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AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:31 PM
Iíve noticed that a few times a week there are new DMs looking for some good advice on how to start down the road. So, I figured Iíd start up this thread where we kindly folks of the OotS boards could pool our collective wisdom for them. I've put in the first few partsand resevd some space for sections I plan to add over the next day or two. Comments and other suggestions strongly encouraged! We all have our little tricks and good advice will be added to the main post.

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Stepping Behind the Screen

Tired of seeing the BBEG escape, dying because of a cruddy die roll or seeing the best laid plans be squashed beneath the iron boot DM fiat? Are you ready to take the reins yourself and dish out a little of your own punishment? Are you aching to sit behind a cardboard screen secretly rolling dice and cackling but arenít really sure how to go about it? You have come to the right thread. Here we will provide some friendly tips and tricks about getting your game started and then keeping it oiled and running smoothly.

Before anything else, the very first thing any new DM needs to do is accept that they are going to screw up. DMís are human just like everyone else.
You will forget to add that dodge modifier and it will change then entire course of the battle.
You will forget that tiny bit of dialogue the PCís were going to hear that would lead them where you wanted.
You will have to go look up the grappling rules and still be confused.
You will lose the bloody map someplace, spend 5 minutes searching for it only to discover it has been in your left hand the entire time.
You will screw up in myriad unimaginable (ok, well, probably pretty imaginable) other ways.
You will screw up and really, itís ok. Say it with me.

I am going to screw up.
Iím probably going to screw up badly.
But itís ok and Iím not going to worry about it.

Repeat that a few times until it sinks in. Feel better now? Good, on to the details!

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:35 PM
Genesis of an Adventuring Party

So, you have a bunch of players and they all have the coolest concept ever for a character. (Well, except for Ted who wants to be the one winged last survivor of an exploded planet. Weíll talk about him later.) What now?

First, sit everyone down before the first session and have a discussion and cover the following topics, not in any particular order:

Make everyone agree that whatever happens in the game, stays in the game. D&D is supposed to be fun for all involved and in character disputes or problems should never spill out and ruin real friendships. Whatever happens in game both you and the players should be having a good time and not getting angry with eachother. If you think your players canít handle that, donít play. There are more important things in life.

Have each player explain their character concept to the rest of the group. Seems like a waste of time but itís not. First, it helps avoid later player conflict. If one player wants to be a dwarf whose family was slaughtered by drow and attacks them on sight and another wants to play a drow, you are going to have a problem. Having everyone discuss it off the bat lets you and the players come up with a way to work around it before the game gets rolling and there is bloodshed. Also, you would be surprised what sort of interesting shared backstory players will come up with in collaboration if you give them the chance.

Demand regular and updated copies of character sheets. Seem anal? Well it is, but for good reason. If you are going to craft interesting and challenging encounters then you will need to know each characters mechanical strengths and weaknesses. Iíve found the easiest way to do this is to tell your players to keep an online Ďmasterí copy of their sheet. This way, if their sheet ever gets lost you can just print it out again or if they forget to bring their sheet you can just print them out a new copy on the spot. Personally, I prefer http://pifro.com/pro/ for this but there is no lack of sites that provide a free place to store your sheets online.

Make a party contract. Just a little agreement between characters about basic ways the party is going to split treasure and generally behave. Youíd be shocked how many problems this can avoid.

Explain any houserules you plan to employ. If you are banning Divine Metamagic, tell your players before they build a character around it.

Also, talk to each player individually before the first session.

Find out if there are any bits of backstory or other details your players donít want to share with the rest of the party yet. You need to know about it, even if itís going to be a surprise for the rest of the group. You donít want this to happen. (http://somethingpositive.net/sp05032002.shtml)

Ask about their preferred playstyle. If you don't already know it, find out what makes them tick as a player. What they apects of the game they really look forward to. Some players like hack and slash others like heavy RP. Getting a sense of what each player likes will give you a pretty good idea of how to balance adventures such that everyone, including you, has a good time.

Find out where they want to go with the character, RP wise. What are the character's overall goals in life? Do they have a backstory or any background characters they think important (not everyone will, if they don't, don't press them)? Is there any particular bit of plot regarding the character that they would really like to see happen? This information will help you craft many a plothook.

Find out where they want to go with the character, mechanically.
Are they already thinking about Prc's? If so, find out which ones so that you can work the existence of the fluff aspects into the game world, so you can willfully ignore the fluff aspects or so that you can tweak them as you desire. Feel free to ask if there is some stinky stinky cheese they'd really like to be able to pull of, just make sure that they know that you are just asking about it, not promising to give it to them.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:37 PM
Homework: Preparing for the Game

Yes, sadly the DMs lot in life involves homework. Although some DMs can fly by the seat of their pants session after session most of us need to prepare. There are a few aspects of the game that if you handle them ahead of time will keep the game moving at a good pace.

Get your junk in order:

Have Papers to Hand. Either bookmark (post-its are good for this), photocopy, or jot notes on whatever NPCs/Monsters you plan to use to slaughter have in combat with the players in the upcoming session and put them someplace you will have ready access to them. Do the same with any annoying or obscure rules you expect to come into play.

Go over the adventure. If you are running a published module, read it over a few times so you know the sequence of events pretty well. If itís your own creation, try to think about how the players could possibly throw a wrench in the works.

Go over the encounters you expect to have. Just having the stats ready isn't always enough to have a challenging and interesting encounter. Think about how the NPC/Monster would act in combat. Some monsters have a high CR because of particular abilities and if you don't think to use those they will be much easier than the ought to be and consequentally be a let down for the players.

Find any other stuff you need. If you use dice (I use a diceroller on my computer) then make sure you have all the dice you are going to need ready to hand. If the party has minis they leave in your care, be sure the cat hasnít stolen them and set aside any other minis (or coins or army men or stuffed animalsÖ) that you plan to have represent NPCs/Monsters.

Pre-rolling: As a DM there are quite a lot of things you will need to roll for that the players either will not see, should not see, or donít really give a damn about anyway. Roll these ahead of time and keep them at the ready for when you need them. Make sure your players know you do this though, so they donít think you are just making it up as you go along (even if you are). What these are will vary from group to group but a few common ones are:

Spot and Listen Checks for your Players. Nothing destroys the verisimilitude of a game like a player realizing they just failed a spot check. (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0003.html)You have a copy of their character sheet (RIGHT?!) so roll out someplace between 5 and 10 spot and listen checks for each character and use them when appropriate. You donít need to do this for every spot and listen check your players will be rolling. If they actively ask to make a spot or listen check let them roll it on their own but if that ninja is creeping up behind them use the one on the list.

Another option instead of prerolling the skill checks that will save you time at the table is the 'take 10' mechanic. If your players are ok with it, you can houserule that they are taking 10 on any check you would be rolling off screen.

Initiative for your Monsters. Rolling for initiative for each of the 15 kobolds will take a little while. That pause hurts dramatic tension. Roll this ahead of time and have it ready for when combat starts. Unless your players really like to use the Intimidate skill whatever it is will not change if you roll it 3 hours before the game or there at the table. I like to use Post-itís or index cards to keep track of initiative. If you keep a stack with each NPC/Monsters critical stats and initiative rolls you can slide into combat pretty much seamlessly.

Any skill checks you expect NPCs or Monsters to have to make. When the DM rolls a hide check, the players know something is up. Figure how well that darkmantle is hidden ahead of time. Know how big a whopper that bard just told. It saves time and helps keep the players in character.

Damage for any spell or effect that you KNOW is going to happen. If Flagophan the Wizard is going to start off with a fireball no matter what, go ahead and roll the damage now rather than stopping to count out d6s midcombat. Of course, you might want to wait to roll in some cases, just to scare the hell out of your players.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:38 PM
Let the Game Begin!: Tips for Getting the Session Started

How the beginning of a session goes will frequently set the tone for the entire session, so itís important to get off on the right footing. Here are a few simple suggestions for things to do right before you really get down to play and right after everyone in your group is ready to go.

Before The Dice Start Rolling:

Chatter: Sometimes the hardest part of getting a session started is actually getting started. Most people play D&D with their friends and a certain amount of chatter time at the beginning of the session about the latest episode of Heroes, so and soís new girlfriend/boyfriend or how drunk you were at Tedís birthday party last Friday is natural and to be expected. It can be hard to know when itís time to stop just generally hanging out and get down to the rolling of dice and the slaughtering of tasty tasty chunks of xp. Be a little patient and wait for one of those natural pauses in conversation that occur every 22 minutes or so (not a scientific fact but itís roughly true) and then ask if everyone is ready to start. I generally plan to actually start the session around half an hour after I tell my players that we are going to start. Donít cut people off or demand that all conversation cease. Not only are you not your players mother (in most cases anyway) but starting off a session in an imperious and confrontational way will lead to an unpleasant dynamic for the rest of the session. If conversation doesnít pause for long enough, politely interrupt and ask if people are ready. Donít be a jerk about it; these people are your friends and not your subordinates.

