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I am about to start Dragon of Icespire peak, and I'm a bit uncertain on how I should prepare for it: I read Slyflourish's tips for DoIP, and I'm aware of some of its pitfalls, including low leveled characters, etc.

What I'm wondering is, how in a practical sense do you prepare for the optional quests on the job board? Let's assume they have 3 quests to choose from on the job board, but which will be their choice? Who knows! This means that I have prepare for all 3, but there are so many details to remember that I will probably have to write them down and read a lot while they are adventuring, and this doesn't sound good...

How did you go about preparing this first session where they have so many options to choose from? I imagine that any tips in here will be useful not only for the 1st set of quests but also the whole story *panics as fresh DM *

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First off welcome to D&D! Dming can be hard but rewarding in my experience but I hope the following tips will help you settle to it:

First of all I'd like to correct your assumption that reading from the books or script during session is a bad idea. You're a person, not a machine, there are very few people who can run a session from memory. The only bad thing is when you spend most of the session flipping through books trying to find pages. So my advice is this:

  1. Look at the quests that are available and decide what you need to know for them - is there combat? Make sure you know your combat rules. Is there lore or story? Identify what you need to know.

  2. Prepare what you need - when I run sessions for my group, I prepare short descriptions of relevant places and create scratch cards with monster stats and abilities. That way every scene is introduced strongly and I have the info I need close to hand. Also remember that each session has a time limit. My players can stand 4 hours at most and usually 3, with combats slowing progress significantly. If there are 3 quests available, you don't need all 3 quests fully prepared. Just enough to last the session and then you can prepare the rest between games. If your players are new too, then they will likely be slowed down while learning the ropes.

  3. Don't be afraid to ask for time - No plan ever survives contact with the players. They do strange things and cling on to weird details. If you're caught off guard by a request or question, you can always say "give me a second to decide what's appropriate here". People tend to understand that you're running a lot of work, so they shouldn't be mad about you taking a second to breathe.

  4. Strong plot hooks - more relevant to when you finish the campaign, but still applicable. You can use urgency and storytelling to influence your players to follow certain paths. They could go after the magic sword, but the refugees need a place to evacuate to. While they're deciding, you could have the dragon swoop over the town without attacking to scare people, or describe how it starts to snow in midsummer as the dragon's influence warps the land. If your players believe there will consequences for their decisions, then you can imply what the most urgent tasks may be.

I hope these are helpful for you. Apologies for formatting I'm on mobile.

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    \$\begingroup\$ thanks so much, this is great and quite reassuring! I seriously need to work on the plot hooks, that's for sure. My 4 PCs have their own backstories, but making a long story short, 1 is a runaway criminal, 3 are seeking revenge but they don't know from whom. I already have some ideas on how to hook their stories with this campaign (the Talos guys), but these other more practical details still puzzle me. We had a 1st session where they went through a small contained story and will now have to move to Phandalin... 1/2 \$\endgroup\$ – Sos Jul 15 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...and there are so many things to think about in here. At the end of our 1st session I discovered it went surprisingly OK (even with all the mistakes I noticed as I went along, but they didn't). So that was good and told me there's no need for so much preparation. But still, how to prepare for these initial quests is a bit confusing for me :/ so thanks a lot! 2/2 \$\endgroup\$ – Sos Jul 15 at 9:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Plot hooks are quite difficult to learn at first. I've been doing for a few years now and some of mine are still pretty weak. Having player backstories helps a lot as I find personal notes make a great motivator. You'll learn over time as you play more what appropriate prep looks like. I find Trello is a helpful prep tool as you can just make lists for quests NPC's and loot etc with descriptive cards you can just click to read. \$\endgroup\$ – Falconer Jul 15 at 9:22
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There is no harm in asking beforehand

While the party can wander around in Phandalin before embarking on a quest, it is absolutely certain that they will accept at least one of them. That is how the story moves forward. It is also not a secret what the quests are and there is no chance that they fail to get to know one of them.

Thus you lose nothing if you tell the options to the players beforehand. Just be upfront and say something like:

Hey guys. During the first session your characters will be able to choose from three quests. Could you discuss and decide which one would you like before the session? I just don't have time to prepare all of them for you.

