D&D 5E New DM with campaign anxiety

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
That's a good plan, let the players find their niches now that they understand the game more.

One thing I think we didn't say out loud: you are a player too. Make sure what you plan is fun for you too! If you are excited it will help your players be excited.
 

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Well said!

It's just fine to say "I've no idea how to get from A to B, I'll let the players figure that one out." It gives them more agency in the campaign, and can help you tell a more vibrant story together.

IME, the most important thing is not to try too hard to control the game. You can play off the players' ideas. If they seem interested in something, that can be your hook for the next adventure (even if it wasn't what you had in mind). Get them engaged and they'll do a lot of the work for you.

"Shapeshifting demons have established a cult to the East of the Sword Coast. Their goal is to summon their master to the mortal realm." is a great hook. Most players are pretty good at knowing when the DM is dangling the big hook in front of them and taking it. Let them find out about this (probably the hard way, with a fight) and they'll be heading after the cult in no time. They don't need to know how the cult is going to do it at first, since that's not going to be vital until later. By the time you get there, you'll know how the cult operates better and will probably have ideas that you wouldn't have had if you came up with it all at the very beginning.

As for being nervous, that can happen to even the most experienced DMs. I think it helps to know that most people show up to D&D wanting to have a good time. And part of that responsibility lies with the players, too.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I am not too far off from my group of new players finishing the essentials box and I don't think things have gone too badly. I know the rules pretty well (I've played before), but I'm having problems figuring out my next campaign arc.

my group is moving down to waterdeep and we plan on basing ourselves from there. One of the characters has immersed himself in the 3e (maybe 2e) waterdeep lore guide we found and has decided that he will be a gnome with connections to the tinkers guild there. Our other members will be hired guards for the gnome player as he delivers some important tinkering plans to the guild. They are waylaid at sea and wake up floating in the wreckage of their ship only to see a Caravelle with a specific flag and name sailing away.

that is my introduction to the campaign.

My overarching story, at this point, may be too hard for a new dm to pull off. I was thinking of something along the lines of shapeshifting demons have established a cult to the East of the Sword Coast. Their goal is to summon their master to the mortal realm. I haven't decided if that should be via a ritual of sacrifice or maybe through opening planar rifts in order to weaken the barrier between the planes (thanks crit role for that idea). This is a pretty big idea and I have an idea of the steps that the bad guys would have to take in order to be successful, but not how to present it or set it up for the players.

I'm feeling really at a loss and overwhelmed.

any advice?

thanks everyone!

No need to feel overwhelmed with that particular arc as it looks like one you can stew on for at least 3 or 4 levels even if you want, while they establish themselves in the world and discover through play who their characters really are.

Possibly encourage to fill in their backstory slightly less than they might be inclined to do on first instinct, as they often with experience find that a little wiggle room in the beginning when it comes to every tiny detail of the character's life, personality, etc. allows the player to learn simply by playing the character the feel that they want out of them.

Players, especially new ones, tend to go overboard with their backstories because they don't understand yet how many juicy opportunities their character could have in game to find within what the DM has presented to them all kinds of things to develop interest in, get involved in, commit to, and so on.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Sounds like a good campaign to throw Zhents from Zhentil Keep (vs. the gnome tinker's business) and Thayian Wizards (perhaps behind the demon cult from the East). Perhaps the Thayians are stirring trouble up again in the Moonshae Islands (a lead you could use if you want to follow shanghing them westward).

As others have said, just worry about staying a session or two ahead of the players. Listen to what they think is going on to give you ideas for what to do next (even if it is just to throw in a twist).

Do be careful winding any part of the campaign around any one particular character though. If that character dies, retires or otherwise doesn't show up, it could derail the game. Keep enough paths/stories open so if one falls through, things don't come to a grinding halt.

Best of luck!
 

