Last Updated: April 26, 2022
In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we talk about your first time DMing. We talk rulebooks, dice, what you need to know, what you don’t, and how to successfully run your first game session. We also suggest helpful tools that will help you succeed like easy (and often free) pre-written adventures.
If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick, free way to support the podcast, and helps us reach new listeners.
Materials Referenced in this Episode
- RPGBOT.Podcast Episodes
- Articles from RPGBOT.Net
- Dungeons and Dragons 5e
- Pathfinder 2e
- Other Stuff
- 5-Room Dungeons on RolePlayingTips.com – This is the guy who invented the concept. 300+ page book of 5-room dungeon ideas is free in PDF format if you sign up for his newsletter, which is also very good.
- Red Hand of Doom (affiliate link)
- The One Ring 2nd Edition Starter Set (affiliate link)
Welcome the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James. Thank you for joining us for the second part of our first time DMing episode arc. With me is Tyler Kamstra.
and Random Powell.
Alright, Tyler, what’s been going on?
Well, last time, we talked about getting ready to run your first session as a DM or GM, today, we’re going to continue with that advice. We’re going to go into actually running the session, potentially turning that into a long-form game, if you’re lucky enough to do that, and offer advice on how to do those things, how to take feedback and improve based on those things. And we’re gonna be- going to give you some tools and advice to help you be successful in both.
Absolutely. So we talked about the right idea is starting with a one shot, we think, and we think that because we’re right.
Right, well, you know, when you have this much experience, pride goeth. No. But I mean, realistically, there’s a lot of good reasons that we did talk about some of them. But so yeah, once you’ve picked your story, you’ve got all your resources, you’ve got your prep, you’ve got your players, they’ve got their characters. Now you need to actually run a game. And there’s a lot of things that go into that. If you have had your session zero, you’re going to know what your players are looking for in terms of how much do we want to roleplay? How much do we want to just throw dice at each other because clickety clack math rocks. there are some great examples of published one shots. We’ve talked about Little Trouble in Big Absalom, we’ve talked about Wild Sheep Chase. Tyler will absolutely love talking your ear off about those in a second. When you go into that, do you want to look at those and see, okay, how much is there going to be roleplay? How much is going to be exploration? How much is it going to be combat? Combat takes a long time. And particularly if you’re going into this as a new DM, like, new to the system, new to playing tabletop role playing games, combat takes much longer than you think. Tyler, who has been doing this for a very long time, tried to run a one hour one shot for myself and a couple other people, some months back. At an hour and 20 minutes, we still hadn’t finished the last room of combat that was supposed to happen before we got to the rest of the plot. Just because even with players, you know, and this was for experienced players, like… but combat just takes a long time. So as you’re trying to plan for how long is it going to take, just add half an hour or an hour to whatever you think because the worst case scenario, you’re gonna end up hanging out and talking about it, which is awesome. That’s something you should do anyway.
Yeah, that’s really good advice. We have some articles on the site, both my practical guide to one hour sessions, which that game was research for. And then an article that I wrote after that: the Practical Guide to Running Fast Combat, which was very informative for me to research and write. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it too as either an experienced DM or a novice DM. But there there are resources to make these things go faster. But Random is absolutely right. You should plan for combat to take a lot longer than you expect. Especially if your players like to roll garbage like I do. And they’re just always rolling single digits, no one can hit each other and eventually everyone gets tired and goes home instead of actually finishing the combat.
Yeah, it’s really depressing when the monsters just quit. Like I’ve hit third level exhaustion watching you roll bad and I’m going to have to leave the room now. Yeah, I think, you know, we talked about this idea of session zero and getting together and talking about what do folks really want to get out of this. And so for your first session that you’re going to run, having a good idea, like, if what they want is a lot of RP, then maybe it’s okay if you have combat but you choose lower-CR monsters so that they roll through the combat quickly. Something I know we’ve said but I don’t know if we hammer on well enough. In 5e at least, combat on average is supposed to last three rounds.
Yes, generally three to five.
Yeah, the CR is actually calculated for a monster. The offensive CR component is calculated on what is the maximum amount of damage that can be done in three rounds of combat. You know, it’s actually kind of baked into the difficulty of the game. Now that being said, if you dial that CR back just a little bit, shaving that from three to five rounds down to two to three rounds max lets you have combat which is a central part of the game, but lets you get on to the RP more quickly. If the players are players who really like combat, but they want lots of combat because you could tell they got bored the one time you had them go for six rounds in combat. Same game. You can, you can have lower CR monsters in all order to let them move through more quickly. Vice versa, if what they love is, like, epic challenges, then it makes sense if in your hour and a half long session, 50 minutes of it is this long drawn out epic fight against some CR creature that really challenges them.
Yeah, and one thing I’m gonna say about that, if you do choose to go the let’s turn the car down a bit route, be aware that that’s going to make your players not expend resources. And so you could… and if this is a one shot, that’s not a big deal, right? You’re, you’re probably you’re maybe going to have a rest anyway. Maybe that’s not a problem. But just be aware that like, if you are trying to build that into your typical ongoing campaign, then that’s something that you’re going to have to say, okay, you know, for the one shot, we did this. I am going to have to tune in a little bit differently. I definitely want you guys to keep having fun, and you should tell me if this stops being fun. Hey, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Again. That’s something that as the first time DM, especially be aware that if they’re not expending resources, they may just keep going. And so it’s, it’s important to figure out how to provide them a challenge which is still meaningful enough that they have to, you know, spend those spell slots, spend those abilities.
