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DMing Tips?

DirtyDirtyVagrantDirtyDirtyVagrant Registered User regular
edited February 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
I've been DMing this 3.5ish Star Wars game for the last couple of weeks, and it's largely been a learning experience for me. I knew the rules. I'd read the books, but actually DMing a game was different than I expected it to be, somehow.

I've written an original setting for the next game, partly because it will be easier for me to be consistent that way, and partly because I was feeling creative. But before we start the next game, I think I need some help.

My group consists of two stat-maxers, a metagamer who challenges me on the rules (He also treats every encounter like combat is inevitable, claiming that he just wants a surprise round as he takes a shot at the NPC I had planned on them talking to), one guy who just wants to kick in the door and fuck people up, and one genuine roleplayer who actually has an image and a background in his head, and creates his character around that image. And also this guy who wants to play all the time but never shows up to the games for some reason (We've recently decided to drop this player)

For the most part, the games run smoothly, but I find myself having to talk over a couple of the players very often. Problem is, most of the time that they're being loud like this, they're talking in character. So I'm not really sure what to do there.

I also kind of feel like I'm not being descriptive or evocative enough. I had never played a live game before this, and I hadn't DMed a game period, so I don't really have a strong example to follow.

What approach do you guys take? Are you just like, "Okay. You guys are here, you see this, this is happening, there's some stuff over here, what do you do?" or are you all "Darkness closes in as the door slams shut behind you. (Listen checks) You hear nothing but soft, padding footsteps, somewhere deep in the darkness."

That kind of thing? Or do you take it a step further than that, and go Tycho Brahe style? "YOU ARE SEARED!"?

Also, how torn should I be about player death? I've had to pull punches several times to prevent it, but I'm not sure if I should have. I mostly do it because I feel like if one of my players died, they would just quit.

DirtyDirtyVagrant on

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    proXimityproXimity Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Also, how torn should I be about player death? I've had to pull punches several times to prevent it, but I'm not sure if I should have. I mostly do it because I feel like if one of my players died, they would just quit.

    Kill them. At least, let one of them die. The PCs start paying a lot more attention and thinking things through if they realize they actually can die. If they know they're immune to the consequences of their actions, then they have no reason not to just charge in blindly to a situation. That said, try to not make it a habit, and try not to wipe the entire party at once.
    Most likely the players won't quit, it's not THAT hard to role up a character. From what you've said, it seems like most of them haven't put a huge amount of effort in to developing a personality and background, which are the biggest reason you wouldn't want to kill them.

    proXimity on
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    SebbieSebbie Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Handling player death is different from DM to DM. I found that when starting out that it's hard to make a balanced campaign that allows the players enough room to explore without always having to run from everything.

    In my opinion if the player dies because he was an idiot then let him die. However if you had a predetermined path that you wanted them to follow but you made an unavoidable encounter too hard then I find it okay to be more lenient.

    Death of a PC sucks but it's totally part of the game. It makes you appreciate the game more and appreciate your characters more too. :)

    Sebbie on
    "It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating."
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    JaysonFourJaysonFour Classy Monster Kitteh Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    You've got a tough group.

    For the stat-maxers, stop pulling your punches. If they die, they die. That's what the dice are for. Maybe it'll teach them to start making balanced characters instead of one-sided cutouts that only specialize in one thing.

    Your metagamer needs to learn a little lesson. Let's say he shoots and kills someone important. Gee, that means every other soldier/bounty hunter/stormtrooper/whatever now have a really good reason to come over and stomp his head into nutrient paste. Oh, gee, sorry about that! Looks like it's new character time! Better luck next time. Or someone could take a bounty out on the party for it! The other players might help you get it through his thick skull after the fourth team of hunters is dodged/killed/dips one or more members of the party into carbonite freezing chambers and takes them away for the rewards on them.

    The let's-kill-everything-in-the-next-room guy is only going to learn by stumbling into a situation where he's completely out-numbered or at a severe disadvantage. Maybe he barrels through a door and right into a mass of enemies, who promptly beat the shit out of him. Or he comes face-to-face with some big, snarling, angry beastie that just saw dinner walk through the door.

    Loud talking in character? Oh, what a shame, the enemies heard you and it looks like they want to ruin your day. If it's in-character, keep dropping random encounters on thier head and have them fail listen checks, even if they'd normally pass. Who can hear with everyone yammering on and on?

