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  1. #1
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    New to 4E, New to DM, New to EN

    Hello all, I've yet to introduce myself but I'm sure there's a thread for that. So in short, my name is Alan and it's nice to meet you

    I've had experience playing D&D, Shadowrun, and Vampire in the past and very little experience as a DM (if any). Recently I've had the urge to play D&D again so I've invested in some 4E books and gathered a group of potential players. Even though I played D&D before, it was such a long time ago and I still didn't gain enough knowledge to be comfortable with all the rules. So, I'm hoping to discuss a few inquires with this community about 4E and DM'ing.

    First: Is the 4E caracter creation more complicated than I remember?

    See, when creating characters in the past, I often had help. Someone who knew what they were doing would walk me through difficult parts of the process. It could be that I'm unfamiliar with the rules, looking at a blank stats page is entirely overwhelming. There also seems to be huge debate over whether 4E is any good or not, and is this complication one of the reasons or am I just a newb and it will get easier once I get use to it? (honestly I think 4E is neat so far)

    Second: I'm totally new to DM'ing (aside from a few rocky attempts in the past where I guest DM'd).
    The reason I'm the DM is because I'm the one who said "Hey, let's play D&D" as well as seem to have the most (recent) experience. I'm going over everything I can before we start our adventure and I'm ready to take on the challenge. Still a lot to catch up on in these books (which can be a little intimidating at times), but what are some "important need to know's" I should look over before we begin? Otherwise, I'm pretty excited to DM a game.

    Third: Two of the group members aren't as committed as the others.
    They seem to want to joke around (which is ok to an extent) but are much less serious than other players. Also, they seem to be on the verge of bailing due to the complication of the rules. One said "It's too much 'work'. I'd rather not get off work just to work more."

    ...I've been helping two of the more serious members work at their characters so I've a better understanding of the process now, so... My thoughts/suggestions for the less serious two are; 1. Help walk them through the process of making a character (this is an ideal since they can really personalize and understand their character), 2. have them run the solo red box "choose your own adventure" mission, or 3. give them a pre-made character that either I make or snag from the net (all they'll have to do is name it).

    They're still on the fence since it's all new to them. Once they get past the 'rules' bit I know this game could be really fun for them. Any thoughts or suggestions on this? If they really don't want to play, then I guess there's nothing I can do about that. (they'd rather play settlers it seems... It's a lot harder for them to "flip the board" in D&D, which makes it loose a bit of intrest for them.)

    Well, that's all for now. I'm sure that once I get more into this game I'll have more I'd like to discuss, but thank you in advance for any input you could give me on the above.

    All the best and "Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu" (^_^)v

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    Quote Originally Posted by ACGalaga View Post
    There also seems to be huge debate over whether 4E is any good or not, and is this complication one of the reasons or am I just a newb and it will get easier once I get use to it? (honestly I think 4E is neat so far)
    No more complicated than 3e. The Essentials classes are much easier to make (fewer power choices, most of the classes are pre-set).

    The easiest way to deal with character creation is the Character Builder. I would recommend DDi if the game takes off (it's a better investment overall than buying more and more books) but not a good buy if the game may not work out.

    They seem to want to joke around (which is ok to an extent) but are much less serious than other players. Also, they seem to be on the verge of bailing due to the complication of the rules. One said "It's too much 'work'. I'd rather not get off work just to work more."

    ...

    3. give them a pre-made character that either I make or snag from the net (all they'll have to do is name it).
    It sounds like they're casual players whose interest is just the social part of it; they want to roll dice, maybe kill some orcs, but really it doesn't matter to them. Don't expect a lot from these guys, and they may be problematic.

    Pregens would be my suggestion. If they don't care enough to "do the work", then they shouldn't complain about a pregen. Once they've learned how to play and they get over the hump, then offer to help them.

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    Second: I'm totally new to DM'ing (aside from a few rocky attempts in the past where I guest DM'd).
    The reason I'm the DM is because I'm the one who said "Hey, let's play D&D" as well as seem to have the most (recent) experience. I'm going over everything I can before we start our adventure and I'm ready to take on the challenge. Still a lot to catch up on in these books (which can be a little intimidating at times), but what are some "important need to know's" I should look over before we begin? Otherwise, I'm pretty excited to DM a game.
    Congrats! That's how I started DMing so good luck.