Another thing that I want to talk about on the story side of things in a long running campaign, you will often set up so that the culmination of a session is a plot hook or a reward, which is going to benefit them in the next session. If you know you were playing a one shot, maybe building in halfway through that reward like a new item, spells for all something that would be fun, that can then be used in the culmination is a better mechanism of storytelling than getting the reward at the end. Because sincerely, like, at the end, you might as well say you found infinite gold, right? Just it’s an infinite pile of gold. It’s a gold producer. Why? We’re never coming back to this world anyway.
Well, and so there’s, there’s a couple of ways to take that. First off, to your first point, one of the cool things that that can do is if you provide them an item, which requires a attunement, that can force arrest, which has some, you know, then we’ve talked about things like when people are resting, there’s, like, roleplay opportunities, and that sort of jazz. If you do decide to like we talked about in the last half of this, if you decide to take those characters, take that story into a long running, then yeah, you know, provide something that’s going to be meaningful for the campaign you intend to take that into.
There’s a lot of really good examples of this being done both very well and very poorly in published one shots. We’ve talked about little trouble in big Absalom is a great one-shot for Pathfinder second edition. And it makes the exact mistake of giving you all of the treasure right at the end of the adventure. The intent of them doing that is they give you this big pile of treasure including a bunch of expendable items like like alchemist’s fire, and then a really hard fight where you’re supposed to use all of those things. But that isn’t communicated super well and the players are encouraged to be selfish and take all the items for themselves, which is exactly what happened last time I ran it. The party’s rogue found all the treasure, took all the treasure, and then ran.
So the the party was nearly TPK’ed by lawn crawfish.
Yes, yes. Lawn crawfish yet I guess exactly what you think they are.
Not large lobsters. Lawn crawfish. They speak with a Cajun accent.
Otherwise, excellent adventure. Little Trouble in Big Absalonm is great one shot for PF2 If you’ve never played a run it before, it comes with good pregen characters. Good mix of mechanics. It does a really good job of hitting the core concepts of Dungeon Fantasy, so your exploration, interaction, combat. The first half of the adventure is you’re exploring a terrifying dungeon which is some old lady’s basement. The second- Yes. And then you have a really nice role playing encounter with an NPC. And then you do a little more exploration and there’s combat interspersed throughout the whole thing. So it does a really good job for-
You literally skip the best part.
Cookies. Absolutely, yeah.
If you’re a DM and you’re running this one shot bake cookies. Pro tip. For fifth edition D&D, I really like the Wild Sheep Chase. It’s available on DMsGuild, and we’ll have links in the show notes. It’s a really light hearted short adventure. Starts with goofy NPC. The plot is a little silly. I think you play at third or fourth level so that that may be a challenge for a first time DM. But it’s also that kind of sweet spot where characters start feeling really cool. There’s a little bit of combat. You get to explore a nice little map it and it’s a very short read. I think the whole PDF is like four pages, so it’s very easy to pick up and run. A lot of other RPGs will include a short adventure in the core rulebook. So all of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games have a short adventure in the core rule books and there’s three for the various versions of the game, The One Ring has short adventure in it. In the in the core rules. That’s becoming more and more common. So generally that adventure is a great place to start both as a one shot session and to hit all of the core concepts of that game set.
And in fact, it’s probably worth mentioning a lot of systems. Let’s take 5e, right? 5e has the mines of… Thank you. I’m never gonna pronounce it correctly. And I accept that. All right, you have the mines of Phandelver… did it! All right. The mindset doper as an intro, where the rules are a little bit pared back, the adventure is well laid out. If nobody at your table has played it, even if they’re experienced players, as a DM, it’s a great module to run. PF2 has a starter.
Yeah, the starter kit for Pathfinder second edition is basically a tutorial built as a dungeon crawl. And it’s decently fun to play. It’s really easy to run and it introduces a new mechanic in basically every room so you learn as you play. There’s some fun puzzles in there. There’s some decent encounters. We have a we have a guide on the website for running it and, like, polishing off some of the rough edges of the adventure. But yeah, if you’re gonna play Pathfinder, Second Edition, starter kit’s a great place to start.
The One Ring second edition, just published, has a starter kit come with it. I’m saying this to emphasize, like, all of these systems, many of these systems have starter kits which are fantastic ways to get started. But beyond that, yeah, like Big Trouble in Little Absalom was a fun story that also gave me a great impression of, like, what Pathfinder 2 is and kind of what it’s about. You know, I have to say like D&D 5e feels like, you know, Batman, dark and brooding and verdan Pathfinder is like, nah, this is gonna be great. We’re gonna give you goblin grenades. Have fun.
It definitely depends on who’s running the game. But yes, there are absolutely goblin grenades. There are spoon guns. PF2 can get wacky.
Yeah. And it’s fun. Like it is great.
One of the things that if particularly if you have read or go read the guide to one-hour sessions, so five room dungeons, he’s a big fan of in fact, that’s what he ran for us for that, that test case, they’re really good. It’s a great way to lay out things to get that little mix of everything while still making it through pretty quickly without having to feel like oh, I need to make this whole enormous dungeon to, you know, because like this, this can be the puzzle area. And this can be like all these monsters. So even just keeping things very short, like one instance of everything can feel really fun.
