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    Canonfire :: View topic - The motor's running, but I don't know where we're going...
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    The motor's running, but I don't know where we're going...
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    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: May 25, 2012
    Posts: 106
    From: Virginia

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    Sun Jun 03, 2012 8:47 am  
    The motor's running, but I don't know where we're going...

    Ok, so it's the first campaign for the beginner DM. I have a module picked out (ToEE) that will take my trusty players from 1-8 (theoretically), a smattering of house rules worked out, some background tie-in ideas for the adventurers and a custom NPC cleric of Pelor to support the small party.

    I've read through the module a couple times, refreshed myself on the 2E rules and put together a "Getting started" document for the players to navigate character creation with. We have a start date and time picked out.

    I have a number of maps of the wider area on hand (thanks Anna!) and a map and key of Verbobonc and Greyhawk in case the adventures get froggy and want to checkout the local color between beatings from elementals.

    What else do I need? When you start a new campaign, especially with new players, what do you have ready at hand before getting started? What sort of prep do you do in order to run a module smoothly? In the larger vision of a campaign - how much do you do in preparation for the future - for beyond the module? I have a rough idea of a red dragon/githyanki threat that ties back into their back-stories (their mentors sent them to rendezvous with various Hommlet contacts while they investigated the dragon rumor, now they are dead or worse), but not a way to tie ToEE to that larger arch. I have some minis, but no whiteboard grid (yet). What essentials am I missing?

    tl;dr - What's your new campaign prep checklist?
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    Grandmaster Greytalker

    Joined: Nov 07, 2004
    Posts: 1830
    From: Mt. Smolderac

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    Sun Jun 03, 2012 10:17 am  

    ***TOEE Spoilers***I wouldn't worry too much about anything beyond the Temple yet. Think of it in broad strokes because whatever you come up with will probably mutate into something else. One thing I remember with the boxed text in the Nulb section, it made it sound like the players had uncovered Ramos and Gremag as being agents of the Temple. If the players haven't don't forget to leave that text out. But I would recommend cooking up some plot that will allow the players to discover them. The easiest way is if the party kills Lareth at the Moathouse and you use the assassin sent by the temple, have something leading back to the two traders.
    GreySage

    Joined: Sep 09, 2009
    Posts: 2440
    From: SW WA state (Highvale)

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    Sun Jun 03, 2012 1:05 pm  

    Nerdcav, I can sense your excitement, and it brings me back a bit to my earlier DMing days. I still get enthuzed about new adventures and plotlines, even as an older, more seasoned DM. I always bemoan the fact that I never seem to have enough time to get as far in a gaming session as I'd like, much less explore all these potential campaign ideas in my mind!

    I cannot specifically speak to running Temple of Elemental Evil since it is one of the few adventures I do NOT have (gasp!). But I do have the Village of Hommlet, and I still think that module may be a better 'jumping off' place from which your adventure and players can then tackle the horrors of the Temple. However, I will admit that I DID encounter the upper regions of the Temple as a PLAYER, and it gave us good, stiff resistance.

    At any rate, my approach these days is going to be completely different than when I was a more novice DM. I suggest you read and reread the adventure to get accustomed with the layout of the maps and encounters, as well as any main villains you have in store. Personally, I rarely stick to the black and white, letter of the law given in modules, using them as a basic script only. Rather, instead of rigidly holding to 'what it says', I use them as guidelines and "organically" allow the adventure to unfold, taking a life of its own, as it were. At least, that works for me.

    Refamiliarize yourself with the mechanics of the game, namely spells and combat. Those are pretty important, as you can accidentally misjudge something (it happens to me even now) which can have a big impact on your players (or NPCs). Don't fret, though, b/c as DM you can undo something if you erred, and you'll be better for it.

    Let your players know that you are learning with them, and take constructive criticism. I often bounce things off my veteran players, mainly out of respect, since they are as seasoned as I am. But, realize, in the end, YOU are the Dungeon Master, and you may need to make some rough calls (like a referee), some of which may NOT be popular. Oh well. Wink

    I also get my big stack of books out like towers and walls for easy referencing. Typically it's because I need to refamiliarize myself with a creature, skill/proficiency, or spell.

    Finally, it's always good to take a brief break every once in a while, especially if you have a long session. This is especially true if tempers are running hot. Call it a game and table the issue til next time. It's not worth losing friends over. This will let you and everyone else cool off, think it through, and give you a chance to ponder the issue at length, and pray to Rao for guidance. Happy

    I wish you well, and hope your adventure is a BLAST. Please keep us posted.

    yours in Oerth,

    -Lanthorn
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 13, 2012
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    Sun Jun 03, 2012 4:46 pm  

    ToEE is a very long adventure, and the players should be encouraged to take breaks in-character and not try to delve the whole massive dungeon complex in one go. Return trips to Hommlet to rest and resupply will make it easier for them, especially at lower levels. During these "IC breaks" you might want to run some short scenarios as a change of pace before they go back to the dungeon (those mini-adventures on the cards in the City of Greyhawk boxed set are a good example).
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Mar 05, 2003
    Posts: 33
    From: Aerdy

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    Sun Jun 03, 2012 8:18 pm  

    I agree with Blue.

