Novice DM, looking for advice




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    Novice DM, looking for advice

    I'd like some advice on two major things. Please keep in mind that my DMing skills are admittedly sub-par. I have decent acting and improvisation skills but am unfortunately unable to pull DnD game stats out of odd orifices and that limits what I can do.

    My first question is regarding party composition. Right now I have three players I can count on. I know one of them is planning on a monk. Of the other two I know that between the other two one will play a wizard and then I'll probably sit on someone to be a cleric. I wouldn't mind not having a rogue because I can probably arrange things so that there are just no traps or vital locked doors. My main problem is the monk, should I sit on him to change that to a fighter class? I've been reading some things about how monks don't work well in replacement of the main fighter. If any of you are proposing adding an NPC to the party I gotta tell you that I really want to avoid that. In every adventure I've been in that has always turned out badly.

    My next concern is the adventure. I've run some adventures in the past, which all failed because of rail-roading on my part. And all the adventures I've participated were really uninspired dungeon crawls (including sunless citadel). Thus I was thinking of putting my adventure in a city under seige. Basically the enemy forces diverted the nearest army garrison and then quick-marched to the city. For months they have been insinuating various low-level skirmishers (mainly rogues, sorcerers, monks, barbarians, and rangers) and when the beseigers arrive these infiltrators go wild. They try to assassinate the main defenders of the town, including the PCs employer (a leading merchant).
    I'm getting to the problem in a second, sorry for the long-windedness. But the walls are really strong, and there are ample defenders. The beseigers are nomads (like the Tatars) and don't have seige weaponry. Basically they are relying on infiltrators, summoned creatures and such to open the gates for them. The town itself never really had much leadership, it always relied on the army to bail it out of trouble. So basically the merchant-leaders and the sheriff are all holed up in a castle (the council-house), with various adventurers including the PCs. They're cut off from the rest of the city and are all generating various hare-brained schemes to repel the invaders. All they have to do is wait about 20 days until the army gets there (they've already magically contacted the army)
    And basically the PCs have to go out there, fight there way through the streets. Make contact with the major strongpoints, decide who to help and what schemes to carry out. For instance this one compound of warriors outside the city is running low on supplies and they could choose to run extra food and arrows over there. Also I wanted to make time of the essence, so that the more the PCs rest and lollygag the more damage would be done.
    But the basic break-down in this plan is, how do I organize it? I've thought about keying encounters to different locations, just like a big, unorthodox dungeon. Or do I have the people in the council give them specific missions (take y to x). How do I link the adventure together so it has a uniform purpose and its not just aimless wandering? (thats a major question for me). I have alot of ideas for encounters, but I'm not sure whether a bunch of neat encounters is enough. Do I need a big purpose to link them together? What could such a purpose be? I'm sorry to have taken so long, but I hope the experienced DMs here can help me out.

 

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    Re: Novice DM, looking for advice

    Originally posted by Rahkan
    I'd like some advice on two major things. Please keep in mind that my DMing skills are admittedly sub-par. I have decent acting and improvisation skills but am unfortunately unable to pull DnD game stats out of odd orifices and that limits what I can do.

    The most important thing is to keep the game moving. Make sure the players know that you will be making quick rulings during the game, and will look up the right answers between game sessions. (But do try to learn the rules as best you can!)


    My first question is regarding party composition. Right now I have three players I can count on. I know one of them is planning on a monk. Of the other two I know that between the other two one will play a wizard and then I'll probably sit on someone to be a cleric. I wouldn't mind not having a rogue because I can probably arrange things so that there are just no traps or vital locked doors. My main problem is the monk, should I sit on him to change that to a fighter class? I've been reading some things about how monks don't work well in replacement of the main fighter. If any of you are proposing adding an NPC to the party I gotta tell you that I really want to avoid that. In every adventure I've been in that has always turned out badly.


    I agree that having a fourth NPC is a bad idea. My problem with doing that is that I forget he's there, or I tend to devote too much time to him and not to the players.

    However, I'd strongly recommend not forcing anyone to play a cleric. Instead, make healing potions cheap and available. As far as the monk not being an adequate substitute, I agree (and stated so on one of the threads you're referencing). But I think it's more important to let players play the characters they want to play. Gently suggest they play a fighter instead because the party is so small, and remind him that he can multiclass into monk later. If he resists, accomodate the monk by giving him lots of chances to show off his fighting prowess. Lots of low AC/ low hit point enemies, and enemy spellcasters is the way to go. (and evil monks!) Don't insist that a player play or not play a particular class or race, unless it just doesn't fit the theme of your campaign. Players only get one character and deserve some control over it.


