My learning curve for Dungeons and Dragons and DMing over the past two weeks has been fast, furious and fun. It started with buying two kits and getting a group together and it has now grown into my newest obsession. Along the way I have overcome a few interesting challenges, picked up a few tips’n’tricks and even made up a few of my own. But before you read any further you need to know what edition of the game I am playing with my group!
After a bit of digging and reading around online I decided on using the 4th Edition Essentials Line of products as my rules and gameplay basis. There are four reasons for this:
- You can start quickly and easily with the Red Box. It is cheap and if you spread the cost among a group of friends you have a group that is already invested in the game before you roll your first dice!
- You can then expand on it very easily with the other products like the DM’s Kit, Tile Sets and Player’s Books.
- They are the most readily available products because they are the newest. Other products might take some time to find. The Essentials stuff is everywhere and at a good price too!
- Even though there is lots of grumbling from the more vocal parts of the online D&D community about the Essentials line, it is the easiest way to get into the game. It is a set of ten products that stand out from the daunting lists of all the other 4th Edition products. It also integrates with the older products, if I want it to, with very little fuss it seems.
Stuff I have bought so far in my quest to play D&D and DM:
- Red Box
- Dungeon Master’s Kit
- Rules Compendium
- Extra Dice
Seeing as I have covered a lot of ground in just two weeks this first post will be a bit on the long side and be divided into four sections sections:
- Group Organisation
- The Red Box and Session 1
- Planning Session 2
Group Organisation starts after the jump!
One of the first things I did, which surprisingly hasn’t come up on any getting started guides or DM Tips posts, is set up a Facebook Group for the me and the Players to use. The group is secret so anyone who might be embarrassed to have D&D related posts filling up their public timelines can rest easy. The group is mainly used to bounce ideas back and fourth between me and the players which has been really helpful during this introductory process to the game. If anyone has a question or suggestion outside of the gaming sessions they can just pop it up on the Facebook group. We can also all post links to interesting sites and vids related to our D&D sessions. For example, posting a link to the PAX 2011 live game videos has left the players wanting to try out and do more roleplay, which is awesome! Then you have the Facebook Documents section of the group that can be used to give the players further details and information; reading lists, helpful tips, basic rules, etc.
The other, very important, function of the group is to organise gaming sessions in a quick and painless manner. All it takes is asking people to vote via a poll for which days they can play then forming an Event around the most popular date. Then on the page for the event (once again it is made secret so only players can see it) I can go into as much detail as needed for the session. I can give the players a bit more background on the evening’s adventure, introduce new rules, make last minute changes, etc. etc.
Another tool I have found helpful and have been using alongside the Facebook Group is Dropbox. I setup a group account which everyone can access and in it are all the things the players need. They have character sheet templates and more detailed information along with the documents and scanned copies of material I’m using as pre-session homework. The homework is usually something to lead into the next session (I should really call it something else). For the first session I scanned in the Players Book from the Red Box and had have everyone run through it in their own time. It threw up a lot of confusion and questions on the Facebook Group at first but by the time it came to the first session everyone had a character ready to go and a basic understanding of the rules.
Also as an added bonus because both things are digital I can access them during game sessions on my iPad, so no laptops getting in the way!
The Red Box and Session 1
Working my way through this starter set has been a blast. The player’s book only takes about an hour or so to run through and has been invaluable in grasping the core D&D gameplay. It guides you through the creation of your first character step by step and ends with a small solo encounter. While there are some big mistakes (a player arrived at Session 1 with no Constitution or Hit Points because he never got hit and the options for his character never sent him back to do it later on!) it serves as a nice intro and set up for the game. Because I shared the Player’s Book digitally I told everyone to stop when they reached the Goblin Cave and where you are told to pull out the Maps and Tokens (point 93 or 94 I think). I then decided to change the order up a bit and run Your First Encounter from the Red Box Dungeon Master’s Book as the players introduction to combat.
Storywise it was justified by the players each coming upon the cave separately and then realising there was too much danger for just them alone to handle. So they each headed back to Fallcrest and banded together in the Inn over drinks. Your First Encounter then happens on their way back to the Goblin Cave. The plan was then to jump straight into The Twisting Halls. In retrospect this was a huge mistake. I should have run the group through the encounter at the end of the Player’s Book at the start of the session. It only takes 10mins (give or take) and then done Your First Encounter. The encounter was a bit of a mess as we all got to grips with group combat and the finer elements of fighting. It also didn’t help that the players were one man down so a group of four was now a group of three. It took a long time, the whole session even, to finish the encounter but we all learned a lot which is stuff I am now incorporating into Session 2.
