View Full Version : A New DM

2007-09-15, 01:17 PM
Hi all,

I've been playing D&D for about two years now in my Sci-Fi/Fantasy club, which meets once a week every Friday for a couple hours after school. Usually, I'm a player. However, with the last two graduating classes, we have lost all but one of our DM/GMs. Last year, we had two DMs, two groups. Massive groups, about 10+ people per group, which is an awful lot.

With the new school year and a new sci-fi club, the moderator asked people to for more people to GM for campaigns. I volunteered since I'm an upper-classmen and because I felt sorry for the only DM there. Now here's my predicament: I've never DMed before. While the past DMs were good, none were the best; the one that graduated last year liked combat a little too much.

Do any experienced DMs (or players who can provide tips. =P) have any tips for a new GM/DM? I know I'm not the only one in this fix (there are two others) and we'd gladly like some tips (the internet is turning up TOO much information).

EDIT: I should mention I'm not running D&D, I'm running D20 Modern.

2007-09-15, 01:24 PM
Well, I can give you some tips as an experienced and usually-liked DM (some of my players don't like my no-fudges policy).

- Ask yourself what kind of campaign you want to run. Heavy story? Political intrigue? Paranormal investiagation? Shoot-em-Up? Playing D20 Modern, I reccomend thinking of the game like a movie.

- Once you have that concept in mind, inform your players about it. Make sure you tell them what is and isn't allowed (in an Arcana game, psionics is generally a No). Don't be afraid to ban or nerf if you have to - YOU need to be the authority, not the players.

- Guide players, but don't railroad them. Reward creativity and cleverness in getting a job done. Remember, it's as much their game as it is yours.

- At this stage in the game, homebrew is a bad idea. Stick to the core.

- You are -not- ready to handle powergamers - keep your nerf bat handy to make them reasonable.

- Try to stick to a small group, four to six at most.

I hope those help ^_^

2007-09-15, 02:06 PM
Yes, thanks they do a lot. =)

Dairun Cates
2007-09-15, 02:44 PM
As for non-D&D/non-specific advice.

1. Be flexible. You will need to change the plot at a drop of the hat sometimes. Eventually a point will come up where you will need to almost instantaneously create a side plot to keep the tension. Be prepared for it. If you're stumped, make someone make a skill check, give them a vague hint, and write down the best theories.

2. Be prepared. Hopefully your players aren't at the stage yet where they'll naturally drive away from any plot you throw at them. You shouldn't need to improve entire sessions yet. As such, take your time to really plan out the session ahead. Plan for 3-4 likely scenarios.

3. Be flexible. Players will try weird things sometimes, like swinging on a chandelier and jumping down on the enemy. If you don't immediately know how it would work, but think it would add to the game, make something up. Don't break the flow of the game. Player's being creative usually means they're getting into it.

4. Lie if you have to. Not a popular bit of advice for players that don't DM to hear, but you WILL have to occasionally fudge dice rolls and nerf or power up enemies. It basically inevitable, because when you start out, you WILL over or underestimate your player's power level or resourcefulness. This really isn't too bad unless you fudge dice against your players. Remember, you are essentially a host to the party, not the ruthless American Gladiator the players have to rush through.

5. Be flexible. Give the players multiple options on how to reach their goal. Even if its the same goal no matter what path you take, they generally won't accuse you of railroading if you can keep it interesting and mostly open-ended.

6. Deal with player problems early. They do not fix themselves, they fester.

7. Be flexible. Have a various number of tricks up your sleeve. The same encounters of goblins over and over are boring. Be sure, regardless of how serious or silly, to mix up the encounters and sessions every once in a while. It's help keep the game from going stagnant.

8. Have fun. Make sure the game content is something you enjoy as well. If the GM doesn't have fun, the players usually don't either.

9. Be Flex... Ah hell. You get the point.

Shas aia Toriia
2007-09-15, 03:21 PM
Not sure if this was said yet, but be flexible!:smallbiggrin:

But really, try to have at least the basic outline of the plot, and give players 3-4 options on what they can do. If they want to go back and do something you suggested a week or even a month ago, feel free, but make sure the situation has changed to reflect the passing of time.

