DM Resources: Running Your First Game

Watching D&D livestreams like ‘Critical Role‘, ‘Dice, Camera, Action!‘, or ‘Acquisitions Inc‘, can make Dungeon Masters seem like masters of storytelling. The deep, nuanced and colourful worlds that Mercer, Perkins and Holkins have created are as intimidating as they are immersive and awe inspiring. So obviously, as a brand new DM, this is the cost of entry – a complete world, filled with meaningful and interesting NPCs, each with engaging backstories and unique voices.

Except, no. That’s ridiculous.

“How Do I Get Started?”

Getting started in DMing is as easy as getting started as a player. Really. Why? Here’s why.

Simplify the rules.

Dungeons & Dragons is by far the most popular role playing game in the world, followed closely by systems such as Pathfinder (itself based on D&D’s third edition), Call of Cthulu, Shadowrun, and many other games. The common factor between these games is the relative complexity of the rules. Dungeons & Dragons basic rules, for example, are 177 pages long, over two PDFs, while their complete core set trifecta is close to 1,000 pages. That is a ridiculous amount of reading to play make-believe. Thankfully, there are other rule sets on the market that can give you valuable DMing experience, without having to remember the rule for every little thing that will happen.

Index Card RPG

The bestselling brainchild of Hankerin Ferinale, of Runehammer Games (née Drunkens&Dragons) fame, ICRPG is an amazing game for DMs who want to master the game design element of the craft. My full review of the game’s first edition (the second edition was recently released, and contains a tonne more content) can be found here, but I want to quickly summarise why I think it should be one of the first games you look at before hitting the table.

  1. It’s short.
    ICRPG’s core rules cover about 6 pages, and the very basic rules are free (click here). It’s an incredibly short read, and the complete rulebook tops out at just over 200 pages long. That might sound like a lot, but bear in mind that, rather than the traditional American Letter size of RPG books, this tome is 6″x9″, and mostly written in a larger font, making it easier to read at the table. It also contains all of the rules on character creation, two world primers, monsters galore, and enough adventures to keep you going for a couple of months.
  2. It’s malleable.
    More than any other game I have encountered, ICRPG is designed to built by you, the DM. This might sound scary at first, but the rules outline the creative process, giving you the tools to go and build monsters, traps and even whole new rules for yourself. Using Hearts and tags, it gives you, the DM, the means to build anything on the fly. Need a new monster? Choose a dice modifier, a number of Hearts, and whatever you feel it’s defining feature it, and go hog wild. Need a troll? Well, how about 2 Hearts, +4 to all rolls, a club which deals Weapon Effort, and a vomit attack that all CLOSE characters have to avoid with a Dex check, but that can only be used once every 1d4 rounds.
  3. It’s quick,
    More complex games can very easily get bogged down. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it can be difficult as a new DM to know how to make these points interesting. ICRPG doesn’t have that problem. Keeping things in a traditional boardgame turn order, the action keeps moving along, and it is absolutely possible to run an adventure that would take weeks in D&D in the course of an afternoon.
  4. That damned Game Mastery section.
    I don’t care if you played Tunnels & Trolls in the ’70s, or don’t know what RPG stands for, the ICRPG Game Mastery section is a must read. It breaks down the very essence of running a role playing game, and all of the concepts within it are system neutral. Reading this will make you a better DM, whether or not you ever use anything in it.

Dungeon World

Dungeon World is another small press title, itself a mod of the Apocalypse World system. The value of Dungeon World, in my honest opinion, is not so much in the rules themselves (though they are incredible), but more in the collaborative nature of character and world creation.

While the rules are free, I don’t recommend going to them first. Check out videos of the game being played, and you’ll see a master class in how to DM well. To quickly summarise, though:

  1. Always ask questions.
    One of your players decides they would like to be an elf. The very first question you ask? “What are elves like?“. Well, in this world, elves are four feet tall, with scaled skin, and eyes which burn like embers. Their affinity for magic was stripped for them in eons past by a vengeful god, and they have strode to rekindle their arcane nature ever since.

    By asking that question you have done three things. 1 – You gave the player creative control, meaning that immediately they have a clear idea of what their place in the world is, and what their culture looks like. 2 – You found out what the player wants. Over the course of the campaign you know that the elf character wants to rekindle the arcane spark which has long laid dead. Gives them opportunities to move towards that goal, and to either succeed or fail in it. 3 – Your player has built a part of your world, and that world’s history, for you.