Food: Letís face it; everyone eats when they play D&D. Having a bag of Doritos is almost as important as having dice to many a player and thatís perfectly fine. However, sometimes this gets out of hand and can delay the start of a session significantly. I have seen more than one session delayed hours as people order Pizza or Chinese, wait for it to be delivered, and then eat it before starting. Ask your players either to have their food with them when they arrive or plan for breaks to eat. If you are ordering a Pizza, ask the delivery place to deliver it an hour or two into the session so that it will arrive at when you would normally take a little break anyway. That way, you can have your pizza and adventure too.

When the Game Actually Starts:

The Recap/Intro: At the beginning of each session itís generally a good idea for there to be a quick recap of what happened in the last session or even last few sessions. If itís the very first session ever, instead of recapping what happened in the last session, give a little of the backstory of how the party formed or if it hasnít yet, how each of the characters got to the inn or wherever the opening scene takes place. If itís a later session you can do the recap yourself or if you have an enthusiastic player let them handle it. Itís important to give the players a sense of continuity from the last session, remind them of things they might have forgotten over the week/month between sessions, and for the sneaky DM it provides a way to subtly prod the party in particular directions. If you want the party to go after the Vampire Lord this session rather than the Beholder, mention a few more details about the Vampire Lord in your recap. The players will frequently take the bait, intentionally or unintentionally.

Roll Initiative: Iím not saying start every session with an encounter, although sometimes it is good to do so, but to have the players roll initiative for whenever the first encounter is going to be later in the session and jot it down. If you are using index cards or post-its to keep track of initiative order and you have prerolled your monsters you can even slide the PCís cards into their proper place in the stack. This may seem a bit unorthodox, but it really does improve the flow of the game as you can now go directly into PC actions to moment combat starts rather than having to pause, roll dice, and set up the order. After the first combat, when people a scribbling down the loot they acquired, have them roll for initiative the next one. Looting the bodies does not have any dramatic tension to break, seeing if the orc that just leapt from the bushes gets to stab you in the face does.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:40 PM
Greasing the Wheels: Keeping Things Moving and Players Happy During a Session.

Now the session is actually underway as a DM you have two major responsibilities. The first, is that you are the arbiter of the rules and generally speaking set the pace of the game. Here are few ways to speed things up and a few traps to avoid:

Donít Argue About the Rules: This is quite possibly the largest mid-game time waster and bad blood generator. Unfortunately, it is also the easiest to succumb to. In a game with as many Core rules and additional source books as D&D it is inevitable that there will be disagreements about one rule or another. Frequently the disagreement will come up when the player wants to take an action, cast a spell, or use an ability and you disagree about what the effect of their action is going to be or, in some cases, if they can take the action at all. Donít just dismiss your player out of hand but donít get into a debate about the rules either.

Give your player 30 seconds or so to tell you why you are wrong. If they manage to change your mind in that time, rule their way. If they donít simply say that you donít want to get bogged down in a rules debate and that for the remainder of that dayís session the rule will work under your interpretation. There will be ample time between the end of this session and the next session for you, the player, or both to look up the right answer or if itís particularly tricky, ask someone who you can both agree is an authority on the rules (The Simple Q&A (By RAW) (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=66326)thread on these boards is a good place for that). It is better to work under an incorrect interpretation of a particular rule than get bogged down arguing about it for an entire gaming session and believe me; it is possible to spend an entire session arguing about rules.

If it turns out you were right, donít rub it in. In fact, other than to explain to your player why you were correct, donít mention it at all. Probably everyone else in your gaming group will have forgotten about the dispute anyway. In fact, the player with whom you had the dispute may even have forgotten about it since you didnít get into an argument over it and just moved on.
If you were wrong, fess up. Tell your group that you misinterpreted that particular rule and from now on it will work the other way. Itís just one of those cases where you screwed up, like that time you forgot that the elf automatically gets a search check for secret doors. No big deal.

It Just Works: Technically speaking, there are tons of skill checks you should be calling for all the time but more often than not the result is a foregone conclusion or the need to make the check itself borders on absurd.
A listen check for people talking directly in front if you is a DC 0, but you have to beat the DC by 10 to understand what they are saying. This means that a character without any ranks in listen is going to be unable to hear the rest of the party having a discussion half the time if they actually roll. Rolling for this, or even contemplating the check, is both silly and a waste of time. Skip it and just tell people they hear the conversation.

Conversely, there will be relatively high checks but that involve skills the PC has a high enough modifier in that it is either impossible, or nearly impossible, for them to fail. To use listen again, hearing a stalking cat is DC 19. If your character has a 19 modifier, donít bother rolling the check. This has the added bonus of making your player feel awesome. They are just too good to even need to bother with a check.

However, donít do this in reverse and donít do it with saving throws. With skill checks, the players should always feel like they have the potential to overcome any particular obstacle, even if the DC is so high that it is mathematically impossible for them to succeed. With saving throws, rolling a 1 is an automatic failure and a 20 is an automatic success, so no matter what the DC the PC will still pass or fail it 5% of the time.

The 'take 10' and 'take 20' mechanics are particularly helpful for speeding through some of this stuff if your players want a rules justification. With the Listen check examples above, if each character had taken 10 (and didn't have wisdom penalty) then their checks would have succeeded automatically anyway. Depending upon the demeanor of your group you may want to stress this tactics importance to the players, leave it be, or just handwave the results.

Another thing way to help move things along can be circumstance modifiers. The standard DCs for tasks assume a certian set of normal conditions. For some checks, there are explicitally identified instances when the DC is supposed to be adjusted up or down. A listen check has its DC increased by 5 if the PC is distracted for example. However, frequently it is up to the DM to determine if the task was made easier or harder and by how much. Adjusting the DC of a task down to suit the circumstances is a good way to save time and have a check just succeed. We will talk more about adjusting the DC up in the later sections.

Cut to the Chase: Some skills or abilities can bog down the game because they both seem important to character survival and only effect a small area of the map. Search, for example, technically only searches a 5ft. by 5ft. square. Unless you are running Tomb of Horrors there really is no reason to go through the rigmarole of having the party rogue roll 20 search checks just to move down a 10 ft. by 50ft. hallway. Have the player roll once (or use your pre-rolled number) and say it applies to the whole hallway.

Allow the Use of Averages: Some mathematically inclined players will not want to bother rolling out how many hit points they get back for a potion Cure Moderate Wounds but just split the difference and take the average number as if they had rolled. Let them. If your players are cool with it, you might even want to institute a house rule that all such items always give the average. Over the life of the campaign it will work out the same. Thatís why itís the average.

Try to Speed Decisions: Some players have a tendency to take a long time making decisions in combat. Others will get bogged down debating with the other party members. This can eat up a lot of table time and bog down combat. Soggy combat is not exciting combat. Try to speed things along with some gentle prodding if you notice a tendency for this. Rolling a D20 in plain sight and looking as if you are consulting your notes will typically get the players attention focused back on the decision at hand. Also, after a little deliberation, you may simply want to ask your player point-blank 'So, what are you doing?'

Try to keep a lid on in character discussions during combat in a similar way. Yes, talking is a free action, but remember that each round is only six seconds long. A quick back and forth bettween players or to an NPC is fine, but a 15 minute discussion isn't.

Don't be draconian about this and don't be a jerk. If you know your players like to have a little table talk during combat, expect it and don't shut them down unless it starts getting out of hand. Be diplomatic and reasonable. Don't punish a player for wanting to make a good decision.

Your second job, as the DM, is to be the spotlight of the game. No, you are not in the spotlight. You are the spotlight. Everything the PCís see, hear, touch, smell or interact with in a given gaming session is what you decide to highlight and this includes themselves. The world is highlighted by your descriptions and the PCís by your attention given.

The best way to go about spreading attention and description throughout is going vary from group to group. There is no one right way. Some groups prefer the DM to provide them with a complete story, lots of detail, and essentially function as actors in the DMís play. Others prefer the DM just provide the rough sketch of a world for their characters run around in. Many like something in between. Finding you and your groupís style of play is really only discovered by playing. After the first few sessions, talk to your players about what they thought and listen if they have suggestions or complaints. However, regardless of your eventual style of play there are a few general rules for making a memorable world and keeping players happy.

Distinctive Marks: For NPCs or locations you want your players to remember give them some distinguishing mark or attribute that the players will remember.

For NPCs, styles of clothing, speech patterns and accents, scars and deformities, or even hair color can serve this purpose. I have an NPC aristocrat in my game that talks like a stoned surfer dude and although the players can hardly ever remember his real name ĎLord Smokes-a-lotĒ is firmly fixed in their minds as a major NPC in the world.

This is especially true of any reoccurring villain the PCs are going to have to defeat. For villians though you have the additional option of some signature act, like always casting darkness before they strike or sticking the severed heads of the victims on pikes, which makes them unique.

