View Full Version : General DMing advice

2012-09-10, 02:52 AM
Hi all,
I'm a relatively new DM, with very little experience, and I need some general advice about what to do. I have been asked to DM a game of 3.5 DND for some friends in a couple of weeks, and I am desperate for help. I don't know the system too well, and while I have DMed a ouple of times in the past, it didn't turn out too well.:smalleek:
Could people please help out?

Dumbledore lives
2012-09-10, 02:57 AM
First keep it simple. If you are not to experienced with the system just use the core rules, that is pretty much just the Player's Handbook, it means you can know the character's capabilities fairly well and it is much easier to manage than the entirety of 3.5.

But that's not the most important thing, the most important thing is that everyone has fun, and that includes you. Ignore the rules if they aren't fun, or if they take too much time, or if they seem stupid. As the DM it's your game, but everyone is playing it, and everyone wants to get enjoyment out of it, so ask for opinions when changing things, and make sure everyone is okay with it.

Honestly if you are not sure you can make a great dungeon or are unsure of your storytelling abilities use a module, the sunless citadel is a 1st level module that is actually really good, has some meaningful role-playing, combat, and loot as well as being very little work on the DM's part, which is really good for starting out. It also transitions really easily into your own thing, as there are several elements you could pull out and make your own.

2012-09-10, 04:47 AM
Start using only the Player's Handbook. Everything else should not be used for the start, things are complicated enough as they are.

Also, don't try to be too original and do something long and complex. Start with a few adventures of go to the dungeon, explore the rooms, and defeat the villain.

Another good idea is to have the players agree what characters they want to play before they start making the characters. If everyone wants to play good characters, the other player can't play an evil one. Don't force them to play what you want, but have them come up with something that makes a party that works well together.

2012-09-10, 01:52 PM
Thanks to you both, I'll be sure to bear that in mind. (Although one of my players will not be too happy about sticking to core stuff...)

2012-09-10, 05:21 PM
If you're making your own adventure, and have the time to do so beforehand, I'd recommend planning for what I call "the four PC solutions" to challanges;

The Violent Solution:
No matter what it is, you should always be prepared if the PCs decide to attack whatever you put infront of them. Thus, you should have at least basic combat stats for everything. Even if it's a plot critical NPC. Especially if it's a plot critcal NPC.

The Peaceful Solution:
Every so often, your band of murderous magical killing-machines will decide to attempt to talk their way through an encounter, usually one that you assumed would be a basic fight. You should give at least some thought to how your NPCs would react to this, including their Sense Motive modifiers and Will saves.

The Sneaky Solution:
You should generally be prepared for your PCs to attempt to sneak past encounters, which means a) reviewing Listen, Spot, and special senses for whatever it is they're trying to sneak past, and b) knowing the layout of whatever buildings they happen to be in or around.

The "My Players Are Insane" Solution:
RPG players have an incredible knack for coming up with some of the most bizarre, out-of-left-field plans imaginable. No matter how insane, stupid, or suicidal you think a course of action might be, there is a good chance that at some point your players will try it. Thus, you should always take a moment to consider how the most ridiculous plan imaginable would actually pan out, because sooner or later your players will attempt it.

2012-09-11, 08:06 AM
The "My Players Are Insane" Solution:
RPG players have an incredible knack for coming up with some of the most bizarre, out-of-left-field plans imaginable. No matter how insane, stupid, or suicidal you think a course of action might be, there is a good chance that at some point your players will try it. Thus, you should always take a moment to consider how the most ridiculous plan imaginable would actually pan out, because sooner or later your players will attempt it.

Ah, this is why I love tabletop RPGs so much. The possibilities for insanity are endless...

Anyway, if you're not very familiar with the rules, I'd suggest running a couple of practice fights before the session, just so you can get the hang of it. It'll make fights much easier to run if you're used to the basics of combat.

Other than that, keep things simple--stick to core-only, first-level characters. That module Dumbledore mentioned earlier looks like it would be a good bet, so read through that and give it a go.

As for roleplaying...I can't help with that as much, but the main thing is to relax. Just do your best at roleplaying the NPCs, and don't worry about making mistakes; after all, this is a game, so it's no big deal.

Actually, if you've run games before, ask the players what they liked, what they didn't and why. That can be really helpful in figuring out how to get things running more smoothly next time. Even if things didn't go too well, there might have been some elements that the players liked, which you could use again.

