Advice for New DMs

#RPGChat recently had a discussion of advice for new DMs. I wasn’t able to find it in time, but went back to through my writing in past RPGChats and pulled out what I think my best advice for DMs is. A lot of this isn’t direct advice on how to run a game; there are a lot of lists of that stuff already, so it is hard to find new things to say; rather, this is mostly advice on issues around the game and even advice on other advice. I’ve also limited this list to advice I’ve got personal experience with from one side of the table or the other.

  1. Take all advice you read online with a grain of salt. There is a standard rule you see in every list, which is “Don’t railroad.” Guess what? I once had a very unsuccessful session, one of the worst ones I’ve run. I sat down and talked to the players. They asked me to give more guidance in the sessions and have them less freeform. Take away: Not every rule works for every DM and every group.
  2. Figure out how many people you are comfortable with running for and don’t go over that number. I’m fine with 4-6 depending on the game, I know other GMs who won’t run for more then 4. Running for more people is harder. More people means it is harder to get them to agree on what they are doing, you have to split your attention more ways, running larger combats is harder, and you might not even hear what quieter players want to do. Feel free to tell people your game is full; you don’t have to invite all your friends.
  3. Only you are allowed to invite new people to the game. If someone has a friend, relative, significant other that they want to invite, have them talk to you first. I was once in a game where the DM was not the host. The host kept inviting more and more people until we topped a dozen. The game did not last long after that, since running a game for that many people is really hard. I set a rule during my Call of Cthulhu days limiting it to 4 people; the sessions when I stuck to that rule were by far the best ones of the campaign.
  4. Put the most soft-spoken or shy players close to you. The loud, attention-demanding players will make themselves heard from across the table, the softer-spoken or new and shy players will not.
  5. Feel free to uninvite players. I’ve had some very good friends who were not good players. We simply stopped inviting them. Some got better with time, and in a few years started gaming with us again, others never did. Don’t let one bad player ruin your game. (If you can help it. It is more tricky when they are providing rides for everyone else, or are someones significant other.) To be honest, in some of these cases we would literally just stop inviting the person and not talk about the game around them; that made letting them back into the game when they’d gotten more mature a few years later much easier and avoided a conflict with a good friend. I’m not saying that is the best or most mature approach, just the one we used when we were in high school.
  6. Feel free to ask players to help contribute to out of game stuff. I did a lot of DMing when I was in high school and had no money. I developed the method of asking everyone to bring a contribution to dinner. I’d provide sausages or burgers, and the players would contribute side-dishes, drinks and snacks as they were able. Players who couldn’t afford to do that would help with the cooking and cleaning. On the note of cleaning, don’t be afraid to ask players to help clean up. This is obvious now, but back in high school days we’d game until 2 am, I’d usher everyone out the door and then collapse, then have to spend the next morning cleaning. One day it clicked that I could ask everyone to help tidy before they left, and hosting got a lot more pleasant.
  7. Don’t kill a player’s character the first few sessions they are there. It sucks, and discourages them from wanting to come back. Even in a horror game you can scare the pants off them without killing them.
  8. Design problems, not puzzles. A puzzle has a set solution; your players might not think of it. A problem has an infinite number of solutions, and that is just counting the ones you haven’t thought of. You can give the players some ways to solve a problem, sure, but be sure to keep an open mind to things you haven’t thought of.

Well, those are my random tips for new and young GMs. Hope you find them useful, and I’d love to hear any tips that you have that you think aren’t said enough onlne. Until next time, stay geeky.

–Canageek

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Published in: on September 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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Convention Game Advice: RPG Blog Carnival

The Logo of the RPG Blog Carnival. My father took me to my first gaming convention when I was just starting Grade 9: a small two day convention in the next town over to introduce people to Living Greyhawk. Since then I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing various convention games; for most of my gaming career I had spent more time playing at conventions than home games, and in 2006 I managed to make it out to Gencon, followed by Origins in 2007. Given the topic of this months blog carnival, I thought I’d dispense some advice I’ve gained through all this time at the convention table.