For places, distinguishing pieces of architecture, unusual decorations, or even a particularly apt description of the mood of the location will mark the place as important to the players. The Parthenon has its columns; The British Houses of Parliament have Big Ben; Baradur has its floaty eye, and even Bag End has its little round green door. It doesnít have to be grandiose, something as simple as having a dart board in the back of the inn can serve to set it apart as a memorable location.

Let The Players Do The Work: No matter what style of play your group turns out to like the one constant is that the PCs should always be in the center of the spotlight. Whatever obstacles or problems that the PCs encounter, they should be the ones eventually doing the bulk of the work to solve it. A common trap that many DMs fall into is to create a really awesome NPC and then let them solve all the problems the party faces for them. Donít do it. If some NPC can save the world all by themselves then why would the PCs bother to be there at all? Your players want to be heroes, not sidekicks. This is not to say that you canít have NPCs that are really cool, integral to the story, or more powerful than the PCs but just that the players should always feel like they are important and critical to the success of the endeavor. What their role is can vary from casting the earth shattering evocation themselves to keeping the seemingly endless the horde of demons from reaching the NPC who has to cast it, but whatever it is, they need to have played a major role.

This also applies to when the PCs make decisions that would affect the progress of the plot (if there is a plot). Players need to feel like their decisions are important and that they have decisions to make. Even if you secretly know everything that is going to happen from the very first scene of the campaign to the final blow that will strike down the Evil Overlord (which is only one among many styles of play) the players should still see the movement of the plot as consequences of their deliberate choices. If a player wants to do something unexpected that could mess up your plot donít drop the iron fist of DM and tell them that they just canít or create ad-hoc punishments for their doing so. If you do, they will feel like they arenít really a participant in the game and you will kill their fun. Besides, you have other and better options for handling it. We will talk about those options more in the "You Did What?: Recovering from Unexpected Player Actions" section.

Time to Shine: Just as important as making sure that your NPCs donít make the players feel useless is making sure that none of the players make the other players feel useless. Make sure that you give each PC a chance to do whatever thing it is that they do best. If you have a party with a silver-tongued rogue and a big bruiser of a fighter give them an encounter they have to talk their way past and another one where they have to throw down and kick some butt. This can be tricky sometimes but itís worth the effort to make sure that everyone at the table has a good time.

Occasionally, you will have a player who by dint of a better build, more problem solving skill, or just a mechanical imbalance in the game itself *cough*druids*cough* that will actually be better at whatever thing another PCs does best and steal their that PCs spotlight time. The best way to solve this will vary on the reason for it and we will discuss it in more detail in the "Trouble with Ted: Dealing with a Problem Player" section below.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:42 PM
Winding Down: Ending a Session Well

Ending a session well is one of the trickiest aspects of being a DM not only because you want to leave the players begging for more but also because most games have a set period of time in which they are played (my game for example meets 7pm to 10 pm on Tuesday nights) and having the hook for the next session arrive at just the right moment (9:45 or so for my game) can be quite touch and go. Iím going to talk about the most common ways to end a session and the benefits and dangers of using each one. Obviously, whichever way you choose to end will depend upon your play style and that of your group. I strongly suggest mixing it up though.

Oh God Oh God We Are All Going To Die:

DM: In the distance you see a gargantuan beast. Itís mammoth form does not so much crest the hill as push it out of the way.
Player: Iím going to make a Knowledge Arcana check to see if I recognize what it is I got a 24.
DM: It is the Tarrasque and we are going to stop here.

Anytime you leave the PCís in the middle of a life threatening situation they are probably going to want to know what happens next. This is a good method of ending a session but be judicious in using it. For one thing, if overused, it becomes hackneyed and your players simply come to expect that every session is going to end right before a dangerous encounter. That kills the suspense. A second concern is a very practical one: will all of your players be at the next session? If not, congratulations you have just stuck yourself (or one of your players) with an NPC to run in a weeks time and deprived the player who canít attend the fun of determining how their character makes it through.

The Big Reveal:

DM: Krim fells the necromancer with a mighty blow from his war hammer! The black clad form tumbles backward and slumps against the far wall of the chamber. His dagger, jarred from his gnarled hands by the impact of the fatal blow skids across the chamber towards your feet. It carries the insignia of Duke Cainís secret police. We are done for tonight.

Sometimes you will want to end a session with a piece of plot/information that will throw the PCís for a loop or resolve a mystery they have been dealing with. This method can be quite compelling; just make sure that whatever you reveal is something players are probably going to want to act upon in the sometime next session. This can be a tricky one to plan. If you are going to use a Big Reveal be sure you plan to have extra time at the end of the session after the reveal, in case some earlier part of the session takes longer than you expected. If you donít and the session goes over time, you run the risk of your players only half listening as they pack up their stuff.

Loot:

DM: You burst from the top of the foul water and before you lies the horde of the Black Dragon Xtyliner. Coins and gems lay scattered about in haphazard piles. Sword hilts, daggers, scrolls and a staff can be seen partially buried among the silver, gold and ruby. Here we stop.

Remember how you felt on Christmas Morning when you saw all the wrapped presents under the tree? I know my short befreckeld childhood self could hardly wait to start tearing into that wrapping paper. Showing your players a bunch of stuff (or even one really awesome looking thing) and making them wait to find out exactly what they got can make them very eager for the next session. Again, donít overuse this, or your players will get ancy. This is also a good one to use if you hadnít exactly planned what loot the players were going to receive was yet.

Mid-Combat:

DM: The Bugbear lunges at Krim slashing its scimitar wickedly. The blade ricochets off his armor with the sound of scraping metal. Ok, we have to stop now.

For games with serious time constraints ending in the middle of combat is a real and unpleasant possibility. Itís one thing to end a session right before or right after combat, that is what two of the examples above do, but it is entirely another to end in the middle of combat. I advise against it for a few reasons. First, ending mid-combat is essentially taking the suspension of disbelief you have been working on all session or all campaign and smashing it against the wall. Dramatic tension is dead if you have to wait a week to see how the fight already in progress ends (DBZ fans leave me alone on this). Second, there will be logistical problems. Between sessions notes get lost, miniís get moved (especially if you donít have a table specifically assigned only to gaming), and players lose track of the spell slots used, duration of spell effects, current HP and the like. This can make picking up at the same point in the next session very difficult. If you absolutely must end a session during combat for some reason, I suggest that you do the following.

Take a Picture of the Map with the Combatants in Place. These days, most groups have at least one, if not several, players with a digital camera or with a camera phone. Use it. When you are setting up again next time having a guide no one can dispute to hand will save confusion and stop any potential disputes before they get started.

End at the beginning of a new round. It will just make things simpler.

Ask Players to Jot Down Their Statistics. Pass around a pad of paper and request that the players note down their current HP and any spell effects active on the players. Donít ask about spells used/prepared. If you are having to end mid-combat, there probably isnít time for it.

Danger Lies Ahead:

DM: The hole goes deep into the retaining wall of the sewer. Distantly you can hear the squeak of rats. Your informant had told you Silus was lairing in this part of town and this tunnel fits his description of the entrance. We will pick up here next time.

Occasionally, the players will take a lot longer to get to the meat of the adventure than you had planned. It can happen many, many ways, but the end result is really the same: Itís 20 minutes before the end of the session and the PCs are just about to head into an area where there will be a lot of wandering around and combat. You still have some time left but not enough and if you continue, you may very well have to end mid-combat or at a dramatically uninteresting moment. Discretion is the better part of valor here. Give a short dramatic description of the place they are about to enter and then call it an night. Itís better to end a little early than have everyone leave confused and/or unsatisfied.

Shopping:

DM: So, you all received an additional 2,000 GP from Baron Waltzingham. If you want to go shopping in town, figure out a list of things you want to buy and ask me between or right before the next session.

This is not the most dramatically thrilling of ways to end a session but it is one of the most practical in terms of saving table time. In most games, going shopping either for magical stuff or more mundane items happens off screen anyway. Ending a session this way keeps time from being wasted as players thumb through the DMG, the MIC, or other books during play looking for the new toy they want to buy. It also doesn't break the continuity of the story, as saying 'figure it out bettween sessions and get back to me' would if it was said in the middle of a session. Of course, if your group prefer to RP shopping trips, then donít do this one.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:43 PM
You did what?!: Recovering from Unexpected Player Actions

AKA_Bait
2008-02-20, 06:44 PM
Trouble with Ted: Dealing with a Problem Player

Szilard
2008-02-20, 09:34 PM
Looks interesting, I will read the rest of it when it comes.

TheThan
2008-02-20, 10:02 PM
Bravo! I was thinking of making a similar thread.

Seeing as you have beat me to it, Iíll volunteer any help I can offer, you know when questions come up.

Raider
2008-02-20, 10:08 PM
Great so far, really useful for newbie DM's and vets alike.

I'll pass this along to a few people when it's done

crimson77
2008-02-20, 10:20 PM
Spot and Listen Checks for your Players. Nothing destroys the verisimilitude of a game like a player realizing they just failed a spot check. (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0003.html)You have a copy of their character sheet (RIGHT?!) so roll out someplace between 5 and 10 spot and listen checks for each character and use them when appropriate. You donít need to do this for every spot and listen check your players will be rolling. If they actively ask to make a spot or listen check let them roll it on their own but if that ninja is creeping up behind them use the one on the list.

