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New DMing bluuees

BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKSRegistered User regular
edited June 2008 in Critical Failures
Hey there party people of critical failures, I have recently been chosen to learn how to be dungeon master for a smallish group of my friends, and i am completely new to it. I played D&D with a group of friends years ago, but only vaguely remember how everything went, and i definitely wasn't paying attention to how my DM did everything (sadly).

So now I am faced with the task of learning all the rules, and starting a game with people who have never before played any tabletop game except for my boyfriend, and he hasn't played for years either.

So I ask you, wise and powerful leaders of games, to give me tips and advice, maybe things you wish you had known when you first started leading games. We'll be playing D&D using the 3.5 ruleset, but I would wager that general tips for how to keep a group of people (we're looking at 3-4 people) happy and entertained would apply to many tabletop games.


Also, any ideas for what my first dungeon for them to crawl through should be would be awesome. Any help you guys feel like throwing my way would be very much appreciated.

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Belruel on
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    What rulebooks do you have?

    And are you set on using 3.5? Because the first dungeon adventure module just came out for the new edition.

    Horseshoe on
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    fadingathedgesfadingathedges Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Hi.

    I'm not sure if you're flexible on this, but 4th edition D&D comes out in 3 weeks :o So if you haven't invested in the 3.5 materials yet, you might consider the leap to 4th. In general it seems to be more streamlined (good for you & yours as a learning group) and more balanced (something 3.5 fell short on, especially as the party digs into the mid-teens levels).

    If you are able to start with 4e, you're in the same boat with most of us here as far as starting out :) There is a 4e thread, and as far as a first adventure goes there is a Keep on the Shadowfell module (this is the first 4e module) out and a thread here discussing it specifically; some of the forum'ers here are running KotS game over the intarweb and using that thread to chat about it.

    If you already have a pile of 3.5 books, I would note that I sold my 3.5 collection of around 10 total books on ebay for enough to cover the core 4e books, so consider looking into that option.


    Now all that said, you can have lots of fun with 3.5 if that's the path you're already on.
    I would first suggest making a list of legal books for your players, i.e. "no splatbooks, just core 4 books including the PHB2." Characters who sample a little from many different books can get rather nuts; this will help keep the game somewhat tame. You should at least consider any books your players already own, though.

    As for a very first newbie adventure, I would say you should establish where the players start and how they know each other or meet up. Come up with a few adventure hooks in the area, and then just find an excuse for them to fight some stuff just to learn some some combat mechanics. Also have some CHIPS and then PIZZA :) Even if you fumble around with the system for awhile it's always fun to hang out with your friends and eat pizza, so that's a good safety net while you learn the ropes.

    fadingathedges on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    i think we're pretty stuck on 3.5 for now, though if we really get going with this and they love it we'll look into getting the new books and maybe starting over with a better idea of what's going on. and we all know each other very well actually, it'll start out with my boyfriend, my lil brudder and my older sister, and maybe a friend or two after we know what we're doing.

    Belruel on
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    HawkstoneHawkstone Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things. Somewhere outside of BarstowRegistered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Some general advice that I think can come in handy no matter what game you decide upon. First and foremost dont let them put all the weight on you for learning/ memorizing all the rules. It will be enough work for you to learn how to run an rpg without having to teach them to play it at the same time. In the case of D&D for example they should know before you sit down how to make their character and have a cursory knowledge of the players handbook, its only fair that they learn one book as you will have to learn two. Second in the early going being organized will help you alot, things like 3/5 cards to keep track of important info on the fly, notebooks, and post its can be very valuable in keeping it all going smooth until you are comfortable winging it. Third most games have pregenerated adventures that you can read and run them through, this is a great place to start rather than do the extra work of making up your own adventure as you will have enough to do learning to run the show. Any adventure that starts at level 1 in D&D will likely be a good starter game and most other RPGs have a similiar way of denoting a "starter" game. Four, I cannot stress enough that it is ok to fudge rules in the early going to keep it fun and keep it moving. If you dont know how something works and its not something of major importance, fudge it for now. Come up with something everyone thinks is fair, and look it up after the game is over. You will have more fun this way, and unless they are a rules Nazi so will they. Five, dont get competetive with your players, you are providing entertainment for yourself and your friends, like an interactive story that you write together...this is not a game somebody "wins". Lastly, and most importantly, have fun. I know its sounds trite but its the reason you are doing this and if there is something that is in that game, a rule, a type of character, whatever that is keeping everyone from getting to participate and have a good time, change it so that it works for you and your group. Hope this helps, im sure there is alot more others could say and more I could think of. Good luck

    Hawkstone on
    Inside of a dog...it's too dark to read.
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Dude, carriage returns please.

