“The first pancake is for the cat.” I first heard this saying from a podcasting friend of mine as he described his initial production effort. It was a new format for him, with a new team and new equipment. While he wasn’t especially pleased with the outcome, he also wasn’t that disappointed or surprised. The first pancake of the batch is never quite right, so you just plan it as a write it off. Do cats even eat plain pancakes? Bing and Google both failed to connect me with the original saying.
This sentiment holds true on both sides of the dungeon master’s screen in Dungeons and Dragons. The most obvious example is in character creation. Whether you use the DnD Insider’s Character Builder or stick with the books, there’s no way to really know how it’s going to come together until you play through an encounter or two. Many powers have nuances that are easily overlooked; others work best in conjunction with the abilities of other characters or against certain monsters. Sometimes things seem more fun on paper than in actual play. For this reason, in my games it is common for new player characters to experience some retooling after their introduction. Just last night I realized that my new druid’s magic staff’s item daily only works with arcane magic.
There are many analogous elements on the DMing side of things. Describing environments, running encounters and negotiating the rules are skills that get better with use, and no one is as good at it initially as they will become with practice. At the same time, most players are usually just happy to have someone DMing the game, just as cats are happy to get that first pancake. This is what makes the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle so attractive. Nothing is ever perfect at first, and almost everything has room for improvement.
With that in mind, it’s wise to focus on expanding a few skill sets at a time. If you’re brand new to D&D, consider using a pre-published adventure initially. When you start designing your own encounters, keep it relatively simple at first by limiting the number of different creature and terrain types.