Getting Started with D&D

Some asked on Twitter what’s a good way to get started with D&D, and who you should follow to learn how to do it right.  I pointed them in the direction of some of my very favourite people, but their feed quickly exploded with loads of RPG advice, which if I was starting off, would have frankly been horrific.

When you don’t know what you’re doing and want somewhere to start, being told “There’s no wrong way to DM” over and over doesn’t help you get a handle on it.  Follow that up with loads of people saying “There’s no one right way to DM, but there are loads of faux pas you could make” to make it intimidating, and chucking people at the streams of highly popular DMs who honestly can’t have time for all the queries they get doesn’t help much either.

Part of the problem, of course, is for a lot of us, this is a long term hobby.  Its been over 30 years since I first sat behind the screen!  Remembering how it feels to kick off for the first time is quite tricky – and many of the problems I had then aren’t the same as the problems now.  Finding and affording hobby material without the web and with limited funds is a different to these days of the internet and being in a job with some disposable income to buy supplements.

So what advice would I actually give to some new starting off in D&D today, with a copy of the Starter Set?   Especially here, where I’m not suffering from a character limit.

There are some basics!  As a DM, you’ll not only set the scene and narrate the tale in the background, you’ll also be the arbitrator of the rules.  Now we’ll discuss this some more in a second, but it does help to have a reasonable grasp of the rules and the adventure you want to run.  Read through them, make sure you’re reasonably happy.  For D&D, if you just have the starter set, download and read through the free basic rules.  They don’t cover every race, or class, but you can quite happily play a full campaign with them.  Heck, they probably cover all the options I had when I picked up the main AD&D core books for the first time.

If funds are less of an issue, get the core books, though obviously thats more of an investment and you might want to see if the game is for you first, of course.  A few more sets of dice can help the session run smoother, but again, its not really essential.

What I’d recommend more than absolutely anything else is the mystical Session Zero!!!

Its actually not a mystery at all, but hey, its probably the biggest piece of advice I can give, so I felt it deserved a big reveal.  Schedule in a first session with your mates before you start the game properly.  Sit down together and have a chat about it.

It sounds so simple, but one of the biggest problems you’ll ever face in D&D, especially when starting out, is that a group of people all have different expectations of the game.  There’s a social contract between all the players and the DM that you should all be there to have fun, and not spoil each others fun.   That’s great … but if no one knows what anyone else is expecting, that’s almost impossible to manage.

Talk about what bits of the game excite them.  Are they looking forward to battles?  Roleplaying social encounters?  Not everyone will be the same.  What characters do they want to play?  Create or allocate pregenerated characters in this session, so they can read up in the free basic rules about them if they want too before the actual game.  Make sure no ones stuck with a character they don’t want to play, or that no one person’s expectation is totally out of whack with everyone else.

Another useful use of Session Zero can be to tone down their expectations too.  If they’ve watched things like Critical Role, you’re watching professionals using acting skills honed in a range of environments to not just play a cracking game, but entertain an audience.  Not every game can, or should, be that.  The game is normally aimed at engaging all the players, and is fantastic fun as long as everyone joins in. 

If you have a decent session one, everyone will be on the same page, expecting to have fun and knowing roughly what they are doing when you go to play.  And that is absolutely priceless when you sit behind the screen for the first time.

When it comes to actually running the first game … then wow.  The gloves are off!  Its for real!  You’ll have to find your own, to some degree.  If you stick rigidly to the rules, some of the players are likely to die.  That’s cool as long as they’re cool with that, so you might want to discuss that possibility in session zero.  If you fudge it too obviously, you’ll lose any sense of tension.  Finding a balance can be tricky.  Personally, I’d advise starting off playing straight by the rules, and let the dice fall where they may to start with, until you feel confident bending things at all.  And if you’ve explained that at session zero, people won’t feel aggrieved about things, or shouldn’t.  Though you might want to create a few spare characters with people in that a session zero just in case, so they don’t waste “real” game time.

There are some good rules of thumb for running a game.  Don’t keep looking up rules unless it seems something pretty fundamental.  If someone wants to try something cool, let them.  A fairly good rule of thumb to keep things running is if something unusual comes up, just set things to a difficulty (or DC) of 10, so they need to roll 10 or more on a d20 to pass.  That may seem too easy, but its quick, and you want the players to feel like heroes with their ideas!   If its something ludicrously difficult, you might want to make the DC 19 or 20, so they still have a shot, however improbable.  Let them feel they actually can do things!  That coming up with ideas makes a difference, and that cool things rock!