    Never stop asking those questions. Of course, make sure they hold a consistent logic, but allow your players to build the world around themselves, and use the things they tell you to craft adventures they will immediately engage with with ease.

  2. “Draw a map, but leave plenty of blank space”.
    One of the bits of DMing I love most is crafting worlds. Talomire is one of my true loves in life. But even this world, designed to be published for other DMs to use, is filled with blank space for players and DMs to fill.

    Draw yourself an outline of a map (or check out some of the resources below), and give it one or two major landmarks that you would like to use; a mountain range, a natural port, or a major city for example. During the first session, when players are creating their characters, and you’re asking questions, discuss what the world looks like. What is the climate? Who lives here? Where is the town you grew up in, and what is it called? Fill in the map over the course of the campaign, through the answers your players give, and the adventures you lead them on.

Outsource your prep.

Preparing a game can take time. For some of my more serious games I’ve spent tens of hours prepping a single 2-4 hour session. You do NOT need to do that. Prep enough for a single night of gameplay, around 3-6 encounters or rooms, and have enough content to one side to allow you to improv a game (trust me, DMing is like herding cats) if you need to. The resources I discuss below are all things I use at my table all the time, and I highly recommend you make the most of them.

  1. Predrawn maps.
    Drawing maps is not easy. Crafting dungeons or towns that have character, while still making sense, is time consuming work. Of course, there’s no need to use maps at all, you can simply mind map how the rooms in your dungeon link together, or how the buildings in a town relate to one another. If you do want to use maps, however, check out Dyson’s Dodecahedron. With over 500 incredible maps, there is enough here to never need to draw a map in your life. I regularly print out six or seven of them, just incase my players decide to ignore what I’ve prepared!
  2. Index Cards/Magic the Gathering.
    The Index Card RPG Volumes (seperate, but related to, the ruleset I mentioned above) are a great resource for a number of reasons. They’re fantastic tabletop resources, providing visual aides for players, but they’re also an important adventure-crafting tool. Here’s an exercise. Draw three cards, one after the other. The first card denotes the location, the second the obstacle, and the third the goal.

    I drew a bear trap, a waterfall, and a cave entrance which looks like the gaping maw of a dragon. So, my location is a beartrap. What could that mean? Well, the location could be a trap, somewhere we were lured by those who mean use harm. It could be a hunt, one we were invited upon by a local noble. It could be a torture chamber, from which we must escape to our freedom. The waterfall could be a literal waterfall, one we must cross to achieve our goal, or it could be a metaphorical one; a torrent of enemies we need to avoid or dispatch. The gaping maw, to me, dictates an entrance to something far more dangerous beyond.

    There. That could be a full night of gameplay, where the waterfall is at the end of a river you have to navigate on your escape from prison, or it could be the first room of a dungeon, where you have to escape your bonds and flee down a waterfall into the prison proper. Magic the Gathering cards work just as well. Imagine drawing Sulpher Falls, Jace the Mind Sculptor, and Sword of Feast and Famine, for example.

    Actually, that M:tG example was pretty pricy…anyway!

  3. Two Minute Tabletop and Paper Minis
    Miniatures and battlegrids are not compulsory. Theatre of the mind is a wonderful way of telling stories, and one I have enjoyed playing and running for years. If you enjoy tactical combat, or want to take some of the weight of remembering where everyone is in relation to one another, you needn’t buy 3d minis and craft beautiful maps. Paper minis are incredible. Cheap, easy to make and customise, and free with each ICRPG book and volume, they are a great choice for any DMing just starting out. The simpler the aesthetic the better, too, as it allows players to fill in the blanks with their imaginations, with the mini simply informing their interpretation of the character or creature.

    As for maps, Two Minute Tabletop is a goldmine for battle maps, and a few other bits and bobs. Best printed on A2, it’s easy enough to have these printed on decent paper, and kept in a roll tube for when you need them at the table.

Closing thoughts.

I hope this post has cleared up some of the mystique of DMing. Rather than the labour-intensive slog it can often appear, I like to see it more as an improvisational story, built on the back of the desires your players have voiced, and where game mechanics serve the story and get out of the way, rather than becoming the defining element of a session.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or complaints, fire me a comment or an email (, and I’ll make sure to get back to you!

