Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

GM Tips, Tricks, & General Advice

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Originally posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    I guess Cailano is no longer around, but is this still the right place to ask questions about being a DM?
    I do still come check this thread from time to time, happy to answer any questions people might have.

    I've been thinking of starting up a blog that is based on this thread, but so far I haven't managed to motivate myself to do it.

    Comment


      I'm not actually planning on DM-ing anything for a while, but the writing prompt things on here look really fun.
      What about a narrow, crumbling bridge for the fight setting?
      Or a room full of valuable, very fragile things; if you somehow manage not to break something during the fight, you get to keep it.
      Or you could replace the fragile treasures with dragon eggs. If you step on one, the formerly indifferent mother dragon will rip your head off.

      Comment


        Originally posted by RealWittyAlias View Post
        I'm not actually planning on DM-ing anything for a while, but the writing prompt things on here look really fun.
        What about a narrow, crumbling bridge for the fight setting?
        Or a room full of valuable, very fragile things; if you somehow manage not to break something during the fight, you get to keep it.
        Or you could replace the fragile treasures with dragon eggs. If you step on one, the formerly indifferent mother dragon will rip your head off.
        I like it. Like a fight in a treasure room where you get to keep whatever fragile treasures you don't smash? That just calls for some special rules for that fight that determine what gets broken. Maybe penalties for big weapons and area effect spells? Fantastic concept.

        Comment


          this was very helpful, even today !
          Easy Minecraft Quiz for everyone

          Comment


            Nice! Glad to hear it, Crafting. And welcome to TTW!

            Comment


              Hi everyone, and welcome back to GM Tips and Tricks.

              Wow, it's been nine years since I started this column. It's scary how fast that went by. I could go on and on about all the life changes since then, but I won't. It's been a really good near-decade on my end, and I've gotten a lot of good gaming in along with a bunch of wonderful IRL stuff. I've obviously been away from TTW for a long time, but RaistlinMC invited me back and it's great to see all the changes around here.

              I've continued to run PbP games while I've been away, including an epic multi-year run at the Jade Regent Pathfinder adventure path. I've run some IRL games, too, and I've switched from Pathfinder 1e to D&D 5E and some OSR systems.

              But I really cut my teeth here on TTW, with the Curse of the Crimson Throne AP. Good memories.

              Anyway, I've learned a LOT, and I thought I'd come to share it with everybody.

              For those who have left comments over the years, thank you. It means a lot and I'm glad you got some value out of these posts.

              Onward.
              Last edited by cailano; 4 weeks ago.

              Comment


                Preparing to Run a Published Campaign
                Part One: Selecting the Campaign

                Of course, my first action back at TTW has been to get a campaign going.

                I went through the whole homebrew vs. published campaign decision process and decided to run a published work. It's not that I think I'm bad at creating homebrew games, but they do involve a lot of work if you're going to get the "production value" of a published campaign from a group like Wizards of the Coast or Paizo, and I do love that production value. Plus, you know, I'm pretty good at running published adventures. It's kind of my thing.

                What follows is a sort of journal of the process I go through when preparing to run a published campaign. Throughout, I will attempt to articulate what I'm thinking at each stage and give tips about things to be aware of while you're prepping your own games. Choosing and diving into a professionally designed campaign book can be an adventure in itself but also a challenge. I hope that the next few posts can help other game masters navigate the process and come out the other side with something that is inspired by what is written on the page but which is also their own.

                The first big decision I had to make was which campaign to run.

                I've been collecting a lot of the 5E campaigns as they've come out, and I've paid a fair amount of attention to some of the 3rd Party authors out there, like MT Black (who went on to write Descent into Avernus), DM Dave, and Kelsy Dionne of The Arcane Library. We're in a golden age of RPG adventures, and I'm so happy there is so much great material to draw from.

                So, with quality material all around, how's a DM to make a decision? It really just came down to what I felt like running. I decided to go with a longer work because players engage more with those, even though they rarely get finished in PbP. I then narrowed my field still further to games set in the Forgotten Realms. I'm actually not a huge fan of the Realms as a setting, but there is a ton of support material online for it, including maps, lore, etc. Also, most of the 5E campaigns are based there, so the Realms gave me the most options.

                Then, I started reading reviews. Not just Reddit posts on who liked what, but in-depth reviews that included outlines of the adventures and critiques of the various parts of them.

                Then, I asked myself what I felt like running. As I mentioned, I've been on a bit of an OSR kick lately, and I wanted something that could give a little bit of that "oh my god, we're going to die" vibe that was more prevalent in the early editions of the game. The sense of danger and exploration in the old B/X games was a wonderful thing.

