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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Oct 2012

    Default I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    Hey everyone!

    I have a little "problem" which I hope you can help me with. See, me and my friends recently decided it would be awesome to start playing Dungeons and Dragons. We'd all heard about it before and agreed that it sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, none of us have ever actually played it before.

    So we're reading the rulebooks, creating characters and figuring out how the game works. This is all going pretty well, I believe, and I think we should be able to get through a session without trouble with the rules spoiling our fun.

    But to play DnD, you need a GM. None of us have any experience with the game, so this was a bit of a problem. In the end, I volunteered because I have actually played some PC RPGs like Neverwinter Nights II and such which use DnD mechanics, making me a tiny bit more experienced than the others.

    But I don't really know what is expected of me. I mean, I know what my role is. I have the Dungeon Master's guide. I'm just kind of confused about the practical aspects. What should I do to prepare for the coming session? I decided to just use one of those scenarios in the back of one of the books, meaning that I don't actually have to think of a plot myself, but I'm still kind of at a loss as to what, exactly, I should be doing to make sure everything goes well. In other words, I lack experience and am unsure if I will be able to direct the game well.

    Can you guys please give me some advice? We're playing Pathfinder, if that makes a difference.
    Last edited by TheTraitorKing; 2012-10-29 at 12:38 PM.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    There are two ways that you can fail as a GM from a technical standpoint (from a moral standpoint as long as everyone has fun you've succeeded)

    1) You don't know how to progress the storyline
    2) You don't know the combat rules

    If you've read through the scenario you know what's supposed to be happening. You should think of reactions to what the players might do - what if they kill an important NPC? What if they don't pick up on a clue they need? What if one of the PCs decides to spend a week trying to hit on barmaids while the rest of the party does other things?

    Since it's everyone's first time playing your party will probably be well behaved and the last part won't happen, but the first two are possible (maybe even likely). Be ready to make up something on the fly to fill the hole your party created in the story - this doesn't require elaborate preparation, just a willingness to say things like "on the corpse you find a note, on which is written exactly what he was going to tell you anyway" and things like that.

    For part 2, you should look at the stat block of every monster the PCs are probably going to fight, and decide on two things: what is that monster's tactics going to be, and what are the rules for his abilities? You don't want to interrupt combat to look up rules in the middle because it's boring, so if you have a monster that uses bull rush or trip attacks, be sure you understand the mechanics before the game starts.

    I would also recommend doing a practice combat before the actual game starts just to make sure everyone's familiar with the rules and any obvious deficiencies are ironed out (for example, if someone doesn't understand the spell casting rules it's better to find out now than when it actually counts). Something simple like the party kills a group of goblins.
    Last edited by Kornaki; 2012-10-29 at 12:38 PM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Friv's Avatar

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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    I'm going to try a short essay, here. Some of this stuff not everyone is going to agree with, because if there's one thing I've learned it's that everyone and their brother has a very strong opinion about what makes for great or poor GMing.

    Ultimately speaking, being a GM in D&D is about juggling three very different jobs and making sure that none of them conflict with one another. Most GM mistakes or problems, especially for newer players, come from either failing to take one of these three roles into account, or taking one of these three roles too much into account. Not all of the advice here applies to all games, but I think it all applies to D&D and since that's what you're playing right now it's what I'm going to focus on.

    Because I think that I'm witty, I call these jobs the AAA - Adjudicator, Adversary, and Animator.

    1) Adjudicator

    The adjudicator is pretty simple, and is the job people tend to think of first, so I'm sticking it first. As GM, you have to be ready to make rulings, say how die rolls affect events, and make sure that the rules are understood or followed. Much of the time, this is as simple as keeping a rough eye on what people are doing to make sure that they're not making rules mistakes; D&D is pretty comprehensive a lot of the time. Sometimes, it means deciding what the rules for a given action are on the spur of the moment. Sometimes it also involves house rules, where you decide that a particular effect or combination of effects has a negative impact on your game, either due to being really powerful, really unimpressive, or just really weird.

    As an adjudicator, you need two major traits - consistency and certainty. Knowing the rules is something that is very good, but as there are a lot of them and you're new to this, there will be times when you just don't know something. When that happens, it's important to have a system in place to decide what you do. Nothing saps the energy out of a game like having the DM spend fifteen minutes searching through rulebooks to find a particular obscure rule; on the other hand, players can get very upset when a ruling that goes against them turns out to be wrong later. Strike whatever balance works best at your table.

