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Any advice for a new DM? D&D 4e

hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
edited February 2012 in Critical Failures
I have always wanted to play D&D and listening to the PA podcasts and watching the videos from PAX have made me decide to give it a try. I have run a couple of encounters with my brother, his wife, and my girlfriend. That game wasn't so bad. I also ran one with some work friends, after some drinking. We made it to rolling initiative. I put together a group of people who write for my school paper, who are all really interested in playing. Our first night is Monday.

Basically, I just want some advice to be the best DM I can possibly be. I really want us to all have a good time. I want this to develop into a weekly group, and, frankly, I'm scared that I will suck really hard.

What can I do to prevent an epic fail?

Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
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Posts

  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    The first thing you should do is talk to your players. Whether or not they've played D&D before, you want to get a good sense not only of what they're expectations are for a game, but also what they'd like to see happen over the course of the first few levels or so. What kind of stuff do they want their characters to do? Are they more interested in combat, skill challenges, investigation, roleplay, or what?

    As for actually DMing, plan, plan, and plan some more. Plan out what you want to have happen over the course of, say, a level or so. Then plan out individual encounters, stories, and plot points to help facilitate that story. Then, most importantly of all, plan on your players either totally missing your big plot hooks, or "taking a third option" and screwing your plans up.

    If you have the DMG, read it, 4e's DMG is widely lauded as one of the best DM/GM/ST/Narrator guide's in the industry, and I tend to agree. There's a slew of very useful information for DMing in general. In addition, there's some good guidelines for what to do when you're not sure what the rules are, or you don't think there is a specific rule.

    For rules adjudication specifically, I recommend the Rules Compendium. It's small, easy to search, and the most up-to-date printed rules in the game.

    Beyond that, if you have any specific questions or concerns, pitch 'em out.

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  • bssbss Brostoyevsky Madison, WIRegistered User regular
    Tox wrote:
    As for actually DMing, plan, plan, and plan some more. Plan out what you want to have happen over the course of, say, a level or so. Then plan out individual encounters, stories, and plot points to help facilitate that story. Then, most importantly of all, plan on your players either totally missing your big plot hooks, or "taking a third option" and screwing your plans up.
    Lots of this. Get a progression tree plotted out in your head at the important decision forks of the adventure (combats are important points too). Prepare a throwaway encounter for if (when) the players go 180 degrees the opposite direction you thought they would. If nothing else, it gives you some time to stall and figure out what to do next. Have it make sense contextually, but don't spend forever on it.
    Tox wrote:
    For rules adjudication specifically, I recommend the Rules Compendium. It's small, easy to search, and the most up-to-date printed rules in the game.
    This thing is an absolute lifesaver, even if you're not playing Essentials (the rules are the same either way).

    Less to do with the system, be honest with your players. You haven't run a lot of games, things may be bumpy. It's a new group, so things may take a while to spin up as everyone feels each other out (if you don't already know each other, and even if you do, the table tends to be a different experience for many). Don't be arbitrary, adversarial, or the uncaring god of the game --- some groups like that, but if they don't, they'll absolutely hate it; keep things civil at first. If some of the players are more experienced than you are, don't be afraid to ask them for rules clarifications. Don't "keep it serious" and quash out-of-character joking.

    Really, if you're all there primarily to have some fun while rolling dice, it's a hard thing to epic fail at.

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    Thanks. I think my group is all on the same page as to what we want. A fun way to pass the time with friends every once in a while.

    How is the Essentials DM guide? I have only leafed through that, but it seems pretty solid.

    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • bssbss Brostoyevsky Madison, WIRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    How is the Essentials DM guide? I have only leafed through that, but it seems pretty solid.

    It's fine if you don't have the DMG and has more or less the same content. If you have the DMG, the DM Guide is almost entirely pointless (and entirely so if you have DMG2) aside from being more condensed and coming with a better adventure (and tokens?).

    bss on
    3DS: 2466-2307-8384 PSN: bssteph Steam: bsstephan Twitch: bsstephan
    Tabletop:13th Age (mm-mmm), D&D 4e
    Occasional words about games: my site
  • nightmarennynightmarenny Registered User regular
    Thanks. I think my group is all on the same page as to what we want. A fun way to pass the time with friends every once in a while.

    How is the Essentials DM guide? I have only leafed through that, but it seems pretty solid.
    But are you sure they all agree what would be fun?