Yeah, five room dungeons are great as a tool for both writing a one shot and for just planning out your session. So the concept of the five room dungeon is you have an entrance slash Guardian, so that that will be like some difficulty to get into the dungeon. A puzzle or role playing challenge, which could be, like, you have a high stakes interaction with an NPC or you solve a puzzle. Go see our puzzles episode. The third room is the trick slash setback. So maybe the party is ambushed. Maybe they were hit by a trap. Maybe they realize some piece of crucial information was incorrect. But the ways to interpret this are many and varied. Fourth room is the climax slash boss. So this is, like, the climax of your session, you’re gonna have some big climactic fight or there will be some big crazy reveal, like Darth Vader’s your dad. Surprise. And then room five is the reward at the end of the session, which doesn’t necessarily mean like here’s a pile of treasure, it could be like I have saved the princess and I’m rewarded by having done that. So the concept originates from this guy named Johnn Four who runs roleplayingtips.com. Great website. If you go to the website, he’s got like a 500 page PDF with five-room dungeon ideas in it, which I’ve used so many times. So I strongly recommend that
Awesome. So we’ve talked about a few different stories, right? Little Trouble in Big Absalom. We’ve talked about Wild Sheep Chase, we’ve talked about the structure of five room dungeon, some of the starter kits. Ultimately, what do these have in common, that are going to help a first time DM be successful?
It’s hitting the fundamental concepts of your game system in a kind of bite sized chunk. So for fifth edition, well, for all of D&D, the three pillars of D&D are exploration, social interaction, combat. Your five room dungeon gives you room for a couple of fights, some exploration, some interaction with either a puzzle or an NPC or something like that. So you get a little bit of each of those three pillars in your one session. Most sessions that you run, you want to hit all three of those things in not necessarily equal amounts, but a little bit of everything. You’ll have some sessions that are all interaction or some that are all combat or some… anyway. And other games, like especially outside of the dungeon fantasy genre will have different conceptual pillars that you want to hit in a given session. But those starter kits, those demo adventures, the published one shots, those will frequently hit all of those core concepts and give you an idea of what you want to shoot for for a satisfying session.
Another thing that I’ll say that’s fantastic about them is, for the most part, they’re fairly brief, you can get through them in two to three hours, versus a long six hour session. And I think, folks who have played the game for a long time, love to sit down for all day adventure, eat two meals together, you know, get through all the beer and nachos. And this first time as a DM coming through, especially if it’s a new players to the game, I think you’re ultimately gonna have better luck creating a long running campaign if you leave them wanting more versus if at the end of it the thing to remember is, yes, I had fun and also, I was exhausted.
Let’s see, the fifth edition D&D Starter Set is a bit longer than a lot of starter sets. Generally, your starter sets will run one to two sessions, which is enough to get your feel for the game, get a, get your handle on the mechanics, understand how the game works, all those things. The D&D Fifth Edition Starter Set is a full, like, it runs you from levels one through four. I mean, it’s not a super long campaign, but I’d expect like three to six sessions out of it, definitely. If you’re using the fifth edition Essentials Kit instead, especially with the follow up adventures that’ll run you all the way to level 12. Your mileage may vary on how long they run, but generally a starter set is designed to be run in one to two sessions with fifth edition being the weird exception.
Yeah, and that’s why realistically, rather than trying to go with the circuit for that, that’s why we’re recommending something like just grab a five room dungeon, grab one of the adventure a week mini adventure/mini dungeons. Grab something short, because, yeah, you know, even even just that D&D starter kit can feel like a big commitment.
Alright, so you have survived your first session as a DM. I am going to make the argument it is now time for a proper feedback session. And really, if you’re a new DM, one of the tools that you should have in your bag as a new DM, we always talk about session, session zero, something you should add to your session zero is the idea of feedback. Let folks know you’re comfortable receiving it, you want to get it. Tell me what you like, tell me what you didn’t like. We have this technique that folks use a lot of folks listening are probably familiar with of like, a start, stop, continue retrospective. What this is, is, what should we start doing? Like what problems did we face that we think if we started doing this, it would help solving help solve the problem? That might be as simple as players have an idea of what you’re going to do on your turn. don’t figure it out. As soon as it comes to you. You know, give some thought to it. On the DM side, it might be pre-rolling initiative, because it took too long to roll. You know, getting set up for monster, uh, for combat took too long. Their ideas that we could start doing. Stop is okay, what wasn’t working? What are the things that we tried that we’ve decided, like, this is terrible? Yeah. What are some good examples of things you might stop doing?
Well, actually, so I got to listen to a fun panel with Gary Con, where someone was describing part of the design process for third edition and part of the design process for third edition, there were some classes that could make saves to avoid magic missle. And that was one of the universally hated rules that in all the player feedback, they were just like, no, no, get rid of this. It’s terrible. Magic missile should always hit. So you know, if you happen to introduce that into your game. Stop it.
Yeah, actually, that is a great example of like, I’m gonna let you bring in that Unearthed Arcana, but no longer. We’ve decided we’re going to re-earth that.
If you’re using homebrew rules, this is a great time to discuss them. Start, stop, continue. Like you might say, Okay, we hit a very specific problem with the homebrew rule or table rule, whatever, whichever variation of things you’re calling it and using, you might say, Okay, we need to stop using this rule because it’s causing X problem. Maybe you’re using a variant initiative system, and you’ve decided that it horribly advantages all of the monsters and that makes combat impossible. So you say okay, let’s stop doing that. Go back to how it’s written in the rules. It could just be things that you’re doing to run the game, like, maybe, maybe you as the DM really like to us music, but you don’t realize that you’re playing the music way too loud so the players can’t hear you talk. Like, that’s that’s good feedback and shouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings. Maybe you give someone feedback at the table like hey, maybe don’t eat a ton of garlic right before we sit down.