Any skill checks you expect NPCs or Monsters to have to make. When the DM rolls a hide check, the players know something is up. Figure how well that darkmantle is hidden ahead of time. Know how big a whopper that bard just told. It saves time and helps keep the players in character.


Maybe something to add:
Even the act of rolling behind the screen tells your players that something is up. A great way to hand all the rolls, if you have access to a laptop while gaming, is excel. =randbetween(1,6) is the same as rolling 1d6
=randbetween(1,20) is the same as rolling 1d20
=(randbetween(1,6)+randbetween(1,6)+randbetween(1, 6)) is the same as rolling 3d6.
When I DM table top, I put in everyones spot and listen checks along with writing out equations for things I know will happen (e.g., wizards fireball).
I also have a spot to keep track of player and monster initiative and hp. F9 in excel also refreshes the rolls for the next round or encounter.

Icewalker
2008-02-20, 10:31 PM
Awesome idea, loads of usefulness so far, and I nominate this for stickiness.


I have a minor piece of general advice, as an addition, which I believe is very important.

Play by post is to dnd as tee ball is to baseball, except just as cool. In Pbp it is so much easier to handle things as a DM. If possible, doing your first DMing pbp could help a lot. It's helping me. The player rolls a 20 on the search roll for the temple you didn't think about? You have up to several days to come up with everything they find, instead of having to do so on the spot. Same with unexpected player actions. That is the big advantage, at least.

adanedhel9
2008-02-20, 11:19 PM
I think this needs to be edited into the assumptions of the first post: the DM is a player, too, and should have fun with the game. I've occasionally seen this forgotten (I've forgotten it myself as well), and a game run by a DM who doesn't care is unlikely to go well.

Beyond that, I pretty much agree with everything you've said, especially about pre-rolling. I've used a stack of index cards for initiative for several years now, and having all the monsters ready to go before the game starts saves a lot of time.

Raum
2008-02-20, 11:38 PM
One thing I like about your initial posts is the emphasis on communication. Communication is key for the GM more than anyone else. Not only does the GM describe the world and NPC interactions with the PCs, but the GM needs to be a leader socially. Note I said leader, not commander...which brings us to the part of the posts I dislike. Avoid making the game GM vs Player. The GM shouldn't have to "make" the players do anything or "demand" things from them. Always remember you're in a social setting and are trying to have fun!

For some links, Greg Stolze has some GM advice here (http://www.gregstolze.com/HowtoRun.zip), Greg Costikyan has a description of what makes up a game here (http://www.costik.com/nowords.html), and Joseph Young describes the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast (http://ptgptb.org/0027/theory101-02.html) which GMs should avoid.

Hope that helps.

de-trick
2008-02-20, 11:46 PM
good job so far, cant wait till you deal with Tedand you did what.

MisterSaturnine
2008-02-21, 12:02 AM
I eagerly await the rest of this, as I Wanna Be a DM.

nepphi
2008-02-21, 12:54 AM
I've found the following six techniques to be very useful for figuring out the "vibe" of a character that I'm dming.

Ask your player;

1) What makes you get up on game day and go "hot damn, I get to play (character Name) today!"

2) What are your character's overall goals in life? Their "big button" if you will?

3) What path do YOU want to take with this character, hopefully?

4) Knowing I probably will not give it to you, what is the biggest piece of cheese you'd secretly give your character? It's ok, I won't judge (outwardly).

5) Do you like Serenity? Firefly? If not, we cannot play together. (Tongue FIRMLY in cheek here. humour is essential!)

6) If you could name a song as your character's "theme song", what would it be? (also useful for devising a party soundtrack!)

I've found that the answers to these questions do a LOT to illuminate the thoughts of the players I'm working with, and help me round out the game in favor of their attributes and personalities (two of my friends were big computer geeks, so I let their characters start up an Internet ISP in a Modern game we were playing).

Bitzeralisis
2008-02-21, 01:03 AM
...
Before anything else, the very first thing any new DM needs to do is accept that they are going to screw up. DMís are human just like everyone else.
...

Horray for screwing up! I do it all the time! :smallbiggrin:

Beren One-Hand
2008-02-21, 01:15 AM
This is well thought out advice, and I look forward to reading the rest.
The only thing I have to add at the moment is a resource I have found invaluable in my DM career... It is the AD&D (2nd Edition) Guide to Dungeons and Catacombs.
While I've never played 2nd Edition in my life, that book has no mechanics in it, so it can be used in any system. It is chock full of practical advice on how to evoke the story being told, avoid common problems, and logically plan out a campaign world - complete with maps based on the standard physics of earth.

I can't possibly recommend it highly enough.

Adumbration
2008-02-21, 01:25 AM
Is there any program like the d20 Dice Bag that would work offline? I haven't DM'ed myself, but I can imagine that it would be extremely useful, especially when rolling for that fireball damage in a hurry.

Something like that would also help keep those unexpected spot and listen checks secret.

(here's the dicebag by the way: http://www.penpaperpixel.org/tools/d20dicebag.htm)

Bitzeralisis
2008-02-21, 01:36 AM
Is there any program like the d20 Dice Bag that would work offline? I haven't DM'ed myself, but I can imagine that it would be extremely useful, especially when rolling for that fireball damage in a hurry.
...

You can always use Excel. Or, search on Google for a dice-rolling program. I have around five of those myself.

horseboy
2008-02-21, 01:57 AM
You can download the one from WotC and use it off line.

SoD
2008-02-21, 03:40 AM
Before anything else, the very first thing any new DM needs to do is accept that they are going to screw up. DMís are human just like everyone else.


Screwed up? Check. Human...uh, half a mark.



You will forget to add that dodge modifier and it will change then entire course of the battle.


Check.




You will forget that tiny bit of dialogue the PCís were going to hear that would lead them where you wanted.


Check.



You will have to go look up the grappling rules and still be confused.


Check, and double check.



You will lose the bloody map someplace, spend 5 minutes searching for it only to discover it has been in your left hand the entire time.


Check! Fortunatly it was before the session...



You will screw up in myriad unimaginable (ok, well, probably pretty imaginable) other ways.


Check! My first time DMing, I made a player roll to hit. With his magic missles. Heh.



You will screw up and really, itís ok. Say it with me.


Check.

kamikasei
2008-02-21, 05:13 AM
This looks like an excellent resource, and assuming the remaining posts are as informative as the first few, I second the calls for stickying and general kudos.


Is there any program like the d20 Dice Bag that would work offline? I haven't DM'ed myself, but I can imagine that it would be extremely useful, especially when rolling for that fireball damage in a hurry.

I think, though I may be wrong, that the dice bag does work offline. It's all in javascript as I recall, so if you just save the page locally you've got everything you need.

SoD
2008-02-21, 05:29 AM
Thirding the stickying of this thread. Also agreeing with the others, and Adum, I've got a program I can give you tomorrow. Well, two, actually, that will roll dice for you, but I feel (personally) more confortable when I roll dice myself, and I rarely use the programs. However, for those who don't have a zillion and three dice, the program can be good.

Azerian Kelimon
2008-02-21, 06:40 AM
Fourthed. I also offer my services for anything you might need (Such as providing an angsty character example). This thread will, or should, go far.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-21, 12:20 PM
I have added the Starting a Session section. More to come this afternoon or tonight.


Play by post is to dnd as tee ball is to baseball, except just as cool. In Pbp it is so much easier to handle things as a DM. If possible, doing your first DMing pbp could help a lot. It's helping me. The player rolls a 20 on the search roll for the temple you didn't think about? You have up to several days to come up with everything they find, instead of having to do so on the spot. Same with unexpected player actions. That is the big advantage, at least.


Maybe something to add:
Even the act of rolling behind the screen tells your players that something is up. A great way to hand all the rolls, if you have access to a laptop while gaming, is excel. =randbetween(1,6) is the same as rolling 1d6
=randbetween(1,20) is the same as rolling 1d20
=(randbetween(1,6)+randbetween(1,6)+randbetween(1, 6)) is the same as rolling 3d6.
When I DM table top, I put in everyones spot and listen checks along with writing out equations for things I know will happen (e.g., wizards fireball).
I also have a spot to keep track of player and monster initiative and hp. F9 in excel also refreshes the rolls for the next round or encounter.

Although these are both good suggestions and true (I assume about the PbP as I've never DMed PbP) I'd rather keep them here as additional suggestions in the body of the thread rather than potentially give the impression that a DM needs to use a laptop or a PbP warmup.


I think this needs to be edited into the assumptions of the first post: the DM is a player, too, and should have fun with the game. I've occasionally seen this forgotten (I've forgotten it myself as well), and a game run by a DM who doesn't care is unlikely to go well.


Good point. I'll add that into the initial discussion section I think where it talks about D&D not ruining friendships.

Edit: Done.