    Horseshoe on
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    TheidarTheidar Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Bel, unfortunately you have to develop your own style.
    I GM basically with about 4 sentences and maybe some bad guys planned ahead and wing the rest.
    My best friend maps out everything but leaves gaps to fill in. He also loves drawings and props.
    Another of our friends makes detailed worlds and writes out the adventures in great detail.
    We all like each others games quite a bit

    Here are some pointers though:

    -A GM screen and cheat sheet are great resources especially when you start out.
    -Don't get worried over rules, you're the boss and its better to keep things moving than to get into a rulebook slap fight. Also if you don't like a rule change it just make sure everyone knows what the change is ahead of time.
    -Always expect people to do something completely dumb or unexpected and roll with it.
    -Have some random badguys stated up and stashed for use, you never know when you need an assassin or bandit party to make things interesting.
    -Its okay to kill PC's, say no to bad character designs or completely bad/impossible ideas.
    -Have fun, you should enjoy the game to after all.

    Theidar on
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    TheidarTheidar Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Also as mister block o text says its a good idea to make the players responsible for knowing the rules pertaining to their PC.

    You should familiarize yourself with them too, just to be sure they aren't trying to cheat you. But it makes your life easier when they can take care of that for you.

    Also best advice is play Shadowrun Third Edition, its the best.

    Theidar on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    i wanted to try shadowrun, but they were all 'nooo we want to play thiiis one'. haha, maybe later on they'll want to try it.

    also thanks for the advice so far guys, keep it coming.

    theidar: cheatsheet? what exactly would be on it?

    Belruel on
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    InfidelInfidel Heretic Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    The most important point made I'll reemphasize: Play the rules as best you can, focus on keeping things fun first.

    If you guys screw up, you can always play it right after you figure it out later or someone brings up the correct means. If things are going to slow down because you can't find the rule in the books quickly, just come up with your own ruling ("just roll your skill and beat a 15, we'll figure it out for next time after") and keep it moving.

    This is the most important thing imo for new hosts, since your job is to make it so everyone can have fun, and the majority of players (especially newbies) will no matter what the rules really are. Think of it more like a party, keep everyone happy and entertained and you'll all want to keep gaming and you'll learn the rules in time.

    Infidel on
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    If in your books you have an adventure module, like one that has monsters and maps and stuff already in it, probably it would be a good idea to play that just to make life easier on you, the new DM.

    If you're going to whip up the whole thing yourself...

    I would start the players with 1st level characters. If character generation in the Player's Handbook makes you and your players' eyes bug out, they have sample first level characters in the Handbook under each class section that you can use. Strongly suggest that someone plays a cleric.

    If you have any maps in your DnD stuff, those are very helpful. Where your players and monsters are standing is important to know who can do what. Having a map with a one-inch-square grid for spacing works very well. Often my group will just use Legos for characters and monsters. At any rate miniature things can help you keep track of what is going on.

    Also, drawing the map can be a lot of fun, too! The Map-A-Week Archive at the official site may give you some ideas if you would prefer to make your own map.

    As for what they'll be fighting... maybe start out with a small number of weak bad guys. Goblins and Kobolds are good for this. One of the tough things as a new DM can be figuring out what is an appropriate challenge for your party. There is an online encounter calculator that can help out with this... you enter the number of party members and what their level is, and the number of monsters and what their Challenge Rating (CR) is, which is listed in their monster manual entry. This calculator will tell you how relatively difficult the encounter will be.

    As the DM you have to do a lot more work than anyone else. Keep a pad handy for taking notes because you'll have to track how many hit points the bad guys have left and stuff like that.

    Have snacks and drinks on hand. Always helps.

    Horseshoe on
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    RendRend Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    www.roleplayingtips.com has a wealth of amazing advice, in the form of categorized tips, to help with all sorts of things, and a good deal of it is aimed at new and experienced DMs (almost all of it, really). I would visit that website and search its archives for anything you might find useful, it's pretty easy to navigate.

    (it comes out weekly, too, and subscription so they send it to your email every week is free)

    Personal advice? Whatever you plan for the players to do, they probably won't do it. The paradox of "Plan more, accomplish more" and yet "No plan has ever survived contact with the enemy." applies in full.

    The more you plan, the better prepared you will be to deal with what your players will throw at you, but it's paramount that you are prepared for however carefully laid your plan is, for that plan to go out the window when they go in. One problem even some more experienced DMs have is railroading, making their players adhere to the plan even when they want to do something else.

    Just go with the flow.

