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What do I need to know to DM a game of 4e?


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#1 ZachDood77

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 10:44 AM

As the topic suggests I'm taking on the seemingly (to myself) suicidal task of DMing a game with no experience with the 4e system and limited expereince in roleplaying in general. Therefore I need help from my friends at RPGMP3.com. What can you all teach me about DMing 4e? what about DMing in general?
(Note: I realize this isn't the smartest thing I've ever done but I have no choice as most of my friends have no experience in D&D or roleplaying but want to play. Unfortunately that makes me the resident expert. :( As you can tell by the not-smiley face I am not an expert. :cry: Please help me RPGMP3. Your my only hope...
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#2 Dwarth

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 01:51 PM

Thir is one rule to rules them all...


The DM is always right :-)
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#3 Caelvan

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 03:24 PM

I must say that I am interested in this topic too. I have been a DM in 2nd and 3rd edition, and am looking at starting up a 4th edition game over the summer.

Anyway, the main advice I can give is try to be flexible ... the players never do what you want them to.
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#4 BigJackBrass

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 03:40 PM

Start by reminding your friends that you're all new at this and aiming to have a good time, so everyone needs to be patient while a rule is checked or if you have to quickly read ahead for part of the adventure if you've forgotten something.

One of the most useful RPG rules comes from TOON and it's easily applied to almost any game. Roll a d6: On a 1 to 3 the answer is YES; on a 4 to 6 the answer is NO. Very handy in a wide variety of situations, when it might seem that you can't find an obscure rule or don't know how to respond to your players. It's also worth remembering that it's perfectly okay to admit that you made a mistake with a rule or made a poor decision. Let the players know if something you've said - maybe you said there were no guards in the throne room but a little later you realise that there needs to be at least one for some reason - needs correcting and come up with an acceptable change.

It's very easy to panic when running a game because there seems to be a huge amount of stuff to learn. Try to get your players to learn how the odds and ends on their character sheet operate, or at the very least ask them to write down where to find the relevant rules. It's all very well having a player announce that he's using his "Arrows of Gerbil Smiting," but he shouldn't necessarily assume that you have their stats instantly to hand when he hasn't bothered to make a note himself.

Just take things steadily. With most games you mainly need to know how to check for an action resolution (picking a lock, jumping across a chasm etc.) and roughly how the combat rules work. I can't give you any 4e specifics, but it's fundamentally the same from what I've heard.

Good luck with it, I'm sure you'll have a blast :D
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#5 James

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 09:24 PM

DMing is pretty easy. Plus, since no one in your group has played before they will probably think you are brilliant.

Listen to few different games on here to get an overall picture of how different GMs run their games.

Also, 4e is a super simple system so the mechanics will flow pretty easily once the few basics are familiar.

Don't sweat it.
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#6 Hal

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 07:31 AM

My first experiences of roleplaying were from the GMs chair (mosty because I wanted to play more than my friends initially and I had some books) :)

A few pieces of advice.

1) Don't expect the players to do what you think they are going to do. They won't, they never do. If you try to make them do something, they will instantly get their backs up and dig their heels in and complain about being railroaded. Never impose your will over that of the player when it comes to their character.

2) Don't think of it as competitive. You are not against the players. Your monsters are out to make a good showing but don't feel bad if they lose. The story you are trying to create is supposed to revolve around the players, you are merely the faciliator of the experience.

3) Be fair. Always try to be fair and even. Give the players a reasonable chance. If they still fail what they were intending, don't feel bad about slapping them hard :P Abuse the players fairly and they will love the game.

4) Cheat only when you have to. As a starting DM I recommened a screen to help hone your skills in fudging. This is the fine art of using the dice to make what you want happen. This can save a player's life, allow a monster to escape, or whatever you need. Roll dice, pretend to calculate and make up the number. But only when you feel the story will benefit from a push in a specific direction.