Planning Session 2
Despite the difficulties with Session 1 the players enjoyed themselves and wouldn’t stop talking about it, which was awesome! Because they were talking about it so much and there was a bit of buzz amongst the students of the Game Design course I am on. So I decided to let the players decide if they wanted to add two more people to the group. They said yes and voted on who they wanted to join in. So I now have six players to provide adventure for. This presented me with two challenges:
- How do I get them to fit into the game organically along with the missing player from the first session?
- How do I keep the game challenging with more players than the recommended amount forThe Twisting Halls?
The second question was fairly easy to answer after looking around online, asking a few questions in the right places and consulting my copy of the Dungeon Master’s Book from the Dungeon Master’s Kit. All I have to do is adjust the XP level for each encounter and add the appropriate number of extra monsters to keep things challenging. For the start of The Twisting Halls however I’m going to keep things at their default values to allow the players (especially the newer ones) a bit of breathing room to grips with the game a bit better. It will also allow me to gauge how much I need to increase the difficulty. In the next session I will be ramping up the difficulty a bit. MWHAHAHA!
As for the first question, the answer was staring me in the face! The Goblin Cave! A short encounter that acts as a very quick intro into the basics of combat and a good opportunity to introduce the new players into the game! So I set about creating my first encounter which was a lot of fun and increased my knowledge of the rules considerably.
The encounter I came up with is, Assault on the Goblin Cave. It is way below the level of the number of players for the group (only 275XP!) but it serves it’s purpose. To introduce the players to the basics of group combat and to provide an in point for the three players entering the game. All there is are six goblin minions and a hex hurler all using the pre-made stat tables from the Red Box Dungeon Master’s Book. It will give the players a taste of the tactics deployed by the Hex Hurlers inside The Twisting Halls and should only take two to three rounds to complete. We can then move onto The Twisting Halls and the adventure that lies within.
So for Session 2 I have planed out Assault on the Goblin Cave, Encounter 1: Purificationor Encounter 2: Worship from The Twisting Halls (the players have a choice of which one to do). This should then provide a good stopping point or if there is time they can move onto the Skill Challenge (I’m not going into to much detail here because my players might be reading this!) or any of the other surrounding encounters, 1 or 2 (depending on which they did first) and 3 or 6 depending on which path they take.
The pre-session homework I set was an optional questionnaire players can fill out to flesh out their characters a bit for them to get more attached and for me to try and incorporate these backstory elements into the game.
The questionnaire goes a little something like this:
General physical description:
Other close relationships:
Attitude to religion/Alignment:
Strongest positive personality trait:
Strongest negative personality trait:
Sense of humour:
Consideration for others:
How other people see him/her:
Opinion of him/herself:
Other traits, especially those you would like to be brought out in adventures and the wider game story:
Philosophy of life:
Most important thing to know about this character:
Simple and effective I say as a starting point for their characters.
Even though we have only just started playing there is a lot of enthusiasm flying around the place. This has lead to simple forms of expansion such as me buying and using extra dice, The Dungeon Master’s Kit and Rules Compendium to help me organise and play games. To me running through a few solo adventures to generate and level up a character of my own to use if anyone else in the group wants to try their hand at DMing, he is a Halfling Wizard named: Crukal Milltall of Many Spells by the way. From doing this I have a better understanding of combat from the players perspective too which is always helpful. The players themselves have gotten in on the action as well with most of them ordering miniatures to represent their characters or talking about getting their own sets of dice. They are also planning on buying a couple of copies of the Essentials Player Book: Heroes of the Fallen Lands between them soon so they can advance their characters past level two. I have also been looking around online and grabbed further adventures from the D&D website that don’t require an Insider Sub to obtain. Finally I have been religiously reading and checking websites such as The Role Playing Games StackExchange and the brilliant Learning to DM Reflections on Running a 4E Campaign which has become my go to place for D&D ideas, help and advice.
So there we go! That was hopefully the first of many Dungeons and Dragons related posts! Please feel free to send me questions and/or messages about D&D if you wish. Also any advice is always helpful!