Live from DDXP: “Expert Dungeon Mastering”

Here I am at DDXP and bringing to you as fast as my fingers can type, live updates from the Expert Dungeon Mastering. We know that the D&D VT won but being that DM’ing (GM’ing) is a universal language to players of all RPG’s it just seems like a better fit.

So spam those refresh buttons with a vengeance! Everything will be in chronological order, enjoy!

Chris perkins introduces himself and Greg Bilsland.
The seminar will be conversational.
Perkins asks for the #1 problem people have with DM’ing, first response “Remembering Everything!” (I wonder if this guy has heard of Obsidian Portal?!).

Bilsland to Chris, how do you keep track of information for the players? He responds with saying that the bottom half of every page of adventure notes contains notes he’s taken when back flipping through reference. Bilsland says he incentivizes his players to take notes, takes emphasis from players notes as a guiding point for him on things to elaborate on within his plot, etc.

Bilsland: Jeremy Crawford asks players to recap the last session themselves verbally and then he fills in any blanks as he goes along. Perkins: Says he does the exact opposite, and he uses a “session recap” summary for his players.

Bilsland: (in reply to comment regarding using wiki’s, the commenter is an Obsidian Portal User) I was using obsidian portal just as an adventure log, but then went in and started using it for deeper things.

Perkins discusses improvisational skills, and “nudging” players back towards his main plot. Bilsland: give the appearance of a sandbox experience, while keeping them on the rails. The story has certain milestones that are predetermined, however how the players get there are entirely up to them.

Perkins: when your players do something you dont expect (defeating the bad guy you thought would live, etc) use it as an advantage as opposed to a downturn. “It’s one thing when the players discover where the campaign is going, but it’s another when the DM discovers where the campaign is going

Bilsland on encounter difficulty: focus on tension, trying to control pacing is definitely an art, trying to see the valleys and peaks in the way encounters flow is something that just takes time.

Perkins: Good news is that nothing is ever wasted, you can always re use content or re-skin it once it’s created.

Bilsland on spontaneity: has a backlog of NPC’s and interactions to draw upon perhaps even used several times over. He can use these when the players go off in a direction he doesn’t suspect.

Perkins on spontaneity: have 3 story arcs, that way when one is deviated perhaps you can always cross paths and redirect the players. Bring things from the past of the campaign forward, perhaps something they fought before has come back, or a villains brother is seeking revenge, is there a faction chasing them now? There are a lot of ideas to spur from things that the players have done without you thinking they would.

Bilsland: think about the consequences of your players actions and go from there.

Perkins: flavorless stats are a good thing to keep around when playing or creating monsters off the cuff. Mathematically a level 10 brute does damage X. so he can come up with stat blocks on the fly, take a monster from a book, strip out its power flavors and (obviously not tell your players your doing this) and add in slight flavor variations for whatever it is they may be fighting. For example a level 10 brute can be stripped of all flavor, but then add something that pertains to the villain, perhaps he’s slippery, add an extra move action to that NPC/monster from the flavorless stat block.

Perkins: every character gets his “show” or moment of glory. (on building your campaign ilke a TV series)

Perkins: (to his players) Send me a list of 10 things you’d like to do and/or accomplish and he will attempt to build adventures around those ideas.

Bilsland: (to his players) asks for 3 wishes from his players, an item, a quest, fighting a certain monsters, etc. Use these as plot resources to go back to when building encounters/campaign settings.

From twitter: How to speed up combat, questions from the audience?

Me: Egg timer, two minutes, go!

bilsland: Essentials mainly, though he allows other character classes.

Matt James RPG: if they speed up their turns he gives out bonuses, etc.

Perkins: increasing monster damage, halfling hit points, these are all ideas commonly blogged upon.

Bilsland: Public initiative list so that everyone is aware. Perkins: if everything is going fine and everyone is having fun, even if combat is hours long and energetic then don’t change anything.

Commenter: pre-rolling when possible, it allows for some better role playing if you know when you’re turn comes around that you already hit.

Bilsland: make sure if you’re adding powers to monsters, make sure you’re not adding too much to the complexity level. It may not slow things down on the PC side but it can slow down on the DM side. Perkins: every monster doesnt have to be doing something creative. Just one or two monsters can be doing flashy attacks and the rest can be making basic attacks. Bilsland: the average monster doesn’t really need more than one basic attack and perhaps a thematic and/or utility power.

Perkins:Often some of the most interesting encounters come from when the monster surrenders, or runs away. Bilsland: not every encounter needs to be standard level with 4 or 5 monsters. Sometimes players want to feel badass, and smash two minion guards over the head, you don’t even necessarily have to bust out the grid and do it all narratively.

Bilsland: Dont become to attached to the way you envision your encounters going. Perkins: perhaps a character has a sentience, it might begin talking after an encounter or two that finally says “hey, dummy! let’s do this, I’m sick of you going the wrong way” etc. In order to get characters over the hump so they can move on.

Matt James comment: unique non combat abilities, use insight to progress the story. Reinforcing that with insight and coming up with creative solutions for progressing your game.

(On progressing) Getting players out of their box, ask for the best non combat idea and give a +2 to the “best” idea often gets them thinking outside their box.

(on players holding on to action points/dailies) encourage players to break out the big guns and not worry so much about the resource management. Encourage the spending of action points.

Bilsland: physical reminders (tokens) for action points also helps players keep that in their mind, also possible action point to regain a daily power, regain a healing surge, or extra standard action.

Bisland asks for house rules.

