First-time LFR dungeon master seeks advice
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Highlands Ranch, CO

    First-time LFR dungeon master seeks advice

    I'm still a relatively new D&D 4e player and DM, but I decided to volunteer when the Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) organizer at my friendly local game store said that he needed more DMs for LFR games. There was a spot for a DM on July 24 to run a module that I've already been through as a player, so I figured it was the perfect time to sign up.

    What I'm looking for now is advice for a first-time DM for a public event. I won't necessarily know the players. I'm having to put together DMing supplies (my previous dungeon mastering experience has all been online with MapTool and the like). I've written about this on my blog and have already gotten some good input there, but I know that there are more opportunities to get good input here on EN World, so I thought I'd ask.

    My thoughts so far:

    • Read and re-read the module, obviously. Know it forward and backward. Pay particular attention to the interesting things that the creatures can do.
    • Since I only have one Chessex mat, I'm thinking of making nice-looking maps in MapTool and then following DM Samuel's advice about printing them out using PosteRazor (not with GridMapper as DM Samuel used, though). That way I can have all of the maps ready ahead of time (in color!) without having to buy more Chessex mats.
    • Since I don't have minis, I plan to make my own using NewbieDM's metal washer method (genius!). I've got tokens in MapTool, so I'll just make them into physical pogs and use those.
    • Maybe see if my regular in-person group would be up for letting me run the module as a one-shot with them. I'm usually just a player with that group, but would it help for me to have run it once in advance?
    • Do I need to get the LFR Campaign Guide and read it? I'm still pretty new to LFR, though I think the module pretty much has what I need to know.

    I know that I may be overthinking this, but since I'll be out there in public as an "official dungeon master" I'd like to do a good job. What is your advice? As of this writing I still have over three weeks to prepare, so let's hear it!

    Oh, and in case it matters, the adventure in question is WATE1-1 Heirloom.

  2. #2
    Enthusiasm. That's my advice. It's easy to forget to show your excitement and enthusiasm when running an adventure - especially for a group of people you've never met, but it's an invaluable tool.

    Don't just drone over the passages your read. Put energy into it. LFR is already pretty disconnected, so some real drive will make your session memorable.

    Hope that helps.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Highlands Ranch, CO
    @redboxrazor - Good suggestion! Enthusiasm is a good idea for any DMing experience, whether in person, online, with friends or with strangers. I'll try to keep that in mind!

  4. #4
    Glad I could help. And good luck with your session. I look forward to hearing about it here. : )

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    Here is how I do it (as I prep for this weekend's meetup):

    First, I read the adventure, ignoring tactics and statblocks... try to get a feel for the general direction of the story, major players (how do they speak, look, etc), locales (what does it smell like, sounds, etc).

    Second, I reread the adventure, playing closer attention to the tactics and statblocks but not more than just roles. This helps me to analyze how they will react in the terrain they are given. I also figure out what minis to take, and if I have a map that is close to what I will need. Pogs are fine too, I often take some of Claudio Pozas' Fiery Dragon ones (easy to transport: Fiery Dragon)

    Third, and I do this the night before the gameday, I study the stat blocks and make sure I fully understand any rules implications that might come up.

    I think you are wise to run something you have played before, it will help with comfort levels. I agree with others, make the story come alive to the players, don't just read the box text. I also think if you can run it for someone else who is friendly, it will help immensely.

    As for maps... I think if you have a chessex or flipmat, that will do fine. The players aren't there to see how cool your maps are, they want to play in a story, and most won't care one way or the other.

    I don't think you really need the FR campaign guide, just google Waterdeep to get a feel for the city, there are plenty of free resources.

    Overall, couple of tips while running the game.

    1. Don't dwell on a ruling or ponder too long. You have limited time to get the adventure done, so make a ruling and move on. If the player disagrees, they can look up the rule in question and you can retrofit if needed but if you have been playing 4E for a while, it's not going to be difficult to make calls.

    2. HAVE FUN. If you have fun, the players will have fun. That doesn't mean you can't scare them a little. It's pretty difficult to outright kill anyone in an LFR adventure but dropping someone to negatives can bring suspense and heroic moments.

    3. Be fair. Make sure you are being fair about monster actions. Dogpile on the cleric can be fun but if they aren't intelligent creatures who can discern tactics like that, it doesn't belong.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Miami, FL
    Highlight NPC Names and places and anything else important.

    Don't print, not a good use of money for LFR, stick with the chessex.

    Get some colored glass beads for zones corners.

    Playing the adventure as someone else runs it is an excellent way to learn that module.

    Have a sheet where every player fills out name, AC, NADS, and passives for you to quickly glance at.

    Fill out the reporting sheet before game starts.

    Draw a grid over the maps with a pen (and ruler), then label the margins 1,2,3,4 etc on all 4 sides. The helps speed up map drawing on the battlemap.

    Have a good way to track marks and conditions. Soda Bottle rings, cut out felt circles, etc.

    Pre-roll initiative for the monsters and pencil them in on thier pages.

    Carefully read (and even act out as if you were the player) the skill challenges, esp if it is spread over several scenes. (Silver Lining )

    Keep the DM screen handy for reference on conditions.