    Also, it may help you as a new DM to have lists, stats, charts at the ready with the sort of information you'll need. "How many hit points does this monster have?" "What's his attack and damage?" are two questions you'll ask yourself every round until you know it by heart, so having those sorts of things written down can save alot of time (and save alot of face- you'll look like a pro!).

    Also, this is something I reccomend: Make your adventure (or whichever adventure you use) theatrical and fun. I call it the "Law of Plausible BAMFery." IE, your character just got the 150,000 gold he needs to buy the really awesome sword. However, instead of going to the merchant and buying it, he goes to the temple, does some divine ritual, and is granted the sword for free. He then spends 150,000 gold to throw the greatest party the city has ever seen.

    It doesn't change the game mechanics, or actually give him the free sword, but it's fun and exciting, and way cooler than exchanging money for goods and services.

    Rend on
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    fadingathedgesfadingathedges Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    oo oo


    http://www.d20srd.org/

    great resource, both for planning & quick reference & hotlinks if you have a laptop or PC handy to your playing area.

    fadingathedges on
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    delrolanddelroland Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Have you played Dungeons & Dragons yet? I would suggest joining another group to play, say at a local game store. Playing will teach you the rules quite quickly as well as give you a chance to have fun on the side instead of running all the time.

    My most important rule when I run D&D is to empower the players. Better to give them a chance at success if they come up with a unique way of dealing with an encounter rather than shoot them down.

    delroland on
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    TheidarTheidar Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Belruel wrote: »
    i wanted to try shadowrun, but they were all 'nooo we want to play thiiis one'. haha, maybe later on they'll want to try it.

    also thanks for the advice so far guys, keep it coming.

    theidar: cheatsheet? what exactly would be on it?

    Summaries of important rules or things you always forget that aren't on the GM screen.

    Like if turning undead isn't on the GM screen, have it on your cheat sheet so you don't have to look it up. Maybe some common items and services costs, again so you don't have to stop and look things up.

    You customize it as you go to your own personal taste and it becomes a great quick reference.

    Theidar on
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    EdcrabEdcrab Actually a hack Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Good tips so far. On the subject of cheat sheets, I'd always rephrase the parts I have trouble with, or just couldn't remember easily- which obviously differs between DMs, but for me that meant virtually everything in D&D when I first tried it out :P Generally it might take you a while to "perfect" your campaign's cheat sheet, but by the time you've done that you'll probably remember all the important parts anyway. Oh, and keeping track of hitpoints etc. is essential. That's a rookie mistake I ran into. Consistency is very important, otherwise you get accused of favouritism and all sorts of crap...

    As already mentioned, you're the DM and your word is law. Sometimes you get rules-lawyer players who'll do their best to make you feel inadequate, but remember that poise and confidence and forthright soldiering on will be a massive boon- players smell your fear. But seriously, in a sense your group being new is a good thing, as you're unlikely to encounter that level of asshattery... or anyone attempting to challenge your rulings.

    Edcrab on
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    TheidarTheidar Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    oo oo


    http://www.d20srd.org/

    great resource, both for planning & quick reference & hotlinks if you have a laptop or PC handy to your playing area.

    That looks like a great site to get some cheat sheets from. Its always good to minimize book searching midgame.

    Also, I'm in CF right now arent I.

    Theidar on
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    one of us... one of us...

    Horseshoe on
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    EdcrabEdcrab Actually a hack Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Damn, this thread moved fast.

    And it's not like CF is an addictive death trap or anything. I mean, I started up a PBP the other month and all that happened is... I now post here... six times a day...

    ...crap

    Edcrab on
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    tastydonutstastydonuts Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    The d20srd page is awesome. There's also some compilations of rules on pdf over @ Crystal Keep. I've found the skills index they have there to be awesome as well.

    Everything is awesome. Because I had to use that word a third time in this post.

    tastydonuts on
    “I used to draw, hard to admit that I used to draw...”
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    TheidarTheidar Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    But tabbing between subforums takes so much effort, and I probably have to try and stay on topic now.

    Theidar on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    t delroland: i have played before, but its been a long time. I've been trying to find a group to join for about a year now, but haven't had any luck, so we decided to start our own group :D

    t theidar: ah, that makes so much sense, thanks :D

    t edcrab: yea, thankfully my group should be easy to handle, my boyfriend is really mellow, my borther idolizes me, and my sister can be a butt, but she's brand new so as long as i can know more than her i'll be good, haha. when i bring new friends in, the fact that i'll be the boss will hopefully be in place, and they won't dispute it (here's to hopin!)

    thanks for all the links duders, they look like they'll be really useful

    Belruel on
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    delrolanddelroland Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Belruel wrote: »
    ...my boyfriend is really mellow...

