Tag Archives: DM

The Awkward, the Bad and the Great – Dealing with the Players

It is often all down to the DM to run the game and make it a good one. There’s always the expectation that this game is going to be as good as the last one or better. It’s capitalism of the RPG world – they want more and more each session. But the game isn’t purely the responsibility of the DM; players are there too and the expectations of all involved should be considered.

The expectations of the players are more varied than we might think; some are there for the story, others for the thrill of the dice and fewer, thankfully, are there to roll dice and crunch the numbers like Scrooge on Tax Day. Unfortunately for you, as the DM, you have to balance all of these aspects, but you shouldn’t pander to them all – it’s your game too.

I’m going to assume that you play with people you know, that they are reasonable people. I expect there are unreasonable players out there – the internet is full of those stories, so I’ll touch on those style of players too.

This article is about the bad players, the awkward players, but also the good players – and we’ll cover how to deal with the bad ones, and encourage the good ones. But first, let’s talk about the ones that aren’t bad players, they’re just… awkward.

This is all my opinion, and you’re welcome to discuss them, share some stories of your own – we can only learn more.

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The Awkward Ones

The awkward ones, like the Deep Ones, are often hidden at first. We may think that their first character is just a bit of a buffoon and that soon they’ll get into the story. Sadly however this will not always be the case; sometimes we see an Awkward One develop and we need to make sure they don’t derail the story accidentally, or otherwise.

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Comedic or one-dimensional characters may seem like a little light relief the first time have a tendency to become habit for some players. The first time it’s all fun and there’s no problems, but often these players will see it as scoring social points for themselves; it will feel good for them and so the habitual pathology sets in, the player now thinking that funny = best game ever! Eventually this will ruin the flavour and immersion of the game.

How do you deal with this sort of situation? In my experience the best solution is tact. Quite often a player like this needs attention, which in itself is not a bad things; we all need attention sometimes, but for the comedic player, it feels new and good and they probably don’t realise.

Give them a bit of space to enjoy being comedic, but encourage wit and humour rather than outlandish and excessive. A quiet chat after the first session to explain to them that actually, yes it can be amusing, but the harmony of the game is broken by the ever increasing hair brained ideas. People will laugh, then chuckle, then get tired real quick of it. There’s no need to kick them out of the group, if they’re willing to keep their exaggerated theatrics in check. Promise to reassess the situation if they seem amenable to the idea.

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The DM who Hijacked your game thinks they know better or perhaps don’t realise they are not the focus of attention anymore. This is normally purely accidental; as DMs we can grow accustomed to the idea of being the focus of attention, since we run the game and very little interaction or action occurs without our help. This one is fairly simple, you call the shots for this game, don’t be bullied into changing your mind, unless of course the idea they put forward is sound.

Chatter boxes, or social annoyances, who talk about non game stuff and don’t know when to stop, potentially ruining the immersion and tension in the game. I tend to get this out of the system of players before the game starts by having a catch up chat, getting all the news out in the open and discussed before sitting everyone down. I also ask that all media that isn’t relevant to the game is taken away or turned off, or at least not in sight.

If it’s persistent, you can ask that player, politely and aside from the others at a later time, if they want to be there to play the game or just because their friends are there. It’s cool to hang out, but don’t detract from the fun of the game that we enjoy.

Showboaters just love the attention and want to get in on the action whenever they can. This isn’t bad for a game that needs a bit of life injected into it (especially if it has been a hard day at the office). What isn’t cool is overriding other players or butting in on their turns to act.

This is a hard juggle, but as DM you are justified to point out whose turn it is, and that if a player needs the showboaters help or advice, they can ask for it. Remember, we don’t want to cut off their enthusiasm, we just want to let them know that other players are entitled to the limelight too.

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The Bad Ones

Before I get into the stereotypes of bad players, I’m going to talk about the nature of the conversation around your gaming table (or wherever). It is best to openly discuss with your players before you start playing what sort of behaviour you all find acceptable during the game and on the sidelines; I’m talking about racism and sexism, amongst others.

