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[FtGMC] From the GM Chair 
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Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2009 4:16 pm
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Location: Crystal Lake, IL
Post [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
So, I was thinking about how we can help each other. Sometimes it helps to just talk about stuff and see what kind of reaction people have. So, I'm going to kick-off this thread; calling it From the GM's Chair, or FtGMC. The idea is to take a look at the game from the GM chair - focusing less on AP, and more on preparation, roadblocks, resources used, things that went well, things that failed utterly...

So, without further ado...

PS: You are free to comment, add your own experiences, or start new threads marked [FtGMC] or something...perhaps we can build a whole bunch of different ones that focus on different peoples' experiences.

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Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:33 pm
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
FTGMC – Jim Skach, July 15th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I was asked to fill in - our 1st chair DM, Mark, has other commitments for the next several weeks (six, IIRC). I volunteered to run AD&D which seemed to go well the first time we played it in the group – a few months ago for a one shot I ran.

As goes with our group in the summer (at least this summer), schedules are all over the place. So it’s been tough meeting. I had to bow out on July 1st due to work and holiday weekend commitments. Too many people were to be scattered to the wind on the 8th, so we let that week slip with some of the guys playing board/card games to pass the week.

Now, one would think with all those days passing, I would have plenty of time. However, work has really ramped up (a “deadline” of sorts looms) and I was needed to assist my mother with some furniture I acquired from our offices when they shut the plant down. In the interim, however, I had been doing some planning and thinking.

Here is where I pay homage to TheDungeonDelver. A while back I had downloaded a few of his 1e adventures – Greyhawk stuff. When I had a few moments over the holiday weekend/vacation, I perused these and it got the wheels turning. In particular, I liked the series of WGH3, WGH4,and WGH5, if for no other reason than it provided a nice framework of a short campaign for mid-level characters. Perfect.

I also spent a lot of time re-reading various sections of the DMG – particularly the part on Combat/surprise/initiative. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the surprise stuff just makes my brain hurt. Fortunately, some of the more obscure portions don’t really come into play that often…

However, I wanted to change quite a bit about the adventures. First, I wanted to place it in Dunfalcon, my homage to Greyhawk. This included changing some of the back story to fit better with my idea of how this would all flow. Second, I wanted to provide a bit slower build of danger (lower powered monsters in the first adventure to give some of the players, one of whom has never played AD&D before, a chance to get comfortable). Third, and this is no slam on TDD, the module was missing some things that I needed to fill in.

But I never seemed to be able to find the time.

So it was that as of Monday of this week, I had not put anything together in the way I prepped for the one shot a while back. I then had to work two 10-12 hour days on Monday and Tuesday and had a meeting on Wednesday morning. So most of the actual documentation of all of these thoughts was in the 4 hours I had between that meeting and having to leave for the game.

I started to put it all down in word, creating an adventure – WDF002 – Into the Restive Forest. I figured out, in my head, the region of Dunfalcon it would occur, how that would change the back-story, etc. I put this all into a document (in the old two-column, futura-font format). Then I started figuring out how the wooden stockade fort might be laid out and what humanoids I would use to populate it. One of the things about WGH3 is that while it provides a key to the fort, it does not provide a map. I used that key as a primer of sorts, and sketched out, on a pad of scratch paper no more then 4” square, a map of the fort the way I saw it. That’s still the only map of the stockade! I numbered the areas and wrote up a key in the WDF002 document. I grabbed some monster stats from various sources and filled those documents. By this point, I figured that at least the fort was done and I could wing the other portions.

Then, with a half hour before I was scheduled to load up the van (when my company shut it’s plant, I also had an eye out for Games Plus – I picked up 14 solid chairs and two white boards, 4’ and 8’, for free!) and go pick up a fellow group member, I realized – I didn’t have characters! I knew the expectation, rightly so, would be for me to provide characters.

So I grabbed the Rogues Gallery and looked up a Thief, Cleric, Ranger, Fighter, and Magic User of levels 4-6. I copied the abilities, hit points, race, class, and alignment and just decided we would spend some time at the start filling in the basics.

I loaded the chairs into the minivan, kissed the wife and kids goodbye, and left – nervous in that way you get nervous when you’re not sure if you’re prepared enough and how that will impact everyone else’s enjoyment of the evening.

