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D&D 3E
DM tips and tricks 
29th-Jan-2006 01:51 pm
Aragorn Poem
I consider myself a pretty experienced player and DM, but I've noticed over the months I've been in this community that others here post about things I've never even thought of, or approach their gaming situations with an entirely different style than I do. I thought it would be useful to see what sort of underhanded tricks or nifty tools that other DMs here use to make their games more enjoyable-- getting a bit more advanced that the advice for new DMs.

One of the most useful items in my bag of tricks is learning how to make things modular. If I put together a dungeon, and the PCs end up going on a completely different tack (as PCs so often do), instead of either scrapping the dungeon entire, or trying to find a place to fit it in later on (although I do the latter on occasion as well), If I make it fairly modular I can take various bits of it and insert them into whatever adventure bit the PCs do happen to go for. Take a maze out of a dungeon, swap out some of the monsters, and it can become the overgrown garden/hedge maze of the abandoned noble's estate. A thriving temple of the local deity that the PCs never explored beyond asking the nearest cleric for information could become the ruined temple that the PCs later explore. For that matter, most temples or noble's mansions will have the same sorts of rooms in them. Change the shape and the layout and you've got a nearly instant building you can drop into an adventure. A mage tower with different furnishings could become one of the towers in the evil king's castle. I also found that learning the tactics of a few different types and CRs of monsters is helpful. If I need an encounter that I didn't have planned out in advanced, I can throw in something I'm familiar with and merely have to roll up hit points for them. Thinking on the fly, and staying one step ahead of the PCs is rather important to me in how I run a game, and these sorts of tricks help with that.

Another one that is handy for me is to keep track of the encounters in general lumps. The DMG says that 14 encounters of an equal challenge rating to the PCs' level gives sufficent experience to level. Learning how to guage how different level CR encounters fall into that helps as well-- so the 4 level 1 encounters would be about the same as one level 3 encounter for the level 3 PCs, for instance. I keep tabs on what the wealth-by-level chart says the players should be at, and if I have a series of unplanned encounters cause the PCs went a different direction than I planned, it's easy to give out treasure based on the number of encounters. So for every 3 or 4 encounters, they would have roughly 1/4 of the treasure they'd have by the time they reach the next level. Saves me having to spend a lot of time rolling up the treasure values for random or unplanned encounters. If I know the PCs should have a total of 10,000 GP worth of gear after a set of encounters, they may find a few gold pieces or masterwork items on most of the critters, and then perhaps a chest that has a valuable item or two like a ring of protection +1, or +1 crossbow; perhaps goggles of minute seeing, or whatever. And then gems and coin to bring the total to where it should be.

Anyone else have handy little tricks they keep to hand to make their DMing better for the PCs and easier to manage from the DM side?
30th-Jan-2006 04:20 am (UTC) - We adjust ourselves to fit our groups methinks.
its only natural after all. my group, for example, has major issues with maintaining focus, staying our impulse to joke and goof around, and has a serious tendency towards obsessing over game mechanics (my fault on that account, i will admit).
Tod deal with this ive used a variety of tactics. hand signals to show numeric results help with dramatics and ignorance of each others characters numerics, as well as dialogue and general fussiness. GM rolled spot, listen, search and what not help OOC knowledge and realism on that front. I write detailed descriptions ahead of time, for weather, scenes, people and possible scenarios, leaving them as open-ended as possible. and for certain scenes, sometimes, I remove the dice altogether, and just run the game on mood, helping people to really start to feel the fantasy as it were, and this helps a lot with getting the characters involved.
I added a character history and info sheet to the cha. sheet. to help with backstory, use key phrases to designate certain rolls to avoid rules-babble, and have a stern policy of "in the event of ties, I whoop you" to avoid arguments ahead of time, since the players know if im forcing something, its for very good rules based reasons. this works mind you, only because I goof around with D&D mechanics daily, and re-read my books nigh unto weekly. Power in Geekdom, behold I am your king, savvy?
point being, the group I play with primarily has made me this way mostly, since the first time our game turned into a kevin smith movie (not that thats bad, its just not the GOAL).
30th-Jan-2006 06:17 pm (UTC)
Nice tips OP...

This is the ACcess DM section of my site.

30th-Jan-2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
I liked your post, and I tend to agree with it on all counts. I much prefer letting the PCs actions dictate where they go and what they do, instead of 'railroading' them into a specific plot. It creates the feeling that their actions do make a difference in the world.
30th-Jan-2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
You saw there were other articles categorized on the side right? That first one is merely the most recent, but was written by someone else.
30th-Jan-2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
As much as people claim that players are the bane of all prepared stories because they're always going off and doing something else... I find that it's incredibly hard to get a player to do something on their own. Given a set-up "Okay, you're this character in this country, what do you want to do?" They have absolutely no answer.

Maybe it's just my group, but it's rare to find a player whose character has some kind of motivation beyond "kill the bad guy! get the treasure! level up!". As such, I design adventure paths. I give them linear quests. They find a dungeon which has a clue which leads them to the next dungeon, and so on. Linear. Planning. My last campaign arc I wrote up completely 3months before I actually ran it, and it required almost no deviation at all. Of course, I did write it with 2 or 3 paths from place A to place B, but still.

My adventure notes probably look like they're railroading the PCs: "The PCs should want to go after this guy. They should find out about this dungeon, which they have to get to. They either go by sea or by land. If they go by land, use this encounter. If they go by sea, use this encounter" But I've never had any complaints. When I try to open up the adventure to people, asking them what THEY want to do, I'm told "just give us an adventure and we'll do that". In short, in my experience, player to a certain extent WANT to be controlled.
31st-Jan-2006 04:41 pm (UTC)
What you say is generally true, but I find that, as time progresses, the PCs tend to deviate further from guidelines. Course, I had one game where the guy who wanted to hire the PCs (and thus start them on the whole quest) managed to severely irritate one of the PCs, and she refused to have anything to do with him. So I had to come up with some other way to get them started.
31st-Jan-2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
my main thing is thinking about different ways spells could be used. if you take a low level npc with the boring old PHB spells you can surprise the pcs by using new combinations of spells etc or using spells to different effects.... trying to think of an example

hmm this is a bad example but using web on characters only to cast some minor flame spell on it to trap them in burning strands.

theres a low level spelled called know protections... use it with that spells that deals damage based on how many spell protections a character has.

a bad example but hey... i just woke up
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