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Thread: Tips For DM's

  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    ElfRangerGuy

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    Default Tips For DM's

    Hey guys. So for all you DM's out there, do you guys remember the transition from player to DM? The challenges, the problems? Well I'd like to propose that we all use this thread to share tips to aspiring DM's, or if you'd prefer, you could point out a flaw you have in your own dming, and have people try to come up with solutions and tips for you. Who's game?

    The tips I'd give are what my first dm gave me: Say yes as much as possible, and if you make plans for city a, and the party goes city b, make city b city a, with changes so that people actually see the difference (change sand to snow for example).

    For something to help me, I honestly find it difficult to let players play something that I dislike the flavor of. And that's something I'd like to get fixed.

    Thanks guys, let's put some awesome tips together, and go nuts.
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  2. - Top - End - #2
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    You don't need to jam every slam. Most of the time you can just have fun playing the game.
    Last edited by Karl Aegis; 2015-06-30 at 12:23 AM.
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Kill all the things. Oh right advice.

    Kill all players.



    Tips to running an open world game. Be good at improvising anything on the fly.
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    The single most useful advice I've picked up somewhere is "Be a fan of your players' characters."

    This implies a lot of things: Give them opportunities to be awesome. Show confidence in their abilities. The already mentioned "say yes" (because you want to see what awesome thing they are going to do!).
    Be happy about their victories, not their defeats. Cheer when they come up with an awesome idea, even if it trivializes your cool encounter.
    Last and IMO most importantly: Do not go out of your way to make them look like idiots (unless that's what the players are going for). If they fail a check, let them fail but don't intepret every failure as the PCs making a fool of themselves. That awesome trapper may misinterpret that set of tracks but ho won't confuse bear tracks for those of a pidgeon. If a players make a mistake based on their OOC lack of IC circumstances, correct them, don't let your NPCs treat them like lunatics.

    When I look back at un-fun games now, it was often due to the DM not following this principle.

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Grow to accept that if you make something there is a good chance of it burning.
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    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Its true that the single most important facet in the transition from player to gm is to drop the need to win.

    As a player its fine to have the mentality that all that you face should fall before you and that through persistance, victory will be yours.

    As a dm, this attitude is the worst kind of attitude you can have because 'the enemy' is now your table.

    If you hate seeing your creations die and your settings mangled, the gm chair is not for you. Get used to losing fights... Like MOST of the time. Especially with the characters you care about most.
    Last edited by VincentTakeda; 2015-06-30 at 05:58 AM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Fun, interesting, challenging. Make sure it's all three for all players.

    Don't have favourites, especially when NPC's get involved and even more especially if your significant other is playing.

    If a session focusses on one player - either as a part of their character arc or because their skill set makes them ideally suited to taking the lead, make sure other sessions focus on the rest of the party.

    Don't be afraid to kill PCs, but equally, don't make it something you aim for in every session. Well, unless you're playing Paranoia, of course.

    Have contingencies ready. Character gets killed? Ok, a local church agrees to raise them for less than normal (or even for free), but demands the party go off on a quest. Or the party go to city B rather than city A? They eventually get hired to escort someone to city A and then get involved in what you were originally planning.

    Be creative in the information you give out, even if you don't really plan on going anywhere with it. For instance, if they find a ring, it's not a ring, it's a silver band with an inscription in some language on the inside and a triangle of jade inset into the bezel. Maybe it's magical, maybe it's just jewellery, and if the PCs can't translate the inscription themselves, they'll probably go off in all sorts of directions trying to do so. If the storekeeper's got a name, is he a significant character, or have you just consulted a list of pre-generated names? Or, if the barmaid's dark skinned in an otherwise scandanavian-themed village, what's she doing there - is she simply a migrant, an adopted foundling, a spy, an exile, a wanted criminal in her homeland or what?

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Rule zero is an emergency tool, not a story telling device.

    Don't give the bad guys something you wouldn't want the PC's having, because they will find a way to get it.

    Audit character sheets every once in a while.

    Allow rule of cool to trump rules as written every once in a while

    Everyone should be having fun at the table, including you

    You get out of the game what you put in. Unless you're good at improvising, try to plan ahead

    You will never perfectly plan for what PC's may do

    Never make a problem with a single solution. Try to come up with at least three of your own. Even though the PCs will come up with something outside of what you planned, at least now you're open to multiple solutions

    Don't force NPCs on the party. If the party likes an NPC, they'll ask him to come along.

