Archive for the ‘DM Tips’ Category

On_the_AirA close friend (and player in the group I run for) and I often sit around and discuss gaming, RPGs, game theory, dos and don’ts and whatnot. Sometimes it’s over lunch. Sometimes it’s after a game session. Sometimes it’s over instant messenger.  In having these discussions, we frequently found ourselves referencing ideas from previous installments in these talks. We talked about taking notes, or starting up a google document, in order to archive some of the revelations we had in hashing out what went right and what went wrong in the game that week, or in prep, or in how the game or group was managed. We also had discussed recording these discussions in a video format and posting it on youtube. Over time, and after some soul searching, we decided it would make more sense as a standard podcast format, audio only.



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baby bathOk, well, perhaps that isn’t literally true, but give me a chance to explain….

So, I was giving my 22 month old son a bath last night and I got to thinking about a D&D campaign I’m currently running in the context of a ruleset I recently read. I do much of my best thinking in the shower and that holds true of baths as well, including those where I’m bathing my children.  I recently read a rules-light retro clone called Ambition and Avarice. I very much liked it and will probably post about it specifically at some point. But, it got me to thinking about things I need to make sure to do, to not do and to highlight in my current campaign. Most were things that I already knew and have done, but that you often forget about in the “fog of war”; those times when you’re too busy managing the table and group to make sure you get them in each session. As I checked off the list and lathered up my sons adorable little head of hair, I realized they all held true for how I raise him, or WANT to raise him as he gets older. I’ll write them here as a simple numbered list. They are in no particular order. (more…)

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Tomb of Horrors OriginalI recently had lunch with one of my players and we discussed the current state of our game (and he very kindly commented that I’ve been ignoring this site). Beyond the general consensus that people are having a good time and seem to be looking forward to each upcoming game session, the idea of momentum was briefly touched on. It got me to thinking. I’m currently running a lightly modified version of the 4E Tomb of Horrors. As a module, it plays quite a bit differently from what we’ve been doing. Over the past year or so of play, we’ve been very story focused. The mainline plot has gotten a lot of attention and has developed from a nascent threat against a few small villages into a full fledged regional destabilization. The group just reached level 11 and so far the threats they’ve faced feel about right to me. However, in The Tomb of Horrors, things are different. It’s not nearly as story driven. It’s really more of a set piece than a story, although there is some narrative behind it obviously. There is a reason for its existence and the powers behind it do create a sense of mystery (and a pretty serious problem) that needs to be solved. Now, keep in mind, this is a D&D “super” adventure. That means it’s one of those big, hardbound books, chock full of traps, combat, enemies and more. It’s meant to be run over a long period of time and across many levels. It ranges from Level 10 all the way to Level 22. The way we’ve been playing, that will take at least a year. (more…)

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I was recently involved in an online conversation. A player relatively new to 4E was asking a group of more experienced gamers, myself included, about a situation he encountered and how we would have adjudicated it.  I gave my answer and was surprised at some of the answers that came back. I’d like to throw this out there and see what others think and why?

So here’s the pertinent info for the scenario:

The player in question was a Psion. He was outside a window of a small dwelling. An enemy combatant was inside the building and adjacent to the barred window. The Psion opted to use his Kinetic Trawl (Augment 2) power as he had line of sight and arguably line of effect to the enemy he could see through the window.  DDi Compendium explains Kinetic Trawl thusly:











The Psion made it clear his goal was to do damage to the enemy while trying to pull him, smashing him into the bars of the window, possibly doing more damage.  The Psion successfully scored a hit and normal damage was dealt for the attack. But how, as a DM would you rule on the forced movement?   Please answer below and explain in the comments.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I recently finished running my D&D group through the published adventure; Cairn of the Winter King. This is the adventure that comes included in the Monster Vault boxed set. It’s the typical 32 page glossy we’ve gotten to know from WotC. It’s the same format as the two-part story entitled Reavers of Harkenwold that is included in the DM’s Kit. Overall, I thought Cairn of the Winter King was a pretty good module (Reavers is Excellent BTW). The Monster Vault was an amazing product and getting a fun adventure included was a great bonus. However, in running it, I was reminded of lessens I learned long ago.  Player choice can and should make a difference, but it shouldn’t ruin the experience. (more…)

