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I'm planning to start a campaign with all my friends, who are frequent Dnd players. I've been in a couple of their campaigns before, and had fun of course, but never REALLY understood much of the mechanics (I'm working on it!). Furthermore, I'm pretty much a noob when it comes to RPG gameplay in general.

I really want to make my own campaign and have my friends play it, but I'm unsure how to go about doing this. I have general idea of an overarching plot or two, and several encounters that could happen; I'm not asking for story ideas.

Since there seems to be a lot of experienced players here, I want some general idea of HOW a successful game is set up.

There are a lot of things I don't know yet, such as: how to set up a plot for players to follow, how to choose which monsters to use, how to introduce fights vs making the PCs flee. Or how to kill the PCs out-of-combat, how to narrate information based on the location, or how to help players set their goals. Or even how frequently combat should run.

The main thing I want to do is to run a game that is fun for all my friends.

I'd really like to know what I should do as a DM, when the players know more about the game than I do. I'm trying to learn more, but as a noob I'm still pretty unsure what to do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What edition are you using? \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Jul 25 '17 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Am I too new to try DMing once? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 25 '17 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close as the question is too broad / has too many questions and some of the questions themselves are too broad. Many of these questions have been answered in different contexts. I think you can slim this down to a single, answerable question. As it stands, it seems like you're anticipating problems before they ever occur and it doesnt feel like you've done any footwork on this yet. Your title suggests one problem, but your body contains several different problems. We need a more specific question and a specific problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jul 25 '17 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah. Hello and welcome, but RPG.SE is different from discussion forums you may be used to. We expect one question per question, and don't really do interactive back-and-forth help. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 25 '17 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi @The_Chicken, I did a substantial overhaul of your question to put it into a format that can work in RPG.SE. Please take a look if it still preserves your actual question. If not, feel free to edit or roll the change back. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jul 25 '17 at 17:14
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Don't prep plot

As much as possible, I advocate against prepping plot. It makes more work for you as DM and generally doesn't add any enjoyment for the players.

Use more clues than you think you need

Dropping more clues for anything you want players to know means they're more likely to know those things.

I think this is especially true for PC-death. This is from personal experience, but I don't think that PCs should die "randomly", they should die as a matter of ignoring a wealth of clues that the DM has already laid before them, and they either ignored OoC, ignored IC, or failed checks to notice. How many clues is partially a matter of DM preference, but players generally don't appreciate "there was nothing you could do" from the DM after game.

Start at low-levels, preferably level 1

The lower-level you start, the easier it is to make mistakes that don't hamstring the game in awkward ways. There's fewer rules to adjudicate, as well, leading to a smoother experience.

Don't aim Villains at your story unless you're willing to shoot.

This rule comes from the gun-range, but its applicable. Too often, DMs will create villains that are so destructive that the DM doesn't want the Villain to win either. This gets railroady and boring faster than most people would like if there's a critical mass of failure involved. Having your Villains be more modest means you can just roll with a possible TPK without throwing out your campaign setting.

E.g.:

Vulture, of the recent Spiderman movie is a GREAT example of this. What's Spiderman stopping? Simple heists of good weaponry. What happens if Spiderman dies? A few things get stolen. Was the movie awesome anyway? Yup.

Have a Session 0

Seriously, deciding a lot of things that are on a typical "Session 0" list will dramatically change how smoothly your game runs.

Personally, I make it clear to all players two things:

  1. You must want to be a member of this guild
  2. You must be able to get along with a Paladin who does regular detect-evil sweeps.

Your requirements might be different, but establishing them in the Session 0 can get players on the same page faster.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Paladins in 5e don't have 'detect evil' and the replacement ability is 'detect Fiends, Undead, and Celestials'. Unless you mean he gives the party regular mandatory philosophical check ups which would be pretty hilarious. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 25 '17 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I was speaking PERSONALLY there, as an example, about how I run my own game(which does have Detect Evil). Mechanical accuracy with 5e was neither needed nor intended for my point. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Jul 25 '17 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. Would have given +1 for the Alexandrian links alone as that's one of the best places for GM tips and tricks, the rest is just icing on a delicious information cake of good advice \$\endgroup\$ – gaynorvader Jul 26 '17 at 9:18
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Don't worry and talk to your players

That's it. That's all the advice you need.

Don't worry about the mistakes you will make in your setting, in the mechanics, in inconsistent role playing, in forgetting what the players know and don't know, what you told them, what you think you told them but didn't, what they told you that you forgot. None of THAT matters!

