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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    I'm getting a little overwhelmed trying to learn how to DM for a group of my friends. I want to do as good of a job as I can but I don't really know where to start with everything. Any tips I can get as I'm pretty much completely new to DMing as a whole? What books should I read outside the DMG? How much detail should I put into things like towns and cities? How do I handle players wanting to buy stuff? How should I prepare the plot? What should I have on hand in terms of tables and rules? etc. etc.


    Playing 3.5.
    Last edited by Reshy; 2014-05-08 at 10:59 PM.

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    Titan in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    I'm getting a little overwhelmed trying to learn how to DM for a group of my friends. I want to do as good of a job as I can but I don't really know where to start with everything. Any tips I can get as I'm pretty much completely new to DMing as a whole? What books should I read outside the DMG? How much detail should I put into things like towns and cities? How do I handle players wanting to buy stuff? How should I prepare the plot? What should I have on hand in terms of tables and rules? etc. etc.

    Playing 3.5.
    Your questions, 1 by 1.

    Any tips I can get as I'm pretty much completely new to DMing as a whole?
    Accept that you will screw things up. It's part of the learning process, it happens to everyone, and it's no big deal. Similarly, accept that your game will not be on the same level as something like a published novel (at least not a good one) - nobody expects it to. Relax.

    Moreover, assuming that your friends aren't being tools, there will be slack given for a new DM, and maybe even help given.

    What books should I read outside the DMG?
    First off, screw the DMG. It has rules you need, but it's advice is terrible. As for things to read, nothing else is necessary. I personally have heard good things about Gamemastering Secrets, so you might want to look there.

    I'd also recommend reading the aspects section from Fate Accelerated. It's a 32 page document for a different game, but aspects work surprisingly well ported out even with the mechanics stripped out. Stick a few on a character, stick a few on a place, and you've got a pretty strong basis to work with.

    Then there are podcasts. Fear the Boot has a series on joining in on RPGs, including bits for new GMs. It's worth a listen.
    How much detail should I put into things like towns and cities?
    Less than the DMG implies. You do not need names for every single person. You do not need to note specific details about every single place in advance. In all honesty, you can get by with a name, a vague map (where you might have six different areas, which are more like "noble district" than "manor of Lord Arthur"), and a quick list of some traits (as in the aspects section).

    How do I handle players wanting to buy stuff?
    It depends on the group. There's a price list for D&D, there's the item availability table, so that handles the mechanics. As for the rest, some people like role playing out their shopping, other people prefer to abstract it. I generally strike a mix - if someone is buying something cheap (for them), I generally just throw in a line of description to the effect of "[Character] finds a [item] at a bazaar after searching around a bit". If it's a major purchase, then it might be worth playing out. You'll suss out the group preferences in time.

    How should I prepare the plot?
    Don't. Set up a situation, have some idea of where it could go - neither of these need exacting detail - and get the players to make their PCs such that the PCs have things that they will proactively do. Then, let things go as they will, nudging as need be.

    What should I have on hand in terms of tables and rules?

    Know the basics off hand (how skills work, how attacks work, etc.). That said, if you've got a rules lawyer in your group, asking them how things work is often helpful.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

    I'm not joking one bit. I would buy the hell out of that.
    -- ChubbyRain

    Current Design Project: Legacy, a game of masters and apprentices for two players and a GM.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    First and foremost, remember that DMing is supposed to be fun. Don't let it give you an ulcer

    All you really need is the Players Handbook, DMG and a Monster Manual if you don't want to have to come up with all the opponents yourself. You don't have to memorize everything, but become familiar with the material and learn how to use the index like a pro.

    You don't have to plot out the entire town/city, just what you think is going to be the interesting stuff. If they want to go somewhere you didn't intend on them going (one of them decides that they have to go to an apothecary for ingredients or decides to rob some random peasant's home) then just wing it and make a note to flesh it out more later. Trust me, improv is much easier than it sounds and a little bit of common sense on the spot can save you an hour of plotting ahead of time. Although having a handful of stock descriptions just laying around for when you draw a blank is also a good idea.

    If a player wants to buy something and it makes sense for him to be able to, then let him. It can be as simple as handwaving that 'you go to the blacksmith and get yourself a chamber pot' or as involved as a terse battles of wills with the local alchemist where the two of you take turns spitting at each other and claiming that the other's trying to rob you blind while you haggle. It's up to you how much of a trial a shopping trip should be.

    The way I tend to deal with plot is to have a dozen or so planned occurrences that I can throw at them each session (rarely get to all of them, but I reuse the ones that I didn't use later) but to let the players actions determine how each of the scenarios goes. Quite a bit of the time the players will provide their own entertainment and you can just sit back and enjoy the carnage; have some cookie cutter NPCs that you can easily reskin and you can make them think that they played directly into your plot, it'll blow their minds.

    You can get a DM screen that has some nifty info on it, but generally just keep the DMG or SRD on hand to look up things that really stump you and rule as fairly (or awesomely depending on the individual scenario) as you can with what you can remember.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Making mistakes is okay. If you can't remember a rule, just keep playing. Make a call on it and then tell them you'll look it up later.

    Don't plan in super detail. Things can change a lot in a game.
    Last edited by Gamgee; 2014-05-08 at 11:52 PM.
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    There's a handy 'little' guide here.
    Quote Originally Posted by Fish View Post
    She was about to say "--this new place that just opened up, Starshinia, which was founded by a red-headed aasimar, but was just taken over by an Azurite fallen paladin turned blackguard. Apropos of nothing, I hear they just invented a new spell called Halflings Don't Have To Breathe."

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    I liked how Knaight answered so I will use the same format, I also think that all the advice here already is good.

    Any tips I can get as I'm pretty much completely new to DMing as a whole?
    Don't allow splatbook material, ore only material you are super familiar with. There is alot of material for 3.5 and if you just allow everything then you are setting yourself up for headache as a new DM imo.


    What books should I read outside the DMG?
    The PHB is much more important for you to be familiar with than the DMG.

    How do I handle players wanting to buy stuff?
    I just let them take a day or afternoon and "replesnish" their stocks. I am very much on the honor system when it comes to mundane items. For magoc stuff, its campaign specific, but I usually make them play that out, and also rarely have anything beyond a limited quantity of potions available for purchase.


    How should I prepare the plot?
    Knaight gave you some really good advice on this. Below I will give an example of a write-up I am using for our upcoming sessions, but I very frequently don't write anything up. If you DO write something up, be prepared for it to not get used, or bypassed, or easily conquered, or whatever. That's fine, just shelf it for later use.


    What should I have on hand in terms of tables and rules?
    I use post-its in my books to help me tab to specific pages. The basic rules you need to know off the top of your head, how AOO works, initiative, skill checks, attack and damage rolls, etc. Beyond that its fine to pause and look up something every once in a while, asking the rules lawyer is a good way to get a fast answer also. If something is bogging the game down though, then just make a ruling "ok for this session we will do it THIS way, but I'll look up the actual rule later"

    Spoiler
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    Relief for Rhiswynn:
    Trip to Anvil:
    Tin’akh will have a convo with Varus about what his plans are now that he is masterless. Tin’akh will note that the group is absent a mage, and offer him a spot in the Band.

    Anvil:
    Tin’akh and Roy/Imrahil will go to meet (Jared’s character) and hire him on for their contract. The other and Darien will go to meet up with the Deputy Mayor of Rhiswhynn, Cal McKannis. McKannis will express his concern about returning as soon as the caravners are ready, which should be about 2 days after clearing the Undermarch.

    Forge:
    Garimeth will invite them to stay in his hold. If the party requests it he will accompany them to Rhiswhynn, but otherwise he will stay to take care of Dwarven Council stuff.

