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I am currently playing D&D 4th edition and will be DMing soon. The party consists of 7 characters (mine included, even though I am a DM). I will be running a quest that I created myself and hopefully getting the party from level 6 to level 8.

I want the game to run smoothly, so how much information should a DM be responsible for? Should I have a chart where I record the current HP of all the PCs, as well as the current status, defenses DC and other PC information? Should I have a copy of each power my PCs have in hand to use? What about the monsters information?

I ask this because, running through pages from the DM Guide, the PHB and the MM is a hassle and asking the players their stats also takes time away. I want to be prepared and want to know what information should the DM keep tabs of when a battle is occurring.

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youre looking to take the characters away from the players? –  acolyte Jul 12 '13 at 13:09

4 Answers 4

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I personally never come to the table without a notebook and pencil (regardless of whether I'm DM'ing or playing). You can use the multiple pages to keep track of separate things rather than clustering it all onto one sheet. That being said, you should always be keeping track of the following:

  • Initiative. It's always your job to keep track of this. Also take note of when players delay or prepare actions because this will alter their standing in the initiative table.
  • Enemies. This includes tokens to represent them as well as their card containing all of their information. You need to keep track of their health, inventory, and any status effects they have on them. Also memorize or have access to their combat tactics.
  • Status Effects. You are not solely responsible for keeping track of this. Each player should be keeping track of status effects effecting their character, but if you remember something they do not, then remind them.
  • Script. Completely optional. You may want to write down a particular description of a location or a monologue for an NPC (evil rants from villains are always fun). Don't put too much effort in here, only parts you know the party is guaranteed to come across otherwise it's a waste. This really depend on how much improv you want to do.
  • Your players' backstories. I always prefer to note down the essentials in case I want to bring it up.
  • DM Screen. If you don't have one already, GET ONE. This tool is such a life saver as a DM. Not only does it conceal all the mess I just listed from your players (not to mention your rolls (nobody had to know that was actually a 1)). It also contains so much useful information such as nearly every status effect in the game, common DCs, common combat actions, attack modifiers, EXP charts, and rules on dying, etc.

Edit: About where to get a DM Screen. A fairly well stocked game store should have one. Or, if you're completely broke or like me don't have access to a good game store, this link has a printable version, just find something to tape it onto (I got handy with some cardboard and tape) and viola, DM screen.

Link:http://propertyistheft.net/files/D&D/4th%20Edition/DnD%20Compilation%20(24-10-2010)/Dungeon%20Master's%20Screen.pdf

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I would love to get a DM screen..... but don't know where to get it! –  Eilleen Jul 13 '13 at 18:19

Short answer: You're responsible for exactly as much information as you need to do your job, and no more.

The guiding principle is always "does tracking this myself make my life easier"? Because if it doesn't make your life as DM easier to do it, it almost certainly doesn't make the game run smoother either. DM time is the biggest bottleneck to the smooth running of a game, especially with six players in the party. To keep the game running smoothly, you need to make sure that time is spent on the players and the world as much as possible.

So let's examine what actually needs to be available for a D&D game:

  • NPC / Monster stat blocks. Obviously a DM responsibility; know what you're using for the adventure and have relevant stats to hand. If you're not using DDI, put a copy of the stat blocks you're actually using with your notes - you don't want to thumb through the manual during combat if you can avoid it, and you need a place to track monster hit points anyway.

  • Player character sheets: Obviously not your problem - let the players manage their own; you have enough to do.

    Except: what about the bits you do need? AC? Passive perception? This unpacks into an important principle: Track only the bits you have to know, and nothing more. I keep a simple chart with, for each character:

    Name. Max / bloodied hit points. All four defences. Passive Perception, passive Insight.

    That's it. Those are the only figures that you, the GM, are ever going to need to check against without involving a player.

    Equipment? Players will use it when it matters. Skills? Players are going to roll them and give you the total anyway. Powers? Good grief no; you've got all the NPC powers to worry about. The players all have their power cards or lists; you care about them only if a player asks a question about how a power works. Look it up when that happens, not before.

    (If you're still using the old desktop character builder, it prints a handy summary card for each character in with the power cards. The internet is also full of suggested player stat reference cards.)

  • Any stat that changes is a NO. You have enough to do keeping track of the monsters; you can't spare the time. (Especially not hit points. The players are already going to keep very careful track of those, why should you duplicate the effort? You don't actually care how many hp they have anyway; all you need to know are who's bloodied and who's dying. Healing surges are not your problem, for the same reason.)