I picked up Ulthar (his name here, not his real name) and drove the hour it takes in traffic to go form Crystal Lake to Mt Prospect at 5:00PM. I told Ulthar that I was going to be running this in “wing-it” mode. He was great, telling me that most of his favorite experiences were when the DM was just pulling stuff out of his…well, you get he picture. A nice, sincere bit of support I honestly needed.

When we got to Games Plus, one of the owners helped me unload the chairs. Then we went to our table and I started “setting up.’ I had packed two or three PHB’s – and between those, my computer (a legal copy of the PHB before WotC pulled the plug!) and my DM screen (for saving throws), we set about fleshing out the characters. I set the character sheets out (copies of the old goldenrod sheets I still have) and allowed everyone to choose as they came in.

I gave them each a couple of low-level magic items and told them to get what they thought made sense in terms of weapons and equipment, but not to go to crazy. My favorite part was when the youngest group member – the one who had not played AD&D – looked at his sheet and said, “Hey…there are no skills in first edition!” He, most of all, was curious about how this would play – what would we use to determine success on things and so forth. Ulthar started by explaining that he would tell me what he wanted to do or ask questions, we’d discuss it, and I’d make a determination (assuming, of course, it wasn’t strictly covered by the rules).

We ordered the pizza and ate while we filled in the characters, joked, shot the breeze, etc. We usually start around 6:00 PM, but with the chairs, the character building, and so forth, we hit the ground at 7:45PM. I didn’t think that was too bad – we got a lot of the little stuff that happens in our group (a middle break around 8:30, I call home to say goodnight to the kids, etc.) out of the way and just went at it for the remainder.

We played for about three hours. I found myself thinking on my toes and being creative in ways I just don’t as a player (and I love playing!). I gave them the background and informed them they had assembled in a town in the Restiv Forest with the express purpose of investigating these sightings of goblins and hobgoblins. Nobody really cared about the name of the town and so forth (they had their equipment) but wanted a map. As I drew the map I thought, “I should name the town”, so I just started writing letters that came to me…Timmormore! What’s that river’s name? Uhhh…well, that’s the Stillwater, and the other is…uh…the Blackthorn River. At one point, a random encounter was a Brownie who offered to help guide – I mean, his home was being adversely affected and these adventurers were here to help! What’s his name? Uhhh…Bramblefoot Tumbledown (they are related to Halflings, after all) – of the Restiv Forest Tumbledowns!

And so the adventurers made their way through the Restiv, battling hungry wolves, barely defeating/surviving giant stag beetles, and making a new friend before finally discovering the wooden stockade on a hill along the Blackthorn River, whereupon a patrol from the aforementioned fort attacked them. They quickly defeated the under-goblinned patrol and moved to more closely recon the fort – which is where we ended. They never even got to the adventure proper!

I had a blast. I think everyone else did as well. They all wanted to continue to play this for the next six weeks or so, with a possible foray into a 4e game intermittently DM’d by Trevalor (ENWorld name).

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Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:35 pm
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
Hehee... I love those old golden character sheets that had class horizontally on the right edge. In my early years as a GM, I had to plan everything out in advance, even detailing NPCs ad nauseam. However, I quickly learned that the players don't care about NPC stats other than killing them, and that they'll everything possible to avoid your carefully and well thought plans. So, now I sketch out some basic concepts and do pretty much everything else on the fly. I found that I'm just as creative, maybe even or so, when I'm in the groove and doing things on the fly.

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Fri Jul 17, 2009 10:53 am
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
Hot dang, that sounds like fun. Sorry I am missing it! :)

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Fri Jul 17, 2009 2:50 pm
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
I'm pumped about this game.

I started planning about a month ago, and really like what I've come up with thus far. I've got a pretty good idea of where I want the storyline to progress over both the next few levels, and even into the far future if need be. Most of my work thus far has just been slowly fleshing out the world I'm making, so I'll jot down a bit of m workflow.