    On that same vein, don't run a DMPC unless the party specifically asks for it, and do not tailor encounters to require said DMPC. He can always stand back and guard the dungeon entrance.
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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Quote Originally Posted by Storm_Of_Snow View Post
    Or, if the barmaid's dark skinned in an otherwise scandanavian-themed village, what's she doing there - is she simply a migrant, an adopted foundling, a spy, an exile, a wanted criminal in her homeland or what?
    Spent too much time suntanning.

    *whistles innocently*

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Don't try to get the players to act out a specific story you want to happen. It's not fun for the player and usually those stories are a lot more interesting in the head of the GM than to the players who have no clue what everything really means.

    Prepare a problem and present it to the players. Then let the players decide how to deal with that problem. It usually helps if you create environments that don't force the PCs to go through a single specific door or to defeat a single specific group of enemies to make progress toward their goal. Offer at least two possible paths. Neither of the two has to be easy, but the players should have some choice of which one of the two bad options they want to deal with. (Note: 98% of all published adventures don't do that, which I think is why a huge number of GMs never learns about it.)
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    Griffon

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    I think my biggest one is that the GM needs to learn to enjoy the players' success. In my experience, games where the GM is adversarial with the players tend to lead to a fair bit of ill feeling.

    My players know that I want them to succeed and be awesome. And we have a lot of fun as a result.

    All the other usual advice like saying yes as much as possible and not preparing too much are things I keep in mind, but the first one is the thing I try to always keep in mind.
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    GreenSorcererElf

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Do not be afraid to improvise. The best encounters I have ever ran were half or fully improvised. Also do not use a sledgehammer against the PC's when a simple slap on the wrist will do. I had a DM shunt my second level wizard off to the Ethereal Plane because I opened a spellbook of minor spellcaster (level 3), which I had examined with Detect Magic. I did not gain experience points and it was about 3 levels before he came back to the party, after I told the DM he was going to commit suicide to just end it.
    "A man once said do not meddle in the affairs of wizards for they are subtle and quick to anger. Tolkien had half of that right. **** subtlety." ~ Harry Dresden

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    For a first-time GM it is helpfull to use a recommended official adventure. It takes away most of the fun that is building your own world and gives you less opportunities to include your own ideas. But it gives you a good feeling how to make challanging encounters, shows you where skill-checks are appropriate and so on. You will learn enough about Gamemastering to make your own campaign after that.

    Have at least one experienced player in your group that you can ask for help. Should be someone whose style in gameing or GMing you liked.

    Ask your players to play classes you are familiar with. GMing is alot more difficult if you have no idea what a char can do. Evil chars a a similar problem (because you don't want to deal with PvP-problems if you have still problems without them. Keep in mind that you should not force them to play something they don't want to play. But if they really want to play that CE half-angel vampire surrealist make them aware of your problem.

    The last one leads directly to the main point (that even experienced GMs should do on a regular basis):
    Speak with your players. A lot.
    Ask them after a gaming-session what they liked or disliked. Ask for constructive criticism.

  14. - Top - End - #14
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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Quote Originally Posted by Teapot Salty View Post
    For something to help me, I honestly find it difficult to let players play something that I dislike the flavor of. And that's something I'd like to get fixed.
    Again, talk to your players. Maybe they can make you understand why they want to play it.
    Keep in mind that there are great differences in what players like about the game. Some people just want to smash evil Monsters with absurd power (like early Vaarsuvius). Others like making complicated plans that involve clever tactics and interaction with many NPCs(like Nale or Tarquin). Maybe they just want to create fun in the world you created(like Elan). Or they just want to sit at a table playing a funny game with their friends.
    Maybe you dislike a class just because it is utterly useless to your style of gaming. But that doesn't mean it doesn't fit your players gamingstyle. As a GM you should give everyone the room to shine in their style of gaming and restrict them from interrupting the style of others (that is the main reason why I-slay-every-NPC-we-meet-Barbarians ar hated. The same goes for I-talk-our-way-out-of-every-encounter-Bards