Ask your player;

1) What makes you get up on game day and go "hot damn, I get to play (character Name) today!"

2) What are your character's overall goals in life? Their "big button" if you will?

3) What path do YOU want to take with this character, hopefully?

4) Knowing I probably will not give it to you, what is the biggest piece of cheese you'd secretly give your character? It's ok, I won't judge (outwardly).


These are very good suggestions. Let me think about how to work them into the before the first session section.

Edit: Ok. I changed the Genisis of a Party section around a little and added parphrases of these.



6) If you could name a song as your character's "theme song", what would it be? (also useful for devising a party soundtrack!)


This is a neat idea, but I don't want to put it in the main section since having music is more of individual preference thing rather than should be helpful to everyone thing. Some groups do better with music, for others it's distracting.


The only thing I have to add at the moment is a resource I have found invaluable in my DM career... It is the AD&D (2nd Edition) Guide to Dungeons and Catacombs.

I'll have to give that book a look. I don't really want to recommend anything in the main body of the post that requires the DM to buy stuff (other than index cards or post-it notes) and that is edition specific. I'd like to have the advice here be general enough that when 4e comes out it will still be totally useful.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-21, 12:52 PM
Avoid making the game GM vs Player. The GM shouldn't have to "make" the players do anything or "demand" things from them. Always remember you're in a social setting and are trying to have fun!

Two things about this:

1. I don't really think my tone has been one that makes it GM vs. Player in some power struggle. If other folks think it does come across that way I'll happily revise it. I used the words 'make' and 'demand' to emphasize how important those particular aspects are and that the DM should press the point to the players. Obviously, no DM has the right to order his players around and ruin the fun, but they do have the right to say "I need certian materials to do a good job. Gimmie."

2. A certian level of DM vs. Players is assumed and a good thing, so long as it remains good natured. Meaning, it's not really DM vs Player match (the DM would win every time) but that the players are working against the DM in that the DM is putting challenges and mysteries in front of them to overcome and solve. The occasional sinister cackel from behind the screen imho generally adds to the fun rather than detracts from it.

Ralfarius
2008-02-21, 01:07 PM
I am eagerly awaiting Ted's section, because he evokes memories of a very specific example from right here in the forums, maybe a few months back.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-21, 01:11 PM
I am eagerly awaiting Ted's section, because he evokes memories of a very specific example from right here in the forums, maybe a few months back.

I disavow all knowledge of what you are referring to.

TheThan
2008-02-21, 01:15 PM
On thing I would like to add is in the mistakes category if you make a mistake and roll with it for that evening. Thatís fine, no oneís perfect. But when you come to these message boards and ask about it, and find out you were wrong. Then youíre going to need to rectify your mistake in your next session.

In my experience, the best way to deal with this is to simply cowboy (or girl) up and admit your mistake to your group. Let them know you made a mistake and inform them of the correct ruling, and tell them thatís the rule youíll be using. Most people will understand your plight and accept it, and not complain about the new (and correct) rules.
I suggest doing this at the beginning of the session before you (or another player) starts to recap what happened last episode.


Its unfortunate but there are people who would complain or argue over the changing of said rules. Youíre going to have to deal with each one as they come, as no two people can be dealt with the same.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-21, 01:44 PM
On thing I would like to add is in the mistakes category if you make a mistake and roll with it for that evening. Thatís fine, no oneís perfect. But when you come to these message boards and ask about it, and find out you were wrong. Then youíre going to need to rectify your mistake in your next session.

In my experience, the best way to deal with this is to simply cowboy (or girl) up and admit your mistake to your group. Let them know you made a mistake and inform them of the correct ruling, and tell them thatís the rule youíll be using. Most people will understand your plight and accept it, and not complain about the new (and correct) rules.
I suggest doing this at the beginning of the session before you (or another player) starts to recap what happened last episode.


Its unfortunate but there are people who would complain or argue over the changing of said rules. Youíre going to have to deal with each one as they come, as no two people can be dealt with the same.

Yeah, that's going to come into the Keeping the Game moving section I'm going to add after I get out of the office. It's better to say 'for this session it will work this way but before the next session we will check it out and if it doesn't than from that point it will work the other way" than get bogged down arguing about the rule.

Ralfarius
2008-02-21, 01:47 PM
I disavow all knowledge of what you are referring to.
But what if I were to shake your hand in... This-wise?

valadil
2008-02-21, 02:10 PM
I have a couple things to add to some unfinished sections.

For greasing the wheels, make it clear that playing the game wrong is better than making your players wait for you to dig through rulebooks for 15 minutes. If you aren't sure about a rule just announce that you're playing it this way for the rest of the session and that you'll look it up next time. You may want to reference this in the "you will make mistakes" section.

Ending a session well is something I put a lot of effort into. I like BBEGs that escape. It makes beating them that much more meaningful later on. The group cares a lot more about finally killing that one guy that got away three times than killing three guys who never even tried to escape. The problem with having BBEGs that always get away is that it's disappointing to your players. You don't want to end the game on a down note. For the rest of the week until the next game your players will still feel that down note. The solution is to let them win something towards the end of the session. You can spend 90% of the game kicking their asses and having your enemies escape, but if the 10% of the time the PCs win happens to be at the end of the game, winning will be the taste that's left in their mouths for next week's session.

Legoshrimp
2008-02-21, 02:17 PM
I am a new DM and have been reading the sections as they come up. they have been very useful. I have not run my first game yet. I am planning on running it this friday. I am going to be using the Dark and Stormy Knight adventure from wizards. I have a thread asking for help with it.

Thanks for thinking of new DMs.

kamikasei
2008-02-21, 02:46 PM
2. A certian level of DM vs. Players is assumed and a good thing, so long as it remains good natured. Meaning, it's not really DM vs Player match (the DM would win every time) but that the players are working against the DM in that the DM is putting challenges and mysteries in front of them to overcome and solve. The occasional sinister cackel from behind the screen imho generally adds to the fun rather than detracts from it.

Perhaps a useful analogy is to teaching - something like a sport, or game, or adversarial skill. The DM is working against his players, not in order to defeat them, but in order to spur them on and help them improve. From this the notion of fairness, appropriate challenges, and so on all fall out. Of course, the counterbalance to this is the DM's obligation to sometimes beat the players or lose horribly to them for purposes of plot or verisimilitude.


I am eagerly awaiting Ted's section, because he evokes memories of a very specific example from right here in the forums, maybe a few months back.

Exactly what I thought...

horseboy
2008-02-21, 02:52 PM
Well, probably not something to put into the main article, but some good advice. About food. One of my old groups used to do communal food. Example: Someone would bring buns and condiments, a couple of people would be a pound of ground beef/deer, another would bring a couple suitcases of sodas. Eating with someone, as opposed to eating alongside someone will help strengthen the out of play bonds with the group, building a sense of camaraderie that can stop a lot of silly quarrellings before it stops.

Falrin
2008-02-21, 03:11 PM
One of my thingies I like to do to speed up a game is removing opposite rolls and using set DC's. Both for PC's and NPC's

Take the Ninja sneaks in the Dark example. Instead of making hide/move silent Vs spot/listen checks you roll only for the ninja vs a 10 + Skill Modifier DC.

This works better for the PC's. They get to roll their precious dice and feel involved, you get time to think ahead.

MorkaisChosen
2008-02-21, 03:38 PM
An alternative to the pre-rolling is the slightly evil method of rolling a D20 or two every few minutes, smiling quietly and writing the result down. Before long, the plyers don't know if it's anything important or not...

Not used this, since I haven't DMed, but I've been on the opposite side and it's not too bad from the player's perspective (at least if they're like me).

Eorran
2008-02-21, 04:24 PM
Something I'd add in the Homework section: Statting an encounter is not the same as planning it.
Stats are required for any combat encounter: hp, AC, etc. What often gets overlooked is planning.
An NPC who is anticipating combat (not necessarily with the PCs) should have some idea of what he/she plans to do. This is especially important for spellcasters. My NPCs have often lost because I overlooked a key ability or spell, and that will make the players feel cheated in the end.
"...that sad sack of bones went down faster than a kobold with a lung infection...":roy:
So, my advice: take half a paragraph. Note what spells the NPC plans to use, in what order. Also; when do they retreat/surrender?
These tactics should, of course, correspond to the level of intelligence and the alignment of the character. An idiotic, CN thug may have no plan at all, but if the LE, super-genius BBEG fights the PCs in a random fashion, the fight will probably lose a lot for dramatic tension and challenge.
To add to that, planning an encounter can pose significant challenges to the party without a TPK, especially if you take advantage of things like terrain, weather, etc. These fights may be no tougher than any other, but the prep work can make them truly memorable.

Prometheus
2008-02-21, 04:35 PM
About Characters: I'd add to be sure to include their subplots and background characters if applicable

There probably also needs to be a section about creating worlds, characters, plot hooks, for those of us who don't use modules and premade campaign settings.

