, and a book will eventually form. They will often say, “I’ve been working on a story for years.” But when it comes down to it, no words have been written.
What’s the issue with placing too much emphasis on the idea?
Some people will build their ideas for years. They may even change from one concept to another, developing ideas so thoroughly that they may as well have written their novel to completion. People I know and love have developed tons of ideas but have nothing to show for it. What they don’t realize is that an idea is only a fraction of the work involved when writing.
In reality there’s no need to labor over an idea until it’s perfect. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. Even a really solid idea is worthless without the right amount of ass in chair time.
Let’s consider Tim. Tim spent years developing his idea, and it’s damn near perfect. If you could see the visions inside his head, you’d be brought to tears for it brilliance. When Tim finally sat down to write, an awful thing happened. The words didn’t sound right. They felt amateurish and sloppy.
The trouble is, Tim knows what good writing is. He’s read it over and over again. But Tim never practiced the actual craft of writing. He’s read great novels, read amazing books on story structure and character arcs. He knows when writing is good or bad, but he hasn’t spent enough time practicing the craft, so his perfect idea in theory is now a mess in execution.
Had Tim settled on a half-formed idea, wrote it out, and admitted it was bad, he would have had hundreds of hours of experience writing. Maybe his first effort will never get published, but by the time he gets to his second or third novel, his writing will be leaps and bounds better, the ideas will come easier, and his ability to communicate through text will mature.
In other words, don’t put too much emphasis on the idea of your book, especially your first book. Find something that interests you and start writing. The more you do this, the easier the entire process will become.
Fostering Habits to Encourage Constant Inspiration
Now that I’ve spent roughly 1000 words downplaying the spark that incites your novel, I’m going to admit that ideas are kind of important after all. Before you sit down to a blank screen and flashing cursor, you’ll want to start somewhere. So where does the inspiration come from?
Idea’s can come from anywhere, you just need to condition yourself to generate them. I’m a firm believer that anyone can be a good writer, talent be damned. Sure, in every walk of life there are some people who are inherently talented, but there are far more people who simply worked really hard to get what they want. Everything about the writing process will come easier if you put the hours in. That includes finding inspiration.
The three B’s
I once had a professor tell me that inspiration comes from the three B’s: bathroom, bedroom, and bus. What he meant was, there are certain points of the day where you’re doing nothing, and it’s these moments where you’ll find yourself inspired. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s likely while you’re commuting, falling asleep, or doing your bathroom business.
But if you’re a writer, you probably need more than that. You’ll want to create habits that insure you have constant moments to think, explore ideas, and hopefully be inspired.
Make time for contemplation
All of my best ideas come in times of quiet contemplation, which for most people doesn’t just happen. You need to create the times to think, which can unfortunately be quickly overrun by the busy world, much like a gym membership. This in turn forces you to be ever vigilant in protecting you thinking time, deliberately setting aside regular time for it.
Most people only reserve this kind of thinking time for the three B’s — and bathroom has now become the place of the smartphone so maybe the B’s are down to two. To be in a state of constant inspiration, or to at least aspire to that state, you need to consciously develop a habit of turning off distractions (including other people) and just think.
For me, habits are easiest to maintain when they easily fit into my schedule. Let’s be honest here, creating new habits is hard, especially with my busy schedule filled with family, work, writing, reading, Muay Thai, video games, Harmonquest, Rick and Morty, and anime. You likely have things you’re passionate about too, so tailor your novel meditation schedule to work best with everything else you’ve got going on.
Driving – At least a few days per week I spend my 40 minute commute to work listening to this playlist and just thinking. No audiobooks, no podcasts, no damn commercials. Just me and my thoughts for 40 minutes straight. It’s amazing how much will come out of these driving sessions once you make a habit of it.
If you have the privilege of a long commute, this is a viable option for you. It’s time you wont get back anyway, might as well invest is as a thinker rather than a passive talk radio listener. But if you don’t commute, find time where you’re doing constant, mindless things, and inject your mind into the equation. Walking, running, shopping, and for some people maybe while working.
Bed – About twice per week I’ll go to bed an hour early. I know that I can rarely actually fall asleep before 10:30pm, so I go to bed with the goal of mulling over current project. Since I’m already in the middle of writing Grim Curio (sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss it’s release) I’ll spend that time thinking on character motivations and arcs, plot points, and themes.
When one of the ideas feel particularly good, I’ll find a way of putting it to paper. Later I’ll work it into my book summary so when I get to the applicable point in the novel, I’ll remember exactly what I was thinking.
I feel like this is an easy option for most people. Do what you have to so you’re in a thinking mindset, lay down, close your eyes, and just think.
Writing – To be honest, a lot of great ideas and sparks of inspiration come in the moment during the writing process. Sometimes it relates to the current scene, but just as often what I’m writing will spark an idea for a future scene. These ideas can disappear quickly, so make a note of it right away.
