There are so many resources online for D&D that it can be overwhelming when you’re first starting out as a DM. Maybe you don’t have the time to invest in watching a series of videos or the extra money to purchase all the source books right at the beginning.
So where do you start when you want to plan out an adventure for your table?
In this post, I walk through a few resources to get you going on your journey as a DM. These are the pages I found most helpful when I was starting out. I also talk about how I found them, going through which search terms I used to locate what I was looking for.
Narrowing the Field
One of the easiest first steps to take is deciding where you’d like the adventure—whether it’s a one-off, an addition to an existing adventure, or the beginning of a homebrew campaign—to occur. Which environment is most interesting to you or would create the vibe you’re going for? Forest, urban, dungeon, coastal? If you think about the Circle of the Land options for druids, this will help lay out some of your best setting choices.
Note first resource: I googled “5e” and “druid,” which took me to Roll20, a super helpful website for getting to know the basics of the various D&D classes. If you wanted to research druids further, perhaps looking into their spell options, I would recommend 5th Edition SRD, which I found by searching “5e,” “druid,” and “spells.”
A Forest Encounter
For our hypothetical example, let’s say that you decide you want to build your session around a forest encounter.
Back to handy dandy google for “dnd forest encounters.” This leads us to two of my favorite websites when I’m trying to quickly get to know an area and what might be lurking there or when I’m looking for inspiration for a plot hook or interesting encounter.
Let’s start with Tribality, as it’s going to lay a baseline for us. Our search takes us to “Monsters for a D&D 5e Forest Encounter.” Awesome. On this page, Sean Ellsworth works through ten different creatures your party of adventurers might encounter as well as why or how they might run into them.
He also lists the CR, or Challenge Rating, which signals the level a party of four adventurers would need to be in order for this to be a medium encounter—they’ll beat what they’re facing, but it will still be a challenge. (e.g. CR 4 would be four level-four adventurers fighting a Banshee)
If you wanted to use one of these options, you could then plug “5e” and the creature name into your search engine and, most likely, it will come up! The availability of stats online somewhat depends on which text a creature is published in and what the licensing around it is.
If we search “5e” and “owlbear,” Roll20 is right there ready with a stat block for us.
As a final note on Tribality, I love how the post ends with a list of other creatures to consider for your forest encounter.
What Else Might Happen? or How Did We Get Here?
For our forest encounter, I’m going to look at “100 Forest Encounters” and not “100 Scary Forest Encounters.” I tried to read the latter one time and got too jumpy.
I love these lists because they have so many good ideas, and many of the suggestions are hilarious. Three of my favorites in this one are D&D versions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Little Red Riding Hood, and Paul Bunyan with Babe the Blue Ox. (numbers 31-33)
You don’t have to use one of these exact suggestions, of course, but I think they’re a really helpful starting point for creating a well-rounded adventure with a few different story elements. You’ll want to devise something beyond a combat for your players to engage in and that will help them invest in the narrative you’re weaving with them.
Let’s say that you’ve picked a storyline, a few NPCs, and a creature or two for your characters to encounter on their trek through the forest. I want to cover two more resources with you to round out your adventure plotting: The Monsters Know and Fantasy Name Generators.
Keith Ammann, the writer behind The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, has created an incredible website that will help you think like the creatures your characters will be encountering in the world.
You’re not trying to trick your party or destroy them, but you are trying to present a vibrant world to them and invite them to join you in the storytelling process. Part of that, for the DM, is running realistic combats in ways that make tactical sense.
Maybe you’re really good at tactics and thinking like a hag or a very powerful undead being. But just in case you would like suggestions or need to practice, I think you will find his blog to be an invaluable resource.
The one place where I could see you having trouble is that he has it arranged by creature type, but you can always search for what you’re looking for. That’s what I did with “owlbear” which is under the parent category of “monstrosities,” which he also helpfully explains right at the beginning of the owlbear post!
Creative Fantasy Names
One of the fun but also difficult parts of creating NPCs and towns is naming them. For me, I want them to be realistic and not some random fantasy name that looks like Kiru’thyu-sa (though actually now I’m picturing a powerful barbarian woman waving a battleaxe around, so maybe that was a bad example).
Emily’s website, Fantasy Name Generators, has helped me countless times in creating NPCs. I went ahead and clicked on Dungeons & Dragons, so the link will open to her page broken down by D&D race names. You can select male or female, and each time you click, it generates a new list of ten for you.
Personally, I like to take syllables from the different names I see that I like and create a new name for my NPCs. This lets me play with some of the name patterns, too, which adds to the overall feel of a particular racial culture and naming tradition.
She also has lists of Place Names, so maybe you’d want to use the Fantasy Town Name Generator to come up with where the adventurers are headed.
I recognize that there are so many other resources we could cover, but I hope this has helped you with getting your feet wet in some of the wonderful resources in the wide and incredible world of D&D! If you found this helpful, or if you have further questions, please let me know in the comments below!
And if you’re super new, or your players are, and you’re looking for a helpful guide, D&D Beyond has a great resource for how to start your D&D adventure.
Our thanks to Grace and the high school D&D Club for inspiring this post. We hope it helps!
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