The seed for the structure of the campaign definitely came form Piratecat's latest 4e game. it's a great way to keep characters involved in the game and it allows for a nice mix of flexibility and railroading when needed. ;) The world around the PCs is mostly a dead empire--former cities are slowly transofoming into independent city states as the empire declines and the Legion, the force that the PCs belong to, is about the only thing keeping the empire together.

Once I had that basic idea in my head, I started raiding old barely started campaign settings I'd worked on in the past, picked and chose what I liked, and starting fleshing out parts of the world. (Case in point: the Veil--a magical shield of energy erected over a thousand years ago. It keeps something inside. What? No one knows, and no one really wnats to find out)

Using a 14 day trial of Fractal Terrains, I made a map of the globe, picked a continent to house this continent spanning empire, and then stepped even further back and started to think about cosmology and the deities of the world.

I'm actually quite fond of the little sample city in the back of the DMG, Fallcrest, so I just plopped it into the game as a good starting point for the PCs, and now am slowly filling out the world beyond Fallcrest, mostly as the PCs need to get to it.

The first session went prety well, in my estimation---the PCs got a glimpse of life in the Legion, and a peek at world I'm trying to build. We had three fights--one ambush by some kobolds, a battle at a kobold hideout, and then a surprise attack by....things. Awful things. Things that the PCs had hardly even dreamed of.


Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:48 am
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
Jason - you had said during the game that one of the things you liked was how dead easy it was to modify monsters. Can you give some examples (maybe in another thread) of what you were trying to accomplish and how the system facilitated that goal? I'm not asking for spoilers, I'm assuming you could provide some examples from the three fights we had.

Except that your characters all sound the same :lol:

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If you're interested in GaryCon


Thu Oct 22, 2009 11:14 am
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
I don't want to go into a ton of details, but yes, I do think that DM prep, from a game mechanics standpoint, is pretty substantially reduced in 4e over 3.x. It's in the very nature of the power system that it stays so simple--you've got less things to try and pick. When you were trying to stat out a spellcaster in 3.x, there was always the temptation to just completely fill the guy's spellbook, or at least his memorized list, which beyond 5th level, gets pretty substantial.

Do you *have* to pick all of the spells in advance? No. Did I often feel like I should anyway? Yes.

Really, it was the same way, I felt, with feats and class features for non-casters before.

Now, monsters and NPCs all work very similarly, and you can have a pretty good villain in 10 minutes instead of an hour. For a casual gamer, I think it's huge.

As to the actual modification I was speaking of? Those are coming in a session or two, so I don't want to spoil the fun--but I grabbed some monsters that I liked, dropped them five levels (about the max that they recommend changing a monster), and they all seem like they'll still work quite well.

Basically, what I'm seeing after one session, is that I can spend a lot less time worrying about mechanics, and a lot more time worrying about coming up with a decent story for the evening. Yes, I could do that with a lot of rules light systems out there, but I'm not a game designer, and I don't want to invent rules at the table if they aren't in a book. D&D provides a pretty solid framework, and I can use it or ignore it to my hearts content--but I know I have a rulebook to fall back on if I can't think of something.


Thu Oct 22, 2009 5:20 pm
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
Momentary break in my planning for tomorrow's game while I mull over a few things.

1. As I'm making a new world, I'm hopeful for decent contributions from players in terms of helping flesh out some of the details. Most of what I have is fairly bare bones, and getting the specifics filled in from the players is handy. Stuff like this is FANTASTIC. Love it.

2. Speaking of world building, I'm not sure how others have done it, but I've had fun at least naming the deities in my world. None of them have much in the way of detail beyond two player-contributed ones, but the rest have come from various mythologies around the world. As I've got a fair bit of Lithuanian in me, I looked into some folklore, found names that worked, and perhaps tweaked them slightly to work to my liking. I'm positive I'm not really pronouncing them correctly, but I like the way they sound.

3. Again, my greatest difficulty remains in coming up with the skeleton of a plot that I'm happiest with, but I stress less about it while DMing 4e simply because I think actually statting up a fight takes a lot less time. I've noticed a similar feel from rules light games while prepping for them, but I'd hardly call 4e rules light.