    Oh, so you're a girl DM... :P

    Nah, that's cool. :) There really aren't enough female DM's out there, and I think this is one of the key problems perpetuating the "Gentlemen Only Club" feel of tabletop RPG's.

    delroland on
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    El SkidEl Skid The frozen white northRegistered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Dunno how to say this correctly, so I'll be short about it- especially when DMing your Significant Other, you need to make sure you treat everyone roughtly equally.

    If your BF makes a huge mistake and nothing happens and then your sister does something similar and gets killed for it, bad blood can happen.

    Similarly if you've had a fight with your BF and the NPCs all decide to start attacking him exclusively, this can put a strain on your relationship.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that when you're DMing you put on your "DM hat" and try and treat the players the way their playing dictates they be treated- If a player makes a blunder, the consequences are the same regardless of who does it, and if they do well, they are rewarded the same.

    El Skid on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    oh yea, no worries, we've been together for almost 4 years now, he's like a member of the family, and anytime we have ever fought, we solve it right there, i am not fond of lingering arguments, so no worries about fights carrying over into gaming time.

    i don't see myself treating him any differently than i will treat any other players, it would be silly and stupid to do anything else.

    Belruel on
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    Cosmic SombreroCosmic Sombrero Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Belruel wrote: »
    i don't see myself treating him any differently than i will treat any other players, it would be silly and stupid to do anything else.

    Yeah, I probably wouldn't worry about that. Unless, y'know, you were a woman and thus prone to fits of hysteria and such.

    wakka wakka wakka, <3 Bel

    Cosmic Sombrero on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Belruel wrote: »
    i don't see myself treating him any differently than i will treat any other players, it would be silly and stupid to do anything else.

    Yeah, I probably wouldn't worry about that. Unless, y'know, you were a woman and thus prone to fits of hysteria and such.

    wakka wakka wakka, <3 Bel

    oh i dunno sombrero, if anyone is attracting bears here its you.

    Belruel on
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    El SkidEl Skid The frozen white northRegistered User regular
    edited May 2008
    I can hardly bear this conversation.

    El Skid on
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Four 1st level adventurers are not ready to take on massive carnivores that weigh more than 1,800 pounds and stand nearly 9 feet tall when they rear up on their hind legs. RAWR

    On Topic!

    Horseshoe on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    chance of bears!

    so, non game mechanic plan thus far

    -chips
    -sodas
    -spooky music
    -i so draw things, so i guess i'll do that kind of thing to show the players certain things they encounter
    -a table of some sort? i wager its best to be gathered more closely like that, and not be spread out over many couches, plus is facilitates dice rolling

    anything else for making a fun/relaxed setting?

    Belruel on
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    InfidelInfidel Heretic Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Having appropriate music and drawing your own sketches ahead of time to set the mood is very :^: A good way to use art talents is to mock up some physical maps, as if the players are holding a little piece of the world in their real hands, instead of just "map of _____" on their character sheet.

    For snacks, make sure you don't have anything that is exceptionally messy or stains fingers. ;-) They're hell on sheets and books, and I hate it when I'm DMing and I spend half my time wiping my hands as we game. :lol:

    Infidel on
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    little guys to represent the characters moving through the dungeon.

    whatever you have lying around can work for this. board game pieces, coins... little cookies (like frosted animal crackers) work sometimes but there is a chance they will disappear before the monster is actually defeated.

    if anyone in your group has a good collection of legos, use those. when we play at a friend of mine's house his girlfriend (who has no interest in actually playing dnd) builds the monsters out of legos for us, which keeps her from feeling left out.

    Horseshoe on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    i paint miniatures as a side hobby sometimes, my boyfriend and lil bro shove their warammer 40k dudes at me to paint or help them with sometimes.

    i think we'll plan a trip to the hobby shop and have them choose some figures that they like the look of :D

    Belruel on
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    Paranoia833Paranoia833 Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Tables/hard surfaces are good, particularly for D&D, where people will be looking at character sheets/books from time to time and rolling dice a lot. In particular the DM should have a writing space, just to keep track of niggly little things like initiative orders and NPC names if nothing else (and personally I write out shorthand notes to myself quite a bit, though that seems to be more my personal eccentricity than something common to all GMs)

    for maps, having a generic grid of squares to put counters/pennies/spare-dice to represent PCs/Monsters on is always useful. If like me you can never get hold of a proper battlemat I find a A4 or so sized piece of card divided into squares or failing that some graph paper works wonders, and if you've got the skill to do a more detailed map alongside that then all the better.

