D&D: How Much Time Should A DM Really Spend In Prep?

Taking on the role of a Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master can be daunting, especially for those who haven't been on the other side of the DM screen, and knowing how long to prep for a campaign or session can be a big help. One of the DM's most important duties is preparing content for each session, attempting to account for players' potential choices to make sure that they actually have things to do. Since D&D doesn't often limit how players can approach a situation, DMs may feel like they can never do enough to prepare, when they may actually be doing too much.


Whether a DM is running a pre-written adventure in a published setting or coming up with their own story in a homebrew D&D setting of their own creation, they are likely to have a lot on their plate. There are NPCs and locations to learn about, encounters to try to balance, and player characters with powerful abilities to consider. With all these factors to keep in mind, prepping for a Dungeons & Dragons game can take a good amount of time. However, there are ways for DMs to minimize the amount of time they spend preparing, and their games will be better for it.

Related: D&D: Don't Surprise Your DM With Your Most Overpowered Character Build

The most important thing for Dungeons & Dragons DMs to remember is that it's counterproductive to prepare too far in advance. From the first moments of the first session of play, circumstances will emerge and choices will be made that will almost certainly contradict some part of a DM's assumptions about how things would play out. When the DM prepares the bare minimum required for D&D, they give themselves and their players room to breathe. Even when running a pre-written adventure, it's best to have a foundational knowledge of details like names, location descriptions, and potential points of interest, while not getting too invested in one potentiality. If the DM's notes are too thorough, they can be less open to players' improvisation, which is one of the most integral parts of the game.

For D&D DMs, Adaptation Beats Preparation

Learning how to play D&D introduces a new hobby, but also teaches players and DMs important life skills.

Dungeons & Dragons players may have few limitations on decision-making, but that freedom is also something that Dungeon Masters can use to their advantage. Only on rare occasions will players quickly agree on a course of action, with the majority of decisions requiring substantial debate. There are several benefits to this process, the first of which being that the DM usually doesn't need to prep as much as they think, because players often spin their wheels for some time. In addition, this lets D&D players create their own awesome moments and story ideas that the DM can incorporate on the fly, since the time players spend arguing, the DM can spend preparing to accommodate their plans. The few exceptions to the players debating over their next steps typically involve a lack of choices or a fairly obvious path forward. In either case, this situation will likely be obvious to the DM beforehand, allowing them to simplify their preparations.

By keeping their preparation focused and maintaining an open mind, DMs can relieve their pre-game stress and improve the quality of their campaign at the same time. Being a DM comes with more responsibility than being a player, but it's important to remember that the DM is a player too, and their enjoyment is just as important as that of any other player. With all its moving parts, Dungeons & Dragons is at its best when the DM and their players work together to tell the story they all want to tell.