It is perfectly acceptable to have these as elements in the game, it is after all usually set in a backward or less liberal society than our own. For this reason, you should let people have a say in what they find comfortable. If it’s a no from them, it should be a no from you, and vice-versa. D&D is an inclusive and cooperative game, and relaxed participants make far better adventuring buddies!

If it does crop up during play, as the DM you should be able to tone it down and talk to the offenders after the game session to suggest they tighten up – it’s ok to hate another race of people in character, but it shouldn’t spill into the real world, the same applies for sexism. If it happens that either of these topics comes out into play and is directed player to player, rather than character to character, you must stop it right away. Call it out, quash it dead. You are the DM, and you run this game.

So, the Stereotypes…

Player stereotypes have come to be identified from the internet – the internet has given us names for the power gamers, the min/max’er, rules lawyer, and the metagamers. Before the internet (I know, was there ever such a time?) we just thought they were annoying players who happened to enjoy the same hobby, so we were delighted at having the new player along for the ride. How wrong we were!

I’ve run a good number of gaming groups beyond my primary group over the years, this is how I dealt with the unhelpful ones.

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Not to be confused with the player who creates an efficient or optimised character, the power-gamer and the Min/Max player are those who either have to have it all at the cost of nothing, or throw everything out of the window to maximise a single attribute, ability or power – and use it at every possible moment. Normally a maturity issue, or the feeling of helplessness in their real lives leads them to want to show the world that they can do the thing, and force it on every situation.

Dealing with these players can be tackled in two ways in my experience: critically evaluate any character sheet prior to your game, with time to allow for changes, or subject your players to constrained resources, for example, only character material from the core Player’s Handbook may be used. As much as I love unearthed arcana and supplemental material, they tend to promote niche ideas into the game which can feel over balanced. These players will then latch onto these cool ideas, and completely overplay them.

Rules Lawyers: Players who spend most of their game in the source material, or spend all their free time reading the books and remembering every single bit of detail are fine, even helpful, like little biological libraries you can call on just by asking. However, it is the ones who keeping calling you out as the DM for your mistakes or lax enforcement of the rules who are the problem. Nothing ruins a cool cinematic moment when the party are about to hit the jackpoint with an amazing idea when the Rules Lawyer calls a stop to the game with the immortal opening line “I think you’ll find…”

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There are very simple ways to explain this or overcome the problem.

First, all the source books ever made for games like Dungeons & Dragons, every single one, are purely guidelines given the misnomer of rules. You, as the DM, are capable of overriding some of those rules now and again if you think it works or if you think for this occasion they can be fudged – heck, most of being a DM is fudging the rules to get the most out of player interactions.

Secondly, if you’re more diplomatic and want to avoid arguments in game, call upon your powers as a DM to completely override their opinion, but only with the promise to review the rules stated after the session and come to a compromise. Or, for this session only you can maintain your DM ruling, and endeavour to assess the rule for next time. Rules lawyers can be compromised with – if they don’t want that, then they are free to evaluate their expectations of your game. You’ll welcome them back with open arms if they wish to return.

Metagamers are those players who use information or knowledge beyond the scope of their character. Weirdly, if you’ve been playing D&D for decades, it is almost impossible to not metagame on some level. There are always repeat or extreme offenders though. It may seem like they’re just being lucky in their assumptions about that monster at first, but eventually you’ll realise that the metagamer is using his or her outside knowledge to influence their actions and maybe even the actions of others.

I deal with this foible in a few different ways: I can ‘reskin’ my monsters in their appearance or stats to keep the metagamer on their toes by describing monsters differently or altering their behaviour style and resistance qualities and combat abilities (which can get exhausting without proper planning). But what if the player is metagaming the plot or story?

Plot metagamers use their vast knowledge of fantasy and sci-fi to guess where your adventure story is going by relying on troupes, or popular fiction to base their predictions on. When this happens, it can be frustrating; the story is often the most creative part of the DM process. How did I deal with this? Well if you can’t avoid current popular stories from movies and fiction, I suggest you plan your adventures with an open ending – whatever the plan was, whoever is the bad guy, make them the second to last badguy, and put someone else who they’ve met previously as the badder bad guy.

