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I have been asked to run a one-shot D&D game by a friend for a certain event. The game will be an in-person session, with everyone physically present, whereas I only have experience running online. All the games I’ve run and played have been through Roll20 with Discord for voice. Is there anything that will need to be handled differently or any challenges that don’t apply to online games?

So far I’ve come up with these:

  • obviously rolling dice, Roll20 does most of the maths and keeps track of modifiers by itself so I’ll have to do all that manually
  • maps, tokens and props will need to be printed out if I want to use them
  • without dynamic lighting or fog of war applied automatically I will have to manually uncover portions of the map as the party advances

Is there anything that I haven’t thought of?
In case this is relevant, the system is 5E and the adventure I’m planning to run is the first one from Candlekeep Mysteries.
The players are kind-of new (not brand new but they only played through a couple sessions each) and it will be their first in-person session too, they’ve also only played using Roll20 + Discord before.

Some more information about the setting: this is for a teambuilding event at an office-based workplace, the game will be open for other people to drop in and watch, the players are all co-workers and know each other to varying degree but at the very least as acquaintances but have never played together.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I dont have to deal with the challenge of wearing a shirt and pants for my online game. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2022 at 23:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a honest question from someone who has not played at the table before and does not deserve downvotes or close votes. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2022 at 23:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG Can you give a little info about the setting? A game run in somebody's living room is a much different thing to a game that's being run in a convention hall or game shop. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2022 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym sure, it’s going to be in my friend’s workplace for a teambuilding kind of day, in a meeting room, with 5 people playing and possibly others dropping in to watch; the players all know each other but as far as i know never played together \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 19, 2022 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG: You should edit those details into the question as well :) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 20, 2022 at 0:01

4 Answers 4

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Here are a few things I ususally pack for in person gaming:

  • Adventure Book. Don't forget to bring it. It has happened to me before.

  • Dice. Obviously. Bring enough multiples of the types you need to speed things up, especially d6 and d20 for rolling things like falling damage, fireballs, or attacks by multiple monsters.

  • Master Screen. If you want to hide your notes, dice rolling, and the open adventure, and to look up common reference materials a Master Screen is a great tool. It is not a must have, but quite helpful. You can also have a sheet there for notes, timekeeping and tracking monster hp in fights.

  • Rule Books and page markers. To look up things, you can use your mobile phone or ask players to use theirs, but the rule books, in particular the Monster Manual, are also useful. Best have some markers, Post-Its or bookmarks to stick in so you can quickly find what you need.

  • Floor Plan We usually do not print the plans, we draw them on a coated gridded plan, which is fast and very flexible. You obviously can also preprint them, and try to cover them, but in my experience, that is more cumbersome than just drawing what people see as you go along. You also can draw on a sheet of graph paper, and only move to the big plan when combat happens.

  • Tokens or Miniatures. Printed pogs can work well, having 3-D minis makes for a nicer visualisation. We find the clear plastic boxes in which some dice sets come quite useful to indicate flying creatures, too (you can put them over other pogs/minatiures).

  • Pencils, Paper, Boardmakers You may want to write or draw on the map and make notes. If you use pencils, make sure you also have a rubber. For markers, best are ereasable markers that you can wipe off again, if you have a coated battlemap.

  • Initiative Tracker There are many ways to do this. But you need one.

On site you will also need:

  • Space. Make sure you have a large enough table for the battlemap, best with space for the character sheets, drinks, miniatures, rulebooks, dice rolling area to spare.

  • Optional: Food & Drinks. You are playing in person, so you can share food. Make sure you have enough, and depending how long you play, maybe also have some healthy option, not only sweets and chips.

  • Optional: Power Outlets, especially if you are playing longer, and there are multiple people that want to charge their phone or laptop. We sometimes bring a power strip.

