Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tips for New DM's

Well into its second year, 4th Edition D&D has made an impact on the gamer community that even the 4E haters cannot deny; it attracts new people to the hobby. Using some of the best elements from other games and types of games, 4E grabs everybody's attention. As such, there have been several new players coming in to the hobby. That also means that we have received several new (or at least prospective) DM's.

Whether you're a brand new DM who has never played D&D before or a well-seasoned DM who is just new to 4th Edition, even if you are an already 4E-experienced DM you will find my following tips to be helpful.

  1. GET PLAYER FEEDBACK. This is probably the most important tip of them all, and really applies to any game that you may be playing.
  2. When giving backround/historical information to your players, summarize, summarize, summarize. You don't want to read the entire history section of a specific region to the players, whether their PC's would know all that info or not. Your players will not take in every bit of info, plus its more likely that they'll overlook some of the more important bits. You don't want to overwhelm your players with raw data. Instead, just give them three or four sentences summing up what their PC's know.
  3. Do whatever you can to expedite gameplay. Have your battle grids and Dungeon Tiles set aside in groups, each group representing a single encounter. Try and do the same for your miniatures. If you can keep initiative posted where players can see it during combat, that helps speed things up too.
  4. Keep track of what's going on. Take notes of anything that happens. If the group gets into a combat situation, don't just write down the XP earned from the fight. Who did the party fight and why? Any player casualties? Use of Daily Powers or Action Points? Gaining of a Milestone? Final outcome and spoils, if any? Do you know how you make this really easy? Get one of the players to take the notes for you!
  5. No slow starts. If your players make PC's at a character generation session before the first game session, you should have a good idea of what kind of campaign arc you give the PC's. If you as the DM do not know anything about these PC's prior to the first gaming session, you have to have something for the PC's. When starting a new campaign, the beginning doesn't have to be related to the PC's so much.

For #5, your best bet is to go generic. Use simple situations to get things started. Or you can throw them into a small delve-type adventure that doesn't have to be relevant to whatever sort of storyline you set up for the PC's. Just tell them "You're heading to the ruins of Buirv in search of an old relic belonging to the father of one Naioria Buirv-Estrangau, the mysterious eladrin woman who is paying you 250 gp for your effort should you return with it," it gives the players a clear goal from the begining and doesn't involve a tavern. This sounds railroady, but it really isn't. The players immediately have something to do. That doesn't mean they have to do it. If the PC's don't want to follow through with what you got, you can ad-lib, but at the same time the players should respect the DM enough for at least the first session of a new campaign to allow the DM to railroad a little. But only the first session. Okay, maybe two, but absolutely no more.

Anyway, chances are I've overlooked a few; I just use them so much they've become second nature and I don't realize that others may not be using them as well. Feel free to add your own to this list in the comment section. Take care and keep rolling those 20's!

Monday, October 19, 2009

You must know... yourself?

I was supposed to have a shiny new copy of Primal Power to review for you all (before it hits shelves), but my distributor fell through and I cannot begin to describe how upset I am with them right now. I'm sure you don't want to read a rant though, so I'll talk about something else.

This one is for the players! If you're like me, you don't have a lot of time to actually play your favorite RPG. You've got three or four hours, once a week (if you're lucky), and you have to make the most of it! How you rp is up to you, I'm not here to discuss that today. Today I want to talk about player preparedness in combat.

Combat in 4E D&D is supposed to run fast, smooth, and should be enjoyable for the players to partake in. This is true for seasoned veterans of the game, but if you're relatively new combats tend to slow things to a crawl. How can you avoid this?

  1. Make your own PC, and if you can't for whatever reason, at least take some time before sitting down at the table to familiarize yourself with your PC. This is probably the most important thing for a player to do during a game: Be familiar with your PC!

  2. After 1st level, familiarity becomes a slight afterthought because now you're adding more to the equation. New feats, powers, paragon paths and epic destinies make things even more confusing. Know how feats and traits affect your PC as your PC becomes more experienced!

  3. I probably don't have to say this, but making your PC properly helps out a lot too. You may want to have a guy that is equally good with melee as he is with ranged and be pretty even across the board with skills (a jack of all trades if you will), but really you don't. 4E is a team game, unlike other incarnations of D&D that shall remain nameless... The point is that you don't have to be good at everything, just one thing (or maybe... three things). Anyway, if your PC is built properly he will excel in only a handful of things. This allows you to have a general focus, but more importantly (back to 1.) it'll be easier to be familiar with your PC!

  4. Finally, when you are in combat, be ready for your turn! Know what you're going to do ahead of time. Yes, sometimes your plans will change from other person's turn to other person's turn, but if your PC is built properly you'll probably be able to do whatever it is you had planned originally. When you finish a turn, immediately begin to figure out what you want to do next round. Keep that in the back of your mind, because you may have to change that. If circumstances change, change as necessary. At the very least, know what you're going to do on the turn before your turn.

  5. I'm only adding this to be thorough, but some people will tell you to speed up combat make all of your rolls at the same time. I say this is horse poop. Not everyone is a math major. Even if you are skilled at math, you still need to take a moment to add everything correctly (especially when you've got different bonuses on different enemies due to effects that occur throughout the battle). You could be attacking 3 different enemies with an area attack for example, but one of them gives you a +2 bonus to hit because of your friend warlord. Another gives you a +2 to damage, and he's also vulnerable to the fire damage you're dealing. The last one is insubstantial but prone plus he's subject to the two fore-mentioned bonuses. See? No point, just make each roll as you need to. Plus, as DM I prefer to see what my players are rolling (I've been playing without the screen -- they can see all of my rolls, why shouldn't I see all of theirs?) as they roll, rather than roll ahead of time and tell you what they got. Plus, that takes a lot away from the game for me. I always like watching that roll and cheering when a 20 comes up or groaning when I see that 1. The dice rolling can be one of the most exciting parts of the game; imagine making that important roll and everybody stands around you, staring at the die in sheer anticipation of what result it will yield in the end! Gives you a little tingle, doesn't it?

Well, that's it for this "episode" as I've been calling them. I guess I could call them articles but are they really? I mean, they're not really episodes either but... You know what, don't judge. I like it, and that's how I roll.

So next time on 1d4+5... No point in a Primal Power review from me, if I can't give it to you a day early I won't have anything to tell you that you won't get from other, more popular blogs and your favorite podcasts. I do have a few things I've been working on, and I'll be hitting you with that soon. Until then, keep rolling those 20's!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PH3 Spoiler: The Seeker!

The seeker is a new primal controller that will be released to the general public in Players Handbook 3 (along with psionics!). This class focuses on ranged weapon attacks -- much like my rough outline for a martial controller -- to make life hectic for his opponents. Seriously, every power (with the exclusion of utility powers) requires a ranged weapon. That's not a bad thing, and actually a rather unique approach.

Like other controller classes, the seeker uses some sort of magical (in this case, primal) energy to exact the controlling effects of their powers and affect the battlefield and its participants; unlike other controller classes, this energy is delivered by the missiles the seeker fires all over the fray rather than through an implement. This is not to imply that you can only use missile weapons; you can use thrown weapons just as well.

There are two hitches that I immediately foresee for the player of this class. First, your weapon selection decides whether your attacks are short range (thrown weapons) or long range (fired weapons). That isn't as bad as this: At low levels, your seeker PC will either have to carry around a bunch thrown weapons and/or a bunch of missiles. I could see a player rolling poorly for his 1st level PC and throw all of his (non-magical) daggers and not have anything else to use until he can pick them up again. Of course, as soon as he gets a +1 throwing weapon that won't be an issue anymore, but then he is limited to short range unless he feels like switching up to a bow, but then he'll have to be constantly stocking up on ammunition. Until he gets an Endless Quiver. Either way, I see low levels to be a bit more difficult for seekers than for any other PC class, but once they get the right magic items they'll be right back on par with the rest of the PC's, balancing out nicely.

If you're a D&D Insider subscriber, you've already had a chance to check this out. Give me your feedback on the seeker -- I'm interested to hear what the rest of you think about the seeker!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Technilogical Advances in Modern DM-ing

The birth of 4th Edition was one of the biggest things that ever happened to make the life of a typical (or not-so-typical) DM easier. And everyday more people make it easier and easier. Podcasters and bloggers such as myself bring you advice to bring to your gaming table to get the most out of your gaming; but its the programmers that bring some of the biggest things to the table. The majority of the table-top gamers out there are unaware of this.

On Saturday I was playing in a one-shot delve with one of the local Meetup groups. The DM had his laptop, which to me isn't that uncommon anymore, but when I found out what he was using it for it blew my mind. He was using Fantasy Grounds to keep track of initiative. It didn't seem that great to me until he showed me what else it did. The program kept track of conditions, HP, defenses, attacks, recharges for the enemies, saving throws, you name it, the program made sure it was taken care of before it would move on to the next creature in initiative.

Now, I'm sure most of you have already heard of Fantasy Grounds, so I decided to see what else I could find. At I found Digital Squire, a program designed for players to use so that the table doesn't get cluttered up with a bunch of papers and books. Its designed to be used in conjunction with D&D Insider's Character Builder and D&D Compendium, but if you're not a subscriber you can still use the program just fine, but you'll have more work to do. If you're a non-subscriber, you can still download the Character Builder, but you'll only be able to use that to build a PC up to 3rd level. Digital Squire works like Fantasy Grounds, but for the player to keep track of his PC. It will track most conditions, and I think they're working on an update to cover what's missing. This is also a free program, but it is more designed to be used with an internet connection. If you don't have a connection where you're playing, don't worry; you can download a stand-alone version as well.

I also discovered DMs Tracker, an app for your i-Phone or i-Pod Touch! It costs about $4 and is used as an initiative/combat tracker. You have to enter all the information before starting your game session, so its a little lengthy of a process, and it too is missing one or two conditions, but it'll track your combat similar, but not equal to, Fantasy Grounds. But for $4 compared to $40, if you don't have the money DMs Tracker is the way to go.

When I dicover some more good ones I'll let you all know! If anybody else knows of any other good programs/applications post it in the comments! Tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled programming on 1d4+5!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coming Up on 1d4+5

No new post yesterday and today's will be rather short. Have a LOT of D&D going on at the moment, and next week will be a lot less hectic. My Thursday group is going to be disbanded, due to one of the players becoming a father last weekend, so that'll open up more time for me to ramble on to you guys, fun! Had a Meetup last night, campaign tonight (will be closing out tonight, I should say), campaign tomorrow night, and finally, another Meetup on Saturday! Four days in a row of sweet, sweet D&D activity!

Anyway, here's a glimpse of what to expect after the weekend:
  • My "Religion in Roleplaying" article
  • Why you want to play the Seeker
  • Using Flashbacks and other Vignettes
  • much, much more!

Stay tuned to 1d4+5 and check back often, I'll see what I can get up in the midst of all this gaming! Until the weekend's over, keep rolling those 20's!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Does anybody hear an Echo???

echo said: You have way more experience then me on this front, and therefor I'm willing to bet the know how and skill to pull it off... But is there ever a way to guarantee that the PC's(designated or no) will make it to the epic stages you've set for them? I know that's what got me to throw in the towel when DMing, was that I had no idea how to steer the PC's back on course without railroading. So how open is too open? Where to draw the line and draw them in?

An excellent question, or rather, questions. If you want the simple, short answer, check out the comments for the Over-imagination post I put up a few days ago. The long answer is as follows:

The best way to guarantee your PC's make it to the epic stages you have set for them, without railroading, is to first make sure that your epic stages jive with the PC's. Meaning, base your epic stages directly off of the PC's and their backrounds. Of course, this still doesn't guarantee anything, though it makes things a lot easier to keep on course (assuming your players are properly roleplaying their PC's). If you create a story arc that your PC's have a personal interest in, reaching your planned stages shouldn't be a problem. However, no matter how perfect you have things set up, you would be a fool to think it'll work out just how you have planned. The plan I have in store should hold up pretty good, though there are lots of ways that the players will probably force me to alter things as time goes on. I doubt they'll get too far away from what I have in store, but if they do, it won't really matter.

Of course, the above only works if the PC's are already created (and ideally, all created together at the same time at the same place so that there is some sort of dynamic in the party). If you come up with a great story arc before PC's are made, it would be best to tell your players what kind of a game you want to run (without giving out too many chunky details). Then you can only hope that they'll make PC's to work with the game you want to run, but then they may spark a creative idea in you that'll make you want to drop whatever it is you had originally come up with, and do something else that compliments the PC's backrounds, mannerisms, whatever.

How open is too open? That is purely a matter of your comfort level as a DM/GM. For example, I know how the first adventure is supposed to begin this Friday. But, I'm giving my players a BIG opportunity to change what I have in store. They do read this, so I can't say too much right now, but I'm going to ask them some questions and basically, their answers will become law. They will also add an element to the game that I do not yet have prepared, but that's sort of the idea. I can talk more about this Friday night/Saturday morning.

Really, at low levels you don't want to give your PC's an entire world, continent, or even country (depending on how big it is) to start. If they have a small area to work with, as long as they can still do whatever they want, they'll be alright with that. I'm running an Eberron campaign and right now, my PC's are in Sharn. That's it. But there is so much to do there that even if they ignore my big hook, I can still keep them entertained and will be able to...

Draw them back in using hooks that you make off of the PC backrounds! If the PC's are satisfied doing odd-jobs for Herman, the strange old man with a lisp, you need to give them something that will generate interest in what you've got planned out. If the PC's are all unreligious fighter types, they're not going to have much interest in finding out about Namon's plot to overthrow the temple. However, if the high priest is one of the PC's cousins... Proper use of PC backrounds, personalities, their families even, can all be strong motivators if the PC's get off course. But don't bring in Uncle Jev everytime the PC's get off course, that'll get old real quick.

Also, like I mentioned in the short answer, if they get off track but everyone's having fun (and if you have enough random stuff prepared) why not just roll with it? It may take your campaign in a direction you never even thought of that may be 10 times more entertaining than your original plot.

So yes, I'm just going to say it. When done properly, the "open world" really is little more than an illusion. But its how you present the world that determines if you're recycling material to use elsewhere differently, or stringing the PC's along on the DM railroad.

Next time on 1d4+5...
Perhaps you've noticed that I did not discuss the Seeker today. Got it on the Character Builder, but the article wasn't up on the WotC site yet. I can tell you that the seeker is a primal controller, so I am interested in why I wouldn't just make a druid if I wanted to fill that role. Hopefully, I'll have an answer tomorrow. Until then, keep rolling those 20's!

Monday, October 5, 2009

1d4+5 Update

Hey everyone, don't have a topic today (or rather, the time to discuss one today) because of the pile of work I have to do to run my campaigns this weekend. Don't worry, I'll have that done today or tomorrow afternoon, and I have a treat for you then: a mini-review of the new PH3 Debut of the Seeker! Don't know much about it yet, but I'm sure its a new divine class (duh!). Man, I'm going to look like such an ass tomorrow if I'm wrong. Anyway, lots to do tonight -- have big things in store for both of my campaigns this week!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Ok, so I'm presented with an interesting situation with one of my groups. The PC's are good people but unwittingly follow some darker paths. This is a cool concept and it makes for some great roleplaying opportunities as well. After determining what the deal was with the PC's and their concepts, I went home and began to figure out ways to play that into the story. Then I stumbled upon this forum post that discussed using this dark force as a force of light instead (in a sense). Intrigued, I began to read more and that lead me to related-forum posts where I then hit the jackpot. Something so perfect, that it instantly began to write itself. That's usually a good thing. Unless you're like me, and then you get progressive, to the point where you're determining key roles for various PC's so far down the line that, crap, you might as well just write a novel because you've got it all figured out anyway.

Unless you're going to be a dick and string them along to tell this story, railroading (or in my case, lightning-railing) the entire way, you can't get too elaborate. I wasn't very specific above, my players do read this, but I was getting to the point of figuring how specific PC's would literally be used in telling this story, up to and including their epic deaths. It became a story and yes, the players want to be part of a story, but they want it to be a story they create as well, not just the DM.

To keep from doing this, don't get too elaborate. Stick to key themes and then let the players (unknowingly) create their own methods for getting involved in the plot-line. Even better, let the players' actions creat the plot line instead. You might lose out on running that perfect element, but everyone'll be having fun. Keep your notes though. Even though it may look early on that you won't get to play this big thing into your adventure, your players may just create the circumstances that will allow you to throw it in afterall!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Encounter Building

After running through several different encounters with several different PC's since 4E first came out, I began to notice a trend that I found kind of disturbing; the PC's would go through a few encounters, spend all of their daily powers within that timeframe, and then take an extended rest. To make matters worse, they would try to get away with multiple ER's in a single day. Worse than that, and this is the truly disturbing part, they would all still have around half or more of their Healing Surges remaining.

Some of this can be attributed to the players due to low die rolls and poor tactical decisions, but really this is mostly the DM's fault. 4E's combat system runs like no other that I'm aware of, and it certainly doesn't run like previous editions of D&D. Also, encounter design was totally different and standard encounters (1 monster per PC of same level) seemed too easy, even for low level PC's. Players would get through them almost too quickly without having to expend resources. Next logical step? Make the encounters harder. When we first toyed with that idea, we learned two things:
  1. Just because a standard 4th level encounter for 5 PC's is worth 875xp doesn't mean you can just throw in a Gray Slaad (level 13, xp 800) and a bunch of 1st level minions and call it a day. Sure, the minions are nothing; but the slaad is nigh-unhittable by 4th level PC's.
  2. Solo monsters of standard or higher level, when used singularly, do not make an appropriate encounter. The PC's burn all their daily powers and will usually die before losing all their healing surges (whether they ultimate get past the encounter or not). Solo's of lower encounter level and mixed with other monsters do make good encounters.

Not even going to extremes such as the 13th level skirmisher mentioned above, even using slightly higher level monsters was still having the same effects; Daily Powers would get spent, but PC's would either die or be near death once its over and still have a bunch of surges but want to take that ER anyway. The answer became blatantly obvious.

Easier encounters, but more of them was the key! The process of moving through easier encounters would stretch out the party's healing surges because they were taking more short rests and not losing their daily powers, but still getting hit enough to require some healing when all was said and done. Of course, you can't just have all lower level monsters either or then it isn't a challenge, its a given. Throw some tougher guys into your easier encounters once in awhile to make it more challenging. A tougher monster is harder to hit and has more hp, queing the pally to use his 4[w] damage daily power when he'd otherwise have no reason too. Liberal use of minions is good too for challenging encounters, and it forces your controllers to use their big area spells to extinguish several of them at a time.

So try using lower level monsters, lots of minions, and the occassional tough guy to present your players with challenging encounters that require the use of the majority of their resources. They'll be having fun because they'll be kicking butt and loving it, despite the fact that they're using up their surges and daily powers. Also, to make encounters even more fun and challenging, DMG2 has a lot of really cool things to say on that subject. Who says there's no roleplaying in 4E? I don't want to make this an explicit blog so I'll refrain from answering that.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A mini-update for my rabid readers...

I typically run campaigns on Thursdays and Fridays, so generally you will not see new posts on those days. I'm doing a mini today due to the traffic we received last night. To keep things quick and simple, I'll just make some bullet points.

  • Do not expect to see updates often on Thursdays or Fridays.
  • While this is still a new blog, there will be a lot of stuff being posted over the next few weeks on a pretty much daily basis. I am doing this to make sure that there is plenty of content to begin with so that I'll be able to slow down the posting pace and avoid burnout.
  • I realize that my format and pacing need work. Forgive me, I'm still new at this! I'll get it figured out soon enough, but any bloggers/podcasters with tips will not be denied!
  • Finally, what would you the reader like to see more of/what interests you? I was reading a good blog last night on the subject ( ) so I'm fully interested in anything anyone else has to say on the subject also (and if it comes down to it, I'll sell out and do a contest for publicity; no, I have no shame).

So I'll wrap that up here today. Questions or comments, you know where to put them!