Or tell them to get out. 😉

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Good Players and Encouraging New Players

This is the nice, positive part to being the DM.

I’ll make this brief, but you get the idea:

Good players…

  • Role-play and encourage role-play from new and old players.
  • They go with the flow regarding your narrative choices and instead of sulking justify the response of their character to keep things going without selling out on their character.
  • They don’t argue with your choices but if they get really narked, they’ll talk to you about it after the session, like a grown-up.
  • They ask pertinent questions, sometimes thinking aloud and usually on their own turn.
  • They play balanced characters, even after 20 years of gaming and realise there’s more to the game than crunching the numbers.
  • Characters they create have flaws, and if they didnt at creation time, they relish the flaws that develop organically from the game – they don’t whine and resist when things go bad – its part of the game.
  • They don’t expect special treatment, but they enjoy their share of the stage lights.

Thoughts and opinions? I’m all ears!

J.D Ferris, CC

 

How to be the DM (new and old) Part 2: Setting the Atmosphere

A few weeks ago, I talked about being the DM, with tips, hints and suggestions on how to approach being the DM (or GM). Today I’m going to be covering some more topics related to the atmosphere of your game; how to set it up physically and how to get the mood and tone right to really ensnare your players into your game.

Most of the advice found herein stems from developing attention and emotional investment by suspending a players belief to allow them to magically slip into the game world.

Let’s get started.

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Placement

It really depends on your situation as to where you can play your games. If you don’t have your own place it can be tricky to find somewhere quiet to set up and play. If you’re in school or college, try and get a room organised (heck, you could even start your own club if you need to!) Lunchtime adventures can be a great escape in the workplace too (it’s possible in some places).

Whether you have your own place or not, try to be somewhere quiet without the chance of interruption. Why? Well if it’s quiet and there’s no distractions your party of players will likely be focused and give the game, and you, their full attention, which helps keep the session flowing and doesn’t break the growing tension as the story develops.

Furniture & Props

When I talk about furniture I’m talking about where you sit and play. Ideally, a table and chairs are great to start a gaming session – everyone is facing into the same space, you can see the other players from the table and you can get eye contact, which is important in a game that relies on communication.

I’ve found that having benches instead of chairs really brings people together and can be more comfortable than sitting in a small chair for several hours. Give people a break now and again – stretching your legs and hooking up to reddit or Facebook should help refresh your players and the DM.

And as for Props: I’m not talking suits of armour and wizards’ hats, but they’re cool if you or a player can afford costume. Go for it, whatever helps you get into your character mindset. On a simpler scale though, I am suggesting candles to really set the atmosphere. If you’re in the part of the world where it gets dark early, candle light can really get the mood going. Candle light is not dissimilar to firelight, which our ancestors sat around and told tales as a source of entertainment. You could argue that natural light sources are kindling to our imaginations and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s in our blood.

A note on candles however – you’re dealing with fire and likely lots of paper and other flammable objects. Keep it simple if your table is small. Tealights are a simple way of creating candle light, but if you can afford pillar candles or votive style candles, then that’s helpful. Be careful!

Too dark? Small desk lamps aimed low and down can help those with poor night vision.

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Verbal Descriptions

As the DM, your descriptions are the vital source of information in the D&D, or any role-play game for that matter. Without your descriptions you are losing the element of the story and likely your game will feel flat. This isn’t a bad thing for some groups where the game is more about tactical dice rolling, but for any other style of play, it’s vital.

So where do you start?

Here’s a few simple things to consider. Mix them up a bit to keep them fresh.