Keeping the flow going is almost always better than disrupting the game.  When you’re all learning, I’d suggest holding your hands up and admit that’s what you’re doing, so if you look it up after the game, you aren’t stuck by your own precedent, but say you won’t be rolling back the events of the game.  Keep things moving forward, keep it exciting, and avoid big rules breaks where possible. 

Another big thing I’d say, despite pushing to keep things moving in terms of rules, is just take time to enjoy it.  Try not to keep throwing stuff at the players if they are laughing and joking about something.  Join in.  Relax, and enjoy the game.  If it gets silly, you can give them a nudge, but let them take the time to actually enjoy the game.  Celebrate the first monster slain with them! 

After the first adventure, which might be over several sessions, you might run a new session zero.  make sure everyone is on the same page still.  Stress the positives and ask what they feel is working well and what they’d like to see more of.  Decide if you liked D&D enough to go onto a full campaign, and would they like to keep their current characters, or start fresh.  Think about buying or finding some new adventures, and investing in books and supplements.  But if enough people want to continue … you know, you’ve done it!  And done far better than most, too, as a lot fall apart early on.

What resources do I recommend to give you a feel for running a game?  Well the core books are full of valuable insights and information, of course, but they can be expensive to try before you are 100% convinced.  

I can spend hours reading Mike Bourke’s work on Campaign Mastery – he’s got a knack of making complex concepts really accessible.  If there’s any problem with his site, its that there’s so much on there you can easily get distracted fro the topic you were after!  There’s a fantastic beginners section I can’t recommend enough.

Sly Flourish has written a couple of cracking, insightful books, but again, I’d wait until after you’ve given it a bit of a go before getting too into books.  His blog on Building the Better Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master game is fantastic, with loads of great insights.

I’ve mentioned the basic rules already, but the main D&D website is packed with useful info and links to the community.  Its more focussed on getting newcomers into the game too, so it can be more accessible than some of the longer running hobby websites.  I’d particularly highlight the regular Dragon magazine free web/app for fun ways of getting slices of content without it feeling overwhelming.

Hopefully that helps a few people get started behind the screen.  Its certainly stuff that I’d have liked to hear, and I love to add to it with any other suggestions.

 

 

 

 

Introducing Wargames Wednesday (with RPG fun thrown in!) #WargamesWednesday

In order to keep me involved in my various gaming hobbies, I’ve decided to make a point of posting something every Wednesday.  Despite the tag of Wargames Wednesday, I’m actually going to cover RPGs (both paper and electronic), 40K as my main hobby, and anything else from painting/fiction/other wargames that catches my eye!  This week, I’m covering Numenera, Dropzone Commander, Shadowrun Returns (PC), Space Hulk (PC), and the Black Legion Codex Supplement

Numenera

Numenera!  Monte Cooks new game system has been released, and I backed the kick starter for the complete set of books in PDF format!  I’ve been getting a constant stream of stuff over the last few weeks, and its all pretty impressive!  I love the game engine (see my earlier post on Numenera), but the list of various card decks, GM screens, posters and other bits as well as the core books has been brilliant.  Good work Monte!

Dropzone Commander

After Leonidas gave me a copy of the Dropzone Commander rules as a present (many thanks, by the way!), I’ve become rather intrigued by this wargame.  I love the concept of fast transport driving a futuristic battlefield, countered by antiaircraft fire, while tanks and troops do battle.  However, I don’t really have anyone nearby to play the wargame against at present, so buying a complete starter army for me, and potentially a second one too to play against, was just too big an investment.  However, a new two player starter set has just launched, at around the £60 mark.  I am very tempted with birthdays then christmas looming 🙂  I love the UCM look (very Halo!), and the scourge have an unusual insectile appearance I quite like too … and they are the two armies in the set.

Space Hulk and Shadowrun Returns (PC)

Huzzah!  More games I don’t have time to play 🙂  I managed to order Space Hulk and Shadowrun Returns on Steam.  Shadowrun in particular interests me – I love the world (and am rereading many of the novels at the moment on the journey to and from work!), but I also like the custom editor that comes with it.  Neverwinter Nights was a huge, huge favorite of mine, largely because of the editor and ability to create and play comunity modules – I’m really hoping that holds true here.

I’ve played the board game of Space Hulk since the original release (and managed to grab the limited edition from a couple of years ago), so I was always going to be the target audience for the new version of the PC game.  I’m hoping its a fairly faithful interpretation of the board game where I can play through a mission reasonably quickly while my munchkin naps 🙂  Heavy flamer FTW!

