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Lake's DM Academy 1: Before Session 0

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    Lake's DM Academy 1: Before Session 0

    Lake’s DM Academy

    Post 1: Before Session 0

    Are you wanting to start running a game? Maybe you have that insane itch that all people that run games or tell stories have. Maybe it’s because a curiosity based on either what you have experienced firsthand at the table with your friends and family or by watching podcasts like Critical Role or Dimension 20 has arisen inside. Either way, this post is for you. This is probably not the most original material, even for me. I previously had written a number of blogs on the old Tangled Web site that had did not make the transfer.

    Before you can craft your world and have adventurers wandering through it, you’re going to be faced with a blank sheet of paper or a blinking cursor on a blank word document. Writer’s block is a serious issue, especially when you have no ideas already in your head. Before you build your campaign, there are a few questions that need answered.

    Question 1: Which system should I choose? What about genre?

    At first blush, this may seem to be very simple. All the biggest games are epic fantasy, right?

    Not necessarily. Even within the biggest names and genres, there is a wide variety of choice. Genre wise, as a tiny sampling you have:

    Fantasy: Games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder

    Science Fiction: Starfinder, Warhammer 40k, Star Wars

    Western: Deadlands

    Horror: Call of Cthulu

    Modern: Dresden Files, d20 Modern

    Even popular properties like Pokemon and Star Trek have dedicated RPGS.

    You also have “Genreless” systems that don’t have a setting built in, but require you to attach your own genre to like FATE, PBtA and GURPs.

    Even within those larger general genre umbrellas, you have smaller sub-genres. For instance fantasy encompasses sub-genres like High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Wuxia (Asian) Fantasy.

    You can often use those systems to adapt to what types of story you want to tell. I personally have run games with mystery, western, and other elements while still using a fantasy base. You do need to be careful here though. Not every system is meant to be used with every game. Just because you think it may be fun to run a My Little Pony game in DnD 5e doesn’t mean that it’s the best system for it. In this case, there’s even a couple of dedicated RPGs for it. (Ponyfinder, Tails of Equestria).

    In addition to your genre, you also need to think about your game’s thematic elements. These are less about the genre and setting your story is set in, and more about the dramatic and literary elements you plan to explore. Themes like Heroism, Family, Nature vs. Civilization, and Greed are common themes you can explore at the table. Be aware that some themes and topics may be upsetting or triggering to some of your players. Sit down and talk to them before you make any final decision.

    Question 2: What setting?

    What setting should I play in? In some cases the game comes with a built in setting, such as Legend of the 5 rings’ Rokugan or Deadland’s alternate western US. In other cases, there are multiple different settings for you to choose from, such as Dungeons and Dragons’ Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Eberron. In some cases you might draw your setting from the real world or from a favorite show, book or film.

    I know that this can lead to paralysis as you stare at a blank piece of paper tryng to make your world and everything in it. Don’t let that get you down. Start with a single town or village at first. Figure out what kind of land you’re in and who lives nearby. Are you in the mountains? In the forest? In a swamp? That’s all you really need to start playng. Add pieces of the world in as you need. Even major chunks like nations, continents and cities can be added in later

    All you really need is “We’re starting in a village in the forest.” to begin.

    Question 3: Module or Homebrew?

    A big question that a lot of rookie Dungeon Masters/Game Masters have is whether or not to run your game from a module, which is a pre-written story by an author working for a company, pr homebrew, which is to tell a story in a world you create from scratch. If that sounds like a lot of work, it certainly can be. I personally tend to homebrew everything.

    Modules can be very tempting because everything is already written and laid out for you. This can be both a positive and a negative. Not every module or adventure path (whatever you call it) is well written and laid out. It can be confusing for a Game Master, especially a beginner. At the same time, it provides a solid framework to build a game on. You may have to adjust levels, encounters NPCs and the like. A friend of mine is quoted as saying “No game survives first contact with your players.” Frequently your players may venture into an area you or the module had not prepared.

