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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Lightbulb [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    I originally posted this here, but believed it warranted its own thread.

    D&D is a time sink! Learning the rules, being a manager of players and characters, and preparing scenarios worth experiencing may as well be a part-time if not a full-time job. If you aren't ready to spend 2 to 3 hours per week planning (and in some cases, per day) then most likely, you are not ready. You can try to improvise, but the game is so much better when it is thoroughly planned!

    One of my friends compared D&D prep time to doing homework. Writing area and creature descriptions, talking with your players, drawing maps, and making the game will take a long time. It's like making a commercial RPG, but for your friends and with fewer graphics.

    I compare DM prep work to writing for a weekly TV show. There are constant deadlines, expectations of quality, and expectations of continuity.

    Start with a solid premise! If you aren't sure what you want in your campaign world, or/and you don't throughly know the world like your favorite hobby, expect the campaign to fail. Floundering around only works so long, and improvisation can only cover so much. Like with most things, you need a compelling reason to spend so much time setting up a game for your group to play, and if something of your heart isn't overflowing with eagerness, you are not ready.

    You don't necessarily need an entire world planned out to every detail, but you should have a solid idea of what's happening in country/town/city/area X at this time. If the PCs are involved in this area, you need to plan a lot more.

    Your players will look to you for leadership. If you aren't enthused, don't expect them to be either. If you are enthused, they're more likely to be hooked.

    It's a game, not a story. A game, being interactive, is not like a novel where the plot is fully predetermined. As DM, you can reasonably have goals and desires for the players, but the best DMs let the characters' actions determine event outcomes. Maybe you didn't intend for Baron Farknock to die by a stray fireball, but if that's what the dice declare, you have one flambed baron and the plot adjusts accordingly.

    DMs and players should not compete with one another! DMs can always win because the rules let them do anything.

    For DMs, this means using the rules responsibly to foster the fun of all, and acting as a loving, just, and patient master. Your job is to keep things interesting and not too lethal; otherwise, the group won't be able to explore your vast world and experience other challenges. Talk with your players and get their feedback, especially about what they (dis)like. Maybe pool funds with your players to pay for pizza and sustenance.

    For players, this means helping your DM when asked, playing by the established rules, talking with your DM, providing him feedback, and playing responsibly. Maybe pool funds with your DM and fellow players to pay for pizza and sustenance.

    Let your players learn to trust you. I roll in the open, in plain view of all. I don't like fudging dice as that obviates the purpose of rolling. In doing so, my players have learned to trust what happens. Victory is earned honestly, and so is defeat. My adherence to the rules has earned me the title of "Rules Lawyer," but my rulings are consistent.

    Know the D&D 3.5 rules (Pathfinder version) and plan for scenarios where characters can use their abilities! Your first order of business should be to fully read through the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide. You can skim the stats for sample NPCs in the DMG, but know what the abilities do! Pay particular attention to rules regarding attacks of opportunity and to what spells do.

    Work within the rules to make interesting scenarios. A fly spell may seem like a cheap win, but expect a level 5 Wizard to learn it. It's just his character. Likewise, Divinations, Illusions, and Enchantments offer potent options for creative players. If you make your story with the expectation of characters using their abilities (teleport, scrying, charm person, dominate person, find the path, silent image, speak with dead, detect thoughts, modify memory) then it's more enjoyable for everyone. If you haven't realized it by now, magic wins D&D.

    In general, players like being told what to do. As one of my friends put it, "I play games to relax." Most people don't come to the game table after a week of researching the rules and say, "Show time!"

    Plot-wise, assume you will need to spell out every available option. Withholding any of this information will likely cause confusion and lack of motivation for your group.

    There is a limit to this hand-holding, however. For example, if a DM-run player character starts barking orders about almost everything, players will probably want to silence him.

    This topic is quite subjective from group to group. Talk with your players.

    World-wise, D&D is a game of medieval superheroes. Heroic fantasy is closer to Lord of the Rings than D&D. By level 6, characters can fly, heal most painful maladies, and 'mess' with the world as a bunch of fledgeling superheroes. Crowd control spells (grease, glitterdust, color spray, slow, solid fog, Evard's black tentacles...) will usually force a save versus uselessness. Every creature (your side or theirs) is one failed save away from uselessness, usually for effects lasting 1 round per level or more.