Also ALIGNMENTS: I know it is a controversial topic, but it needs to be talked about: If you are a lax DM make sure your characters focus more on being consistent than a particular style of acting. If you are a strict DM, be sure to let your players know when you think they are out of line, but also, have the story give obvious descriptive cues as to where the dark, light, chaotic, and orderly sides of the moral compass lie.

TheThan
2008-02-21, 04:44 PM
I am a new DM and have been reading the sections as they come up. they have been very useful. I have not run my first game yet. I am planning on running it this friday. I am going to be using the Dark and Stormy Knight adventure from wizards. I have a thread asking for help with it.

Thanks for thinking of new DMs.


I ran a dark and stormy night a few weeks ago, and itís quite nice. Itís not terribly hard for a 1st level party, and I have a bit of a non-standard party (rogue, wizard, druid/ranger, Cleric/wizard). It has a plausible reason for pcs to get together, and itís not nearly as cliched as starting them out in a tavern.
Iím using the storm idea as a springboard for the rest of the campaign. Thereís an ancient relic that controls storms, which as gone missing. The thieves (hobgoblin priestess and her cohorts) are using it to wage war against the humans, but the party doesnít know it yet as theyíve just been fighting some groups of hobgoblin raiders.

I'll read up on your post and see if i can be of help.

Raum
2008-02-21, 04:47 PM
1. I don't really think my tone has been one that makes it GM vs. Player in some power struggle.For the most part you havenít. However most GMs slip into a GM vs Player mindset at some point or another and the language used shows that tendency. Simply put, autocratic language is confrontational by nature. The earlier a GM notices it the easier it is to avoid.

If other folks think it does come across that way I'll happily revise it. I used the words 'make' and 'demand' to emphasize how important those particular aspects are and that the DM should press the point to the players. Obviously, no DM has the right to order his players around and ruin the fun, but they do have the right to say "I need certian materials to do a good job. Gimmie."Frankly, anyone standing up and declaiming ďI have the right!Ē is seeking a confrontation. Thatís useful if you need to change destructive behavior but potentially abusive when simply asserting power.


2. A certian level of DM vs. Players is assumed and a good thing, so long as it remains good natured. Meaning, it's not really DM vs Player match (the DM would win every time) but that the players are working against the DM in that the DM is putting challenges and mysteries in front of them to overcome and solve. The occasional sinister cackel from behind the screen imho generally adds to the fun rather than detracts from it.I may simply be disagreeing with the terminology youíre using, but GM vs Player is neither assumed nor a good thing in most games. The desired result of RP Gaming is usually a having fun creating a story or exploring an imaginary world. Either way the GM is a participant not an opponent. My Life with Master is one of the few RPGs I know of that is explicitly GM vs Player. But it has a specific win condition where the game can be won.

I recommend the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast article linked in my previous post. It describes the inherent contradiction in having sole control of the story without controlling the main characters. It also describes four styles of GMing, one of which is generally considered dysfunctional.

Azerian Kelimon
2008-02-21, 05:09 PM
A thing I want to add:

Use loose adventure and campaign planning.

Yes, this does sound like a bad tip since the more defined an adventure/campaign is, the easier it'll be to further the plot, but a very detailed campaign is very, very prone to Player ingenuity or stupidity killing it. A perfect pair of examples is this: In an example of stupidity, the players may be faced with an unbeatable monster (Like a colossal Plus Prismatic dragon at level 6, to exaggerate) and decide to charge headlong into battle. In an example of intelligence, the PC's may be faced with a powerful army of raised and corrupted heroes, and to get out of a hopeless scenario, they might opt to spread the word of how the avatar of a god will descend to earth to protect a city, and give the party tank fake angelic wings, enchant his sword to make it radiate a rainbow coloured aura from up to 40', and pretend that he can conjure storms and hurricanes, thus scaring off the army and winning a seemingly unwinnable scenario, through cleverness and a Weapon Drill check to impress the horde. A DM must never lock himself inside a corner because of a too detailed broken plot, thus, he or she should always try to have a loose but defined plot.

And, perchance, the poster from a few months ago changed his sig to a threat and ignored what was a Post of the Year with a 26x crit multiplier?

AKA_Bait
2008-02-21, 05:47 PM
I've added about half of the next section. I have to run at this point and will return to add more later. I see several good suggestions since I last posted and I promise I will get to them when I return.

Just one bit I want to respond to before I leave, I'll get to the rest later:



I recommend the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast article linked in my previous post. It describes the inherent contradiction in having sole control of the story without controlling the main characters. It also describes four styles of GMing, one of which is generally considered dysfunctional.

I read it over lunch. It's a pretty interesting article but I want to make something clear: I'm activley trying to avoid giving advice that only lends itself to one of the stlyes of play the article discusses. Each one of those styles of play, and mixtures thereof, are sucessful depending upon the DM and the group. I'm attempting, and I think doing an ok job of thus far, to give advice that would be helpful for any of the styles of play without favoring one or the other. The Bass player is going to need character sheets and the party not to throw fits just as much, if not more, than the Illusionist.

Dervag
2008-02-21, 09:56 PM
Conversely, there will be relatively high checks but that involve skills the PC has a high enough modifier in that it is either impossible, or nearly impossible, for them to fail. To use listen again, hearing a stalking cat is DC 19. If your character has a 19 modifier, donít bother rolling the check.Plus, it makes your players feel good to hear "To heck with the roll. Your character is so awesome, they automatically hear a stalking cat."

Tough_Tonka
2008-02-21, 10:39 PM
Here's a tip I'd suggest to new GMs:

Decision Making Time Limits:

The goal for most, if not all, combat encounters is for them to be action pact and exciting. This can also apply to during other types of encounters such as chase or escape scene. In these fast paced moments of life or death most characters realistically won't have a lot of time to rationalize every little decision they make.

However, many paranoid players want to go over the likely hood of success for every conceivable option they have available. Especially characters with a wide array of spells, special features or equipment. Especially with large groups of players this can lead to rounds of combat that last well over an hour. This can make an exciting encounter into a terribly dull experience, especially for characters that just wanted to hit the bad guy with their sword.

That's why I support a time limit policy for players during combat. Something in the 5-10 minute range should be fare for most groups. 10 minutes might not seem like a lot of time to make a decision, but if you think about it the actual characters only have six second to make theirs.

Whether or not time spent looking up rules should be counted is a matter of the GM's discretion. I believe if a character make a decision about what they want to do they should decide first and look up rules after they know they are going to do it. Some GM and players might think it is unfair to this because the player might not realize how bad an idea it is for their rogue gnome to grapple a ogre mage. In my defense I must say, "Sometimes people make some dumb decision in six seconds."
______________________________________

Well That's my bit of advice.

Raum
2008-02-21, 11:06 PM
I read it over lunch. It's a pretty interesting article but I want to make something clear: I'm activley trying to avoid giving advice that only lends itself to one of the stlyes of play the article discusses. Each one of those styles of play, and mixtures thereof, are sucessful depending upon the DM and the group. Who said anything about a promoting a single style? I haven't and neither does the article. The article does label one style as dysfunctional, but lists three others and alludes to even more.

-----
Back to advice, communication is the skill GMs need more than any other. Learn to be descriptive. Evoke emotion! Players should feel horrified in a moment of horror, desperate in a gritty scene, and triumphant when they succeed at a difficult task. Of course you also need to keep AKA_Bait's first post in mind...be willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

Azerian Kelimon
2008-02-21, 11:11 PM
For learning how to be descriptive, get an experienced GM and some experienced Call of Cthulhu players to allow you to spectate the game. Proceed to be scared to the point of not sleeping for a week, and employ the same tricks as the GM to make your players revere you and tribute pizza.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-22, 05:22 PM
Second half of "Greasing the Wheels" section added. Also, as promised:


One of my thingies I like to do to speed up a game is removing opposite rolls and using set DC's. Both for PC's and NPC's


This is a little farther from the standard rules than I'd like to put in the main article.


An alternative to the pre-rolling is the slightly evil method of rolling a D20 or two every few minutes, smiling quietly and writing the result down.

I actually do this myself because 2 of my players seem to always 'forget' to give me a copy of their character sheets. However, it does eat up time during gameplay, so I'd rather advocate getting the sheets and prerolling in the body of the article.


Statting[/I] an encounter is not the same as planning it.

True. Added.


About Characters: I'd add to be sure to include their subplots and background characters if applicable

Good point. Added.


There probably also needs to be a section about creating worlds, characters, plot hooks, for those of us who don't use modules and premade campaign settings.

Other than the little I put in, I think this is probably to subjective for any individiual advice to be of help to the vast majority of new DM's. Getting into design theory behind campagin settings and modules pretty much requires an endorsement of a particular style of play.


Also ALIGNMENTS: I know it is a controversial topic, but it needs to be talked about: If you are a lax DM make sure your characters focus more on being consistent than a particular style of acting. If you are a strict DM, be sure to let your players know when you think they are out of line, but also, have the story give obvious descriptive cues as to where the dark, light, chaotic, and orderly sides of the moral compass lie.