Play the game, warts and all and if you keep an open dialogue with your players and own your mistakes everything will be fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought about adding my own answer but it's basically this one with one addendum: ask your more experienced players to help you out with the rules (I need help with this one guys, would a roll on X determine what Alice is trying to do?). This way you can focus on the story. And you'll get the hang of the rules on the go. \$\endgroup\$ – Roflo Jul 26 '17 at 0:37
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I think this question is still a bit too broad, but I'll answer the part (about mechanics, specifically) that I'm sure is not. Here are some things you can do when your players know the mechanics of your system better than you:

  • Prepare in breadth. This means reading the rules, or at least everything remotely relevant to the near term, at least once through. E.g., you probably don't need to memorize the workings of every high level spell and every monster, but you should read through the whole section on combat rules at least once.

  • Prepare in depth. For every session, you probably have some things you think are likely to happen, even if you're not scripting or railroading. These things, you should read carefully, and make some quick notes on if you think you will need to look things up. This especially applies to monsters-- I almost never look things up in a book (for monsters) during combat, because I already have notes on everything made up beforehand.

  • If you trust your players to be mostly on the same wavelength as you (i.e., if you do not think they are munchkins, powergamers, etc) ask them for advice during the game if you get stuck with a close call, but only do this if you trust them and trust them enough that you can ask for advice without feeling bound by advice.

I have done this in the past-- I am fairly good with the rules of systems I play often, but one of my regular players exults in knowing the rules and understanding them as a system. He would be dangerous as a powergamer, but luckily he is not and I find him a useful sounding board even during the game if I get a little flustered.

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Being a somewhat experienced player with almost no DM experience, I would suggest the following:

First thing - study.

  • Borrow some ready game modules of the same edition to examine their structure and general balance.
  • Examine Dungeon Master's Guide and Player's Handbook (have them at the ready if you forget how to use the game mechanics)

Peer review

  • Try writing up the core of your adventure module and ask someone you know who is experienced to review it in terms of balance, playability and fun.

And last, but not the least: your game does not have to be perfect in terms of rules, but fun. When you do not know how to do something properly - improvise.

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  1. Start slowly and introduce mechanics and situations one by one, starting from simple ones.
  2. Play with as much public information as possible.

Start with a simple situation. For example, tell the players that they make character who are part of the same hunting party who are hunting a challenging monster, which you should name. They should start with simple (first level) characters. You can even negotiate the monster they are hunting; something they believe they might be capable of defeating, but they are not certain they can manage it.

Set the entire thing as a tutorial and explicitly tell this to the players, also. It is a tutorial for you. So decide a number of obstacles or situations the characters will face. Typically, you would allow them all sorts of freedom, but this is a tutorial for you, remember.

For example:

  • Cross a small river in a forest. There's no bridge.
  • A simple fight with something.
  • A cliff.
  • A hunter with food and shelter, but who does not trust armed strangers.

All the time, be explicit and consult the players. If they want to swim across the river, then make use of the swimming rules together. If they are about to build a bridge by felling a tree, then discuss how to handle this mechanically, or if you should simply accept the solution, etc.

Progress to more complicated situations:

  • Making camp, setting up guard shifts, etc. Have an attack in the night.
  • Tracking.
  • Dungeoneering procedures in the creature's lair. Light, sneaking, mapping, etc.
  • A small treasure behind a very tight corridor, in a dark underground lake, or in some other puzzle situation.
  • A trap.
  • The final fight, which, if complicated, you should handle as before; but if it is mechanically simple, then you should try to do it independently.

If the players are decent human beings, then you should get confident quickly -- either you master the rules and procedures of play, or you learn to trust the players, or ideally both. Add more complexity and more open-ended situations and environments as your confidence grows. Return to tutorial mode whenever you feel like it, or if people seem confused and uncertain what is happening.

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You need to do two things before you consider being the DM

First things first: Play more

You need good familiarity with the rules to DM a game. If possible play multiple classes. Having a feel for character choices in a type of situation helps you in running the game.

Second things next: Get to know the rules a lot better

As you play, strive for increased mastery of the basic game engine, which is what some people call the "how the game works" part of the rules.

  • Movement

  • Combat

  • Saving Throws

  • Ability scores

  • Skills.

  • Conditions (Restrained, grappled, incapacitated, asleep, etc).

Spells (This is a category all by itself)

Learn common spells, but as you begin to run the game make sure that you add plenty of NPC's who cast spells. Familiarity with the spells being used tactically by you in various encounters will help you understand the game better, and make your rulings make more sense to you, which is a critical step before your ruling can make sense to a player.

Read here for another list of "new DM how to do it."

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