    Talk with the community. Brilliant Gameologist people are friendly and knowledgeable about the system. Learn what works well in the system and advise your players likewise.

    The core rules have the greatest density of the most powerful options. Iconic spells like polymorph and teleport are core. As mentioned above, spells that quickly end fights or require special planning are core. Two of the game's best feats, Leadership (Dungeon Master's Guide 106) and Improved Initiative (Player's Handbook 96), are core.

    Splatbooks (accessories, sundries, supplements) provide more options, but in general are nowhere near as powerful as stuff in the core rules.

    Almost all sources (the core rules especially) contain many 'newbie trap' options. +1 AC some of the time (Dodge) probably isn't worth a feat. +4 initiative all the time (Improved Initiative) probably is.

    I heard the designers did this so players would learn to scout out the best options and optimize. It rewards research, in short. I also believe this is a bad game design philosophy.

    Pathfinder, at its heart, is a slightly modified D&D 3.5. Pathfinder doesn't fix the fundamental balance issues of 3.5. Classes change in power, but most the core spells are unchanged.

    Listen to your players! They may not come out and say it, but if they're more interested in dozing off, checking MySpace, or playing video games, that means you need to seriously consider your position as a DM. What do they want and what do you want? Maybe you can reconcile the two.

    I advise awarding experience based on story progress, not on kill. That way, people are likely to play smarter and less violently, and you control when people level. Tell your group in advance if you do this. Also, nix XP components on spells (usually require an item worth 5x the XP cost) and nix the XP cost from crafting magic items. Pathfinder already does this.

    Learn why each class is in its tier. Overall, casters alter reality and non-casters hit stuff. There is no reconciling the two. Casters get more options more cheaply than non-casters, and casters are generally regarded as being more fun.

    This split in class power and options is only a problem if the players don't like things as-is!

    Remember, the CR system is a guideline. WotC assumed a 4 person party of blaster Wizard, healbot Cleric, skillsman Rogue, and tanky Fighter made with a 25 point buy and moderate optimization. This is in part why I recommend using a level-as-the-story-deems-it-wise approach.

    Most fights are pushovers if the characters are prepared, but quite difficult if they aren't. There's very little middle ground, and very little chance of a 'tug of war.' Battles are more about smart blitzkrieging than outlasting an enemy or repositioning him.

    Often, battles are "Contain then mop up." A caster (usually a Wizard) uses a crowd control spell with a high DC (or even no save) to disable the opposition while the rest of the party smacks down the most threatening things.

    Be very careful about changing a rule! Some DMs try to change things they don't understand. Seek expert advice first. If you must make a snap decision without expert advice, be prepared to rescind it or rule differently next time.

    Game aids (background music and props) can add to the game if done well but are secondary to a scenario worth playing! Most people need something obvious so they can relate to your room and creature descriptions. Otherwise, it's a forgettable wall of text.

    Background music, if appropriately chosen, sets a proper mood. Music can be for battles, character theme songs, or areas in general. Maybe an important castle has an eerie theme, or a boss battle has a riveting orchestral track.

    Share what you love! If the game scenario interests you so much that you're eager to share it with your friends, it's usually worth playing. That's the major thing. The previous advice is how to practically get there.
    Last edited by Endarire; 2010-09-17 at 01:50 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emperor Tippy View Post
    If the wizard is played even half competently then you stand not a chance in hell.

    If the wizard is well played then he can kill you by punching you to death. Why? Because he is immune to death. As in you flat out do not have the capability to kill him regardless of what you do.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Pixie in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Bump for truth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Endarire View Post
    In general, players like being told what to do. As one of my friends put it, "I play games to relax." Most people don't come to the game table after a week of researching the rules and say, "Show time!"

    Plot-wise, assume you will need to spell out every available option. Withholding any of this information will likely cause confusion and lack of motivation for your group.
    Making the choices obvious would also reduce the chance of players doing something wild that derails the campaign. Although giving a hidden third option (metaphorically) would reward the player that really does like to think during a game.
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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Very nice Endarire. I particularly like your points about not changing rules and about putting in lots of preparation time. I have seen too many very nice campaign ideas derailed by a lack of preparation on the part of the DM.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Much of these come from my experience. One of my current DMs enjoys changing rules with which he is unfamiliar.

