DM Advice: Peering Into The Mind of the Watcher

Hello reader. I wanted to try something a little different. I am going to take some questions asked on one of my DM groups and post them here. Both a record of my responses to social media queries and a collection of answers to common DM queries, both deep and not. The following constitutes DM Advice:

The Watchers of Ancient Sumeria gave great DM Advice.
Statues of Tell Asmar

What juxtaposed campaign settings do you think are interesting? What genre crossovers would you like to see in-game?

I like the idea of a whimsical undead setting. The walking dead being revered by their loved ones. A good necromancer having used his powers to allow the living more time with family members.

What are ways you have specifically tailored voices to capture the style of more important NPCs?

Hit this URL and practice the combination described: https://perchance.org/npc-voice-practice-prompts

Two level 10 PCs = three level X PCs. What is the value of X?

7ish? (10 + 10) = 20, (7 + 7 + 7) = 21. The action economy would be different but should still be about the same. You usually don’t hit wild variation until you get above 4 PCs.

Do I allow my players to mediate the end of a war before it really begins because of a series of outstanding Persuasion checks, thus derailing my entire storyline in the most interesting way possible?

Clarifying Question: On whose authority did they sue for peace? Warfare is not something entered into lightly by either side. The Ruler of the place under attack may not take kindly to having this authority undermined by mere adventurers and soldiery. Perhaps they have opened the opportunity to negotiate peace, but can no common ground be found? So this war will still happen. And what of the Army raised to attack the place? Abandoning the war may well mean mercenaries and bandits roam the area for months after trying to earn back the pay they lost. Reward them with maybe some recognition from the soldiers, praise from the common folk that they saved, maybe even some ceremony at the church or temple highlighting their acts in the cause of peace. The war can still happen, and your players can understand the true dimensions of diplomacy simultaneously.

If the party’s attempt results in a truce occurring, what nasty plans does the BBEG have in mind? How long will he keep his end of the bargain? Maintaining peace between two nations or cities at war can be more than a full-time adventuring job full of RP, politics, and combat.

I need some DM Advice: Is it common for a DM to charge money to host/DM a game?

It depends. https://startplaying.games is a system designed for finding games and allows DMs to charge. This is more common today than it ever has been, and professional DMing is definitely a thing. In the before time DMs generally only ran for close friends or in an organized play context (like Adventurer’s League) and would often receive gifts or support from their players in the form of snacks, minis, art, crafts, or prose.

How do you keep up an interesting story arch for a BBEG young white dragon after the party almost defeated it the first time they saw it?

I think the irony here is, you do this by not revealing the dragon. She was defeated, she has gone into hiding to lick her wounds and become stronger. Maybe the party comes across some evidence of that improvement? Perhaps she sends some new allies or servants to disrupt the party, throw them off her scent? But when she is ready, scarred, vengeful, and cold as a northern wind, she will hunt them down and destroy them. The trick to telling a compelling story with a long-running BBEG is to show the results of the BBEG actions but never show the BBEG.

I’m not saying anything about the encounter that happened. But now, make the dragon scarce, only show the effects of her becoming stronger to the PCs until they actually confront her again.

Two words: Beatles Campaign. All the characters & abilities & events in their songs are real. What do you want to see?

Octopus’s Garden.

I need some DM Advice for making challenging and engaging battles. It always seems too easy in the end. Can anyone suggest any good resources (preferably free) for making combat more engaging for my party? Thanks

see my post on this.

Does anyone actually start the players at level 1? I feel like a lot of DMs start players at level 3, what are your thoughts on this?

I start them at 1 all the time.

What was the most fun non-combat city encounter you’ve ever run and what was it that made it memorable?

A charlatan claimed to be the new emperor shortly after emperor Telbian’s death (with no heir). Ephenous the false owns a magic item that allows him to cast mass suggestion once per day. Any party members who listened to a few words of his speech would need to roll a wisdom saving throw or be inclined to kneel and listen to his whole pitch. Most of the party passed but the few that didn’t played it off like they wanted to hear out his case and that they definitely weren’t enchanted.

Or better yet the time Snizz the sneak used invisibility to break into the church of Lethiam to steal some scrolls. The church has defended against this of course: anyone casting arcane magic on consecrated ground rolls on the wild magic table. The character had random magic effects happening every round through the whole fumbled, whacky heist. Hilarious.

DM Advice: would it be reasonable for a strong gust of wind to move a player, say on a mountainside battle. I’m thinking of rolling for strength of the wind for each turn. If it’s a strong gust and they fail a check (strength or dex maybe?), they get pushed in the direction of the wind. Thoughts, please 🙂

If you really want to have a strong gust of wind moving things around the battle field, do it. No strength check, just move them. If they want to be where they were have them use their movement. This is kind of similar to running a combat on a moving platform or in a flowing river. Hard to represent in real life, but pretty straight forward on a vtt.

The way I think about it is like when Scotty teaches himself the warp field equation in Star Trek. “I never considered that it was space that was moving.“

Hello friends. If a dragon was addicted to something, what could it be?

