View Full Version : Intro to DMing

2007-09-17, 11:45 PM
This is essentially for me, but I figure other people can look here for advice as well.
Any tips/quips/comments/etc for someone looking to DM? Like, should I run a few pre-made adventures to get my legs, or dive straight into the campaign I'm designing? Any common mistakes to avoid? How do you deal with people who powergame at the expense of role-playing? (I dont mind it in general, but there's at least one person I play with that takes it a bit far sometimes)
A ton of other questions that I cant think of right now? Anything on that? What about the other thing?
Seriously, though, any advice would be welcome.

2007-09-18, 12:05 AM
Make sure you have stats available for everyone and everything that the players might come in contact with. More than likely, the players are going to fight them.

2007-09-18, 12:13 AM
Download the module 'A Dark and Stormy Knight' from the Wizards website. It's simple and short, and can be easily placed in just about any setting.

2007-09-18, 12:27 AM
Are we talking RL DMing or PBP DMing?

Because it's quite different....

2007-09-18, 12:55 AM
Some DMing hints? Here are a few I've picked up

1) Know your players~ Don't run a game your players won't enjoy, if they like combat, include a lot of combat, etc.

2) If you do create your own adventure avoid Gotta-put-this-in-itis~ Keep it short, sweet and simple.

3) Notes!~ The bread and butter of any DM (at least any I've met), work with a system that makes sense to you and is easily accessible

4) Since the group I play with only own the PDFs of many of our books, I (and my group's other DMs) need to copy down their own stat blocks. I find it useful to include only the bare minimum I need for running that particular NPC or monster. I find it speeds up play immensely. Even if you own the books you might want to do this anyways, as copying down the stat blocks allows you to put them in a format that works best for you.

5) If you have a DM for your group around, and you like their style, ask them for advice.

6) Distinctive encounters~ Try and include a really distinctive, difficult encounter, strange terrain, strange abilities on your monsters or NPCs...a perfect place to test out any homebrew and throw your players for a loop. Make the session memorable, if only because of that encounter. BBEGs are a perfect place to put these distinctive encounters, after all, you want your villains to be memorable. I find this to be particularly effective with the more powergaming inclined

7) Start small, expand as needed~ If you are designing your own setting, start small and expand as needed, don't start with a huge cosmology and political landscape that will be pretty much useless if your players don't leave Thorpeville and friendly farmer Joe's barn.

8) The first game of D&D I ever played was a pre-made adventure, so while I can't discard them completely, I find that creating your own adventure is a lot more satisfying and can be a custom fit for your players (See point 1). For example, if no one in your group likes playing a rogue...why would you bother with a bunch of traps that only serve to annoy your players.

9) On that note, give your players each a time to shine~ An NPC with Spell resistance or Damage reduction to allow the Wizard or Fighter, respectively, a time to show off their strong suits. If you do have a rogueish type, put in a trap or two, if you have a Bard, put in some social encounters, that kind of stuff.

2007-09-18, 05:25 AM
Download the module 'A Dark and Stormy Knight' from the Wizards website. It's simple and short, and can be easily placed in just about any setting.

Wholeheartedly agree.

My other advice is be sure to keep things moving. Since you are playing with your friends it's really easy to get derailed and sidetracked into nongame conversations. Although there are times and places for these occasionally they tend to break the flow and feel of the game into little bitty peices if they happen too often, not to mention keep you from getting anything done in a session.

Also, to keep things moving, take iniative, spot and listen checks at the beginning of each session. Iniative from that point take at the END of each battle. Their init checks aren't going to change and this way you can move seemlessly into combat without having to stop and pause for everyone to roll. At the end of combat folks are usually busy doing bookkeeping stuff "ooh shiny" and those moments aren't going to be disrupted by rolling iniative for the next battle.

2007-09-18, 05:36 AM
Start simple: low-level, pre-made, possibly core-only. Even if it's just for a few sessions, it's a great idea to see things from the other side of the screen before getting over-ambitious.