  • Sight – this is the obvious one. You walk into any room with a light source and you take in your surroundings. Commonly overlooked in descriptions is the level of light in an area. For Dungeons & Dragons, some races can see in the dark much better than other races so you’ll need to describe the surroundings in a way that gives low-light and dark-vision some weight to the game. For characters who are effectively blind in the dark, give them snippets of information based on their sense of smell and hearing.
  • Sound – Sound is something you can experience before you enter an area or place. Often it can be as simple as silence, but even silence can be described in different ways: is the silence oppressive, does it instill a sense of danger? Could the silence be pregnant with anxiety or tension, perhaps it is not total silence and echoes or rumbles with sound from other areas, giving clues to future encounters.
  • Smell – Much like sound, our olfactive sense can give clues as to the nature of a contents of a room or place before we get close. Even on a subconscious level, our sense of smell is constantly working to warn us of dangers. Unlike the other senses however, smell can be overridden; a dairy farmer will quickly get used to the smell of cow manure to the point where they can no longer perceive it, allowing them to pick up smells that others would struggle to notice. Don’t overdo the sense of smell, it can give a lot away about the contents of a room or place… or it can mask the rotting undead waiting around the corner – there’s a reason wizards and necromancers use incense in their rituals.
  • Touch – Our sense of touch may never be from direct contact, but it can help build a sense of growing horror in dark places like a dungeon. The primary sense of touch your players will need to know regards the temperature of the room. Is it cold? Did the temperature suddenly change from one room to another? Our sense of ambient temperature can instill a sense of fear, or it can be overridden by wonder and curiosity.

So how do you verbalise this information and how can we describe the contents of the room?

My personal rule about describing a location is to avoid specific dimensions right away; you can say it’s a large room or a small room, but the moment you start describing in feet and inches you can lose some interest – the prize of specifics immediately comes at the cost of interest and immersion.

So, I find the best places to start is to hit the players with whatever is most noticeable first; the things that move. Our eyes are programmed to follow movement, especially in situations that we consider dangerous. Ecologists develop an unfortunate knack of focusing on movement because they can spend days grabbing small mammals and putting them in safe places (can confirm).

The exception to this rule is when you’re trying to create tension. Let’s say the characters fall into a room in their attempt to escape and you want them to see a creature holding a blade to an innocent person’s throat; which sounds better:

“As you fall into the room you see a large red skinned creature with horns holding a young farmer with a knife to his throat.”

Or

“You spill into the room and find yourself in a richly decorated chamber of silks and cushions, lit with a roaring hearth. In the centre of the room, with the fire dancing in his eyes, a young farmer stands, stiff and pale. One arm is held tightly behind his back, the other is stretched out as if to keep you at bay. From over his shoulder a wicked slashed smile filled with glistening fangs taunts you. A demon has a knife to the young man’s throat…”

One is basic and to the point, and even though the other doesn’t give you all the information we’ve discussed previously, it builds the tension up. Your players know that there is something special in the room even as you start to describe it, and it sets the scene one piece at a time, culminating with the priority of the encounter.

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Opening Speeches

No one is expecting a theatrical overture all the time, but getting your opening descriptions perfect really brings the focus and attention of your players right up and into the game. I touched on this previously, so I’ll repeat it here:

Hit them with your first line like it means something. Start this bad boy up likes it’s a chromed Harley Davidson signed by Meatloaf, discovered by a post-apocalyptic tribe 200 years from now. Go full throttle on those natives and let them have it! But how do you do this?

I’ll tell you how!

Have your first or opening lines practiced. Get everyone settled in; all rules checked up with no more questions left to be asked. Depending on the type of story you’ve gone for, the players will determine your first line, to a degree. For me, I sometimes start my party in peril so they have to pay attention or they die.

But for first-time adventures you may want to set the tone like any good author would. There are tonnes of this information on the net, but I’ll give you my opinion.

Which sounds better?

“OK, so you’re sat in a busy tavern when someone walks up to your table and says they need to talk to you in private…”

Or…

“It is night time in autumnal Ostogar, the town of bones. The Black Boar tavern is in full swing and the patrons, a colourful plethora of cultures and races sing and drink together, enjoying the sanctuary of warmth from the bitter cold outside. In the midst of the crowd, two cloaked figures catch your eye. They seem to be trying to get your attention without raising their voice over the merry din. What do you do?”

OK so maybe I’ve embellished a little bit here and there. But the idea is pretty obvious. Even if you don’t maintain this level of detail all the way through your game session, you still got everyone drawn in from the very start. The players will already be thinking along the same lines and wondering what is going to happen.

