Bardic Babble: An Adventure in Tabletop Gamemastering

Hail, Adventurer!

I see that you have fought your way across the dire-crocodile infested swamplands for me to impart ancient, dangerous knowledge upon you. Fortune smiles upon you, because I happen to be a bard and not a half-mad sage. Half-mad sages can be jerks and like to mess with adventurers by giving cryptic riddles in place of straightforward advice. It’s just how they like to have fun –

Oh. Who am I, you ask? My name is Jess, and I am a wanderer from beyond the stars who sometimes like to record all that I have seen by either pen or paintbrush. My true calling is to be a bard, yet I will probably end up as one of those half-mad sages I was warning you about. Perhaps you are here because you would like to be a bard, too, and spin tales of wonder and terror to other rapt adventurers?

Most of us are already are modern day bards scribing tales of either real life or the unknown – be it as a simple tweet, blog post, or novel accessible in print or digital format. When we take a look at the origins of storytelling, we see that it began as an oral tradition. It’s easy to see why readers and writers, especially, are attracted to the fantastical realms of tabletop gaming. The transition from either to Game Master is not that far of a stretch, and yet many women are hesitant to do it or just don’t know how.

I remember my first experience trying to get into tabletop gaming. Imagine me, a young Level 13 Teenage Nerd Girl, stumbling across a Dragonlance adventure module in a game store. I had no idea what an adventure module was, but I loved Dragonlance hardcore (especially Raistlin Majere – I admit it, he was my first fictional crush) and so I bought it right away, thinking that it was some sort of self contained game.

I opened it, and had no clue what to do. How was I supposed to use the hex map? What were all those stats for? What was a Dungeon Master’s guide? My brother and I tried to get help from some of the other nerds at the school to figure out this mystery, but no one was really interested in playing with a girl. The adventure module was regretfully shelved and forgotten.

Years later, the internet made it a lot easier to find the answers to all the questions I had back then. As an adult, I thankfully found a group who taught me to play a variety of tabletop games: from D&D to Exalted to Shadowrun and beyond. I saw a lot more female players, but never any female Game Masters. Having gained confidence and the support of my gaming group, I decided to try it myself, and began running my own Exalted campaign. I found that while GMing has its challenges, it meshed very naturally with my storytelling skills I had gained as a writer and artist.

I would like other women to have the confidence to make that leap, and that’s what my next few months of articles are going to be about. I’ve decided to start GMing for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and invite you to take the journey alongside me from start to finish. I’m going to provide you with the resources to get started as a female GM, tips for finding a local or online group, and how to create adventure modules and campaigns in either your favorite setting or your very own world.

Now that introductions are complete, I’m going to dive right in on what you need to start. There are many types of roleplaying games out there all with different styles of play, so if Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t interest you, let me know and I’d be happy to explore other systems sometime, too. Exalted 3rd Edition will be out shortly and you can bet I will be covering that, too.


There are a few different ways to begin playing D&D. We’ll begin with the simplest. All you need to get a taste of your first adventure is the following:

The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (5th Edition)

This includes:

  • 64-page adventure book with everything the Dungeon Master needs to get started
  • 32-page rulebook for playing characters level 1-5
  • 5 pre-generated characters, with character sheet
  • 6 dice

Yes, you saw that correctly – Dungeons & Dragons is now on 5th Edition. The others versions are still playable, and some fans still stick to them, but we will be working with this newest, more streamlined version.

This is a self contained set with pre-made adventures and characters. It’s a good way to test and see if you like the game without investing a lot of money. Next month, I will be unboxing my own starter set and doing a playthrough of an adventure. If you’ve already tried the starter set or are already ready to commit to the full version, here are the items you will need:

The Core Rulebook Manuals (5th Edition)

These include:

The Dungeon Master’s Guide
The Monster Manual
The Player’s Handbook

You’ll also need a set of D20 dice, like the kind found HERE.

Once again, these are for the 5th Edition version, so be careful if you look up used copies. I will break down what each one is for and go more into depth on how to design your own custom campaign after we finish going through the Starter Set together.

Your current quest, should you choose to accept it, is to send me any questions you may have about preparing for this first adventure, or GMing in general! Feel free to leave them in the comments section here, to contact me on twitter @jehzavere. I look forward to adventuring with you!