Updated: Apr 29
I could spend a ton of time explaining the BIG GAP in D&D's design. However, I think it's a lot easier hear the discussion of two authors on this list explain it better than I can.
Yep! Not just 5e, but no edition of D&D has ever given clear instruction on preparing a session of play. The old AD&D DM's guide had detailed information on the statistical distribution of dice combinations, but no explanation of how to prepare a game session. So, D&D has never told Dungeon Masters how to DM. They intended to give you tools and freedom to make the game your way. Intending that freedom to be feature, but really...
it's a bug.
Therefore, most people learn while playing the game and reverse engineering what they see their DM do. This leads to average DMs creating a lot of average DMs. Because no one really knows what they're doing or why they're doing it. Some people are just naturally good thanks to a real life high charisma score. Other determined people stumble over and over until they figure out a style... that's what I did.
This reading list provides two ways to prepare your sessions of D&D. The Dungeon World way and the Lazy DM way. Both books are extremely helpful which is why they made the list.
The Lazy DM Way
However, Michael E. Shea AKA Sly Flourish developed an eight step preparation process. Shea created these steps to fill the gap that D&D designers left open. So, this not the only way to prep a game, but it's a really good way. This process doesn't require you to do all eight steps before every session. It recommends you choose three steps to focus on before each session. Before starting a campaign it's wise to do all eight, and throughout the course of the campaign you will do all eight again. But prior to each session you will just choose three steps and focus on them.
The Dungeon World Way
Dungeon World is its own game. Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel made the explicit choice to provide a system to prepare for sessions and campaigns of their game. Even though Dungeon World is a different game the system easily translates to D&D. If you listen to the whole video Koebel explains how to use "Fronts" which are a key feature of the Dungeon World system.
Obviously these are not the only ways to prep a game. I personally combine the Lazy DM's Step 4: Secrets and Clues with Dungeon World's Fronts. Hopefully, examining these two methods helps you develop your own DM style.
The remaining list organizes information from the various 5e books to help you gain additional insight into how 5e designers think about encounter building. The remaining list organizes information from the various 5e books to help you gain additional insight into how 5e designers think about encounter building. This list ends with another third party book The Monsters know What They're Doing. This book is a great resource. It conceptualize monsters as living breathing parts of your world not just bags of hit points.
By the time you finish reading list two you will be more equipped to run games than most people you know. Feel confident in that! But we're not done yet, because you don't just want to run games. You want to create your own adventures and your own worlds!
More to come...