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
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.
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
, 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
, color spray
, 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
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.