Dungeons and Dragons DM experience

So, likely this weekend I will be DMing a D&D game for my friends family (father, mother and daughter #1 (daughter #2 is too young for now)). I have not played D&D in years (like, 20?) but I have been watching D&D online for at least two.

No, this is not a “I stayed in a Hloiday Inn Express once” scenerio but I feel like I can get through a few adventures in the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit that the father picked up in the US a few weeks ago.

Other than keeping it relatively simple for all of our sakes, anyone have tips that they might share? Daughter #1 is quite keen on it, but she may attempt to save the dragon and enslave the population. The father, who I have known most of my life, will be fine but the Wife Unit (who I have also known most of my life (though 5 years less than her husband)) is kinda hesitant.

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Wish I had some good advice but all I can think of is “murderhobo.”

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…yeah sure…a “friend’s” family…does this friend have a screen name that rymth’s with “bridge”? :wink:

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Have you looked at D&D Beyond? I’m about to start a campaign with an old friend of mine (it’ll be me first time playing 5e), and he’s setting everything up through there.

https://www.dndbeyond.com/

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dndbeyond is pretty awesome. My biggest issue is that I like physical books and that means I am spending 50% more money but I created a couple of characters on the app (webapp) and it is very, very awesome. I love the ability to quickly look things up and keep track of stuff.

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So tips. Ok I think I can help here. I have, well lets just say it is decades of experience in this area.

Hesitant players

  • So you are going to need 4 characters. The three players and an NPC you control. Your character is the plot device through which you will ease those who are not comfortable with role playing into how it works.And yes it is literally like talking someone into the pool - At the beginning you can say things like “Fridgidus Maximus thinks that heading to the Inn for a drink would be a good idea now.” Or “Fridgidus isn’t comfortable fighting these guys here.” Talk to your players through him or her, and gauge the level of comfort in the pretend aspects as you go. It doesn’t have to be Medieval speak and dorky if they are not comfortable that way. You can keep it straight up and play it as you leading a text adventure until they are feeling it.
  • Make three characters for them ahead of time. Some new players take to character creation and some hate the process right there. If the daughter is into creating a character start there, her enthusiasm will keep things rolling and give the others time to adjust. Otherwise start with the wife and give her first choice. Discuss your premade characters in general such as "would you like to cast spells? or would you like to sneak in around and steal things? Archetypes are your friend here - Ask her does she like or identify with Catwoman, Lara Croft, or Daenarys? The idea is to get her into a character she will enjoy, without putting too much pressure on the choice. Its hard. Don’t let the family members pressure her, and stick to simple game play elements, like hitting things or healing people. Leave the Alignment section blank. Let them play their way towards good or evil.
  • Always avoid Analysis Paralysis - Always roll with “Thats not important right now” if a rule or concept is causing consternation or confusion. There are soooo many rules even in the starter kits that can really intimidate the play. Your job is to always decide what is needed and important, and what isn’t.
  • Ditch the stigmas as early as you can - Everyone has an idea of what playing D&D is like and they are wary of participating “Like the kids in Stranger Things” - Be clear from the beginning that this is their game and they can play it the way they are comfortable. For older adults guide them like “What would you do in a locked room?” “Well… I would do this…” “Yep, thats the game! You got it!”

The adventure

  • Feel free to crib from a module. You can even use a module for beginners if that will help you, but be wary of your first time players starting to worry that they are doing the thing they are supposed to do. Don’t let them get a caught in a loop of trying to figure out what you want them to do. Instead have a town for them to start in, a field for them to get into a fight, and a cave/dungeon for them to explore. Let them organically lead you to those things. Perhaps a family heirloom was lost in the field, or there has been a lot of activity coming from the cave. CRPG’s have been doing this for years so I know you know what to do here.
  • Don’t get stagefright of your own. You do not need to be over prepared, and you don’t need to know all the rules. Its ok to learn how to DM with them. If you are not sure about how to handle something they want to do, roll a die, Barely look at it, and decide what happens regardless of what it says. PLAYERS WHO DON’T KNOW THE RULES ARE THE BEST PLAYERS A DM CAN ASK FOR! Seriously, the rules only get in the way between a DM and a Player who insists on arguing them. I have played in Role Playing games where the DM used no rules or system at all, and they were some of the best experiences I have ever played.
  • The rules can be useful for combat however, and it is there that you should practice before hand. The players will benefit from feeling like there are rules for the life and death moments, and the combat can give the game a board game feel when it needs a break from the improv. But only use the rules you need. Constantly referencing the rules will kill the vibe. Come up with simple cards for your players that they can follow the five steps when it is their turn. State intentions, Move, Take an action, Wait. That sort of thing. They can then look at that card and get to fighting instead of talking.