The biggest two things to keep in mind:

One, just because a plan you have doesn't pan out, doesn't mean your players are unhappy. Sometimes, an anticlimactic ending feels better than a "proper" end as written, because it means the players actually had agency and their choices mattered. It also makes the solid climax moments feel that much better, as they will feel truly earned. Learning how to "let go" is a vital skill--it will save you from insisting on stuff that has already run its course.

Two, be willing to admit your mistakes if something goes really wrong. Your players will almost certainly be understanding and cooperative. Trying to pretend that you're flawless and the like isn't helpful, and in fact can lead to ongoing feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. You obviously shouldn't be telling your players EVERYTHING that goes on in your head during every session, but if you feel things have gone in a direction you can't handle or aren't comfortable with, tell them and talk through how to deal with it.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
I know the rules pretty well (I've played before), but I'm having problems figuring out my next campaign arc. ...
My overarching story, at this point, ...

Don't think in terms of an "arc". Never have an Overarching "story"

Because you don't know what your players are going to do.

You will save yourself lots of time and effort by never wasting time on either.


Now, having a solid campaign hook is a Good thing:

"Shapeshifting demons have established a cult to the East of the Sword Coast. Their goal is to summon their master to the mortal realm." is a great hook. Most players are pretty good at knowing when the DM is dangling the big hook in front of them and taking it. Let them find out about this (probably the hard way, with a fight) and they'll be heading after the cult in no time. They don't need to know how the cult is going to do it at first, since that's not going to be vital until later. By the time you get there, you'll know how the cult operates better and will probably have ideas that you wouldn't have had if you came up with it all at the very beginning.

This is Wisdom.

Redhammer speaks truth.


First, focus on the next adventure

This.

You should never really be able to plan more than one or sometimes two sessions ahead.

The players actions should be the number one thing that drives play. You should be riffing off of what they do endlessly.


Second, ... know what the bad guys are doing,

This, all it really takes is listing your primary Bad guys at the beginning of the game, and adding no more than a one sentence motive why they are doing what they do.

Don't go deeper than that. And you only need to do this for a small handful of your named baddies.

You just need the starting direction, the barest sketch: The rest will sort itself out during play.

Also: Steal.

Steal ideas from anywhere you can. You've already mentioned looking over the dragonheist adventure. This is good.

Don't worry about trying to be "original". Don't even try.

Steal shamelessly.


More wisdom:
Do be careful winding any part of the campaign around any one particular character though. If that character dies, retires or otherwise doesn't show up, it could derail the game. ...

Never have a single PC that can't be dropped like a hot potato if needs must.

The game world is bigger than the PC's. The bad guys don't care if Harald the half-orc is no longer part of that meddling group of adventurers.


The most important thing for any good campaign is that the PC's have real agency within the game world.

They should not be tied down to a single Arc, Plot, or 'Story' of any kind.

Here is a good example of player agency in action and how it can affect a campaign:

Now this is a example of the players shooting off in an entire other direction than the GM initially hope for, But he was able to handle it because he was not fixated on pushing his ideas of how things should be on his players.

As Ralif Redhammer stated above; players are generally pretty good about grabbing adventure hooks and running with them if they have already bought into the core concept of the campaign. And always be mindful to not over prep. You don't need to work things out as much as you think you do. It is an easy trap that most GM's including myself have fallen into.

You need to stay loose and flexible. Because you players will always do things that you've never thought of.

Most importantly: Have Fun.

It is important to have fun running the game. You should be just as entertained by the antics of the PC's as the players are by playing them.

When GMing becomes a chore that you dread - that way lies burnout...


P.S. - One way I have found to help with reducing anxiety while running a game: Get rid of all Clocks!

Put your cellphone away and have no clocks anywhere to be seen. You'll feel less like you're 'under the gun' so to speak to "fill" game time.
 
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fendermallot

Explorer
Don't think in terms of an "arc". Never have an Overarching "story"

Because you don't know what your players are going to do.

You will save yourself lots of time and effort by never wasting time on either.


