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Public DMing Advice

Hi there,

I'm working with a local brewery to host a monthly D&D 5E game night, which I will DM. I am a very experienced DM, but have never done so in a public setting with random players.

As far as I know, there's no real gaming community in my area. So, I have no idea how many will show, nor what their experience level may be.

To cast as wide a net as possible, I am going to allow both experienced players and those that want to learn to play for the first game. I will have pregenerated characters for those that need them and use a published adventure to start with (thinking the one in either the Starter or Essentials set).

Since I also run a regular weekly game which takes up tons of bandwidth, I will only be able to run this once a month.

That all said... how do I keep a game like this going every month? Assuming there's nobody else to DM, how do I handle leveling characters if every month there may be new, inexperienced players showing up? How do I keep experienced players engaged if I have to teach new players every session?

What other pitfalls should I look out for, and what other tips can you give me?

Thanks!
 

Bawylie

Explorer
Well, if I were in your shoes, I would use pregen characters at 3rd level and forget advancement altogether.

I would not run any kind of continuing story or adventure path. Probably best to stick to a dungeon/monster of the month setup.

And I’d have very clear win/lose conditions proposed up front. Maybe even points so you could declare a monthly “winner.” Or have all the viewers vote on the winner. That might be cool too.
 
Awesome, good luck!

In my experience, if you run an open D&D table, people will show up, provided the word gets out there. Add beer to the mix and I’d think you’d be golden.

As far as the levelling thing, I find different things for monsters to do other than damage. They might use the shove action, try to grapple them, or just ignore them until they’re a threat. For powerful AOE effects (like a dragon’s breath weapon), I gave my lower level players the option to use a reaction to take cover and avoid the entire attack, also sacrificing their turn to do so.

In my experience, there’s always going to be experienced players that are also willing and excited to help new folks learn the game. It doesn’t all have to fall on the DM. Offloading that work onto some of the players helps get them invested, too.

One of the things I would advise is to know what your table size limit is as a DM, and stick to it. I went over mine at times, and it was definitely less fun for everyone, including myself.

Finally, you don’t have to tolerate bad behavior at the table. If someone cheats or says things that make the table less welcoming to people, give them a warning, then give them the boot the second time there’s an infraction. There are always more, better, players.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
That all said... how do I keep a game like this going every month? Assuming there's nobody else to DM, how do I handle leveling characters if every month there may be new, inexperienced players showing up? How do I keep experienced players engaged if I have to teach new players every session?
In-jokes and references to the classic game can keep experienced players entertained, as a last resort, you can even let them regale the table with tales of their old characters. Level-up the un-used pregens so new entrants can step in at the same level as everyone else. Or, don't bother with experience, pick a level, like, oh, 3rd*, and just always run at that level. And just show up and run it every month, start promptly, even if you have only one player, let others jump in if/when they show, make it fun, every time. Nothing keeps a game going like always being there.












*3rd is the new 1st! PC's don't die so easy, you can have a fighter/cleric/magic-user...
Yeah, that never caught on.
 

aco175

Explorer
I guess it would be like at a convention where you have random players and random experience levels showing up. You will also have some players that continue to show up and be wither helpful or not. There have been some boards here about in school where 40 kids showed up to play and they needed to break down into a couple groups. You may have to prepare to be coordinator and not DM if you have lots of people show up and think it is more a mini-convention each month and not just for 6 people who show up first.

Hopefully you find another DM and a few players that offer to help and you can have someone that emails everyone or makes a Facebook page or such.

I may be tempted to start how you lined it out and let recurring player continue to play the same PCs. Copy something similar to Adventure League and you should be ok
 

DM Dave1

Explorer
Run it West Marches style like the guy with that Kickstarter thing describes (whose book I got today - finally and well worth the wait! - but I digress)

Only, you do have a regular time and place. It's all one shots from the same home base/town/village/whatever. Return players can be rewarded by bringing back their characters and potentially leveling up. A mixed level party can work just fine. Players who have shown up a handful of times might be invited to create a second character (at first level) to throw into the mix - picking whichever character they wish to play that week.

I'm going to guess after six months or so of running a regular game at the brewery, word will be out and you'll be needing to turn some players away due to space limitations or you'll need to get another DM to help run another table!

Have fun!
 

Shiroiken

Explorer
Rather than trying to run a true "campaign," I would instead consider running it old school tournament style. Find/create a short adventure that can be completed in a single session, and make pre-gen characters designed specifically for this adventure. I'd start mostly with level 1-3 characters at first, because the higher the level, the more complicated a character can be (I recently played in a one shot using a 20th level character I built, but forgot about half my abilities during the game). If you have experienced players, you can ask them to help mentor the newer ones, possibly going over the characters before the session starts. If you want to help keep people engaged in running these types of games, I have two suggestions.

The first is to simply update the pre-gen characters, so that anyone who played before can pick up the character again. You might remove or add pre-gens as needed, based on the needs of the adventure. If you do this, I'd also recommend that you slowly progress the levels of play, perhaps running a couple level 1-2 adventures before leveling them, and slowly raising the levels (maybe every 3-4 sessions). Not only will it be easier to keep track of the pre-gens, but it will keep another level of consistency for the regular players. The downside is that you NEED to make more and more detailed character sheets, so that if a new player comes in during a 5th level adventure, they can understand the character.