Example from one of my own sessions:

DM: Having found out the temple in the ocean is actually a fraud, you head back to the port full of dissapointment. As you reach the port, you remember the medallion from the pirate ship you just defeated, as well as the paper with the symbol of an ancient house with orders to kill you. Just at that second, a villager runs to you, asking for your help (insert problem here).

Which do you choose?

Dairun Cates
2007-09-15, 06:04 PM
Not sure if this was said yet, but be flexible!:smallbiggrin:

Damn. I knew I forgot something.

2007-09-15, 06:48 PM
A lot of different DMs focus on different aspects of games. Combat, story, puzzle solving, and roleplay interaction are all variables depending on who is running the game. Some DMs aren't aware of this and others put a lot of thought into it. You can run a good game focusing on any of those aspects, just so long as you remember that however you prioritize different parts of the game, your players come first. It doesn't matter how awesome your plot is, if it's making players unhappy it's bad for the game. Period.

2007-09-15, 08:02 PM
Since you're a new DM I do recommend a published campaign setting. You're not yet experienced enough to build one on your own, but after running a whole campaign you should do it. One thing that often works when DMing is take a perfectly normal and well known monster like the orc. Give it some special abilities and extra HD. At first your players will think, "oh it's just another orc." Then the orc breathes fire at them and they realize that this isn't just any normal monster. And the beauty of this is that you can do this to any monster that almost everyone recognizes, from mind flayers to gnolls. Just don't overuse it, otherwise your players will learn that most of your monsters aren't normal. Actually, what I just said applies to DMing a lot. Don't use one specific strategy with your players too much, or else they'll be able to predict almost everything you do.

2007-09-15, 08:02 PM
From running in d20 Modern...

1) Do not allow, under any circumstances, your players access to White Phosphorus Grenades, or Det Cord. There are few weapons in d20 Modern more potent than the Det-Cord Noose.

2) F/X, while fun, can be difficult to integrate. Consider how much, if, at all, you want to include. Different Races, sure. Magic Items and Actual spellcraft? YMMV.

3) d20 Modern allows for a very, very, very nice "We've got to survive" feeling. Running a "28 Days Later" style Zombie campaign, with your players picking their way acroos Wal-Marts and Shopping Malls, towards the safety of some Army Base can work startlingly and brilliantly effectively in d20 Modern. This can make work for you as a DM much easier as well. Create one "Zombie" template creature. Then, create four to six Overlays for your template. "Fast" Zombie moves 20' more per round. "Strong" Zombie has +4 str. "Sick" Zombie deals a point of Con damage with each hit. Your choice, but draft up about six of these Zombie Options packages, and drop them onto a group of zombies. Makes a diverse and tactically difficult-to-handle mob of creatures that much easier to generate.

4) This is d20 Modern, not Shadowrun. The Smart Hero cannot implant an iPod in his forehead. No matter how much he wants to.

2007-09-15, 09:28 PM
Always communicate with your players and be perceptive and sensitive. You should be able to realize when they don't like what's going on, or are truly enjoying the game. If you sense something is wrong, ask the person directly and let the players know that they can open up to you.

I'm not an experienced DM, I only started running a campaign last June. Thankfully my players are all former students, so I know them enough to tell when something is wrong. If you don't really know your players that well, I'd say it's more or less a requirement if you want to run a game everyone enjoys. RPing is supposed to be a social game, after all.

2007-09-16, 01:19 PM
I've discovered that I've got some newbies in my group. Two of them. None own PHBs or any RP Books. In fact, they haven't RPed before. I suspect that they're in this for the combat.

Should I shift campaign focus for a bit to more combat oriented? I had bad experiences last year with combat; 1 round took about 10 minutes to complete with all the people.

I have one experienced player, but not too experienced. He started last year and has gotten pretty into it and knows what he's doing.

I also have one person who likes to know EVERY single little detail that exists.

Any tips on how to deal with newbies? Should I just print out a basics SRD and hand 'em out? And should I deny or completely allow for every detail to be given out? I've barely gotten a campaign started in my head and the first session is Friday.

Thanks for all your tips guys,

2007-09-16, 07:02 PM
I need to know how many people are in your group, but usually, 4 party teams hit the sweat spot. Not too long, and not to short.

Right now, you need to get goals for the campaign. What are the players trying to accomplish? Try and get as much input for your player in this. Once that comes around, you can build your game around the players wants.