    Ok. First thing's first: Relax. This is about having fun (including your own fun), not being right. If you realize you don't know a rule, make a call on the spot and move on. These guys don't know gaming nor the rules, they won't know the difference. The only thing you want to avoid is Boredom, so keep things moving, keep them interested/doing something. If it looks like they're not having fun, end what's happening as smoothly as you can and move to the next thing.

    With that out of the way:

    1a) Start small. There's no reason to know every rule before you start, only know the rules you'll need. If you don't plan to use a skill challenge in your first session, ignore that section of the book. Starting small also includes your plot - there is no reason to try and shove an epic story down their throats while they are struggling with the rules. A simple dungeon crawl will do. Starting small also includes your Setting - don't create a huge world off the bat, your players won't get to see it, start with a town and it's immediate environ (or use something established, like the Nentir Vale).

    1b) You might find it more useful to use a module or two first. Just to get the feel of DMing. This way you don't have to worry about adventure design or monster selection, you just use what the adventure tells you. If you want suggestions, we can help you with that. DO NOT USE KEEP ON THE SHADOWFELL.

    2) Go slow with teaching the rules. Only teach them what's relevant at that moment, instead of trying to give them a big huge primer. Instructing them as to how to read a power, or how to read their character sheets, that's fine. But you don't need to explain initiative, the various actions in a combat round until they're in a fight. Don't explain healing until someone says "Whoa I need healing!"

    If they have a question, you can answer that.

    3) If someone wants to do something wacky ("I want to jump onto his head"), don't panic. Just roll with it. Say "Ok it's this hard to do, you have to roll to hit this number". Pick a number off page 42 of the DMG (or 108 from the DM book in the Dungeon Master's Kit). Pick a damage expression. The idea is to a) say yes, b) reward that type of thinking, and c) make a call and move on.

    4) Anticipate that things will get off track. Players will do the unexpected. That is life. Don't force them, just roll with it. Also accept that players will get distracted with out-of-game talk and they'll lose focus.

    5) Have a list of NPC names. Players will always ask "What's his name?" Just glance down, pick a name at random, make a note and go on.

    6) When in doubt, roll the dice. If you need to make a call, roll the dice and act like you are checking numbers. If a player asks "Can I do this to get a bonus?" when in doubt, just say +2 or -2 and move on.

    7) If it Stalls the Game, handle it after the session. This includes rules arguments, arguments over DM calls, someone is angry/upset over something, shopping/item creation, item identification/treasure clarification when you don't know. The point is, say "We'll go over it later, moving on". If it's a boring scene (talking to an NPC that the PCs don't care about for instance), summarize it and move on.

    8) Don't hold fast to decisions made in that first session. If someone makes a character creation choice and they don't like it, let them change it with no fuss after that first session. The same works for the DM - if you say the town is Oakburg because you were on the spot, it's OK to change it to something else later. Think of this first session like a TV pilot - you can retcon it because it's the first episode and everyone is getting the feel for things. This also applies to rulings you do on the fly - look up the rule after the session, then learn from it.
    Last edited by Rechan; Monday, 16th January, 2012 at 07:28 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rechan View Post
    Pregens would be my suggestion.
    I second this!

    Quote Originally Posted by ACGalaga View Post
    what are some "important need to know's" I should look over before we begin?
    The DC chart for difficulty by level, and the "average damage" numbers - which is 8+level for standard damage, +25% to 50% for big effects, and similar reductions for lesser or multi-target effects.

    With these in mind you can adjudicate a lot of stuff. One example from one of my early 4e sessions - the paladin want to speak a prayer to weaken an undead foe. Roll a Religion check - on a success gain combat advantage, on a failure take a modest amount of necrotic damage as the undead turns your prayer back on you as a curse.

    At least in my experience, 4e PCs - even at first level - have a lot of colour and "hooks" in them. And a lot of the monsters do too. And you can easily build colour and hooks into your encounters - terrain, relics of the past etc. Use all this stuff to push the game forward, and use the ad hod adjudication (of DCs and damage) to make it matter mechanically, and to get your players used to using the mechanics to play the game.

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    A few thoughts:

    As a DM, it often nice to start with a pre-published adventure so that things are not too overwhelming. Wizards release Keep on the Shadowfell for free. It's not the greatest, but there are other threads on ENWorld that offer suggestions for improvement. My company (Sneak Attack Press) also has a free single-encounter adventure Things that Go Boom.