    Paranoia833 on
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    HorseshoeHorseshoe Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Belruel wrote: »
    i paint miniatures as a side hobby sometimes, my boyfriend and lil bro shove their warammer 40k dudes at me to paint or help them with sometimes.

    i think we'll plan a trip to the hobby shop and have them choose some figures that they like the look of :D

    that is a cool idea.

    it can be kind of funny sometimes when you have a mixed collection of minis.

    i have star wars minis that i have used in dnd sometimes.

    Player: "Okay, I attack the stormtrooper."

    Me: "Hobgoblin, it's a Hobgoblin."

    Player: "Fine, I attack the Hobgoblin Stormtrooper."

    Horseshoe on
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    delrolanddelroland Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Belruel wrote: »
    -i so draw things, so i guess i'll do that kind of thing to show the players certain things they encounter

    I would suggest downloading some of the freebie pdf old-school adventures to get a feel for the look of dungeon rooms and whatnot. I believe Temple of Elemental Evil is among them, and that has some great room art. If you're looking for drawing inspiration it's a good place to start.

    delroland on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    t delro- awesome, thanks for the tip :D

    t horseshoe- haha, we did tat wit legos and other things for a while when i played too. i think i brought some old toys i had when i was a kid once too, because i remember the guys i played with all laughing because some really tough monster was represented by a lil pink bunny toy

    Belruel on
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    LegionnairedLegionnaired Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    Something I read once, but can no longer find:

    Get into node-based adventure design. What I mean by that is don't draw a map and fill in interesting locales later. Build interesting locales first and then drop them on a map when the players get there.

    Draw this abstract layout out on some paper and show how the plot of these locales and people and places relate together.

    Eventually you'll have a pretty massive web all set up and players will have a handfull of things going on that all feel 'right in the neighborhood.'

    Legionnaired on
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    piLpiL Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    My tips for running a game:

    -Knowing the rules is nice. I don't know your players, but if they're like most people I've met, they'll rely on you to know the rules (aka, would rather learn through play than through reading). The best thing you can probably do is go over their characters with them as they make them, writing down important page numbers on their sheet for them. Page for cleric spell list, page for turn undead rules, page for sneak-attack, etc. Keeps the fumbling down to a minimum.

    -You should probably run a module. I guess that's probably a given, and I don't really have any suggestions for you since I haven't gone through a lot of them. There's some free ones on Wizards site which are cool I guess--most either leave your players doing the fully mundane or single-handedly stopping a font of evil demons from ending the world. Middle ground is rare, but if you have a stocked gaming store, you might want to read through a few basic parts and find something you like. For example, I was immensely pleased with The Witchfire Trilogy module. It adds unneeded complexity, and so I don't suggest it, but I found it simply looking through DnD books at a comic book store.

    -You're interested in Shadowrun, which shows that you're not all bad, and hopefully someday your players will learn to see the light (SR3 is one of my favorite games ever). Honestly though, you're probably better off DMing DnD first anyway. Shadowrun modules have the tendency to be a little more complex I found, both from a players and a DM stand-point. They're often very free-form, and I find new players are daunted with the freedom while I as a DM was forced to try and deal with crazy off the wall irrelevant shit. In DnD, if push comes to shove, the walls of the dungeon will keep them on track.

    -I digressed, so another bullet point. The reason I brought Shadowrun up is that Shadowrun has some really cool modules, and in First Run they give a very good piece of advice: Read the adventure. They suggest you read it once through quickly (no notes) just so you understand the context. Then again, taking notes and thinking of how your players will react and what can bog up the game. Finally, doing it a final time to make sure you got it all. DnD is a little more forgiving in this regard, but if you've got time to burn and you want to be on the ball--it wont hurt to read and reread.


    In fact, I think I'll type up the "Steps to Gamemastering" thing for you. It's from Shadowrun, but it's terrifically useful in general.

    Edit: I've had too many friends try to start running and basically get freaked out and have to call it early because they were under prepared. I never had one go, "Shit guys, I can't do this, I prepared too much stuff ahead of time." Nobody likes to waste their time, but, at least for starting, I feel better safe than sorry.

    piL on
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    BelruelBelruel NARUTO FUCKS Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    awesome, thanks for the advice piL, i'll try and get pages that they'll need ahead of time written down for quick reference, that's a good idea

    Belruel on
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    MaticoreMaticore A Will To Power Registered User regular
    edited May 2008
    If you have a vast music collection, plotting out a track for each encounter or area is a good time and really helps get the group in the mood. I know a couple guys who do this and it really puts the polish on their games.

    Maticore on
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