My example is pretty vanilla here, but that’s OK for an example.

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Music & Soundscapes

This final portion of advice is more of a luxury but can seriously add some depth and immersion to your gaming session. It can also go horribly wrong, so fair warning.

Music in gaming sessions can be very hit or miss, with the tone of the music required to be just right for the moment of the story. Music can really bring things to life if the right tracks are played at the right time. I use a mixture of Spotify and YouTube to create playlists which cover most moods I am trying to portray in a game.

But it essentially comes down to taste.

Here are a few examples which may give you ideas:

I have created a playlist in YouTube for an adventure into some ancient elven ruins. For me, the ideal type of music is something haunting, which creates vistas of crumbling stone and a forlorn hope of regaining a golden age, whilst also feeling lonely. The music I use for this; Warhammer 2 Total War, the High Elf campaign tracks. It fits perfectly with the images I want to portray.

To build a gritty and expanding / progressive battle I collected music on Spotify from the Viking TV series but Trevor Morris. The combination of natural instruments with male and female vocalists brings a very personal note to a violent situation, and aren’t necessarily full of ‘epic’ music (which I personally find distracting and a little bit too good guys fight bad guys, black and white vanilla, ‘my first adventure’ kind of vibe – yeah it was a ramble).

Where can it go wrong?

Well if you bring music into your game it may give players the wrong impression, or it may be from a film or game which they didn’t like. This probably won’t be an issue to most gaming groups but it’s possible.

And what if you don’t want music?

Well there’s some interesting ‘soundscapes’ available on YouTube. Soundscapes are collections of sounds stitched together seamlessly to create ambient or atmospheric sounds. Need to hear a busy market place for an encounter; sure, there’s loads. Want something gothic and creepy for your Curse of Strahd campaign; there’s even specific tracks for that.

YouTube is a wealth of resources for this sort of thing. I can recommend Sword Coast Soundscapes for this, they have an extensive list of tracks to choose from.

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So how is the atmosphere made?

Drawing all of this together, I will give you an example of a recent gaming session I ran. I realise not everyone is as lucky to have a similar setup, but here goes…

The game was meant to be dark, wintery and take place mostly in a small town, Ostogar. The setup of the adventure was to take place in a tavern call the Black Boar – the only place open at this time of the month due to local superstition. The Black Boar inn is full of traders of all cultures and races, the only place they could all stay warm in the winter. For this tavern I played a rowdy tavern soundtrack, which I increased the volume of as they approached the building and then cranked up more as they entered.

I have a wooden table, with a slatted surface and a slightly rough texture, just like a tavern table. I set out some homemade candles (beeswax) and placed them around the gaming table. I made sure there was enough light and turned off all artificial light.

Before I knew what was happening, my players were whispering conspiratorially under the crowd of the soundscape, huddling in to listen to each other to plan and discuss the other patrons. I could hear them talk from the other side of the table, so I know it wasn’t too loud, it was the atmosphere made them drawn in together.

The game was a huge success as a single session adventure and some of the old-time players have asked to be invited back for more. My adventure was mediocre at best (I lie, I loved it), but the game really took off because of the immersion.

I hope this has given you some ideas, and I’d love to hear and discuss any suggestions you might have!

J.D Ferris, CC

How to be the Dungeon Master (DM)

So you’re going be the Dungeon Master (DM) for your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? You want to leave your players breathless, panting for more and unsure if they can take another mouthful of awesomeness?

I’ve seen it before; in your head there’s a legendary adventure waiting to vomit out from every orifice in your face and splurge itself onto the page.

You want to be the best goddamn master of the dungeon to ever grace the halls of adventuring. The dramatic music starts, your pencil plunges down toward the pristine sheet of paper.

You’ve got this. It’s happening. Like the impetus of the virgin lover, you stab down that pencil-lead and besmirch the paper.

Except that at the moment of climatic pencil to paper contact you have doubt. Your hand wavers, your fingers loosen and your pencil… it’s dropped to the desk, rolling slowly off the desk.

Don’t worry.