    For new player's it can also be a good idea to run an introductory session using premade PCs. Then once they have an idea of how the game works, they can choose to make their own character or keep going with the premade.

    Cavemen, wizards, sky pirates, and cyborgs unite to stop an evil that threatens to destroy time itself. The Kronocalypse is now funding on Kickstarter!

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    First off, thank you for your wonderful suggestions and warm welcomes. All this information is very helpful.

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewJHanson View Post
    As a DM, it often nice to start with a pre-published adventure so that things are not too overwhelming. Wizards release Keep on the Shadowfell for free. It's not the greatest, but there are other threads on ENWorld that offer suggestions for improvement. My company (Sneak Attack Press) also has a free single-encounter adventure Things that Go Boom.
    Thank you very much for the links as well as introducing me to your companies adventure

    As for starting out light I was just thinking about doing some of the stuff from premade adventures. There's all that stuff about the Nentir Vale in the DMG and DM Kit. I'm considering on putting them round there someplace and try a few of the sample adventures (or a mash-up of adventures) till we all get a hang of what's going on.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rechan View Post
    Pregens would be my suggestion. If they don't care enough to "do the work", then they shouldn't complain about a pregen. Once they've learned how to play and they get over the hump, then offer to help them.
    Yeah, I think this is best. It might possibly be their impatience that prevents them from designing a character from scratch. People list lvl1 builds online and there are a few in this D&D dummies book my friend gave me. I could easily pick one of them.

    Another though was, since I (kinda) know what race and class they want to be, I could make the characters for them in my spare time. That way I'd familiarize myself with the rules and caracter creation more. Although, I'd leave the personality details to them.

    It's interesting; the serious players made the character before coming up with a name. The two less serious players thought of their names before building their characters (Vartok Dobblestein and Skrillex Von Dubstep)...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rechan View Post
    Anticipate that things will get off track. Players will do the unexpected. That is life. Don't force them. Roll with it. Also accept that players will get distracted with out-of-game talk and they'll lose focus.
    This was my major problem when I did those guest DM sessions long ago. I was really excited to come up with this complex involving storyline and it went horribly wrong. I've certainly learned from that experience. It is certainly not wise to try and make the characters do what you want them to do in order to progress the story. I guess it's better, as DM, to provide your players a palette and come up with the story together. Well, I guess having a rough outline of story isn't bad, but I'm not thinking about that yet. Just trying to get this thing off the ground at the moment.

    ----------------------

    So even after thinking I had a feel for how things were going and potentially set the campaign in Nentir Vale, one of my players chooses a Dragonborn, the other Eladrin. Best be reading up on those races, I hear they're not from that area although not unheard of (did I just end my sentence in a preposition? Isn't that bad or something?). Is the story of how they got there the player's responsibility or am I also responsible (probably both, right)?

    It should be fun to RP but I'm unfamiliar with bot races, particularly the Dragonborn. Some of the beginner missions are along the "let's slay a dragon" lines. Do Dragonborns have problems with that?

    I guess this is stuff I have to dig a little deeper into and what makes our story interesting.

    Thanks again for the list of suggestions, it certainly helps out a lot! Also, it's a pleasure to be in correspondence with such a great community of people!

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    I remember reading somewhere that you should ask your players to provide some background on their character and maybe some goals that their character wants to accomplish and this might be able to help you further your story hopefully. Tell them that they can write down as much as they want so they don't feel pressured into thinking they have to write a novel about their character (although they do good luck ). Hope this helps.

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    I'm also an unseasoned DM with a similar background, so your post resonates with me. I have recent experiences running games for two groups of players with absolutely no 4E experience and except for two of them, even no experience role-playing. The first group was hit and miss, but the second group was a slam dunk and couldn't wait for more. Here are some insights I gathered, for better or worse:

    Character creation is too complex
    Every last member of my first group was visibly relieved when the character creation phase was over with, and so was I. There are way too many decisions to make at the start. With my second group, I made a point to have characters ready for them, and roughly matched them to their personalities (more below).