Yeah. What if you shower daily? I’m just tossing it out. Also, Let me introduce you to my friend deodorant. I think the, for the social parts of it, I think that is important. And these are good feedback. I’d say those very personal ones are maybe best given one on one. But I think at the table, getting folks prepped ahead of time to know that you want feedback on the back end, and then directly asking for it is really gonna help you be successful. And the nicest part of start, stop, and continue is continue. And what I’ll say to players, what I’ll say to DM’s is really take advantage of the continue, because I’m gonna throw a bunch of stuff at you. And if your favorite thing are the voices that I did, or your favorite thing, are the scripts that I did, or like I went to describe, and I pulled a bunch of box text, and then I read this to you, and you’re like, that was awesome and I really love how you applied it. I don’t know that you love that, unless you give me that feedback directly. You know, if you’re worried about hurting somebody’s feelings, you know, we’ve all heard of the compliment sandwich.
Well, I really liked the compliment sandwich, it’s very effective at providing some good feedback, making sure that you do provide that, I will say that it’s been shown to be something that the players, er, not the players, but like the person receiving it, kind of they, they they understand what’s going on and so they just pick the negative out of it. But with that said, I think that it really does a great job of making sure that, you know, you are at least taking the time to think about what was good so that you can provide that.
And I think in this setting, like, I want you to make me the sandwich. I want to be very clear, I want a club sandwich, right? Like I want a compliment, and then some turkey, and then a compliment, and then some ham, and then another compliment. Because that’s ultimately, like, that’s gonna taste a lot better is all I’m saying than if you put the turkey, and the turkey in the ham or the negative comments, by the way. But if you put the turkey in the ham, then all of a sudden you stick some salami in there too, like that. It could hurt feelings. But no, I think getting folks prepared to receive that. I should say that differently. Getting folks prepared to give you the negative feedback and then preparing yourself to receive it is extremely important. Because let’s look at it this way, if folks aren’t having a good time, or if there’s a particular aspect of the game that just needs to change for them to the point where they decide, look, I’m not going to play anymore. That’s a much worse outcome, than you hearing something that’s a little hard to hear, and then adapting your game. Part of what I’ll say for this is if you were asking people to give you this feedback, you do need to be prepared to change. Or to have a discussion to, you know, the five why’s technique. Can we dive a little deeper to understand what aspect of it, you know, really bothered you? I think Tyler gave a great example a moment ago. You know, if somebody says, well, I didn’t really like the music. Okay, cool. Is it the style of music? Is it the pacing? And if it comes down to it’s like, well, it’s just too loud. So it’s hard to understand you. Oh, okay, cool. That’s, that’s fixable. I can turn the volume down. If the problem is the style of music, you can find something else. And if the person is just like, No, I just I hate music in a session, I don’t enjoy it whatsoever. Okay, cool. Let’s talk around the room. If three of the players loved it, one person hated it. Maybe it’s something you compromise on, you don’t do it all the time. But for key social settings, you do it. But really diving into kind of what is going to help everybody enjoy it and adapting what you do is going to be better. Another thing we talked about before, like, you have this cool story you want to tell and then they meet the NPC which you want to be, you know, let’s say the villain or a key partner, something like this, and they hate the NPC. It’s like, Okay, what did you hate about the NPC? You know, is it something could you redeem the NPC? Do you need to introduce a new character to kind of carry that thread forward, and maybe have it be something more in line with what they would like? Getting that feedback is going to help you tell a better story.
Yes. And being gracious about the feedback that you’re getting is really, really important here. Feedback should always be constructive. You want it to be constructive criticism, emphasis on constructive. Understand that these are, these are probably your friends at the table who are trying to help you improve and even if they say something that, like, you might not agree with, they are generally trying to be very helpful. If you are the player at the table giving your DM feedback, be constructive. Offer suggestions for things that might improve the situation. If you go in with just, like, I don’t like X, but you don’t have a better idea, maybe give some thought to that idea. Maybe you do still give them that feedback, and then discuss with with your DM, maybe with the table, like, what can we all do to improve this thing? Because the goal is for everyone to have more fun.
Yeah, I would say towards that. If you really don’t know what you would do to make it better. Let’s say it’s a particular mechanic that was introduced and you don’t want to not have the mechanic. Let’s say we’re talking variant rules and let’s say you’re doing gritty realism. And you’re playing a Sorcerer, and it’s really killing you to not get your sorcery points back. But you don’t know what you could do except for, like, maybe he was a character played by normal rules, and everybody else doesn’t. I guess the solution here is probably pretty easy. Let’s pretend it isn’t easy. But that being said, I think even acknowledging, look, I’m not really enjoying this aspect of what we’ve done and I don’t have a better solution right now. Just being open and honest about I don’t have a better solution right now, or I don’t have a good idea of what to do to fix this. I think if I’m receiving that feedback, I’m going to take it a lot better, because you’re not throwing it at me, you’re making it an acknowledgment that it’s a hard problem. And so you’re implicitly telling the DM it’s okay that you didn’t fix this off the first bat, or that it isn’t working perfectly. That’s acceptable, because I don’t know what I would do, either. That’s a lot easier feedback to hear, I think.
Yeah, and one of the things about this sort of feedback, particularly if you are going to turn this into a long running campaign, or you know, this information about feedback is valuable, even to longtime DM’s who are running longtime campaigns. Getting that feedback conversation going outside the table can help a lot. That can help some people don’t feel comfortable with giving something to you just like, look you in the eyes until you your game was garbage.