Until next time though, thank you!



The White Fist of Torm – Part One


Time had slowed to a crawl. The night air stung at her face as she drove her celestial mount on, the heavy plates of her armour beating noisily against each other with each movement of the strange mount. But now was not the time for stealth, or uncertain action. Her face was set towards the horizon, and whatever doom lurked over it. Tyrol was there, or so the Waterdhavian guard had said. So too was Yuki, in a carriage destined for the beast’s lair.

Arveene settled into the familiar movements of the horse, the motions lulling her like a child’s song into a sombre meditation. She thought back to her childhood, to the old clerics of Red Larch and the kind years spent with them…she reflected on the sacking of the Sumber Hills, of the ruins of ancient Myth Drannor, and of the eight-winged solar Arius, terrible in his splendour, great in his mercy, and Inevitable in the telling of the doom held for her. Arveene bristled at this last memory, and the solar’s words came to her as clear as if he was whispering in her ear. The hairs on her neck bristled, and a shiver ran down her back. Settling once more Arveene closed her eyes, her steed knowing her thoughts and intentions, and slipped into her recollections. Maybe this time she would find the seed of inspiration, the key to understanding her doom. And if not, she would do what she had been taught to do all her life; protect those too weak to protect themselves, and smite those who would seek to do harm…


The Abbey at Red Larch – 13 years ago.

“Aasu-imarr, a Celestial phrase meaning ‘new-birth’, which has its roots set firmly in the draconic language. It also finds it’s way into the eastern tongue; Aasil Marai, ‘doom child'”. The old man closed his eyes sagely, nodding almost imperceptibly to himself, proud of the knowledge he had acquired over his long years. The small, blonde girl before him looked up at him, abject terror in her young face,
“Doom child?!” she wailed, “Doom child?! Abbot Diarmaid, what doom?!” She glanced hurriedly around, as if looking to bolt. Her older companion opened his eyes again and studied her. He quickly realised her confusion, and his error.
“Arveene, quiet yourself girl. I do not mean ‘doom’, as if you were to cause the end of all things. I would barter that you shan’t even end this village, never you mind this nation or world…no, no, no…’doom’ is an old world, heavy laden with meaning and subtly. It is fate; purpose. It is given by one with authority, or it is assumed as a mantle. A quest is a type of doom. Paladins of yore took their dooms from the divine soothsayers who called themselves avatars, when the world was young. Such practices have fallen away, however, so I should not worry. But, many had said the same of the Aasimar…” He looked into the small girl’s eyes, the burden of his many years weighing heavy on his tired frame. He smiled, and the girl smiled sheepishly back. “Come now, let us go to Master John and see what treats await us in the kitchens”.

Master John was bent over the blackened, iron pot when Arveene and the elderly abbot came silently into the tiny room. The air was hot and humid, and the space cramped. A decently sized table dominated the centre of the room, with racks of utensils, not to mention the overbearing fireplace and huge, iron stewing pot, scattered around the edges of the room. Raven glanced questioningly up at the abbot, who nodded slyly, gesturing with his cane to the unsuspecting master.

A moment later there was a high pitched scream, the sound of metal clattering across stone, and the hearty laugh of two young souls putting aside the burdens life had placed upon them.

The Stables Outside Waterdeep – 1 hour ago.

The armoured figure came at her again. She ignored the pressing danger and pressed her hand against the wound in Mellifluent’s side, the healing vitality spreading from the snow white gauntlet encasing it. Mellifluent gasped, her eyes snapping open. The old tiefling woman looked into Arveene’s eyes, then over her shoulder. Her mouth opened to scream a warning, only to be cut off as Arveene rolled her forcefully away, shouting a divine invocation to shield her from the blow aimed squarely at her head.

It worked. The weapon lost its way in the folds of her cloak, landing viciously on the shield affixed to her arm. She cried in pain, falling to one knee. Al, the foreman from Woodsmere, stood above her, his brutal, spiked armour glinting slightly in the moonlight, a cruel smile playing across his face. Arveene’s cry of pain morphed into a scream of primal, animalistic rage. She surged up at her foe, her warhammer, The Loyal Fury, bursting into white, ethereal flame as she swung it wide towards Al’s head. He dodged back, the swing catching his breastplate and staggering him. He caught his fall, but too late. The hammer carried its momentum and swung down again, catching Al square in the shoulder and shattering bones with the force of the blow. He fell hard to the ground, coughing blood as he felt his insides move in ways they shouldn’t.