Now, having a solid campaign hook is a Good thing:



This is Wisdom.

Redhammer speaks truth.




This.

You should never really be able to plan more than one or sometimes two sessions ahead.

The players actions should be the number one thing that drives play. You should be riffing off of what they do endlessly.




This, all it really takes is listing your primary Bad guys at the beginning of the game, and adding no more than a one sentence motive why they are doing what they do.

Don't go deeper than that. And you only need to do this for a small handful of your named baddies.

You just need the starting direction, the barest sketch: The rest will sort itself out during play.

Also: Steal.

Steal ideas from anywhere you can. You've already mentioned looking over the dragonheist adventure. This is good.

Don't worry about trying to be "original". Don't even try.

Steal shamelessly.


More wisdom:


Never have a single PC that can't be dropped like a hot potato if needs must.

The game world is bigger than the PC's. The bad guys don't care if Harald the half-orc is no longer part of that meddling group of adventurers.


The most important thing for any good campaign is that the PC's have real agency within the game world.

They should not be tied down to a single Arc, Plot, or 'Story' of any kind.

Here is a good example of player agency in action and how it can affect a campaign:

Now this is a example of the players shooting off in an entire other direction than the GM initially hope for, But he was able to handle it because he was not fixated on pushing his ideas of how things should be on his players.

As Ralif Redhammer stated above; players are generally pretty good about grabbing adventure hooks and running with them if they have already bought into the core concept of the campaign. And always be mindful to not over prep. You don't need to work things out as much as you think you do. It is an easy trap that most GM's including myself have fallen into.

You need to stay loose and flexible. Because you players will always do things that you've never thought of.

Most importantly: Have Fun.

It is important to have fun running the game. You should be just as entertained by the antics of the PC's as the players are by playing them.

When GMing becomes a chore that you dread - that way lies burnout...


P.S. - One way I have found to help with reducing anxiety while running a game: Get rid of all Clocks!

Put your cellphone away and have no clocks anywhere to be seen. You'll feel less like you're 'under the gun' so to speak to "fill" game time.
Thanks!

I guess one of my questions is how do you pull up stat blocks on the fly if your players decide to be murderhobos? What if they go a complete different way (They will) and you don't have stats for what they want to do? Do I just make it up? I've been making npcs into stat blocks and it takes forever.

If you had a cool, named pirate captain and the party decided they were going to kill him, how would you create a stat block for this character on the fly? The DM never thought the players would kill this character so you didn't stat them up. How do you deal with that?

I think my original plot hook is going to stay the same. But it will come in more gradually.
 

Casimir Liber

Adventurer
welcome to the DM's fold. I still get anxious after 40+ years too (aargh..it never goes away!!!)

many many bits of good advice here that I would have said. having players want to immerse themselves from the get-go is fantastic. Don't be afraid to follow what the players want. Try to deal with time-consuming-but-boring stuff quickly without making it seem like yr skimming - e.g. If 2 or 3 players roll the same initiative, I'll quickly roll a d6 and just say, "Ok odds it's you and evens it's you", rather than getting folks to re-roll, which can be time consuming if at a noisy table with 6+ players or online. Or trying to hurry people through empty rooms but not seem like same. Ensuring a brisk pace of combat is prudent too. And have fun. Be open minded when players suggest wacky solutions to things - try come up with rolls rather than just say know - can be quite funny....
 

I guess one of my questions is how do you pull up stat blocks on the fly if your players decide to be murderhobos? What if they go a complete different way (They will) and you don't have stats for what they want to do? Do I just make it up? I've been making npcs into stat blocks and it takes forever.

If you had a cool, named pirate captain and the party decided they were going to kill him, how would you create a stat block for this character on the fly? The DM never thought the players would kill this character so you didn't stat them up. How do you deal with that?

I think my original plot hook is going to stay the same. But it will come in more gradually.