    Travel: Forge to Rhiswhynn:
    Caravan will be attacked by 10 bandits about 3 days out from Rhiswhynn. McKannis will complain about how much more frequently the attacks have become. Use the following table if an inspection is made:
    DC: 10: They are dressed in furs and leathers.
    DC: 15: The furs and leathers are in a style used by many of the barbarian tribes of the North.
    DC: 20: Their boots are all marked on the inside the same way the legion has soldiers mark their gear.

    Rhiswhynn:
    The party will receive a beleaguered welcome from tired, hungry, and cold people. Apparently there was another attack about a week prior, and one of the family’s farms was robbed. McKannis will introduce them to his family and Mayor Tenubrius. Tenubrius seems less than thrilled about their arrival and doubtful of their odds of success. He will excuse himself from the meeting after a few minutes. If asked, McKannis will mention that the Mayor thought that using the town’s dwindling funds to hire a mercenary group was out of the question with an imperial post nearby that they pay taxes to.

    **If the party wants to visit the neighboring village to the south then they will receive much the same story, and will mention how uncooperative Mayor Tenubrius has been in partnering together to deal with the raids.**

    The group will be lodged for the evening, and in the morning McKannis will take them to the Legion Post. They are greeted by Capt. Janus, who recognizes Tin’akh and XXX from the Legion. After a brief shooting of the breeze, during which McKannis will make a remark about Tin’akh’s unit being shut down, and asks how he survived that attack, and what happened. Tin’akh replies that he got lucky, and the past is best left in the past.

    Janus tells them that a lot of his men have deserted and skipped town, leaving him undermanned. He is having a hard time trying to track the bandits with his manning being as bad as it is, but that they should talk to Fisk, his lead scout. Fisk will tell them that he can tell the bandits come from the north, and wear the same furs as the barbarians in the clan to the North. They have sent people from the town, and legion, to talk to them but none have returned. The last emissary was sent about a month ago, but With their numbers being so low they don’t want to risk an open confrontation with the barbarians.

    Fisk will show them where the barbarians camp the following day. Fisk will not let anyone scout ahead with him unless they suitably impress him with their skills. DC: 20. Then he will do so grudgingly. Halfway into trek the will stumble upon a party of 3 half-orcs. Fisk will immediately open fire. Following the fight Fisk will shrug and say, “you kill orcs when you’re in the Legion. Hope none of them were your kin.” Shortly after that a blizzard will hit, and no matter how hard the party objects Fisk will insist on continuing on. He will lead them into several wilderness traps and a fight with a grizzly bear. After the grizzly bear fight he will relent and set up camp, if the party sets up camp without him and refuses to push on then he will snort, call them wimps, and leave. The next day when they encounter the barbarian perimeter they will try and parley, but Fisk will open fire. After the fighting has started Fisk will turn and shoot anybody who is isolated and try and slip away if it looks like the party is going to win.

    Barbarian Party: 11 Level 1 Warriors. If 4 or more of them go down they will flee. They can be talked back into parley only if none of them have been killed by a DC 15 check, if one of them have been dropped then DC 20. If more than 4 of them have been dropped then they will surrender or flee.

    If the group goes to the barbarian camp, the Kremdor tribe, then they will be brought before the Chief, Malak Kremdor, and Wise Woman, Rhosaina J’huul. If there was a peaceful ending to the skirmish then they will be helpful. The Tribe’s leaders inform the party that they have not been raiding on the villages and that the Legion has been attacking their hunters whenever they go too far south. The tribe will release them to deal with the garrison, but will not send anyone to assist them. They may send someone to guide them back though (DC 18 to find the way back otherwise). If the group stays the night they get a free recovery.

    On the way back to the garrison the party will be waylaid by Janus and Fisk. The party is in a bad spot. The party is facing 7 level 2 archers, 4 level 2 warriors, and Fisk and Janus are both level 3. Spot check DC15 to detect the warriors, DC 20 for the archers. The archers will open from cover, and the warriors will engage to block the party from reaching the archers. The warriors will not flee, however the archers, in particular Fisk, will if the battle is going badly. Janus will fight to the death, and if his band runs will request a duel so he can die with dignity. If they offer to let him surrender he will reply that he is damned anyway and will not live out his life in a cell. If they deny him a duel he will attack the weakest party member. If they catch Fisk he will exchange info about Roy’s parents in exchange for release. (Basically he will say that they were living in Rhiswhynn for a little bit stirring up trouble for the Legion before they headed east for Concord.)



    Outcomes:
    If they duel him then he will let them know that the Mayor was on the take. If they capture him then the Mayor will insist on killing him before he regains consciousness, if he is conscious then he will out the Mayor. If Fisk escaped then Janus’ son, 12, will have been shot and killed and if somebody was able to scout with him they will recognize the fletching on the arrow. If the Mayor is outed then he will surrender, and McKannis will draft a letter explaining everything and mark it with the seal of the Rhiswhynn. He will ask them to escort Trebonius, and any other prisoners, to the Imperial Embassy in Forge to be turned over to the Legion, as well as deliver his request for a new garrison commander. He will pay them another 150 gold for this in addition to the 500 gold already promised. The group gets a full-heal-up.


    So again I don't usually write stuff out like that, but I was bored at work. I do however usually kind of think through the situations ahead of time in my head and try and guess what the group is going to most likely do, hence the multiple outcomes at the end. If that was helpful, here was another example that I gave someone else on trying to figure out how to start their game off.

    Spoiler
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garimeth View Post
    Why not do both? Here is a top of my head example:

    The PCs are part of a pirate crew, they start off near a chain of islands and board and loot a ship. Their Captain, the pirate, is slightly crazy. Have the "face" or even all of them be senior mates or junior "officers" - people with cred and some authority on the crew but not like the top 3 in the chain of command. Towards the end of looting the ship the authorities come around the island, and they either out gun or outnumber the pirates, significantly. Meanwhile a storm has been brewing and the first mate and captain have been barking orders for people to hurry up (this makes it seem like the storm didn't just come out of nowhere - unless that's what you want....) the storm is in the opposite direction of the authorities. They finish the looting and the captain orders the crew to start rowing into the storm and look for a safe place to wait out the storm, because he doesn't think they can get past the authorities. It quickly becomes obvious that this is a beast of a storm, and as they pull into an area that looks safe something catastrophic happens and the ship gets run aground, roughly. (So here you can either just have the ship sink - which means no base to set out from or ship to repair and try and get off the island, or you can have the ship take minor to moderate damage that can be repaired after the storm completes.) So now either way, for a certain period of time they are stuck on the island. Now you have to get rid of the Captain so the PCs can take over. Here are a few examples of how you could accomplish that:

    Mutiny - the crew is tired of the captain and his poor decision making, this is just the latest in a string of bad decisions/events.

    Sickness/injury - something they encounter on the island proves extremely deadly, and the captain - as well as much of the crew - succumbs to this.

    Madness (my favorite) - some magical force on the island makes members of the crew, including the Captain, slowly grow more and more rageful and paranoid - to the point where they either attack the PCs or the PCs are forced to put them down.

    So depending on how you go about the above now you have to figure out how do they get off the island? Well again there are many ways you could go about this here is a few examples:

    Repairs: the ship was not that badly damaged and enough living/sane crew members survive to fall under the PCs new leadership and eventually repair the ship.

    Boarding Party/capture: the authorities show up. So now this could be the same group that was chasing them or another one. If the same group you could make them also stuck on the island and be a source of combat and tension. Alternatively maybe they are fine and simply hunting for the pirates, in which case maybe the surviving pirates can try and capture their ship, OR they arrest the PCs and haul them off to face justice. Lots of options with this one.

    Abandoned ship: in some cove or cave the pirates find an old ship of unknown origin that is remarkably well preserved, and with minor repairs can be used to leave the island. If you went with madness or danger on the island to remove the previous Captain then this could be the remnant of whatever civilization either left the curse/danger to protect its resting place or the civilization was destroyed BY the danger/curse. Lots of options with this one too, you could also give the ship some magical properties if that's your thing.

    So the end result is that (unless taken prisoner) they have a small crew, a ship, and are in command. Now they are free to go wherever they want or play the rest of the stuff you have laid out or what have you.

