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    Default So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    So, rather than skirt the thread necomancy line (the original post of this has fallen to Page 16, mostly as a result of my own neglect), I'm reposting the now complete (other than for suggestions an additions) guide. There are still some very good comments in the discussion on that thread which I didn't want to include in the main body of the essay.

    Iíve noticed that a few times a week there are new DMs looking for some good advice on how to start down the road. So, I figured Iíd start up this thread where we kindly folks of the OotS boards could pool our collective wisdom for them. Comments and other suggestions strongly encouraged! We all have our little tricks and good advice will be added to the main post.

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    Stepping Behind the Screen

    Tired of seeing the BBEG escape, dying because of a cruddy die roll or seeing the best laid plans be squashed beneath the iron boot DM fiat? Are you ready to take the reins yourself and dish out a little of your own punishment? Are you aching to sit behind a cardboard screen secretly rolling dice and cackling but arenít really sure how to go about it? You have come to the right thread. Here we will provide some friendly tips and tricks about getting your game started and then keeping it oiled and running smoothly.

    Before anything else, the very first thing any new DM needs to do is accept that they are going to screw up. DMs are human just like everyone else.
    You will forget to add that dodge modifier and it will change then entire course of the battle.
    You will forget that tiny bit of dialogue the PCís were going to hear that would lead them where you wanted.
    You will have to go look up the grappling rules and still be confused.
    You will lose the bloody map someplace and spend 5 minutes searching for it only to discover it has been in your left hand the entire time.
    You will screw up in myriad unimaginable (ok, well, probably pretty imaginable) other ways.
    You will screw up and really, itís ok. Say it with me.

    I am going to screw up.
    Iím probably going to screw up badly.
    But itís ok and Iím not going to worry about it.

    Repeat that a few times until it sinks in. Feel better now? Good, on to the details!

    Genesis of an Adventuring Party

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    So, you have a bunch of players and they all have the coolest concept ever for a character. (Well, except for Ted who wants to be the one winged last survivor of an exploded planet. Weíll talk about him later.) What now?

    First, sit everyone down before the first session and have a discussion and cover the following topics, not in any particular order:

    Make everyone agree that whatever happens in the game, stays in the game. D&D is supposed to be fun for all involved and in character disputes or problems should never spill out and ruin real friendships. Whatever happens in game both you and the players should be having a good time and not getting angry with eachother. If you think your players canít handle that, donít play. There are more important things in life.

    Have each player explain their character concept to the rest of the group. Seems like a waste of time but itís not. First, it helps avoid later player conflict. If one player wants to be a dwarf whose family was slaughtered by drow and attacks them on sight and another wants to play a drow, you are going to have a problem. Having everyone discuss it off the bat lets you and the players come up with a way to work around it before the game gets rolling and there is bloodshed. Also, you would be surprised what sort of interesting shared backstory players will come up with in collaboration if you give them the chance.

    Demand regular and updated copies of character sheets. Seem anal? Well it is, but for good reason. If you are going to craft interesting and challenging encounters then you will need to know each characters mechanical strengths and weaknesses. Iíve found the easiest way to do this is to tell your players to keep an online Ďmasterí copy of their sheet. This way, if their sheet ever gets lost you can just print it out again or if they forget to bring their sheet you can just print them out a new copy on the spot. Personally, I prefer http://pifro.com/pro/ for this but there is no lack of sites that provide a free place to store your sheets online.

    Make a party contract. Just a little agreement between characters about basic ways the party is going to split treasure and generally behave. Youíd be shocked how many problems this can avoid.

    Explain any houserules you plan to employ. If you are banning Divine Metamagic, tell your players before they build a character around it.

    Also, talk to each player individually before the first session.

    Find out if there are any bits of backstory or other details your players donít want to share with the rest of the party yet. You need to know about it, even if itís going to be a surprise for the rest of the group. You donít want this to happen.

    Ask about their preferred playstyle. If you don't already know it, find out what makes them tick as a player. What are the apects of the game they really look forward to? Some players like hack and slash others like heavy RP. Getting a sense of what each player likes will give you a pretty good idea of how to balance adventures such that everyone, including you, has a good time.

    Find out where they want to go with the character, RP wise. What are the character's overall goals in life? Do they have a backstory or any background characters they think are important (not everyone will, if they don't, don't press them)? Is there any particular bit of plot regarding the character that they would really like to see happen? This information will help you craft many a plothook.

    Find out where they want to go with the character, mechanically.
    Are they already thinking about PRC's? If so, find out which ones so that you can work the existence of the fluff aspects into the game world, so you can willfully ignore the fluff aspects or so that you can tweak them as you desire. Feel free to ask if there is some stinky stinky cheese they'd really like to be able to pull of, just make sure that they know that you are just asking about it, not promising to give it to them.


    Homework: Preparing for the Game

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    Yes, sadly the DMs lot in life involves homework. Although some DMs can fly by the seat of their pants session after session most of us need to prepare. There are a few aspects of the game that if you handle them ahead of time will keep the game moving at a good pace.

    Get your junk in order:

    Have Papers to Hand. Either bookmark (post-its are good for this), photocopy, or jot notes on whatever NPCs/Monsters you plan to use to slaughter have in combat with the players in the upcoming session and put them someplace you will have ready access to them. Do the same with any annoying or obscure rules you expect to come into play.

    Go over the adventure. If you are running a published module, read it over a few times so you know the sequence of events pretty well. If itís your own creation, try to think about how the players could possibly throw a wrench in the works.

    Go over the encounters you expect to have. Just having the stats ready isn't always enough to have a challenging and interesting encounter. Think about how the NPC/Monster would act in combat. Some monsters have a high CR because of particular abilities and if you don't think to use those they will be much easier than they ought to be and consequentally will be a let down for the players.

    Find any other stuff you need. If you use dice (I use a diceroller on my computer) then make sure you have all the dice you are going to need ready to hand. If the party has minis they leave in your care, be sure the cat hasnít stolen them and set aside any other minis (or coins or army men or stuffed animalsÖ) that you plan to have represent NPCs/Monsters.

    Pre-rolling: As a DM there are quite a lot of things you will need to roll for that the players either will not see, should not see, or donít really give a damn about anyway. Roll these ahead of time and keep them at the ready for when you need them. Make sure your players know you do this though, so they donít think you are just making it up as you go along (even if you are). What these are will vary from group to group but a few common ones are:

    Spot and Listen Checks for your Players. Nothing destroys the verisimilitude of a game like a player realizing they just failed a spot check. You have a copy of their character sheet (RIGHT?!) so roll out someplace between 5 and 10 spot and listen checks for each character and use them when appropriate. You donít need to do this for every spot and listen check your players will be rolling. If they actively ask to make a spot or listen check let them roll it on their own but if that ninja is creeping up behind them, use the one on the list.

    Another option instead of prerolling the skill checks that will save you time at the table is the 'take 10' mechanic. If your players are ok with it, you can houserule that they are taking 10 on any check you would be rolling off screen.

    Initiative for your Monsters. Rolling for initiative for each of the 15 kobolds will take a little while. That pause hurts dramatic tension. Roll this ahead of time and have it ready for when combat starts. Unless your players really like to use the Intimidate skill whatever it is will not change if you roll it 3 hours before the game or there at the table. I like to use Post-itís or index cards to keep track of initiative. If you keep a stack with each NPC/Monsters critical stats and initiative rolls you can slide into combat pretty much seamlessly.

