A (very green) Newbie DM Question





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    A (very green) Newbie DM Question

    Okay, so here's the deal:

    I haven't done any RPing in over 11 years . . . back then my friends and I played Middle Earth, from ICE games, which was way-old even then. Before that, I hadn't played D&D since AD&D 1st Edition and the original Red Box D&D essentials game. So, it's been quite a while and things have changed -- a lot. I have only ever been player -- have never DM'd before in my life, and have little clue as to how to go about it.

    Two weeks ago I purchased the new D&D 4E core rulebook set, looking to get back into gaming after all these years. My friend, Tonya, and her two teenage sons Mikael and Ricky, approached me about maybe playing a D&D game with just the three of them (and maybe one other person, to be determined later), and since I am the aspiring SF/Fantasy novelist of the group, I was nominated to design & DM the adventure and/or campaign.

    Stupidly, I agreed. Now, I have no idea what I'm doing. I've read through the DM Guide from the core rulebook, but it seems to assume that you know the nitty-gritty mechanical details of what you're doing; it doesn't assume total ignorance, as I find myself in. I've gotten so far as to have sketched out a basic narrative, established "who" various NPCs will be, when and where the DM's character (me) will come into the story, a few basic ideas of the terrain and/or locations that the adventure will take place in, and I've made a list of possible encounters the characters will face (but have not chosen any specific monsters or set up any specific challenges). But I've no idea of how to approach the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of running the encounters or the skill challenges -- or the adventure itself, really -- or of what to ask of my players (or how and when to ask it), etcetera. The DM Guide has been very helpful in the general sense -- i.e., it covers that last question fairly well -- but it's lousy on specific mechanics and procedures to use whilst DMing a game.

    I'm sorry to appear to be such an utterly naive n00b, but I really would like some help here. Doing this with Tonya and her boys really means a lot to both them, and me, both in terms of recapturing past nostalgia for the medium as well as just plain having a good time. And they're all pretty stoked about doing it, too -- so I can't really back out now. Does anyone know of any (preferably detailed and exhaustive) "Newbie DM" resources on the web? Or, can anyone help me here? If so, I'd be ever-so-appreciative.

 

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    Ignore Rechan
    There's www. Newbie DM .com It's a blog of a guy being a new DM. Go to the archive back in 08.

    Aside from that, a few things.

    Relax

    This is their first time gaming, so they don't know what to expect or what they're doing. It'll probably take them a few sessions to get the hang of it. Therefore you don't need to be perfect.

    Go slow at first. Don't unload an epic campaign on them in the first session, let them figure out what roleplaying is, etc. What you might do is start a session in media res, where they are is being attacked and they have to respond, and then after the combat they can chat with people.

    Rules Primer

    I think it would be wise for you to have a little rules tutorial just teaching them the system. Just some combat with no story, just so they understand the system.

    You're not going to know all the rules. If a situation comes up where you don't know what to do, don't stop for fifteen minutes looking it up. Just say "For now, this is what we're going to do, I'll look it up later to see what the rule is".

    Avoid Expecting a Novel

    You mentioned being a novelist and writing a narrative. This is just a general bit of advice: don't expect the players to do what you've scripted. You can almost expect them to zig when you've prepared for them to zag. And players know it when you're making them do something. So be prepared to ad-lib, to improvise, and to go with it when they don't do what you expected. It just means a little more prep, and some work on the fly.

    Not a perfect party - relax

    So it sounds like you could have 3-4 players. That's not a perfect party. They also might not spread the roles around (ending up with two strikers and a leader or whatever). That's ok. It takes a little tailoring to fix the situation, but you can do it.

    In fact if it's this situation (missing roles) just ask the board how to deal with it.

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    I advise you to get the 4e Red Box Starter Set which is an introduction to the game for new players & DMs.

    Re "when and where the DM's character (me) will come into the story" - if this is a "full PC" or "Gandalf/Elminster" type character, you need to be extremely careful and make sure you explicitly clear it with your players. If they are at all averse, don't do it. Players hate being overshadowed by DMPCs*, and personally I would never do this. The 4e DMG2 has good rules for creating "Companion Characters", NPCs who can adventure alongside the PCs without overshadowing them. They let you roleplay with the players without stealing the PCs' thunder.