    My next concern is the adventure. -------------
    But the basic break-down in this plan is, how do I organize it? I've thought about keying encounters to different locations, just like a big, unorthodox dungeon. Or do I have the people in the council give them specific missions (take y to x). How do I link the adventure together so it has a uniform purpose and its not just aimless wandering? (thats a major question for me). I have alot of ideas for encounters, but I'm not sure whether a bunch of neat encounters is enough. Do I need a big purpose to link them together? What could such a purpose be? I'm sorry to have taken so long, but I hope the experienced DMs here can help me out.
    It sounds like you've got enough ideas for several sessions. You don't have to design everything out for more than one or two sessions in advance. If you want to avoid railroading them, this is key. Give them choices, but don't spend hours designing stuff they may never encounter.

    My advice is to lay the location out like a dungeon, with scheduled events that may or may not happen based on their actions. Don't design more than five or six encounters in advance of the game. You probably won't get through more than three or four encounters anyway. (YMMV depending on how long your session are, of course, and the types of encounters. But typically my 5 hour sessions feature only thre or four good encounters). Be sure to drop 2 to 4 hints about future courses of action they might take in the next session.

    After your session, plan your next session based on the PC's actions. Find out what they want to do at the end of the session while you're awarding XP. (picking a time to quit in advance helps this tremendously, while motivating everyone to keep the action going)

    Revolve the adventure around them. They may decide that they're bored with the city and want to explore the gloomy forest, or that they want to disguise themselves and infiltrate the enemy camps. Find out their intentions at the end of the session, then make the world focus on these actions in the next game.

    Try to think of it as a series of sessions consisting of several encounters each rather than as an adventure like a game designer would write. Railroad them within the session, but give them choices at the end of each session.

    Hope this helps; good luck.
    James Garr

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    I have something for you that may be of help, I know it saved my campaigns and I have never regretted the technique.

    Before I start any campaign, I contact each player individually and ask for them to submit three character concepts. Each concept must be a two or three paragraph describing a character that they would like to play.

    After I have received the three concepts from each player, I go through all of them and choose for the players which of the characters they will be playing. Over the last three years this technique has met with overwhelming success in my campaigns and I know it has branched out in this area, I have since heard of several GMs that are doing it.

    Try it, I think that you will see that it works for you. It practically ensures party unity, because it gives you time to think of a party formation scene, and it ensures that your most reliable players are playing the more integral roles, AND there are no duplicate characters.

  • #4

    The character thing is resolved

    I showed my friend a print-out of the martial artist class from Beyond onks and he suggested to me that he be allowed to change his character to that class. Something I am eminently suited for.

    Now when you say 3-4 encounters per adventure what are you talking about. Does each encounter only have one combat? Where does all the time go? I was wondering if you could elaborate how one of your sessions plays out. Just for my own edification.

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    First talk with your players, ask questions on the type of game they are looking for. Next discuss character background, this can give a lot of ideas on adventures.

    Party make-up is sometimes important but if you focus the game around their strenghts all should go well. A monk, cleric, and wizard would not be going to fight monsters for an adventure, they would be seeking knowledge or a holy artifact.

    I think I would start them off in a city adventure, first as part of a school, interacting with NPC, maybe learn hidden secrets and plots (Nancy Drew). This is to devolop background and gets some levels on them. Then I would expand their world, sending them out to the city and then the wildness.
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    I think it's OK to strongarm someone to play cleric. It's my rule when players contemplate making characters; one must play a cleric. (Not a problem, because my players are powergamers and clerics are the most powerful).

    As for your adventure design problem, it doesn't seem too big of a problem for me, since you've already narrowed the area to the city. I'd go for the keyed areas route, in essence making the Town a big dungeon with numbered locations. That can be spiced with timed encounters, like "After three days the town is attacked by summoned fiendish birds". Make up also some "random" encounters that can be used anywhere in the city, like pickpockets and such, as to avoid boring breaks in the action.
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    Hmmmm, well just as something extra, there have been several threads devoted soley to helping DMs. Here's two of them.

    One I found as (semingly) the very first thread in the archive called Cheap DM/Player tips. This one is geared more towards finding a cheap (money wise) way of doing things like minitures (legos, army men, jinga pieces).

    The other almost applies to your situation perfectly. This one is devoted to helping beginning DMs (such as yourself) with general help on running a game. I would recomend reading through How Do You Run a Good Campaign? as soon as possible.


    Now, spicific to your issue, I would be careful. You say you have a history of rail-roading characters (or at least seeming like you are doing so). Maybe such a structured campaign isn't a good idea. You may want to consider something a little more freeform. Starting in a small town, taking off on some general quest comes to mind. You would only plan one session ahead and have much traveling and random encounters going on.