    Any skill checks you expect NPCs or Monsters to have to make. When the DM rolls a hide check, the players know something is up. Figure how well that darkmantle is hidden ahead of time. Know how big a whopper that bard just told. It saves time and helps keep the players in character.

    Damage for any spell or effect that you KNOW is going to happen. If Flagophan the Wizard is going to start off with a fireball no matter what, go ahead and roll the damage now rather than stopping to count out d6s midcombat. Of course, you might want to wait to roll in some cases, just to scare the hell out of your players.


    Let the Game Begin!: Tips for Getting the Session Started


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    How the beginning of a session goes will frequently set the tone for the entire session, so itís important to get off on the right footing. Here are a few simple suggestions for things to do right before you really get down to play and right after everyone in your group is ready to go.

    Before The Dice Start Rolling:

    Chatter: Sometimes the hardest part of getting a session started is actually getting started. Most people play D&D with their friends and a certain amount of chatter time at the beginning of the session about the latest episode of Heroes, so and soís new girlfriend/boyfriend or how drunk you were at Tedís birthday party last Friday is natural and to be expected. It can be hard to know when itís time to stop just generally hanging out and get down to the rolling of dice and the slaughtering of tasty tasty chunks of xp. Be a little patient and wait for one of those natural pauses in conversation that occur every 22 minutes or so (not a scientific fact but itís roughly true) and then ask if everyone is ready to start. I generally plan to actually start the session around half an hour after I tell my players that we are going to start. Donít cut people off or demand that all conversation cease. Not only are you not your players mother (in most cases anyway) but starting off in an imperious and confrontational way will lead to an unpleasant dynamic for the rest of the evening. If conversation doesnít pause for long enough, politely interrupt and ask if people are ready. Donít be a jerk about it; these people are your friends and not your subordinates.

    Food: Letís face it; everyone eats when they play D&D. Having a bag of Doritos is almost as important as having dice to many a player and thatís perfectly fine. However, sometimes this gets out of hand and can delay the start of a session significantly. I have seen more than one session delayed hours as people order Pizza or Chinese, wait for it to be delivered, and then eat it before starting. Ask your players either to have their food with them when they arrive or plan for breaks to eat. If you are ordering a Pizza, ask the delivery place to bring it an hour or two into the session so that it will arrive at when you would normally take a little break anyway. That way, you can have your pizza and adventure too.

    When the Game Actually Starts:

    The Recap/Intro: At the beginning of each session itís generally a good idea for there to be a quick recap of what happened in the last session or even last few sessions. If itís the very first session ever, instead of recapping what happened in the last session, give a little of the backstory of how the party formed or if it hasnít yet, how each of the characters got to the inn or wherever the opening scene takes place. If itís a later session you can do the recap yourself or if you have an enthusiastic player let them handle it. Itís important to give the players a sense of continuity from the last session, remind them of things they might have forgotten over the week/month between sessions, and for the sneaky DM it provides a way to subtly prod the party in particular directions. If you want the party to go after the Vampire Lord this session rather than the Beholder, mention a few more details about the Vampire Lord in your recap. The players will frequently take the bait, intentionally or unintentionally.

    Roll Initiative: Iím not saying start every session with an encounter, although sometimes it is good to do so, but to have the players roll initiative for whenever the first encounter is going to be later in the session and jot it down. If you are using index cards or post-its to keep track of initiative order and you have prerolled your monsters you can even slide the PCís cards into their proper place in the stack. This may seem a bit unorthodox, but it really does improve the flow of the game as you can now go directly into PC actions the moment combat starts rather than having to pause, roll dice, and set up the order. After the first combat, when people are scribbling down the loot they acquired, have them roll for initiative the next one. Looting the bodies does not have any dramatic tension to break, seeing if the orc that just leapt from the bushes gets to stab you in the face does.


    Greasing the Wheels: Keeping Things Moving and Players Happy During a Session.

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    Now that the session is actually underway as a DM you have two major responsibilities. The first, is that you are the arbiter of the rules and generally speaking set the pace of the game. Here are few ways to speed things up and a few traps to avoid:

    Donít Argue About the Rules: This is quite possibly the largest mid-game time waster and bad blood generator. Unfortunately, it is also the easiest to succumb to. In a game with as many Core rules and additional source books as D&D it is inevitable that there will be disagreements about one rule or another. Frequently the disagreement will come up when the player wants to take an action, cast a spell, or use an ability and you disagree about what the effect of their action is going to be or, in some cases, if they can take the action at all. Donít just dismiss your player out of hand but donít get into a debate about the rules either.

    Give your player 30 seconds or so to tell you why you are wrong. If they manage to change your mind in that time, rule their way. If they donít simply say that you donít want to get bogged down in a rules debate and that for the remainder of that dayís session the rule will work under your interpretation. There will be ample time between the end of this session and the next session for you, the player, or both to look up the right answer or if itís particularly tricky, ask someone who you can both agree is an authority on the rules (The Simple Q&A (By RAW) thread on these boards is a good place for that). It is better to work under an incorrect interpretation of a particular rule than get bogged down arguing about it for an entire gaming session and believe me; it is possible to spend an entire session arguing about rules.

    If it turns out you were right, donít rub it in. In fact, other than to explain to your player why you were correct, donít mention it at all. Probably everyone else in your gaming group will have forgotten about the dispute anyway. In fact, the player with whom you had the dispute may even have forgotten about it since you didnít get into an argument over it and just moved on.
    If you were wrong, fess up. Tell your group that you misinterpreted that particular rule and from now on it will work the other way. Itís just one of those cases where you screwed up, like that time you forgot that the elf automatically gets a search check for secret doors. No big deal.

    It Just Works: Technically speaking, there are tons of skill checks you should be calling for all the time but more often than not the result is a foregone conclusion or the need to make the check itself borders on absurd.

    A listen check for people talking directly in front if you is a DC 0, but you have to beat the DC by 10 to understand what they are saying. This means that a character without any ranks in listen is going to be unable to hear the rest of the party having a discussion half the time if they actually roll. Rolling for this, or even contemplating the check, is both silly and a waste of time. Skip it and just tell people they hear the conversation.

    Conversely, there will be relatively high checks but that involve skills the PC has a high enough modifier in that it is either impossible, or nearly impossible, for them to fail. To use listen again, hearing a stalking cat is DC 19. If your character has a 19 modifier, donít bother rolling the check. This has the added bonus of making your player feel awesome. They are just too good to even need to bother with a check.

    However, donít do this in reverse and donít do it with saving throws. With skill checks, the players should always feel like they have the potential to overcome any particular obstacle, even if the DC is so high that it is mathematically impossible for them to succeed. With saving throws, rolling a 1 is an automatic failure and a 20 is an automatic success, so no matter what the DC the PC will still pass or fail it 5% of the time.

    The 'take 10' and 'take 20' mechanics are particularly helpful for speeding through some of this stuff if your players want a rules justification. With the Listen check examples above, if each character had taken 10 (and didn't have wisdom penalty) then their checks would have succeeded automatically anyway. Depending upon the demeanor of your group you may want to stress this tactics importance to the players, leave it be, or just handwave the results.

    Another thing way to help move things along can be circumstance modifiers. The standard DCs for tasks assume a certian set of normal conditions. For some checks, there are explicitally identified instances when the DC is supposed to be adjusted up or down. A listen check has its DC increased by 5 if the PC is distracted for example. However, frequently it is up to the DM to determine if the task was made easier or harder and by how much. Adjusting the DC of a task down to suit the circumstances is a good way to save time and have a check just succeed. We will talk more about adjusting the DC up in the later sections.