It happens to everyone.

You all want to play Dungeons & Dragons and it’s no easy feat to draw up a gaming session to please everyone. Either you drew the short straw and you have to write the game, working like a pack mule, or you chose the role of DM as a creative outlet because you’re pretty avant-garde.

I’m going to cover some simple basics; the role of the DM, knowing your players, what to prepare, an example of an adventure setup and finally some notes on starting your first session.

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So here’s how it works; here is how you turn that dripping mucus of a brain into the well-toned 80’s sword and sorcery hero.

I am assuming you’ve read through the 3 core books from Wizards of the Coast (WotC): the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Monster Manual – all available online or in your local gaming store!

If you don’t have a copy or cant afford the ones you need, you could try these helpful PDFs provided by Wizards of the Coast.

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Before we Begin…

Let’s get a few things clear about being the Dungeon Master / Games Master (DM / GM).

The DM acts as a type of story teller and referee rolled into one. You set the scene; you give cues and clues to the players, allowing each of them a chance to act with their character. You are not their adversary, despite being all the goodies and baddies in the story you’re trying to portray. And portray is the correct word.

You are showing them the story as they interact with it, you’re not telling them what to do, but guiding them on the journey of the story you have planned. Keep that in mind.

No one wins in D&D like in conventional games. The success of a game can be measured in the enjoyment of the players and the DM. If you enjoyed telling a story and making the players creep to the edge of their seat in anticipation, then it’s a good game. If no one has fun, it probably wasn’t worth it… but we all have to start somewhere, so as DM you must bear the burden of the players’ enjoyment, initially…

Trust me, it’s worth it.

So here are several important considerations to your first time DM session. Let’s rock this Kasbah with love and violence…

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Photo by Linus Sandvide on Unsplash

Know Thy Players…

Murder Hobos shouldn’t be the default setting for a brand new party, but be prepared!

Whether you’re delving at twelve, dirty at thirty or part time retired and kicking butt, knowing your players is the best advice you can get. I’ll tell you why with an example:

We can all watch the same film at the same time and enjoy completely different parts of it. We all went to see the film together, so we kind of enjoy the idea of the film, but some liked the love story, others enjoyed the high paced violent race and a few enjoyed the antagonistic interactions between two heroes. We like the film, but we love different bits of it.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons is exactly the same.

It helps if you know what your players like about a story. You’ll find some players are more into the story than pillaging troll caves and vice versa. This is fine, just identify who likes what. When you know this much you can add extra bits in for everyone to have a little more limelight – that extra tough monster for the barbarian to squish or the helpless stable boy trying to get the attention of the serving maid next door.

The little bits can add a lot to how the players perceive the game.

How do you know who likes what? Well, start by seeing what people want to play. A barbarian will enjoy fighting; the paladin will want a noble cause of their choosing to follow; a thief well… a thief will like collecting things; and the wizard? Well those creeps have all sorts of agendas.

Get your players to generate their characters before you plan the first game. Ask them to give their characters an agenda privately to you – you can use this later.

While you’re at it, ask them some questions about their characters and make some notes. Here’s an example:

Gwen wants to play a barbarian elf. Cool. She says her character is driven by revenge. Revenge for what? Well, Gwen explains that her barbarian lost her tribe in a cataclysmic earthquake, toppling their homes into a chasm. She thinks a powerful sorcerer may be responsible.

You don’t have to use this right away. Your first game is going to be about getting the players role-playing and enjoying their first game. But never forget those simple ideas.

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Notes, Maps & Preparation Time

So this is where the planning starts.

You’ve already got an idea of what your players want to be, and you have their agenda or motivation for adventuring. These are invaluable. But now you want to create something for them to play in.

The limitless sandpit that is your mind is about to get as hot as all the fires in all of hell!

First off: Don’t try and write everything down.

You’ll get easily bored and frustrated and when you come to run the game, you’ll be flicking through notes and papers and no doubt getting lost. Even if it’s all typed up, you’ll be scrolling around and pausing and losing the attention of the players. A second to get your bearings is fine, but you want them to be savoring your every word.