5) Don't give in to pressure. Players want things, thay always do. The coolest sword, the fastest horse, the best armour. Keep them poor and scrabbling for everything. Make them earn every inch. Do not give in to dropping awesome items into the game because you or your players think it might be cool. It will ruin the game balance and you will have a brief dull game.

6) Play NPCs to the hilt. Ham, ham, ham! Especially in DnD where everyone is more than a little characactured, feel free to go all out with voices, ticks, memorable and onerous personal habits, whatever makes your NPCs unique from each other and memorable to the PCs. They may not remember the name, but they can always refer to the bahaviour.

7) List some NPC names in advance. In fact, take a piece of paper and write down at least 10 female and male names that are setting appropriate. Come up with at least 5 inn names, at least 5 town names and at least 5 monster type names (like Gashbag :) ). Keep this list to hand. PCs are notorious for asking the names of people you just create out of thin air so it is always good to have something on hand so that they PCs feel they are part of the story and not just a wisp you have created to lead them in the right direction.

8 ) Don't be afraid to look at the rulebooks. If you get stuck or don't know a rule (especially in combat with DnD) don't be afraid to look it up. Feel free to give this task to a player if you like. It is hard to 'wing' rules in DnD becase eventually they will bite you in the ass. Listen to some of the Keep on the Shadowfell and look through the forums. We made a good number of rules screw ups getting used to the new rules set but we just made up something appropiate and carried on through :)

9) Don't take it beyond the table. If one of the players is screwing your wife and you want to get back at him. Don't do it at the table. If someone screws your character and you end up dead. Leave it at the table. This is a game. It should be a) Fun and b) Fun and c) No Real Life!

10) Don't be afraid. You will get stage fright. I used to when I started GMing. There is so much to remember. Take things in small chunks and a step at a time. All you need to think about it the current situation and where you need the PCs to be at the end of it. Lead them through scene by scene, like a movie or book and it will be fine. Don't worry about what is going to be happening weeks from now, just get them there. Read ahead if you are using prewritten stuff and change anything you don't like in advance. Try to write something in advance if you are using a homebrew adventure (I am guilty of not doing this and it can result in things like the pygmy island in Rolemaster :) ).

I think those tips are sound. Hey, perhaps I should write a book about gaming and gaming advice (oh wait... I already am as part of the Fundable rewards :) ).

Hal :hal:
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#7 Isis

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 07:37 AM

Remember, the GM screen is also there for you to break down and cry behind if your players break your adventure. :D
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#8 Telemergion

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 09:10 AM

Hal's list pretty much sums up anything I was going to say about DMing in general, so I'll focus a little more on 4E.

It's not important that you know every rule, or character mechanic, but it does help to be familiar with them. One thing I noticed is that the classes in particular are easy to find because they start on page 60 and change roughly every 15 pages. Even if you can only remember one of those pages, like say the Warlock on pg 130, you then know that the Rogue is around 115, the Warlord around 145, and so on. really helped me when I needed to find a class feature fast.

On a similar note, pg 277 is the Status Effect page, and unless you make fancy cards or have them on the back of your screen you're going to need to refer to it a lot. Find a way to mark it that works for you.

The DMG, if you have it, actually has some really great tips and pointers for running 4E (or any game) but once again you don't need to read it cover to cover and memorize every word. Once you get a bit of a handle on exactly what your job is, I advise putting the books down and not worrying about the rules or text. The key to a successful game is to make it fun, and that's hard to do if you're sweating over the details.

And the key to making 4E fun is to find that balance that your group of players like. Some like combat heavy, but might not desire excessive tactical planning; some want the tactics (which 4E happily supports out of the box); some are happy roleplaying and never swinging a sword; some want to spend all their time shopping and seducing women in bars. 4E can do all of these, but its rules are definitely focused towards the combat so if you or your players do want to roleplay, don't get hung up on things the book doesn't tell you. Figure out the difference between the 3 conversational skills, decide if or how you want to use them, and then just shout random accents at your players until they realize you want them to talk back in character.

