View Full Version : Novice DM

2007-07-09, 10:05 PM
Hey, I'm starting to plan out my first real campaign. The last one I ran was episodic and didn't really have an underlying plot. This time, I have a semi solid plot, and about two weeks to plan it out before I start running it. My question is, how much should I plan out? Should I know the final boss? Should I have a complete idea of what the PCs should be doing and when?

I guess I'm just having trouble trying to give my players, and their characters, enough freedom in my world.

2007-07-09, 10:16 PM
I guarantee you'll get contradictory advice, but here's mine for what it's worth.

1. Don't plan on PCs doing certain things. They will surprise you...constantly.
2. Do plan on what the BBEG (or plot point if it isn't an individual or group) will attempt to accomplish.
2 a. Note the things which will happen no matter what the PCs do, plan out which of then the PCs will hear about via rumors or news and which may require extra effort to learn.
2 b. Also note what the PCs may change, stop, or interfere with...I prefer a basic decision tree of possible outcomes.
3. Don't get overly detailed too soon. The next session or two may be planned out in some detail, but further plans should probably be outlines and subject to change depending on PC actions.
4. Have fun!

2007-07-09, 10:28 PM
Go read Rich's (the Giant) advice here (http://www.giantitp.com/Gaming.html) The threads about gaming theory are really great and in the one thread he breaks down how to make a great bbeg. MY best advice to you is to remain flexible. the PC's ARE GOING TO DESTROY YOUR PLOT. There is no way to avoid it. So when they throw you a curve, have a couple random one shot style adventure hooks to throw at them while you get them back on track.

2007-07-09, 10:58 PM
I've found the advice in Adventure Builder (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/ab/20060728a) articles to be pretty good, and centered around D&D 3.5

I DM'ed other systems before (Mage, Vampire, and Homebrew) and i was unsure on how to run D&D adventures. Best advice on those guides is on how to keep your players happy in game (it's so different from WoD games, where the intrigue and plot were the determining factors, my first week i had all my D&D players yawning. Don't worry it may happen to you too, but you will get better in time)

2007-07-09, 11:18 PM
As you've already run before, I'll forgo the basics. Campaign design is really kinda simple. Each adventure, instead of an isolated episode, is part of phases of the BBEG's master plan.

Come up with a master plan, set up a timetable with tasks spaced out one per adventure, have the minions go about those task with the more powerful higher up ones in charge of latter stages, then have the villain react to the actions of PC's in the way they would based on how you've made him.

You run the world and NPCs, players run the protagonist heroes, the interaction of the two makes plot. Tah-da, campaign!

2007-07-09, 11:26 PM
I use an outline format, bulleting important plot info or bits about NPCs they may or may not interact with and book mark my Monster Manuals. If it's a dungeon crawl or something similar, I draw a rough map and put my outline bullets directly on it. When I was new, I used to write out everything and do up sheets for most major NPCs. I quickly found out that was a waste, as there are so many different things the players think up they'd skip parts or not talk to NPCs I was sure they would. I also tended to bore the players for the first few sessions. The best thing going for me was I was already friends with my players so they were easy going with my game.

2007-07-10, 12:24 AM
Although I should probably be considered a baby DM, I'd have to agree with most here: too much planning can only become too much headache.

I'm getting ready to start my second campaign (the first one died after we all moved away after college), but here's how I'm planning it:

I have a basic world structure, including BBEG. Within the structure are three or four story arcs that the PCs can tackle as they wish, each with a tie back to the BBEG.

As has already been said, the players will mess up your plot if you try to narrow it down too far. I've heard many DMs say they have a great storyline to put their characters through, yet the best way I've heard the game described from a player's point of view is that they are "playing a story." For the players to really enjoy it, they need to have some room to write the story as well. It is for the DM to set the structure, and the PCs to guide the flow.

Meh - You probably shouldn't worry about anything I say, though. I rarely make sense. :smallconfused:

Kurald Galain
2007-07-10, 03:47 AM
Before playing, make a list of 10 or 20 random names. Whenever you need an NPC for an arbitrary reason (say, a shopkeeper, or a farmer, or whatnot) give it a name from the list.

Avoid debating rules during action or tension scenes. If there's an exciting scene, it's far better to arbitrarily give people circumstance bonuses or penalties as you see fit, than to spend a minute looking up the exact text in the rule book.