I'm going to bring this up in the "Trouble with Ted" section. Alignment is really only an issue when a player is acting very much out of what the DM sees as the 'right way to play an alignment' so I think it's better placed there. Don't worry, I didn't forget about the topic that has sparked more 15 page threads that end up locked than any other.


Plus, it makes your players feel good to hear "To heck with the roll. Your character is so awesome, they automatically hear a stalking cat."

Also a very good point. Also added.


Who said anything about a promoting a single style? I haven't and neither does the article. The article does label one style as dysfunctional, but lists three others and alludes to even more.


You know, I think we pretty much agree with eachother and we could potentially end up arguing over nothing, so I'm just going to leave this be

Dragor
2008-02-22, 06:41 PM
Loving the guide, AKA_Bait, as I'm new to DM'ing. This proved very useful, thanks! :smallsmile:

And I get the Ted reference. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. That thread just resurfaced in my memory...

--EDIT--

Also, do you have any tips for speaking to the players. For on-the-spot descriptions, I find it hard to judge distances I hadn't thought of before, or just end up mincing my words when I attempt to describe a room, and the like.
I'm also awful at role-playing NPC's. Usually I attempt to do accents, with hilarious (but not intended to be hilarious) results. This is why I've started DM'ing over MSN chat, but I'd much rather be sitting around a table with a lot of pizza and Coke...

Stop me if I'm asking too much. :smalltongue:

TheThan
2008-02-22, 08:00 PM
Loving the guide, AKA_Bait, as I'm new to DM'ing. This proved very useful, thanks! :smallsmile:

And I get the Ted reference. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. That thread just resurfaced in my memory...

--EDIT--

Also, do you have any tips for speaking to the players. For on-the-spot descriptions, I find it hard to judge distances I hadn't thought of before, or just end up mincing my words when I attempt to describe a room, and the like.
I'm also awful at role-playing NPC's. Usually I attempt to do accents, with hilarious (but not intended to be hilarious) results. This is why I've started DM'ing over MSN chat, but I'd much rather be sitting around a table with a lot of pizza and Coke...

Stop me if I'm asking too much. :smalltongue:


One thing you could do is think up the description of the room head of time as part of your preparation work. Then when the pcs enter the room, just read them the description or preferably, use your description as a note to jog your memory.
Remember to face your players and not hide behind your notes. Trust me there is a big difference in how you present information when you look at the players and they can see your face, then when you hold your notes up to your face (or look down at them), so that your face is blocked. Its harder to hear you (particularly if youíre in a loud place, have a loud group or a large one), its obvious that youíre read something, and shows that you might not know exactly what your doing, this can shatter the playerís confidence in your abilities. Which can lead to players dropping out or more nefarious players trying to take advantage of your inexperience.

Be confident in your descriptions
How you present yourself is a big deal, not only to the psychology of your players but to yourself. If you approach the game with confidence, youíll find your speaking voice, you wonít be afraid to make decision on the spot ETC. your players will get more involved in the game when you can confidently describe the events. Letís listen in on a fictions game:


Fighter: ok I attack the ork
DM: roll attack
Fighter: 16, do I hit?
DM: ummÖ lets seeÖ yeah roll damage
Fighter: umm okÖ

Fighter ok I attack the ork
Dm: ok roll your attack and damage
Fighter: 16 Do I hit?
DM: Ok, you swing your greatsword down on the orkís head splitting his skull open. Heís dead.
Fighter: Awesome!

The second one got a better response out of the player, the fighterís player is clearly more into the game than the fist fighter.
Remember charisma is not just about looking good, its about how you present yourself to others, and how you envision yourself.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-22, 08:06 PM
Loving the guide, AKA_Bait, as I'm new to DM'ing. This proved very useful, thanks! :smallsmile:

Glad it is a help. More will be along tonight I think. I've been writing it initially in Word and just realized today that it's already 10 single spaced pages... oh well back to work on the section in a bit.


Also, do you have any tips for speaking to the players. For on-the-spot descriptions, I find it hard to judge distances I hadn't thought of before, or just end up mincing my words when I attempt to describe a room, and the like.

Humm. For describing furniture the easiest and silliest thing I can think of is to watch a bunch of antiques road show or go to an auction site and look at the descriptions they have for old furniture. You might also want to write down or copy a number of generic descriptions of furniture that you can pull off of a sheet you keep with your other notes if it comes up. As for distances, just make it up with confidence or eyeball it on the map and place it.


I'm also awful at role-playing NPC's. Usually I attempt to do accents, with hilarious (but not intended to be hilarious) results. This is why I've started DM'ing over MSN chat, but I'd much rather be sitting around a table with a lot of pizza and Coke...

Well, not everyone can do accents. Another option rather than attempting an accent is to just change the tone or pace of your speech. If it's an old man NPC, talk slower and pause more. If its a nervous guy up your pitch slightly and talk faster. If it's a kid, try to sound excited and full of energy. That sort of thing. When you are prepping just try to put yourself in the mindset of the NPC and picture at what pace or pitch they would have if you were speaking to them, then try to use that when you speak as them.

Additionally, your voice itself is only a small part of conveying an NPC's personality. Try to adjust your mannerisims too. If you are playing a bored chick, put your elbow on the table and pretend to be inspecting your fingernails as you talk. If it's a stuck up Aristocrat, sit straight up in your chair. A drunkard, slouch and lean. Etc.

Also, if the accents are hilarious, intentionally or not, you can still make use of them. If you have any NPC's that are essentialy comic relief or silly people go ahead and use them. Also, once your PC's get the idea that funny accent means harmless, you can then go ahead and use one for some really evil bastard. :smallamused:

Edit: And what TheThan said too.

Raum
2008-02-22, 09:24 PM
You know, I think we pretty much agree with eachother and we could potentially end up arguing over nothing, so I'm just going to leave this beWell, I suspected we may have been discussing differences in terminology more than substance. :)


Also, do you have any tips for speaking to the players. For on-the-spot descriptions, I find it hard to judge distances I hadn't thought of before, or just end up mincing my words when I attempt to describe a room, and the like. Distances in structures are often decided by the size of the structure's builder. Structures built by cloud giants will be much larger than something built by goblins. Distances between structures will be similar. It's often easiest to extrapolate from human scale and base it on how much larger or smaller than medium (or human if not playing D&D) size the builders are. When it comes to distances outside, it can be easier to think in terms of time. "The capitol is two days hard travel by horseback." instead of saying the capitol is about eighty miles away. But either method works.

Another method of helping descriptions is to assign a few 'attributes' to the areas you're describing. The aspects can be anything from a few descriptive terms (the room is shadowed, dank, and cramped) to detailed phrases (the hallway is rough cut basalt with a black mold seeming to crawl out of the corners) depending on how important it is to your adventure plans. It's often helpful to write down a generic list of descriptive terms or phrases to use when you need to describe areas you hadn't expected the players to go. Just pull a few off the list and you've created a new area with some character rather than just dimensions.

TheThan and AKA_Bait covered voice and accents better than I could have. :)

Fiery Diamond
2008-02-22, 11:31 PM
I'm probably going to have more to say later, when I think of it, but for now I just have a few things to say.

About voice and action when representing NPCs - I very much agree. I actually had one of my players talking (in a social setting when we were discussing D&D - not actually at a session) about "that really cool NPC dude that told us awesome stuff," referring to an eccentric scholar that's traveling under their protection. I think it has entirely to do with my portrayal of him. I lean forward, pulling my body in on itself, act as if I'm flipping through notes, and speak in a different voice, rapidly and excitedly.

About on-the-spot rulings, making mistakes about the rules, and houserules -- sometimes these all end up being the same thing. Keep in mind that all the mechanics of the game serve the game, the game doesn't serve the mechanics. Even if a ruling you make on the spot or because you misremembered the rules that would be "completely broken" can be perfectly okay for your game. As long as both the DM and the players are ok with a situation, whether you're following the rules doesn't matter all that much. For example, one of my players misremembered how his bardic music worked, and ended up saying it provided a +1 to attack and damage rolls (as opposed to weapon attack and damage rolls). This lead to magical attacks getting extra damage, because I trusted what he said and didn't bother to look it up. Later, someone had the sickened effect, where they took a -2 to attack and damage rolls. Debate ensued about magical attack and damage (which it should not effect -well, the damage anyway). We looked it up and then looked up the bardic music. Realizing the previous error, I, the DM, asked my group whether they wanted to start using the correct rules from this point forward, or be consistent with my past ruling, and have the -2 effect magic as well. They unanimously chose to be consistent rather than changing. And that's ok.

-Fiery Diamond

Dragor
2008-02-23, 02:37 AM
Thank you Than, again to you Bait, and thanks Raum. You're all very helpful people. :smallsmile:

SoD
2008-02-23, 11:30 AM
I can't help but notice that the problem player is the guy whose party someone got drunk at last friday. Hmm...the plot thickens.

TacoClone
2008-02-23, 08:44 PM
Hey, this is a good resource, even for DM veterans. Keep up the good work and thanks for what's you've already put up.