If something like that happens, there are 2 options:

1. You honestly tell your players you did not expect this, and you need a moment. Everybody go get a drink and a toilet break, because you need 2-5 minutes to figure something out. Then leaf through the Monster Manual, look up a powerful humanoid (e.g. Berserker, and give him 50 extra HP and a multiattack. Or whatever it takes to make this interesting. Done.

2. Alternatively, making a few stat blocks for random encounters is not so hard. You probably already decided if the named pirate captain has a rapier, or a longsword. And if he's got some allies. You only need a few basics to get going:

Blunder the named Pirate Captain, 96 HP, AC 17
Multiattack: Blunder makes 2 melee or 2 ranged attacks.
Longsword: melee attack, 5ft reach, +8 to attack, 1d8+5 slashing (non-magical)
Shortbow: ranged attack, +5 to attack, 1d6+2 piercing

That took me 1 minute (because I know the weapon damage, otherwise it's somewhere around page 140 of the PHB I think), and it's enough to do combat. Need a DEX save? He's got a ... eeh... +5. :) (I roll behind a screen, so I won't even tell the players what plus he has, or what I rolled).
Blunder here does not have any special abilities, but he won't go down without a fight!

For allies, as a base I always grab the basic "Guard" or "Cultist" stat blocks. Give them some cool boots and a hat, and it's a pirate.

To be honest, as a new DM it won't hurt to build a couple of NPC characters. You'll get to know the stats of the basic weapon and armor, which helps a lot!
 

The Appendix B: Nonplayer Characters at the back of the Monster Manual is a great resource. You can quickly grab one of about the right power level and theme and either use it directly or reskin. For the pirate, you could easily use the Bandit Captain stats, or take the Gladiator and reskin the spear attack to a rapier.

If they surprise you by zigging when you expected a zag, it's okay to take quick moment to regroup. Look at what you had planned and see what you can salvage and re-use. For example, if you expected them to go into the mountains and they went into the swamp, maybe don't use that Galeb Duhr encounter you had planned, but that giant vulture attack could be fine, and if you had a merchant who was about to fall off the side of a cliff for them to rescue (or not), maybe that merchant is now stuck in quicksand in the swamp. Throw in a bit of improvisation as well and your players won't know you didn't plan for this (though there's nothing wrong with being upfront about being caught off guard).

Thanks!

I guess one of my questions is how do you pull up stat blocks on the fly if your players decide to be murderhobos? What if they go a complete different way (They will) and you don't have stats for what they want to do? Do I just make it up? I've been making npcs into stat blocks and it takes forever.

If you had a cool, named pirate captain and the party decided they were going to kill him, how would you create a stat block for this character on the fly? The DM never thought the players would kill this character so you didn't stat them up. How do you deal with that?

I think my original plot hook is going to stay the same. But it will come in more gradually.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
I guess one of my questions is how do you pull up stat blocks on the fly if your players decide to be murderhobos? What if they go a complete different way (They will) and you don't have stats for what they want to do? Do I just make it up? I've been making npcs into stat blocks and it takes forever.

First - you don't need full stat blocks for NPC's. They're NPC's.

Redhammer is correct, appendix B is the #1 pace to go. Just remember you don't have to copy the full stat block to use them in the game.

All you really need is the HP, AC, and what attacks they have.


If you had a cool, named pirate captain and the party decided they were going to kill him, how would you create a stat block for this character on the fly? The DM never thought the players would kill this character so you didn't stat them up. How do you deal with that?

Baldurs_Underdark has it right. 100%

I was going to type a reply, but I'd just repeat him.

Just a quick 3-4 line write up is the way to go. Maybe add - Saves at: +3

Yes, it's a single save for everything. Your players will never know the difference.

For 99% of what a GM does, You just don't need a full stat block. (IMHO WotC adding in the full 6 stat block for monsters was a mistake.)

A common mistake is thinking you have to emulate the MM stat block when you prep for a session. Too much work. Don't do it.