    I was the main DM for a 2-year campaign stretching levels 1 to 21. Preparing for a game takes a good long time, especially if I make things neat on a computer.

    Preparing for a game is like writing for a weekly TV show. There are constant deadlines and expectations of quality.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emperor Tippy View Post
    If the wizard is played even half competently then you stand not a chance in hell.

    If the wizard is well played then he can kill you by punching you to death. Why? Because he is immune to death. As in you flat out do not have the capability to kill him regardless of what you do.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Quote Originally Posted by Endarire View Post
    D&D is a time sink! Learning the rules, being a manager of players and characters, and preparing scenarios worth experiencing may as well be a part-time if not a full-time job. If you aren't ready to spend 2 to 3 hours per week planning (and in some cases, per day) then most likely, you are not ready. You can try to improvise, but the game is so much better when it is thoroughly planned!
    I would say: plan what you can`t easily improvise. That`s at least how I plan to do it. For exemple, if I`ll say that there are red skeletons in a graveyard nearby, I`ll have to make them. If the characters would want to talk to the gravedigger, I would manage without planing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Endarire View Post
    Start with a solid premise! If you aren't sure what you want in your campaign world, or/and you don't throughly know the world like your favorite hobby, expect the campaign to fail. Floundering around only works so long, and improvisation can only cover so much. Like with most things, you need a compelling reason to spend so much time setting up a game for your group to play, and if something of your heart isn't overflowing with eagerness, you are not ready.
    I disaggre. The DM only needs to have the areas where the players will be planned, knowledge about a country 3000 miles away that the players will never even hear about is unimportent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Endarire View Post
    It's a game, not a story. A game, being interactive, is not like a novel where the plot is fully predetermined. As DM, you can reasonably have goals and desires for the players, but the best DMs let the characters' actions determine event outcomes. Maybe you didn't intend for Baron Farknock to die by a stray fireball, but if that's what the dice declare, you have one flambed baron and the plot adjusts accordingly.
    Indeed.
    Railroading is annoying, especially in parts where it seems pointless.

    Quote Originally Posted by Endarire View Post
    I advise awarding experience based on story progress, not on kill. That way, people are likely to play smarter and less violently, and you control when people level. Tell your group in advance if you do this. Also, nix XP components on spells (usually require an item worth 5x the XP cost) and nix the XP cost from crafting magic items. Pathfinder already does this.
    I did a simplier thing last time I DMed - no XP at all, the characters would level up whenever I said they would. The idea was to level them up in dramatic moments, instead of after killing a number of monsters.

    Quote Originally Posted by Endarire View Post
    Be very careful about changing a rule! Some DMs try to change things they don't understand. Seek expert advice first. If you must make a snap decision without expert advice, be prepared to rescind it or rule differently next time.
    Defintly. I remmember seeing a DM DMing a AD&D game with the custom rule that the player would choose spells that the sum of their spell level would be 12. He picked wish, a level 2 spell and a level 1 spell.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    I amended the solid premise section to emphasize the group's current area.

    I added the section about D&D not being a competition between players and GMs.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Emperor Tippy View Post
    If the wizard is played even half competently then you stand not a chance in hell.

    If the wizard is well played then he can kill you by punching you to death. Why? Because he is immune to death. As in you flat out do not have the capability to kill him regardless of what you do.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Quote Originally Posted by akma View Post
    I did a simplier thing last time I DMed - no XP at all, the characters would level up whenever I said they would. The idea was to level them up in dramatic moments, instead of after killing a number of monsters.
    What about item creation? That cost XP that doesn't exist or did you remove XP costs?

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    MonkGuy

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    When I DM, my general XP strategy is to keep track myself, then tell characters when they level up (and hence a total XP). If a player wants to craft items, they keep track of how much they've spent and let them know when they level. It almost always works out so that they level the session after the rest of the party, so things stay pretty even.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    What about Pathfinder AND Trailblazer? Those seem to be cut from similar cloth, with Trailblazer going a bit further (the designers even talked about nerfinc CoDzilla).