    Diversions during TOEE are something of a Godsend when running the megamodule. Mini-adventures from various sources such as the aforementioned box set, the Book of Lairs, and Dungeon magazine are excellent and let the players pull free from the feeling of being "lead by the nose" which can lead to some disgruntled players.

    Dragonsfoot has some pretty decent low level advantures, at least a few easily placed within the general vicinity of Hommlett. I like "Dagger Rock" and "Trouble at Grogs" from Dungeon Magazine. Each has potential to expand the local scene to include neighboring towns and broaden the evil plotting by tying their own protagonists and antagonists into the TOEE storyline. Then there are the Berserkers and the Halfling from Book of Lairs to make things more interesting inside the village itself. There's quite a bit you can do, depending on what you can access.
    GreySage

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:22 pm  

    Here are some DMing suggestions from my experience:

    1) Read and reread the adventure you plan to take your players through many times. You need to know it like the back of your hand or you'll waste lots of time and lessen everyone's enjoyment while you say, "Wait a minute while I look that up," because you don't know what Saving Throws are required at the time, or what a particular NPC will, or can, do in a given situation.

    2) If you find yourself in such a position as described above, don't waste time repeatedly looking such information up. Wing it. Make a call based on your best judgement without looking it up and keep the game moving. You might get some objections, but your players will learn to appreciate it.

    3) If you convert an adventure from one edition to another, be sure to write (or type) up stat blocks for the monsters and NPCs. The most important thing you need to do is add up all the bonuses and penalties each opponent gets in combat and write those near the monster stats for easy reference. If you have to try to add up all their bonuses from stats, feats, magic, etc. during combat, you'll waste lots of time better spent playing.

    4) Plan evil NPC monologues. You may not get a chance to use them all, but every evil opponent the PCs encounter needs to be prepared to regale them with threats of their own doom and gloom. It makes the players feel powerful and successful when they defeat someone who has promised to destroy them and causes them all kinds of fits and desires for revenge when they get their butts kicked by a bad guy that just told them he was going to do that. Evil Grin

    5) Playing the opponents intelligently will make survival extremely difficult for your players. However, playing them stupidly will not give them much sense of accomplishment. If the players realize that guards in the next room aren't going to rush to the assistance of the guards currently being slaughtered, they will eventually become disappointed in such lack of realism. Of course, you know your players best, but if they're older than Jr. High School, they'll appreciate getting their butts kicked the first few times until they learn to attack only after making extensive contingency plans. Again, the rewards will be much greater if you force your players to learn their lessons the hard way.

    Hope this helps.

    SirXaris
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: May 22, 2006
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    From: Here

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    Mon Jun 04, 2012 6:12 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    5) Playing the opponents intelligently will make survival extremely difficult for your players. However, playing them stupidly will not give them much sense of accomplishment. If the players realize that guards in the next room aren't going to rush to the assistance of the guards currently being slaughtered, they will eventually become disappointed in such lack of realism. Of course, you know your players best, but if they're older than Jr. High School, they'll appreciate getting their butts kicked the first few times until they learn to attack only after making extensive contingency plans. Again, the rewards will be much greater if you force your players to learn their lessons the hard way.


    Agreed. But also remember that you are there to facilitate the story for your players, not be their opposition in it. Don't be afraid to fudge some rolls here or there behind the screen to keep the story (and characters) going. Don't become the "Killer DM". Bloody their noses, for sure. And a character or two may die here and there. But don't annihilate them.
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    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: May 25, 2012
    Posts: 106
    From: Virginia

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    Mon Jun 04, 2012 7:58 am  

    Great advice - thanks all. I can't wait to give an update of the first session. I'm listening to the Penny-Arcade D&D sessions to get my head in the game ;)
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    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Oct 03, 2011
    Posts: 79
    From: Fairwind Isle

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    Mon Jun 04, 2012 12:58 pm  

    Everything here is great advice, and I can sense your excitment nerdcav.

    The thing I found that really makes the adventure is playing your NPCs intelligently, including monsters (even orcs won't attack the same party the same way twice if any survived the first encounter). It will make the game dynamic and feel more alive. Careful though, playing them too well in ToEE will probably result in the party getting beaten fairly badly. One thing is to do the ol' "as the characters level up, play NPCs more intelligently / rule more strictly" - it's one of what I call those "meta-rules" as you certainly don't want to play NPCs poorly otherwise they seem like training dummies as was mentioned.

    Having those NPCs, especially the smart, recurring villains, makes adventures incredibly memorable and when they pop up on other places, gives a thread of continuity that your players will really love.
    GreySage

    Joined: Sep 09, 2009
    Posts: 2440
    From: SW WA state (Highvale)

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    Mon Jun 04, 2012 3:36 pm  

    I am big on a certain amount of realism, whether it is playing animals as close to their nature behavior as possible (including the fantastic ones, drawing on my zoological knowledge, or what I think they'd do) or describing the raw power or beauty of a wilderness area (including weather and the hazards it may cause). I also try to put a lot of thought and creativity into main cities, especially if many adventures will be spent in those areas. Finally, I think it's important to create noteworthy characters and role-play them well, the 'bad guys' included! Your enemies should learn from their mistakes just as your PCs should be doing, too.

    -Lanthorn
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