Feedback To Myself On Game-Mastering A Dungeons And Dragons Game

Monster Manual and Character Sheets

Ever since I got the new Dungeons And Dragons Players Handbook, I’ve wanted to run a fifth edition game. I came up with an idea for a short campaign and I rounded up some friends to play. Last night, we wrapped up our third session, and though everyone at the table had fun, I noted a couple things that I, as the game-master, could have done better.

For the campaign, I drew inspiration from old Universal monster movies of the 1930s and from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comicbooks. I wanted to pull the two together, to build a setting that felt both stark and classic. Something with a plot that clipped along with grim inevitability. I figured the combination would translate well into a Dungeons And Dragons game. In actual execution, though, it needed polish. Though I had the basic beats figured out, I should've had specific plots points mapped out for each session. Too often, I caught myself being coy with story’s secrets, trying to save them for more dramatic moments. I was never sure when was that that right… so the details came out scattershot and inconsistently. A rough campaign outline would help pace out the reveals. If a game was going to take place in the woods, this is the one thing that they'll discover about the story. If the next game takes place in a city, here's one or two things that they'll discover to keep everything ticking along.

Also, I need to steer the party into trouble more often. All the players and all the NPCs did too good a job keeping level heads in every situation. I need to do a better job balancing roleplaying moments with challenges and encounters. I need the NPCs to be more aggressive, to be unreasonable, to lead the players into situations that cannot always talk their way out of. Now, that isn’t to say I looking to punish the players for roleplaying, or to railroad them into combat encounters. But I do want situations to have more risk, more complications, and more likelihood that they’ll go badly. I want to engineer problems that are not so easy to untangle… or, at least, not so easy to untangle without a group of NPCs ending up unhappy. Violently so, preferably. Otherwise, he game feels like a stereotypical videogame RPG village: talk to character, press button to choose right dialogue option, repeat as needed until you collect macguffin, exit. Boring.

And, when we're in a city, actions should take place over longer periods of time. Its too convenient for everything to be accessible, everyone to be approachable, all in the first day the PCs walk into town. I got to let it breathe over a couple days. That'll give a better feeling of an adventuring party running an investigation. That'll give me a chance to pace this, starting slow and work up to more of a rushed frenzy. And that would give me a chance to play with D&D’s living expenses tables and associated downtime rules, which look really cool.

When I did run a combat encounter, I had each type of enemy described on index cards. These cards had armour class, hit points, stat bonuses, to hit and average damage numbers written on them. This way, I had all I needed in front of me without having to flip through the Monster Manual mid-roll. Whether they needed to be on individual index cards or whether they could've been summarized on a single sheet of paper , I’m still debating. However, I can reduce the detail a bit more. Less text, more emphasis on numbers, and add in the book page so I can find the write-up if I need it. That would have been enough. If I find or come up with a good template, I’ll share the link online.

Finally, I messed up on my math when building combat encounters. When choosing monsters, you’re supposed to match the PC’s experience points with the creatures’ experience points, and then apply multipliers. As the number of monsters in the encounter go up, the multiplier goes up, because a larger group makes for a more complicated, dangerous fight. What I forgot was that something similar happens when the PCs exceed a certain group size as well. Because I was game-mastering six players, the multiplier for the number of monsters gets reduced because a large group of PCs evens the odds against a large group of monsters… I forgot to do that last bit. As a result, combat encounters that evening were way to easy. Oops.

We’re scheduled to play our next session in a little over a week. I’m already making better notes and double-checking my calculations. I want to run a better game, I want everyone to have more fun, and I want to come out satisfied of how I ran it as a game-master.

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