                I even thought about running an OSR game but decided against it. I'll post more on that at a later date.

                With that OSR feel in mind, I started reading a few of the campaigns in my collection. What was I looking for? Exploration, a sense of dread and wonder, a reason to keep an eye on resources like food and light. I wanted something dangerous, but also something with some potentially great moments scattered throughout the campaign.

                I narrowed in on three: Storm King's Thunder, Tomb of Annihilation, and Rime of the Frost Maiden.

                I loved the Shakespeare-meets-high-fantasy vibe of SKT. I loved the ruthlessness of TOA.

                In reality, I still haven't ruled either of those games out completely, but I decided to deep dive into Rime of the Frost Maiden first. I like where the authors are going with the whole isolation/survival horror theme of the game, and it sounds like there are some great moments to be had as the game goes on. I haven't committed 100% yet, but I'm reading.

                So, what does all this mean for you and your games?

                Basically, you can follow the same steps I did.
                1. Familiarize yourself with what's out there
                2. Eliminate campaigns that aren't right for you at the current moment
                3. Read some reviews and get a feel for what you're most interested in
                4. Think about what sort of game you want to run and why, and decide on a few campaigns that best capture those themes
                5. Don't fully commit to one, but commit enough to buy the campaign and to start reading **
                In my next post, I'll talk a bit about my thought process as I start to read a game and how I wrap my head around turning it into (what I hope will be) an epic PbP experience.

                ** Alternately, you can be like me and collect way more gaming material than you'll ever use. Then, just pull something off your shelf.
                Last edited by cailano; 3 weeks ago.

                Comment


                  Preparing to Run a Published Campaign
                  Part Two: How Much to Read and How to Read It

                  For those who have read this far, I'll share something I found while researching Rime of the Frostmaiden: a Spotify playlist named for it. I recommend it. Very atmospheric. Listen while you read.

                  Now on to the topic. Given a campaign book like RotF, how much do you really need to read? I mean, the book is 320 pages long. Do you have to read the whole thing?

                  No, you don't. Here's the thing: your campaign won't be exactly what is in the book, and it will deviate more from the book the longer you go. The PCs will impose their will on the game, and you will add pieces of yourself to it. You will take parts out that you don't think are interesting or don't feel reflect the type of game you want to run. That's not just normal; it's the right way to do things. A published campaign book is a guideline. The campaign itself is yours.

                  I recommend reading the introduction and character creation segments of the book. While you are doing so, start thinking about your recruitment. Are there certain types of characters you think would fit this game? You'll want to mention that to your prospective players. Are there certain character types you don't think will work in that campaign? Tell people that, too.

                  My take of RotF is that I should encourage players to be Humans, Dwarves, or Goliaths. I don't know that I need to forbid any races, but I should probably let my players know what I think will work.

                  I also think about what classes would be interesting in this campaign. So far, most seem like they will work fine, but I think I'd really like to see someone play a fighter-as-ranger. A hard-edged survivalist who treks the frozen wilds of Icewind Dale with nothing but his (or her) wit and weapons. I love fighters-as-rangers. Real hunters don't need a spell list.

                  Once you've read the introduction, look for the "flow of the game" section. This is called different things in different books, but it's basically a roadmap of how the campaign will flow from part to part. Using this map, flip around a bit in the book. Look for set-piece scenes and major NPCs. See what fires up your imagination. You want to have at least some idea of what is coming up, and what you'd really like the PCs to get to.

                  Lastly, what you want to do is to read the entirety of part one**. This is where your game will start, and your campaign must start well. You need to start fast, and you need to establish character motivation within a couple of weeks of your start date.

                  I could write a whole article on getting a fast start to a campaign. I think I will. But not right now.

                  For now, I'll mention that as I read part one of RotF, I'm a little concerned about the beginning. It is disjointed and sandboxy, and while players love to say they like a sandbox, in my experience, they can be easy to get lost in. Sandbox adventures are challenging for DMs, and the biggest challenge is establishing and maintaining a sense of pace in the game. Second to that is making sure the PCs are engaged with the plot. If they aren't motivated, the players will tend to drift away, and then the campaign dies.

                  Since I know that potential problem is there, I can start to plan for it. Where do I want to start the game? Should I establish mood first? Go for an in media res opening? I'm still not sure which direction I'll go as of this writing. I think it might help to have one of the PCs be a Cleric or Paladin sworn to a deity that opposes Auril the Frostmaiden since she is a big part of the campaign. Maybe I can ask the players to build the group around that character.