Please don’t give that feedback.
Hopefully, they’re going to come up with a more diplomatic and constructive way of giving you the information that made them think that. But my point is like, you know, if you want to have this conversation in a Discord server, in a Facebook group chat, in a group text if, you know, it’s still 2002 where you are, then that can be a really helpful way to both reduce some of the anxiety of the, like, in-person feedback giving. And also, when someone says, Hey, you know, I had this, like, I hated gritty realism, I don’t have a good answer. That’s a way to get the rest of your players engaging, you know, particularly if you have that veteran player in your group, who’s like, Okay, well, so I did play with gritty realism once and the Sorcerer also had that problem and we fix it XYZ. That can be a really useful way to engage people and to keep people interested in between sessions, right? You know, if that’s like, hey, you know, our session’s on Sundays, and by Tuesday, let’s just have a start, stop, continue that we post in the Discord and then congratulations, you know, we can talk about that and we can maintain engagement with the story throughout the week.
Improv Dungeon Master, what you do is you allows Sorcerery Points to restore as they normally would, after a long rest. But still, your spell slots don’t come back until, like, the weeks go by, as it would be for typical gritty realism. So you’re welcome.
So let’s say you’ve run your one shot. It’s gone awesome. Everyone’s very excited. You want to keep DM’ing. So, let’s talk about ongoing games. If you as the DM enjoyed your first time running game, you enjoyed your one shot, maybe you’ve gotten new players who want to come back for the first time, then you might be lucky enough to turn this into an ongoing game. Now, this is both fee the blessing and the curse of being a DM. Congratulations, you’ve got a new game going. Be very excited. Also, oh no, I have to write an ongoing game now. What do I do? So the advice for running a longer form game is slightly different from running a one shot because they are typically more involved. You have ongoing plots. Things that you do in a previous session have implications for future sessions. Like, if you give your player a plus three sword instead of a plus one sword, they now have a plus three sword at level two, what are you going to do? So there are some additional considerations. If you’re running a published module or long form published adventure, you’re more likely going to need to carry some more books to the sessions. So you’re going to need to carry your adventure, you’re going to need to carry probably at least the core rules. Your players, someone might need to bring some rules supplements that have, like, additional character options. So like in D&D, your Xanathar’s, Tasha’s, etc. In Pathfinder second edition, whoever brings, whoever brings a gunslinger to the party has to bring Guns and Gears. Just make that their problem. If you can try to make players bring their own books to support whatever character they’re playing, but I understand like, a lot of groups like to share books, especially if you’re using D&D Beyond or something and, of course, if you’re doing it digitally, it’s less of a problem anyway.
Yeah, I will say, you know, as the DM, particularly with the big focus on milestone leveling, that’s going to help you a lot. Like, you know, okay, we’re probably going to get to around here this session, we’re going to get to around here that session after that, and that’s about where I want my folks to level. And on those days, you know, maybe maybe that’s the day that you do show up with your your cart full of here’s my Tasha’s, here’s my Xanathar’s, here’s the stuff so that people can look and see okay, well, I want to do this want to do this want to do this and and go for that. Now that assumes that you are trying to do this stuff in person. And if you’re not then, of course, like Tyler was talking about the D&D Beyond is great. If you use the option where people can share your stuff, then they just always have access to it offline, which is awesome. Honestly, my biggest reason for saying don’t always bring all of your books. They are voluminous and heavy. So The first long campaign that I played, my DM would regularly show up with a milk crate full of books that he would roll around, because that’s kind of what he needed to run his stuff with the particular game that he had going. And that’s fine. It’s just, it’s a lot. And so you know, trying to travel light is gonna make your life a lot easier.
I will say, even if you are in person, tablets are pretty small. These days, a lot of laptops are pretty small, like using D&D Beyond as a digital resource at the table, if everybody’s comfortable, and everybody enjoys that, I do think makes perfect sense. One of the things I’ll say talking about the idea of leveling up, it could be a way if you’re gonna play a long session, like if it’s actually an all day in person session, leveling up might be a great way to just build in a break. If you can hit the milestone around when you want to take a lunch or a dinner break, then focusing kind of, hey, I’m thinking about doing this, I’m doing this, you switch to a more social setting, you’re not in game, you make your choices, and you level up. Another thing that you might do, if you know what’s coming next session, and in the middle of the session, you want them to level up, it’s important. Having that conversation maybe two sessions ago, or the session previous of saying, hey team, sometime soon, you’re probably going to level up… if you bring me gifts. And that way… and literally say like, start thinking about what you want to do kind of have an idea of where you’re going to land, what that’s going to do is you’re putting your players on the spot. They’re not going to panic, like, oh, no, I’m gonna make a wrong choice because I haven’t really optimized for this because I was in the session, I wasn’t thinking about the future. If they already thought about it ahead of time, ideally, they could come and they could say, I’m debating between these two options. People can have some fun conversations about it, make your decisions, resume your session.
One thing that I did want to touch on, particularly given what Randall just said about having your D&D Beyond at the table, one of the things that you really are going to want to talk about is what should people sitting at your game be doing? And that’s, that’s part of your session zero. So a lot of times, things like laptops, tablets, can be very distracting. And so that’s, that’s part of the conversation that you should be having. These, like, Okay, let’s try and keep this to just pen and paper and then if we need to look something up, great, we can pull out a laptop, we can look it up, we can look it up on a tablet. But that’s… screens are a very distracting thing for a lot of people. In combat, maybe that’s a reason why, you know, okay, we get to this turn, Oh, I haven’t thought about it. Because, you know, they were looking something up. And you know, maybe what they were looking at was something important to the session. But still, it’s a very distracting thing. So, absolutely. Consider that as a valuable resource. But just keep in mind that that may be one of the things that perhaps you as a new DM have to give feedback on to your players. Like, hey, it seems like maybe we’re not engaging super much. Is that something where we could maybe keep the screens away, keep the phones down until, you know, we’re like looking something up between sessions.