    Figure out if the mod is done by that guy that usually front loads the tough combat, then leaves the rest as a cakewalk (the one with the ugly calisham girl and the werewolves as example) and plan accordingly.

    Be ready if any of your players drops an magic weapon to switch weapons or plants a battle standard (of healing especially) to have a bad guy pick it up and run off with it. Double Move Run actions (+2 speed each move action) with that bad guy. The player will freak and chase after, removing both from combat. This puts the fear into them you normally don't have in LFR. Make sure that the player gets his gear back after the adventure, finding the bad guy in an alley or something.

    Make yourself familiar with the current stealth rules and have your lurkers and artillery use them. Don't attack the players right off the bat, hide if you can, and let them move into a nice trap where they are surrounded first.

    If you have stuff that flies, make sure they stay in a place within 6-8 squares of the ground, or add in terrain/other ways to get up high enough to at least throw a javelin. The players will also want to ready an action for the flyers, so be familiar with those rules.

    Add taunting and other RP elements as free actions into combat.

    Remember that all LFR dragonborn crave Bacon, it's become a major staple of thier diet since arriveing on Toril.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Highlands Ranch, CO
    Great input all around - thank you! I'm taking notes. :-)

    Festivus and jimmifett: Both of you said not to bother printing maps, just stick with Chessex mats. Does the fact that I only own one Chessex mat make a difference? I would have to erase and re-draw after each encounter. Also, I personally like making maps in MapTool (see what I've come up with here), and I don't think it would be especially difficult or expensive to print them out in color (I already have card stock and a good color printer). Is there a drawback of bringing printed maps like these that I haven't thought of? Do players not like them?

    I should be in good shape with monster pogs and condition markers (little colored rubber bands), which I'm excited about. I like the advice about pre-rolling initiative for the monsters and writing it down - good idea.

    I love the advice about monster behavior and role-playing opportunities to keep it fun. I'll try to do as much of that as possible.

    Thanks so much! Keep the advice coming, everyone!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Erase and re-draw. Really, it's not a big deal.

    The keys are be fun, be fair and be deadly if needed. You have the marker thing worked out. You have an amount of latitude if you need it. If you want to drop in a "Rule of Cool", go for it. Don't feel constrained by the page.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Miami, FL
    Yes, "Rule of Cool" is a must. Essentially, look for the "stunt" rules and adhoc as needed. If a player wants to do something really cool sounding and they RP it out well, let them. Throw in a +1 to +2 or -1 to -2 for creativity and difficulty of what they want to do. Think Wolverine Fastball Special with a halfling and a warforged. Just keep things like the jumping distance and jumping height rules handy. Make sure the players know that stunts like that are once per encounter or even once a day or longer. Don't want it to wear out the cool factor.

    Printer Ink gets expensive, fast, while wet erase pens lasts a long time. If you want to print, make generic encounter maps of different environments for non LFR games that can be re-used over and over. Also, you'd need to get your map laminated (all mine are), thats more money. Overwise, drinks, snacks, wear and tear start to destroy the paper.

    One chessex map is fine. Using the numbering system, I draw maps pretty fast, and there is usually someone else at the table good at drawing the maps if i need to refresh myself on the next encounter or take a break.

    Dungeon tiles are very nice too, but you want to use stick tak to keep them in place.

    Since it's available at my FLGS, i've been known to pick up Gaming Paper, but again, not for LFR use. It's a money and re-usability thing for me.

    Another thing to keep in mind is to know when to call a fight when pressed for time or the fight feels to have dragged on. If you are down to 1 monster left (or 2 minions) and he is 1/4 to 1/2 HP and bloodied, if he's still standing at his next turn, let him get the last hit and then declare that everyone else piled on him and won the fight. Exceptions are if you think he can survive another round and there is a chance he can actually get some good damage or do something cool, like push someone into a pit or off a cliff. Otherwise, let him have the last hit and vanish in a puff of fail.

    Btw, for cheap lamination, I go to Lakeshore Learning Store. Cheap enough, and you can get a teacher's discount card (claim homeschooling) for even cheaper.

    There is also a guy on the EN boads that does custom printing and lamination of maps. I hear he's pretty good and has good pricing. One of these day's i'll have to try him out.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Highlands Ranch, CO
    Okay, so I'm hearing that I should go with the wet-erase maps rather than printing my own due to cost and nothing else. If that's the case, I'm printing maps this time. This is a one-shot deal and it's my first time. If I start DMing LFR on a regular basis, I'll draw maps on the battle mat. But for the first time I like the idea of having the maps done in advance, looking nice and cool. I hear you, though - printer ink gets expensive, so this won't be something I can do for long without selling some organs. :-)

    I think I'm also hearing that LFR is not seen as being a particularly significant or important way of playing D&D - not worth the DM sweating too much on supplies, for instance. I'll be taking it pretty darn seriously this time at least, since it's my first time, but I hear you - going overboard with prep for LFR is not something that DMs or players expect.

    Thanks for the tips on the Rule of Cool, too! I want these encounters to be exciting and to reward the players for being creative (without overdoing it). I absolutely agree about calling battles when they're essentially over, just so things don't drag out needlessly. If the bad guys no longer have a shot at having any meaningful impact on the PCs, then the party wins.

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