Saturday, February 28, 2009

Call for DnD suggestions

I started running Dungeons and Dragons 4e about two months ago. I've STed in World of Darkness for years, run Exalted, and a handful of indie games, but I'm still kinda new to DnD. So far, I think I'm doing okay, but I think I could be doing better. This is an open call for suggestions/comments.

Here are some specific questions I have: 
What's the best thing a DM has ever done in a game you've run/you've done as a DM? 
What's the worst? 
What are some good tactics/strategies to use in general during combat encounters? 
Are there any good riddles, puzzles, traps lists on other sites you've used? 

Thanks in advance!


Wyatt said...

Glad to see more people moving into D&D 4e! Here's some of my experience with the questions proposed:

1. Honestly, there's a lot. One thing I like are DM's that let you drop/add from the class skill list to help your character concept out. Multiclassing gets you a free skill and some neat-o features, but not everybody wants to multiclass – some just want skill breadth.

Also, a DM that's flexible with fluff. If I want my Star Warlock's eldritch blast to look like a nebulous blast of gaseous matter from space, I really don't want an asinine DM telling me "no, it shoots energy, not gas." Or if I want to describe a martial exploit in a certain way – I tend to see martial exploits getting into the most trouble with this sort of thing.

DM's that let you try improvising using the "Actions The Rule Don't Cover" table are very appreciated. You shouldn't be TOO permissive, but you also shouldn't be Dr. No. If your player has a clever idea, don't set a DC that will make him autofail and laugh in his face. If a PC has a stupid idea, and it manages to get the Hard DC anyway by sheer luck, let him do it.

2. I covered some of that above. "Dr. No" DMs really piss me off. Also, balance-crazy DMs. Don't be afraid for the game balance. It's not that easy to ruin the game. This isn't like D&D 3.5 where a player can end up way better than everyone else in the party combined. Trust the game and the players, relax, and have fun.

3. They vary too much to really say. If you're using solos, try to make sure they have some ability to mitigate being dazed/stunned or otherwise put out of commission. Otherwise they become even easier than normal encounters as your PCs pile on debuffs. Whenever I use the monster creation rules, I almost always give my solo critters some way of rolling a saving instantly after being hit by an attack, so they won't be stuck the next turn.

4. Not really...

Wickedmurph said...

One of the things that I think is very helpful, and moreso with 4e is to spend time making up interesting combat locations. Set the scene, as it were - try to create multi-level encounters with open spaces, furnishings, features, statues and all kinds of neat stuff. Then spend time describing everything to the characters at the beginning of the encounter.

I think you'll be amazed how fast your players will start to use the improvised actions Wyatt is talking about, and how much more memorable combat will be. Think of it as a scene from a cool action movie, and try to give the players cool options. If they don't bite on the options, try having the monsters use some improvised moves to get the players in the mood.

4e is a game that emphasizes high-action fantasy, so give your players the tools they need to play it that way.

Oh, and use the Rule of Yes as much as you can. Wyatt is dead right about not being "Dr No".

Jack Phillips said...

Good ideas from both of you. One thing I need to do more is set up interesting terrain - so far it's barely been used in combat for anything interesting. Thanks for the advice.

szilard said...

With skill challenges, you want to be very flexible. Don't have an exclusive list of skills that apply. This is a good example of what I mean.

Katallos said...

Best DMing Move: Give magic items meaning and history as well as unconventional effects that don't have an obvious use. I once found a magical spear that upon uttering the Orcish word for "cold" would freeze something like a 10' cube of water it was dipped in.

Worst DMing Move: Has to be either making rules changes without thinking them through or letting players get away with too much. Due to the flawed/exploitable wealth system in d20 modern/future I ended up with PCs cruising around the galaxy in a horrendously overpowered ship that they never should have been allowed to buy.

Combat/Encounter Tactics: Use special terrain like spices, a little here and there to add a little flavor to the battle. Too much and you will ruin it, if every piece of ground is unique then none of it is and confusion will abound over just how quickly you can move from A to B over X terrain. Darkness and light are useful as many PC races don't possess darkvision, but many monsters do.

I've got a whole post about making the most out of low CR baddies over at my blog

TyphoonAndrew said...

Two ideas:
a) Use encounters that have special phases. Such as monster ability changes according to wound levels.

b) grant items that add breadth rather than power. The old wand of magic missile, which used a spell in the wizard's memory to cast instead of a charge. It means the wizard can try to memorize a non-magic missile, but can still cast it if need be.

Jack said...


Great suggestions!

I'd used the first before - more because some monsters were designed to have a change in ability when bloodied. But I think will try changing their powers up more explicitly as you suggest. Especially for longer combats, I see that making combat that becomes dull as it goes on becoming a fight players really have to pay attention to.

I hadn't even thought of your second suggestion before, but I'll be using that too.