    Homebrew does not have that same advantage or disadvantage. If you’re homebrewing, you can essentially run from scratch. All you really need are a few basic ideas and a place to send your players. The downside of homebrew is you have to come up with absolutely everything. That town? You have to name it. That Blacksmith? You have to name him or her. I will do posts on building towns and NPCS later. Sometimes you’ll have to do that on the fly. I once had to build an entire country because my players decided to skip town.

    No matter which way you go, you will need to stretch your improv skills, at least a little bit.

    Question 4: What about your players?

    While you can write stories all day long without players, you cannot play a game without them. An area to consider is your players and it’s easy to overlook. How many players are you going to have? Many RPGs are built for a party of 4-5 players, but what if you only have a party of 3 people or what if you have a lot of people that want to play and end up with a table of 7 or 8 players? These are questions that you have to consider when you build your campaign. You may need to adjust encounters based on the number of players that you have.

    Another thing to consider is your player’s experience level and preferences. You may very well have a mix of players. You may have both veteran players who’ve played since Gygax first looked at wargames and thought “this, but magic” and complete newbies who just picked up their first set of dice and still don’t know which one is the d20. Some of your players love combat. Some will love to roleplay and get into their characters’ head. Some may love delving into dungeons and solving puzzles, others would rather battle bandits and dragons until the cows come home. You have to keep all of these things in mind when writing or adapting a campaign. You need to have patience with your players, epsecially the new ones. Encourage your veterans to come alongside and mentor and aid them at the table.

    You may want to create a list of questions to ask your players to gauge skill levels, experience and themes.

    I know this has been a lot to think about and consider, so I’ll cut this here.

    Happy Running,

    Last edited by LakethePondling; 06-27-2021, 01:59 PM.

    Thanks for the tips and tricks, Lake! These ought to be helpful to newcomers and old-timers (like me) alike. :)


      DM Acadamy 2: The Power of Oneshots

      So, you’ve decided you want to try your hand at running, but you’re still not sure which direction to go? Oneshots are a perfectly valid way to test the waters.

      What is a Oneshot?

      A Oneshot is very very simply put as a short story you play through. Oneshots are designed to be completed in a single session of play, or at the most 2 or 3 sessions. A Campaign may last for dozens or hundreds of sessions spread out over years. Also, Unlike campaigns, which can sometimes be very open-ended, Oneshots have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

      So why use a Oneshot instead of writing a grand campaign to start? Here are a few good arguments for using oneshots


      Getting someone to commit to a single Saturday in July for a few hours is easier than getting people to commit to every Saturday. Many of us are in fact adults with outside lives, families, and jobs. We can’t always commit massive blocks of time to the hobbies we enjoy.

      Ease of Writing

      It’s simpler to write a oneshot than a campaign. That’s the most basic facts. Campaigns require a lot of planning and a very high level of improv to make it work. With a Oneshot, you’re usually only completing a single mission or quest. Therefore, you can usually get by with a very simple story structure when building a oneshot. The only difference between a oneshot and a story is that you need to account for the occasional branching path. It could be your PC’s decide to derp around in town instead of pursue the monster. Account for this in your Oneshot. Here’s an example from one I wrote about players hunting a Were-gorilla. (yes, really.)
      1. IF PCs decide to investigate straightaway, point towards mayor, who offers them 7000 Gold each to investigate, and points them towards old temple just outside town.
      2. IF PCs do NOT investigate immediately and do touristy things, Encounter 1 happens
      Encounter 1: Monkey Swarm x2.

      Describe: How waves of thousands of monkeys come from trees, trashing everything in sight.


      Frequently you can use the ideas and seeds you plant in a oneshot to build out a full campaign. Take the world you crafted and expand it. What other missions does the mayor or Lord have? What dangers lurk in the forest? What made the goblins attack in the first place?

      Also consider that one of the most popular streamed games on the planet, Critical Role started as a oneshot among friends. If that game cam lead to a campaign, your game can as well.

      Happy Gaming,

      Last edited by LakethePondling; 06-25-2021, 11:27 PM.