    Cut to the Chase: Some skills or abilities can bog down the game because they both seem important to character survival and only effect a small area of the map. Search, for example, technically only searches a 5ft. by 5ft. square. Unless you are running Tomb of Horrors there really is no reason to go through the rigmarole of having the party rogue roll 20 search checks just to move down a 10 ft. by 50ft. hallway. Have the player roll once (or use your pre-rolled number) and say it applies to the whole hallway.

    Allow the Use of Averages: Some mathematically inclined players will not want to bother rolling out how many hit points they get back for a potion Cure Moderate Wounds but just split the difference and take the average number as if they had rolled. Let them. If your players are cool with it, you might even want to institute a house rule that all such items always give the average. Over the life of the campaign it will work out the same. Thatís why itís the average.

    Try to Speed Decisions: Some players have a tendency to take a long time making decisions in combat. Others will get bogged down debating with the other party members. This can eat up a lot of table time and steal the scary from combat. Soggy combat is not exciting combat. Try to speed things along with some gentle prodding if you notice a tendency for this. Rolling a D20 in plain sight and looking as if you are consulting your notes will typically get the players attention focused back on the decision at hand. Also, after a little deliberation, you may simply want to ask your player point-blank 'So, what are you doing?'

    Try to keep a lid on in character discussions during combat in a similar way. Yes, talking is a free action, but remember that each round is only six seconds long. A quick back and forth bettween players or to an NPC is fine, but a 15 minute discussion isn't.

    Don't be draconian about this and don't be a jerk. If you know your players like to have a little table talk during combat, expect it and don't shut them down unless it starts getting out of hand. Be diplomatic and reasonable. Don't punish a player for wanting to make a good decision.

    Your second job, as the DM, is to be the spotlight of the game. No, you are not in the spotlight. You are the spotlight. Everything the PCís see, hear, touch, smell or interact with in a given gaming session is what you decide to highlight and this includes themselves. The world is exists only by your descriptions and the PCís by your attention given.

    The best way to go about spreading attention and description throughout is going vary from group to group. There is no one right way. Some groups prefer the DM to provide them with a complete story, lots of detail, and essentially function as actors in the DMís play. Others prefer the DM just provide the rough sketch of a world for their characters run around in. Many like something in between. Finding you and your groupís style of play is really only discovered by playing. After the first few sessions, talk to your players about what they thought and listen if they have suggestions or complaints. However, regardless of your eventual style of play there are a few general rules for making a memorable world and keeping players happy.

    Distinctive Marks: For NPCs or locations you want your players to remember give them some distinguishing mark or attribute that the will stand out in the players' minds.

    For NPCs, styles of clothing, speech patterns and accents, scars and deformities, or even hair color can serve this purpose. I have an NPC aristocrat in my game that talks like a stoned surfer dude and although the players can hardly ever remember his real name ĎLord Smokes-a-lotĒ is firmly fixed in their minds as a major NPC in the world.

    This is especially true of any reoccurring villain the PCs are going to have to defeat. For villians though you have the additional option of some signature act, like always casting darkness before they strike or sticking the severed heads of their victims on pikes, which makes them unique.

    For places, distinguishing pieces of architecture, unusual decorations, or even a particularly apt description of the mood of the location will mark the place as important to the players. The Parthenon has its columns; The British Houses of Parliament have Big Ben; Baradur has its floaty eye, and even Bag End has its little round green door. It doesnít have to be grandiose, something as simple as having a dart board in the back of the inn can serve to set it apart as a memorable location.

    Let The Players Do The Work: No matter what style of play your group turns out to like, the one constant is that the PCs should always be in the center of the spotlight. Whatever obstacles or problems that the PCs encounter, they should be the ones eventually doing the bulk of the work to solve it. A common trap that many DMs fall into is to create a really awesome NPC and then let them solve all the problems the party faces for them. Donít do it. If some NPC can save the world all by themselves then why would the PCs bother to be there at all? Your players want to be heroes, not sidekicks. This is not to say that you canít have NPCs that are really cool, integral to the story, or more powerful than the PCs but just that the players should always feel like they are important and critical to the success of the endeavor. What their role is can vary from casting the earth shattering evocation themselves to keeping the seemingly endless the horde of demons from reaching the NPC who has to cast it, but whatever it is, they need to have played a major role.

    This also applies to when the PCs make decisions that would affect the progress of the plot (if there is a plot). Players need to feel like their decisions are important and that they have decisions to make. Even if you secretly know everything that is going to happen from the very first scene of the campaign to the final blow that will strike down the Evil Overlord (which is only one among many styles of play) the players should still see the movement of the plot as consequences of their deliberate choices. If a player wants to do something unexpected that could mess up your plot donít drop the iron fist of DM and tell them that they just canít or create ad-hoc punishments for their doing so. If you do, they will feel like they arenít really a participant in the game and you will kill their fun. Besides, you have other and better options for handling it. We will talk about those options more in the "You Did What?: Recovering from Unexpected Player Actions" section.

    Time to Shine: Just as important as making sure that your NPCs donít make the players feel useless is making sure that none of the players make the other players feel useless. Make sure that you give each PC a chance to do whatever thing it is that they do best. If you have a party with a silver-tongued rogue and a big bruiser of a fighter give them an encounter they have to talk their way past and another one where they have to throw down and kick some butt. This can be tricky sometimes but itís worth the effort to make sure that everyone at the table has a good time.

    Occasionally, you will have a player who by dint of a better build, more problem solving skill, or just a mechanical imbalance in the game itself *cough*druids*cough* that will actually be better at whatever thing another PC does best and steal their that PCs spotlight time. The best way to solve this will vary and we will discuss it in more detail in the "Trouble with Ted: Dealing with a Problem Player" section below.
    Last edited by AKA_Bait; 2008-04-02 at 11:35 AM. Reason: Tightening up the text
    So You Wanna Be A DM? A Potentially Helpful Guide
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  2. - Top - End - #2
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Restored Guide

    Winding Down: Ending a Session Well

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    Ending a session well is one of the trickiest aspects of being a DM not only because you want to leave the players begging for more but also because most games have a set period of time in which they are played (my game for example meets 7pm to 10 pm on Tuesday nights) and having the hook for the next session arrive at just the right moment (9:45 or so for my game) can be quite touch and go. Iím going to talk about the most common ways to end a session and the benefits and dangers of using each one. Obviously, whichever way you choose to end will depend upon your play style and that of your group. I strongly suggest mixing it up though.

    Oh God Oh God We Are All Going To Die:

    DM: In the distance you see a gargantuan beast. Itís mammoth form does not so much crest the hill as push it out of the way.
    Player: Iím going to make a Knowledge Arcana check to see if I recognize what it is I got a 24.
    DM: It is the Tarrasque and we are going to stop here.


    Anytime you leave the PCís in the middle of a life threatening situation they are probably going to want to know what happens next. This is a good method of ending a session but be judicious in using it. For one thing, if overused, it becomes hackneyed and your players simply come to expect that every session is going to end right before a dangerous encounter. That kills the suspense. A second concern is a very practical one: will all of your players be at the next session? If not, congratulations you have just stuck yourself (or one of your players) with an NPC to run in a weeks time and deprived the player who canít attend the fun of determining how their character makes it through.