Just use the NPC shorthand Baldurs showed. Even when copying from the MM.

The only time it is worth more effort is for a major villain that the PC's have been after. Even then you shouldn't have to do more than a few of them for an entire campaign.
 

fendermallot

Explorer
First - you don't need full stat blocks for NPC's. They're NPC's.

Redhammer is correct, appendix B is the #1 pace to go. Just remember you don't have to copy the full stat block to use them in the game.

All you really need is the HP, AC, and what attacks they have.




Baldurs_Underdark has it right. 100%

I was going to type a reply, but I'd just repeat him.

Just a quick 3-4 line write up is the way to go. Maybe add - Saves at: +3

Yes, it's a single save for everything. Your players will never know the difference.

For 99% of what a GM does, You just don't need a full stat block. (IMHO WotC adding in the full 6 stat block for monsters was a mistake.)

A common mistake is thinking you have to emulate the MM stat block when you prep for a session. Too much work. Don't do it.

Just use the NPC shorthand Baldurs showed. Even when copying from the MM.

The only time it is worth more effort is for a major villain that the PC's have been after. Even then you shouldn't have to do more than a few of them for an entire campaign.
Thanks everyone! I was using Reddit for information, but that place is so damn toxic. Thanks for being so very helpful!
 

Rune

Once A Fool
I'm feeling really at a loss and overwhelmed.

any advice?

thanks everyone!
Briefly:

First, do not stress about it! You do not have to be a perfect DM. You don’t even need to be a good one. No one starts out as a good DM. Making mistakes is part of the process of learning to be a good DM. Trying things out is part of the process. Not everything will work. Figure out what doesn’t and why it doesn’t. Keep in mind that every group dynamic is different and learning what works for each group is a trial-and-error process no matter your experience.

Second, do not worry about plot! That is not your job! Your job is to give the players the pieces to make their own plot. What you need is factions, villains, and even allies with agendas, motives, and the means to act on them. And lots of plot hooks. If you’ve got those things, everything else will fall into place. The players will bite on something, and the things they ignore will advance their agendas unhindered.

Less briefly:

If you’d like some more advice of this nature, you might find this thread helpful. It is aimed at a low-prep style, but contains much I would consider sound advice for any DM (of any experience level). Including expanded reasoning on both of the above points.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
You’re making the right to choice to roll your own adventure IMHO. It might seem overwhelming but the advice above about just planning the next session is gold. Sure have an idea of some greater threat lurking but build off what your players respond positively too each session.

Running from a book puts a straight jacket on your planning and makes DMing much harder. Use books for inspiration. I also find Dyson Logos simple maps very helpful when needing a location for an encounter.
 

Oofta

Legend
Thanks!

I guess one of my questions is how do you pull up stat blocks on the fly if your players decide to be murderhobos? What if they go a complete different way (They will) and you don't have stats for what they want to do? Do I just make it up? I've been making npcs into stat blocks and it takes forever.

If you had a cool, named pirate captain and the party decided they were going to kill him, how would you create a stat block for this character on the fly? The DM never thought the players would kill this character so you didn't stat them up. How do you deal with that?

I think my original plot hook is going to stay the same. But it will come in more gradually.
Little slow on the response, but something I do is have an extra encounter or two sketched out. Usually nothing more than a set of monsters they could in theory encounter and usually some humanoid types of appropriate level. So for example I had two "extra" encounters - either 2 dire trolls or a warlord, war priest and 2 champions for my level 15 group. On the latter optional encounter I noted that I had calculated that having 1 champion was a medium encounter, 2 was a hard encounter.

But all I really had was the notes on what I could do. No preplanned encounter area, no motivation associated, nothing. But ... if the group had decided to investigate the shady guy in the ally that I just threw in for flavor I could have had an ambush set up. I also find that simply changing the description of monsters from encounters I had anticipated can also make a big difference.
 

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