    JaysonFour on
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    SideAffectsSideAffects Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    When I played, my entire group metagamed. There was no RPing. The DM LOVED RPing, but in this particular group all of the other players just min/maxed. The DM just stepped up the game by making the encounters appropriately difficult. Our characters died ALL THE TIME. No one seemed to care, because all of the fun of min/maxing comes from levelling up anyway and designing new characters. I was glad when that campaign ended.

    I found out later that no one else in the gaming club liked playing with those people, and the DM was awesome in other campaigns with more RPing.

    On the other hand, I played with a DM (in a star wars campaign) that knew NOTHING about the rules. He didn't even know how to move characters across a grid. Thus, things like "tumbling" and AOO's, and ranged attacks meant NOTHING. Battles were all imaginary so the other player could do things like "climb on top of an ogre and stab him through the roof of it's mouth" to do 1-hit kills after making 1 d20 roll. I didn't like that campaign. Rules are rules, and exist to prevent unfairly strong characters.

    I've never DMed for a mature group of players before (just my little brothers) but I like to reward RPing heavily. All quests come from RPing and rewards increase for the player that RPs. Low magic and small monentary rewards make every extra gain well worth it, and metagamers will RP their hearts out if that's what it takes to get those gloves that increase dexterity.

    If the item whoring and power has got out of hand, you can always "restart" the characters by having them gassed and kidnapped and deposited without clothes, money, items, enhancements, and maybe even one less kidney on some remote planet where they literally have to BEG people for something to hide their nakedness.

    SideAffects on
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    RendRend Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    www.roleplayingtips.com Amazing website, read through the archives, there's lots of good stuff there.

    As far as loud players, I would just be patient and bring them down when you need to speak. If you only need to speak to one character, as long as you can hear each other, it's alright if the others are loud, that sort of thing.

    I normally try to describe facts first, putting little details here and there to give it character. A room is boring without something to distinguish it, so I try to give everything some sort of small detail, but I don't take much time to prepare to there's not much in the way of long flowery descriptions of places.

    As for character death, depends on the game. In d20 system, I hate to kill characters (have once or twice, but no more than that). In something like call of cthulhu or shadowrun, it's part and parcel with the game itself. Basically avoid their death discretely, making them feel like they really earned their skin if they live through it. Emphasize rolls that take them close to death but which don't have much of a chance of actually killing them, for instance: "Alright. This monster hits on a seven, and has +6 to his damage. You have eight health... let's see how this turns out." Knowing that this sort of situation is unlikely to kill a character in SW:SE, but rather knock him unconscious where his fellows may aid him, I would roll this publicly, to increase tension and decrease suspicion of roll fudging. That way if the monster misses, it feels real, and if it hits, well, you still have the opportunity to pull the punches to keep him alive, behind the scenes.

    Rend on
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    Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Part of the role of the GM is to impose some semblance of equality or justice with the rules. If you have players who are pulling rules out of their ass or abusing the system to create overpowered characters, then politely inform them that you, as a GM, have every right to not only use the same loopholes or rules, but to one-up them. The offending PCs will either back down and start creating reasonable characters or step up to the challenge and enjoy the game more.

    As far as PC behavior, the carrot works better than the stick. Reward behavior that you want to see in a game with XP, instead of slapping penalties on bad behavior. Instead of forcing all of the characters to write a character journal for encouraging roleplaying, for example, you can make the journal entries worth bonus XP, extra credit, if you will. In our gaming group, we get bonus XP for making character sketches, maps of the encounter (through the eyes of the PC), "off-stage interactions" (interactive journals where multiple PCs participate in a conversation), etc.

    I also strongly suggest a short feedback session after every game, in which you solicit the players' reactions to various parts of the session, and you tell the players what you tried to do and what you thought could have been better.

    For descriptive settings, I go by the "5 features" rule. Just count off on your fingers five things that describe the setting. You can have different sense inputs like touch, smell, taste, etc., too. This way, every scene has at least 5 unique things to recall. It's easy to do, and it helps with description.

    And it's okay to have one player that wants to go in and bash everything up. SOMEONE has to play that role, and you can get even rare moments of good RP out of it.