                  Once you've finished reading part one and have a good idea of how you will get your campaign off to a good start, it is time to plan your recruitment.

                  I'm still not done reading part one of RotF, so I'm going to sign off and get back to it. In my next post, I'll talk about why I did or did not commit to the campaign. If I do, in fact, decide to move forward, I'll also talk about planning a recruitment.

                  ** EDIT - Actually, don't read the entirety of part one of Rime of the Frostmaiden. After I wrote that advice above, I realized that part one is 100 pages long! Instead, skim through each of the Ten Towns. There is at least one quest associated with each town, plus a couple of additional quests that can happen anywhere. The PCs only need to complete five of these. My advice here would be to pick a starting location for them, read everything to do with that town, and have a vague idea of the hooks that can lead the PCs elsewhere. You can read in-depth about whatever town they pick when it comes up. One of the great things about PbP is that we have lots of time to prepare our materials..
                  Last edited by cailano; 4 weeks ago.

                  Comment


                    Excellent tips from an excellent GM! I know we have a lot of new faces around here these days, so I really appreciate you taking the time to write all that out for folks, Cai! Much appreciated, old friend. :)

                    Comment


                      Preparing to Run a Published Campaign
                      Part Two (cont.)

                      After realizing that reading all 100 pages of Part One of Rime of the Frostmaiden wouldn't be an efficient use of prep time, I switched to skimming. There are Ten Towns in Icewind Dale, and each one is detailed in the book, much as they would be in a campaign sourcebook. Each town also has a quest associated with it, with some being longer than others.

                      Some of the quests look more interesting than others, and those seem to have more hooks leading to them. I get the idea at this point. The PCs will choose what path they take throughout part one, which basically ends when they reach fifth level. Before the start of the game, I'd want to read in-depth on whatever town the group was going to start in. Afterward, I'd just need to do enough prep to stay ahead of the group.

                      I'm still not 100% sold on this campaign. Parts of it look really fun, but I'm worried about maintaining PC motivation as it seems like they could decide to leave Icewind Dale at any time, and I'd have very few good tools to stop them from doing so. I have a few ideas for giving the PCs a stake in saving Icewind Dale from the nastiness Auril has wrought, but I haven't settled on a good one.

                      And that's a big deal because, in PbP, these campaigns are a real commitment. While the 5E books aren't nearly as involved as the Pathfinder Adventure Paths, they would still take a couple of years to play through, and that's for a group that posted daily.**

                      So, what is a DM to do? You will almost assuredly reach this point when considering a published campaign. The way I see it, I have two options:

                      1. Start reading another campaign book. I think my backup plan would be Tomb of Annihilation.
                      2. Skim later chapters in Rime of the Frostmaiden and see if any of them convince me the work to keep the PCs interested in the beginning will pay off down the road.

                      I think I'm going to go with option two. I'm close to a decision point here, but I need a little more to push me over the edge.

                      ** Note: As the DM, you want to have at least five posting sessions per week, probably with multiple posts in each session. Pacing is critical to a successful PbP campaign, and the number of posts you put up is one of the big drivers of pace. Back in 2012, I recommended ten posts per day. That was probably excessive, but you want to post a lot.
                      Last edited by cailano; 4 weeks ago.

                      Comment


                        Preparing to Run a Published Campaign
                        Part Three: Decision Point

                        After my last post, I took a couple of days and skimmed through the remainder of Rime of the Frost Maiden, and I decided I will try to make it work. PC motivation will be a challenge, but there are enough potentially epic scenes in the campaign that it should be worth the effort. I'm anxious to see how the players navigate the adventure. It is most definitely not a railroad. The PCs will have to pay attention to hints and clues in the game to figure out their next moves. There will be some big choices for them. It's going to be interesting.

                        Now, with that decision out of the way, I get to wrap my head around the kind of campaign I really want to run. Rime of the Frostmaiden bills itself as a survival horror game, but there are many ways a DM could go with it. Grimdark, mystery, action-adventure, maybe even comedy. In the next post, I'll go into finding the themes in an adventure and thinking about the kind of mood you want to create and how you're going to do that. Basically, I will talk about you take a published campaign and bend it into your campaign. This is the fun part.
                        Last edited by cailano; 3 weeks ago.