    *Playing in a PBEM right now where the DM has a DMPC, and it is painful. Especially when the other NPCs in our party bask in the wonder of the DMPC.
    ***Henry/S'mon Super Quick d20 NPC Generation System*** The Gods of the Copybook Headings With Terror and Slaughter Return!

    eriktheguy, on S'mon's latest idea:
    There are 2 major problems with your idea:
    1: It is far too awesome
    2: see 1

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    Quote Originally Posted by subgeniuszero View Post
    But I've no idea of how to approach the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of running the encounters or the skill challenges -- or the adventure itself, really -- or of what to ask of my players (or how and when to ask it), etcetera.
    You might find the free D&D quickstart useful - see here

    Skill Challenges are, eh, controversial. Personally if I run one I say "ok, you are doing A (riding hard at night on an unfamiliar trail & needing to arrive by dawn, yesterday) , you need X successes before Y failures, skill X is an obvious one to use, or I'll take other ideas". Players then decide on skill uses, roll, rack up fails & successes. New skills may open up - eg failing on a Nature check last night, a horse was injured, a PC rolled Heal to fix it up, success counted to completing the challenge.

    Encounters should run similar to combat in any other game you've GM'd. Ask players to roll initiative, roll init for monsters (or I usually take 10 for them), then everyone acts in order.
    ***Henry/S'mon Super Quick d20 NPC Generation System*** The Gods of the Copybook Headings With Terror and Slaughter Return!

    eriktheguy, on S'mon's latest idea:
    There are 2 major problems with your idea:
    1: It is far too awesome
    2: see 1

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rechan View Post
    Avoid Expecting a Novel

    You mentioned being a novelist and writing a narrative. This is just a general bit of advice: don't expect the players to do what you've scripted. You can almost expect them to zig when you've prepared for them to zag. And players know it when you're making them do something. So be prepared to ad-lib, to improvise, and to go with it when they don't do what you expected. It just means a little more prep, and some work on the fly.
    Yes - the players are writing the story in play, don't attempt to pre-write it yourself. You are not the author of this tale; your group is, with the help of the dice. Don't plan out more than a single session in detail (and allow for branching paths within the session); go where the players take you. Take feedback at the end of each session on what the players plan to do next time, and work with that.
    ***Henry/S'mon Super Quick d20 NPC Generation System*** The Gods of the Copybook Headings With Terror and Slaughter Return!

    eriktheguy, on S'mon's latest idea:
    There are 2 major problems with your idea:
    1: It is far too awesome
    2: see 1

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    Ignore subgeniuszero
    Thanks for all your replies, guys. But I guess I should clarify something:

    The kids -- Mikael, Ricky, and their friend, the potential fourth player -- are veteran D&Ders, and have most recently played 3.5 together (in fact, they were griping about changes from 3.5 to 4), and have been in perhaps a dozen campaigns since their younger teen years. It's Tonya and myself that haven't gamed for almost a decade ... let alone run a campaign, which I've never done before.

    My main problem is that I've no idea what I'm doing as a DM -- from a mechanical perspective, that is. I don't really know how to structure the adventure so that it takes into account player choices, don't know how to run encounters or what goes on during one from the DM's side -- though the DM Guide gives the basic ideas, it is short on examples -- and am sort of gun-shy as to how to manage seasoned players when I myself am not only out of practice as a player, but completely green as a DM. So this is more the type of advice I need ... nuts-and-bolts campaign-building and running, with an eye to being adventurer-centric (and not too "narratively" inflexible).

    But thanks so far for all the replies ... I didn't expect quite so many so quickly!

  • #7
    You need to buy a store bought adventure! Run a few games with someone elses cookie cutter idea of adventure just to get your feet wet. Before long you will be adding mixing in your own ideas and ready to leave the world of store bought modules behind but till then...just buy one of the better ones out there. If you had not already bought the core set I would have sugested the Reavers of Harkenwold from the Dungeon Master's kit.