    Anyway just some suggestion to get the ideas flowing.


    How far into your campaign are you, and what is the relative TTRPG experience level of yourself, as well as the rest of the group jooc?
    Last edited by Garimeth; 2014-05-09 at 08:32 AM.
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    How to Run Roleplaying Games (link at the bottom of that page) has a lot of good general purpose advice.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Airk View Post
    How to Run Roleplaying Games (link at the bottom of that page) has a lot of good general purpose advice.
    I'd second this. Greg Stolze knows what he's doing.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

    I'm not joking one bit. I would buy the hell out of that.
    -- ChubbyRain

    Current Design Project: Legacy, a game of masters and apprentices for two players and a GM.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Okay, some specific questions than.


    Do I need to make a map of the towns that the players go by?

    Should I create a map to keep track of where the players are in like in this picture?

    One of the players is considering being a wizard, so how do I go about getting them spells for their book? I know I can throw scrolls their way, and I know they can get them in town for 100~900 gold. Is there anything else I should know regarding that?

    Should I have some pre-made monsters/NPC's on hand (Such as commoners or town guards)?

    How much detail should I go into in the planned story arc and how much should I be improvising?

    When is the time to use the mat? Combat encounters only?

    When is the time to roll the dice, and when is the time to simply give them the answer without a roll?

    How should i deal with the PC's finding a random NPC (That I have nothing written for) super interesting?




    Some other things I'm having difficulties with is making non-combat encounters. I'm reasonably well versed with the splat-books and the rules for generating monsters, but I'm lacking in setting up puzzlers and social encounters.
    Last edited by Reshy; 2014-05-11 at 05:20 AM.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Okay, some specific questions than.


    Do I need to make a map of the towns that the players go by?

    Should I create a map to keep track of where the players are in like in this picture?
    1. Only if you want to. Mapping every town the PCs enter is pointless. If the exact location of everything relative to eachother is important, for instance in a combat situation, or if they spend a lot of time in that one town, fine, but if they are just passing through there's no point.

    2. If need be. For any sort of actual adventuring locations, dungeons and the like, maps are very useful. You want to know what the place looks like, and players want to know as well. If they are going to do nothing but RP their way through people there's no point. If they need to sneak, investigate, bypass traps, think tactically, a map is very useful.

    One of the players is considering being a wizard, so how do I go about getting them spells for their book? I know I can throw scrolls their way, and I know they can get them in town for 100~900 gold. Is there anything else I should know regarding that?
    They can copy from other wizards, they can research their own, they gain two spells upon leveling up, they can find spellbooks for sale or on defeated enemies.

    Should I have some pre-made monsters/NPC's on hand (Such as commoners or town guards)?
    This can be very useful. If your players are the kind that have a tendency to kill everyone they come across or get into stupid brawls in town, guards and such are useful. Premade monsters are found in the Monstrous Manuals. For the most part you can just plug and play with them, even if you can usually rebuild them a bit to be better.
    Premade NPCs, at least personality-wise are useful. Names and personalities you can pull out when necessary rather than run into the situation of:
    DM "You meet the local mayor whose name is....uh....Bob. He's a nondescript guy of about 30"
    Player: "Any relation to Bob the guard and Bob the blacksmith, who also were nondescript 30-something?"
    DM: "...yeah"
    (I'm totally guity of this one)
    The nice thing about pregenerated NPCs is that the initial effort can be annoying, especially if you are not too famliliar with the system, but once it's done they can be used over and over again.

    How much detail should I go into in the planned story arc and how much should I be improvising?
    This is a hard one to answer. Some GMs like to spend a lot of time planning and working and thinking about every detail. Some just have some vague ideas about events in a location and do everything else on the fly. Some like one but should use the other. There really isn't any way to find out what works best for you except trying it out.
    In your case I would probably start off with a general idea of what you want to do. Dungeon crawl, wilderness adventure, city slicking, whatever, think up the reasons the PCs have for getting involved, think up the major NPCs and their motivations, and think up a few encounters. If you put too much effort into scripting a story rather than a setting, you run the risk of railroading or the PCs ruining everything and leaving you not knowing what to do. If you put too little you run the risk of the players just sitting around not knowing what to do and you not knowing how to get them to do anything.
    Really, the most important part of any interaction with the game world is NPCs (or monsters) their motivations, personality and goals. Once you have these down, you can usually react to any move the PCs make and you can determine how events will move from where you are.
    And when you are stuck, remember Chandler's advice: when in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand monsters or NPC attack.
    Most D&D is by nature a combat heavy game and a little extra can stop players from becoming bored with a plot you don't know how to advance.

    When is the time to use the mat? Combat encounters only?
    Whenever you need it. Generally, this will only be in combat. If you are in a situation with lots of traps in an enclosed area and the PCs can't find them on their own, you can bring it out and have them show movement and marching order.

    When is the time to roll the dice, and when is the time to simply give them the answer without a roll?
    Rule of thumb: Any time success or failure is important.
    If rolling dice becomes tedious and pointless (very powerful people mopping up weenie threats that can't do anything to them, skills you autosucceed on, etc.) just ignore the dice. If the players want to roll dice to feel cool rather than just have things handwaved, let them. If the system has rules for rolling dice to resolve a situation, it's generally ok to use dice for those situations.
    If you need to keep the game moving and the players are stuck, you might often just hand them important hints rather than let a few bad rolls stop everything.

    How should i deal with the PC's finding a random NPC (That I have nothing written for) super interesting?
    Be happy?
    Really, this is why you have pregenerated NPCs. Make sure you don't just have stats but appearance and personality ready. Worst comes to worst, pick a character from somewhere, be it work of fiction or real life, and play it to the hilt. Once players are interested in NPCs as something other than their function in the game, you know you are doing things right.


    Some other things I'm having difficulties with is making non-combat encounters. I'm reasonably well versed with the splat-books and the rules for generating monsters, but I'm lacking in setting up puzzlers and social encounters.
    Social encounters can be tricky. The single most important thing to remember is personality. PERSONALITY. The PCs will be interacting with NPCs and if you want something other than cardboard cutouts you need to put a lot of effort into developing their character. Detailed appearance, physical mannerisms, speech habits, motivations and goals. Think of any successful drama show, like nBSG or Game of Thrones: these work because of the characters not because of the plot or the action (though nBSG had some decent space porn when they bothered). If you know the major players in any given social situation, how they relate to each other, their goals and how they act towards people, you will have done almost all the work.
    If you have problems coming up with characters, steal shamelessly from any source you can think of. Don't worry about being too obvious about it either. It's far, far better for players to remember Grimgar, Lord Marshal of Norwind as "totally not Ned Stark" than "generic stick-in-the-mud nr. 25".

    As for puzzles, what sort? Mysteries and investigatory type stories, or riddles and puzzle rooms? In the former, again, steal shamelessly from any source you can, and think of the people involved.
    If you know what people want to achieve and how they intend to achieve it, you can plan their entire plot from that angle and once you've determined how they intend thigns to go, you can introduce the PCs at any point and watch your poor NPCs not get away with it because of those meddling kids. In the latter case, I suck at those things myself so I have no advice.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by BWR; 2014-05-11 at 10:21 AM.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    BarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Okay, some specific questions than.