These ideas tend to be on the details and continuity level for me, so their different from what I think of in the previous strategies. Because of this, I would not rely on this time to be your only time to think on your book. At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of simply writing, even if you have no direction at all. Ideas will come to you as you work through all the threads in your mind. So, even when nothing else is working, sit down and write.
With their powers combined
Don’t rely on just one of these times to contemplate your novel. Try a combination or come up with a few of your own. Best results come when taken together.
The personal risks of living in constant pursuit of inspiration
I’m not normal. You probably figured this out already. I’m pretty aloof, I forget a lot of important things, and I have a hard time maintaining relationships with many people outside my family — even inside my family if I’m being honest. For a normal person, this might sound lonely, but for me, it’s what I crave.
This personality flaw, as some might call it, is likely a result of my own pursuit crafting the perfect piece of fiction. I spend so much time thinking about my writing — and other creative projects — that when it comes time for the real world, often I’m a step behind.
For me, that’s ok. I enjoy being alone and spending time simply thinking on things. This is where my inspiration comes from. So be warned, transitioning into a life in constant pursuit of inspiration may come at a cost. Or you might already be an outcast, nerd, or other form of standoffish enthusiast. My people!
Don’t put too much pressure on your ideas
The idea generating phase never ends, so try not to stress about it. The more you allow yourself to think on things, the easier it becomes. Remember, it takes years to become good at anything. Don’t expect the first manuscript you write to be your masterpiece. You could be one of the lucky one’s who writes a classic on their first go, and to you I say fuck off.
It takes most people years to become great at manipulating a thousand ideas into a novel, so just make time for thinking and writing and let everything else go. There’s too much stress in the world already. Don’t make the creative process into a stressful one. Enjoy the struggle, take pride in your mistakes, at least you’re creating something out of nothing! Later on, those early mistakes will be obvious and you’ll find all new weaknesses to strengthen. So it goes.
When your expectations are too high, nothing feels good enough. Accept that not all of your ideas will be perfect. Some may feel average at best but will create a compelling story in execution. Others may feel great and in execution you’ll realize that they weren’t all you thought they were. It’s all ok. Pivot. Come up with new ideas. Think and think on it, massage it, and eventually something good will come.
Recognize that the initial idea will likely get left in the dust
When I wrote Discovering Aberration, my initial idea was inspired by a dream of a mysterious island with some hidden technology submerged under a lake protected by a dragon. The island and the ancient technology made it to the final draft. All the rest got written out. In the end I wrote a story involving gang wars, evil archeologists, a lost civilization, and characters driven to madness. Idea’s change, and that’s ok. Let them take on their own life, coax them along, adjusting when you need to.
Ideas and inspiration don’t strike anyone not actively looking for it. The right mindset, discipline, and practice will cause ideas to flow. If you aspire to being a great writer, then the best advice I can give you is to write and never stop. I hope you found this first post in my novel-writing series useful. If you did, I would very much appreciate it if you would be kind enough to share. I’ll see you next time.
Behind the scenes of favorite books can be a complicated place, especially when you’re talking about editors. There are so many stages of editing, so many kinds of editors as well as generous readers who give up their time to offer their opinion on works in progress. So if you’re among the many readers who doesn’t know the difference between a Developmental Editor, Proofreader and Beta Reader, this post is for you.
We’re going to break down editors into three categories, Editors, Beta Readers, and Alpha Readers. Editors are your professional brand of book doctors who get paid the big bucks to gut manuscripts before their published. They come in many varieties, and we’ll address the nuances below. Then there’s Beta Readers who are more or less hobby editors who volunteer their time to read manuscripts before they reach Editors and offer their advice. Finally, there are Alpha Readers who come early in the process often in the form of critique groups, writing workshops, etc.
For a more detailed overview on these publishing heroes, read on.
Editors are professional readers, critiquer’s and proofreader’s. They are paid to offer their expert advice to an author in order to make the authors work more marketable (also better).
There are many kinds of editors including: acquisition editors, copy editors, line editors, content editors, and more. Rather than rewriting what’s already been written hundreds of times online, I’ve founds another source to do that work for me. Below is a quote from a blog post from The Helpful Writer. They do a great job of calling out the differences without diving too deep. You can read their complete, original post here.
Most of you already know, or at least heard of, the AE. Generally, they are the ones picking up the books for a publisher, and the go-to for the author while prepping a book for publication.
Used by big publishing houses, and often ghost writers. You can find a few freelancing DEs. They are best with non-fiction writing, but can be hired by fiction writers. Their primary function is to ensure a book moves in a forward motion, watching plot and characterization. Think writing coach.
The very big publishing houses have Content Editors, the one overlooking all the plot, characterization, voice, and setting.
The copy editor specializes in grammar, punctualization, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting. The Copy Editor is used most often in journalism publications, but utilized by some smaller publishers.