    Dungeon Crawl Classics #54: Forges of the Mountain King - Goodman Games | RPGNow.com is a pretty good adventure in my book and you can buy it as a pdf and just print out the 48 pages and get to it!

    Whatever you choose,I really think you would improve with a base put together by someone with more experience with the rule set until you get your feet wet.

  • #8
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    Pretty sure the DM Red Boxed Set comes with a 4e adventure that many thing is pretty good.

    I also have a few PDF adventures I could email you if you so desired.
    Last edited by Rechan; Sunday, 4th September, 2011 at 08:22 PM.

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    Ignore KarinsDad
    Instead of scripting out a lot of detail, try the following type of flowchart:


    Tavern 1 - The innkeeper named Kraten is a sour dwarf who doesn't like anyone. But, his ale is good it's the only inn in the village. Nobody knows that the dwarf lost his brother to some Orcs east of the village last year. Karten has been keeping an eye out for a group of mercenaries to seek his revenge. If the PCs express interest in an adventure in the tavern, he will pull them to the side and ask them to help him. The DM needs to create at least one Orc encounter for this.

    Tavern 2 - Mikey is a merchant from the north. He lost a major part of his shipment coming south to Bandits. He's afraid that if he heads back north without bodyguards, that the bandits will attack again. He's looking for some caravan guards to help him out. The DM needs to create a group of bandits to attack the caravan.

    Tavern 3 - Rumors are spreading that something is going on in the graveyard outside of the village. Strange sounds and lights occur at night. The local priestess might know more. Rumors here might lead the PCs to the graveyard, or to the local temple.

    Local Temple - Helena is a low tier priestess that runs the local temple. She has heard of the rumors of strangeness in the graveyard, but she's not powerful enough or brave enough to check it out herself. If the PCs offer to help, she will give them a Potion of Healing and a vial of Holy Water to assist them.

    The DM has to create at least one graveyard encounter and possible a few rooms of a mini-dungeon under the graveyard.

    The DM could create 4 or 6 or 8 of these little "locations" where one location leads to one or more other locations. If the DM has a few of these fleshed out in more detail, he always has a way to handle it if the players go off in an unexpected direction.

    For example, if the PCs head after the Orcs and ignore the graveyard, the DM can take the mini-dungeon that he created and change it into an Orc lair. The PCs wipe out the first group of Orcs, but tracks now lead back to the lair and although the DM was planning the pit traps in the graveyard dungeon for the players, he know uses the pit traps in the on the fly Orc lair instead. He's re-using the same traps, but the scenario is re-fluffed to match the direction that the PCs went in. He merely needs to throw together some Orcs for the lair.


    Flowcharts allow the DM to create many different locations with just a sketch of details in each one. As the game proceeds from session to session, the DM fleshes out the details of the locations where it seems more likely that the PCs will head towards.

    Another good idea is to have the players give the DM a bit of background information about each of the PCs.

    If one PC hates Orcs as part of his background, then the DM knows he has a pretty good hook for the PCs to go after the Orcs and he can flesh that adventure out more than the rest.
    The first sign of a broken rule is when someone suggests that the way to stop it is by readying an action.

  • #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameOgre View Post
    Dungeon Crawl Classics #54: Forges of the Mountain King - Goodman Games | RPGNow.com is a pretty good adventure in my book and you can buy it as a pdf and just print out the 48 pages and get to it!
    Forges is pretty brutal though - I'm planning to run it with 3rd-4th level PCs! For a Goodman Games starter adventure I'd suggest maybe Sellswords of Punjar. You can try some of the free stuff online, the free Keep on the Shadowfell (link above) and the free Dungeon issues, 155-157 as I recall. Or it might be better to try creating your own 1-session adventure, try preparing 3 monster encounter groups you can use, following the rules in the DMG, or take them from a free published adventure. Compared to prior editions you'll find encounters - fights - are much more central in 4e, and it's worth putting in some effort to prep the monster groups & the terrain.
    ***Henry/S'mon Super Quick d20 NPC Generation System*** The Gods of the Copybook Headings With Terror and Slaughter Return!

    eriktheguy, on S'mon's latest idea:
    There are 2 major problems with your idea:
    1: It is far too awesome
    2: see 1

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