    Do I need to make a map of the towns that the players go by?
    No, not unless the layout of the town will be important for an adventure you have planned. If they are just buying things and talking to people, improvise. If the town becomes important for some reason, you can map it later.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Should I create a map to keep track of where the players are in like in this picture?
    Yes, you should have maps of adventure locations and keep track of where the players are. That is basically how the game works. You have a map with notes keyed to the various areas indicating what is in each room and corridor, traps and monsters and treasure, and short descriptions of what the place looks like. The players explore it and you use the map and key to tell them what they see and what happens to them, if monsters attack, traps go off, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    One of the players is considering being a wizard, so how do I go about getting them spells for their book? I know I can throw scrolls their way, and I know they can get them in town for 100~900 gold. Is there anything else I should know regarding that?
    This is a matter of DM preference. I prefer to limit wizards' power by making them find most of their spells in scrolls and books as loot or from other wizards, rather than letting them purchase them, or really limiting which spells are available for sale (only one or two weaker utility type spells for each level could be found for sale)

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Should I have some pre-made monsters/NPC's on hand (Such as commoners or town guards)?
    Yes, you should have stats ready for common types of NPC's and monsters (these can be found in the monster manuals in large part, you should be able to use the published stats with only small changes if you want them)

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How much detail should I go into in the planned story arc and how much should I be improvising?
    That's a matter of DM'ing preference. I would say don't try to plan a story, just plan the environment. Have an idea of important NPC's motives and personalities. Have the adventure locations ready, a map of the area of the world the players will start out in, names of towns. Have clues in their starting location for the players to seek out the adventures you have planned.
    Trying to plan things too specifically will always go awry, because players don't follow your plans and will try to do what they want. You will be improvising as much or more than you will be following a plan. Have some tables with random encounters ready to help you with ideas in case the players go somewhere that you don't have anything planned.

    check out this series of blog articles about adventure design, if you haven't already. It is some great advice.
    http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/...otted-approach

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    When is the time to use the mat? Combat encounters only?
    Yes, for the most part. Most people I think have the players use their minis to show their position/marching order when they are exploring, so when combat starts or there is a trap, you know where everyone is and who gets hit first...

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    When is the time to roll the dice, and when is the time to simply give them the answer without a roll?
    Another matter of DM preference. The general advice is only roll when there is a question of the outcome and when it matters what happens. It is important that the players' choices have actual results and consequences for their characters, this should help guide when you decide to use the dice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How should i deal with the PC's finding a random NPC (That I have nothing written for) super interesting?
    Roll with it. That is pretty much advice for everything, actually. Being a DM is a lot of improvisation and going with the flow. Sometimes it is fun to let a random NPC that you had no plans for become more important just because the players like him/her or think they are more important than they originally were. Have fun with it. You don't have to (and probably shouldn't) tell them if/when this happens, just go with it. If you need stats for something, make them up.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Some other things I'm having difficulties with is making non-combat encounters. I'm reasonably well versed with the splat-books and the rules for generating monsters, but I'm lacking in setting up puzzlers and social encounters.
    There is too much variety to give specific advice on those things. The only thing I would say is, once again, whatever you do make sure the players' actions have a way to actually affect the outcome. Don't just make them roll dice for no reason and then listen to the story you have written beforehand. I try not to design scenarios in which the players only have one choice of action.

    For me, almost any encounter is potentially a social encounter. When a group of people or monsters appear, if they are intelligent, it could be a social encounter. Unless it is a situation where the players are at war, or the monsters are defending something and have a reason to attack anyone they see, the players should be able to try a social approach rather than fighting immediately. This is when they use their skills and abilities to convince people to let them pass, or to be their friends, or to pay them off, or whatever.

    Take the caves of chaos from "keep on the borderlands", for example. There are caves with different tribes of monsters living in different parts of the caves. Not all the monsters like each other. The players could just go from cave to cave, killing everything they see. But they could also convince one group to help them fight another group, or pay off one group to lead them past another group, or pay a monster to leave them alone (not that you can really trust a monster to keep their word all the time, but that's part of the game, too).

    Design environments that make sense, populated by monsters and people that have reasons to be there and things that they want. The players can use their wits and their characters' skills to figure out what those reasons are, and decide how to approach different situations.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Okay, some specific questions than.


    Do I need to make a map of the towns that the players go by?
    No, not unless it's of critical importance that you know exactly where the players are located.

    Should I create a map to keep track of where the players are in like in this picture?
    Yes, that's a good idea. Keeps things straight and this is a situation where you do need to know exactly where your players are.

    One of the players is considering being a wizard, so how do I go about getting them spells for their book? I know I can throw scrolls their way, and I know they can get them in town for 100~900 gold. Is there anything else I should know regarding that?
    Between the spells they get on level up, the occasional found scroll/book and visit to the magical library when they hit a large city they'll be fine spellwise.

    Should I have some pre-made monsters/NPC's on hand (Such as commoners or town guards)?
    Definitely have a couple of reusable monsters/NPCs statted out for a pinch, but I'd just say that commoners have 1hp and AC10. If a PC wants to kill a commoner they WILL kill a commoner. Giving them any more HP or AC than that just makes the beatings take longer.

    How much detail should I go into in the planned story arc and how much should I be improvising?
    Never plan more than a session or two in advance(unless things are happening beyond their control), you'll just waste a lot of effort when they tear up your rails and sell them for scrap.

    Here's a quick rundown that I did for an introductory session with my sister and another player.
    Spoiler
    Show
    -Wake up in the hospital and have everything explained to them by Doctor Forester. Agent Parks has them sign waivers and then asks if they're interested in some lucrative work.
    -Track down Tree King. (Mystery assailant is leaving mangled bodies all over town. Investigate.)
    -Chavenski's men are brutalizing the city and it's in no small part McCrow/Fanboy's fault. Parks asks the PCs to shut down a few of the more offensive rackets. (White Slavery has 8 thugs and 8 soldiers in a warehouse. Arms smuggling has 12 thugs and 8 soldiers in a warehouse. Black market babies has 4 thugs and 2 soldiers, but 16 innocent babies in the line of fire.)
    -Sneak into McCrow's warehouse and find Depaliamo. (Do NOT let him find you. You won't survive if he does.)
    -Bring Beastman back to the Hole.


    And here's how it turned out. Prep time was only about 20 minutes, plus some old maps that I had laying around.

    When is the time to use the mat? Combat encounters only?
    Any time exact position and feet per round is important.

    When is the time to roll the dice, and when is the time to simply give them the answer without a roll?
    If they ask something simple like what color's the walls? Then tell them. If they ask what's in the room then mention the bookshelf, the desk and the murderous ghouls. Roll a perception/spot check though to find that one of the books on the shelf was written by Lord Herbert West or to notice that the desk is actually a Mimic.

    How should i deal with the PC's finding a random NPC (That I have nothing written for) super interesting?
    Be glad, for one. Most NPCs are just expendable fodder, if they take a liking to one then they'll be more invested in the world. Improv all that you can and try to accentuate the things that the PCs enjoy. If you start drawing a blank then find an excuse to cut the visit short (Oh darn, I wanted to keep explaining to the halflings how I get my potatoes so big, but as you can see a pack of hellhounds has escaped from the underworld and seem to be burning my garden. Mind helping me out with that?) and work on the NPC a little more for next session.




    Some other things I'm having difficulties with is making non-combat encounters. I'm reasonably well versed with the splat-books and the rules for generating monsters, but I'm lacking in setting up puzzlers and social encounters.


    For a social encounter you need to go barebones. Have the personality of the character in mind (Ex. Lucky Dan is a useless drunk, but a nice guy that loves his family.) and the subject at hand (Lucky Dan is also an unstoppable force of nature that can't be controlled by anyone, his family left him because of a hefty absence that wasn't really his fault and he intends on getting them back even if he has to put the entire team's identities in jeopardy to do it.) and then let the PCs decide how to handle it from there (Do they try to talk sense into Lucky Dan? Do they plead with him for their own sakes? Do they try to convince his family to come back on their own?).

    Puzzle encounters are a little trickier and I've not had much luck with them, because it's hard to say how any given player will respond to a brain twister. I definitely subscribe to the Rule of 3 though and you should always build in at least three answers to any given problem to avoid gridlock. Other than that though, my first big puzzle is coming up and I'll let you know if any of my tricks work after it's over.
    Last edited by Kid Jake; 2014-05-12 at 12:19 PM.

