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RPG Superstar 2015

4e campaign for a new DM


D&D 4th Edition (and Beyond)


So my wife has been trying to get a 4e game off the ground. She wants to learn running a game and likes 4e, and as it turns out if you're not an uber geek who has been playing forever 4e is really good for this! Anyway, she wants to use a pre made campaign to learn the ropes aswell as campaign design etc. as she doesn't feel ready to even want to start with her own ideas and adjustments and all. As such I'll get right to the point she wants a good pre made campaign, preffereby a full ride 1-30, so the "whole game" can be experienced. What options are there? She has the H1-E3 set at her disposal (H1 is free and we own H2 and 3 and can pick up any others if she runs this) and we have all of the Scales of War adventures. So are there any other easily available adventure paths for 4e so to speak? Of the two which are better and have really awesome set piece battles amongst a nifty twist plot? SOrry for such a rant, I want this endevour for her to succeed.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

I know fairly little about the Scales of War - I like reading stuff in print and since that will involve printing hundreds of pages from Dungeon, which is not cheap, I have tended to steer clear.

I do, however, have the 1-30 set of modules H1 - E3 and have read those. The basic metaplot about Orcus doesn't figure fully in all of the scenarios but it is there in the first and becomes a defining plotline from mid-paragon onwards. As with most of the WotC scenarios the set-piece encounters are fine but the actual plotting is a bit ropey.

However, that is probably the easier bit to solve - I would suggest sitting down and thinking about how the scenarios fit together (and some side adventures not linked to the overall plot is probably fine anyway for a change of pace) and thinking about who could be their patrons to kick them off in the right direction (or indeed, sterr them back), what prefiguring you might want to do to keep a sense of continuity and to intrigue the players to keep going and feel like what they are doing is important, and how the PCs initially get involved. I would suggest, actually, reading through a Paizo AP (maybe not an early one, but say the last two) to see how Paizo actually plan these things out. If you have access to the old print Dungeons, maybe read the Dungeonmastery series in there (and more ancient in terms of vintage, in Dragon).


Well this is my wife who is going to run the game, she wants to try her hand at it and wants a premade to get kind of walked through her first campaign. She can learn and start doing her own stuff and changing things as she goes and picks up the skills to do so. Having said that I understand your thoughts on the dungeon stuff as I am a man of paper myself... Currently based on price alone it's looking like the H1-E3 series is winning


If you subscribe to DDI, even for a month, you can download the entire scales of war series. However, being an experience DM, I can not offer advice on that series or any other. I tend to borrow content and add to my own campaign.

Liberty's Edge

Stewart Perkins wrote:
Well this is my wife who is going to run the game, she wants to try her hand at it and wants a premade to get kind of walked through her first campaign. She can learn and start doing her own stuff and changing things as she goes and picks up the skills to do so. Having said that I understand your thoughts on the dungeon stuff as I am a man of paper myself... Currently based on price alone it's looking like the H1-E3 series is winning

I actually think H1-E3 is a good choice as well. While the plot is certainly weak at times, it doesn't take much to spruce it up but it also doesn't technically require it. Either way, I think she would enjoy running those as they are designed to showcase different parts of the sytstem.

The other nice thing about that series is the learning curve it supports. As the series goes on, the encounters get more complex, which means it starts out with simple encounters, hazards, and traps to help a DM to learn the ropes, and as the series progresses it adds levels of complexity to the mix. It takes its time pulling in new some of the more advanced rules not covered in the Quick Start rules. That alone makes it invaluable to starting DMs. At least in my opinion.


Price-wise, Scales of War is definitely the cheapest at $10 for the entire adventure path, and it comes bundled with access to the Compendium for the month and the fully updated Character Builder, which her players will find really useful if they are new to the game. From what I hear, it does a good job of not overwhelming the DM, and has a lot of fantastic "set piece" encounters, but if you have the ability to flesh out the world a little it helps.

I don't know much about the H-P-E path (other than H1, which I ran as soon as it was released).

I don't recommend my conversions of Rise of the Runelords or Curse of the Crimson Throne; they are much better suited to a DM with a moderate amount of experience running the game.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber
Stewart Perkins wrote:
Well this is my wife who is going to run the game, she wants to try her hand at it and wants a premade to get kind of walked through her first campaign. She can learn and start doing her own stuff and changing things as she goes and picks up the skills to do so. Having said that I understand your thoughts on the dungeon stuff as I am a man of paper myself... Currently based on price alone it's looking like the H1-E3 series is winning

Well, as an AP subscriber yourself, she could do worse than look at those and see how they work. But let's be honest, for a first go, you can't really go wrong with just running through H1 to E3 in order. Probably learning how to cope at the table with everyone looking at you is just as important as plot, prefiguring and so on. Most of the more advanced stuff comes with experience. I'm assuming you will be playing too, so if she needs any generic help and commentary you could provide that if necessary. Once she gets the hang of just running a game she can concentrate on the more "fluffy" aspects later.