  1. Stay on target. Convention games are rather different than home games. The main difference is that you typically only have four hours. No “Lets pick this up next time” or “See you next week”. Four hours, sometimes eight, then done, and it really sucks to have to leave a game mid-plot, or to have to choose between lunch and finishing the game. Therefore, you need to stick to the plot. Roleplaying is good; stay in character. That said, try and make sure that your roleplay will move the plot forward, or at least won’t take very long. I’ve seen some amazing in-character discussion at conventions, but I’ve also seen tables annoyed by the one gnome that won’t stop jabbering with every farmer along the road when there is a long adventure ahead of them and not much time to do it in. It is a fine line; try and watch the other players and DM for clues. Also try and keep off-topic chat to a minimum. That is neither good roleplay or constructive to moving the game along.
  2. Conventions are noisy places. Try and keep table talk to a minimum, doubly so if you are right beside the DM. Likewise, when speaking, make sure to speak up; I hate it when I miss things players are trying to do because I can’t hear them, and as a player it sucks when you want to do something cool and the DM can’t hear you. Also, time spent repeating things more loudly is wasted (see point 1).
  3. Focus on your character. Your character might be different then you normally play if your game has pregens. This is a great chance to expand your repertoire and try out a new type of character. Please don’t play your brave, self-sacrificing knight like the self-centred rogues you normally play; it can really mess up the party dynamics for the other players.
  4. Resources are placed in the adventure for that adventure. Now, this doesn’t apply to Living Games such as Living Greyhawk, Pathfinder Adventures and so on, but for other games this is important: Don’t hoard items. They all go away at the end of the adventure, so might as well use them now. Chances are they’ve been put in there by the DM to help you. That said, don’t waste them; They may well have been put in there at the to be used in a specific circumstance. Also, don’t burn through healing potions and whatnot early in the adventure, if you can help it. Remember that retreating and coming back with fresh resources is much less of an option then in home games.
  5. Go for the plothook. This is much the same as point 1, but more specific. If you are bringing characters with you the DM is going to try and tie you all into the adventure quickly so you can get to the fun bits. Watch for the dangling plot-bait and bite down on it. I’ve seen players blatantly ignore the obvious plot hook while the DM and the rest of the players all tried to get out of the tavern and into the adventure. Don’t be that person. Yes, the plot hook is often the most contrived part of the adventure, but if you don’t jump on it, you might as well get up and walk away from the table and save yourself 4 hours.

Final bonus point: Don’t be a dick, and really don’t be a dick for RP purposes. My Dad and I were once at a convention, and someone sits down with a character slightly above the rest of the party. No problem, the Average Party Level system Living Greyhawk used could account for that. However, then he wanted to bring his special dog he got in an earlier adventure with him, despite the fact that it would drag the rest of the party up an APL increment. Well, we weren’t super happy about it, but he insisted it was an essential part of his character and well, it was a pretty badass dog (More HP then any party member, even.) Do you know what he had that dog do all adventure? Sit by his feet and avoid combat, since he was worried about losing it if he sent it into combat. He just wanted to bring it along to show off the crazy powerful dog his character had. Don’t be that person: Don’t put your fun ahead of the party’s.

-Until next time, stay geeky.

—Canageek

Published in: on August 8, 2015 at 8:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Multiclassed to oblivion

Another post in my series on how to build characters that will actually help the party. This advice comes from a very common character type that I could not stand at all. The overly-heavily multiclassed character. Multiclassing is a great way to meld the attributes of two classes: For a barbarian to take some sorcerer levels to magically enhance themselves, or a fighter that wants to flip out like a barbarian every so often.

However, it is an even better way to water down your character to the point of uselessness. Sure, there are lots of multiclass characters that can do a bit of everything, but do first level spells really do much of anything at 1oth level? If you have more HP then your average rogue, but can only take one more hit then a normal rogue, and you are far less skilled then a normal rogue, are you really an asset to the party?

I once played at a table with a Fighter 2/Wizard 2/Cleric 2. That’s right, he wasn’t very good in a fight due to only having a BAB of 3 (half that of a fighter), he had few HP, and could only cast 1st level spells due to splitting his abilities so many ways. Sure, as a character in a book he sounds awesome, since he can do so many things, but as an asset to the party? A straight fighter, or a cleric, or a wizard with an attack bonus high enough to hit monsters, 3rd level spells and so on would have been far more useful.

Remember; your most previous resource in combat is often time. There are never enough rounds to cast all the spells you want, and fighters can always use more attacks. When you build a character think about this: You are walking along a hallway, you run into a group of orcs: When do you do? A fighter will hit something: The cleric buffs the fighter, the wizard casts a spell, the rogue tries to flank of slip into the shadows or something (Can you tell which class I never play?). Or for the more epically inclined of you, what do you do when you when you burst into the throne room of the evil wizard-king moments before he completes his ritual to destroy the world? The base class person knows what to do: The multiclass person doesn’t. Do you cast a first level spell at them? Do you charge into battle and go squish? What can he actually do to HELP the party? (Not much).

I’m using D&D terminology here, but this can also happen even more easily in point-buy games. It is very temping to grab skills willy-nilly all over the place, and stock up on cool advantages and whatnot. However, you should sit back and go “How will I help the party?”. Most of my examples are from combat, but it doesn’t have to be: One of my old GURPS characters Dalton had a special ability that let him see the past of items (Very useful in an investigative game), some combat skills, and more antiquities skills. Which, in an occult investigation game, was quite useful. In that game, that ability was usually worth more then another bruiser. I had a very fixed idea of how I wanted him to help the party when I built him, I didn’t just randomly pick skills out of the book.

So, when making a character and thinking of doing some multi-class combination think: How will this play in combat. Will my abilities help the party out? Am I worth taking over a fighter, wizard, cleric or rogue, or am I going to be a drag on the party? Also remember; Bards at least have charisma, skills and bard song. If you can’t match that, just play the freaking class they built into the game.

Well, so much for this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that I’ve made you think about making characters in a slightly different way.

Until I think of something else to write about, stay geeky.
—Canageek
 

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 9:12 am  Comments (8)  
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