    Quote Originally Posted by Winter_Wolf View Post
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    One thing to mention would be that D&D 3rd Edition might not necessarily be the best game to start with. It's very complex and even many experienced GMs keeo complaining that it's a huge amount of work to prepare anything.
    If you feel completely overwhelmed, consider looking into an easier game and get some experience with that before you tackle 3rd Edition.
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Now you'll be overwhelmed by the advice! :D

    Here's something a bit different that I found rather interesting. It's on how to design video games that tell a story.

    http://gamasutra.com/blogs/ThomasGri...n_Approach.php

    Narrative in this instance means "the story as the player(s) experience it as they play the game." How to encourage the players to have their own personal interpretation of the game, in other words.


    Core Elements of Storytelling

    1) The focus is on storytelling.

    This is a trivial requirement, but still way too uncommon. Basically, the main goal of the game should be for the player to experience a specific story.

    2) The bulk of the gameplay time is spent playing.

    We want interactive storytelling, so players should play, not read notes, watch cutscenes, etc. These things are by no means forbidden, but they should not make up the bulk of the experience.

    3) The interactions make narrative sense.

    This means actions that:

    Move the story forward.
    Help the player understand their role.
    Are coherent with the narrative.
    Are not just there as padding.

    4) There's no repetition.

    Repetition leads to us noticing patterns, and noticing patterns in a game system is not far away from wanting to optimize them. And once you start thinking of the game in terms of "choices that give me the best systemic outcome", it takes a lot of focus away from the game's narrative aspects.

    5) There are no major progression blocks.

    There is no inherent problem with challenge, but if the goal here is to tell a story, then the player should not spend days pondering a puzzle or trying to overcome a skill-based challenge. Just as with repetition this takes the focus away from the narrative.
    The pattern in 4 means, for example, "we're only fighting against undead, I don't want to be a rogue any more".


    The first layer would match the decision-making process of the player, and affects the plots, fights, puzzles etc., in a traditional RPG.

    Quote Originally Posted by Layer 1: Gameplay
    1) Coherency

    The gameplay must fit with the game's world, mood and characters. There should be no need for double-thinking when performing an action.
    If it's been establised that orcs are evil, the players shouldn't encounter good orcs without warning.

    2) Streamlining

    It is important that the gameplay is not too convoluted and doesn't have too many steps.

    3) A Sense of Accomplishment

    In order to make the player feel agency, there must be some sense of achievement.
    An easy way is to have NPCs react to the group in a rather exaggerated, dramatic manner. The townsfolk throw a party, the once-dangerous villain shakes when the characters meet him again, etc.

    4) Action Confirmation

    When the player does something in the game, they must understand what it is that they are doing and why they are doing it. [...] The player might accidentally activate some machinery without being aware that this was going to happen beforehand and afterwards not knowing what it accomplished. If this occurs too frequently, the player [...] stops reasoning about their actions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Layer 2: Narrative Goal

    So, next step: the narrative goal. Normally the reason for the player to get through some gameplay segment is just pure progress. There is often some overarching story goal like “kill the evil wizard”, but that is quite far into the future, so when the player encounters an obstacle they try to overcome it because that is what the game demands of them. It is often very clear that they are in “gamer mode” at this point and until the obstacle is cleared. This is useful in order for the player to know what to do, but it is very problematic for the narrative - it removes the experience of being inside a story. The player stops seeing their actions as part of a story and instead sees them as steps towards an abstract gameplay goal. What can often happen is that the player starts thinking stuff like "Now I just need to get this section out of the way so I can get on with the story", a forced mental division between narrative and gameplay, which is diametrically opposed to the fusion we're striving for.

    The way to fix this is to give the player some sort of short-term narrative goal, one that is directly connected to the current gameplay. The aim is to keep the player in narrative mode so they do not brush the story aside for some puzzling or shooting action.
    When the player is engaged in the gameplay at hand we want them focused on and motivated by this narrative goal. This makes it harder for the player to separate the two, as the narrative goal is always in sight. It is no longer about "doing stuff to get the story going", instead it is about "doing stuff because of the story". The distinction might not seem that big, but it makes all the difference. Keep in mind this is at a local level, for a scene that might just last a few minutes or less; the narrative goal is constantly visible to the player and a steady reminder of why they are going through with the actions.
    This level is basically roleplaying. Do your characters do random stuff just because, or does Artha the Rogue do random stuff because she's bored of this place. You probably don't have to care about this too much in a traditional RPG.

    Quote Originally Posted by Layer 3: Narrative Background

    With the addition of a narrative goal, the scene is now framed in a much more story-like manner. But there is still an issue: the actions the player does are quite gameplay-focused. In the above example, the player searches the environment simply in order to find a certain item; there is no proper sense of story-telling going on as the player goes through these actions. That is what this layer is all about fixing.


    The basic idea is that the actions the player is supposed to be doing are immersed in story substance. So when the player is interacting, it is not just pure gameplay, they are constantly being fed story at the same time. When the narrative goal was added, the player's thinking was changed from "doing stuff to get the story going" to "doing stuff because of the story". With narrative background in place we change it to "doing stuff in order to make the story appear". Narrative-wise, the player's actions are no longer just a means to an end, they are what causes the story to emerge as you play. Or at least that's how we want it to appear to the player. By having the gameplay actions and the narrative beats coincide, we make it hard for the player to distinguish between the two. The goal is for this to lead to a sense of always being inside a story.
    Basically, a fight isn't just a fight with nameless mooks, not just a random encounter with random monsters. It's a fight with Togrot the Orc Bandit who insults the characters, or it's a random encounter where some monsters have killed a courier and his horse. There should always be an excuse for the characters to react to the fight.

    Instead of a fight, it could be about a specific scene, or a specific quest.

    The last layer is Layer 4: Mental Modeling. Basically, imagination. What the player imagines isn't exactly what you tell him, but something his own that's based on your description and his description and his idea of the characters, and understanding of the rules, and some ideas from a cool movie they saw, and so on. This affects what the players consider to be important. For example, if the players are about to find the captured princess, but they're expecting a boss fight, they'll be looking for traps and hidden dangers, and might be suspicious of the princess.

    Instead you want to have a mental model that fits with the rest of the narrative. What follows are a few suggestions:

    Danger

    There is something lurking about that constitutes a threat for the player. It's important that this threat is not some common occurrence that relies on twitch reflexes or similar, as it's just a normal gameplay element then. Instead it must be something hiding, only making brief appearances. The idea is for the player to constantly scan the environment for clues that the danger is near and present.

    Goal-focused Mystery

    This can mean that the player has the objective of solving a crime or similar. What we are after is that the player should see the game world as a place where important clues are to be discovered. So whenever the player finds a new location they should instantly start thinking about what new things it can teach them about the mystery.

    Social Pressures

    The player is amongst other people that they have to try and figure out. Now whenever the player finds something new or watches NPCs interact it updates their mental model of what makes the characters tick and what their motivations are.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Something that people have been saying that I sortof disagree with is on "When to roll rice"; The assertion that you should roll dice "anytime success or failure is important" is stopping halfway, IMHO. You should only roll dice when Success/Failure is important AND both outcomes are INTERESTING. If success/failure is important, but only success is interesting, don't roll. No one wants to get stuck in boringland because of a die roll. If success/failure is important and only failure is interesting, you've screwed up something fierce.

    The typical example here is, if you're trying to force a door, unless there's some sort of consequence for failure beyond "I try again" you shouldn't roll dice. So either create consequences for failure (wandering monsters! Or "You made too much noise, and alerted someone on the other side!" or "Dawn is coming and if you don't get through this door fast, the Prince will be executed.") or don't bother rolling.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Since it's my first time DMing, would it be preferable to work out of a pre-made adventure or work out something of my own?
    Last edited by Reshy; 2014-05-12 at 11:59 PM.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Since it's my first time DMing, would it be preferable to work out of a pre-made adventure or work out something of my own?
    It depends. There are pre-made adventures which could work for this, though I'd reccomend jumping ship on them quickly even if you do use them. The issue is that finding them can be a bit tricky, as there is a lot of dreck out there. The 3.5 set in particular tends to railroad, hard.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

    I'm not joking one bit. I would buy the hell out of that.
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Since it's my first time DMing, would it be preferable to work out of a pre-made adventure or work out something of my own?
    Personally, I'd work something out on your own. The allure of DMing for me has always been to see my ideas come to life and it doesn't seem like you'd get the same feeling from a published adventure. Once you get started you'll see that it really isn't as daunting to plan out an adventure as it seems.