  • Player status effects. No, similarly. You'll often hand them out; once you've done that, forget it.

    (I recommend using a standard handout aid, such as weem's condition cards.)

  • Combat intiative. Clearly, the DM needs to be responsible for seeing this gets tracked.

    But you don't actually have to do any of the work. If you want, put a player in charge of keeping the initiative board and telling everyone who's next. (I don't, but I use a magnetic board, easily rearranged once at the start of combat and then forgotten save to read down it.)

    Or consider using an automated tool, such as Virtual Combat Cards.

  • World and adventure notes. Obviously, this is all your responsibility.

    Or is it? Mapping and worldbuilding can often be handed off to the players. Especially in a multi-DM campaign, let the players keep the log; the DM is only responsible for adding new information.

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Not sure why you'd ever want to know a PC hp or bloodied value, unless you're fudging results. Tracking player defences are problematic too, since they might have conditional or temporary bonuses. Why would you bother? –  YogoZuno Jul 12 '13 at 2:14
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I know player hp maximum values just so I have a vague sense of how much damage my monsters are doing compared to what the party can take. Yes, players often have conditional defences, but they also usually don't, and it's nice not to have to ask "did they hit?" every time. YMMV though, so I'll edit that point in. –  Tynam Jul 12 '13 at 9:47
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Plenty of monsters have attack abilities that key off enemies being bloodied. From an RP perspective intelligent enemies would also be able to see whose more wounded and go after the weakest enemy as a tactic. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 17 '13 at 18:31

As a DM, you are responsible for NPCs and the environment. You should be in charge of tracking the initiative order (although I've occasionally seen this farmed off to a player), drawing or providing maps, describing the action and options, and resolving interactions and combat.

Players should be responsible for tracking their defenses and other stats, not the DM. Partly, this is because the DM has enough to worry about, but also because there are often temporary bonuses or conditional bonuses that the DM can't possibly keep track of efficiently for every character, on top of for the NPCs.

Just an extra word of advice - you may also find it easier to run a game without also running a GMPC. If you are running your own character on top of the NPCs, you will be slowing down the experience for everyone else, especially when there are already 6 other players.

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yes, this is a multiple DM campaign and when it's your turn to DM you find a reason why you character isn't with us. He is training, he is on another quest, he was kidnapped and you have to rescue him etc. –  Eilleen Jul 11 '13 at 21:44
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Right, so your own PC will not actually be appearing 'on-screen' while you're DMing? That will certainly make life easier for you. –  YogoZuno Jul 11 '13 at 21:49
    
actually, the best way to handle maps is to give a vague, mostly blank outline of the game world (draw in some mountains, maybe mark off forests, and major cities) then allow your party to doodle and edit it based off of what happened in game. example being, one campaign i was in was heavily dragon-based. the DM gave us a rough map marking off a few landmarks, but we made changes and updates based on what happened (a player got dropped from a mile up after a battle with a dragon, succeeded on praying to his god, and survived after landing in a swamp making a crater. We drew the crater on map. –  acolyte Jul 12 '13 at 13:38
    
A world map, maybe, and after the fact, but for a specific encounter map, that's generally DM territory. You could have players draw things like a standard Inn or Tavern, but in most other cases, they won't know enough about it up front. –  YogoZuno Jul 13 '13 at 3:51

While I use a laptop for a majority of my notes and books, for encounters I use a pad of paper.

I try to keep only the minimum info from the players I need, basically their Initiative order, defense DC(AC), and that's about it.

For your game it depends more on your DMing style. I let my players track their own stats and HP, all I need to know is whether my NPC hit or not. I would rather my players didn't know exactly how strong their opponents are so I track the NPC stats on a stat block on my laptop. On my pad of paper I order all the participants according to initiative order, jot down relevant bits i need next to their entry in the list, and get started. I had created a vBasic program that kept all that data for me with drop down menus for statuses and their effects, but I found I spent too much time playing with it during combat when I could instead just make a quick note on a sheet of paper.

Out of combat, I keep a spreadsheet on the laptop with their passive saves and perception stats, making note of things like darkvision. I also keep their character sheets updated on the laptop if I need to pull up a specific question that asking would key them to something happening. For the most part, the spreadsheet just helps me adjudicate ambush possibilities.

I recommend tracking as little data as possible to help you keep focused on the important part, the fun. Keep only what you need to move the game along without a lot of questions and research.

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