That said, in the 4e archive there is a thread where Sebastian rejigged the opening plot (but not the encounters) of H1 as he was unhappy with how it opened. Your wife could have a look at that and see if it inspires. For me (having run the 3.0 scenario series that WotC brought out back in the day) the issue is maintaining the PCs motivations through a series of adventures that don't necessarily, as written, have an awful lot to do with one another.


The H-P-E adventures are definitely set up for the new DM, but are very loosely connected. Your wife will need to do a little work to make each one flow into the next. The SoW AP has much more of a connecting backbone. I haven't run SoW, but they seem fairly easy to implement. It depends on what your wife ultimately wants. If she wants some basic adventures that loosely connect but have great encounters that highlight the 4e system, I suggest H-P-E. If she wants a grand story, epic in scope with all the parts interconnected, I recommend SoW.


I agree largely with what has been said. Now, truth be told, just about any premade adventure can be quite good. I would give a few of the following tips for the totally new DM regardless of the module to be run:

-Photocopy the map or dungeon layout and scribble your own notes with a brightly coloured pen on the rooms to help you remember what monsters are where. When you are DMing it sometimes slips your mind just exactly what is behind that next door. Write "Here be skeletons" and have an arrow pointing exactly where.

-If the adventure module you are running doesn't have the monster stats listed right there on the relevant room page for each encounter, make a seperate page of basic stat blocks (just use some grid paper) that you can lay on the table or paperclip to your DM screen. It doesn't need to be detailed. Hitpoints and attack value only is fine, it will usually jog your memory. It really beats having to pause the game while you flip through your module or monster manual. You can just glance over at your little 'cheat sheet' for a reminder of how hard a goblin hits and how well it avoids being hurt.

-Read the whole module from start to finish before running it. If you think you could describe a room in a better way or think that something doesn't make sufficient sense to you, write a little note about it. If something confused you as a DM, it is probably going to confuse your players even more. Work it out.

-Players have a hard time visualising 'matter of fact' descriptions. I'll give two examples.
Here's method (1). Most people don't get a good mental image from it. "You enter the dungeon room, it's about 10' by 10' square. In the northwest corner there is a bookshelf. In the southwest corner is a broken table. There are books and debris all over the ground".
Here's method (2). "You enter the dungeon room and are greeted by the smell of aged wood and rotted papers. Rat-chewed books and filth litter the floor, and a now-empty bookshelf and broken table sit in the corners of the room".
Players will imagine the placement of things on their own in the second example, and generally get a better mood out of method two, even though it actually contained less data. If they want specifics, they'll ask, unlike method 1, where most players will never ask "What does it smell like in here?" or "What kind of ambient noise is there?" despite how powerful of a descriptive tool it is. That said, different players have different needs.

-When the game is over, don't let everyone walk away immediately. Take five or ten minutes to get everyone discussing what they want to do in the next game. Maybe they want to try checking out those items they just looted. Maybe they need to run back to town for supplies. It helps you know what you need to prepare for and what you can safely ignore.

-Put a player in charge of writing down initiative order for combat at the table to save yourself some work.

-If you forget the real rule, and no one knows, make one up. Play the rest of the game with your made up rule. After the game and before next session you can all spend time finding the real rule.

-And lastly, this is the most important one of all - talk to your players about co-operation and character death BEFORE you play your first game.
Explain that characters are getting involved in very dangerous activities, and could be killed. Sometimes it's a good idea to run away. Tell them what happens to a character's loot if she dies. Maybe she is buried with it. Maybe it is automatically sold to represent how the new character they're rolling up got the dough they needed to have gear of the right level. Maybe you let them divide it amoung themselves and risk the chances of an overgeared party.
If you're not comfortable running a group where the characters are pickpocketing each other, have opposing motivations, or other friction, say so.
Tell your players right from the beginning that they're creating a group of friends or at least very trusting mercenaries who have been together a long time, and that they should stick together and share and discuss loot with each other.


How many players are in the gaming group? My group played 4E with a 7 player group, and the system broke down doing it. The DM hated having to run too many monsters, so he always went for a "bigger is better" philosophy. The end result was that in about 20 encounters I can count the number of times the monsters missed on a single hand, and no one in my gaming group is willing to give 4E another chance. (We had given it 2 chances earlier, but were hammered by the same "bigger is always better" DM mentality)

Just because the chart tells you that so many monsters are a good fit for an encounter doesn't mean it is so. Bigger does not always mean better.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Jason Ellis 350 wrote:
How many players are in the gaming group?

5 is the "default" number for a 4e game. 4-6 seems to work just fine. We've run games with 3 without too much difficulty, but 7 is very crowded. Even 6 feels like one too many in my opinion.


I can't speak to the H1-3+ modules but I'm a player in a Scales of War Campaign with a new Dm (though an experienced player) who has no time at all to really adapt the adventure.

Despite this the AP, while uneven, has had a slew of truly awesome parts. Some of the adventures are better then others and occasionally I've been frustrated by how they chose to have some things play out but we are, overall, having a really good time.

We have a 7 player group as well but have not encountered the problem noted above - I think our DM is adjusting by numbers instead of making the monsters themselves bigger and badder. More or less I get the impression that if the original encounter was one elite baddie and 3 guys in support our DM would make it an elite baddie with 7 guys in support.