  15. - Top - End - #15
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    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Quote Originally Posted by lytokk
    Allow rule of cool to trump rules as written every once in a while
    Corollary: When you do this, specify - preferably for all present to note - whether this represented a one-time "That's way too cool not to work this time" or a change in how things will function in that circumstance while you're in the DM chair. If smashing a chair over someone's back has a 50% chance of knocking that someone unconscious in this fight, Players deserve to know if that's only going to happen during their one fight with Mick Foley, or from here on out.
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  16. - Top - End - #16
    Halfling in the Playground
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Be ready to come up with names on the fly, whether that is a good random name generator, a massive list made before hand, or simply a knack for improvising the names. If your game isn't firmly locked onto rails (which it shouldn't be) then the players will go places you don't expect and talk to NPCs you didn't bother fleshing out. The game is much more immersive if Faceless Mook #7 introduces himself to the players as Private Lance Callorn, stuck again on gate duty because he lost another hand of poker, and no he can't let the players through because it's his job on the line and the brass hates him enough already.

    On a different note, take advantage of player's questions and what they take note of to flesh out the world and the story. I'll use an example from a past game of mine to illustrate this. The premise of the game was that the players were pirates on airships; in an attempt to capture the players, the Imperial Navy kept sending dragonriders at them. One of my players kept asking why the dragons, who are intelligent creatures, were helping the empire. I honestly hadn't thought about it, but on the fly decided that the dragons were specially bred and mind controlled. Suddenly I have half a session of infiltrating the breeding facility, the players feel great that they managed to figure out that something was afoot (and got some dragons by breaking the mind control), and for the finale they raised a small army and attacked the place to get revenge on the BBEG. From paying attention to what the players were curious about, I got without much work a session and a half that the players were genuinely invested in, because it was in response to questions they had been raising.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    dream's Avatar

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Prep.

    Before characters are made & you start prep, start with the Same-Page Tool.

    Know the rules especially the fiddly ones like Grappling, shooting while moving, circumstance modifiers & at least the basics of spellcasting or using super-powers (depends on system).

    If you use them, have hand-outs ready for maps, notes, & anything the players should know for your adventure/scene. If you like to use images/pics, have them ready; I recommend using a PC/tablet for quick reference & player presentation.

    Have more information than you need. For key NPCs; a full physical appearance with visible gear, a distinct personality, a quirk that makes them stand out, their motivation, & a skill/ability that makes them useful/dangerous to the PCs. Having a prepped list of random NPC names helps a lot.

    For locations; a short history of the place, what part of town/the world, temperature, sights, sounds, smells, the mood of the place, & who or what is there for the PCs? If your group uses maps, have them ready. I love my dry-erase grid-board for whatever. Miniatures are best, but paper counters or just about anything works for tokens.

    Having 8-10 prepped NPCs & locations that you can throw into your adventure helps maintain pace. When the players make an unexpected decision, you'll be ready for them. Some GMs like to write & prep is easy. For others, writing long notes is not fun and for those GMs I recommend putting down some simple notes to remember key points about NPCs & locations. I use online documents I can easily reference from a cell or PC, but some GMs like index cards, which serve the same purpose.

    Have dice for yourself & everyone else. GM screens are cool, especially if you use secret rolls (or fudge 'em). Make sure you have a copy of each player's character sheet for easy reference. If there's treasure, have the total ready. If they're encountering any possible combat scenarios, have the X.P. rewards ready. Put combat Initiative on a sheet or board where players can see, while keeping your own initiative list that includes NPCs/monsters. Please have easy access to monster/NPC combat stats so combat flows instead of stalling.

    Also, check out this article, Don't Prep Plots.

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Do not throw the attack dices of your monsters in front of the players else if they see your monster does lots of critical you will not be able to say that in fact he did not do all those critical for not having the players die against one goblin with one commoner level and all stats under 8.

  19. - Top - End - #19
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Start small, start low level, start simple.
    Me: I'd get the paladin to help, but we might end up with a kid that believes in fairy tales.
    DM: aye, and it's not like she's been saved by a mysterious little girl and a band of real live puppets from a bad man and worse step-sister to go live with the faries in the happy land.
    Me: Yeah, a knight in shining armour might just bring her over the edge.