Secondly: no plan survives contact with the players.

No matter how hard you plan it, the players will always approach things differently to how you planned it. Read that bit again, here I’ll help:

The players will always approach things differently to how you planned it.

It’s like they know exactly how you DIDN’T think the encounter could go.

For this reason alone, you should have your encounters and notes prepared in such a way that you can flip to any of them at a moment’s notice. If you force them to make decisions that you want, they will feel railroaded and not enjoy the experience.

Go with the flow, but nudge them in the right direction. Give them choices as the session progresses, but always loop them back to the encounter you hoped they would find. I’ll give you an example:

You wanted the party to talk to the shady character in the tavern but they decided to take a trip to the sewers to kill goblins instead. No sweat – all you need to do is give them a brief combat encounter in the sewers, suggest they go back to the tavern to clean up and heal… and have that shady character waiting for them. The tavern keeper can approach the party when they order a hot bath and let them know that the gentleman in the cloak was asking about them.

So how do you plan an adventure and keep track of things?

You’ll need an adventure idea. Here’s my personal check list:

Your Antagonist and their Motivation

You can literally watch any episode of Scoobydoo and get a load of examples of this. Why did Mr Parkinson terrorize the farmers market? Well he wanted to tear it down and use the land to build expensive flats… those pesky kids got in the way!

OK, so not a great adventure, but you get the idea. Think up your unsavory enemy and give it an agenda, motivation and a name. Keep it simple. Then work on its stats, but keep them basic for now – if it’s a monster from the Monster Manual, that saves time.

The Plot Hook

Or more correctly: how to draw the players into your story as if it’s their own choice. This is tricky but manageable. That agenda you asked them for? Well you’ll need to try and weave that in.

Gwen from the previous example might start the game hearing of a powerful sorcerer passing through the town you set the game in – a boastful man who claimed to have the power to move hills and mountains. She won’t encounter him this game, but she may if you play again. Make it seem like this was a month or so ago – you don’t want Gwen stomping off into the wilds to find him right that moment.

The Number of Encounters

An encounter is any time the party come across someone other than each other in a meaningful way. Buying food is essential to the characters but isn’t meaningful to the game. It’s not really an encounter… unless the food market is filled with rumors pertinent to the adventure idea in your mind. Bumping into bandits or falling into a hidden pit in the middle of the forest is an encounter.

How many encounters do you need? That’s up to you. I only plan the important ones – the introduction, the request for help or the motivation to get involved, some clues gathering by asking right questions, then some combat encounters as they sum up the clues and wander off to get into trouble. Finally, the end encounter – where facing the bad guys and trying to thwart their plan occurs.

These are the encounters I record. You’ll need an idea of where each one is (market place, creepy old church, grotto in the forest they learned about from someone in the creepy church). You’ll also need to record any monster stats or if you’re quick, their page numbers in the Monster Manual.

It’s worth noting that having some extra encounters both combative and non-combative is always wise in case the players skip a lot of role-play encounters and accidentally get close to the end encounter too soon in the session you’re running.

What about maps? Well, in honesty, if you keep your first game simple, you don’t need maps, but they can add to the element of belief if you have one.

It doesn’t need to be a work of art. You can find tonnes online for free, or if you’re pockets are lined with digital silver you can purchase whole packs of them. Check out Dyson, his maps are awesome!

Rewards (if any)

Ha. Hahaha *snort!* Hahahahahahaha… *snort*

Yeah so keep this simple too; try two hundred gold coins each with some (uncommon) magical items (which you can find in the Dungeon Masters guide). If you’re not sure, you can generate treasure using random generators based on their character levels, try DonJon it’s pretty descriptive and gives a nice gold value to each bit!

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Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Wrapping up – An Example

So here’s an example of the above in brief.