Good luck!

Gamer Girl
2012-09-11, 09:49 AM
Could people please help out?

1.You sure want to look over the rules and make sure you understand everything. And if you don't...you have a huge forum here of people to ask...

2.Get things ready ahead of time. Anything game related, write it down. Make the monsters, encounters and such. And don't forget to make a couple generic ones that you can drop in anywhere.

3. Railroad. As a newer DM, the railroad is your friend, so hop on board. In short, you want a tight and very focused plot...one where the players have 'no choice' but to do one thing. You want to avoid having too open of a plot where the characters can just sit around, this will drag your game to a halt in no time. You also need to avoid the anything nature of an open plot, where suddenly the characters can make a left turn and go off in a direction you are not ready for them to go.

4. Keep the game fast paced. Your railroad should be a mag-Lev bullet train. You might want to forgo the 'normal boring' average type of world(''This is the town of Gault, they have lots of cows'') and go for a more extreme world. An invasion works great for this! About 20-30 minutes into the game...have an invasion. It should be obvious that your group is not meant to stop the invasion(5 folks can't stop an army of 500+), but simply has to live with it. Think of a human city, filled with 5,000 orc 'peace guards' on every corner and in every building.

A ticking clock can also work (''you must put the stone in the hole by midnight'') as can greed. For greed, you simply need to give the players 'too much stuff'. This is as simple as ''Lord Tok offers to give you a sword +5 if you kill the troll in his field.'' It can be amazing to watch greed motivate a player...

5. No breaks. Never, ever let 'nothing' happen in the game, even for a minute. Always have something happen! As DM, your the one that makes things happen. Should the players stop or get stuck or otherwise slow down...be ready to jump right in and stir the pot. For example, say the players head to a tavern to 'find some information', and they do this by having their characters sit at a table and do absolutely nothing! Then you will need to step in and have the information fall right on top of them or such. Always be ready with some thugs or random monsters if things get slow.

2012-09-11, 11:13 AM
The core of every gaming session and/or campaign is always the same: Planning, planning and a buttload planning.

I recomend that you put aside a few hours (one or two is enough, in a pinch) two or three days beforehand and simply plan the coming session. That way, not only will your session be more detailed and qualitative, you will be more confident with improvising since you already got the central plot/encounters/places/NPC:s preped and ready to go.

Another piece of advice is to have some pre-made NPC-templates. Make one low-level guardsman, one haughty aristrocrat, one grizzled mercenary, one fat merchant, one dirt-farming commoner etc. (You can also have some random locations and minor quests on standby, just in case).

Peace Out.


2012-09-11, 12:16 PM
That said, it is always a great idea to have the players agree with the GM what the game will be about.
When it's made clear in advance, it will probably not happen often that the players start doing things that are completely conflicting with what you have planned. And when it still happens, you can just say that you didn't think of that possibilty at all and you're currently not able to come up with a good way to handle it, so you are asking them to not follow that plan, even though it's a good idea. That's much better than to handle it simply but having everything they come up with fail until they do what you expected them to do, even though the outcome is the same. Just say I don't know or Sorry, I don't have anything prepared for this, and usually the players say okay and are willing to go with what you've planned.

2012-09-12, 01:15 AM
Again, thanks to you all for your wonderful advice. Just a quick note- I won't be able to spend any money. I'm on a budget, so no modules. Sorry I didn't mention it before.

Gamer Girl
2012-09-12, 07:26 AM
Again, thanks to you all for your wonderful advice. Just a quick note- I won't be able to spend any money. I'm on a budget, so no modules. Sorry I didn't mention it before.

Have you checked out 83 FREE D&D Adventures?


2012-09-12, 11:13 AM
Understand that you will make mistakes. Even the best GMs make mistakes now and then.
When they occur be honest and admit it, then find ways of correcting and avoiding them in the future. If players are negatively affected then discuss it with them, remind them you are learning and move on to having a good game.

As others have said start small and build up. Running a simple dungeon module is probably the best way of getting your feet wet. As you gain in experience and confidence start broadening out to more complicated adventures and campaigns.

Do not be afraid of asking the players on a ruling you are unsure about. But remember you are the final arbitrator so you can override even the rules - though I don't recommend that when learning.