    Since you've got new players it's not as likely that there's going to be a lot of arguing about your calls, but still - make sure at the start that you have a simple system to decide how you'll resolve rules questions, and once you make a ruling, apply it to anyone else doing the same thing. If one person gets to make a roll to grab the edge of a cliff, others will rightly feel that they should do the same.

    2) Adversary

    As Adversary, your job is to ensure that challenges and threats to the players are interesting and frequent, and to provide opposition to their tasks. Remember that you are not, as a rule, trying to beat them, but instead to make sure that they don't get bored by giving them cool challenges, puzzles, and fights. Adversary tends to be one of the hardest roles for new GMs, because we tend to be programmed to want to 'win', and when you are deliberately opposing someone else things can get personal quickly. This is another spot where I can't give great advice, because a lot of players are different and what one person considers a fun challenge will have someone else storming from the table crying out that you're persecuting them. But you know your friends better than I do anyway. Strike a balance. ;)

    3) Animator

    The players are controlling the main cast of this adventure, but there's a whole world out there that isn't them, and the Animator's job is to make it come alive, mixing their stories and lives into what's going on. This is particularly important with pre-made scenarios. At the start of the game, find out quickly what your players want to do. Are they just out to get rich, or are they interested in justice and fighting evil? Do they have any backstory ideas of their own, or would they rather be blank slates? New players often have very little story, or alternately way too much, depending on their natures.

    This is the part that you seem to be struggling with at the moment. For preparation, you want to make sure that you're ready to deal with the most likely ways that the players are going to throw your game off the rails. Help them decide how they've met going in, so that you don't have to do the incredibly awkward people encountering each other for the first time scenes that, trust me, are usually just kind of bad. For the first scenario, especially with new players, it's okay to have a short railroad to lead the party to the dungeon - but let them know roughly what the intro is going to be before they make characters, instead of afterwards, so that if they want to they can integrate characters into the plot right off the bat.

    This is also the role that you're most likely to, over the long run, feel like you're not succeeding at even when you are. Coming up with new ideas is hard, and animating a dynamic world that responds to the players' actions is a definite labour of love that can go wrong. I'd suggest taking some time to design or find a major encounter or small adventure that you can throw in just about everywhere, so that if the players do something totally weird on you and wander off from the plot completely you can toss it in and let them muck through it for a few hours while you figure out what to do.
    If you like my ideas, why not take a peek at my Patreon? New RPGs and campaigns on a constant drip!

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Pixie in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    Yeah... what Friv said. Especially this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Friv View Post
    This is also the role that you're most likely to, over the long run, feel like you're not succeeding at even when you are. Coming up with new ideas is hard, and animating a dynamic world that responds to the players' actions is a definite labour of love that can go wrong. I'd suggest taking some time to design or find a major encounter or small adventure that you can throw in just about everywhere, so that if the players do something totally weird on you and wander off from the plot completely you can toss it in and let them muck through it for a few hours while you figure out what to do.
    Certain things can be set in stone, like specific geography (e.g. the Northern Mountains) or the locations of major cities and landmarks, but you should endeavor not to struggle against your own creation; there's no reason your players can't happen upon the village of Longpath, which is beset by goblin necromancers, if they unexpectedly avoid a scenario, complete it very quickly, etc. And of course, it's still your first game, and you can get away with a little railroading to get them to Dungeon #475B.

    I had a similar experience, having been familiar with d20 rules from Bioware games, and I played only one short session as a level 1 fighter then went straight to DMing. So as far as DMing your first game with new players goes, I recommend giving them about 5-10 minutes of real-time before the dungeon--easily accomplished by having them survey the area and try out their nifty Search, Spot, et al. while talking among themselves in-character--to make them congeal a little. The combat encounters don't need to be all that awesome. It's already novel, and they're (presumably) level 1. As long as the session ends on a memorable note, you'll all be chomping at the bit to play again.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    Quote Originally Posted by TheTraitorKing View Post
    But I don't really know what is expected of me. I mean, I know what my role is. I have the Dungeon Master's guide. I'm just kind of confused about the practical aspects. What should I do to prepare for the coming session? I decided to just use one of those scenarios in the back of one of the books, meaning that I don't actually have to think of a plot myself, but I'm still kind of at a loss as to what, exactly, I should be doing to make sure everything goes well. In other words, I lack experience and am unsure if I will be able to direct the game well.