    The Big Reveal:

    DM: Krim fells the necromancer with a mighty blow from his war hammer! The black clad form tumbles backward and slumps against the far wall of the chamber. His dagger, jarred from his gnarled hands by the impact of the fatal blow skids across the chamber towards your feet. It carries the insignia of Duke Cainís secret police. We are done for tonight.

    Sometimes you will want to end a session with a piece of plot/information that will throw the PCís for a loop or resolve a mystery they have been dealing with. This method can be quite compelling; just make sure that whatever you reveal is something players are probably going to want to act upon in the sometime next session. This can be a tricky one to plan. If you are going to use a Big Reveal be sure you plan to have extra time at the end of the session after the reveal, in case some earlier part of the session takes longer than you expected. If you donít and the session goes over time, you run the risk of your players only half listening as they pack up their stuff.

    Loot:

    DM: You burst from the top of the foul water and before you lies the horde of the Black Dragon Xtyliner. Coins and gems lay scattered about in haphazard piles. Sword hilts, daggers, scrolls and a staff can be seen partially buried among the silver, gold and ruby. Here we stop.


    Remember how you felt on Christmas Morning when you saw all the wrapped presents under the tree? I know my short befreckeld childhood self could hardly wait to start tearing into that wrapping paper. Showing your players a bunch of stuff (or even one really awesome looking thing) and making them wait to find out exactly what they got can make them very eager for the next session. Again, donít overuse this, or your players will get ancy. This is also a good one to use if you hadnít exactly planned what loot the players were going to receive was yet.

    Mid-Combat:

    DM: The Bugbear lunges at Krim slashing its scimitar wickedly. The blade ricochets off his armor with the sound of scraping metal. Ok, we have to stop now.

    For games with serious time constraints ending in the middle of combat is a real and unpleasant possibility. Itís one thing to end a session right before or right after combat, that is what two of the examples above do, but it is entirely another to end in the middle of combat. I advise against it for a few reasons. First, ending mid-combat is essentially taking the suspension of disbelief you have been working on all session or all campaign and smashing it against the wall. Dramatic tension is dead if you have to wait a week to see how the fight already in progress ends (DBZ fans leave me alone on this). Second, there will be logistical problems. Between sessions notes get lost, miniís get moved (especially if you donít have a table specifically assigned only to gaming), and players lose track of the spell slots used, duration of spell effects, current HP and the like. This can make picking up at the same point in the next session very difficult. If you absolutely must end a session during combat for some reason, I suggest that you do the following.

    Take a Picture of the Map with the Combatants in Place. These days, most groups have at least one, if not several, players with a digital camera or with a camera phone. Use it. When you are setting up again next time, having a guide no one can dispute to hand will save confusion and stop any potential disputes before they get started.

    End at the beginning of a new round. It will just make things simpler.

    Ask Players to Jot Down Their Statistics. Pass around a pad of paper and request that the players note down their current HP and any spell effects active on the players. Donít ask about spells used/prepared. If you are having to end mid-combat, there probably isnít time for it.

    Danger Lies Ahead:

    DM: The hole goes deep into the retaining wall of the sewer. Distantly you can hear the squeak of rats. Your informant had told you Silus was lairing in this part of town and this tunnel fits his description of the entrance. We will pick up here next time.

    Occasionally, the players will take a lot longer to get to the meat of the adventure than you had planned. It can happen many, many ways, but the end result is really the same: Itís 20 minutes before the end of the session and the PCs are just about to head into an area where there will be a lot of wandering around and combat. You still have some time left but not enough and if you continue, you may very well have to end mid-combat or at a dramatically uninteresting moment. Discretion is the better part of valor here. Give a short dramatic description of the place they are about to enter and then call it an night. Itís better to end a little early than have everyone leave confused and/or unsatisfied.

    Shopping:

    DM: So, you all received an additional 2,000 GP from Baron Waltzingham. If you want to go shopping in town, figure out a list of things you want to buy and ask me between or right before the next session.

    This is not the most dramatically thrilling of ways to end a session but it is one of the most practical in terms of saving table time. In most games, going shopping either for magical stuff or more mundane items happens off screen anyway. Ending a session this way keeps time from being wasted as players thumb through the DMG, the MIC, or other books during play looking for the new toy they want to buy. It also doesn't break the continuity of the story, as saying 'figure it out bettween sessions and get back to me' would if it was said in the middle of a session. Of course, if your group prefers to RP shopping trips, then donít do this one.


    You Did What?!: Dealing With Unexpected Player Actions

    Spoiler
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    Sometimes your players suck. You heard me. They suck. Sometimes you have a plan. And exquisite, detailed, plan that you think would keep Hari Selden up nights wondering at your amazing powers of observation and group guiding. Then with one fell utterance of ďMuck this, I stab the princeĒ the whole thing comes crashing down and you want to curl up into a little ball and weep.

    If your players are anything like mine, this will happen on a weekly basis. There are good ways and bad ways to handle it and recover from it. One important thing to remember is that a good resolution will vary from situation to situation. There are a few general dos and doníts though.

    Question True Stupidity:


    Player 1: I jump into the spiked pit.
    Player 2: Um, why?
    Player: I can take it.


    A fair amount of the time, the player action that causes a WTF on the DM side is a silly impulse or an intentional (funny or unfunny) joke on the part of the player. If there is laughter, let it recede before doing anything. Afterwards, a simple raised eyebrow or other meaningful look accompanied by ďSo, you really use prestidigitation to soil the back of the Dukeís pants?Ē is generally enough to get a reasonable player to think twice about whatever truly stupid action they were about to take. If notÖ

    Let Stupidity Take Its Course:

    DM: Ok thenÖ you take 12 damage from the fall and another 8 from the wooden spike that you greeted crotch first. Oh, and make a fort save against the poison on the spike.

    If a player insists on doing some really stupid thing, let them and have the natural consequences of that action befall them. This can be whatever you think is appropriate but also keep in mind that you (probably) donít want to derail the immediate or long term future of your plot in the process. In some cases, this isnít a concern (al la spiked pit diving) but in others it could change the entire complexion of what is going to happen in the session you have so carefully planned out.

    In cases like that, consider drawing the consequences of the stupidity out or delaying them. An angry look from the Duke now, or his pretending not to notice, and his revenge 2 sessions later, after the PCs have done whatever task the Duke wanted, can be a reasonable reaction and buy you some time to plan. After all, as far as the Duke is concerned, heís probably sending the PCs to their deaths anyway. Why potentially waste men subduing the party and have to re-sharpen the headsmanís axe when the ogres might well perform the execution for him? If they manage to make it back, well, he can just arrest the offending oaf then. Or, if heís not that hot tempered, he can just refuse to hire them for anything else and put out word among the other local nobility.

    Donít Flinch From The Unexpected Solution:

    Beguiler: Well, I know that when you step on one of those three tiles a big swinging poisoned scythe comes out and then automatically resets, but I canít figure out how to disarm the thing.
    Crusader: Ok. Iíll disarm it then. I ready an action to attack the scythe when it comes out of the wall and take a 5ft step onto the tile.
    DM: You know that if you do that then the scythe is going to hit you right?
    Crusader: ::shrug::


    I have actually had the above happen in a game. I let it work, and I suggest that most DMs do the same. In this instance the crusader took the damage from the trap but his attack did enough damage to destroy the scythe and disable it as well.

    When players come up with some off the wall solution to a problem, if it makes sense, let them attempt it and if it works, it works. Although it can be disconcerting as a DM to have a player solve a problem in a way you absolutely did not expect (I expected the party to just jump over the tilesÖ) it makes a player feel awesome to have something like that work. If it doesnít work, at least they get to feel like they tried. In D&D tis better to try and fail than be told by the DM that you arenít allowed to try at all.