It's easier to create a basic setting than a full story. Sketch a map of a city or bit of country as appropriate, add a few key locations and NPCs and some mysterious stuff and just see what the players will do in the first session.

Don't railroad, because players will not appreciate that. However, it is perfectly fine to posit that "the castle lies in whichever direction the party happens to choose to travel to" (assuming said castle was not on the known map).

Keep a cheat sheet at hand that lists the ability scores for all characters (and their AC, so you don't have to ask it every time). Give "idea clues" to the char with highest int, have NPCs talk to the PC with highest cha first, etc.

A good story is more important than a random die roll. If something is crucial to your plot, don't roll for it. Don't be afraid to roll behind the screen and ignore the result if it's just too wrong.

Avoid overcomplicating your plot. If the players don't understand it, they won't appreciate it.

Avoid over-powerful NPC allies that can do everything better than the PCs, because it's annoying.

2007-07-10, 04:56 AM
get a basic idea of the story and make the rest up on the fly

2007-07-10, 08:53 AM
I put a lot of effort into plots, so obviously I don't like seeing them get derailed, but I'm also not about to deny the PCs the ability to derail plots. To keep the plots going when the PCs do unexpected shenanigans, I have a simple trick: all plots in the game are not my plots - they're the property of NPCs. If a stroyline starts going awry, the NPC that caused that storyline is going to react and try to right things. This sort of mentality allows you to keep the game rolling in spite of your players.

2007-07-10, 01:14 PM
Thank you all so much for your help! I really appreciate it! I think I can start setting up an outline for the general stuff, thus starting the campaign, if I get a free moment. Thanks again!

2007-07-10, 02:02 PM
Valadil's got an excellent point.

Think of your plot as "What's happening", not "What's happening to the PCs". If you've got a bad guy, or an evil cabal of demon-worshippers, or whatever, they're going to be doin' stuff, regardless of what the PCs are doing.

For example, if you want the party to defend an outpost against an attack of orcs, but the party decides not to go there in the first place, don't give up. Make them HEAR about the massacre, and have someone from the next town offer a reward for taking the orcs out.

Any decent campaign is going to be more about the overall story, and not the individual plot points. If the players get off-track, there's almost always a way to bring 'em back, even if you have to do a dungeon crawl in the orcs' hideout, instead of your "hold the fort" scenario. Make the plot big enough, and there's virtually no way the PCs can escape, while at the same time, they have the freedom to do what they want.

Not only will it give the party freedom, and make the campaign more realistic and less railroady, it'll make you think about what your bad guy would do next, and that always makes for a better bad guy.

2007-07-10, 02:29 PM
In addtion to sticking to your BBEG doing what needs to be done, don't be afraid to let the players fail. Oeryn touched on it in his post but it can't be stressed enough. Let the PCs do what they want but make sure that they understand that there are consesquences to their actions (the above mentioned orcs massacre a village because you thought it was more important to spend three days [insert underwater basket weaving task here]. They should have an opportunity to make it up (now we can go wipe out those bad orcs) but it should be harder than stopping them in the first place (now they have defenses and better weapons to overcome, not to mention experience at slaughtering all those innocents...thery're spoiling for another fight).

We all get to caught up in the fact that the PCs have become the central focus and it makes the world revolve around them. Give them a wake up call, destroy something when they screw around to long. This shouldn't be a video game where you can put off a quest because it's somewhat inconvenient at the moment {but I'm not done learning to weave baskets underwater you mean DM}. If they want that flexibility, there are a number of titles out there that will allow it...it's up to you whether your game allows it.

Outline of the plot+Timeline to match the outline+PC decisions=Campaign.

2007-07-10, 02:34 PM
Don't plan out a plot. Don't plan out "event X, then event Y, then event Z".

Instead, plan out bad guys and their goals. Then have them do whatever they can to accomplish those goals. As the PC's succeed at certain tasks, they'll make the bad guys have to reach their goals in other ways.

You can also plan out good guys and their goals, which occasionally gives the PC's choices to make (do I help good guy X, or go after bad guy Y?)

2007-07-10, 05:03 PM
Thanks for finishing my point, SC78. That's exactly what I meant to say, and forgot.

If you operate your bad guy like an actual person, he's not going to give the PCs a chance to get set and ready, before he attacks. If they're in the wrong place, then they're in the wrong place. Bad things happen, and it's up to them to fix it, or not. Eventually, they'll either decide to get involved and fix what they've screwed up, or they won't, and you've probably got the wrong group for a long-term campaign.