The fine points

  • For me the treasure is the hardest part. Honestly be generous to start and then get miserly as sessions go on. Thats how street dealers and Las Vegas works, and so should you. When making up premade characters, also come up with treasure that would fit them, and then put those items amid the standard loot. Again, new players are the best because they don’t what is good or not.
  • Don’t worry about players who keep wanting to go somewhere else or do something stupid. Let them. But you may have to have a bad encounter that they just survive. Also don’t be afraid to give debilitating effect to an out of control player. Huge ears can be made fun of by other players, and being led around by your parents because you can’t see can be humbling.
  • Try to give them an appropriate bad guy. Create a character that can grow with them, that they learn to hate (or admire). I always go for the French guy in Indiana Jones (Baloc? Can’t remember). He’s a rival who thinks the Orcs/Nazis are useful but is not fond of them either.

Well I hope that helps Fridgidus Maximus!

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Awesome @Tankerwade! That is some great advice there!

My plan is to use the module that came with the essentials set. Basically go to this town and get quests from the main quest dude with the overarching plot to find and remove a young, nasty dragon. That’s great because the encounters are all kinda there, with maps and stuff to run through but it gives the adventure team some choice on what they want to do.

The players do have some idea who they want to be. The daughter wants a ranger, the dad a barbarian and the mother is maybe a bard (she can relate to that more than any other class). I am going to purposely try to stay away from the rules and make it more of an adventure/story/role-play thing instead of something focused on the combat or stats.

I like your suggestions for a focus bad guy as well. Good points all. I need to re-read them again!

Thanks @Tankerwade!

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That’s a great group right there. The Bard choice is fantastic as it allows for so many fun moments in terms of playing instruments, buffing the party, and just being streetwise and “in the know.” While the player of the Bard may not feel like she knows what is going on, her character will and that can be very rewarding. Bards have always been considered a strong role playing class, if not a combat focused one. Since you are planning to emphasize the RP aspect I will not be surprised to find out that she is the one pushing for the next session!

Its a good party composition as well. It has physical power, ranged ability, buffing, and organic healing from the Ranger and Bard. It is just missing knowledge based checks and nuking power. This is where you can make a wizard for an NPC for you to control and that will work out perfectly. Your wizard can move the plot along as needed by being able to read a scroll or cast a spell for a problem, and be able to nuke a particular creature down if things become sketchy. You can also just fade into the background at any time if they got this. Basically just be Morgan Freeman whenever they need you to be.

I am excited for all of you. Be sure to tell us how it went here so we can follow along.

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…and this is why I’m building a Bard for our upcoming campaign. I was tempted to try a Teifling, but I want to get a feel for 5e first make sure I know what I’m doing.

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Stone cold truth right there.

I was going to crank out a giant post on this, but I decided to keep it short and sweet.

  1. The point of this is to have fun in collaborative storytelling. If at any time a rule gets in the way of this ignore it.

  2. You as the DM are a set dresser, co-author, and narrator of how incredibly awesome the party is. Be the hype man when appropriate.

  3. You have a DM screen, hidden area, whatever for 2 reasons. A) to roll dice you ignore completely b) to keep your notes which you may or may not ignore completely. A hidden dice roll is the moment the magic happens as you now get to freestyle your session.

  4. Be very aware of what dice you roll in the open for your party

  5. Every great adventure (even in the real world) starts with a hook. Some of the best are accidental.

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A quick bit of exposition on dice rolling in view of your players:

Dice add a bit of randomness to heighten tension by creating the possibility of failure. For your players they are the arbitrator of “fair” and the “what happens.” The dice coming up good or bad is part of what drives the game along, standing in for “the fates,” “the will of the gods,” etc. For the player when they roll the dice they are engaging in a critical game mechanic that can lead to stunning success or hideous failure, modified by their character creation and development choices over the course of their campaign.

