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Introduction and Recap of Past Sessions

Posted by The Mind Tool, 24 July 2013 · 6,789 views

Hi there, I am The Mind Tool, and I'm a novice Dungeon Master.

So far, I have run 5 sessions with DnD 4E with two different groups: one mostly comprised of drama students and the other mostly gamers. The second group will be the focus of this blog, as that is the group with which I am currently running weekly sessions. For each group, the first adventure I ran with them was the 4th Edition Red Box, with the first group making characters only using the Red Box player's book while the second started after I had access to Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, which I feel are vastly superior in terms of character creation (as the player's book had several mistakes that made nonsensical characters like a halfling who could weild a greataxe). The first group was a good one for me to start with because I could just ask them to roleplay for a bit while I noobishly set up my next encounter, but I like the in-game creativity of the second group who have already tested my knowledge of the rules and my improvisational capabilities.

So, to start off with, one of my first improvisational challenges with my group (the second group will from now on be referred to as this) was starting the adventure, as the plot hook for the Red Box is part of the character creation process, and they had hardly touched it. For those who don't know, the Red Box adventure, The Twisting Halls, the PCs encounter a dwarven merchant called Traeveus who is under attack by goblins. Traeveus is unharmed, but the goblins get away and have stolen a precious item from him - a small wooden box. The PCs are asked to help and are offered a reward, but Traeveus requests that they refrain from looking in the box. So, of course, all the players immediately want to know. This leads to several encounters and a suitable first-level dungeon with a variety of encounters to introduce the players to the wide variety of mechanics in the game.

In my experience running this adventure with new players, almost all of the encounters are pretty cool, with one major exception: Encounter 4: The Trial. At a first glance it seemed pretty cool - enchanted chess statues on an enchanted board that forces the players to use the movements of specific pieces? Cool. Except running it is frustrating. Limiting the players' movement causes frustration and limits their tactics without opening up many alternatives, and they can only enter as one of four different pieces, two per entrance. And that's just from a metagame perspective. Actually thinking about in-game rammifications causes the encounter to make even less sense. How exactly do the PCs know what chess is? How do the pieces miss their main attack, which is slamming into the PCs, without falling over? Why does the board require the actual destruction of pieces (which would be expensive to replace) and not follow the rules of chess properly? (a queen can take multiple hits from any other piece to kill) And, most importantly, WHAT IN THE NAME OF BATMAN RIDING CTHULHU IS CHESS DOING IN MY GORRAM DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS WORLD?!

*heaving sigh*

In retrospect, my frustration is partially due to having to run this as the last encounter of a long session where I just wanted to get to the end of the adventure (they entered the boss encounter as their first encounter of the game and were feeling pretty awesome). However, if I run it again, I might just replace it with an equivalent encounter of my own design, and the atmosphere and feel of the dungeon wouldn't suffer at all. (it may even improve slightly)

So, moving on.

The highlights of the dungeon were the encounter with the level 1 fledgeling White Dragon Farralax (who scared the crap out of them), Kurrash the Bugbear (who the PCs practically stunlocked and felt very skilled for defeating) and the encounter with 3 human guards and 1 doppleganger sneak disguised as a human guard. They got through the last one by showing them the severed head of the guards' boss and boss of the dungeon, Malareth and I couldn't think of any reason for the guards to fight them at the time. Later I realised that the PCs had also taken Malareth's money, which the guards may have been expecting in payment, but oh well. This encounter had the possibility that the doppleganger would turn on the last guard if there were just the two of them left against the PCs, and then offering the PCs a healing potion in exchange for his freedom. Well, I still wanted to show off the fact that one of the enemies was a doppleganger and give the PCs the healing potion, so I had Jixin (the doppleganger) transform into an elven female and thank them for killing Malareth. This became a highlight when one of the players (the owner of the Drow Ranger) saw me place down Jixin's token showing their true doppleganger form, and exclaimed immediately "She's so pretty! Can we keep her?"

My reaction went something like this:
:blink: Um...
:unsure: Uh...
*remembers the advice "say yes as often as possible"*
:cool: Why don't you ask "her"

So a short bit of roleplaying occured which resulted in Jixin joining the party. I am currently in the process of statting her up as a Rogue-class NPC.

Quick series of thoughts:
  • I didn't realise how much work I needed to put in as a DM when I decided to start running games.
  • Also, I had no idea just how expensive this hobby is :(
  • On the other hand, I had no idea how much fun it is and how much I'd enjoy having to improvise :)
  • Any advice on how best to handle having an NPC join the party?
  • What's everyone's favourite roleplaying snack and/or drink? (mine's kettle corn and Mountain Dew :) )

Next time: Actually describing the party members.

