Pixie in the Playground
DnD/DM Noob Seeking Advice.
Okay so I am a noob, trying my hand at DMing with a bunch of other noobs. I and one of my four party members have dabbled in DnD in the past (very briefly 3.5e, then a few years break when that fell apart, then a less brief stint with 4e a couple years ago that fell apart in the end as well). The other three members of the adventuring party are completely new to DnD but intrigued.
Basically the first time I tried to DM 4e, me and a bunch of friends who had never played DnD before all got together and tried to learn/play a game. The party was too big (6-7 adventurers + 1 DM, yikes) and 75% of the members didn't have the commitment to actually learn the mechanics or the attention span to wait for their turn. We would get together on and off for about of year, and although my players did complete one story arc it was a painful, slow learning process, and eventually it just lost steam.
Now I, the sole survivor of that previous fiasco, and the three new players would like to try our hand at DnD again. And I could use some DM pointers myself, and some pointers to help my party.
1) Combat seems very slow paced.
It would take quite a few rounds, with good rolls, to eliminate what should be easy enemies. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that people didn't pay attention or learn their character's abilities very well, but it seemed like even a fight against four or five level 1 kobolds could take ages to complete. Only to be met by more kobolds around the bend. Do DMs often run into this problem, or do my players just need to waste less time maneuvering around and looking up the power they just used five minutes ago to just hit the darn things?
2) I was always unsure whether to run a homebrew adventure or a pre-made one.
The pre-mades never really held our group's attention for long, especially since we of course started with the level 1 fare. Kobolds jump out of a bush this, kobolds that. Why? Because Kobolds. So eventually we decided to just let me try to come up with my own setting/adventure (aspiring writer, bluh bluh) and though they were far more interested in the story suddenly, I am of course a complete newb DM and had no idea what I was doing mechanics or balance-wise. Even going by monster manual and Dungeon Master's Guide guidelines I felt like most of my encounters came off too easy. And of course I sucked and need practice at dealing with improvisation. I tend to think of a story arc or story path, and gently guide my players there instead of railroad them, but when the wander off the path I just kind of freeze up and take a while to figure out what actually lies to the south of a town I've just planned out the north and east of.
At level 1, you aren't going to be finding ridiculous magical items and as new players, my players won't be finding ingenious new ways to break the game and troll me or each other. They're still trying to get into the mindset of roleplaying in general. Thus I think its important that my players at least get an interesting story to start out their foray into DnD, because it will take some getting used to the mechanics before we can start to have fun in other ways. And like I said, story-wise, my group(s) have enjoyed my home made stuff much better than any pre-made adventure we have attempted. Game/mechanic -wise, I am not very skilled and unsure of my green DM ability to keep the game mechanically engaging.
So like, as a newb DM with newb players should I even bother homebrewing anything, or just stick to pre-made adventures?
3) How can I help my players get into the game?
My friends/players are all interested in DnD, but have a hard time wrapping their heads around it. I own a few 4e books (three core books, then player's handbook 2 and 3) myself and no one else in my group does. I'm sure they have the spare cash to cough up for their own player's handbooks, but they aren't sure they want to pick one up if they don't even know what they think of the game yet.
However, from my brief experience as a DM and newb DnDer and veteran DnD anecdotes, I think that they kind of need to show their own initiative for an adventure to be fun. They need to make their own characters instead of having me guide them through it, they need their own books to figure out the mechanics, they need to think of their own unique ways to solve problems and act in the game world instead of just the most obvious path all the time. No one is really inventive when it comes to the actions they can take, their character's personality and story, or use of the game mechanics. There's this whole big open gaming experience and I feel like sometimes they don't even know where to start.
They don't think enough about their character motivations, they don't know where to go unless I gently hint at treasure this way or story that, and they don't know how to roll their own characters really fully or understand the game mechanics, and they kind of look to me for guidance in all of it. How can I help them not be so noob at tabletop games when I am barely more than a noob myself, and what are some good ways to entice them to better roleplay and to really figure out the mechanics for themselves, instead of them just describing an action they want to take and leaving it to me to crunch the numbers and figure out how it all works?
4) Should I use a map and miniatures?
We so far have been playing using a gridded map and miniatures. I can't tell whether these things are helpful or problematic to roleplay.
On the one hand, the map+miniatures give you an exact idea of where your character is and any other creatures are in a given area. It helps you visualize combat in a way you otherwise wouldn't be able to, and gives the layout of the area outside of combat. However in some ways it can inhibit roleplay.
Of course, if you have a bunch of goblins enter a room, but have no goblin minis, as a dumb example (I have a dozen goblin minis) then you have to just pull out a hound or something and say "oh, but this one's a goblin too." Or start whipping out pennies and other change. With large groups of enemies, or enemies that are all different kinds, it gets very distracting to have to use minis or tokens that are very clearly not the creature they are intended to represent. Further, I feel it gets my players thinking too linearly. It takes out the roleplay and inserts too much game, if you will. They don't think of creative ways to win encounters or use the environment or take non-combat actions: the second combat starts, its all about just moving their pieces so they can kill the enemy pieces. And that's what it really feels like the minis do to the game. It almost seems to me that use of miniatures takes my players out of the imaginary world their characters inhabit, and turns everything into game pieces on a game board. I'm not sure I like this, at all.
So I have considered attempting to just nix minis completely. Maybe draw an area map, maybe not, but just carry the adventure out through verbal communication. "You enter the bar, around you are various patrons..." etc etc, without whipping out the minis and drawing a new map every time. Isn't this how DnD is sometimes, if not commonly, played? Even as recently as 3.5e? Besides, my map drawing skills are awful lol.
I think this is the biggest problem my group faces.The combination of long combat slogs, being overwhelmed by all the game's mechanics, and focusing on where our little game pieces are on our little game board all serve to take us out of character and into "this is a game" mentality. It's a lot to deal with as a noob DM, with new players! Is there any advice you guys could offer on any of these points?