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This is an interesting question. I don’t mean the players at your table. I mean their characters.  Do they have family? I know it’s common in RPGs to have a mostly deceased family. Afterall, we need someone to avenge, or someone to redeem, etc. Backstories are great and using them to create campaigns is what great D&D is made of. But what of friends? What about that annoying cousin who always needs to borrow money? Do your players have these……..in game? (more…)

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Ok, so I’ve been brainstorming with a close friend of mine. We’ve been discussing the concept of RPG Hooks. We’ve mashed up several ideas about how to come up with them, how to share them, and what people can actually use.  I’ve come to realize that he and I occupy very different spaces when it comes to RPGs (and Politics!).  But this is fantastic because having a sounding board that ends up being an echo chamber is incredibly unproductive. Ultimately I’ve come to the realization that what I want and need from an adventure hook is not necessarily what you may want or need. This is simple enough in concept, but presents certain challenges to the creative process.  I will attempt to overcome these challenges as I sift through story ideas looking for interesting seeds of adventure. (more…)

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Simulate your battle during prep

Over on Dungeon’s Master, Ameron writes an interesting post about DM rehearsal. He discusses his experiences with regard to running D&D Encounters for two groups. He notices that the second run through is smoother and seems more enjoyable for the group.

While I think this goes without saying, I also think it bares repeating.  When a DM is comfortable with the material, it will likely run much smoother.  The easy takeaway would seem to be to prep MORE.  However, I don’t know that’s the most productive course of action. This is simply because increasing prep time doesn’t actually obtain the same results as running the material for a group.

Ok, so what are we to do?  Is this a situation that is a no-win? We simply need to run a game rehearsal or suffer the consequences? Obviously it’s not that dire. Ameron goes on to point to ways we can utilize aspects of rehearsals to improve our game. We can listen to actual play podcasts, spectate at conventions and other things.

I’d like to add something to that list, particularly as it relates to combat. (more…)

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Ok, so one of the inspirations I plan to use for discussions on this blog will be games I’m running or playing in.  Currently, I’m running a 4E campaign at Heroic Tier. It’s interesting because until I started running this game about 5 months ago, I had never met any of the players at the table.  Some of them knew each other, and had gamed together, but they were all new to me.

What this means is that I go into the game having no idea what the interpersonal relationships look like or even who’s a jerk and who’s not, if at all.  I have to say, it’s been a real blast as I get to know these people, these adult gamers, through their PCs. It takes some time to differentiate a person whom I’ve never met, from the PC they are attempting to role play. Who is it that I’m getting to know really? Is it the salesman across the table, or is it the Dwarven Battlemind leaping into the fray?  The lines are blurry and it’s something I didn’t realize would be such a deep experience. (more…)

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Spinning a yarn

This post was originally written by me for submission to Gamecrafters.net. Thanks Brian for giving me an outlet!


I just read a great article over on Dungeon’s Master and I’d like to use it as a stepping off point for some thoughts and experiences I’ve had on the subject.  In this article, Wimwick discusses the subject of player input, and in particular, how much should players have in building the story and even the campaign.

I think he rightly surmises that player input is both vital to the story, as well as incredibly helpful to the DM, a person who often struggles with the endeavor of putting together an intriguing interactive fiction that is hopefully enjoyed by all.  He starts with the tried and true; the player back story. Then he moves on to what I think is just as key to keeping things moving along; the Paragon Path.  Wimwick supports my belief that Paragon path is more than a few extra class features and attack powers we can expect to get in the mid levels of the game. It’s something we can use to fuel our player progression and set us apart from (or bring us closer to) others in the group in a good way that advances the story while supporting creativity. (more…)

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