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    Well, the general feeling seems to be just see what they like the most and then build a campaign around that. I think we decided to start with the red box adventure, to give them a taste of everything D&D has to offer.

    Then we'll have a discussion about it.

    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • nightmarennynightmarenny Registered User regular
    Well, the general feeling seems to be just see what they like the most and then build a campaign around that. I think we decided to start with the red box adventure, to give them a taste of everything D&D has to offer.

    Then we'll have a discussion about it.

    That's a good idea.

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    Thanks for all the help. I really appreciate it. I'll let you know how it goes!

    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    Oh! One more thing:

    Build characters as a group. Don't tell everybody to just bring a 1st level character. Set aside the first session to actually build characters together.

    This is the easiest way to prevent things like all strikers, all ranged, no ranged, no defender, too many controllers. Those sorts of issues that, while they won't prevent the game from working, may make things less fun than it could be. The sorts of situations where someone is likely to say, "If I'd known X was going to play Y, I would have played Z."

    I do that a lot, because I tend to have three or more character ideas floating around in my head. The only thing I'll currently refuse to play is a leader, because I've been playing one for almost a year now in our regular game. So if I were to join another group, I'd want to play something else.

    But then I hate the saying, "Play what you want." Because I don't think it's accurate to 4e. I prefer to tell people, "Play what you'll enjoy." because sometimes those aren't the same, and while I love playing a wizard, when I rolled into a group that had a crossbow Artificer, a bow ranger, and a rogue, I wished I'd known so I could have just rolled the paladin I had been tossing around in my head.

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    Well I purchased a one month sub to D&D Insider, and we built characters together already. I have a wizard, warlock, cleric, and a fighter. Not the best balance for what may be needed, but I think it'll work out. Besides, I am the monsters so I'll make sure not to wipe them. Unless I just can't help it.

    hXcBoomstick on
    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    Avoid Brutes like the plague if you can help it. Although Fighters can dish out some pretty great damage when they need/want to, warlocks have a very hard time as strikers, especially at lower levels. Hopefully either your wizard is a staff build or your cleric is a melee cleric, if either (or both!) of those are the case there should be no issues, otherwise, you'll want to keep your monsters mixed at least 50/50 melee ranged (and I'd rather use all melee as that gets annoying for ranged characters with no front line).

    Mind sharing the builds (Implement, Pact, etc)?

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    I don't know about the build of my warlock. He didn't use the character creator to make his. But I have a Pixie Bladesinger, a Goliath Weaponmaster, and a Tiefling Warpriest.

    The Tiefling has that transformation ability, which I think will make things interesting.

    hXcBoomstick on
    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • bssbss Brostoyevsky Madison, WIRegistered User regular
    I forgot before, and especially since you're playing a premade adventure, ask your players beforehand how they feel about (perceived) railroading. Sometimes it's okay to say "you know, it would be really wild to see what happens if you guys take the bounty and run, but the adventure kind of assumes you play the good hero line, or at least go to the cave and kill goblins either way". Some players don't mind knowing that beyond the map boundries is Sandbox Land where you'll be unprepared and perhaps a bit flustered, and are cool just to play the adventure because that's what you all came to do. Some rather enjoy the freedom and/or have the experience diminished by being reminded of the limits of what's prepared. So ask.

    3DS: 2466-2307-8384 PSN: bssteph Steam: bsstephan Twitch: bsstephan
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  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    I don't know about the build of my warlock. He didn't use the character creator to make his. But I have a Pixie Bladesinger, a Goliath Weaponmaster, and a Tiefling Warpriest.

    The Tiefling has that transformation ability, which I think will make things interesting.

    oh damn I wasn't considering essentials sub-classes.

    Yeah, you'll be fine. And if the warlock is a hexblade, don't be afraid to drop brutes in at all. Warpriests can dish out some damage, as can bladesingers (they're actually arguably better strikers than controllers).

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  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    One thing I don't really love about Essentials is the off-role sub-classes. I don't mind them, per se (except a few of them are actually badly designed), but it gets confusing when two players sit down and announce they're playing "a warlock and a ranger" and you think 'Cool I've got striking covered' and it turns out they're a binder and a hunter, and combined with your wizard you now have over half the party as controllers.

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  • IcerimpIcerimp Registered User regular
    edited February 2012
    Combat in 4e can have a tendency to really drag out, so any of the little things you can do as a DM to help it move along are great. I haven't run a game in a long time, but a few things off the top of my head:

    Encourage all of your players to look over their powers in advance, and answer questions about terms and rules for any effects they have. Don't worry if they still forget about them, because they likely will.