    Can you guys please give me some advice? We're playing Pathfinder, if that makes a difference.
    Practical advice for running a scripted scenario:

    #1 Know the scenario well. Read it until it bores you then take some time to consider as many different ways it could go wrong as you can. Then go back and read it again. Seriously, if you're running a published adventure you can't really know it too well. Make sure you know what all the NPCs can do while you're at it.

    #2 Get the players on the same page and the player characters together. You don't have to do all the work here, you can ask the players to come up with a reason to be wherever the start is and be willing to buy in to the adventure's premise. You can also simply throw them together and work through building a group but that takes time and can be difficult. I'd have them come up with reasons the first time.

    #3 Know your players' characters. Preferably, know how each player prefers to play as well. Then go back and figure out how to incorporate each in your scenario. Give each a moment on center stage if you can. Best of all (and this may take experience) learn to react to the players' choices instead of simply forcing them to react to your scenario. Making it obvious their choice affected the game is the pinnacle of putting them on center stage.

    #4 Most important of all, be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. Don't expect perfection from either yourself or your players.

    #5 It probably doesn't have to be said (though occasional threads make me wonder) but don't lose sight of the fact you're playing a game. Everyone should be there for recreation - fun. Don't let personal issues affect the game and don't let in-game set backs affect personal life.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by Raum; 2012-10-29 at 10:24 PM.
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  6. - Top - End - #6
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    Well... what edition are you interested in?

    3.5e?
    4e?
    Pathfinder (which is sorta not exactly D&D?)
    The upcoming D&D Next?

    Any of the fan games that do the 'like D&D, but often better' thing, like Legend?

    How interested are you in being able to buy modules and just run the group through modules?

    How interested are you in having free, easily available, or cheap core rules?

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Titan in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    You might want to start off with a published module. Having a story already layed out can help getting into the game become much easier.

    If you want to skip directly to making up plots for your players to interact with, then remember the DM's mantra; It's our story, not my story.

    Check out the link in my sig for some basic world-building advice.
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  8. - Top - End - #8
    Troll in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    My standard advice to anybody starting out the game is the same: Read the Silverclawshift campaign archives. Heck get your players to read that too.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: I'm now a GM but have never played DnD

    Quote Originally Posted by Kornaki View Post
    There are two ways that you can fail as a GM from a technical standpoint (from a moral standpoint as long as everyone has fun you've succeeded)
    I will definitely have them all fight some monsters to make sure everyone knows how it works, that's a great idea. The rest of your advice is very sound as well, so thank you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Friv View Post
    I'm going to try a short essay, here. Some of this stuff not everyone is going to agree with, because if there's one thing I've learned it's that everyone and their brother has a very strong opinion about what makes for great or poor GMing.
    A nice and detailed post. I've already told them to start thinking of ways in which they could've met to avoid the awkward introductions and I will keep the rest of your advice in mind as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by MarsRendac View Post
    Yeah... what Friv said. Especially this:
    I'll try to come up with some small diversions then, in case they really go insane and mess up my entire plot. I'll do my best to end the session on a high note, but no promises there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raum View Post
    Practical advice for running a scripted scenario:
    Looks like I've got some reading to do. I will keep what you said in my mind, though generally pretty terrible at dealing with failure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gavinfoxx View Post
    Well... what edition are you interested in?
    We're using Pathfinder, as it seemed to be very well regarded by the majority of people.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelb_Panthera View Post
    You might want to start off with a published module. Having a story already layed out can help getting into the game become much easier.
    Eeyup, I decided to just use an adventure set in the Forgotten Realms. It's a fairly "standard" RPG setting, so it should be easy to get into. And I will keep your advice in mind when I feel adventurous enough to create a world of my own.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeminiZero View Post
    My standard advice to anybody starting out the game is the same: Read the Silverclawshift campaign archives. Heck get your players to read that too.
    I read that some time ago, it was a great read!

    Thanks for the advice, everyone!

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