Unless of course, they want to bash stuff. I recommend this site:

2007-09-16, 07:29 PM
One very simple suggestion: Roll initive fist. As soon as they sit down have them roll it and have them roll it at the end of every combat. Use it for the next combat so everyone can move seemlessly into roundtime. Trust me, it is really really helpful for saving time.

Doing the same for spot and listen checks can be awesome too.

2007-09-16, 07:32 PM
4) This is d20 Modern, not Shadowrun. The Smart Hero cannot implant an iPod in his forehead. No matter how much he wants to.

Now I don't know much about d20 modern, but that sounds like the Strong Hero's job.

As for players screwing up your plot, there is a simple way to handle it. Don't write a script. Instead, focus on all the NPC characters in the scenario you want to run and what their motivations, available resources and personalities are. With those things written down you can have reasonably believable characters who can react to unforeseen changes without you having to call break time and rethink what the hell you're doing.

2007-09-16, 07:33 PM
Start out the campaign as pretty combat intensive, and slowly introduce some other things over time. And if your going to use the ideas that I posted earlier, use normal monsters for a while before doing what I recommended, so that the newbies actually get used to some monsters.

Shas aia Toriia
2007-09-16, 07:35 PM
One very simple suggestion: Roll initive fist. As soon as they sit down have them roll it and have them roll it at the end of every combat. Use it for the next combat so everyone can move seemlessly into roundtime. Trust me, it is really really helpful for saving time.

Doing the same for spot and listen checks can be awesome too.

Never tried this before, but it seems useful. That way, you can easily say what they can and can't hear, without rolling every second of the day.

2007-09-16, 08:05 PM
Now I don't know much about d20 modern, but that sounds like the Strong Hero's job.

Yes, but only Tough Heroes can use the iPod after it's been implanted.

2007-09-16, 08:27 PM
A few things that work for me:

1. Don't give the players tasks that somebody else is making them do give them complicated problems that can be dealt with in a variety of ways. Nobody loves being an errant boy of somebody who is powerful enough to do the PC's task easily if he just found the time. If you do have somebody give the PCs a specific task to do have it just be one piece of the puzzle not the whole adventure (for example: PC's employer pays them to clear the beggars away from his house, one of the beggars is a spy, the beggars are all being protected/exploited by a group of thugs who don't have good relations with another organized crime unit, and that organized crime unit has been loaning money to the guy that the PCs employer's daughter has been secretly dating and he's planning to pay them off with forged money, etc. etc. etc.). If the PCs don't deal with a chunk of the puzzle just recycle it later. This doesn't have to be complicated, it could be something as simple as "zombies want to eat your brains, what do you do?"

2. Don't give the players pre-set allies and enemies, just people with personalities who will act realistically. For some reason my PCs always end up allying with the people who I think they'll fight and killing the people who I think they'll ally with (for example: horse in a Viking horse fight gets drugged and goes wild, I thought they'd investigate the crime and help the owner. PCs instead frame the owner, kill him when he gets angry and con his heir while the party leader gets engaged to the daughter of the person I thought would be their enemy).

3. Don't love your NPCs. They're there for the PCs to hack to pieces.

4. Murphey's law is fun, learn it and love it.

5. Make the PCs feel like the stars of the story and show them how the choices they made matter.

6. Unusual premises for adventures can be some of the best fun (example: players are involved in an inheiritance case, do they try to find evidence or do they attempt to bribe and threaten the panel of judges? And how do they deal with thugs sent by the other litigant?).

7. If there's only one solution to whatever problem you're posing the PCs you're doing something wrong.

8. If there isn't a good reason for the PCs to do whatever adventure you want them to do you're doing something wrong.

9. If the players think up a creative way to kill your big bad NPC without getting scratched let them (example: PCs find gang boss's mistress, threaten/bribe her into cooperating, rent the room next to her, bore murder holes in the wall between the two rooms and cover them with bits of wood so they're not obvious, when mob boss comes to visit his mistress big strong PC bars the door closed and the rest blow him to pieces through the murder holes, gang boss I thought would be a hard fight can't do much of anything, but so what? It was fun for the PCs.).

2007-09-16, 08:31 PM
Give players fun loot. Especially at low and mid levels where you cannot yet give them all out magic items without making them too powerful, alchemical items are fun. Encourage their use.