The second would be to look up the old tournament adventures to see who they scored. You can make your own based on these, and show the players how they've done. This way they can see what did well and what they might improve. Experienced players might find this as a challenge, to keep improving their score each adventure, which will help offset the slow leveling.


Final note: whenever you run a public game, keep it PG and set down any rules against inter-party conflict right away. The first is to keep people from freaking out (not everyone is cool with rape/torture/etc. so don't do it, eve if it makes sense for the adventure). The second is to keep the game from getting bogged down by ass-hats that like to use public games as a way of ruining other people's fun (sadly, there are quite a few of these). Best of luck, and have fun!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I don't have experience with public games, but I have run a lot of pickup games with random players on Roll20. As well, my regular group and some other groups in which I play each have a pool of players they use to fill five seats per session. This is actually a very good setup because it means fewer scheduling hassles. If the DM can run the game, there's enough players in the pool to fill out at least 4 of the 5 seats. So you'd probably need to set up some kind of fair rule for this to determine who plays each session. I ask the players in my pool to work that out among themselves with fairness in mind. It works great.

I can also speak a bit about games with characters of disparate levels. It's honestly not that big a deal. I've seen up to 7 levels difference between characters and it's worked fine. Award XP after each encounter and allow leveling up during the game. (It takes minutes.) Lower level character fly through the apprentice tier when they fight alongside higher level characters, so they aren't weak for long. The key here though is you have to let a group with mixed levels choose the challenges they want to face. To that end, a plot-based adventure is not the optimal choice. You want a big adventure location like a dungeon where they can come at it from different angles according to who they have in the group that week.

This setup would suit a monthly game as well. An adventure location is simple: Go forth and explore it, kill its denizens, and take their stuff. The players establish a reason why their characters are the sorts of people interested in doing that and perhaps how they know the other people in the party (to skip past the awkward intro phase) and just have at it. The story is what happens to the characters as they explore the location. No need to worry about remembering too many details, though if they do, it may help them. Get into the action quickly and end on a high note. Easy peasy.

If you have the time for a regular game as well, use the monthly game to meet players. Pick the best of the lot and ask them to join a regular campaign on the side. Now you've got a regular, stable group of the best players in the community and you can keep the monthly game going to try new people out if a spot opens up.
 

Reynard

Adventurer
Lots of good advice about types of games to run, so I won't rehash that. But I have run a lot of public D&D, at cons and game stores and bars, and here are some things to remember:

Use your stage voice. Convention halls and breweries are LOUD places and you will want to be heard without having the scream the whole time. Speak from your diaphragm. If you have never used stage or public speaking techniques before, look them up. it's easy but might feel weird at first.

Check in visually with all your players regularly. I always stand when I run public games because it keeps me from getting lost in my notes behind the screen. Plus, if you are standing and they are sitting, it raises their attention up toward you. You will be able to tell who is looking at their phone or trying to figure out what their character sheet means or whatever. Since these will be random folks at first, you need to stay on top of their responses to the game.

Which leads into this-- be prepared to adjust things on the fly to keep the game going and keep everyone engaged. These folks sat down for a length of time to be entertained. It's your job, much more so than at your home game, to entertain them. Treat it as such.

A final thing to consider: if you are doing this for free, ask yourself why. Are you doing it to have a game to run? It doesn't sound like it. Are you doing it to expand your pool of regular players? Are you doing it just for the pure joy of running D&D? Are you doing it to hone your skills? OR are you doing it for the benefit of the brewery? As D&D becomes a thing people see as legitimate entertainment, DM's are being treated like artists asked to "work for exposure" more and more. If what you are doing is primarily to put money in someone else's pocket, consider asking for appropriate compensation (even if it is just a complementary growler). DMing is hard. DMing in public for strangers is harder. DMs should value their effort. The guys that umpire my kids baseball games make $60 for a couple hours work doing something they love. Why shouldn't you?
 
Lots of good suggestions here. A few more ideas/tips:

-for newbies, consider color-coding the character sheets. For a recent introductory game at our local high school, I got highlighters and ran a yellow line down the skills box, highlighted the AC in purple, etc. Then when I asked for info, I could tell them what color to look for on their sheet. (NOTE: this doesn't work for colorblind players. So ask at the table if anyone is colorblind.)

-I always have a house rule that the party stays within 1 level of each other, so players who have been out of circulation for a bit, or new players "level up" to 1 level behind the highest leveled character in the party. I'm not as skilled at DMing as iserith, so I find this works better for me. YMMV.

-I agree that one-shots loosely connected are the best bet for this setting. For that reason, Dragonspire Peak is a better choice than Lost Mines. That said, with just a little bit of work, the sidequests from Lost Mines could easily be adapted to work with Dragonspire Peak: just add them to the "quest board" options. Even the Cragmaw outpost and Cragmaw castle could work this way; Wave Echo Cave is probably too long to work that way.

-While AL modules are of varying quality, they are nicely contained one-shots that are designed for public games where the party configuration varies from week to week. I don't recommend sticking to official AL rules, as I think that will hamper you. But I found the modules helpful in my weekly and theoretically drop-in game at our local library.

-bring extra dice (probably a no brainer) and think about getting this dice Cheat Sheet from DMs Guild to hand out to your players.

As a follow-up to Reynard's final thoughts/comments: if you are doing this at the brewery's request, I would encourage you to ask them to cover the costs for things like AL modules.
 

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