4. I'm keen to throw a skill challenge at my group, but can't decide how I want to do it. Keeping it mostly behind the screen is my gut instinct, but I'm curious to see how a very explicit skill challenge would work (even to the point of giving players a handout detailing the skill challenge)


Tue Oct 27, 2009 5:19 pm
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
What a night for our adventurers. Had a definite TPK, and very nearly had another one. Powers that immobilize or otherwise keep you from moving can prove mighty deadly for a small party, apparently.

I felt a bit more prepared for tonight in terms of encounters. The game was a little bit combat heavy this evening, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I used the DDI Monster Builder quite a bit for this game, and I was very pleased with the results--for the most part at least.

Tonight was a classic supply run mission with a few opportunities to do extra stuff / interact with some people. Our "bold adventurers" (sure, we'll go with that) first head off into the woods while following a small stream to get water from its source for a magical ritual. Along the way, I decided to toss in a random encounter. As luck would have it, I rolled to see if one would happen, it did, and we had a fight with two wolves and a dire wolf.

Here's where one of my likes of 4e comes in: the dire wolf is really a level five challenge, but without really doing a thing, I was able to decrease its level to three. All in my head, just staring at the stat block in the monster manual. I *love* being able to do that.

Once they got to the main encounter area in the forest, they poked aorund and then got into a combat. I'd been searching for some "naturey" enemies to fight for a day or two very casually, and finally searched for something in the monster builder today that sounded pretty good. As I'm rushing to get through this at the moment, I dont feel like looking up exactly what the monsters were, but they were some sort of vine, and they were supposedly standard level 2 soldiers (or were they skirmishers)

These things, combined with a gray ooze, DESTROYED the party. I don't think I've ever, in my ten years of DMing, misjudged a monster badly enough to kill the entire party.

Part of the problem is not being completely familiar with the system enough to notice whether or not the attacks, defenses, and damage, I didn't immediately notice anything was wrong.

So these things have a melee at-will power that's pretty standard, but their rechargable is what is really tough. If you get hit with their ranged, you're grabbed, held in place, and the thing does automatic damage as a standard action on its turn

to the tune of 2d8 + 4. Unlless the PCs could break free.

More thoughts later.


Thu Oct 29, 2009 5:32 am
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Post Re: [FtGMC] From the GM Chair
Actually my latest post from my Blog, but really suitable for here.

In a recent OHMAS (On Her Majesty's Arcane Service) game session, the player characters returned to their home base, a semi-ruined castle in the Scilly Isles, full of satisfaction for having completed their job successfully. The Teamsters - the people hauling freight in wagons, not the union - had been behind the whole thing after all. They settled in, and the secretary took quill in hand to begin draughting a report to the queen on the strange occurences of the false famine in Bristol.

As the secretary began interviewing the participants, however, discrepancies emerged. Up to a point, the stories of the participating characters were very much the same. However, once that point had been passed - a fight with a massive teamster on the streets of Bristol - memories of exactly what happened diverged, sometimes radically, from each other. All remembered the fight, then the realization that the Teamsters were behind stealing and selling the stored food, and that they were suitably punished, but details varied wildly, and the times between those points of commonality were remembered very differently by everyone.

What was going on? It was a false memory implanted by a Minstrel. The Minstrel, one of the game's Paths of Power, can change ones' memories. By singing a song of surpassing beauty, the Minstrel can implant Words of Power into the minds of all those listening, so long as they can hear and understand the song's lyrics. These words work like seed crystals, freezing the memories of those listening into a new shape.

Why were these memories different? The Minstrel's Words are few in comparison to the memories displaced. Where the Words of Power hit, their memories were closely aligned - all remembered that the evidence convicted the Teamsters, the punishment, and the return home well content with finishing their job successfully - because that was what the Minstrel directly said with her Words. Everything else they made up, sometimes from whole cloth, sometimes from bits and bobs of buried memories resurfacing, to fill in the void left by the new implanted memories. Where the characters made up their own memories, they diverged quite a it from each other.

The PCs were horrified. What had they done that they couldn't remember? Who had done this to them? Who were the real culprit, and what was going on now?

The PCs, by the way, have their own Minstrel, who had "adjusted" the memories of many others, including that of the Queen herself. Sauce for the Goose.

So, have you ever used the PCs' own weapons against them?

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Thu Oct 29, 2009 5:00 pm
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