    Hahnsoo1 on
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    SebbieSebbie Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Rewarding good RP is so important IMO. Nothing motivates me more to explore your story than to know that I'll be rewarded for it. It also encourages the less RP-inclined people to try it.

    @Hahnsoo1: I was the bash-everything-up character my last group :). I made a barbarian from some wild tribe and decided to stay in character. I was careful not to be obnoxious but I did get us in quite a lot of trouble.

    Sebbie on
    "It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating."
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    DirtyDirtyVagrantDirtyDirtyVagrant Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I've already got something in mind for the metagamer. The setting I've written includes police-state type civilizations. So when he runs into someplace and I say "Hey, Police Sentry Bot approaches you, guns drawn, and says 'This is a restricted area, leave now.'" and he decides to take a shot, he'll probably die. Or, if he ends up destroying it (Or taking a shot and fleeing), he's now a very wanted criminal.

    So I should avoid flowery description?

    Edit: Five things...that's perfect. I will try that.

    How much experience should I award for roleplaying? I was playing around with the idea of ad-hoccing about 75% of a level per session for each player, and making it more like 105% for the players who actively RPed.

    DirtyDirtyVagrant on
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    SebbieSebbie Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    You might tire yourself out to always come up with elaborate designs for every room. The players might just zone out anyways and retain very little of it. I'd stick to the important details and let the players flesh out the rest on their own.

    Sebbie on
    "It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating."
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    Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Oh, another thing: Reward XP for "dealing" with an encounter. Don't reward XP for only killing a furry creature. Lay down exactly how much XP you are going to dole out for the "ideal" situation and for "less than ideal" situations. Give the PCs some leeway as to how they solve each encounter, but make it very clear how the "best possible" situation will work.

    I wouldn't award more than 10% of the total XP award at the end of the adventure for RPing (even 2-5% if you can get away with it). Just a small award is needed to encourage it. For 3rd/3.5 edition d20, 100 XP is enough. Also, 75% of a level seems arbitrary and a bit much. It depends on the scope of the campaign, but I would usually adjust it so that every 2 or 3 sessions, someone levels. If you are planning on "1st to 20th all the way baby!", then you can be overly generous in the early levels so they can get a jumpstart to survive. If you really want to "game" it, you can make RP awards worth a random amount of XP (1d6 times 10), and roll the dice for it right in front of the players. Even people who KNOW this is a psychological trick get sucked into wanting the awards more.

    You can try to award XP at the end of the session for RP awards or when the RP event happens. I like the latter, as the moment is fresh, but the former also works well, especially if you have an end-game feedback session (the award helps people remember what the character did during the adventure). Awarding RP XP as the event happens is probably a better feedback mechanism, though, to promote good behavior.

    Does your system use Action Points or Karma or some sort of "spend points to do cool things mechanic"? Because this is a perfect way to reward Action Points as well.

    Hahnsoo1 on
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    DirtyDirtyVagrantDirtyDirtyVagrant Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I'm playing around with the idea of using a point system where the players receive points for doing awesome things, accomplishing the impossible, or just generally playing a good game, which they would then be able to spend to acquire special combat feats and things like that.

    DirtyDirtyVagrant on
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    RendRend Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Paranoia has a system like that called perversity points. Basically you hand out perversity points for anything you think is awesome, anything at all, from a well placed joke to a "wtf" moment in gameplay. Trade in 1 perversity point for a +1 bonus to a roll (in d20 it would be more like +2). You can stack them.

    For extra fun, obtain a case of poker chips and use those. Any time someone says something hilarious, throw a chip at them. Bam, instant roleplaying motivation.

    Rend on
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    mechaThormechaThor Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Rend wrote: »
    Paranoia has a system like that called perversity points. Basically you hand out perversity points for anything you think is awesome, anything at all, from a well placed joke to a "wtf" moment in gameplay. Trade in 1 perversity point for a +1 bonus to a roll (in d20 it would be more like +2). You can stack them.

    For extra fun, obtain a case of poker chips and use those. Any time someone says something hilarious, throw a chip at them. Bam, instant roleplaying motivation.