Black Legion Codex Supplement

I really thought I’d be disappointed by this, and only really got it in order to get a feel for how the Chaos supplements would be released – I’d love a Fallen Angels one, but SaintAidan would sacrifice quite a lot to the dark gods for a Thousand Sons supplement, and with the interest in heresy stuff, I think its quite likely.

This is probably the best supplement yet.  The history of Abaddon, his dark pacts and the Black Crusades is brilliant.  The tweaks to the lists all make sense, and the way specialist troops work with the black legion actually feels right (Thousand Sons and Rubricae in a black legion force always niggled me a bit).  I think you could put together a pretty awesome grey knights counter list with Abaddon, and Chosen Terminator troops, together with some nasty artifacts and alliances.  Really enjoyed reading it!

Numenera is here!

Last year, I backed Monte Cooks Kickstarter project for a new roleplaying game – Numenera!  Its a great concept, and though I’m yet to actually manage to get a game in, the PDF copies I opted for are amazing (filled with illustrations and stories as well as the top notch game architecture).

What do I particularly like?  Well, for me, the two really intriguing points that make this stand out are:

a)  The world.  Post apocalyptic worlds where science and magic overlap are a favorite of mine – and this is the ninth world!  Eight worlds have been and gone – thats a lot of different inspiration and variety.  The stories and adventures seem top notch, making it a fascinating place with a lot of freedom for a GM.

b)  The system.  I really like the way it integrates spending effort with health – the harder you work, the more you tire and the faster you run out of steam.  Go all out to lift that heavy door?  Fine … but you’ll be tired when you reach combat.  Concentrate hard to dispel an illusion – cool!  But you’ll be mentally fatigues when it comes to fighting off that psychic attack.  Its brilliant.  It makes resting far more important, and also makes players think a heck of a lot more tactically.  Spend the effort at the start of an adventure and run out later?  Will you get a chance to rest?  I love it.

I thoroughly recommend at least taking a look!

 

Updates from London

Well, not a lot of painting has taken place in the pre christmas frenzy, but some gaming news.

First Blood Bowl is out for the Xbox. Its a little disappointing in some ways -the multiplayer is much (much, much!) easier for pickup games, but multiplayer leagues don’t seem possible, and you can’t customize your team and colours in the same way you can on the PC. Having said that, I’ve found it much more enjoyable to play single player thanks to the bigger screen, and the ease of multiplayer make up for the disadvantages. Its a great way to combine the Xbox hobbywith our Games Workshop fun 🙂

I’m still working on the world of Morania for some online D&D gaming fun, which should be interesting. 🙂 Its based on some concepts I’d put together when looking to write a novel, so hopefully you’ll find it reasonably fresh with enough background detail to entertain.

New gaming options have opened up a bit – Saint Aidan will probably be adopting my Chaos forces, and my Dad (Tazman) will be flying the Eldar cause once more, so some gaming will be happening over Christmas! Updates will of course be posted on the site! Sadder news is that my Tau and Necron forces have been retired to longer term storage for now, while I focus on getting a force of Blood Angels painted (including the Space Hulk terminators).

Neverwinter Nights

I’ve been looking at a range of ways of gaming electronically to be able to include people spread all over the world, and it looks like one of the main ways will be reverting to an old classic …. Neverwinter Nights. It is probably the best electronic implementation of D&D 3rd Edition, and the toolset allows me to build and run completely custom adventures, with a live Dungeon Master to make the games pop to life. As its an older game, its pretty cheap (less than £10), and will run on pretty much any hardware. It’ll run on Linux and there is a native Mac client (for older macs, but its hard to find – theres a way to use the cheap PC install DVD and a demo version), and its old enough to run fine through Rosetta on an Intel based PC. With luck, that means all of the Forces of Darkness should be able to get online from time to time … although I suspect Bloodbowl on the Xbox 360 will have us all meeting up anyway.

I’m creating an original campaign world, called Morania, for the various quests, so it should all be new and exciting for even the more seasoned D&D players! It uses a lot of custom content created by keen modders over the years, so its pretty amazing how flexible the client is – it really comes close to the feel of a full RPG. It’ll be post Xmas when I have enough put together to give this a go, so plenty of time to install the software and give the game a whirl.

Hopefully you’ll all be interested in at least trying it out!

Forces of Darkness v2!

The FoD website has been shifted over to WordPress, and is now much easier to update, and looks much prettier.  The posts have been cherry picked, and the image galleries have all been transferred over.  Check out the new profiles on the FoD members!

There will be posts on any regular gaming that takes place, whether thats on the Xbox 360, Warhammer 40k, or Dungeons and Dragons.  Its here to have fun with!