Also known as a Copy/Content Editor, often employed by the small – medium publishers, and self-published authors. They do it all – grammar, fact-checking, spelling, formatting, plot, sentences, characterization, setting, punctualization, and voice. They go through every inch of an MS, word by word, line by line.
Many get a proofreader and an editor confused. A proofreader is the one who goes over your MS after an editor. They look for the glaring mistakes missed, generally in punctuation, spelling, and formatting. They look for the glaring mistakes that may have been missed during edits.
Hey guys, I’m back! Let’s talk about beta readers. Beta readers are the salt of the earth readers who want to be a part of the process. And they’re awesome. They volunteer their time to read early access, unkempt, unpublished manuscripts. They then share their thoughts with the author in the form of notes and/or interviews. If all goes well, a better book is birthed kicking and screaming into this cruel world.
The beta reading process for me is a structured, chapter by chapter read through. My beta readers are given chapter deadlines and are asked to answer a series of questions to send back to me. Occasionally we may have one on one conversations where they share their deepest, darkest secrets… ahem, thoughts on my novel. It’s the semi casual version of Editing!
Want to become a Beta Reader? Send me a message through my contact form, and let me know. I’ll add ask you a few questions and potentially add you to the list.
To boil it down, Alpha Readers are to Beta Readers what Beta Readers are to Editors. Hows that for a flashback to the SAT’s? To clarify: Editors are a professional grade arsenal of long-range weapons. They get paid to read at a professional level. Beta readers are avid readers willing to share their thoughts. They’re your infantry.
Alpha readers, on the other hand, have access to some or all of the early versions of chapters, they may read it in order or random bits and pieces, and they are not beholden to schedules or deadlines. They come earlier in the process than Beta Readers, often before much of the book is even written. They are your spies.
For me, Alpha Readers help determine aspects of the novel while I am writing it. They share input during the drafting process.You can include in this group writing partners or workshops. Lately I’ve been using /r/DestructiveReaders for my alpha reading process (learn about how I used this community to improve my writing skills). Some readers there are professional writers, other amateurs, still others just readers wanting to share their input.
If you want to be notified when chapters are available for alpha reading, reach out to me through my contact form and let me know. I’ll email you whenever a new chapter is available to alpha read.
So there you have it. In short, all forms of editors are great but each serves a very different purpose. If you’re a reader who wants to get involved, find what works best for you and offer your services to an up and coming writers. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled. If you’re an up and coming writer, keep an eye out for these kinds of readers and learn how to utilize them. It’ll be highly worth your time.
I’ve been building a killer writing playlist on Spotify for a year. I somehow created a 19 hour behemoth of music I can reliably count on whenever I need to get into the writing mood. Shuffle play, and instantly I get pulled into a more contemplative piece of mind.
It’s a mix of chill out, down tempo electronic, psychedelic post-rock, and movie and video game soundtracks. Almost all of the songs have a steady but relaxing beet and trance inducing rhythms. Few have any singing, and those that do feature the kind of vocals that blend with the music rather than drive it.
Below is the playlist. I called it Creativity Juice – A Writers Playlist. Look down further for a sample of some of the artists included. And if that doesn’t float your boat, scroll way down past that where I share some of my playlist creation wizardry tips. So good.
Listen to The Playlist
The artists include:
Want to give this playlist a test drive? Check out some of the artists.
The Album Leaf
Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon
And Many, Many More.
What if you hate my taste in writing music?
Make it yourself! Below are some thing’s I’ve learned building a the perfect writing playlist for me. Feel free to give it a shot and before you know it, you’re going to be rocking your own masterpiece.
Add Songs Liberally
I like to add liberally. I start by picking an artist I like, listen to an album or two and add a song to the playlist every time I’m compelled to. Usually my criteria is to answer “will I ever like to hear this again while writing?” with maybe or greater. This builds your playlist quick, especially in the beginning.
Remove Songs Liberally
Once you’re listening to your playlist, you’ll quickly find that some of the songs that you thought would work just don’t strike the tone you want. Cut it as soon as you notice. Nothing is worse than listening to a playlist and skipping every other track. If you ever feel like skipping, just remove it instead. If you want, you can add it to another track later.
Utilize Recommended Artists
Once you’ve had your fill of any one artist, jump on a few of the related artists. I’ll generally give an artist I’ve never heard before a three song test. If I only skip one out of three songs in a row (adding songs I liked along the way), I’ll pick an album and listen to it from the beginning, otherwise I go back and pick again. Don’t just listen to their most popular tracks. Instead, pick an album and start from the beginning, adding songs you like as you go.
Listen While Your Not Writing
When you’re writing, the last thing you want to do is stop writing to manage a playlist. If a song comes on that you want to skip, if you’re like me you’ll just suffer through it unless it’s really grating. Instead, listen to your writing playlist when you’re not writing and remove the songs that aren’t working.
That’s all I’ve got. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a method that works for me. So what do you think of the playlist? If you listen to it during a drafting session, let me know how it went in the comments. If you’ve created your own writing playlist, feel free to share a link.