    It can be tough, mechanically speaking, to determine how to resolve a strange solution to a problem. What skill, exactly, applies to swinging across the room on a chandelier? Well, the long and short of it is that you need to make a call on the spot. You can either use something similar, like tumble in this case, or make it an ability check, using just the characters modifier for whichever ability makes the most sense.

    However, as solutions like this tend to bend rules or go beyond their scope as written, you must be careful that leeway here doesnít snowball. Odd uses of spells can be a particular source of trouble down the line. If you let a player get away with using Detect Magic to pinpoint the location of an invisible item in a room then, mark my words, they will want to use detect magic that way to find the invisible BBEG. Consider the implications first. If you need a second to look up the spell, take it. If you have to say no, say no but have a reason beyond Ďbecause I didnít see that coming.í

    Have A Key Information Backup Plan:

    DM: The once human creature emerges from the darkness, its red eyes reflecting equal parts madness and sorrow. ďI will tell you who transformed me and trapped me here to suffer. But first, tell meÖĒ
    Player: I charge and hit it with my mace. ::rolls:: I crit!
    DM: SonofaÖ


    As tempting as the idea is to have only one vital NPC in your campaign setting that has the essential piece of information for the Ďbig revealí you need to get the PCs on the right track, it is frequently a recipe for disaster. PCs often have an annoying habit of scorching raying first and asking questions later. My theory is that much time in dungeons where everything actually is trying to kill them gives them PTSD. So, have a backup plan, possibly several, in case the PCs off the person with the information before they have a chance to squeal or just simply donít talk to them. What the backup plan is, specifically, must vary from game to game but just remember there is almost never any secret so well kept that only one person ever knows about it. Butlers, maids and gardeners are good for this.

    Have Some Stock NPCs:

    Player: I set fire to the Inn.

    Keep a few NPCs statted out and to the side in case you need impromptu guardsmen, healers or a bucket brigade. Trust me, you will. be happy you did.

    Admitting Defeat:

    DM: It doesnít work.
    Player: Why not?
    DM: You donít know that do you?


    Once in a great while a player will come up with something so ludicrous, so off the wall, so totally within the rules, and so bloody effective that either the adventure you had planned or the entire campaign has just been radically altered or even rendered moot. Refrain from strangling them. Depending upon the level of destruction that has just been wrought, there are at least 2 more reasonable courses of action than violence:

    Fess up and ask for time to plan: Let it work and say you need a 20 minutes or so to figure out what happens next as they have totally thrown you for a loop. Donít say you need 20 minutes and then have it not work. The player who came up with it will probably feel cheated. This is most appropriate for adventure level destruction. This might seem lame but really, it will likely be one of the most memorable moments of your game. Your players will literally talk for months about the time that they Ďbroke the labyrinth and got the DM to chain-smoke half a pack of Camels in 20 minutes.Ē

    DM Fiat: Take the player who came up with it aside and be honest with them. Tell them that although it should work, you need to house rule in this case that it wonít or the entire campaign goes to Hades in a hand basket. Be apologetic that you are going to have to be arbitrary in this one case and be sure to compliment them on what an awesome idea it was. If your player is a reasonable person, they will understand. In many cases, they will volunteer to take some other course of action so as not to screw everything up.

    Admitting defeat can be a pain. Itís not much fun to have what you planned shattered before your very eyes and the temptation will be there to simply squash it beneath the iron boot of DM Fiat without owning up to the players that you are doing so. DMs have egos too and the temptation to invent some ad-hoc rules interpretation, whip up some unjustifiably large negative circumstance modifier, or simply say Ďitís a mystery because of some thing your characters donít knowí is totally understandable.

    Still, donít do it. For one thing, your players will probably know that you are full of horse dung and experienced players, who understand that sometimes the DM needs to fiat, may be annoyed or even insulted that you werenít up front about it with them.

    This is particularly true if they spend some time trying to figure out whatever the in game reason was for the course of action not working when, in fact, there isnít any reason other than hidden DM Fiat. I, personally, have threatened to walk out of games where I discovered my DM was doing just that.


    Trouble with Ted: Dealing with a Problem Player

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    Occasionally you will have a player who is, frankly, a problem. As a DM, there is a strong temptation (some would call it a right, although I wouldnít) to simply deal with the problem in game by fiating or out of game by demanding that the player change whatever it is that is causing the problem. This is a great strategy, if you want to alienate your friends. Otherwise, there are better ways to go about it. Below Iíll sketch out a few general pieces of advice and then look at some types of problem players and ways to deal with them.

    General Advice:

    Consider that You might really be The Problem: Yes, you. The first thing a DM should ask themselves when they have a player who is consistently a problem in game is: are they the problem or am I? Some players may have honest, reasonable, and well supported gripes about some aspect of game play which recur time and again. When talking to a problem player keep that in mind and listen to what they have to say. If it turns out that you are the one being unreasonable, change. A good way to spot if you are being unreasonable is if no one else in the group is seems to think that the player is, in fact, a problem.

    Be Respectful: Be open, honest, and mature about whatever problem is happening in game. Treat them as an equal, because they are. Donít be accusative. Donít call them names. Donít act like they must bend to your wishes because you are the DM.

    Be open to reasonable compromise: This is not a war between you and the player. If there is something they want to do and you can accommodate them without much of a problem; do it. When you are willing to meet in the middle, other people usually are too.

    Donít Talk Angry: I cannot count the number of times that I have seen or heard about people losing their temper over this silly role-playing game. If you are ticked off at a player for some reason then wait until you have calmed down some before you have the conversation. Have a seat, take a few deep breaths, and encourage them to do the same. That alone will work wonders. Talking when sitting or lying down frequently keeps people from being riled up when they otherwise might be. There are studies on this but I forget the link.

    Be Sure D&D Is Actually The Problem: Just like in all other areas of life, people will project issues they have about one thing onto another. You can talk until you are blue in the face about availability of prestige classes and wanton murdering of NPCs but it wonít do a lick of good if the real issue is that you stole their girlfriend and they are getting revenge by messing up your game.

    Also, donít steal your playersí girlfriends. Jerk.


    Some Frequent Problem Players:

    Obsessed With X: Itís said that good writers borrow and great writers steal. Thatís true in literature and in character creation. We all do it. At least at some point one of our characters is, at least in part, Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, Jayne, Aragorn, Spike, Belgarath, Ginko, or another character from fiction that we think is really darn cool. It is normal and expected in a D&D game that we will borrow and steal ideas for characters but some folks take it too far and that can become a problem when the character they want to play is not conducive to the campaign the rest of the group wants to play. A one winged alien with a gunsword is not going to fit well in a traditional setting.

    Ideally, this sort of problem should be dealt with before the game ever starts when everyone is sitting down explaining their character concepts but sometimes it slips by. Particularly, it can be easy to have a concept that doesnít work with the group find its way in when you have a new player enter part of the way through a campaign. As a DM you have a lot to handle and may not look closely enough to spot a problem if you are in the middle of worrying about other things. When it does become apparent that there is a serious issue, pull the player aside and talk to them about it. If they donít fit the campaign setting for whatever reason, tell them why and offer to help them tweak the character so it does fit. If they are adamant, work with them on a new character and a way to extricate the old character from the ongoing storyline in a manner they are comfortable with. If they refuse both of theseÖ well, see Time to Go below.