2007-09-18, 09:13 AM
Any tips/quips/comments/etc for someone looking to DM?

I am not sure about the age group of the people you are going to be playing with; however, this advice can be applied to any group. Try to minimize distractions in the room. It is very had to DM a campaign when there is a movie playing in the background, someone checking their email, someone playing a video game, showing a friend something in a book, making a tower out of dice, lots of out of character conversation, etc.

Set up the room that you will be playing in for the purpose of D&D. Remove distractions and have it in a place where you cannot be interrupted. For instance, nothing can kill the mood like a sibling, parent, or roommate coming into the room and asking how things are going.

If you start to see behaviors like people turning on the TV, playing a video game, lots of OOC conversations ("what are you doing this weekend"), making towers out of dice, going to check their email, etc. This might be a clue that your players are bored. If they are bored try taking a break, let them get some food. If you find they are bored often there might be a disagreement on the goals of the campaign, on their characters, on your DMing style, on the pace of the quest. Talk to your players if you suspect that they are bored. "You know, I have noticed that you guys have been making dice towers, talking about outside stuff, looking up stuff on the web. I was just wondering if there is something that I could do to hook you into the game more. Is there something that you do not like..."

Finally, campaigns can become boring if the players gain too much power too quickly.

2007-09-18, 10:10 AM
Always remember that no plan of yours will survive contact with your players.

Instead of planning for a problem to be solved in a particular way, think in terms of opponents who prepare for certain contingencies. If a villain wants to keep intruders out of a room, think of a reasonable combination of locked doors, traps, and/or guards that is within the villain's means. I say this because your players will inevitably come up with solutions to your puzzles that are completely different from what you might have envisioned, and you need to know what your villain was trying to stop in order to decide how the obstacle will handle their innovative approaches.

Know your players and party, and try to include something for everyone. If your wizard has a pet spell, make sure he has chances to shine with it. Make sure your fighters have things to hit, and your rogues have traps to disarm (or guards to bluff, or tightropes to walk, or whatever rogue-trick they specialize in). Your clerics should have opportunities to use their domain abilities, and your bards should have times for their social skills to save the day. In other words, make sure everyone has fun.

Be ready to stomp unruly players with plausible consequences. If you have a fighter who starts swinging at everything the party meets, leaving the bard no chances for negotiation, then make sure that the party -- and especially the uncooperative fighter -- loses opportunities for loot and/or prestige because of those disruptive actions. You don't want to punish fighters for being fighters, but you do want to punish players for trying to railroad the rest of the group by their actions; don't let one player make the game revolve around his/her character.

2007-09-18, 10:26 AM
Lots of great thoughts, thanks for the input. I think I'll run one or two sessions on a premade module, then pretend it was part of my world all along... a part which they will never visit again... :smalltongue:
thanks again for the advice.

2007-09-18, 11:22 AM
Most importantly: Don't forget to relax and have fun :smallsmile:.

2007-09-18, 11:25 AM
One other thing to note: when using premade adventures don't be afraid to gut the sucker. I frequently download an adventure and make use of pretty much just the map, some lightweight NPC's and some of the fodder monsters.

2007-09-18, 11:38 AM
I agree that a premade adventure is a good way to start. DMing can be overwhelming and using something someone else has written will take out a lot of the stress of it. It also gives you a good excuse if the game sucks. Oh and don't forget to read the adventure ahead of time. Your players will be bored to hell if you read it for the first time in front of them.

The other advantage of a premade module is that you can see how to prepare your own modules. When I first wanted to DM I made maps of everything and never really bothered with stuff like plot. When it came time to run the game not only was my plot overlooked, it turned out that a map of the world wasn't even all that useful in the first place.

Other than that, try to make sure everyone has fun (even you) and remember that your players are more important than your plots and NPCs. It's easy for a new DM to say screw you, player, you're ruining my plot. Doing that will ruin the game for the player, even if the plot would have been awesome otherwise.

Finally, don't be afraid to remind the players that you're new to this and they should bear with you and be supportive. If you've got players who are going to try and take advantage of your novice DMing, well, they probably would have been bad players under any DM.