And I think that’s a wonderful topic to bring up in a feedback session. As a DM, because you’re kind of facilitating this. You can even ask the leading questions like, do people feel like they were as an individual distracted by screens at the session? And then you everybody stare at that one person who spent the entire time on a phone.
I have been that person, and I’m sorry to the people who have done that to. I find… I find when I’m a player screens can be very distracting for me, personally, so I try really hard to go for paper character sheets when I can. And it’s totally fine to admit that about yourself. And knowing your own limitations and your own flaws is really helpful. Even if you’re not the DM, accept that feedback. Maybe put screens down and opt for pencil and paper if that’s a better fit for you. But if it’s not causing problems, yeah. And of course, everything except D&D has books available as PDFs. So even if you’re not using D&D beyond, you can still pull up a PDF on your phone or your laptop or whatever.
Yeah, I will say on the other hand, so Tyler, regularly live tweets are our regular weekly game that we play. Everybody at the table loves that and enjoys going and reading it later. So Tyler, you should continue to be slightly distracted by a screen.
That’s actually what I came up with to keep myself from being distracted by other things.
To focus on this one particular… Yeah, okay, that’s fair. I do the same thing with music when I work, right? Like I’m distracted by too many things. But if I can put on music, I can at least focus.
Incidentally, do not put on your headphones and listen to music at the table.
Yes. You know, that’s one of those things that it feels like should be pretty self explanatory and yet… and yet…
I’m not really liking this, like, lodging campfire music you got going on. So there’s also some Foo Fighters.
Alright, so one of the other things as a DM in a long running game, you’re going to need to keep your own notes. Now your players may be keeping notes, which is awesome. They may not. Also fine. For your sake, you’re really going to want to keep track of, like, what has been happening to important NPCs. You know, particularly if you’re like trying to make the NPCs as big a piece of the game as something like in Call of the Netherdeep, where there’s the whole rivals, you literally need to have that written down because the story is different depending on what various relations are. So like, that’s a huge impact. So something like that, you can, you can absolutely keep track of like, like, where are people at any given time. And that can, that can be important. If you’re running something like Red Hand of Doom where you need to know, like, what day is it? Keeping track of rests that the party has taken can be very helpful. So you need to write down some things, or at least, you know, have a place where it’s noticeable for you. And that’s where it really takes back to what I was talking about for, like, read your material. Be very familiar with your material so that you know what is important enough that you need to write it down.
And for those among us, like me, who have terrible, terrible memories, writing things down is very, very helpful. Sometimes you may notice that what you have written down and what your players have written down about the same thing are different. And that is a great opportunity to mess with your players.
If that happens. There’s several good ways of going about this. You know, if you are able to on the fly, just “Yes, and” what they said, that can be a hilarious way, particularly if the players themselves don’t agree about what happened. If you just like, you know, like two people took notes and like, those guys dead. We put him back in town, what are you talking about? And then just say “yup” and, like, you find them in town later. And then you go to the graveyard and there’s also a headstone for him and like… oh man. So I will say gaslighting your players safely in game is hilarious.
Gaslighting your characters.
There you go.
And the surprise is great for everyone. I as a player love being surprised. So if a DM were to come along and be like, ah, Tyler has latched on to an incorrect piece of information and I’m going to use that against him. That reveal will be so much fun for me. So don’t feel like you’re doing this to punish your players. This is great storytelling, and hopefully everybody enjoys it.
All right. So there is another situation that could happen to you. We’ve talked about a one shot as a new DM. We’ve talked about running a long campaign for a group of people. Friends, presumably. What if you have an emergency game?
This has happened to me a couple of times. You’re in a group setting, doing something that’s not D&D, and very suddenly someone wants to play D&D. And your plans for whatever you’re doing there have changed dramatically. So like, let’s say, it’s Christmas Day, one of your family members who loves you very much has bought you this new RPG book. And you open it with joy, and you’re like, ah yes, thankful. Thank you. You understand me, and I love you for this. And they’re like, “Hey, will you teach me how to play that today?” And you think, “Oh, no.” But also, “Oh, yes!” Because the excitement of getting to teach someone knew how to play but at the same time being put on the spot when you don’t have all of your stuff can be very stressful.
And there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. Because like, these are people you have to deal with constantly.
Yes. Having kind of an emergency DM slash GM kit is very, very helpful. Now this doesn’t need to be some huge physical thing that you carry around. But like…
But it should be. Just you have a backpack, like, you’ve got to “Go Bag”, you’ve got the emergency DM’ing bag.
Yes. In your emergency DMing bag is five sets of dice, spiral bound binders… No, you can usually get away with just a starter kit for whatever game you like to play. People will most frequently asked you, like, “Will you teach me to play Dungeons and Dragons?” because it has that name recognition. And even if that’s not your game of choice, it’s it’s totally fine to teach them on D&D, and then suggest moving to something else later. The name recognition makes things much more accessible for people. And of course, fifth edition D&D is a very accessible game with a ton of support and a lot of resources. Carrying a starter set somewhere where it’s accessible, like, maybe you just hide it in a corner in your car or something like that. But if a physical thing isn’t an option for whatever reason, just knowing where you can download PDFs for a short adventure like Wild Sheep Chase or Big Trouble on Little Absalom or something for some other system that you’d like to play.