                        Comment


                          Preparing to Run a Published Adventure
                          Part Four: Mood and How to Create It

                          In Rime of the Frostmaiden, the evil goddess Auril has locked the Icewind Dale region in her "long winter." Her powerful magic warps the day into only four hours of twilight, followed by many hours of night. It is a dark, cold setting full of people trying desperately to survive. The Ten Towns are weak and struggling. Evil things that the Towns would normally keep at bay are roaming freely. It's a bad scene.

                          The authors of the campaign cite two main sources for the feel they are going for: The 1982 John Carpenter movie The Thing and Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, which is another tale about an Antarctic expedition horribly wrong.

                          There are a couple of elements that make those stories work. There is a weirdness to both of them. A sense of wonder that comes from discovery, no matter how frightening that discovery. There is also a sense of isolation. What these observations tell me is that this game needs to emphasize exploration, mystery, and danger. I have some ideas that should make the PCs feel more like explorers. I'm going to make them track supplies and resources, and I'm going to develop ways to limit utility spells that might make them feel safe. Light, for example, is probably a spell I don't want in this game. I'll rule that the same spell Auril uses to limit the sun itself also limits the use of magical light. It's going to be torches and lanterns for this unfortunate group.

                          To get that sense of isolation in the adventure, I feel like the PCs need to be stuck. If they can jump on the nearest horse and be in Neverwinter in a week, that's not isolation. So, I will need to get the players to the Ten Towns and then trap them.

                          Weather is an obvious way to do that, and I'll use it, but I also want the players to have a good reason to be there. Perhaps a mission from a PC's deity, or maybe they need to help someone they care about. I'll figure it out more once the characters are being made, but those poor bastards will get snowed in big time.

                          In Icewind Dale, few come in, and no one gets out.

                          The Ten Towns need to feel like tiny candles in a vast, dark place. The early adventures are near the town, but as the characters level up, they get to head out onto the ice, and I want them to feel unmoored while they are out there. The lands to the north need to feel ancient and mysterious. I can convey that by dropping clues about later adventures and giving the PCs opportunities to find signs of people and places long forgotten. That should give us the PCs a sense of discovery. If I can mix that with a sense of growing horror, then I'll really have something special going. That might be easier said than done, though. I'm going to have to feel that out as the game proceeds. It has to be organic, or it won't work.

                          I'm also going to make some changes to the Ten Towns themselves. In the Fifth Edition, Wizards of the Coat has made an effort to make Dungeons and Dragons much more inclusive. Although I find that to be a noble effort, a lot of diversity in an area doesn't say "weird, isolated, backwater" to me. It feels more like a major metropolis. Icewind Dale isn't Waterdeep. I'm going to create a human-dominated region with people that are insular and suspicious of things outside their experience—a place with dark secrets. It won't be as inclusive of Tieflings, Dragonborn, etc., but it will be more atmospheric.

                          Not everyone will be human, of course. It is still the Forgotten Realms. I'll add some dwarves and a few Goliaths as appropriate to the setting, but I'd like the PCs to feel like outsiders there, especially at first.

                          I'll also need to be clear in my recruitment. I'll use verbiage that sets the stage for the mood I want to create so that players come in with that expectation. I want a group that has a reason to stick together and a reason to go to Icewind Dale for an extended period of time. It feels like a recruitment I'll have to be fairly active in because this game will fall flat without the right group of players and characters.

                          In the next post, I'll go over setting up a good recruitment and using it to establish the foundations of your campaign.
                          Last edited by cailano; 3 weeks ago.

                          Comment


                            Well, it has been a couple of weeks since my last post and I think I have to admit that Rime of the Frostmaiden just isn't doing it for me. Published campaigns are a big undertaking. I've had them last more than a year a couple of times, and in one case for several years. You need that excitement at the beginning. You need that compulsion to dive into the story.

                            Don't get me wrong. Rime of the Frostmaiden looks interesting, but I think maybe not interesting enough to invest that kind of time in. I'd run it at the table, but not in a PbP format.

                            That being said, I hope the decision-making "journal" I've posted above is helpful to you in your own search for a campaign to run. I am probably going to have to repeat it myself a few times, although I won't belabor the point by asking others to read about it!

                            Comment


                              Hi Cai! I am actually planning on running it via PbP in the foreseeable future (1-3 months' time), and your commentary is interesting to read. Actually, there's a great review over at the Alexandrian which highlights some of the key problematic issues (and there are lots)! It's a gem, but a very flawed one-I hope to be able to fix the problems, and the slow nature of PbP is my ally, but we shall see how it goes!
                              Game master: The road not taken (TTW link and Obsidian portal link)

                              Comment

                              Working...
                              X