    Quote Originally Posted by Winter_Wolf View Post
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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Apart from the very first adventure, my gang used nothing but homebrew adventures. Learning to play/DM that way works fine.
    Running other people's adventures is very nice if you are a bit unsure how to structure an adventure, have a hard time thinking up something for them to do, and well-written adventures are a positive boon for teaching you how to do your own (and a lot of fun to play, as well). There are a lot of bad adventures out there so you might want some opinions on which to get if you decide to use them.
    Trying to run a bad adventure while learning the ropes of the system can make things harder rather than easier.
    OTOH, the very first adventure (dungeon with no plot, really) I played in, Escape from Zanzer Tem's Dungeon, was pretty badly designed but it was full of wonder and excitement for a green 12-year old, and I never noticed the flaws then.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Thanks to Knaight for the section titles

    Any tips I can get as I'm pretty much completely new to DMing as a whole?
    Sit down away from the game and run a couple of combats for yourself, say have an Orc vs another Orc, just so you get into the swing of how the rules work.

    What books should I read outside the DMG?
    Any you're going to use rules from - DMG, PHB, MM, although you'll only get the dry rules mechanics from them.

    How much detail should I put into things like towns and cities?
    I mentioned it on another thread, but do a google search for Kate Monk's Onomastikon - it's a dictionary of personal names, mostly historical.

    Decide on a region for your area, print off a list, then when you really need a name, look on the list and grab one at random - you could then either grab a second and alter it slightly to act as a surname, or simply say they're known by their job (which after all is where a lot of surname came from).

    And of course, later on you can fake looking at the list to hide that an NPC the players have met is important.

    How do I handle players wanting to buy stuff?
    How do they want to handle it? If they want to roleplay it, then you'll need to come up with a shopkeeper/blacksmith/whatever. If they don't, give them the equipment list, tell them what kind of things are available and whether you're going to apply a cost modifier, then review what they've come up with at the end and say yes or no depending on what you think should be available.

    Do I need to make a map of the towns that the players go by?
    Probably not. Unless you want to mess with their heads that a completely inconsequential village is highly important.

    Some important things to remember:
    Every settlement has a reason to be where it is - whether that be agriculture, mining, trade or a military garrison. And every settlement will reflect the environment it's in - wood buildings near a forest is highly likely, wood buildings halfway up a mountain well above the tree line is less likely.
    Most settlements will be at most a days walk from their near neighbours, while the important towns will be roughly a days horse/carriage ride apart, and will tend to grow around junctions of travel routes and where travel is made difficult - such as river crossings and either side of a mountain pass.
    Each settlement will have a focal point at it's centre, whether that's the chieftain's hut, a temple, an inn, a communal grain store or whatever. Given the settlement's growth and local geography, the centre may not be the exact physical centre.
    Certain industries would be isolated from the rest of the settlement - for instance, if there's a tannery, it will be, if not actually outside the settlement, right on the edge and as far from the residences of the influential people as possible. Equally, a smithy might have clear ground around it to prevent accidental fires spreading to other buildings.
    Certain industries and trades will not be available in the smaller settlements (or if they are, then they need a specific reason to be there, such as the availability of raw materials, especially perishable ones), whilst in the larger settlements, there would almost certainly be multiple instances of those industries and trades, and they would tend to congregate in the same areas - for instance, traditionally in London you have jewellers and associated trades around Hatton Garden, tailors on Saville Row, the various markets of Billingsgate (fish and seafood), Smithfield (meat) and Covent Garden (fruit, veg and flowers) and so on.

    Some other things I'm having difficulties with is making non-combat encounters. I'm reasonably well versed with the splat-books and the rules for generating monsters, but I'm lacking in setting up puzzlers and social encounters.
    Social encounters are fairly easy - basically, everyone wants something. Whether that's riches, power, physical company, an object, a shopkeeper making a sale, or simply to be left alone. What'll change in each case is how they go about it.

    Puzzles: What's the end result of them solving the puzzle? Is it simple survival? Is it a Gordian knot type thing where they'll get riches or simply prove they're suitable for a mission on behalf of the local ruler? Does it guard access to the next section of the dungeon? Is solving it correctly actually part of a trap designed to eliminate people (for example, it's guarding the tomb of an evil mage, who had followers, and the puzzle is set up so that his followers will solve it with a certain answer and thus doom themselves)?
    Last edited by Storm_Of_Snow; 2014-05-13 at 08:19 AM.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Have you ever had a player try to find a build that would make his first-level character unstoppable? That's similar to what you're going through right now.

    Until you start running the game, you are a 1st-level DM with no experience points.

    Don't worry too much about being overwhelmed at first. That's normal. You cannot become an experienced DM any way other than by having experience.

    Run the game, discover the problems, make up the solutions, and learn.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Read some play by post games on the forum. They offer great examples of play, and can do a lot to show you how to guide the game in the direction you want.

    Here is an example I just finished with. A nice level 1 adventure. The party I ran was a little odd (4 wizards), but running it with a more traditional party would be just fine.

    Here is the module from the DM side.

    Here is the IC thread

    Here is the OOC thread.

    Feel free to coment and post in the module section, but please don't post in the IC or OOC thread unless you are part of the game.

    It really helps to plan things out in advance. Feel free to borrow elements or steal the whole thing. This module only uses things found in the SRD, so you can even run it without buying a book.

    I would recommend playing a short segment of something to get your feet under you. Start with baby steps and don't take off on an epic adventure lasting 4 years of IRL time. Have some fun with the game, and learn how to get things done first.
    Last edited by Fouredged Sword; 2014-05-14 at 02:58 PM.

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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Since it's my first time DMing, would it be preferable to work out of a pre-made adventure or work out something of my own?
    That is a bit of a preference thing. There are some really good premade adventures, and a lot of dreg as well. A middle ground you can use would be to take a premade as inspiration, and then use bits and pieces of it to make up an adventure for yourself.

    For example, the first time I ran a game of AD&D 2nd Edition, I used the Spider Farm adventure from Dragonsfoot, but altered things to fit the setting. The pro is that it gives you a sense of what stat blocks for the system you are using looks like, as well as what sorts of things others find important to note for an adventure.

    Something important to remember on npcs - you don't need to have every member of every town named and statted up from the get go, but having a list of names on hand is extremely useful. Just fine a name list or name generator online, figure out what kind of culture group you are looking at, and write up say 10-30 names. That way, you don't end up with fifteen Andrews in a town of thirty. I tend to use Behind the Name for this, as you can randomly generate a number of names quickly and it gives the meaning of the name.

    Also, don't be afraid to wing stats sometimes. While having stat blocks on hand can be useful, there is no way you can be prepared for every situation at all times, and sometimes it just isn't worth trying to find where you left your stat block for "level 3 town guard". For martial enemies at least, it can be as simple as saying "well, he has +3 base attack, maybe 24hp, has a +5 to hit, and deals 1d6+2 damage with his short sword." Mind you, with spellcasters it is a bit more work, unless you know spells off the top of your head.

    Another note for the above advice, that works better with some systems than others. 3.5 D&D is full of feats and skills and other things that you might want to give npcs. Still, when the option is "ok, lets have ourselves a fight!" or "Ok, give me say....15-25 minutes to roll up these guys you are fighting, lets see...this one is a level 3 fighter..this one is...", go with the one that keeps the game running.