Anything from Adventure A Week, like, those many dungeons are awesome, and they have them for Pathfinder as well as D&D.
Absolutely, yeah. And pregen characters as well. Like, just stick the PDFs in a, in a cloud storage file somewhere. And when someone says, Hey, will you teach me to play D&D? You can say
“Does your printer have ink?”
Give me 10 minutes and a printer and we’ll be ready to go. So just having quick access to those basic materials is really helpful. Like we talked about on the previous episode, if you don’t want to carry around a ton of, a ton of physical dice, just having a dice roller app on your phone is fine and sharing it with the other people you’re going to be playing with. Like, here’s how you’re going to roll dice. If you have a good time today, we’ll go buy you a set of dice. And that is one of my personal pleasures is taking people to buy their first set of dice at a real game store. It feels really good.
I will say there’s like a certain amount of absurdity to this that I love. Because folks who don’t know a lot about tabletop, but love fantasy and love board games will approach you and say like, Hey, will you teach me how to play? And it’s some cross between, like, I hear you play guitar, play me a song. Like, just performed for me right now on the spot. But it’s also like, yeah, like, I want to learn how to play rummy right quick, so let’s just bang through this. And it’s like, you don’t know what you are asking me to do right now. I’m going to do this, but I need you to know that you have to be with me 100%. You have to do everything that I’m going to tell you to do. It’s gonna be rough, bit I think we can make it together. You tell your loved ones you’ll be back tomorrow.
This is why I mean, you know, we sort of brought this up in the in the holidays episode, which you can go back and listen to. This is why this sort of thing does tend to happen when there’s a bunch of people around and no set plan. If you do have someone for 6, 10 hours, absolutely. Go nuts. You know, you you can very much get something like this in, particularly if you do have something prepped. As a first time DM, doing it on the spot, that’s absolutely going to make your life harder. That’s why we’re really leaning into like, just have a starter kit, have all of this stuff prepped, just on the off chance that someone does ask you because I’ve been putting this up, you know, putting together like a couple of PDFs and some dice is going to take 15, 30 minutes of your time. You know, particularly if you like if you’re a longtime player, and that’s how people know and so you know, then yeah, just keep it like in a binder keep it, you know, in your in your car trunk, or you know, your boot or I guess… whatever various other things that other English speaking countries call your the trunk of your car. Do you call it the Tesla front hood?
The frunk? I believe that is the technical term.
Thanks. I hate it. There’s a lot of things like that, that usually you’re going to have some time because unless you really are in like a holiday situation where, like, just kidding, none of us knows what to do for six hours, it’s usually going to be like, Hey, I you know, I know that you play D&D. You know, that’s around a water cooler. Do we still do those? Oh, no wait, it’s a pandemic. So, you know, someone messages you on Teams or Slack and says, Hey, I hear you play D&D, and you say great. Let me get back to you.
The yard trash.
Another thing I’ll bring up for this emergency game is I do think finding a way to limit the number of people that you’re involving in it if it’s possible. Playing in a game with six or seven people can be painful. If you’re a new DM or a mildly experienced DM, the idea of taking, like, eight people from your family, putting them around the table and running a game is going to be nightmarish for them, for you, it’s going to give them a bad impression of it. It’s gonna make you feel bad about being a DM, when the reality of it is if there were only three or four people, it’d be a lot better. And so gently having that conversation of, again, going back to the intensity I had a moment ago, who really wants to do this? Right? Like you need to, and having that conversation of like, well let me run a game for three or four people. And then if you folks want to do this, you know, tomorrow, presumably we’re still together. Or maybe it’s late later this afternoon. I’ll run another one with you. That’s probably going to give everybody a better experience than it would if you try to have eight people because now, like, even finding content designed to run for eight people. An eight player encounter. Good luck getting the encounter math right for that where it’s both meaningful combat, everybody has fun, and it doesn’t take three hours, you know, just to kill your very first rat. Yes, the lawn crawfish. All right. This week’s question of the week comes to us from…
What has been your favorite monster or monsters to fight and to use as a DM? Has it changed over the editions?
I really really like dragons.
He does, no, it’s true. Loves dungeons.
I love dungeons. I love fighting dragons. I like fighting dragons in dungeons. So, you know, there’s a game for me out there somewhere, I hope.
He also likes paths, let me be very clear. He loves to stumble upon them.
If you read the the website, in fact, he has in fact figured out how to enjoy playing as a dungeon and a dragon. So there you go.
Sincerely though, I love fighting dragons. For some reason I can’t quite explain, like, every time I know that there’s going to be a dragon fight the next session I am very, very excited about it. My wife will likely remember several times from years and years ago where I told her like, Hey, we’re gonna fight a dragon next week and she’s like, great, Tyler, I’m so happy for you.
That is exactly what she said, by the way. Yeah, we had a recent game where we knew we were going to be fighting a mechanical dragon. And Tyler had an entire plan about exactly what we were going to do for this. We were going to do the… is it Fastball Special?
Right? And so just yeet Tyler’s character at the dragon. Give the dragon a big ol’ hug. And then unfortunately, we made it to the session and found out… aw, it’s too big.
Too big for the grapple. But yeah, I like fighting dragons. As DM, as a DM I love runnng them just because they’re they’re big, scary monster with a bunch of fun buttons to push and when the players kill them, you get to give them this big horde of treasure and everybody celebrates.