  • Optional: Music. We often have thematic music running in the background to enhance the atmosphere. It can become a bit of a distraction if you fudge around too much with it, but there are also soundscapes like in the inn, forest sounds, battle sounds. Our DM usually brings a compact speaker and streams it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your adventure book should have post-its or so in them to guide you to important NPCs stat block etc. We're all way too used to the search function in PDFs, so make sure you know where what info is \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Nov 19, 2022 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice, thorough list. I know 'rubber' is British-English for what we Yanks would call 'erasers'. I'm guessing 'riders' is British-English for 'bookmarks?' \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 19, 2022 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt, yes, by riders I mean these little stickers you can put in to mark pages you want to find quickly. Post-its can work too, or bookmarks. I've used everything, down to chocolade wrappers in an emergency. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2022 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok Absolutley. I also use stickers for my PHB and DMG to make it easy to find commonly referred-to rules (for example, letters for the spell section, equipment list, etc.), and mark up / write into the module book to make it more usable. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2022 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin Ah, I see. I would just call those 'narrow Post-it notes'. Apparently the Post-it company calls them 'page markers'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 19, 2022 at 12:18
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Handling IC / OOC conversations and meta-communication

I've played in-person for more than forty years and online for nearly six. The biggest difference I have noticed is in terms of handling in character vs. out-of-character discussions, and compartmentalizing information between players. Simply put, it is far easier to 'whisper' between players and between a player and the DM online, so players may react more strongly to evidence that secret information is being shared in person. It is also easier online to have clear boundaries about when a player actually commits to their character's action. This might or might not be an issue - it largely depends on your playgroup and the style they are accustomed to.

'Hey Gwen, I'm at 2hp over here - could I get a heal?'

Some groups treat the 'six second combat round' to mean players must make decisions about their character's actions in a limited amount of time and with limited input from the other players.

Other groups feel free to discuss tactics and plan moves for half an hour before anything actually happens in-game. If, as a DM, you prefer the 'no table-talk / no kibitzing during combat' style, you might think you are enforcing this online, when your players are actually 'whispering' or talking over other channels to one another. Collaboration will be more obvious in person, meaning if you are trying to prevent this you will have to choose how to prevent it, and what to do when the players push back.

'Dorja tells the King to go **** himself' jk

Similarly, each table has its own social contract about what counts as a statement of character intent. Some groups allow only In Character statements, and follow 'if you said it, you did it' protocols. Others are comfortable with the DM saying, "Are you sure that's your action?" after they have insulted NPC's and then said they were Out Of Character joking, or after they have suggested an action and then had fellow players remind them of why that would be a bad idea. If you have players that continually hedge about what their characters are actually doing, it is harder to pin them down at a table. Online you can implement rules like, "If it is in the chat, you did it" and go back and read the record like a court stenographer. In person you may get attempts to say, "I didn't really mean that," or "That's not what I actually said."

DM: 'The Countess enters the room and smiles winningly at each of you, although her eyes linger a half-second longer on Sir Tristan."
Players A, B, C, and D [unconcerned]: 'We bow and wait for her to speak.'
[DM hands Player B a note; Player B makes a roll and shows it to just the DM; Players A, C, and D look at each other, alarmed]
Player A: 'My bard starts to play a counter-charm'
Player C: 'I cast Detect Magic'
Player D: 'I cast Bless on A, C, and myself.'

Online servers are great for handling secret information between players, and between a player and a DM. In-person, communicating in secret is much more obvious - and can result in players using that meta-information in the game. You may have decisions to make about how to handle this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good addtion, I thought about adding a bullet for passing secret notes, but this is much better. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2022 at 7:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ One tip based on personal experience for communicating in secret: As the GM, I always have a laptop handy and actively use it as a reference (I use D&D Beyond over the books for things like looking up spells, I use a text editor for tracking initiative and enemy HP, etc), and I also use it to message people instead of using my phone (in my case taking advantage of messages.google.com to just text people directly). My players know I do this, but because it’s infrequent and everyone gets a random text or other notification every now and then, they almost never know when I’m doing it. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2022 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do note, that the mentions of going through chat is not always valid, since many people play over voice, so there often is no "record" of what was said \$\endgroup\$
    – Drejzer
    Nov 20, 2022 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Drejzer True, but if the OP is comfortable with that style of online play then it is not an issue to begin with. The contrast that might give problems is for a DM who does use chat to arbitrate disputed actions and then finds that there is no equivalent in face-to-face play. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 21, 2022 at 6:46
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In my experience of running games both on and offline...