2007-09-18, 11:39 AM
Common DM mistakes:

1) Creating Houserules before you fully understand the game. Despite all our griping, D&D is actually a really good game. If something isn't working well, its probably because of you and your players, not because of the rules. For example, I commonly ban Polymorph when I'm in a new group. But really, you can use Polymorph in all sorts of interesting ways that don't involve becoming a Pyrohydra. You just have to be with mature players.

2) Letting players create PCs independently. Everyone should sit at the table together, talk about the type of game they'd like to play (alignment, power level, types of adventures they'd enjoy), and then build accordingly with the DM sitting there. This fixes most niche and balance problems.

3) Overkill. Avoid enemies with high damage and/or Save or Die effects until high levels. If you're unsure how to balance an encounter, split the enemies into waves. Only throw reinforcements at them if they could take them.

4) Repetition is boring. Doing the same thing over and over again is boring. The more you repeat something, the less interesting it becomes. Make a list of various encounters - roleplaying, puzzles, traps, environmental, Skills, riddles, different types of combat, etc. Mix up what you do. Each encounter

5) If I die, let me die. If a PC makes very poor decision that they know are poor decisions, it's ok to let enemies kill them if that's what happens. If you coddle them ("Bob, didn't we have a conversation about not charging elder dragons?") and change dice rolls behind the screens, they'll just keep making poor decisions. If they die and have to pay for Resurrection, they'll start being more intelligent about their decisions.

6) Explaining Backstory: This is a problem I see with veteran DMs as well. A DM should never read aloud from a book, module, binder, his notes, or anything else for more then four sentences. If you have an elaborate game world with a thousand year old history and a cast of characters that rivals a Russian novel, that's great. But PCs need to experience it by doing things, not by sitting there and listening to you drone on and on.

2007-09-18, 12:42 PM
You';ve watched some TV/movies and read some books in whatever genre you're playing, right? Use them. Use them for mood, details, characters (modified). Take a story you like and SCAMPER (Substitue, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, reverse). You might try funny voices and find out it really works for you. You might find you like long combats better than short. And remember that terrain, foreknowledge, forewarning, and preperation are critical elements in an encounter.

2007-09-18, 12:50 PM
Look over the characters that the players want to use before you play - that way you can challenge them specifically.

Challenging the players' characters doesn't just mean fighting them: put locks and traps in for the rogue to disable and pick, neutral NPCs for the bard to persuade, tracks for the ranger to find, religious bumph for the cleric to discover - that sort of thing.

Don't ever be afraid to say "I'm not familiar with that character class / race / spell / magic item, so please can you pick another one," when someone wants to play something outside the core rule books.

If you're running a published game, read and re-read the plot hooks, then think - how can the players' characters walk away from this one? Try to work out how to lay out the best hook without too much reveal, so that you can use the other hooks for the same adventure if they ignore the first one.

Bad guys want to live too - if a fight is going badly for your villains, they probably ought to try to run away, maybe to get help from their friends. Also, a goblin sentry who isn't killed before his initiative really ought to take a free action to shout for his cohorts. Old games often had bad guys in rooms as though they never came and went from there - you should try to make your NPC more dynamic and interactive.

Viscount Einstrauss
2007-09-18, 12:57 PM
Be brave. Try out new things on a whim, try roleplaying the NPC's and adding dialect when they come up, don't fear that your players won't understand things, and above all else, allow the story to move where the story will move.

An example of good railroading-
"Late in the night, as you're just settling into bed, you hear the entrance to the inn slam open and the storm outside grows louder. You hear an elderly man, delirious, screaming for help. He relates to the bouncer and innkeeper about how a small warband of orcs have laid waste to his home and the outlying farmlands. A moment later, you hear the innkeeper knock on your door and ask if you're awake."
The players have a very clear idea of what you want them to do next, but the decision is ultimately their's. They know that you've opened up a plot node for them, and the basics for the start have been laid at their feet. If they refuse this plot and go back to bed, allow it. Perhaps have the orc warband grow and become more threatening later as a penalty to not handling it now.