Have fun! The worst problem a GM can face is when no one (including himself) is having a good time. If this happens then stop and discuss with the players, make changes and get back to gaming fun.

Final piece of advice: you probably don't want to do a TPK running your first combat. ha

2012-09-14, 02:04 PM
no, straight off TPK would be bad...
I'm sorry to be all chop and change, but it turns out that I'm going to be running 4th edition.I have a lot more experience with 4th, and while I still am looking for advice, I'm a lot more comfortable running 4th.

2012-09-14, 02:32 PM
1) Communicate with your players before the game, and learn what style of game they're looking for. It could be a cosmic horror story, a political succession crises, a gritty story of a village banding together to protect against an invading army of [Random Fantasy Enemy], but it can help to know what style of game your players are interested in.

2) Don't let the session get bogged down. There are two primary ways to mitigate this issue. First, make sure to be familiar with any rules you expect to occur in the session. Know the spells/maneuvers that are likely to be used, and if you know a specific section of the rules will be used (such as a Underwater Combat or a similar part of the game) make sure you've brushed up on them. It can help sometimes to have a few notes if there's too much information for you to memorize. Second, try and plan out what likely outcomes are, and how those outcomes will affect the game as a whole. Some people are fantastic at creating on-the-spot events, but knowing what's likely to occur can take a load off your mind.

2012-09-14, 03:47 PM
Something that I've found from experience...

Making sure that you know the basic rules is very important, as is giving a "cheat sheet" of some kind to your players so that they don't have to flip open the rulebook to find out what their powers do.

However, if a situation comes up where you don't know the rule, I suggest the following quick resolution:

1) Check if anyone knows the rule well. If yes, follow their advice. If no, move to #2.
2) If several things are happening at once, put that thing on pause, and ask the player to quickly look it up while you resolve the other things. If they can't, or there aren't other things happening, move to #3.
3) Glance at the rulebook to see if you know where the rule can be found. Give yourself about twenty seconds. If you can't find it then, move to #4.
4) Make an arbitrary call of your own, without checking the rules further. Then go to #5.
5) Make a note about the rule. After the session is over, look it up to see how close your call was. Let players know what the official rules are, for future reference (unless you plan to stick to your call in all future sessions, in which case let players know that.)

Make sure that players know that this is going to be a thing; a lot of people get antsy about rules changes. But in my experience, the damage to a session from a single dubious call is a lot less than the immersion-shattering "five minutes searching through rulebooks for a single unusual event" situation, especially if it becomes a habit.

2012-09-14, 04:02 PM
Use Core Rules Only!

* Find a decent module
* Research it online for faults and fix any glaring issues
* Read the Module completely in advance
* If you have time think about points in the Module where players may go off track and try to think up solutions to keep the game moving (not to force them the direction you want to go)
* Make sure the group knows that this is a cooperative event not a competitive one, I imagine you don't want players constantly challenging you.
* During the game, if they dispute a rule call let them know in advance they have a short time to find proof you are wrong. If not then it stands for now. If they find proof you are wrong later, run it the correct way from then on.
* Be flexible!!

2012-09-14, 10:11 PM
Before the "actual" campaign starts, it helps a lot to run a "tutorial" session, so everyone (including you) gets an idea of how roleplaying and game mechanics work. If someone dies in the tutorial, no big deal, because it didn't "actually happen".

Before my first game, my brother ran me through an extremely simple session, which was completely separate from the plot. There was an NPC who asked for help (roleplaying, social skills), and then a fight when the PCs got to the mission location (combat mechanics). You can also stick some terrain types and obstacles in the tutorial fight, so people know, for example, you can only move 1/2 speed through difficult terrain, and you can only charge in a straight line. You can also introduce combat maneuvers (grapple, trip, disarm, etc), eiher in that session or later on by having enemies use them on PCs.

Also, a "straight line" is any two squares whose center-points you can connect with an uninterrupted straight line. I thought for a while you could only charge in 8 directions, but that's wrong; you can charge in any direction you please.

2012-09-22, 03:28 PM
Thanks once again!
I'm actually running the session, so here goes! Thanks again for all the advice, I'll keep it all in mind.
I might tell you all what worked and what didn't afterwards, partly because I think some of you will be curious and partly because there will be other new DMs out there and this sort of stuff is helpful.:smalltongue: