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!


  1. Once again useful info that actually makes me want to try my hand at it again. Have we given anymore thought to letting Q try? I'd just like to see what would happen.

  2. If he's up for it, I'd totally play in a game he's running.