    Use note cards to write down notes on the initiative, hp, and attack stats of each type of enemy for all of the fights.

    When you're in combat, just order the initiative for everything up front, and then you can just cycle through the cards to help keep track easier.

    Write down passive perception/insight, as well as ac, will, reflex, and fort for your players so you have that handy, and can check quick if attacks hit them.

    Tox mentioned avoiding Brutes, and I'd recommend watching how many Soldiers you use also.

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  • warfteinerwarfteiner Registered User new member
    As a new DM, I highly recommend you play the game you want to play. After all, D&D is a system for interactive storytelling. To that end, try to be in the habit of telling your players yes (just remember that your players will try weird and crazy shit, and if it's batfuck stupid tell them yes and them change your own plotline a bit). DMs direct the action and know every angle of a story, and the players wander the world looking for places to wreck ;)

    But! DM'ing is not scary - it just requires a few things:
    *) The ability to think on your feet. Remember, your players will derail every attempt at a cohesive story so don't get into the habit of making super-specific adventure outlines .
    *) Be ready to explain small details. If the PCs pass a temple on the way to the ancient crypt, the party is guaranteed to ask a couple questions about it. Just make sure that you don't make the temple sound overly interesting unless they're coming back to it later on.
    *) Tell your players yes. Let them try anything they suggest; they're just bits of paper and a player can reroll a character in 4th Edition pretty quickly. They want to try to lasso the bulette and then ride a beholder like a pony? SURE! Let 'em, and then giggle as the hilarity unfolds. (yes, that's happened at my table).
    *) Tease the players with what I call shiny candy. What I mean by this is to show the players enough information to entice them to go to each plot point and then grant them a small reward at the end of each plot point.

    If you need some adventure ideas or even some premade adventures, check out livingforgottenrealms.com. The site hosts the campaign outline for the 4e organized plan, a couple hundred adventures, and some other materials to boot (like organizations that the PCs can join). For new characters, I recommend EAST1-1 "These Hallowed Halls" and CORE1-13 "The Fate of Camp 15" (I think it's CORE1-13, could have the number wrong).

    For what its worth, I've written a couple adventures for LFR (NETH3-2 is the only one linked on the site at the moment, I think) and am now the writing director for the Abolethic Sovereignty storyline. Hot tentacled doom for all!

    Have fun, man, and roll with it. The game is so much more fun when you loosen the reins a little bit!

  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    Initiative Tracking!

    I use little 3x5 index cards. Each player has one (upon which is also their Passive Perception and Insight, as well their Initiative mod, character name, etc). Then when I roll initiative for my monsters (which I normally do as part of my pre-game prep), I give each group of monsters (usually not more than 2 or 3 creatures per group) I write their initiative on the card. I use that card only for initiative tracking, because using it for anything else can make tracking init difficult. When the players roll, I write theirs down on their cards, sort all the cards by initiative, and boom, there ya go.

    Also when you do your monsters, avoid the tendency to have all monsters of a given type act together. It seems easier in theory, but in practice it means all your players go, and then you take all the monster turns, meaning your turn takes almost as long as all the players turns together. By splitting the monsters up, your "turns" are more likely to be intermixed with the PCs, which makes combat feel more dynamic. Don't be afraid to lower a monsters initiative to split them up so that players act between pairs or trios of monsters (having a half dozen or so minions all go together isn't as big a deal).

    I actually do monster stat blocks typed up on another sheet, and each monsters gets a block space for tracking HP and what-not. Write everything down. If a player slows or immobilizes or dazes a monster, write it down so you don't forget. If it's "Save Ends" I usually circle the effect, if it's EoNT I'll underline it. End of Encounter I box it. Develop your own set of intuitive shorthand to help you remember these types of things.

    One thing about 4e is that there are a slew of Immediate Interrupt type powers that PCs get that affect their defenses. So don't just tell them whether or not a monster hits them. Roll and tell them the result "20 vs AC" or "14 vs Will" that sort of thing. Let the player be involved. When you do roll attacks, go ahead and roll damage as well, that way if it is a hit you already have the damage there to apply.