    The Back Seat DM: In many games with experienced players one, or more, of the players will have been, or is currently, a DM in a different game. Chances are they have their own house rules and that those rules are not identical with yours. Old habits die hard and you may find these players stepping on your toes or even trying to argue with you mid-session. Pull them aside and talk to them about it. Donít be confrontational. Just explain that things can get confused and bogged down when there are multiple people interpreting the same set of rules. Tell them that you appreciate their input as a fellow DM and that you really do want to hear their advice after the gaming session is over (this may or may not be true but say it anyway).

    Out Of Balance: Sometimes one player has a build that just kicks the snot out of everyone else *cough* wizard *cough* druid *cough*. This is only a problem if the rest of the group feels like they are not getting enough spotlight time. If they are cool with it, so should you be. But, if they are not, before you take any irrevocable actions, be sure that you design some encounters that play to the non-optimized playersí strong points. It might be that you simply have been giving challenges that are easier for the optimized player.

    If the out of balance player remains so, talk to them about their play style as it affects the group. Ask them to hang back once in a while and let the other players shine. Consider giving the other players some stuff to compensate for the power discrepancy. Do not do so before talking to the optimized player. If everyone gets a power boost except for them and they donít know why, they will feel singled out and punished. Make sure that they know their build was SO AWESOME that you had to restore a little balance for the other players to approach their fantasticness. Flattery is always helpful to keep people from feeling misused.

    The Cheater: Thatís kind of a harsh title right? Well, in some cases it is deserved. What is and is not out of bounds in terms of metagaming, dice rolling, etc. will vary from group to group but each group will have lines they do not cross and each group will sometimes have a player who crosses them. They might fudge stats, lie about die rolls, have a SchrŲdingerís spell book, stack bonuses that donít stack, or a million other things that vary from game to game and over time, it will really begin to tick off other players, who are following the rules and being outshone.

    This can be the hardest type of problem player to deal with because no one wants to be in the position of accusing their friend of cheating. Some ways to deal with it arenot to single anyone out, but ask the group writ large to behave in particular ways, such as rolling in the center of the table, doing character creation in front of you, using point-buy for stats instead of rolling or keeping you provided with an updated copy of their character sheet (which you should have anyway). In the end though, thatís not always fair to the other players and there may come a point, as a group, where the person needs to be confronted and asked to stop doing it or leave the group. This should be done as lightly as possible, without accusation as much as a request that everyone do things the same way. If it gets to this point and the player refuses to follow the group-set rules then...

    The Maladjusted: A frequent cause of trouble in games happens when, for lack of a better word, one player starts acting immaturely. They bully other party members. They steal from them. They attack them. They randomly murder NPCs. They throw a fit if things donít work out their way. In short, they use the context of the game as a safe way to take out their pent up aggression and angst on other people. They do so at the expense of everyone else at the table, frequently causing the kind of out of character bad blood that can ruin friendships and cause players to just drop out of games.

    This is not to say that a campaign with character conflict, backstabbing, stealing and general mistrust among the PCs cannot be fun. It can, so long as everyone is mature about it and knows what they signed up for. The kind of player we are talking about isnít one who plays a psychotic killer in a game were everyone is playing some kind of evil SOB or other. This is the guy who plays the psychotic killer in the game where everyone else is a shiny good guy trying to save the princess. Not only that, he says heís a good guy as he lobs fireballs at the party bard.

    This can be a very tricky situation and there are three common ways of dealing with it.

    The impulse solution is just to drop the DMly Fist of Doom and smite his character or to let the other party members strike back, kill the playerís character, loot his corpse and roast his familiar in a nice lemon glaze. Tempting as this is, it is usually not a viable fix. For one thing, it exacerbates any intrapersonal problems which already exist at the table. Second, after the screaming and arguing stops, the player will probably ask to make a new character and attempt to use that character to get revenge on the party for the first one, continuing the cycle. Cathartic as Ďteaching him a lessoní may seem, in the long run it does more harm than good.

    The easier solution is simply to tell them it is Time to Go. Often times, thatís also the only solution, as the same pent up issues that cause them to be jerks playing the game will make them refuse to change their behavior. Try to talk to them first. Donít single them out in front of the rest of the group, pull them aside before you start or ask them to stay a little after the session is over. Emphasize that the game is supposed to be fun for everyone and the way they are playing is keeping other players from having as much fun (try not to single out any other members of the group as unhappy, that will typically make things worse). If you made a party contract, remind them of what it said. If they say that it is just how their character would be have, refer them here or offer to help them make a new character that will play better with the rest of the group. If thatís not working, it may be time to cut bait.

    The third option is to try to help them. This takes patience, time, and the consent and understanding of the other players in your group. It is not fair to your other players to keep a destructive player around if they are not cool with it. Your other players come first, since they are not the problem. Keep in mind that many of the kinds of players that fall into this category are teenagers (hello angst!) or people with few social outlets beyond gaming. They may not realize that their behavior is inappropriate. It is even possible that in some group they played in before everyone behaved the way that they do. Treat them with respect but not deference. Donít humor their tantrums and respond to them in a calm, adult and mature manner. Maturity and respect can be contagious. However, be ready to cut your losses and ask them to leave if things get too bad. You are the DM, but you donít have to be a saint.

    Time to Go: Sometimes it just wonít work out. You can talk reasonably, but you are met with invective. You can try to compromise, but they are a brick wall. You can ask them not to do particular things, but they refuse or they agree but keep doing it anyway. A sad truth about this life is that sometimes, people just canít be reasoned with and keeping them around actually causes more harm to the fun than having them around adds to it. At this stage it doesnít really matter what the source of the problem was. Whatever it is, itís not getting resolved. Frankly, itís time for someone to leave, or be tossed from, the group.

    When you have the conversation, aside from the general advice above, remember to emphasize that itís no ones fault (even if it is) and that it is just a difference in play style. Tell them that some game later might work better as a fit for everyone in the group. Donít tell them they are banned forever. Hopefully, before the conversation you were still friends. Remain so afterwards. Don't ruin a friendship. Besides, people mature over time, and the problem player now may be an awesome group oriented player two years from now. That's not just wishful thinking, I have one in my group just like that.



    As before, any suggested additions are welcome! I know I missed a few from the older thread as well if folks would remind me of what they were I'd be grateful.
    Last edited by AKA_Bait; 2013-08-23 at 10:41 AM. Reason: Took out empty section that I'm realisticially never going to fill.
    So You Wanna Be A DM? A Potentially Helpful Guide
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Wow. Wow. Again, wow.

    This work is surprisingly in-depth, and really quite useful. It's entirely helpful, and covers a great number of topics.

    I'd recommend this thread to a fledgeling DM. Definitely.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    This was a great guide. I was going to attempt to start a game, and it would be my first time DMing without help, so this is a very helpful guide.
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    How about an ďother concernsĒ title that deals with things like no-show players, drop outs (of the game, not school) and other factors that can come into play.

    I let a pc control a no-show player for the session. Iím pretty fair, as long as Iím given a decent reason (girlfriend wants the night alone with player, family dog died etc) life happens after all. However when people start not showing up without explanations (Iím always available to telephone and everyone has my number) I start to consider dropping them. I make sure the remainder of the group is ok with the decision to drop them.