Which leads me to my next point of describing actions. If you have a group of new players, chances are they will read the text of their power descriptions and not embellish it. I hate that the only fluff in the system is on the things you use regularly. So my advice is to use those power descriptors as guidelines only. Tell the players you want them to describe their actions. Drawing out their creativity in combat will help them flesh out their character out of combat as well.

Lastly, you're going to feel a little overwhelmed no matter how prepared you are. That's fine, it'll pass. Don't try to hide your confusion or lack of knowledge. Since your players are all new as well, chances are they are feeling something similar (except they only have to play one character, and you have to do a whole world, those bastards) and if they see the DM is comfortable in admitting he's not 100% sure of something, they'll feel more comfortable too.

Oh, you could also look through the official adventures like Keep on the Shadowfell, but they're a little dull. My advice is to read through it so you know how a dungeon/campaign is built and then make your own. Maybe steal a few things if you like them.
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#9 Daniel

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 10:19 AM

6) Play NPCs to the hilt. Ham, ham, ham!

I'll second this, playing NPCs properly is both fun and rewarding, not just for you, but for your players too. At the end of the day if you're putting on voices and acting like a pillock in the name of fun, it's likely your players will soon be joining you. :D

10) Don't be afraid. You will get stage fright. I used to when I started GMing.

Hells, I still get stage fright before every game and I've been doing this gig for years. Its like a fight; the first punch is the hardest. Once you've beaten the Wall and thrown your first punch, you're committed and all others will be much easier after that.

Danny :plot:
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#10 Dwarth

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 06:46 AM

As a DM I personally like to hammer down the fact that I have no pity letting a character die as a result of a "stupid" action. It keep the player on their toes and always a bit nervous of what will happen next. But I'm nicer then I say when I FM though.

Depending on the type of game you play and/or the players you have it is nice to challenge the player by making them suffer a bit (character nemesis, blackmail, etc...).

In most of my games I was able to give the player personal and secret mission that make the games go forward but with a twist, it give the player a sense of usefulness as it's not fun playing when it's always the same character who does all the job!
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#11 Balgin

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 09:45 AM

2) Don't think of it as competitive. You are not against the players. Your monsters are out to make a good showing but don't feel bad if they lose. The story you are trying to create is supposed to revolve around the players, you are merely the faciliator of the experience.


Personaly I consider this to be point 1 (and point 1 to be point 2). :lol:
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#12 ZachDood77

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 12:20 PM

Thank you all very much. While I am still no where near ready equipment wise I feel I am a little bit more prepared with the other bits. I would like to ask that anyone willing to give advice on DMing in general and DMing $e specifically to continue posting it here as I always am willing to listen to advice from folks who knowa what they are talking about. (I.E. You Guys.)
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#13 Telemergion

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 12:26 PM

I would like to ask that people still post any advice they have as I am always willing to listen to advice of any kind.

Probably best not to word your requests this vaguely. Chances are on this forum that someone will immediately abuse the wording and derail your thread. ;)

Like, my first reaction was to say "Shower and wear clean clothes to the game. Some people forget to do that." Which is kinda on-topic, but you can see how it could quickly sink from there into our usual depravity.

But seriously. Showering is important. :P
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#14 ElLocoMarko

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 03:06 PM

If you are indeed training new players, it would be an excellent time to turn them towards role-playing their characters (even in fights) instead of being "rules lawyers" or combat optimizers.

If my character wants to swing on a chandelier and tackle someone because they have a little Errol Flynn in them, I don't want someone else at the table telling me that I should have used cleave because it does more damage. Sure, as a DM you might have to tune down some combat encounters because your players are having fun, but that isn't a bad thing.