  20. - Top - End - #20
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    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Give enough of the premise of the adventure beforehand that players can create characters who are inclined to follow the plot hooks and will have reasonable opportunities to incorporate backstory into the setting.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    1. Improvisation is not a substitute for Preparation. They are two sides of the same coin. Improvisation is not "Winging It". Fudging a die roll is evidence that you probably didn't prepare properly.
    2. Know the rules. You can't break a rule properly until you know it. Any musician will confirm this.
    3. The DM is not always right, but the DM's decisions are always binding. Own all of your decisions. Nothing happens in-game without DM approval, even if this approval is tacit. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    4. Don't bring a creature with Save or Die attacks into play unless you are prepared to take PCs out of the game. NEVER fudge a die roll for one of these creatures. These creatures should never be encountered randomly. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    5. Never award an experience point for behavior you want to discourage. Murderhobos are not born, they are made.
    6. One detail, well described, can be more immersive than an entire brick of descriptive text.
    7. As a rule of thumb, the NPCs and Monsters should just not be that into the PCs. Attitudes from NPCs towards PCs should usually be Indifference. The attitude from Monsters towards PCs should usually be Depraved Indifference. The PCs are neither as delicious nor as interesting as they think they are.
    8. Take notes. Even if it is just to buy time to think of what you are going to do next. It looks like you are thinking even if your just making a shopping list.
    9. If you need a minute to make a decision, say to the players "I need a minute", and then take one minute instead of five. If you need five minutes to make a decision, say to the players, "I need five minutes", and then take five minutes not fifteen.
    10. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    Rule Zero is not a House Rule.

  22. - Top - End - #22
    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Total party kills are valid once you reach lvl17 and that you have allies since there is a spell allowing to resurrect without level loss.(but it must be rare for example if the players encounters a(rare) necromancer with wail of the banshee and that they all fail)
    Or if adventurers does truly stupid things and think they are immortal and then decide they are going to fight the entire empire army by themselves at a level where soldiers are a significant threat for them.
    Also fudging is not necessarily a proof of lack of preparation:for example if players stupidly ran into a room for hunting two goblin and that those goblin get 100 percent of their attacks critical and that the players does only fumble the goblins might believe the adventurers are super weak and then decide to block the door and if you keep being unlucky all the team might get killed by those goblins if none of them can hit them because of critical fails.
    Last edited by noob; 2015-07-01 at 05:21 AM.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Quote Originally Posted by ShaneMRoth View Post
    1. The DM is not always right, but the DM's decisions are always binding. Own all of your decisions. Nothing happens in-game without DM approval, even if this approval is tacit. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    2. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    Explain how TPKs are always the GMs fault please?

  24. - Top - End - #24
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    Griffon

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    7.As a rule of thumb, the NPCs and Monsters should just not be that into the PCs. Attitudes from NPCs towards PCs should usually be Indifference. The attitude from Monsters towards PCs should usually be Depraved Indifference. The PCs are neither as delicious nor as interesting as they think they are.
    Not sure if I agree with this one as a rule personally. There will be some times that the characters should be seen as interesting individuals.

    In fact, to many players, the idea that the enemy has put some serious thought and investigation into stopping them is a bit of a kick.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    dream's Avatar

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Quote Originally Posted by ShaneMRoth View Post
    1. Improvisation is not a substitute for Preparation. They are two sides of the same coin. Improvisation is not "Winging It". Fudging a die roll is evidence that you probably didn't prepare properly.
    2. Know the rules. You can't break a rule properly until you know it. Any musician will confirm this.
    3. The DM is not always right, but the DM's decisions are always binding. Own all of your decisions. Nothing happens in-game without DM approval, even if this approval is tacit. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    4. Don't bring a creature with Save or Die attacks into play unless you are prepared to take PCs out of the game. NEVER fudge a die roll for one of these creatures. These creatures should never be encountered randomly. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    5. Never award an experience point for behavior you want to discourage. Murderhobos are not born, they are made.
    6. One detail, well described, can be more immersive than an entire brick of descriptive text.
    7. As a rule of thumb, the NPCs and Monsters should just not be that into the PCs. Attitudes from NPCs towards PCs should usually be Indifference. The attitude from Monsters towards PCs should usually be Depraved Indifference. The PCs are neither as delicious nor as interesting as they think they are.
    8. Take notes. Even if it is just to buy time to think of what you are going to do next. It looks like you are thinking even if your just making a shopping list.
    9. If you need a minute to make a decision, say to the players "I need a minute", and then take one minute instead of five. If you need five minutes to make a decision, say to the players, "I need five minutes", and then take five minutes not fifteen.
    10. Total Party Kills are your fault. Every time.
    Looking this over again, there's A LOT of One-True-Wayism here;
    1. Fudging dice is a widely-accepted practice by GMs to prevent the ugly reality of player failure. A lot of people play TTRPGs to do cool things & have fun & failing doesn't accomplish that. While I don't do it, I also don't assume GMs fudge rolls because they're incompetent. Some very capable GMs fudge rolls.
    2. Never use random rolls for "hard" monsters? Random encounters have been a core feature of D&D for decades. I would counter with "players should NEVER assume they can win every combat".
    3. Why should NPC be indifferent to PCs? What if your players prefer the opposite? Maybe the GM should give the players the kind of game they want?
    4. On TPKs, I've had players charge their PCs into certain death more than a few times. That's after they were asked "you sure you want to do that?" and also after I offered plenty of alternatives. Sometimes, players just make bad decisions. It's part of the game & the "CR system" is not the safety net many players think it is. Note: sometimes that TPK event is the most fun any of the players have ever had at the table, so as odd as it seems, if the low-level players want to take on Tiamat, let 'em.