    Another thing to consider is DMPCs. This is where a lot of Dms fall flat on their faces. Some dms make these characters vastly more powerful than the rest of the party, then the party with the DMís Mary Sue.
    This is usually a BAD idea. DMPCs should have two main functions, the first is to fill in a party role, say no one decided to play a healing class, a DMPC cleric would fill in that roll and contribute only as much as necessary. The second is plot reasons. Say a ranger asks that the pcs help him with defeating of an orc warlord, the ranger is likely to take the players to the warlord and participate in the battle. In these situations the DMPC is a temporary ally and probably wonít be willing to continue to adventure with the heroes. Any other function is probably not really needed.

    Lets see, I canít think of anything else off the top of my head.

    This thread is great, I vote it gets stickied.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Thank you, thank you, a hundred times thank you!

    As a player in a friend's game I knew enough about the rules and everyones' playstyles that I was technically able to run the group's next campaign. I knew, deep down, I wasn't gonna hack it, though.

    For me it was a confidence issue; I tend to overanalyze a situation, to cover every conceivable angle and outcome so much so that any encounter writing was bogged down and slow in production; I wanted to provide so much for them and, more importantly, not be caught on the back foot that I was almost playing the encounters for them.

    After reading this and various other sources I've finally come to terms with the fact that- yeah, I'll screw up occasionally, it's gonna happen, but the whole session/campaign/world isn't going to blow up because of it.

    My thoughts about combatting backseat DMing, table chatter and the like were a lot more draconian than I had liked, now that I've looked at some of the more peaceful alternatives and ramifications of certain methods, and so I'm glad to nip that in the bud before it got out of hand even though some of the players really need to be bitchslapped now and again, hoo boy..

    So once again, from an aspiring DM, thanks for the guide and I look forward to more pearls o' wisdom. :)
    Purveyor of Pies and the Iron Kingdoms!

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Some addendums for you...
    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Have each player explain their character concept to the rest of the group.
    It can help to spend the first hour or two of the initial session brainstorming character background as a group. This makes it easy to start with the characters as acquaintances if not friends and helps keep character goals consistent - or at least not in opposition to each other.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Explain any houserules you plan to employ.
    This is worth reiterating. Don't surprise your players with game rules. Surprise them with what happens inside the context of the rules. :)

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Find out where they want to go with the character, mechanically.
    Along the same lines, find out how they plan on playing the character. What role(s) do they plan on filling? To some degree this should be shared between the players themselves. That way they're not surprised when the cleric heads into melee instead of healing, or the fighter stands back and shoots his bow, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Donít Argue About the Rules:
    Unless you know the correct ruling or it will materially affect the outcome of the game, consider ruling in favor of the PCs on an interim basis. It's generally easy to correct before the next session and often prevents the need to apologize when the player actually did know the rule better than you.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    It Just Works:
    As AKA_Bait says, getting bogged down in a constant stream of meaningless checks isn't fun. Consider using the last Listen roll until they get to a door where it matters, the last Search roll until they find (or miss) a trap, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Try to Speed Decisions:
    It often helps to stay one player ahead in initiative. When Player A is up, tell Player B he's next. When B is up, tell C he's next, etc. That usually gets them planning their action before they need to act.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Let The Players Do The Work
    Definitely! Some related advice I read online a while ago, "Tell your players yes or say roll the dice." If they want to do something, let them try. A failure is more interesting than nothing happening because they were told not to try or it couldn't be done.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Question True Stupidity
    Remember what the comedian (I think Foxworthy) said, give stupid people a sign! He wants to jump in the spiked pit? Ok, the spikes are a bit rusty...he'll be wandering around with rust marks on his posterior until he has time to clean and repair his armor or clothing. Sometimes humiliation is the best teacher. One major caveat, don't play favorites. Make sure the player does it to himself...even warn them..."Those spikes look rusty, you sure you want to jump in?"

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Let Stupidity Take Its Course
    Even beyond simple stupidity, character actions should have in game consequences. It's part of what makes a player's decision meaningful. If all problems are solved by slaughtering every potential cause they'll be feared and unwelcome in most civilized areas. They're also not likely to get any job offers requiring subtlety and may be used as assassins even when that's not why they're officially hired. At the extreme, they'll be hunted outcasts and 'good' parties will be hired to hunt down the evildoers.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Have A Key Information Backup Plan
    Hehe, this is important. I think most GMs run into this at one point or another.

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Admitting Defeat
    If you think fast on your feet or just know the area well enough you can avoid the need for using 'DM fiat'. If they want to burn an entire wand of Passwall going through your maze, why not? If there's something in the maze that's truly important, leave a few clues up ahead of it. Even a map of the maze showing where the 'Tome of Important Clues' resides. That would get them to the information you wanted them to have while avoiding the annoyance of a featureless maze...which is why they burned through the wand to start with.
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    *Absorbs all the information*

    This is incredible, as well as very useful. I really owe you one, man.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    That's an excellent guide, AKA_Bait. I'm sure there are quite a few inexperienced DMs who will find this very helpful. I personally found the section on ending a session to be quite interesting.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    I nominate it for stickiness

    It seems like this kind of succinctness is what should be in the DMG, but unfortunately, they have space to fill.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    That was incredibly useful. I've rad so many threads about "D&D horror stories" that could have been resolved if the DM would have read this first.

    This should go in the front of the DMG with an "Important! Read me!" label above it.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    I'd also like to see this stickied. (What I'd really like is to see it in the 4th edition DMG, but I don't think we could be so lucky.)

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Good job, Sir Bait. I salute you.


    Player: I set fire to the Inn.

    Keep a few NPCs statted out and to the side in case you need impromptu guardsmen, healers or a bucket brigade. Trust me, you will.
    See, when something like this happens, the player should find out that Ozymandias spends his spare time crime fighting, and just happened to be wooing women with his massive charisma score at that very inn.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    awesome, this looks like it will help me a lot when i try to be a DM.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    At first glance, looks worth putting a link to in my signature, if you don't mind.

    Having read it over, good work. Here are some highlights:

    I like to use Post-itís or index cards to keep track of initiative. If you keep a stack with each NPC/Monsters critical stats and initiative rolls you can slide into combat pretty much seamlessly.
    This is something that I started doing a few months ago. I thought it might speed up combat a little bit. Instead, it sped up combat a lot. I mean a LOT a lot.

    Not only are you not your players mother (in most cases anyway) but starting off a session in an imperious and confrontational way will lead to an unpleasant dynamic for the rest of the session.
    Ah, I find this comment amusing. Of course, my mother actually was my first DM, so. . .

    Food:
    My group typically orders food at the beginning of the session. That way the interruption occurs during that 20 minute chat period at the beginning of the game.

    Roll Initiative:
    My comment about the index cards applies here. I've started using this advice a few months back for my tabletops as well. I have the PCs roll initiative at the beginning of the session, and at the end of each combat, that way the dramatic tension doesn't break. If your players have issues with knowing their initiative in advance, roll initiative for them. That way they still don't know.

    Donít Argue About the Rules:
    I don't personally have this problem. My player base knows that I know, and is courteous enough to assume I'm right during the session, and possibly look it up later if they think I was wrong, and bring it up between games.
    Last edited by Skjaldbakka; 2008-04-01 at 02:21 AM.
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    There is one type of problem player that, although most people know about, you might want to include for the sake of completeness. Tabletop RPGs attract more than its fair share of social misfits, so it is likely that you will eventually have to deal with people who have... issues. If you only play with people you know well, this probably won't come up; it's much more likely to happen if a player brings a friend to the game. These are the people who use RPGs as an excuse to act like a total prick: they'll steal from and/or attack other players, deliberately derail you as often as they can, and if sexual frustration is added to the mix, things will get really ugly really fast. Setting ground rules early on may help, and then again it may not. You will probably have no choice but to eject these people from your game and, these people being who they are, they probably won't go nicely, so you're going to have to plan a way of doing so (it's very unlikely that it will come to getting the police involved, but it has been known to happen).


