Can You Play Dungeons And Dragons Without A DM?

This guide will help you find a way to play D&D without a DM if you have a group of people who want to play Dungeons & Dragons but no one wants to be the Dungeon Master.

However, be aware that it is difficult. D&D was created specifically to have a dungeon master, and if you can’t find someone who will do it well, or at least halfway reasonable, your best bet is to simply choose someone from your group to run the game.

However, if having someone as the Dungeon Master is not an option, there are a few options available for playing D&D without one:

  • Play through an existing adventure and adapt it to not use a DM
  • Play a generated adventure
  • Play a campaign specifically written for no DM
  • Have the DM play a character as well (you’ll still need a DM, but they’ll also get to play)
  • Play a different system that isn’t D&D but is designed to be played without a Dungeon Master

We’ll go over the fundamentals of each of these methods below so you can decide which one is right for you, and then point you to the best resources for that method.

Can you play D&D without a DM?

Dungeons and Dragons can still be played without a Dungeon Master. There are no official rules or adventures for playing without a DM because D&D was designed with a dungeon master in mind, but there are third-party supplements that provide the rules for adapting any adventure to play without a DM, as well as third-party adventures built specifically for play without a DM.

How To Play A D&D Adventure Without DM

One way to play D&D without a DM is to run through published adventures.  The book DM Yourselves teaches you how to do this, by explaining how you can work through a published so you can run a DM-less campaign.

The book is really cool because it teaches you how to read and work through a campaign book without spoiling it for yourself, as well as gives you ways to emulate monsters and sidekicks so that they are autonomous and still do things that will surprise you.

We talked about the sibling book, DM Yourself, in our article on how to play D&D solo, and it’s also a really cool book that may be worth reading if you want more techniques for playing D&D without a DM.

What books do I need to play D&D A Generated Adventure Without a DM?

One of the best ways to play a generated D&D adventure without a DM is to use two things in combination:

No DM Adventures & Campaigns

An adventure that is specifically made to be played without a DM is The Blood Queens Defiance, which also has 2 sequels: Journey to Beryl’s Reach and Valbrik’s Silver Ring.  These adventures use a really cool system to play D&D without a DM, as you get each get cards for different aspects of an adventure, such as puzzles, combat and roleplaying.  You then each reveal cards that are strung together to make an adventure.  Provided the players are all willing to put in some work to spice things up and role-play and tell the story well, it feels like playing a real game of D&D.

We also cover a number of D&D adventures that work in a similar way to choose your own adventures in our article on playing D&D solo, which with some modifications to make the encounters harder could also be played as a group.

Can The Dungeon Master Also Play as A Character?

If you all want to play together, there’s another option: have the DM join the party as a party member.

However, if this works or not is really dependent on what the DM wants to get out of the game.  If they want to have some fun roleplaying with a bunch of their friends then playing as an additional party member could be fun.  However, if they want the element of surprise and adventure they won’t be getting it, as they’ll still need to DM the game and not ruin it for their friends.

This can also be really hard – it’s a lot of work to DM a story, create a world, and play all the monsters and NPCs.  Adding in another player to role-play sounds like it could lead to cognitive overload if you’re not already a very experienced Dungeon Master.

How to Deal With Combat Without a DM?

The rules in DM Yourselves provides a system to run monsters during combat and make them autonomous.

But if you aren’t playing like this you can nominate one player to play the monsters, or take turns playing the monsters against each other.  While it may not be as surprising for the player playing the monsters, as long as you take actions in such a way that you’d expect the monsters to behave (so no doing something that’s weak just because you want to win) then it should still be a good, fun combat experience.

Tips For Playing Without A DM

There are a few more tips that you should consider doing when playing without a DM to help improve your experience:

  • Narrate together – as a group you’ll be creating the story together, and having different people contribute by taking turns keeps things interesting and gives some room for all the players to have little surprises.
  • Learn about the monsters – ogres are dumb, dragons are cunning, and rats will attack the player closest to them.  It’s good to have an idea how a monster will attack so you can know how to play them in the expected way as you won’t have a DM to decide how they behave.  The book The Monsters Know What They’re Doing is a great guide on most of the common monsters in D&D and how they would act during combat.
  • There is no need to play D&D properly – the point of D&D isn’t necessarily to play “properly”, it’s to have fun.  So if you are bending the rules a bit to be able to all play together rather than having a DM, well, do what works best for you.

Similar Games to D&D but without a DM

While you may already be familiar with how D&D works, it was originally designed with a DM in mind and requires quite a bit of work and modification to make it work as a game without a DM. 

There are quite a few other tabletop RPG games that are specifically designed to play cooperatively without a Dungeon Master, and in my opinion, these work a lot better than adapting D&D.

Here are some of the best systems for playing a tabletop RPG without a DM, with each option offering something unique.

  • Goblins Quest – from the same creator as Honey Heist (which is quite a famous light RPG) this doesn’t require a game master and is full of light-hearted humour.
  • Fiasco – similar to Goblin Quest, this is a fun light-hearted game to play one-off adventures.  It’s a GM-less cooperative game for 3-5 players, where you will go on fun but disastrous adventures with your party of heroes who don’t think situations through that well (which may be similar to your regular D&D party).
  • Ironsworn – This was also on our list for solo gameplay, but it has a great cooperative mode and is a dark fantasy setting and is probably the most similar option to D&D.  Check out some gameplay here to see if the game is right for you.
  • Microscope – This is a no-GM, no-prep cooperative roleplaying game in which the players collaborate to create the world and narrate the story. It’s quite different from D&D in that it has a sci-fi theme and allows you to utilise it as a narrative telling engine at a much higher level than D&D (for example you can zoom out to watch the rise and fall of civilisations or zoom in to see specific people).
  • Rangers of Shadowdeep – this is not technically an RPG but a co-operative miniature skirmish game where you play through quests.  It feels a lot like an RPG though and is a lot of fun so worth looking into.
  • Boardgames – there are many board games that give you the same feeling as D&D but are designed to be cooperative experiences.  For example games such as the D&D board games or Gloomhaven, for a full list check out our article on board games similar to D&D, and specifically look at the Heavy Hitter and RPG and Adventure sections.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that you CAN play D&D without having a Dungeon Master, but it’s not easy and it takes time to learn how to run the game by yourselves.

It’s nice not to have the pressure of having one person in your group be the DM, with all the preparation and work that requires. And you can all play together, which is something that is often missing as DMs usually aren’t in the party.

But it does take more effort to get started and keep going, especially if you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons.  There are also lots of other games that you should consider that let you play cooperatively without a DM (see the list above) that arguably work better than D&D if you don’t have a DM.

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