    This would help you get used to dealing with a player's need to be in control while allowing for some planning on your part.

    Let me ask (you don't have to answer), could you give us some idea of what this so called rail-roading was? Just so we can give you some spicific pointers on how to avoid doing it again.
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    My communities:

    I've posted this elsewhere, but it bears repeating here. While this thread already has some great advice...

    Sign up for Johnn Four's FREE weekly Email-

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    Browse through his archive to see what I mean. A new DM, or even a veteran, can benefit greatly by keeping the new infomation coming in regularly. The tips you get through his Email Newsletter are top notch and from some high-quality sources. I'm beginning to sound like a commercial so I will just...
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    I'd like to second the recommendation to subscribe to Roleplaying Tips Weekly. You won't be sorry.

    Now, as for making players play certain classes. You don't have to have a cleric in every party. As someone suggested upthread, just make healing potions cheap and readily available. In the scenario you described, you could have one of the people locked in the castle with the PCs be a mid level cleric NPC who can provide free healing, as long as the party can get back to him. He can give each of them a CMW potion each time they go out.

    And you can certainly make a low combat game. My group's June session had no combat at all, just information gathering. Now, the party could have played it another way. For instance, if they had attacked the foreman of the slave pens instead of questioning him, all hell would have broken loose. Just like in real life, others react to the PCs based on their behavior. This isn't hard to set up, as long as you know the stats of all NPCs ahead of time. And if you want a never-ending supply of NPCs, then go to Jamis Buck's NPC Generator and spend some time. I printed about 50 pages of NPCs, then cut them apart and sorted them by class and level. Then, when I'm getting ready for a session, I insert them in my notebook near the page describing the encounter, shop, tavern, whatever. I think it will work even better once I convert everything to Roleplaying Master.

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    Play to your strengths.

    Your acting and improv abilities should carry you through most things. If you've got strong deductive reasoning, and strong opinions then the game should run quick and smooth, even if you do flub an "as printed core rule". Most of the time, I think players will catch this, and if it's a stupid rule, or not particularly germain, you've got a strong opinion and a good reason, and most people will go along to get along.

    I've said it elsewhere, and it's even more advantageous to you. Just have "characters". The council members can have conflicting opinions and have arguments with themselves (a little schitzo but occasionally fun) and the PC's. Have a few canned encounter ideas, where you're soft on the rules you can brush up ahead of time. And let the players be who they want to be, monk, cleric less whatever. If they make it more difficult on themselves, it could make their eventual triumph more satisfying. If their characters behave reasonably, they'll stand a pretty decent chance of survival, unless they were particularly bold, unlucky, or a combination. I trust in the dice. They almost always seem to know best.

    I don't just say this because I think it's fun to railroad players or I think a DM should engage in long bouts of exposition. Rather, the people I gamed with were almost impossible to railroad, it was just too damn much work. You've got your cast of characters, they've got their stars. If there's a story worth telling, it will just tell itself.

    Besides you've got a couple of nice outs. The main force might be twenty days out. But should a PC, or a couple of PCs die, you've always got other elements of the resistance to link up with, that they could in turn use to re-enter the adventure. And they also had the privilege of establishing the villians .

    You could have your events on the clock, some of which are mutually exclusive. The PC's do what they do, other events happen that shape future events. It's just smooth. It makes everything a little more alive. Sacrifices must be made. And how cool would it be if they completely surprised you and were able to have their cake and eat it too.

    With infiltrators, and a sneaky monk with a nice bluff you could really have some fun. And his characters potential impact might be far far beyond his level or BAB.

    Most of what would really sell an adventure like this would, at least in my opinion, be your improvisational and acting abilities.

    You can have the council members argue back and forth, politic, and maybe even personally ask the PC's for favors, maybe even favors they shouldn't and have no right to ask. The players are masters of their fate. Maybe there's a mole on the council, possibly trying to subtly sabotage the defensive efforts. Maybe some of the council members aren't the best people, perhaps even petty would be tyrants who can't be challanged directly in this desperate time, who might even be trying to do the right thing now, if only to preserve their undeserved power later. Maybe some element of the city is under represented by the power structure, and left to their own devices, while the players are left to grapple with the morality of such a descision, their silent support of it, and the morality of risking a common defense for everyone for people no one cares for, and might not even be able to be saved.

    You make your bit players real, and the choices hard, and the players will make their own drama. And that will make every encounter dramatic. I try my best to do that, and trust in the dice.

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