  • The party meet on the road to Ostogar, where they travel briefly with some traders who say the town is pretty pent up at the moment on account of people missing (brief information encounter).
  • The party travel onward to the town and are told by the guards that they won’t tolerate bad behavior on account of the missing people. If they want info, got to the Black Boar Inn, it’s the only place open at night for strangers (brief info encounter).
  • The Black Boar Inn is a bustling multicultural place that serves traders, where the party learn of some of the missing people. Descriptions and emotive information about how much these people were loved, or how rich they were, are common) (in depth info encounter with role-play and room for high jinks).
  • They are directed to Sebby, an old clairvoyant who may be able to help them find the missing people. Sebby gives them cryptic clues as to the direction and the terrain they will have to pass to find the missing people (info and role-play puzzle as they decipher the crazy old ladies words).
  • They find a local ranger who can direct them to where she thinks they need to go, and off they set.
  • Two dangerous encounters (a wondering Ogre who wants all their stuff, and a pit trap set by the kidnapper to trap more victims).
  • They find a grotto or dungeon at the end of their trail and venture down into it. I call this a micro-dungeon, there are several traps, 3 combat encounters and brief puzzle about how to get past a locked door and…
  • The final encounter – a hag who has been torturing her victims by cutting bits off them.
  • Treasure! Yayy… oh wait there’s a twist! They find a clue… the hag is only one of three hags, so where are the other two? And there’s your link to the next gaming session.

Don’t try to go beyond what you have planned for each game. Once you run a game or two you’ll work out your pace just like you would learn to jog. Finish where your material ends, have a chat with your players and see if they can give you any feedback – accept good and bad feedback like a star player would, it’s a good mental place to be.

But don’t bend over backwards to cater for every gripe and niggle for each player. Chances are you are doing this as a favor and would love to play once in a while.

Learning to play D&D as a player is much easier than being the DM and your players should understand this.

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Starting your First Game Session

Alright, so you’ve got your story notes, you have the books with scraps of paper to bookmark the important stuff. Your dice are warmed up. You have drinks and snacks on the table and everyone has sat down to start. But what is this? One of your players is sat watching the sport on his phone!

No.

No-no.

If the game is going to work and be enjoyable, you need everyone’s attention to give this amazing game its best shot. Give your players plenty of notice that they’ll need to ignore social media for an hour or two. Give them a social media break for a bit in a nice lull in the session.

So you sit down, open your note pad or laptop.

This is it. Your imagination is about to do battle with reality. You take a second to gather your thoughts. Everyone is looking at you…

Hit them with your first line like it means something. Start this bad boy up likes it’s a chromed Harley Davidson signed by Meatloaf, discovered by a post-apocalyptic tribe 200 years from now. Go full throttle on those natives and let them have it! But how do you do this?

I’ll tell you how!

Have your first line practiced. Get everyone settled in; all rules checked up with no more questions left to be asked. Absolutely don… Dave! Put your bloody phone away!

Depending on the type of story you’re showing the players will determine your first line, to a degree. For me, I sometimes start my party in peril.

But for your first adventure, you want to set the tone like any good author would. There are tonnes of this information on the net, but I’ll give you my opinion.

Which sounds better?

“OK, so you’re sat in a busy tavern when someone walks up to your table and says they need to talk to you in private…”

Or…

“It is night time in autumnal Ostogar, the town of bones. The Black Boar tavern is in full swing and the patrons, a colorful plethora of cultures and races sing and drink together, enjoying the sanctuary of warmth from the bitter cold outside. In the midst of the crowd, two cloaked figures catch your eye. They seem to be trying to get your attention without raising their voice over the merry din. What do you do?”

OK so maybe I’ve embellished a little bit here and there. But the idea is pretty obvious. Even if you don’t maintain this level of detail all the way through your game session, you still got everyone drawn in from the very start. The players will already be thinking along the same lines and wondering what is going to happen.

My example is pretty vanilla here, but that’s OK for an example. I’ll write a blog on great opening descriptions. another time.

So there you have them; things to consider when you’re about to become the DM. It can apply to any table top game where players’ role-play with you and each other.

Go forth and smack their pretty faces with a fist full of plot!

You can thank me in the comments… right?

 

In the next installment I will cover slightly more advanced topics:

  • Setting the Atmosphere
  • Dealing with Players (who won’t play fair)
  • DM’ing & Your Anxiety