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck_II View Post
    What about item creation? That cost XP that doesn't exist or did you remove XP costs?
    I didn`t have to deal with that, since it wasn`t brought up, I`m not even sure my players knew how creation of magic items works. But in the past I thought of houserulling that making magic items will require rare items that each will take a little sidequest to get. I had problam when I tried to think of specifics.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    I prefer to nix XP cost on magic items. It's part of an effort to keep the party at the same level.
    My Complete Tome of Battle Maneuver & Stance Overhaul. Includes Falling Star, 2 other disciplines, and all 5 initiator base classes!

    Quote Originally Posted by Emperor Tippy View Post
    If the wizard is played even half competently then you stand not a chance in hell.

    If the wizard is well played then he can kill you by punching you to death. Why? Because he is immune to death. As in you flat out do not have the capability to kill him regardless of what you do.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    My advice to newbies? Stop reading advice and just go play the game.

    I've seen new players - especially new DMs - so worried about remembering how they're "supposed" to be playing that they forget to relax and find their own fun.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    I find this to be a very fine list.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Not a bad list at all. I know it was intended as a set of guidelines for GMs new to D&D 3.X, but with a little tweaking it could be a good general purpose list for anyone interested in giving life behind the Gm screen a chance.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    My top 2:

    You will mess up. Don't worry about it.
    Seriously, this is the biggest rule. Don't be afraid to tell your players you messed up. That you mis-ruled something, or you need more time to come up with something.


    Never change a rule mid-action unless it's in the player's favor.
    If they come up with a game-busting move, let them have it the first time they pull it out. Then rule it out.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    I agree with OP. Here's a couple extras if you're interested in adding more:

    Use common sense to determine the mechanics of actions that you're not familiar with:

    Sometimes players will want to do something that you don't know the exact rules for to accomplish in-game. If the action is obscure you might pause the game for a long time trying to find the exact ruling.

    Instead, you can make up a sensible ruling for the action and look up the official answer another time. This keeps the game running smoothly.

    Rule of Cool is a big priority:

    Try and reward players for coming up with cool ideas rather than inhibit them with cold, unflexible interpretations of the rules. Remember that the rules are guidelines and it's up to you as the DM to ultimately rule what people can and cannot do in the game.

    If a cool idea particularly difficult to pull off, consider perhaps giving a minor "cool bonus" to the roll. This promotes to the players the idea of using their imagination to pull off truly fantastic moments in the campaign and helps with immersion.

    Tweak the campaign to better include your player's characters:

    Your players want their characters to be awesome and stand out. That's a quick way for them to be happy with your game. However, they can only accomplish this if you let them.

    Make sure that each character's unique abilities have a chance to shine. For example, a sneaky rogue may appreciate finding traps to disarm, locked doors to break into, and other skill-related encounters. The forest-loving druid will appreciate a chance to resolve nature-related problems.

    On the flip side, try to avoid situations that gimp your player's characters too much and/or too often. If your campaign has many creatures that are immune to sneak attack, consider giving your rogue a truedeath creature so he can still be useful in combat. Always be considerate of your party's classes and avoid situations where players feel useless.

    Try and maintain power balance within the group:

    If there's a large power disparity in the group, people getting the short end of the stick will likely feel bad. There's many ways to restore balance, however.

    If a player is playing a significantly lower tier character than the others, consider placing more powerful loot in the campaign that undoubtedly best fit for his character to have than the rest of the group. For example, a mid-level party with a rogue that struggles to sneak attack or even hit things in combat might appreciate finding a Rogue's Blade (MiC).

    If a player is significantly more powerful than the rest of the group, consider adding more situations where his power is more in line with everyone else. If a wizard is ending every encounter with a single Glitterdust, try throwing encounters with a couple monsters immune to such a tactic every once in a while. Or if the wizard is beating everything with a variety of tactics, consider upping the amount of encounters per day, or other clever tactics (such as illusions) to force him to ration his spells or risk running out of spells for following encounters in the day.

    Remember to not go overboard when trying to balance out parties. If unsure of a fair solution, always start with a small tweak and gradually escalate if necessary. Big sweeping changes can usually end up bad.

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    Default Re: [3.P] My Advice for Newbie DMs and GMs

    Bumped for Truth.
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