2007-09-16, 08:35 PM
Know your group, know what they like to do.
Know Yourself: know what you are good at running, the first few sessions do various types of adventures, a mystery here, a hack and slash there, and use how well those sessions go to determine what types of games you do later on.

2007-09-16, 08:53 PM
Wow, thanks for all your posts.

I should point out that I have exactly 4 people in my campaign, hits the sweet spot.

I've got as much input as I'm going to get from my players and they all love combat, which means that my campaign is centered around this element. However, I do like dragonprime's idea of slowly moving the campaign away from the combat gradually throughout the year.

I'll give the roll first, do the action later idea a try. It should help quite a bit.

And PMDM, that's a great site. Thanks for showing that to me. =)

EDIT: First real session is this Friday, where we'll finish up character sheets and begin the campaign.

2007-09-17, 04:19 AM
1. Talk to your players, find out what they actually want from the game, and not just while you're sat at the table. Give them what they want, and maybe a few things they didn't realise they wanted.

2. Find out where they all sit on the whole fudging/dice rolls in the open business. If they like them to be where everyone can see them, don't try to roll in secret. If they're not bothered about you doing so, don't roll it in the open, then change the result.

3. NPCs are not "your characters". Do not insert any NPC into the party with the express intention of giving you "someone to play". Do not invest in any of them as though they were your own PC. If there's a "gap" in the party either tailor your challenges not to continuously exploit that, or put a hireling in place to cover it and gloss over their contributions.

4. Have everyone generate characters together, at the same time, and encourage lots of co-operation in creating complementary concepts that don't end up having trouble working together. One of the biggest early game-breakers is everyone turning up to the first session with a pre-made character, and finding they've all had completely different ideas of what the campaign is about. Everyone making characters together in the open tends to avoid that, and you can have the discussion about what genre tropes apply and get common understanding and buy-in.

5. Never retroactively change NPC's plans just because you can hear the players debating and they come up with something you didn't think of. That's just lame.

6. Keep talking to your players, and get feedback on how things went. Find out what they enjoyed, and what they'd like to see done differently the next time.

2007-09-17, 04:34 AM
And let the players make a change. Unless your campaign is specifically exploring themes like hopelessness and despair (for which a postapocalyptic RPG would be suited better anyway), you should always have the choices and deeds of the PCs have impact on the world and change the course of things. After all, they are the protagonists.

NPCs accompanying the group, each with a distinct personality, can help you with setting up group dynamics and thus furthering the roleplaying, and maybe can allow you to give the players hints (or misdirections - NPCs can err, too) if need be, so including them is generally a good idea, but you must never forget that it's the PCs who are the protagonists. Therefore, the PCs should always be the ones talking/negotiating with strangers, the ones making the decisions and the ones who are ultimately decisive in whatever they are trying to accomplish - the PCs should always naturally be the leaders of the group, and the ones who (for example) face the Big Evil at the end, the NPCs delegated to defeating minions, and alike.

I find it highly useful to split a campaign into distinct chapters, each with it's own theme and climax. It leads to something interesting happening all the time, while allowing you to design things in smaller bits, instead of everything at once.

Also, I find the easiest way to design a campaign is to think up a beginning and an ending (preferably a truly awesome and memorable climax) first, and to fill the part inbetween later. This gives you starting conditions to work with, and a goal to work towards to.

2007-09-17, 06:53 AM
Also, I find the easiest way to design a campaign is to think up a beginning and an ending (preferably a truly awesome and memorable climax) first, and to fill the part inbetween later. This gives you starting conditions to work with, and a goal to work towards to.

I find the easiest way is to talk to the players, and save yourself having to second-guess what they might like.

2007-09-17, 07:11 AM
I find the easiest way is to talk to the players, and save yourself having to second-guess what they might like.Of course - I meant after that, when one proceeds to thinking up the plot itself.
I did not repeat the points others brought up, because I saw no sense in making redundant points - but asking the players what they want to is obviously point of duty number one. I ask both before the start of the campaign what kind of campaign they would want, what they would prefer as antagonists and where the journey shall take them, and after each and every session whether they were pleased with it and whether they would wish for something added, emphasised, deemphasised or changed in any way.
But since you and others brought that up before, I saw little reason to state that once again.

2007-09-17, 03:39 PM
Anyone know a good campaign world I can set this in? As much as I want to use the modern-day, I'd probably get in trouble for that so an alternative is best.