Playing in-person poses a certain challenges, most notably:

  • Miniatures are much harder to deploy, and more expensive. You can't just download minis or make unlimited copies of a mini. Most of my in-person games didn't use miniatures at all (this approach is nowadays called "theater of the mind"). It makes very large combats difficult to track.
  • Manual map uncovering and fog of war is difficult to do in real life. Oldschool D&D would appoint one player as the mapper, who drew the map based on the DM's descriptions, and it could be inaccurate as a result. Usually, I see the DM draw the map in rough terms, i.e. not necessarily to scale, and only drawing the room to actual scale if necessary for miniatures use when a fight occurs.
  • Showing initiative order, hit point values and other stats to all players is tricky. You no longer have an on-screen display to let players get a readout on each enemy's current hit points and make decisions on that information.
  • Character sheets are not automatically handled in-person, as they can be online. Some players unfamiliar with the rules may need help calculating their character sheets. If there are a lot of new players, I recommend bringing pre-generated character sheets. The official D&D website has some pre-generated 5e characters.
  • Don't forget to bring your books! Online, you're usually in your own home, and have access to your entire collection of D&D books. In-person, if you go to someone else's house, you only have the books you can carry. If you manage to forget your books, you can fall back on the Basic Rules.
  • Ideally, you should have a lot of dice, in case some players forget theirs. It's also useful to roll multiple monster attacks at the same time.
  • Communication is actually faster in-person. You have none of the delay introduced by having to type and read messages, and you can benefit from body language (even just looking at the person you're talking to can get their attention).
  • It's harder to find replacement players who leave in an ongoing in-person campaign. This isn't as much of an issue for a one-shot games.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with all of your points, and they are certainly things for the OP to consider. Many of them have their own solutions - but each one would likely be its own question. For example, when I played in person I didn't have a big plastic or metal mini collection, but I usually had time to print out paper fold miniatures (like those of OOTS) and would just write hp directly on them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 19, 2022 at 23:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Speed of communication" assumes you play text-only. I for example haven't played in such a game yet. All the groups I've posted with used voice chat, so there wasn't any typing & reading delay. \$\endgroup\$
    – Drejzer
    Nov 20, 2022 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Drejzer In voice communication, there's also some less obvious speed reduction due to lack of body language, talking over each other, network lag, technical malfunctions, attention systems, etc. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 20, 2022 at 23:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Drejzer Not quite true, event voice communication is faster in-person. All the small problems of voice chat do add up. Things like not being able to have two conversations at once, having body language, having a common frame of reference for pointing to the room around you, having a wider view of the person speaking. As well as all the technical problems that will happen sometime. As well as it being usually less tiring to speak face-to-face than speaking into a microphone with (maybe) no webcam. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Nov 21, 2022 at 2:26
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A few more potential challenges, in no particular order:

  • Travel time. Players have to physically go to the game, which increases the odds that someone will be delayed, and especially the odds that they'll be incommunicado — stuck in traffic or held up at work. You may already have a hard start time and policy for absent players, but if not you may want to communicate with your players ahead of time.

  • Table chatter. In my experience, meeting in person leads to increased out-of-game conversation — between people sitting next to each other, across the table, or even just getting everyone to settle in to start play. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you may have to do more herding.

  • Spills. Most of my old in-person character sheets were stained with tea, coffee, soda, etc. — and usually not my own. (Though those were mostly from long-running games.) Some tables have a “no food or drink at the table” rule, but I personally find that a bit oppressive.

  • Dice on the floor. Not a huge challenge, but it's good to have a consistent policy for dice that roll off the table, to head off potential conflict and hurt feelings — even if it's just in your head, so you can call it out as you hear the die clatter away. Common options are “play it as it lies” and “always reroll.”

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good additions. Table chatter may be a distraction in person, but it is the equivalent of people playing online and doing other things on their device when it is not their turn - it is just more evident to those around the table. And then there is the worst of both worlds - sitting around a table with people who are supposed to be playing face to face but who refuse to get off their phones long enough to immerse themselves in the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 21, 2022 at 6:53

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