View Full Version : DMing help: planning a campaign

2008-10-06, 11:59 PM
I only started DMing recently, and with no real example to go off of (I volunteered to DM for our group who just started a while ago) I really feel like I could be doing a better job. So, I come here to ask for help from fellow DMs or even players who have played a while. General DMing tips would help me a lot, as well as tips for my current campaign.

First, for my campaign, I feel I'm not putting in enough opportunities for roleplaying, or non-combat encounters in general, but whenever I try to make a campaign with more than just bash down the door and kill all the enemies, I corner myself into a campaign where there's no fighting at all, or just come up blank. As well, most of my players aren't roleplaying most of the time, though they say they want to do it more. I don't think any of them want to play through a soap-opera or love affair type deal, but acting like someone other than themselves would probably help. The main issue here is our natural tendency for silliness, cracking obscure jokes and doing things completely out of character for laughs. (I myself find myself drawn into this sometimes) Does anyone have any tricks they use to make players be more serious?

Another issue I have is planning. Usually I just wing the entire campaign, letting the players do what they want for the most part and make their own story. This would probably work well for many players, but my group is the rare breed that actually wants to be railroaded. So, I tried to plan out the next few encounters of the game, but somehow I just ended up making a series of fights with nameless goblins.

On that note, I have another problem: My players seem to refuse to use any strategy in fights. I throw encounters at them that shouldn't be too much trouble, and they usually end up using a few dailies and very low health. (This is 4e) I'm especially worried since, for the end of the current series of fights (The one I planned out I mentioned above) I planned to have them fight a dragon as the encounter 3 levels above them that the DM guide suggests. With the trouble they've been having with encounters 1 level above them, I wouldn't be suprised by a TPK. I've been giving magic items and gold and such as recommended by the DM's guide as well, though many of the rewards is part of the dragon's horde, so they won't have quite as many as they should by the time they fight the dragon. So far, I've had to dumb down the enemies, passing up opportunities to kill off players, hitting fighters and paladins instead of weaker players in easy reach.

The DM guide also recommends giving the enemy superior terrain to work in, but I'm afraid that would make a hard encounter into a TPK as they happily blunder into the fight. As an example, I gave out a hint in an earlier campaign that there was a dragon nearby. So, of course, they immediately decide to rush in and kill the dragon while they were waiting for something else. I had to make the dragon land and fight the party on foot to give them any chance at all, if the dragon had used his normal strategy of flying around attacking, he would have slaughtered the party and taken virtually no damage.

So, if anyone has any specific advice on here, or just any general ideas to help me make the game more fun for everyone, I would really appreciate any help you guys could give.

2008-10-07, 12:27 AM
Although a relatively new DM myself, I think that in order to get your players to use more strategy, one of the best ways to do so is to tell them simply, "If you all aren't careful and dont use good tactics, you will die. I am not pulling any punches." Then the trick is to follow through. You cannot let up.

Simply telling them this will get them to think more tactically.

2008-10-07, 12:34 AM
My real life group would describe themselves as "noodlers" at best. Their character optimization is haphazard at best, self-destructive at worst. And they care a LOT more about laughing at each other's foibles than following the overarching plotline I've set out for them.

It's a blast.

Initially, I really beat myself up for not helping them create tremendously 3-dimensional characters, and for not living up to the planning of my incredibly detailed campaign when it came to actually executing the sessions. But then, I realized that every time I came up with powerful NPC's as either villains or boss-types to help guide their decision-making process, the players would almost instantly create silly, nonsensical nicknames for the NPC, and it would stick. Sure, the half-dragon sorcerer hung two players up in telekinetic spheres, and had her minions smoke the rest of the players in order to get their attention. But all of a sudden, her nickname is Krispy Kreme. Try to get respect THEN.

Now, we walk a balancing act. I do enough planning to stay a session or two ahead. I've given up on total sandbox (unplanned, set your own course in this dangerous and adventure-filled wilderness) scenarios, since they just lose interest and start finding excuses to argue with each other.