An example of poor railroading-
"You approach a large stone door. It's locked."
"I pick the lock."
"Too complex. You'll need to find the key."
"I cast disintegrate on the door."
"It doesn't work. You'll need to find the key."
"I ignore it and head back to town."
"You don't want to leave. You want to find the key."
There should always be another way. Several, in fact. Having one and only one way of handling a given situation is arbitrary and boring. It's like reading one of those choose-your-own adventure novels where every decision leads to the same damn page. Bad, bad, bad.

2007-09-18, 02:28 PM
There should always be another way. Several, in fact. Having one and only one way of handling a given situation is arbitrary and boring. It's like reading one of those choose-your-own adventure novels where every decision leads to the same damn page. Bad, bad, bad.

Make sure that each way allows players to gain something based upon the effort put forth. For instance, instead of bashing the door down they search the room and find a key and a gem in an old boot. However, if they bash in the door they might alert the monsters in the next room that something is coming and plan an ambush.

Try to have realistic consequences for their actions. Try to reward searching for things early on so they learn to look for things.

I am not sure if the players you are playing with are veteran players, if they are fairly new, it can be helpful to both you and them to have an NPC going along with them. Roll up a PC with the same level and gold that they have and just have them go along with them. If players seem to get stuck you have an inside man. "Maybe we should try searching in this room, there might be a key in here."

2007-09-18, 03:25 PM
Sorry to repost, but you specifically asked about dealing with powergamers and my post completely ignored that.

I'm okay with powergaming as long as my players are around the same power level. If everyone enjoys screwing with math and mechanics, I let them. What I want to avoid is a game where someone feels their character is inadequate. I don't run games at very high power levels, and if my players are a little too good for their level, it just means the NPCs I throw their way will either be just as powergamed, or a couple levels higher.

Keeping a group small helps a bit. If everyone has a separate job to do, it doesn't matter if the fighter is hitting for 10 or 30 damage per shot - he isn't overshadowing someone else's fighter. Small groups are also easier on new GMs in general.

I've also been lucky in that when I've run a game it wasn't the only game in town. I invite players with the caveat that "my game is an exercise in interactive storytelling. I change the rules at will (I actually don't, but I reserve the right to) and they shouldn't think of it as a DnD game but as Valadil's game. If you're looking to test a new build as opposed to play a character, you probably won't like the type of game I run anyway." So far this has kept my games story based, but I'm lucky that I've had the freedom to invite players that way and I realize other DMs can't be as selective/picky.

2007-09-18, 04:05 PM
Sorry to repost, but you specifically asked about dealing with powergamers and my post completely ignored that.

Humm... come to think of it I did too.

When you get more seasoning as a DM I'd suggest going to path of 'everyone can be as optimized as they want so long as the whole party is around that level". However, as a starting DM, I wouldn't advise that. Stick to CORE and the lower level stuff. As a DM you are going to need a working knowledge of almost anything your players can pull off in order to make challenges that, well, actually challenge them. Less optimized characters and lower levels tend to have many more options at their disposal. Although you will never be able to anticipate everything, it's good to get into the kids side of the pool first.

Regarding dealing with a munchkin player... just be honest. Tell your group right off the bat that you want things to be simple for the first few levels at least. You are new at this and need to work your way into it. If they are the sorts of people you want to be playing with, they will understand.

2007-09-19, 07:12 AM
#1 rule of DMing.

Never ever be afraid to say no. Dont railroad someone all the time, but if someone wants to use some varients and feats to make some combat monster doing 200 damage a hit and getting 10 attacks a round..... simply say no you cant do that.

Just because there are a thousand splatbooks doesnt mean you have to let your players use them.

Ohhh and include situations for all your players. Give them their time to shine.

2007-09-22, 11:30 PM
Thanks again for the great advice. A lot of the same things from different people... hmmm.... probably means I should pay attention to it!

Thanks again, everyone.