Arveene surveyed the field. Mellifluent was caring for the cleric they had picked up on their last adventure, while Maljape and Mirabelle put their assailant out of his misery. The party was spent, injured, and desperately needed rest. Arveene sighed. Oyuki was on her way to Tyrol’s estate on her own. There was no doubt in her mind that Yuki would kill Tyrol, it was a skill of hers, but Arveene could not imagine a way in which Yuki would make it out alive. Speed was key, and information needed. She bent down, laying her hands on the exposed left shoulder of the prostrate foreman, the broken armour not so much as scratching the paint from the shining white gauntlet. Bones knit together beneath her touch, and bleeding slowed. There was nothing for it. Maljape and Mellifluent would have to remain behind to interrogate this prisoner. With any luck the rest of them could reach Yuki’s carriage before she arrived at the estate. In the worst case scenario the could provide some aid to her as she tried to escape. Once again the burden of doom laid heavy on Arveene, her white gauntlet shining in the moonlight, reflected against the plain, steel plates of her armour. So much death these past weeks…so much pain. For a moment the age old temptation to run rose it’s ugly head. To cast aside her weapons, her armour, to run far from this forsaken coast and back to the ruins of her home. To the Dales, to the broken stones of Myth Dranor…

Arveene stood, her warhammer held loosely at her side. She shook the heaviness from her, exorcising the bone-deep desire to flee, and set off back to the party, dragging the fallen figure who’s life she had so readily saved.

Talomire: The Players’ Primer

Behold, the next step in Talomire’s evolution – the Players’ Primer!

The Players’ Primer is designed to tell the reader about Talomire, from the perspective of the people who live in it. Be that the nobility, in their high towers and townhouses, or the peasants in the fields and smithies of the realm. Beginning at character creation with details on how each race and class can be used, to advice on how to craft Talomire to your own ends, to the real nitty gritty on how my fictional land operates, the Primer aims to help you build a character and craft their world view, even build a backstory that can fit within certain setting parameters, while giving space for both player and GM to build stories, cities and legends to suit their own purposes.

And this is only the first step of many. The next two releases slated are the Game Masters’ Primer, and Volume One of the Talomiran Gazette.

The Game Masters’ Primer is designed to give GMs the tools and advice I have to help build plot hooks and stories in Talomire, as well as the secrets and lies of the realm. It will reveal the truth of much of what is included in the Players’ Primer with the intention of helping those reading it the tools to build engaging meta narratives which subvert the world view of the characters.

The Talomiran Gazette is a much smaller project, aiming to be a monthly, or bi-monthly publication, containing Talomire-specific subraces and subclasses, complete towns, which will include NPCs, locations, maps, and single page adventures which can be used in that town, as well as bits of Talomiran history explained in some detail. Volume One contains an account of the final battle of the war with Hochbreg to the south, in 1188 BR, the Halvt Folk subrace for the halfling, and the town of Wildthorn, in the north of Terracrios.

Much further down the road are the GMs’ and Players’ companions. Three to four times larger than the Primers, these books are designed to be complete sourcebooks, with Talomire-specific mechanics, maps, towns, subclasses and subraces, a bounty of single page adventures and adventure hooks, as well as homebrewed rules and other content. I’m really looking forward to these, and I’m even beginning to consider running a Kickstarter, if i feel there is interest in such a project!

Thank you. Your attention and feedback keeps me plugging away at Talomire. The fact that this little passion project has resulted in a podcast, and now published pdfs (and soon to be print on demand books) is mindblowing, and it’s all down to you. Thank you so much.