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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Yet another problem I've never had to deal with. I've had some problem players of that sort, but they never gave me any trouble after I throw them out. That may be related to my physical stature. That tends to dissaude people from getting 'difficult' in that particular way.
    Last edited by Skjaldbakka; 2008-04-01 at 11:14 PM.
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    A piece of advice, top of my mind, just whatever im thinking of right now?

    If the players want to mess up your beautiful planned world by being silly - let them.

    What is more important, the world or that the players have fun?
    If they break it beyond repair, well thats what we have multible dimensions for ;)

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Quote Originally Posted by TheThan View Post
    How about an ďother concernsĒ title that deals with things like no-show players, drop outs (of the game, not school) and other factors that can come into play.
    That's not a bad idea. I've been trying to figure out where to put things like 'oops I TPKed the party' and that section would fit that too. If things remain slow in the office I might have it up today.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheThan
    DMPC Stuff
    Thought I dealt with that sufficently in the Let the Players Do The Work section. Do you think it needs more? I've been trying to avoid using the term DMPC specifically. Many a flamewar has started over the meaning of those 4 letters...

    Quote Originally Posted by Raum View Post
    some addendums for you...
    Most of these I feel like I have in there in one phrasing or another and since it is already 20 single spaced pages long (I printed it out to proof over dinner last night) I don't want to add legnth repeating things too much. Other stuff though...

    Unless you know the correct ruling or it will materially affect the outcome of the game, consider ruling in favor of the PCs on an interim basis. It's generally easy to correct before the next session and often prevents the need to apologize when the player actually did know the rule better than you.
    As much as it would be nice to rule for the players on a temp basis many of the 'I didn't see that coming' moments arise when there is a rules interpretation dispute. Interum ruling the way you understand it, and negating the surprise, seems more practical to me so I'll leave that endorsement as is in the main body of the text. Additionally, ruling for the players off the bat seems to undermine the 'dm decides on iffy rules' default I like to maintain in my games.

    It is really a matter of style though. Personally, I'd rather have things not get bogged down/derailed and have to apologize later than vice versa.

    It often helps to stay one player ahead in initiative. When Player A is up, tell Player B he's next. When B is up, tell C he's next, etc. That usually gets them planning their action before they need to act.
    Although this can be useful to move things, I feel like it takes away from the spotlight on the player whose turn it is and I'd rather not have it in the main part of the article.

    Quote Originally Posted by raum
    If you think fast on your feet or just know the area well enough you can avoid the need for using 'DM fiat'. If they want to burn an entire wand of Passwall going through your maze, why not? If there's something in the maze that's truly important, leave a few clues up ahead of it. Even a map of the maze showing where the 'Tome of Important Clues' resides. That would get them to the information you wanted them to have while avoiding the annoyance of a featureless maze...which is why they burned through the wand to start with.
    Yes. That situation you described is more like the one where you ask for an extra 20 minutes, to prepare whatever comes after the maze, which you had planned for next week.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skjaldbakka View Post
    My group typically orders food at the beginning of the session. That way the interruption occurs during that 20 minute chat period at the beginning of the game.
    You have a delivery place that gets there in 20 minutes consistantly? Jealous hatred blooming...

    Quote Originally Posted by Turcano View Post
    These are the people who use RPGs as an excuse to act like a total prick: they'll steal from and/or attack other players, deliberately derail you as often as they can, and if sexual frustration is added to the mix, things will get really ugly really fast.
    I have been debating adding a group like this. I probably will. Players like this, in particular, need to be handled carefully and with some understanding. Many are frustrated teenagers for whom the game is one of their only social outlets.

    Quote Originally Posted by A Few Posters
    Sticky!
    I'd like that. The idea is really to have something that the community keeps adding to over time that will be easy to see for a new DM looking for advice. New DM's could even even post with specific questions on the thread which are not addressed in the article.
    So You Wanna Be A DM? A Potentially Helpful Guide
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Great post, saying most of what is normally said. I would add somthing about the advantages of starting at lv. 1, but not make it sound like a necessity.

    Sticky for sure! (Although I think we may lack a permenant mod. for the moment...)
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    The main question that any DM should ask before making a house-rule or exception is, "Is it balanced?"

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    I have been debating adding a group like this. I probably will. Players like this, in particular, need to be handled carefully and with some understanding. Many are frustrated teenagers for whom the game is one of their only social outlets.
    One should always be ready to dole out the harshness in this sort of event.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Quote Originally Posted by BardicDuelist View Post
    (Although I think we may lack a permenant mod. for the moment...)
    Er? I thought that Roland St. Jude and the Grey Watcher were our Mods. Has something changed?

    I hope not. They do a good job.
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Thought I dealt with that sufficently in the Let the Players Do The Work section. Do you think it needs more? I've been trying to avoid using the term DMPC specifically. Many a flamewar has started over the meaning of those 4 letters...
    Oh it looks like you did, this is what I get for skimming through the parts l read in the last thread. Heh, that rimes...

    Anyway it doesn't really need more advice on it. feel free to continue.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Very nice. I actually just finished re-reading the Foundation trilogy, the reference was well appreciated. I wish I'd had this a few months ago. So much suffering on the part of my players could've been avoided. Not that they KNEW they were suffering and missing out.
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    I'm planning to start a little DMing over the next couple of months, no doubt I will be glad to have read this thread when I do.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    for a nubby DM-to-be like myself this thread is a godsend

    thank you!
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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Just a quick question, how do you know what to take notes on?

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Anything you think youíll forget, and anything you think is important. Thatís the easy answer.

    I take notes on npc names, jobs, locations and maybe a little bit of info on their personality.

    For combat encounters and dungeons I stat out every room and take notes on hallways with important stuff in them. I try to keep notes on where things are in the world (a map helps).


    Another option is to get a notebook and let another player record specific events (suggest they take turns, keeps writers cramp down and lets everyone focus on the game), think of it as a adventuring journal. They donít have to record every twist and turn in the dungeon, just the basic events. (Killed dragon, looted horde, partied afterward).

    Just remember, organization will set you free.

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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Quote Originally Posted by Zeful View Post
    Just a quick question, how do you know what to take notes on?
    Anything you know is going to come up in the session, or is reasonably likely to, even if not certain.

    That, and a small set of "contingency" plans -- general-purpose creatures/NPCs/locales, etc., for when your players do something unexpected. You won't use them every time, but when you do need them, you'll be glad to have them.


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    Default Re: So You Wanna Be A DM?: A Potentially Helpful Guide (Reposted and Updated)

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA_Bait View Post
    Er? I thought that Roland St. Jude and the Grey Watcher were our Mods. Has something changed?

    I hope not. They do a good job.
    In the interest of not derailing this thread, I'll PM you.

    As far as what to take notes on, I usually do my best to record everything that my players have (items, etc) and the people they interacted with.

    The items or people that seem insignificant at the time, I try to reuse. It seems clever to the players when you have some small conversation become a large plot point later on, but the trick is to do it differently each time and not to overuse it. It also helps when you are stuck for somthing to do next or when your players take a different direction than you would normally expect.
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    The main question that any DM should ask before making a house-rule or exception is, "Is it balanced?"

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