    Also, find a comfort zone for how long you and your friends like your games to be. Some people like their game sessions to go on uninterrupted for 5+ hours, others prefer much shorter times, or taking breaks in game. For example, with the people I play with, game night is usually a mix of rpgs, video games, boardgames, and just hanging out, so if we are together for 5 hours, we'll probably set aside a 2-3 hour block for roleplay. Simply put: don't drain yourself or your friends, after all, it is all about having fun, not winning.
    Happy Trixie Appreciation Day!



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  24. - Top - End - #24
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Hello Reshy and welcome to the amazing world of DMing. While much great advice as already been given, I will add my own thoughts as well and then you can decide who you want to listen to (which should be Jay R by the way).

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    I'm getting a little overwhelmed trying to learn how to DM for a group of my friends. I want to do as good of a job as I can but I don't really know where to start with everything. Any tips I can get as I'm pretty much completely new to DMing as a whole?
    Relax. Start small. Realize you'll make mistakes. Above all, have fun.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    What books should I read outside the DMG?
    The Player's Guide and the Monster's Manual? Those three are quite enough to begin with.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How much detail should I put into things like towns and cities?
    The DMG has some good advice here I think (and I don't mean the large tables). Start small, like a village that only has the basics and some easy adventure in it or the surrounding area. That will get you some experience with DMing and you'll feel more secure once you get to a large city. You don't need much detail of your cities anyway. Have an idea of what things are there in general (is it a poor town or better off with lots of craftmen and merchants). Come up with one or two special identifying markers, like it being located on the slope of a hill or that it is famous for a specific temple. Keep it simple to begin with.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How do I handle players wanting to buy stuff?
    It depends on the group. Decide if you want to play out the exchange or just have them get the items (assuming they are available, something you'll have to decide as well). Early on in my campaigns I usually spend some time roleplaying them running about looking for stuff as they usually have less money and the characters are new to the adventuring and thus it can be exciting. As time goes by I spend less and less time on it. If you want to be fancy you could have them roll appraise against some appropriate difficulty and let the roll determine if they buy things at the book-listed value or more/less expensive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How should I prepare the plot?
    What do you mean by plot? An idea of an adventure is good but all you really need is the start of it. Let the players figure out how it will progress, that's not your job. For beginning adventures, especially as a beginner DM, make it very simple.

    The village has been plagued by a Dire Rat infestation that seems to originate from the old abandoned house on top of the hill. Ancient magic is leaking up from the tomb of a buried evil wizard which is causing the dead to rise. Goblins or Kobolds that have laired close by have been raiding the outlying farms of the village stealing and killing cattle and eventually killing a teenage boy that was out late one night. Bandits are pretending to be soldiers working for the king and take up residence at village taverns and demand free food/drink and rape the young girls working there.

    Doesn't matter if it's easy ideas that have been done a hundred times before. This is your first time DMing, so don't try to be too creative. Learn how the procedure works first and when you get better at it you can start being creative.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    What should I have on hand in terms of tables and rules? etc. etc.
    Whatever you can't remember by heart. Like the 3 above mentioned books.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Playing 3.5.
    Sounds fun.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Do I need to make a map of the towns that the players go by?
    Nope, although it could be good to have a map of the overall country that they are travelling in.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Should I create a map to keep track of where the players are in like in this picture?
    If you have a complicated dungeon layout and can't remember how it looks it is good to have a map of it. Keeping track of where they are is usually much simpler, you can probably remember that but if not making a note of it is easy. It all depends on how good your memory is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    One of the players is considering being a wizard, so how do I go about getting them spells for their book? I know I can throw scrolls their way, and I know they can get them in town for 100~900 gold. Is there anything else I should know regarding that?
    Isn't it the players that should go about getting spells for themselves? It's not your job really. If they meet enemy wizards however, they usually have their own spellbooks and from that your wizard player can copy spells. At a certain point, as long as they occasionally face hostile wizards, getting new spells really isn't a big problem. Big cities usually have some form of Mage guild as well that can sell or trade spells.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Should I have some pre-made monsters/NPC's on hand (Such as commoners or town guards)?
    Depends how quick you are at making them up on the fly. If you know the rules well it's pretty easy to improvise stats for not-so-important NPCs. High-level NPCs might need to be pre-made (but you shouldn't need those for your early adventures) but otherwise just assume they have 14-16 in their "good" stat and somewhat cheap equipment and you should be fine. The Monter's Manual have stats for plenty of monsters that you can easily use directly in your early games. Later on you can look up how to improve them or make up your own monsters.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How much detail should I go into in the planned story arc and how much should I be improvising?
    My recommendation is to keep your first adventures real simple. Learn the ropes first and make it more complicated later.

    The best adventures are usually those that have lots of detail planned AND lots of improvising. Your players will NEVER do what you expect and don't try to force them to. Improvisation is to be expected so don't be afraid to practice it at the start.

    If the adventure will lead to a dungeon of sorts (an old abandoned house can be quite enough for a dungeon) it's always good to have a map of it and an idea of what enemies can be there. Other than that, plan the start of the adventure and improvise most of the rest.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    When is the time to use the mat? Combat encounters only?
    That is entirely up to you. I don't even use it for combat encounters although I usually have a whiteboard ready to draw a quick map if my players need, along with magnets for position of enemies/themselves. I prefer to stick to imagination as much as possible however. So really, use it as much or as little as you want.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    When is the time to roll the dice, and when is the time to simply give them the answer without a roll?
    Simple answer is; whenever the outcome is uncertain, roll the dice. If you feel the characters should logically know or be able to do something, just let them. It's never wrong to simply allow something to happen that they want to do. If you feel they could potentially fail or not know the answer, then bring out the dice. There are times when something is impossible as well, in which case you don't roll but just decide it's a failure.

    I sometimes use dice to determine the outcome of actions that will always succeed as well. That is more for "how WELL do you succeed" than anything. A high roll means a gallant performance (not the skill, but whatever action they were attempting) whereas a low roll means just barely managing the action. It's a help for how to describe what happens, not to punish them with failure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    How should i deal with the PC's finding a random NPC (That I have nothing written for) super interesting?
    Be happy! If they find a random NPC interesting that means you're doing a great job! Improvise what you can and take time later to think out more things for the NPC if you need. Sometimes you don't really need to "write" anything for it though, perhaps they just find the NPC interesting because of some trait you described and just enjoy having them around?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Some other things I'm having difficulties with is making non-combat encounters. I'm reasonably well versed with the splat-books and the rules for generating monsters, but I'm lacking in setting up puzzlers and social encounters.
    I generally avoid clear-cut puzzles, something I learned the hard way in the beginning. The players aren't always very good at solving puzzles and in the end it usually isn't that fun anyway. It's especially complicated also because the characters that should solve it is rarely played by the player who are good at it.

    What you can do however is to make the adventure a puzzle of sorts. There's a situation, a problem to be solved, and the players have to figure out the solution. They could probably tackle the problem in any number of ways and figuring out which way they want to do it is often a puzzle in itself. Don't plan on how they will solve an adventure, let them figure that out for you!

    As for social encounters, I am sure that will come with time and experience. Like I said, keep it simple in the beginning and expand later. Just buying a sword from a blacksmith could be a "social encounter" in a beginning adventure, as could "getting information from the old crazy lady up on the hill".

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Since it's my first time DMing, would it be preferable to work out of a pre-made adventure or work out something of my own?
    My advice will ALWAYS be to work something out of your own. Pre-made adventures rarely work very well, they might not fit with your DM style and it's much harder to remember things you read compared with things you come up with yourself. Coming up with adventures is the #1 one skill on the DM list, so the sooner you start practicing it the better you will become!
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    Blue text for sarcasm is an important writing tool. Everybody should use it when they are saying something clearly false.

  25. - Top - End - #25
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Any suggestions on how to run dungeons? Like how to handle things like traps, encounters, how to make them, etc.
    Last edited by Reshy; 2014-05-16 at 09:39 AM.