Skill challenges, succeed completely without rolling a die. Automatic success if they mention a certain something. Easy for social skill challengers, also usable for physical skill chalenges as well.

Perkins: it says right in the DM guide “don’t use a skill challenge if you think it can be a role playing opportunity”

Perkins: Everybody in the room should be having fun, it’s different things to different people.

Comment from the audience, action point decay. Encourage players to use AP’s or they can lose them.

Bilsland: rewards a fun point system, points for bringing food, being on time, writing backgrounds, players can also reward each other fun points. He’s now using fortune cards as a reward for that system in his home game.

Perkins: Loves minions, finding creative and novel ways to make them more interesting, or giving party leaders ways to bolster minions such as giving the minions temp HP or resistance.

Commenter house rule: Stand ups (from prone) as a move OR a minor, if you use it as a minor and then you move you can be OP attacked, but if you spend your move to get up you do not provoke opportunity attacks.

Bilsland: Allow players to do certain things as a minor but it raises the DC

On multiple Dm campaigns. Perkins: has never been part of one. Bilsland: decide where your skills lie and divide up duties based on that. If you are rotating in players trying to not give away everything, find a way to communicate enough info to hand over the DM mantle w/out giving away all the secrets.

Bilsland: find natural breaks in the story for good places to pass off DM’ing to someone else

Commenter: in a campaign with 3 different DM’s, every 6 months and it keeps it fresh and takes the campaign in different directions.

On player absence:

Me: Phase them into the background, while using them as a marginal party utility and recap for the player when they return. See example HERE

Matt James: Uses the companion rules

Bilsland: if you have a player who is absent it’s a great way to work that character into the story for new plot points, etc. Example: chris tulach was absent, and his character went to jail, next session he will bring him in an hour early to go over the events that lead to his imprisonment. Personally bilsland sometimes wholesales his character out to another player (in this case Chris Sims) because he trusts him to play and role play his character the same way he would.

Perkins: ye old doppleganger trick – an absent player becomes possessed and later attacks the party.

On character death – Perkins: sometimes he’ll converse with a player about that characters exit strategy. “based on the party dynamic right now, your character might not be long for this world” so they are braced for the possibility of conceptualizing another character  should things go that way. Bilsland to Perkins: “Why didn’t you warn me about a purple dragon that was going to make me jump off a cliff then?” Perkins to Bilsland: “Some things just happen”

Perkins: a character is never truly dead, resurrection spells, etc. There is a way in the campaign that a character can come back BUT… fill in that space. A trade off or some sort of consequence, one harsh enough that the other players would not want to die either.

Greg Bilsland: borrowing from video games, asks his players “would you like to play on Normal, Hard, or Nightmare modes?” (which I personally experienced his nightmare mode last night, it was srs bzns.) This sets up a precursor for players when as far as what to expect when heading into the game.

Perkins: give the character who’s died another round after they’ve died. Their death scene, give them an extra turn to do something dramatic, a final death attack or cursing the monster who killed it ” my evil twin will come hunt you down!” and that evil twin might be their next character.

On char death sympathy, Perkins: got TONS of emails from the community when Will Wheatons character died, about falling into that acid pit, telling him how horrible of a person he was.

Comments: Death doesnt’ have to be the final plot point, losing a limb, etc. The character continues on attempting to regain that limb or seek revenge. or using an action point to step in and take damage for another character, do something heroic. TPK turned into all characters imprisoned and woke up in prison, and taken out and tortured ,each losing something vital to them, tongues cut out, demoralized, etc. Prior to character death, have characters discuss “what happens if I do die” ie: I’m going to give all my magic items to the mage, death is eventual so whats going to happen when that takes place?

Perkins: look at death as a way to play something new, or a new way to add something new to the party, how does it change the party dynamic. It can be a good thing.

Perkins: “be mindful of your player audience, I’m not going to kill and 8 year old girls character” [after short discussion] “Unless of course she’s a terrible little girl” [Joking]

On disruptive players, Perkins: if they are talking, i interrupt them and use keywords. Bilsland: if there is a persistently disruptive person, sometimes I’ll just ask them to leave the game. Encourage players to come half hour before the game so they can socialize and get some of it out of their system so they can focus on the game once it starts.

Perkins: “If your inkeeper is named Mr. Poo Poo pants, your players will probably mirror that style” so keep those things in mind.

On transparency. Perkins: it’s a judgement call, minions etc. he does not fix purely on one style or another, it depends on what is appropriate for that encounter. Bilsland: it’s not fun for the player if they spend a daily on killing a minion. It lies in the Dm’s court and depends on what you prefer but if players are demanding transparency and that’s not your DM’ing style, if it bothers you then just DM it the way you want.

On DM screens: Bilsland: i will change dice rolls to modify the tension (in his home game) but also runs a very story heavy campaign and will not allow a mundane creature kill off a character that someone has a lot of investment in [Perkins sighs loudly] Perkins: I use a screen to keep my notes obscured, rolls dice privately but does not fudge die rolls. Bilsland: use dm screen to  create drama in dice rolls, make a saving through or a recharge important, using a die rolle outside the screen it draws their attention in. Perkins: asking players to roll a d6 for a dragons breath recharge roll “Tell me if you get a 5 or a 6 on that…Oh shit!”

Idea for DM screen with picture inserts for printed out custom artwork, now stolen by Chris Perkins.

On players who don’t pay attention: engage them, make them keep track of initiative, etc. It’s a person by person and game by game basis as far as electronics go

5 minutes left. Perkins thanks everyone for participating!

Small meet and greet, autographs. etc.

Hope you enjoyed, that’s all for now!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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