Music.

Also art makes a good acquisition target.

A high-ranking Zhentarim official asked the players to retrieve a wooden box that was recently stolen from them by the Xanathar guild. They told the players the box is of vital importance for the Zhents and they should make sure it is not opened under any circumstances. The simple-looking container is actually a puzzle box with various enchantments to make it indestructible and consists of 20 trick locks that must be opened in the right sequence in order to access the contents. What is in the box?

Nothing, it is a test of loyalty to not open the box. The puzzle leaves evidence of tampering.

I’m working on creating my own campaign and as someone whose only ever been a player, not the DM. I’m open for advice and or tips and tricks.

Start small. Starting village, couple of quests. A few plots to chase down. Keep it manageable. Canonize late, Ideate early.

DM Advice for coming up with homebrew?

So, crazy idea. Take one of your favorite albums or playlists of music, take the titles for the first 5 songs. Write scenes based on those titles or the song lyrics. Scenes are generally (but not always) in a location, with some encounters. Create an exploration, social, and combat encounter for each scene. Have fun 😃

Bonus Action: Play the playlist during the game matching the track to the scene… see if the players catch on… feel very clever.

DM Advice: Do you over plan sessions or just stick to broad plot points?

For me, it really depends on the game. Sometimes I know exactly what I think will happen, can’t really see a way around that, and just give it deep planning. Other times I jot some broad strokes, write a couple high-level motivations, NPCs, and plot points the PCs might run into, and just hand wave and improv anything new. I am working on a system that will make this a non-problem for me and many other DMs using community content, hyper-fast search, and a relationship tagging system. Hoping to have an alpha product up sometime in early 2022.

DM Advice: How do you keep from railroading in a homebrewed campaign?

It’s easier in a home brew campaign technically. You have control over the whole world, and can make up lore, history, conflict and nation to satisfy the curiosity of your players. That’s what sandbox is, unbridled curiosity. Just because they go off the “rails” for your main story doesn’t mean the main story doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter. Continue to talk about how the events of the main story effect the places they go and adventures they engage in. Eventually they will have to deal it or deal with the repercussions of not dealing with it. Go with the flow. Be flexible. Leverage their question asking to drive interesting creative reflection about your world.

Also index cards full of scenes is a great idea.

What are your 3 Golden rules of DM’ing?

  1. Create a comfortable approachable environment for players.
  2. Focus on tempo, building tension, and releasing on beats.
  3. Be flexible, making room for player ideas and input.

DM Advice, I’ve started to organize a DnD virtual table on a discord community I’m involved in. I want to run a session 0, what sorts of things do you do in your session 0?

There is a great section in Tasha’s Guide to Everything about session zero. But in case you don’t have that book: the social contract, why everyone is there what behavior is expected. Lines and veils, what are the players wanting last out of the game or breezed over. Safety tools, how do you handle line or veil revelations during the game. I also like to give out some extra books to characters who weave their characters together. Encourage it for minor rewards to end up with a party that’s a family, circus troupe, or contains business partners.

Hey guys. I’ve NEVER played DND, but I’ve watched and subscribed to so much DND-related media. I want to play BAD. I have no idea where to start; help?

https://startplaying.games/ .There are also many discords where you can join pick-up games. Alternately local adventurers league can help with IRL games.

To create hooks for your PCs to develop a solid personality throughout the campaign, which ‘tool’ would you give to them?

I think this really depends on the player. It is super unlikely that a brand new player will know what to do with a backstory. Suppose they do, great, but unlikely. Some people aren’t writers; they are talkers; for them, NPC relationships and a side conversation are the way to go. Some players are there for the action, tactics, and mechanics. For them, you keep the adventure tied to a compelling story to engage in the drama. Some players are even looking for that mechanical edge, and their personality might be defined by their use (relationship with) a magical weapon or patron something. So, all the tools… use all the tools. Just use them for the right situation.

Hey guys! Wondering if anyone has a creative solution to intermittent players. I have a solid 3 that are consistent, but 1 who is hit or miss. We love having him but it can be a shock to the rhythm when he’s a no-show. Suggestions?

Unsure if you are looking for a solution to:

  1. The story problem. It can feel like the world has less verisimilitude when a character suddenly disappears and reappears. I usually address this by having something, either dramatic or mundane, happen to the character. It will take an unknown amount of time, but they need to address it now—nice options: holidays or rituals, weddings or funerals, researching important plot points.
  2. The table’s dynamic. If the problem is that the player is a force at the table and it feels empty without them, try adding a player to the table and introduce other guest players. Maybe some DMs you know would love to join as the bad guy for a game, the quest giver, or the party ally. This can help fill the void and treat everyone to some fresh input.
  3. The mechanical problem. Is it better to be rigorous about XP or that the party remains at the same level? I run games where tier is the boundary so that you will have level 1 characters and level 4 characters taking on CR 6 monsters. But your table may differ. Make a decision based on what you think and what your players think is fair. If it becomes a problem again, address it until everyone feels cool about the situation.
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