So, there's usually some kind of big, overarching menace to deal with. A menace whose presence can recede when they're having fun elsewhere, or loom large when they're hopelessly sidetracked. There's at least two NPC's who can feed them plot points and remind them about things that they should be remembering. And they're usually poor and hungry, until I start to feel like they're cooperating and paying attention.

Oh, and if you're worried about killer encounters, and players not working together, remember that there are things that players hate worse than getting killed. Getting captured sucks. Getting your gear stolen/broken sucks. Getting your ass kicked by a really obnoxious or ostensibly-inferior opponent sucks hard. If they're not thinking, and not taking combat seriously, throw some kobolds with nets at them.

Alternately, if the combat encounters feel challenging to them, even if you're holding back a bit, well, that's okay too. It's great to occasionally be able to play smart characters as smart as they are. But high level spellcasters or monsters with coordinated tactics, played to their fullest extent, have huge TPK possibilities. Which is fun for no one. Unless the players catch on that they're being coddled a bit, who cares?

2008-10-07, 01:25 AM
Hmm, now I suddenly have plans for all kobolds to be tucker's kobolds. Everything else will be a bit stupid, but every once in a while I'll throw some kobolds in that use tactics from hell, and eventually they'll learn to plan a bit more. Or they won't, and will just avoid kobolds like the plague. Either one of those sounds great to me. :smallamused:

Actually, I think I'll make those kobolds the 1 level lower than the party encounter that the DM guide recommends. And then laugh when they have a harder time with them than the 1 level higher encounters. (Or even the 3 levels higher ones, if I can manage to be that dastardly:smallwink:)

2008-10-07, 09:21 AM
As far as roleplaying goes, write interesting NPCs. By which I mean, write interesting people. Don't worry about their stats, just write a personality. Then put that character between the characters and the fighting.

Give your NPC some piece of information. Tell the players he has that information. Make them figure out how to get it from him. Maybe the NPC is last year's town hero. He's got a map to the kobold mines, but doesn't want to give it up (or let it down). But he knows he's too old to venture out there these days. One way the PCs could get the map is by flattering him and saying they were so impressed with what he did some time ago that they want to follow in his footsteps and save the town from the deadly kobolds. Or something to that effect. Whatever you do, don't let the players get away with "I flatter him *rolls d20*." You want them to talk to the guy not throw dice at him.

As far as tactics go, show the players how important tactics are. Throw some easy enemies at them. Don't use good tactics. Show the PCs that in a straight up fight, they're better than those enemies. Then throw the exact same enemy group at them, but with a tactical advantage. The players need to witness the difference that playing smart can make. If they need more bludgeoning than that, make sure to point out the tactics the enemies are using. Just keep using the same thing over and over till the players use it themselves. I'm not familiar with 4e so I'll have to use a 3.5 example. Throw rogues at them who tumble into flanks around one PC and get sneak attacks. Eventually the players will learn to use the walls or each other as a way to avoid being flanked. They may even start flanking enemies themselves. Once they grok flanking, move on to some other tactic.

2008-10-07, 09:53 AM
For more general help (the comments posted here have been very insightful but are more specific), you can always check out AKA Bait's excellent primer on the subject matter:

2008-10-07, 10:16 AM
3 words: Planning ... planning ... and planning

-Get them to Role Play while not letting the session become an opera

1) Ever watch a James Bond film? START WITH ACTION! It gets people into the game. Nothing too hard or even complex, but something that engages them.

2) Add NPCs to adventures (nothing says role play like interaction with NPCS) *hint* you must create the NPC before hand, attitude, reactions to likely PCs actions, stats (especially insight)

3) Terrain is an excellent way to make them fight with tactics. Do not be afraid of climb/balance checks.

4) Worst case scenario ... you kill someone *shrug* remember you have to bleed out or be reduced to -1/2 your total life to die ... that's really hard. Usually "death" only happens when your entire team gets knocked out (have enimies take prisoners)

If your team is playing like crap ... add a NPC adventurer to lighten the load (Mages and Healers are fairly easy to control as DM)