Welcome to Talomire

“Three generations have passed since King Hinton I ascended to the throne, fresh from his brutal campaign against his half brother and triumphant return down the Kings’ Road. King Hinton II, son of King Albert IV now sits upon the Autumn Throne in Arantal, his courtiers and clerics whispering foul poison in his ears and bending this weak-willed cumberworld to their own, selfish desires…” 

Brandon sat, seething. The three adventurers sat across from him, their brigandine ancient and decrepit, their steel helms either too small or too large for their young heads. Not one of them looked old enough to bother a maid, never mind  wield the spears and axes they carried. Hell, one of them looked a maid, not that it’d be the first time he’d seen a young lass flee the beating of her father or husband for a life of coin and violence. He looked them over one last time, his eyes lingering on the smallest figure with the hooded face. He could guess that one’s past, but knew better than to ask this close to Terracrios…

“Listen. History is all well and good, but all you need know is that a man with documents and supplies destined for the Northman’s cause leaves early on the morrow. I need fit and able escorts for this cart, and you three are all I have to hand. We expect no trouble, but the Kings’ Road is never a safe place this far north. It’s three days travel to Northtower. Two nights you’ll send camped on the road, one night you’ll likely be whoring your way through Low Briar’s wenches. Half payment now, half on arrival. How does that sound to you?”

Brandon knew the answer before he even finished the question. Still, even with these three ‘adventurers’ standing guard, he prayed to almighty Barachiel and all his angels that the Kings’ Road would be safe. He laughed mirthlessly. That would never be the case in the Northwild…

How Will You Make Your Mark?

Talomire is a low fantasy setting designed for use in any RPG system. It is a world where magic is outlawed, dangerous and secretive. It is a world where Kings command with an iron fist, while nobles and bishops rule from the shadows. It is a world of danger, intrigue and opportunity, where bold adventurers can seek fame and, more commonly, fortune. Seen as threats, as much as they are defenders or saviours, the adventuring parties of Talomire work for themselves, their loyalty only lasting as long as the coin does. Some fight for more philanthropic reasons, but they are rare and last only a short time. Infamy is all that awaits those with careers worth speaking of, those careers that don’t end at the hands of some terrible creature, in a long forgotten crypt…

Getting Involved.

Talomire may be my own creation, but it is ours to build. If travelling the dirt roads of the Northwilds sounds exciting; if walking the fertile plains and hills of the Terracrios stirs the soul; if the politicking of Arantal, or the fugitive-seeking patrols of The Spine set your imagination ablaze, then take my world and make it your own. Tell your stories, build your towns, rule your Baronies, or delve into the secrets of Talomire’s ancient past. Build the world with your fellow players and storytellers.

Learn More.

At present, Talomire is represented solely in the Talomire Campaign Primer, available for free on DriveThruRPG (click HERE to head there now), with the Talomire podcast expanding on the elements in that document in-game. This podcast is available on Apple iTunes (linked just above), as well as Google Play,, and YouTube.

Over the next year, and hopefully longer, I aim to release more detailed sourcebooks for those of you who want to know more about the culture, geography and history, as well as ‘canonocal’ adventures set in Talomire. The first of these adventures “The Barrows of Northwild” is already well underway, and should be out soon. On top of this, the Campaign Primer is an ever-evolving document, with the information, art and background I feel gives DMs and players the best insight into my view of Talomire.

Please, Feedback!

I love to hear back from you guys. A recent survey I sent around to my customers directly led to two things; 1) development of a History of Talomire, from the point of view of someone in the world, called “The Death of Magic”. This is designed to be used by both players and DMs to help bring everybody into the same, shared, universe, as well as giving them a springboard for their own creativity. 2) I am currently working on splitting the Campaign Primer into a DMs document and a Players’ document. This will allow me to give players more thematic, in-world information and maps, not all of which will be entirely accurate, while giving DMs unfiltered access into Talomire’s ancient past, the dangers lurking in the unknown parts of the world, as maps with locations no man or woman has ever seen…or at least survived to tell of…

If you want to be a part of this, then please email me at, or follow me on Instagram (@chris_hately), Twitter (@SundayNightDM), or Facebook, and tell me all about your character’s exploits, the town they were born and raised in, and the people and creatures they’ve met.

Last Words.

Thank you. Whether you spent a fiver on the Campaign Primer, got it for free, or haven’t even checked it out yet, the very fact that you’ve read this far means the world to me. Having people respect my content, often enough to call me out on what I can be doing better, is what makes this all worth doing, and I truly hope it continues. So thank you, and I hope to meet you in the taverns of Northtower…hopefully before the Kaimel Aioki returns from ancient slumber…