  26. - Top - End - #26
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Any suggestions on how to run dungeons? Like how to handle things like traps, encounters, how to make them, etc.
    The first question to ask yourself is why is the dungeon there? Do people live there? Is it a maze constructed to hide a treasure or a tomb? Did it occur naturally like a network of caves or was it constructed? Perhaps a combination of the two?

    Of course, many of these questions are not really necessary to answer in detail as a beginner DM, but keeping them in mind helps design the dungeon itself.

    So, for a step-by-step process I'd use something like:

    1) Decide the overall point or structure of the dungeon. Roughly what and why is it.

    2) Draw an overall map over how it looks, in a top-down approach (decide how many levels, the overall size and moving down to more and more details).

    3) Make sure there are rooms to fill whatever purpose it is meant to have (don't forget toilets for placed constructed for inhabitation, it shows you have thought about it).

    4) Come up with some "cool" rooms or sceneries, things that are just there because I want them to be.

    5) Decide where there could be traps and which they are (just flip through the DMG to get inspiration). This depends on who lives there (magical traps for wizards and mechanical for kobolds).

    6) Place the various monsters (flip through the MM for inspiration) in rooms with a general idea that it may change depending on which time of day/night the PCs decide to arrive.

    7) Let the players loose in it.

    Running a dungeon is just like any other part of the game. You describe what the players see/hear/smell/taste etc. and they tell you what they do. Different groups have different assumptions of how wary the characters are assumed to be of traps "by default". If nothing is stated, base this on how clever the players have acted thus far and let them roll generic spot/search for the dungeon. At some point, they'll either attack or be attacked by monsters and then it runs like a normal combat.

    Don't forget that good description can add flair and feeling to a dungeon, and avoids them being too mechanical. Good doesn't mean long however, nobody likes to listen to 5 minute monologues of description from the GM.

    It's very hard to give better advice than that, the best thing is to simply try it out and see how it goes.
    Last edited by Lorsa; 2014-05-16 at 09:57 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    Blue text for sarcasm is an important writing tool. Everybody should use it when they are saying something clearly false.

  27. - Top - End - #27
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Definitely agree on deciding the purpose and how it was made - is it a mine that's now tapped out, or has been abandoned because something got it, or the underground passages below a temple which were used as catacombs, or a burial barrow, or a purpose built underground fortress, or the tunnels made by a burrowing creature or simply caves made by water erosion?

    Also, how does it look in the surface? Is there an obvious entrance that's had work done on it, is it simply a cave mouth, or is actually concealed in some way?

    Latrines yes. Think of storage, communal/cooking and eating areas too - and think how fresh air will get into the inner reaches, and stale air and smoke would get out - maybe there's a small stream that runs deep in the dungeon and provides the power for a water wheel that runs a rudimentary air pump (such as the accordion type bellows they had for the tunnel in movie of The Great Escape), with wooden air ducting running all the way back to the surface.

    Remember that if you use traps, there's either going to have to be some relatively easy way past them, so that the denizens of the dungeon can go to and fro without triggering it every five minutes, or you've got at least two factions in the dungeon and the traps are to limit the movement of one side, or there's nothing living on the other side - which could mean the treasure rooms, or something making the access one way only, or on the other side you've got creatures that aren't going to trip them (sedentary ones, or ones that will stay within a certain area - automata, certain undead and the like).

    And I'd suggest you try not to make the traps too deadly, especially at low levels. Things that debilitate or slow the PCs down, block them off from certain areas, or force them to expend consumables, are better than a 400 tonne block of stone at terminal velocity to the back of the head.
    Last edited by Storm_Of_Snow; 2014-05-16 at 11:41 AM.

  28. - Top - End - #28
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    Quote Originally Posted by Reshy View Post
    Any suggestions on how to run dungeons? Like how to handle things like traps, encounters, how to make them, etc.
    This is pretty system dependent, and I'm honestly not the biggest fan of dungeons at all. With that said:
    Try to have the fights and such matter. When there are specific goals at stake (beyond just not dying), and when the opposition is known and hated to some degree, encounters tend to be much more interesting. There's a difference between getting in a fight with a half dozen goblins in some dungeon somewhere to grab some cash, and getting in a fight with a noble and his retinue that has been politically stymieing your efforts for the past three game sessions.

    On top of that, when it comes to making encounters you'll probably want to start relatively simple, then build up. Start with relatively uniform groups in most cases, and with relatively simple terrain features. This doesn't mean a bunch of rooms which are all rectangular prisms - it's worth having something there - but don't overdo it. Basically, picture yourself as a set designer for a fight scene in a movie when designing encounters, taking into account the limits around that particular scene.

    In all honesty though, this is one of the easier things. It should come to you pretty quickly, and as long as your players are willing to cut you some slack for being new (and they should) you'll be fine.

    One last thing - dungeons are often best when kept short and sweet. There's a lot you can do in 5-10 rooms, or at least 5-10 rooms that actually matter. Things like the World's Largest Dungeon have their place, but I wouldn't recommend starting there.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

    I'm not joking one bit. I would buy the hell out of that.
    -- ChubbyRain

    Current Design Project: Legacy, a game of masters and apprentices for two players and a GM.

  29. - Top - End - #29
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    As the others have said, you want to figure out a purpose or a function of the dungeon. An old mine used by a group of bandits holding a noble's daughter will be different from the same mine housing a group of slimes that have for some reason been oozing out towards the local village.

    Some questions you would want to ask yourself when making a dungeon:

    -Who is occupying it? Is it a group of monsters? I group of intelligent creatures? Multiple groups? A mix? Going back to that mine example from the start - is it just bandits? Or maybe there are creatures farther back, that the bandits have set up traps to keep in the deeper tunnels. Also: are the occupants willing to fight to the death? Some groups will fight to the death, others, will either be more willing to surrender, or flee.

    -What is the purpose? Is the dungeon a permanent base of operations for the baddies? Are they just staying there for a few days/weeks/months then moving on? Was the place originally designed to be lived in? Or is it something that has since been made liveable? Make sure you account for living arrangements etc - for example, where do the denizens sleep? Do they have a place for cooking? Storing food?

    -Traps - Traps are not going to be placed in high traffic areas for obvious reasons, unless the people who set them have a way of bypassing them easily. Think of how many times you walk around on autopilot in the morning. Now think of that when you have 15 poison arrow traps placed randomly in your house. Not going to happen. More likely, traps will be set up as ways of area denial for attackers. A cave with more than one entrance? Probably a few of them will be trapped, and the rest will have some sort of basic defense set up to slow down attackers.

    Also, make traps something besides an hp tax. If the trap is solely "there is a trap there, roll or take damage", it can get old. If you can make them more interactive though...that can be fun. I'll admit, I'm not too good at this, but think something like a pit trap. Maybe the enemies have a big pit that they throw a few planks over if they want to cross it, but otherwise just throw javelins at attackers. Or maybe the players can try to bull rush an enemy down a pit or over a tripwire they noticed. Basically, think of ways that the trap can enliven the area, rather than just be "you take 1d6+2 damage".

    -Is it necessary? Simply put, having a dungeon for the sake of having a dungeon is thinking through the process backwards. Rather, make sure that if you use a dungeon, it makes sense within the context of the game/story you and your players are making. On a sidenote, I agree with Knaight that often less is more. There is a place for huge sprawling dungeons, but more often than not, something smaller is better.
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  30. - Top - End - #30
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    Default Re: Getting overwhelmed learning to DM

    There's also containment traps - which can range from something simple to catch animals for meat (for example, the Ewok's net in RotJ) to something much more sophisticated, such as a chain of traps with anti-magic, illusions and whatever else you can think of, to hold adventurers who've managed to get a significant way into someone's stronghold and they want to know who they are, how much of a threat they are, and whether they can be persuaded, cooerced or otherwise brought into that persons employ, or whether they need to be killed, looted for any valuables and their corpses either fed to the pet monster or raised as undead.

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