    Don't be too worried about combat dragging for the first few weeks. It's going to. Especially newer players are trying to learn and master not only the system in general but their character and its powers. By level 2 you should have a good idea of where combat drags, and you can start to address those individual issues to help speed it up. For reference, when I started with my current group, we were lucky to get two combat encounters and little else done in a session, usually it was one encounter, a skill challenge, a roleplay scene or two, and that was about it. Now we manage two combats, a skill challenge or two, and at least two roleplay scenes (or three of those last two), all in a little over 3 hours of game time.

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  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    For tracking statuses and effects (marks, striker features, bloodied, slow, daze, etc) we use little pipe cleaner rings. Some groups use soda/milk bottle rings. Again, find a system that works for you (there are actual magnet-based systems you can buy, that are very nice, if expensive). That alone can help speed up combat.

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  • bssbss Brostoyevsky Madison, WIRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    Oh, I don't think it's been said yet, but if you don't have anything to run encounters on, get a mat or sheet of acrylic. Chessex for example has pretty good square grid mats that you can wet erase marker on, and you can plop acrylic sheets over your preprinted encounter maps and draw on them with dry erase markers. You can find the acrylic at e.g. Home Depot for a modest price, mats at any local gaming store or on the internets.

    Another option for statuses and effects are those removable sticker tabs you can find in most office supply stores, though some have a tough time sticking to the minis. For group-wide effects, have a couple index cards and drop them in a shared space for when the bard is singing his song of bonuses or whatever. One guy would tape the index cards to his forehead --- we never forgot any of his bonuses.

    Have more index cards on hand to give out quests. Someone may want to investigate the vizier and you don't want to deal with it now, giving them a card saying "Investigate the Vizier" is a good way to not forget as it gives the player something tangible to keep track of and eventually slap down and say "alright, can we do this now" (just don't forget you gave it out).

    If you have a laptop and no one minds it being up at the table, you can choose to use the online Compendium for monsters and keep a bunch of windows for the stat blocks and use the books if you run out of screen space. It speeds up finding data. But do whatever you're comfortable with, cheat sheets or books or the Compendium, as you should make the game fun for you too even if it slows things down a bit.

    Something to evaluate (it's probably more work than desirable when starting out, though) is, if you're not married to fiddily bits, checking out virtual tables like MapTool. They're great, as they condense a lot of stats and initiative in one place, and having your players find illustrations online to make their character tokens generally yields better results than finding the least dumb-looking mini that matches their class/race. You can really go overboard with MapTool, though, since you can be tricked into thinking you "need" detailed maps for every encounter, and some people really don't like not having minis to move around on a mat. So give that one some time to percolate.

    bss on
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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    Well, my game was tonight.

    It went very, very well. My players were into it, though they were just starting out. We made it through two encounters, and they killed a dragon. With only one of them getting knocked unconscious. They were extremely creative, and kept me on my toes all night.

    They even had each other rolling Insight and Diplomacy checks to see if they were lying to each other about a dragon and treasure. No about the dragon, yes about the treasure.

    Favorite part of the evening: Player: "I rip this curtain down and wrap the Kobold in it, then use my tinder box to set it ablaze!"
    Me: "Uhhh. . . Dexterity check."
    Player: "20."
    Me: "The Kobold minion screams as it is wrapped in a curtain of flames."
    Player: "I pee it out."
    Me: "Your God frowns at you."

    hXcBoomstick on
    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    Do you have a copy of the DMG? If so Page 42 is your friend

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    edited February 2012
    I was just doing the treasure like it said in the Red Box. I'll start doing that when I write my own adventure, after I take them through the Rex Box and Keep on the Shadowfell. Which was a tiny amount compared to the work they did. But oh well. One of them got a new set of armor. Which I need to add to his character before I forget!

    hXcBoomstick on
    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
  • ToxTox I kill threads he/himRegistered User regular
    honestly the easiest way to do treasure is one item per PC of levels X+1 to X+4 (where X is the levels of the PC), per level, and gold per level equal to the cost of two level X items. That's basically the middle road between DMG treasure and RC treasure.

    Page 42, however, is a DC cheat sheet for when your players do crazy stuff like in your story. If you can make it a skill check, try to, because some PCs will get a +5, and other won't lose anything.

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  • hXcBoomstickhXcBoomstick Sandy, UTRegistered User regular
    Awesome!

    Wish I could site-whore, but instead I'll just leave this here. www.cultureofgaming.com Where I have the audacity to talk about whatever I feel like on gaming and gamer culture.
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