    Ease them into the game
    Apply bits of knowledge one at a time, ignoring everything else, especially in combat. A skill check will probably come up first, so you can teach how the basic D20 mechanic works. In combat, describe actions and only let them make basic attacks on the first round. On the second round, explain powers and only let them use the green ones. Once they're getting the hang of that, consider introducing opportunity attacks or encounter powers. Just do it a step at a time, and make sure they get the last concept before going to the next. Assure them that combat speeds up with practice (it should take forever on the first go) and give them nothing but minions on the first go to start with low pressure. My first group were hit at once with a bunch of rules and handled it, but with visible drain. The second group was fed a little at a time and it all went super smoothly.

    Use easy / moderate / hard DCs and re-skin monsters
    If you don't know a rule, just make up a target number and have them roll. If you forget which page the target numbers per level are on, just make it easy, especially at level 1. The positive reinforcement that comes from success is a good thing at this stage. For monsters, don't worry about where the players go and might meet because you can re-skin on the fly. A dragon that flies might become a giant ninja that leaps and spits fire with alcohol, or slows players with poison gas. Just make up some reason the same game effect applies, and run with it. Sometimes these discrepancies make for really memorable characters. Both of these approaches make it easier to say "yes" to them, which is really valuable.

    Consider a mirror world to hold their attention
    My first group didn't know each other that well so I made up a campaign out of properties they liked to get things going. It was fun and they were getting into it (so, recommended), but it wasn't nearly as effective as what I did with group two, who I go to "draw night" with every Tue night. My adventure revolved around an "alternate draw night," with all of their characters being D&D versions of themselves visiting D&D versions of their usual haunts, and a D&D villain made out of someone we all know. Everyone loved spotting all the interpretations and twists in the alternate universe, and loved playing fantasy caricatures of themselves. I put in a little extra effort, too, where every name was an anagram for something in real life, like "I Love Sushi" being "Louie's Shiv" in the fantasy version. It was a smash hit without much prep.

    Two secrets and two "why's"
    My favorite DM'ing advice came from a Dragon column awhile back (don't remember the name), which was to invent two secrets about any noun (character, item, location) that you add to the game. They can be big or small -- up to you. Write each secret on a card and draw one before your adventure. Throw a reference (hint) to that secret in the adventure that night. Even if it doesn't have anything to do with anything, it adds interesting little details to the world that make it feel alive. For a similar shortcut with character backgrounds, just ask "why" twice to get a workable sketch of a character for the evening. Joe is a bartender. Why? He won the bar in a bet. Why? He took a big gamble when he had nothing left. He since resists gambling but has made some enemies. That last stuff just flowed.

    Missing sucks and encouraging backgrounds is awesome
    These last two are very house-ruley, but they've gotten lots of positive feedback, so I'll throw them out there. First, missing sucks. I give out a token if a player misses every target in a round, and they can exchange the token for +1 to a roll of theirs whenever they want. It greatly mitigates the pain of being ineffective. Better yet, I let players spend 2 tokens to give another player a +1 and watching players pool their tokens to help each other is a thing of beauty. Second, if you want them to get into their characters and don't mind starting your campaign at level two, give them some background questions that if answered, gives them about 1000 xp. This is a huge incentive -- everyone will do backgrounds -- and you can create some fun hooks in your campaign off of them. I'd introduce this after your first night of combat and character building. My recommendation for the last two questions: what are two secrets you keep from the rest of the party? Add these to your deck of secrets.

    Good luck!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rechan View Post
    Pregens would be my suggestion. If they don't care enough to "do the work", then they shouldn't complain about a pregen. Once they've learned how to play and they get over the hump, then offer to help them.
    The added bonus to this approach is, the original poster will get some much needed practice building characters by making the pregens.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grandpa View Post
    My favorite DM'ing advice came from a Dragon column awhile back (don't remember the name), which was to invent two secrets about any noun (character, item, location) that you add to the game. They can be big or small -- up to you. Write each secret on a card and draw one before your adventure. Throw a reference (hint) to that secret in the adventure that night. Even if it doesn't have anything to do with anything, it adds interesting little details to the world that make it feel alive.
    Sounds like advice from Ray Winneger's (sp?) Dungeoncraft article from back in the 2e days. Good stuff. His specific advice was for world-building, (that is, every element of the world you create gets a secret that goes in the deck. Whenever you build a new element, pull out a secret and figure out how it is related), both to create verisimilitude and to plant plot hooks.