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First off: Welcome to the site, always good to see a new friendly face (well, avatar, which you haven't had time to pick yet, but you get the gist). :-)

Haven't personally tried 4E D&D, but hopefully you can use some generic RPG advice, as well.


[...] the player's book had several mistakes that made nonsensical characters like a halfling who could weild a greataxe [...]

Not sure if they changed it for 4E, but in 3rd edition, it was possible to make or purchase weapons that were different sizes than standard, sometimes at an added cost. For example, it was totally possible for a halfling to wield a greataxe, so long as it was a specially made halfling-sized weapon. The damage die would be downgraded from 1d12 to 1d10, IIRC. Plus, if you insisted on putting something as goofy as "small greataxe" as your primary weapon, you'd better be ready for nicknames like Oxymoron Baggins. :-)



D&D is an amalgam of dozens, if not hundreds of different mythologies, stories, games and ideas. It would be more surprising if chess didn't make an appearance at some point. :-)
The game designers probably stole the idea from the Harry Potter stories, which definitely stole them from a lot of other places. There's a lot of scenarios that use traps and puzzles that are based on real-world concepts such as chess, which may or may not have a counterpart in the D&D world. It makes it easier for both the GM and the players when they have some kind of common touchstone to start from, when you're trying to create an intellectual challenge for the players. In this case, the designers wanted to spice up the encounter with a different theme, which apparently fell flat in your game. Them's the breaks. You survive and learn. :-)

Also, this:


So a short bit of roleplaying occured which resulted in Jixin joining the party. I am currently in the process of statting her up as a Rogue-class NPC.

Chapeau, sir! Excellent work. Trying to go along with your players' ideas will almost always pay off goodly dividends in the end. The players will be more interested and invested in the game, plus it saves you a lot of trouble in coming up with adventure hooks or encounters and suchlike - the players just handed you a perfect jumping board for new adventures and roleplaying interaction between the PCs and their new NPC "ally". The old adage "Give a man enough rope, and he'll hang himself with it" were never truer than in tabletop RPGs. ;-)

Incidentally, you wrote that the player who asked Jixin to join the party had seen the token with its true Doppelganger features on it, so presumably there's going to be
some degree of metagaming going on here? The players may know it's a monster (they might even be genre-savvy enough to recognize it, or figure it out on their own), but the
characters wouldn't know - unless they've got a paladin using Detect Evil, or something similar. Caveat emptor: This could lead to some very interesting situations, or a total
clusterfrellin' meltdown, depending on whether or not your players are able to juggle that distinction between in-game and OOC knowledge.


I didn't realise how much work I needed to put in as a DM when I decided to start running games.

That workload may or may not decrease in time. You mentioned that you enjoy improvising, so if you keep boning up your skills in that area, you may find the need for prep time
dwindling dramatically. Of course, there are some GMs who prefer to do a lot of preparation before each game, but others swear by their improvisational skills. J├ęsus Rodriguez
from the Fandible gamers (fandible.com, another excellent Actual Play RPG podcast) has several times professed that he never spends more than 15 minutes on prep: he writes down
some ideas for encounters and general outline of the adventure, and then wings the rest of it.
Lockhart, from the Yorkton Gamers here at the site, has run the indie game InSpectres several times with huge success, and that particular requires a maximum of 5 minutes of prep work, and it's cheap (see below). Check out the recordings if you want to hear how much fun was had by all, but be warned: it is very, very silly and absolutely hilarious, so don't listen to the episodes anywhere you might disturb people by guffawing with laughter. :-)



    Also, I had no idea just how expensive this hobby is :(

Game companies want your money, they need it to keep going. Hence, they'll try their level best to convince to buy all their things, right now, forever. D&D 4E is, by all accounts, a very rules-heavy game, and that's probably part of the reason for the huge expenses you're suffering. But you really don't need to bankrupt yourself to play RPGs.
Try searching online for free scenarios and rules tips that people share online, there's bound to be oodles of the stuff floating around on the 'web. Other posters on the site may be able to point to some useful sites in that regard.
Secondly, consider investing in one or two small indie games, such as InSpectres mentioned above. Drop by your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS, and yes, that's an official unofficial acronym) :-) and browse the shelves. Ask the guy behind the counter if he's got any recommendations for cheap games that are quick to learn and easy to run - most of the people working at an FLGS are gamers, themselves, so they know what they're talking about. If your FLGS has a bargain bin (and what FLGS would be complete without a bargain bin?), paw through the titles on display and see if there are anything that grabs your eye. Ask the staff about what games would be good for a starting GM, or look them up online. You can often find some amazing old game that are still huge fun to play, but at a fraction of the price for a shiny new mint-condition D&D book.