For the DM dice rolls are a way to generate randomness when you don’t have a plan or a don’t have a preference for how things happen. The party tripping a standard pit trip, that will take about 1/4 of their HP’s, is a take it or leave it kind of thing. It’s not critical to the story, there are no real pro’s or con’s of it happening. Rolling that check in the open, or sticking by what the dice actually read behind your DM screen has no real effect on the game in the immediate sense (yes those HP may be valuable later, but that’s surmountable by sticking healing potions/artifacts/whatever in as appropriate). Random encounter tables, random NPC names, random loot, etc. dice rolls are awesome. They can even be fun for the PC’s to watch in the open(as they root for a particular piece of loot to get rolled).

Actions that should/should not occur for your campaign to flow satisfyingly for all of you, are too important to leave to the dice. Story elements or major flavor items, again too important to leave to the dice. Heroic victory or death, too important to regulate to the dice. Am I saying you should ignore killing to hit rolls or damage rolls, not at all. Make the players death worthy though. Having a PC killed by a random guard just due to a series of bad dice rolls in a throw away encounter isn’t fun for anyone. Having the PC killed by the main baddie in the climactic fight of the current campaign? Now we’re talking.

The PC’s are executing an incredibly well done stealth infiltration of the bandits hideout? Don’t allow YOUR dice to arbitrarily derail their plan unless it works for YOUR plan for the session. If the PC fails a stealth/sneak/whatever roll with THEIR dice, then sound the alarm. Don’t sound the alarm, just because a random check you rolled comes up low, and it doesn’t have a good effect on the story line. Respect the PC’s dice roll, as it’s an extension of the player and their only physical act in shaping the story (well unless you’re LARP’ing). Ignoring a players die roll, is basically either saying the PC/player’s interaction good or bad isn’t “correct” for the story, or unwanted/unneeded for the story. Never give your players that feeling. Commiserate or congratulate, but respect the roll and your player for making it.

In combat you can let the game flow along the dice rolls most of the time, as well designed encounters should be challenging but surmountable. If the encounter is getting too tough, don’t be afraid to call out natural 1’s (or misses) on YOUR to hit rolls to help let “luck” be on the players side. If the encounter needs to be difficult for the stories sake and everyone’s enjoyment (sure playing whack a goblin can be fun, but you don’t want an encounter to be a boring exercise in dice rolling), start calling out high damage numbers etc.

In general for combat I never say what I “rolled” except for damage. Nor do I ever tell the party what their to hit numbers are. For new players, they can focus more on the storytelling and coolness, than min/maxing their combat.

In short treat YOUR dice as a way to interject randomness into the campaign, and prop to move the action along in the direction it needs to. The players are bound to their dice, as allowing them to fudge their numbers freely removes the tension and drama from using them (a limited number of re-rolls etc, can be a great house rule though).

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This got to be the best post I’ve ever read on this subject.
Masterful!

Thanks!

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Quick update. I forgot to post this earlier in the week; better late than never :-).

Last weekend we ended up with one shortish evening to do some character creation. The players all rolled their own skill die (4 d6, taking away the lowest die). Things went well with skill selection and such and DnDBeyond was a marvellous tool for this. We have the three main players and I created a couple of other NPCs to help out if something is going sideways or the players get in over their heads.

One of the players is a Ranger and she wants a pet pretty badly. My idea was to create a druid NPC who is addicted to her animal form. I am ‘hiding’ her in the pet and if the pet becomes unconscious, the animal form will drop revealing either an unconscious druid (who immediately goes back to animal form upon waking - and will, for the moment, stay unconscious until she can) or fights in self defence until she can. Maybe it will work as a, oh ■■■■ we need help, NPC.

This week I wrote up some stuff for the entry episode which we will likely get to next weekend. I was using the DnDBeyond Encounter builder to look at the difficulty the level 1 players would face in the first three missions of the starter set and … it looks tough. So, I will have the party ambushed while they are on the way to Phaladin as part of a convoy - that way they can get some experience (maybe a level? - I am not sure which method to use to grant new levels and I don’t want it to happen too fast). There will be a few convoy guards in the mix so if things become unmanageable … DM miracles can happen :slight_smile:

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