Matthew
2008-02-23, 09:37 PM
Looks good so far, AKA_Bait.

One query about the 'it just works' section. Unless a Character has a Wisdom of 9 or less he should always be considered to be 'taking 10' when listening to conversation in a non combat situation, in which case he will automatically pass. I understand the idea here, but I really think you need to preface this by saying something about the importance of the 'take 10' mechanic for the D20 ruleset. The reason so many mundane tasks have a DC 10 is directly linked to that mechanic, and that also applies somewhat to searches. At the same time you should probably mention Circumstance Modifiers and what role they play in 'smoothing' some of the rough edges of skill checks.

All this pre rolling stuff I find quite unusual. Random encounters I might roll up beforehand, but I have never really considered rolling skill checks beforehand. Initiative I can understand, as that's pretty laborious at the beginning of a combat to roll for every Monster.



This is well thought out advice, and I look forward to reading the rest.
The only thing I have to add at the moment is a resource I have found invaluable in my DM career... It is the AD&D (2nd Edition) Guide to Dungeons and Catacombs.
While I've never played 2nd Edition in my life, that book has no mechanics in it, so it can be used in any system. It is chock full of practical advice on how to evoke the story being told, avoid common problems, and logically plan out a campaign world - complete with maps based on the standard physics of earth.

I can't possibly recommend it highly enough.



I'll have to give that book a look. I don't really want to recommend anything in the main body of the post that requires the DM to buy stuff (other than index cards or post-it notes) and that is edition specific. I'd like to have the advice here be general enough that when 4e comes out it will still be totally useful.

Most of the AD&D 2e DMG supplements are excellent resources, some are even hilarious. The Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide is indeed an excellent read, as is Creative Campaigning. However, it's worth being aware that they lift a lot of material from various 1e AD&D harbacks. If I recall correctly, they particularly raid the Wilderness Survival Guide and Dungeoneer's Survival Guide.




One of my thingies I like to do to speed up a game is removing opposite rolls and using set DC's. Both for PC's and NPC's

Take the Ninja sneaks in the Dark example. Instead of making hide/move silent Vs spot/listen checks you roll only for the ninja vs a 10 + Skill Modifier DC.

This works better for the PC's. They get to roll their precious dice and feel involved, you get time to think ahead.

Whilst I notice AKA_Bait regards this as a deviation from the core rules, I have to say I disagree. The practice of 'taking 10' is very much a core rule precept and supposed to be encouraged by the DM for any situation in which it can be applied. I strongly support this over prerolling the dice, and I think it slots in well with the advice later concerning using averages.



An alternative to the pre-rolling is the slightly evil method of rolling a D20 or two every few minutes, smiling quietly and writing the result down. Before long, the plyers don't know if it's anything important or not...

Not used this, since I haven't DMed, but I've been on the opposite side and it's not too bad from the player's perspective (at least if they're like me).
I use this all the time, especially if the players are yabbering on or taking a long time to discuss something or other. I advocate including it in the 'keeping the game moving section'.

Also, I'm looking forward to reading about Ted.

Icewalker
2008-02-24, 03:03 AM
Ending a session well is something I put a lot of effort into. I like BBEGs that escape. It makes beating them that much more meaningful later on. The group cares a lot more about finally killing that one guy that got away three times than killing three guys who never even tried to escape. The problem with having BBEGs that always get away is that it's disappointing to your players. You don't want to end the game on a down note. For the rest of the week until the next game your players will still feel that down note. The solution is to let them win something towards the end of the session. You can spend 90% of the game kicking their asses and having your enemies escape, but if the 10% of the time the PCs win happens to be at the end of the game, winning will be the taste that's left in their mouths for next week's session.

I know a great way to deal with this from the experience I have with a DM who has many very detailed villains who we won't ever really kill. Basically, assuming the bad guy has an evil plan, what you do is you foil it but he still escapes. Or the plan involves him gaining power, and he gets away with half, but the party gets the other half. Stuff like that. Give the PCs a partial win.

clockwork warrior
2008-02-26, 02:45 PM
when is this going to be updated, i look forward to more helpful tips, and would hate to see this project simply be thrown away due to lack of interest

AKA_Bait
2008-02-26, 03:17 PM
when is this going to be updated, i look forward to more helpful tips, and would hate to see this project simply be thrown away due to lack of interest

More coming tonight or tomorrow. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about it, things just got very busy in the other aspects of my life over the weekend. I suppose I should be flattered that the next section is so eagerly awaited.


Stuff about taking 10

Good points. I should say something about taking ten. I'd rather it be offered as an option to players rather than as an always taking ten. I'll slot it in.


All this pre rolling stuff I find quite unusual. Random encounters I might roll up beforehand, but I have never really considered rolling skill checks beforehand. Initiative I can understand, as that's pretty laborious at the beginning of a combat to roll for every Monster.

It was odd to me too when I first started doing it, but I've found it speeds things up a lot and removes that 'I just failed a listen check' suspension of disbelief problem.


I use this all the time, especially if the players are yabbering on or taking a long time to discuss something or other. I advocate including it in the 'keeping the game moving section'.

Good point also. I will add it in there when I put up the next section.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-27, 02:22 PM
Winding Down Section is now Up.

Matthew: I added some stuff about 'Taking 10' and 'Taking 20' in the preparation and keeping things moving sections.

WrstDmEvr
2008-02-27, 04:16 PM
Bravo, Bait. Brilliant guide.

Matthew
2008-02-27, 08:23 PM
Looks good. I enjoyed reading through the new section on winding the session down and the advice seems practical and well conveyed to me. One other option that might be worth discussing is 'ending a session early on account of party decimaton.' Chances are you're planning to cover that in the 'you did what?' section, but I thought I would mention it, just in case.

Also, nless I missed it, I still think that you should spare a few lines for the discussion of the use (and misuse) of Circumstance Modifiers.

Rolaran
2008-02-28, 02:53 AM
Very impressed with the winding down a session tips, that's something that can be tough to do effectively. Looking forward to the sections about countering players when they do something unexpected or game-disruptive.

AKA_Bait
2008-02-28, 10:14 AM
Looks good. I enjoyed reading through the new section on winding the session down and the advice seems practical and well conveyed to me. One other option that might be worth discussing is 'ending a session early on account of party decimaton.' Chances are you're planning to cover that in the 'you did what?' section, but I thought I would mention it, just in case.

Humm. I hadn't really thought about including a section on TPK or near TPK outside of some advice on how to avoid it in the 'You Did What?' section.


Also, unless I missed it, I still think that you should spare a few lines for the discussion of the use (and misuse) of Circumstance Modifiers.

Added some mention of it in the 'Greasing the Wheels' section and I'm going to talk about it more in the Problem Players section.

Matthew
2008-02-29, 08:40 PM
Humm. I hadn't really thought about including a section on TPK or near TPK outside of some advice on how to avoid it in the 'You Did What?' section.

Yeah, it's probably best placed in that section, probably alongside a paragraph or two on 'dealing with unexpected character death.' I always find coping with the death of established characters at low to mid levels to be problematic, and yet the randomness of the game almost guarantees it will happen sooner or later.



Added some mention of it in the 'Greasing the Wheels' section and I'm going to talk about it more in the Problem Players section.

Seems good to me, I look forward to reading the rest.

[Edit]
That reminds me. You should probably add something about Attribute Checks and their use for unusual actions.

Archpaladin Zousha
2008-02-29, 08:43 PM
I am so bookmarking this one! My brother's been on my case about DMing for years, and this is some of the soundest advice I've ever come across!:smallsmile:

AKA_Bait
2008-02-29, 09:12 PM
[Edit]
That reminds me. You should probably add something about Attribute Checks and their use for unusual actions.

Also dealing with that in the 'You did what?' section, which I'm currently taking a break from working on (and watching Mushi-shi... good show though, and I'm not a big anime fan).


I am so bookmarking this one! My brother's been on my case about DMing for years, and this is some of the soundest advice I've ever come across!:smallsmile:

Glad to be of some help. I'm doing my best to be as neutral as possible and I will gladly admit that much of the advice I'm putting down here in article format is stuff that I myself picked up as a result of the many threads including volumes of good advice I've found on this forum. Everyone has some advice, over the past 2 years I've been on this forum there have been at least a hundred 'new DM needs advice' threads and, being an imperfect human DM myself, I read pretty much all of them so that I can improve, and I have. I'm just trying to filter it down into the parts that would work for whatever game someone is running and put it in a relaxing and somewhat amusing tone. Also, to return the favor. Were this to be made a sticky upon its completion, I would update it frequently with new applicable advice and for 4e should it catch on. The playground has helped me enormously both as a DM (there are so many good DM's here it stuns me sometimes) and a person (reasonable argument is fun!). This article is only a little things in terms of what I owe to everyone here.

The credit for the ideas belongs to everyone running around in the playground.

Just felt like making that clear. More to come!

Sstoopidtallkid
2008-03-02, 08:04 AM
Are you planning to include a section on encounter balance?