When some of your players can't make it to a gaming session, whip out your back-up game, and suggest that you give it a try, rather than playing D&D with only half the party present.
You'll get a chance to try out different styles and flavors of games, and often at a considerably lower price than what you'd have to fork out for new D&D books.
Since this is RPGMP3 dot com [fanfare], it would be remiss to fail to mention all the audio on the site. Lots of different groups have already tried their hand at a vast variety of games, and listening to their games can give you an inkling of whether this or that game would be worth your time and buck. Plus, if you listen to groups like the Whartson Hallers, the Bradford Adventuring Guilders, or the Yorkton Gamers, you're pretty much guaranteed entertainment, if not EDU-tainment.

    Any advice on how best to handle having an NPC join the party?

Try to think about what that NPC's goals and agenda might be. Are they motivated by a cash reward from the PCs, or are they planning on betraying them to the Evil OverlordTM?
Also, if you want to make the NPC memorable, Hal gave away his secret trick for playing NPCs in an interview a while back: Ham, ham, ham! When you're playing D&D, it's totally appropriate to chew the scenery and do some over-the-top acting. Give each NPC three special traits - an accent, a nervous tick, maybe they're obsessed with collecting stamps or butterflies, maybe they have disgusting bodily hygiene, or the NPC bard has a tendency to burst into song and dance every few minutes.
The golden rule of Making Stuff Up: Stealing from one place is called plagiarism, stealing from a lot of places is called creativity. :P


    What's everyone's favourite roleplaying snack and/or drink? (mine's kettle corn and Mountain Dew :) )

Well, if you ever listen to any of the recordings from the Order of the Ass, Kicking (here at the site), you'll soon discover their answer to that question (i.e., "everything"), and the marvel that is Food Hour. :-)
The Yorkton Gamers have made a habit of snacking on fortune cookies during their Ptolus and other games, and read the fortunes out loud with the obligatory additional suffix: "Today is a good day to make new acquaintances... In bed!"

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Monkey! So much text! Gaaaaah!


I'm going to be more brief (I hope). I did play a bunch of 4e for a while though it sounds like you've had access to materials that came in after I'd left. I think it was the Essentials line? Anyways, not important, moving on.


It's always great to hear the first accounts of a DM discovering the wonders on this side of the table and from the sounds of it you're settling in nicely. Your recounts of how prewritten scenes and encounters can seem cool at first but falter when it comes to actually playing is one we've all had and your instincts to change and alter whatever you see fit to improve the fun your players are having is spot on. Now to move on to specific points and questions:


The DMNPC - Jixin the Rogue could be a great addition to your party and plot or it could be a major stumbling block. Since you like 4E I recommend seeing if the recordings of the Texans playing through Keep on the Shadowfell and the sequel Thunder-mountain-or-whatever are in the archives. Splug is a perfect example of a fantastic DMNPC that went awry.


Whenever you introduce a DM controlled player, basically, it becomes a juggling act of making sure he or she doesn't show up the players. This can happen in any number of ways. For example, it could be like Splug and become way more interesting than some of the PCs from a roleplay point. Or it could be more optimized (if you're a minmaxer on the side, like me) or effective in combat making them feel less powerful. Or it could be that you saw a deficiency in the group and made a character to fill it, which in my experience happens a lot with rogues, leading to you defeating all the traps that you knew were there and the party just following along.


When it works it can be a lot of fun but be aware of the dangers and the moment your players start to resent Jixin for whatever reason get rid of her. The players should be the stars.


But, that all being said, the instinct to say yes and the opportunity for charcater growth and interaction as well as story potential like the mOnkey mentioned are totally worth the risk and good on you for going with it.


The Workload- For me one of the things that I always look at is how hard a system is to run. My favourites are the kind where it's simple enough that when I want to improvise I can do anything I want. This is especially key if your group is like mine and they have a tendancy to go in random directions you never even considered. That carefully planned encounter with plot-important baddies and a meticulously designed room? Never going to happen because they decided the apple cart looked suspicious and have gone looking for drow involvement. My ragtag bunch do it on purpose, I think, but there will be times where the same will happen to you regardless of who you play with.


4E I found to be constraining in this regard. Less so than other systems because it is wonderfully built to basically build like Legos but it still required finding a monster to fit the bill when it went off the rails or building one from scratch. Combined with how long combat took this caused us to switch.


The role of DM is a TON of work. You have enough on your plate making everything go. If it starts getting to be too much or wearing you too thin then take a step back and look for alternatives and fixes. Come here, and we'll give you advice.


The Price- That's why I don't play with minis. Egads those are expensive.


The Noms- Cookies. All the cookies. Gimme gimme gimme. Also, we have a very strict alcohol tolerated policy so for beverages it's usually beer. Every once in a while I vow to drink a 1.5 L bottle of wine by the end of the session and we have Drunk DM adventures.

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Okay, I was slightly more brief.

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