If you wish to incorporate it into the story, you could say that the townmaster sent a letter to a nearby city, detailing the quests and asking for aid. The characters heard of the quests and head to Phandalin with the intention of accepting them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A similar method that involves less breaking of the fourth wall (if you're averse to that) would be to ensure that the players choose a quest one session and then begin it the next. Of course, this assumes you have close enough control of the game's pacing that you can present the options close to the end of the session. \$\endgroup\$ – Syric Jul 15 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Syric OP stated that this will be the first session of the campaign, that is why I didn't go in that direction. My last paragraph is basically the 1st session version of your proposal. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 15 at 22:50
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I have had this problem repeatedly, but not with this module specifically. When I have multiple quests they could go on, I usually make as many things as possible reusable: draw up the guard patrols to be the same in 4 different towns, plan only the basics of a dungeon or location, and generally do the minimum necessary for a quest. This does mean I have to do more on the fly to handle anything weird, but explaining to my players that I didn’t get enough prep time usually keeps them off my back.

The DRY (don’t repeat yourself) principle from software development is really helpful here. If you can make it and use it again (even in later sessions), do it once and not multiple times, even if it maybe changes the encounter a bit. It’s okay to have an encounter that happens no matter where they go.

It may also help you to know that very few players will notice a slip up and it’s okay to not have enough planning for a situation. If all else fails, throw an obstacle that can’t be fought or avoided or talked to or burned at them so you have time to plan a tiny bit more. You can also always talk to your players and explain the situation. Most good players will understand.

I had a thing like this recently for a homebrew setting. They had 6 choices, I think, and went the way I hadn’t planned much for. I threw a bunch of other encounters at them to pad the session out, then left them at the last place I planned (a cliffhanger).

If you don’t know how much they’ll get through, I would always suggest ending early and on a cliffhanger. Players worry and think about that so much that they’ll forget what you stumbled over or what was badly planned.

Just remember: You’ll be fine. You will get through the session no matter what happens.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much for all your tips! This actually gives me a good idea: one of the PCs is a runaway. I think that I'll through a couple of encounters on them because of this in the coming session: perhaps it will serve to help them strengthen their work as a group, and will help me get some time. Plus, given that it should be a single group that is following the PC, it's easy to follow your suggestion too :) \$\endgroup\$ – Sos Jul 17 at 6:07
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Some great answers but I will just add my personal experiences having now run the first 3 quests with a group of largely brand new players.

The first thing I did when I read the adventure was realise there is very little information for starting out in the town. There are locations, a few NPC’s and some very brief information. I turned the first session into a whole mini adventure in the town. The players where introduced to one another in the Inn, got talking to some of the locals (additional NPC’s I created to give flavor) had a run in with some thugs who had recently moved in while in the inn, this was over a game of chance that the thugs where cheating at and the players called them out on. They therefore had an opportunity to learn about persuasion, perception, and some of the other social skills important to the game.

On leaving the inn the same thugs tried to ambush them in an alleyway, having been embarrassed by the party, a chance to expose the players to a bit of pre combat roleplay and then move smoothly into there first ever combat session and also demonstrate the way that actions can then have consequences. I had already planned for a couple of outcomes of the combat, as expected the party where holding about level but a couple where getting close to wing made unconscious when the inn keeper and other townspeople ran to the aid of the party and chased off the thugs. This then created another antagonist that I could have pop up now and again until the party dealt with him.

All this was achieved in the first few hours and by the end of it the players had learnt some valuable lessons, been exposed to the basic mechanics of the game in a fairly safe and friendly environment and had built some emotional connection to the town and it’s people.

The final hour was spent exploring the town to look for some healing potions, interacting with and buying from a friendly owner of a store of low level magical goods and then finally looking at the notice board. The last thing the party did was decide which quest would be attempted first, this meant that I had a week to prepare 1 quest in depth without the players feeling like they had been doing filler work. They had hit some stuff, persuaded, charmed and been on the end of deception and made themselves stronger with some low level healing potions. They where ready to go and I knew exactly where they where going and I didn’t have to try and guess which quest would be run in session 1.

In the past I have tried where possible to have my sessions run like this, when I know a key decision will be coming up I try to pace things so it happens at or towards the end of a session rather then leave the session with no decision made. In the past I have even asked my party what are you going o do next week, if you don’t know tell me the top probable 2-3 so I can prepare somthing. Players will listen to and accept that and help you to give them a better experiance. Yes plans change and yes I’ve the week they may come up with somthing very different, but communicating with them makes life so much simpler.

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