Something to definitely discourage is a rules lawyer/know-it-all mentality. This person tells everyone what they should be doing. It kills the fun. Each player should be free to play as they like. I'm not sure how to stop that kind of behavior... that's more of a topic for the "Save my Game" forum.
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#15 Keener

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 05:09 PM

Remember, the GM screen is also there for you to break down and cry behind if your players break your adventure. :D

And hiding the good snacks. :D
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#16 BaronBytes

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Posted 09 April 2009 - 10:03 PM

I just GM'd my very first game and it was a blast(they seemed to have fun and I sure did), I wanted to post the same ask for advice over here when I read this post. I listened to all the advice you gave me I must say "Thank you"
I'm adding what I learned and what I think I did well to help.

2) Don't think of it as competitive. You are not against the players.

Great advice, I had only two players in encounters planned for two, instead of making the encounter easier, I tried to use the extra manpower to give personality to the monsters, A kobold running scared, escaping when the fight doesnt turn as well as they want returning for the next fight.

6) Play NPCs to the hilt. Ham, ham, ham!


Greatest advice you gave. in the start there was some shyness around, I went ahead and tried to make a voice. It relaxed them, set the mood and eased the tension for me and for them. I'll do them even better next time I know.

8 ) Don't be afraid to look at the rulebooks. If you get stuck or don't know a rule (especially in combat with DnD) don't be afraid to look it up.

If you feel it should be right, or they are attempting something that's cool or outside the books, let them try it and help them (Another advice someone gave me) Look the rules later when you are not at the table.

10) Don't be afraid. You will get stage fright.

I sure did, took a deep breath before starting, took a few minutes to chat before. The classic ' 20 minute of random talk before the game'. Repeated that it was my first time, and went ahead. Along the way I told them, if you come up with cool idea and not always using powers (Even if twin strike feel like a bazooka) I would not hesitate to give them bonuses.

For example : When the ranger chose not to use twin strike and use his grapling hook to try to grapple one Guard Drake and bring him down rise he was on and rolled a one, I rolled one d20 and rolled a 3 so I ruled he had caught the Minion behind, asked for a strength roll, he rolled high. I said you bring the minion down killing him and knock prone the drake. Next thing that happened, you saw both of the player try to use the world instead of using powers exclusively.

Last advice, make sure players have fun and have fun too.
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#17 James

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Posted 10 April 2009 - 09:58 AM

Sounds like you had a smashing time!

Now, I can't wait for the Warhammer game tonight.
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#18 Murine_Archmage

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Posted 10 April 2009 - 12:01 PM

Just my 2 meseta:

Remember to bring BC powder or some other headache med to the table. You'll need it.
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#19 ZachDood77

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 07:27 PM

well I took my first baby step towards actually starting a game. I bought PHB 1. Commence with the cheering. :) But no seriously I am the poorness so it may take awhile. Thought of everybody here when I bought it so I came round to say thanks again for all the advice and I actually have the whole thread printed out for reference. Two of the players will probably end up being siblings too so this promises to be... interesting. :twisted:
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#20 CBeyond

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Posted 01 July 2009 - 04:02 PM

4) Cheat only when you have to. As a starting DM I recommened a screen to help hone your skills in fudging. This is the fine art of using the dice to make what you want happen. This can save a player's life, allow a monster to escape, or whatever you need. Roll dice, pretend to calculate and make up the number. But only when you feel the story will benefit from a push in a specific direction.

I like reading threads like these. There is some good advice here, not just for d20 but for any RPG. The comment above caught my attention.

I was running a d20 Modern campaign a couple years ago, and during my perpetual self evaluation I realized that I was fudging too much. I had an idea of where the story was going and when the players needed to succeed or fail to make sure they stepped on all the plot points just right. My fudging to make that happen was killing some of the spontaneity. To cure myself I attached a post-it note to my screen saying "Consider NOT fudging a roll." This sounds like an RPG version of an Oblique Strategy. I think it worked for me, and now I'm trying to embrace the chaos more frequently. :D
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