To fight there’s definitely a lot of good options. Having something small that you have a lot of is a very satisfying for the same reason that eating rice is very satisfying when you want to eat 10,000 of something. Just getting to like Ah yes, let me fireball eight things and then you get to laugh maniacally as you throw pile of d6’s down. It’s any of your like, kobolds, goblins, teally just anything small, super satisfying to fight. As a DM I am notorious for doing really mean things with floor ghosts. Fifth Edition has stopped me from doing this by saying okay, if the ghost ends its turn in an object, it takes some damage. I kind of don’t care. To the answer to the question of how
The feedback is “please stop doing that.”
Right? To the question of has it changed over the additions? Sadly, yes, because I can no longer just floor ghost forever. So fifth edition, I actually haven’t had nearly as much chance to run game in fifth edition as I have in 3.x content. I’ve mostly been a player. But in fifth edition, there’s some really cool things to run. I honestly, you know, what Tyler said about dragons. Running them is a ton of fun because they are very smart. They have a lot of buttons. And particularly, you know, if you do get one of the older ones that has like some some spellcasting ability, actually, I guess technically a change between 3.5 and Pathfinder. In 3.5, I love me some floor ghosts. In Pathfinder, when I was running that Rise of the Runelords, there was an… old? Yeah, so it’s like it goes from adult… does it go straight from adult to ancient? No, I think there… I think old is an age category. Yeah, there’s an old blue dragon. And that was one of the ones that I really took some time to set up because it was like a big climactic fight. And blue dragons have this ability to project functionally, like, a shadow clone of themselves. That they can cast their spells and their breath weapon out of.
okay, it’s like a simulacrum for the dragon.
Yeah. And so I set the dragon up in a corner of his lair, had him cast a wall of force that covered everything but the bottom three inches of the ground, and then hide behind it. So he turned himself invisible. And then that bottom three inches gave him line of effect to maintain the projection in the other corner of the room. And that was just wrecking my players for like three rounds before they figured it out. It was so much fun.
I miss dragons being spellcasters by default in 3.x, but the complaintant 3.x was dragons are just powerful sorcerers who happen to be giant flying lizards. And now we’re back to fifth edition where dragons are just giant flying lizards. I wish they were more magical. It’s hard to get right. But they’re still fun to one either way legendary creatures and five year ton of fun. I haven’t run enough Pathfinder second edition to really have any favorite monsters yet. But a lot of the monster design in PF2 is really really good. So even just basic monsters frequently have a ton of fun things about them.
So I’m going to give kind of a cop out answer. I really like intelligent creatures of dubious alignment. I think it can be a lot of fun to have the hag you meet in the wilderness who doesn’t immediately attack the players give a little exposition, have a little bit of backstory, having a bit of a conversation where it’s like, okay, party, we should probably kill the hag. But also she’s asking us for a favor and she has nice things that maybe she says she could do for us, which, you know, don’t believe her. It’s gonna go terrible. But I think generating RP with intelligent creatures can be a lot of fun. So that’s the first thing that I’ll add to it.
The other thing that I want to say is interesting mechanics as part of a creature. So we talked a lot about grapple across this arc. If you’re a new DM, learn about grappling. It’s a lot of fun. And as a new, as a DM, new or old, using creatures that can grapple, especially around water can be really really fun. You know, Tyler and I were talking about this the other day. Like, a giant crocodile. Oh, that grabs someone and then uses this movement to go back into the water. For the entire party, everybody’s like, whoa, what are we going to do? Another good example, speaking of hags, so green hags can breathe underwater. Now they’re not particularly strong, but they’re strong enough to grab the Wizard. You know, this can be a lot of fun to create a dynamic where it isn’t that often that the Wizard is in mortal peril. Is everybody else going to dive into the water to free the Wizard from the green hag? Is the Wizard going to try to go to fisticuffs with the green hag under water? Like, it can be a cool… it’s combat. But the combat really has a feel beyond just the typical mechanic. You know, I roll the attack, please roll me a saving throw, blah, blah, blah. It’s like you’re gonna die dude, and you’re not even gonna die from HP. You’re gonna drown.
Any monster like that that can split the party forcibly is really cool. I we’ve previously talked about phase fighters. I don’t think they made it into fifth edition.
They did, yeah. They’re… I frequently skip that page in the monster manual.
I don’t blame you. But yeah, so like grabbing someone and just pulling into a different plane. Hilarious. Something like purple worms. Swallow somebody, go back underground. What are you gonna do? Like, this is an immediate way to force the party to think in a way that they don’t about combat, which is a really cool tool.
All hail the Leisure Illuminati.
I’m Randall James. You can find me at AmateurJack.com and on Twitter at @JackAmateur and Instagram @JackAmateur.
You’ll find that his profile pictures have been changed to William Shatner.
I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at RPGBOTDOTNET and patreon.com/rpgbot.
And I’m Random Powell. I don’t really participate in social media very much. So you’ll find me mostly here on RPGBOT.net, contributing to the podcasts and writing articles. On top of that, you can find me in places where he will play games often as Harlequin Hartlequint.
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I’m looking out the window and it’s like “it was a dark and stormy night…”
And it’s not dark, or really stormy.
I mean, it’s been variably dark from the clouds.
There’s waves on the lake. I’m still thinking about, like, awesome feedback you could give people. It’s like, I understand you got a session next week. I have scheduled a root canal. My teeth don’t hurt.
There we go.