    For a similar shortcut with character backgrounds, just ask "why" twice to get a workable sketch of a character for the evening. Joe is a bartender. Why? He won the bar in a bet. Why? He took a big gamble when he had nothing left. He since resists gambling but has made some enemies. That last stuff just flowed.
    I really like this, although some players prefer to figure out their backgrounds (and other details) as they play the character. If you have this type of player, go with it!

    In addition to all of the superb advice above (and, I'm sure, more to come!), you might find some of the advice in this thread to be of use. It is not all directed toward a DM with your specific problems (more for the DM with very little time to prep), but much of the advice is stuff I would recommend for any DM (especially one running 4e). It all emphasizes a style of DMing that I call "streamlined sandbox."
    Last edited by Rune; Tuesday, 17th January, 2012 at 02:40 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ACGalaga View Post
    As for starting out light I was just thinking about doing some of the stuff from premade adventures. There's all that stuff about the Nentir Vale in the DMG and DM Kit. I'm considering on putting them round there someplace and try a few of the sample adventures (or a mash-up of adventures) till we all get a hang of what's going on.
    That's a great idea. The Nentir vale is a nice little toybox (the Monsters of the Nentir Vale book has even more info on it, along with various monster organizations in the area if you wanted to turn it into a sandbox or something).

    Since you have the DM Kit, honestly Reavers of Harkenwood gets lots of positive feedback around here.

    I guess it's better, as DM, to provide your players a palette and come up with the story together.
    Usually it's less "Nah we don't care about that adventure" and more "Hey let's go left" when you anticipated them to go right.

    There are a few DM tricks that you can do to deal with this, but they take practice (for instance, having a prepared random encounter, and just dropping it in when you need to stall for time; if you prepared a dungeon, and they don't bite the hook, just toss a different hook, or re-use the dungeon for a different story). Ideally, you just toss out several different hooks and see what they bite, then follow up with that. Anyways, it always helps to have a backup idea, even if you have no prep. Simply saying "Hey guys take a smoke/soda/bathroom break" never hurts, and you either brainstorm, or start assembling encounters like a madman.

    Well, I guess having a rough outline of story isn't bad, but I'm not thinking about that yet. Just trying to get this thing off the ground at the moment.
    That's the way to go. Learn to walk before you run. I'm going through a similar situation as you - while I'm an experienced DM, I'm preparing to teach some tween/teen newbies D&D and I've gotten some advice/help on that front.

    one of my players chooses a Dragonborn, the other Eladrin. Best be reading up on those races, I hear they're not from that area although not unheard of (did I just end my sentence in a preposition? Isn't that bad or something?). Is the story of how they got there the player's responsibility or am I also responsible (probably both, right)?
    You the DM don't have to know a lot about the race. It's not super relevant to your plot, and not super important to the player, then it's not super important. It might inform NPC actions (people surprised/curious/distrustful about a Dragonborn).

    Also remember that you, the DM, can change any facts or story to suit your purposes. I.e. you don't have to hold fast to the "Dragonborn aren't from this area". The best rule of thumb is "do what the player would enjoy the most"; if he doesn't care, then don't sweat it, but if that factoid would get his imagination running, then go for it. It's very common for DMs to change things about settings (I love coming up with alt histories/cultures for the core races). But pace yourself - mainly don't worry about knowing it all right now. Key is getting through the first session.

    It's the player's general responsibility to worry about their background. Some players (like your casual players) likely won't care. Some players really like it. If your players put a lot of energy/excitement into their backgrounds, use that to your advantage; make it relevant to a story you run, or a plot hook you offer, and they will love you.

    As far as background/PC personalities go, there are only two really important things. 1) Why are you adventuring with these guys? This is usually solved by "We all know eachother". If you don't have the characters know each other before the first adventure, then you have to give them a reason to work together (sometimes players can not want to go along with said reason, hence why making them know one another is easier). The less crucial one is 2) Why is your character adventuring in the first place? What motivates them/what goal do they have? (This is relevant for hooks or future adventures, and is good to have a player think about, but it's not really necessary to get the ball rolling).

    It should be fun to RP but I'm unfamiliar with bot races, particularly the Dragonborn. Some of the beginner missions are along the "let's slay a dragon" lines. Do Dragonborns have problems with that?
    Depends. Is the dragon evil? Basically they were created by the greater Dragon God Io (who later split into the good/evil dragon gods Bahamut/Tiamat).
    Last edited by Rechan; Monday, 16th January, 2012 at 12:52 PM.

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