    My group did something like this. For us at least it provided good motivation to be creative when dealing with encounters instead of just smashing and bashing everybody and actually using diplomacy, especially when you are trying to talk your way out of imminent death via evil-guy-who-is-much-more-powerful-than-you.

    mechaThor on
    "I sent an e-mail asking why wood elves get +2 Str when other dwarves did not. My response from customer service consisted of five words: 'Wood elves are really strong.' "
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    DirtyDirtyVagrantDirtyDirtyVagrant Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Pathfinder has a *weird* experience curve...It doesn't seem to follow any kind of pattern whatsoever. Unless I'm just dense and not seeing it.

    How does one ad-hoc with such a system? And how is experience after 20th level calculated?

    DirtyDirtyVagrant on
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    EndomaticEndomatic Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Rend wrote: »
    Paranoia has a system like that called perversity points. Basically you hand out perversity points for anything you think is awesome, anything at all, from a well placed joke to a "wtf" moment in gameplay. Trade in 1 perversity point for a +1 bonus to a roll (in d20 it would be more like +2). You can stack them.

    For extra fun, obtain a case of poker chips and use those. Any time someone says something hilarious, throw a chip at them. Bam, instant roleplaying motivation.

    Damn, this is a GREAT idea.

    Endomatic on
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    SakebombSakebomb Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    There was an awesome panel at PAX called "Art of the Dungeon Master"
    Quick rundown of it here:
    http://rockettscience.com/2008/11/10/my-notes-from-the-art-of-the-dm-panel-at-pax-2008/

    Sakebomb on
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    Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Pathfinder has a *weird* experience curve...It doesn't seem to follow any kind of pattern whatsoever. Unless I'm just dense and not seeing it.

    How does one ad-hoc with such a system? And how is experience after 20th level calculated?
    The pattern is definitely not intuitive. The Fast is approximately .66 of Medium and Slow is approximately 1.5, but the scale is not in an arithmetic progression. I would just use the 3rd edition XP chart, since most folks can calculate that in their heads. XP Charts only matter if the GM is calculating experience points based on furry creatures killed. Perhaps they (Paizo) wanted to slow down the level progression, but you can easily do that by just doling out less XP for the CR of enemies rather than skewing XP chart and creating yet another table to memorize. I thought we were done with this, DnD.

    Also, you calculate experience after 20th level by killing off all of the PCs and starting over. If you have characters that ARE 20th level, stop the campaign and restart with new characters ("The characters ascend into the heavens to be among the gods... okay, let's reroll"). Or find another RPG system and have a go at that. Or get one of the players to GM, and you can start playing the game for once. I've never really understood Epic Level games in systems with a leveling mechanic. In my mind, they are akin to "making shit up" or "milking the franchise".

    With regards to levels and calibrating games, there's this interesting essay:
    http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/d&d-calibrating.html
    People love to stat up their favorite heroes from fantasy literature as 20th level juggernauts. Fafhrd? 20th level. Elric? 20th level. Conan? 20th level. Aragorn? 20th level Luke Skywalker? 20th level.

    I mean, they must be 20th level, right? They’re the biggest, bestest heroes ever! They’re the greatest warriors in a generation! Some of them are reputedly the greatest swordsmen who ever lived in any universe EVAH!

    But when you stop and analyze what these characters are actually described as achieving, it’s rare to find anything which actually requires a 20th level build.

    tl;dr Aragorn was a level 5 Ranger. Not level 20.

    Or you can play Reverse DnD, where your characters are slowly LOSING their powers and face weaker and weaker challenges. Nah, that would never work. *grin*

    Hahnsoo1 on
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    DirtyDirtyVagrantDirtyDirtyVagrant Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I like to play beyond 20th level in stories that involved deities, because deities are much more powerful than a 20th level party.

    But I dont think this setting will involve any beings of that caliber, so honestly I guess it doesn't matter which way I go.

    I played a game that lasted about six months (this was during a period of time where I was a complete lump) and we got up to around 53. But we played every day almost. And then we realized that we had about 2-8 more levels to go until the entire game system was just completely broken.

    It was fun, though.

    DirtyDirtyVagrant on
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    LaonarLaonar Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Something to kep in mind here. You are the DM, your rules etc.
    To keep the meta gamer in check and interupting the game because you have to stop and look up rules. Here is what I put into my games.

    -you get one free interuption to lookup or challenge the rules, you have 5 minutes
    -any interuption after this that slows downt he game for more than 5 minutes a 100exp penalty is giving. Every minute after 5 200 exp is taking per minute.

    This shut up my meta gamers and got the game moving.

    Laonar on
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