  26. - Top - End - #26
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Know what sort of game everyone will enjoy. Maybe you fudge rolls to keep the PC's alive since they are obviously attached, but the players aren't fond of that and want death to have an impact. Maybe you don't fudge because you worry about insulting the players, but they really rather deal with a KO scenario. Players can affect the atmosphere, tone and rules, but not as well as the GM. And what works for one group won't work for another.
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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Don't go out of your way to impress your players. No illusionism, no iron grip on rules, no grand storytelling. Just know your world, know your game, be prepared to get to know your players and find out how you can ride those three things to have a lot of fun. You are the master of dungeons, not the master of the evening.
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  28. - Top - End - #28
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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    Fudging dice is a widely-accepted practice by GMs to prevent the ugly reality of player failure. A lot of people play TTRPGs to do cool things & have fun & failing doesn't accomplish that. While I don't do it, I also don't assume GMs fudge rolls because they're incompetent. Some very capable GMs fudge rolls.
    These are tips for a new DM. For new DMs, fudging rolls is a crutch, not a tool.

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    Never use random rolls for "hard" monsters? Random encounters have been a core feature of D&D for decades.
    There are plenty of "core features" that have been tripping new DMs up for decades. A beholder is not an appropriate random wandering monster.

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    Why should NPC be indifferent to PCs? What if your players prefer the opposite? Maybe the GM should give the players the kind of game they want?
    It feels more authentic for NPCs to have other priorities than killing the PCs. It facilitates Willing Suspension of Disbelief if the world doesn't literally revolve around the PCs.

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    ...On TPKs, I've had players charge their PCs into certain death more than a few times.
    ...
    Yep. And it was all your fault.

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    ...
    That's after they were asked "you sure you want to do that?" and also after I offered plenty of alternatives.
    ...
    Yep, you offered them Cake or Death...

    Your fault. All your fault.

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    ...
    Sometimes, players just make bad decisions. It's part of the game & the "CR system" is not the safety net many players think it is.
    ...
    *cough*Your Fault*cough*

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    ...
    Note: sometimes that TPK event is the most fun any of the players have ever had at the table
    ...
    If the most fun players ever have at your table is after you kill all of their characters? Then it is really your fault.

    Quote Originally Posted by dream View Post
    ...
    if the low-level players want to take on Tiamat, let 'em.
    Tiamat?

    Oh, it is so your fault.
    Rule Zero is not a House Rule.

  29. - Top - End - #29
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    I've had mid-level PCs TPK against an equal number of unleveled Goblins with nonmagical equipment, while rolling in the open at the behest of the Players. The Goblins needed a 19 on the dice just to hit; the PCs needed a 4 or higher (or to use non-Attack-based magic, which they eschewed for the fight). Choice of which PC(s) to attack was entirely arbitrary based on assigned numbers, again rolled in the open. I didn't miss for 4 rounds and critted twice; the PCs didn't hit for 4 rounds. The Goblins attempted to get away, and the PCs chose to pursue them.

    If you're going to blame me, as DM, for that TPK, I'm going to ask you to explain your rationale besides blindly repeating "all your fault."
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  30. - Top - End - #30
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Comet's Avatar

    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Tips For DM's

    TPKs are sad and exhausting things. Coming back with a new, prepared party and getting your revenge is a lot of fun. Taking the consequences of violence away from a game that is so in love with killing can definitely feel disingenuous. I've personally given up fudging entirely because I got tired of trying to decide what is and isn't fun or cool for the players. Let the game and the players do that, it'll work fine.
    Last edited by Comet; 2015-07-01 at 04:04 PM.
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