That said I don't really recommend such a crowded table if it can be avoided. Its just to many players for an RPG, any RPG, IMO.


Jason Ellis 350 wrote:

How many players are in the gaming group? My group played 4E with a 7 player group, and the system broke down doing it. The DM hated having to run too many monsters, so he always went for a "bigger is better" philosophy. The end result was that in about 20 encounters I can count the number of times the monsters missed on a single hand, and no one in my gaming group is willing to give 4E another chance. (We had given it 2 chances earlier, but were hammered by the same "bigger is always better" DM mentality)

I wouldn't call this a breakdown of the system if it was due to a DM mentality that running more monsters as the DMG suggests isn't something he was willing to do. I've run games with 7 players, and as long as you increase the monster presence appropriately (in practice, you actually need slightly more monster than the DMG tells you, since adding another player doesn't increase party power linearly) it should run much as it would with 5 people.


Regardless of the game, 4 players has always been my sweat spot as a player or DM. Once you get to 6, 7, 8, ... you need more experienced players that can think on the fly, because after 7 characters have taken their turn, the current state of combat has completely changed. Add in a couple people who like to re-think their actions a couple times before acting, or throw in some inexperienced players, and over 4 starts becoming a burden in my opinion.

It is also easier to manage a smaller set of monsters or NPCs as a DM.

If you can manage more people and keep combat flowing then you have my respect.


I'm in a similar boat, wanting to run myself.

The advice that I received from my friends/DMs is to not start out with an AP. Start with a series of adventures. This way you get a feeling of what to expect from the game, as well as the game group.

You always hear the "horror stories" of the DM that gets taken advantage of or is too lenient. This way if you go down the wrong path, the AP isn't ruined for you. You can learn from your mistakes and apply them to the AP.

Just my friends thoughts, but they make a good point (especially my group of hooligans ; ).

EDIT: Dungeon Delve. 1st - 30th level Delves, and on sale today for $18.78 on Amazon.com (Gold Box Deal).

Scarab Sages

If you're going to run H1, I cannot recommend this site any more highly--

Keep On the Shadowfell Remix
http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/keep-shadowfell/kots-remix.html

it's AWESOME. Turns KotS into its own fully-fleshed mini-campaign.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

daysoftheking wrote:
it's AWESOME. Turns KotS into its own fully-fleshed mini-campaign.

Wow! That is really cool! I wish I had seen that site before running my KotS game. It's a decent starter module, but it's a dungeon crawl. The DM really needs to put some work into fleshing out the area a bit if you want to get the players really involved.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

DDI is a very good resource for your wife and group. Like the earlier poster said for 10 bucks a month you get the access to not only the complete module but a utility to generate ready to run character sheets for the DM and the group as well as Adventure Tools.


I ran the H 1-3 and got to p-2. It just felt a little too dungeon crawly for me. I also ran scale of war about half way. I really liked it allot. My players did too. Be warned the first two adventures are a little bumpy story wise. I would recommend SoW above the P H E modules. Also the best I seen so far for 4e and the one I am running is the war of the burning sky. Allot of good role playing, not a dungeon crawl.

Liberty's Edge

daysoftheking wrote:

If you're going to run H1, I cannot recommend this site any more highly--

Keep On the Shadowfell Remix
http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/keep-shadowfell/kots-remix.html

it's AWESOME. Turns KotS into its own fully-fleshed mini-campaign.

This heavily influenced my version of KotS. I highly recommend it. It truly is awesome.

Liberty's Edge

Here are some other tips for H1-

Sly Flourish-Three tips for the Keep on the Shadowfell


Stewart Perkins wrote:
Well this is my wife who is going to run the game, she wants to try her hand at it and wants a premade to get kind of walked through her first campaign. She can learn and start doing her own stuff and changing things as she goes and picks up the skills to do so. Having said that I understand your thoughts on the dungeon stuff as I am a man of paper myself... Currently based on price alone it's looking like the H1-E3 series is winning

Personally, you can run Keep Of the Shadowfell, and or the adventure in the back of DMG to get started. Neither are great but they will give the DM the chance to get into the general mechanics of the system along with the players.

For bigger more involved adventures with stronger roleplay elements they can come in at third or fourth level.

You can include a more roleplay and skill challenges into the DMG starting adventure or KOTS but to get started it's not necessary.

Scarab Sages

Stewart Perkins wrote:
She has the H1-E3 set at her disposal

I would recommend telling her not to worry about being "true" to the module. Beginners often get bogged down in trying to run it "correctly". Tell her the philosophy of "yes". If a player comes up with something, or the players as a group are heading down a path not covered in the module, the philosophy of yes says to run with it, not to steer them back to the train tracks.


Stedd Grimwold wrote:
Stewart Perkins wrote:
She has the H1-E3 set at her disposal

I would recommend telling her not to worry about being "true" to the module. Beginners often get bogged down in trying to run it "correctly". Tell her the philosophy of "yes". If a player comes up with something, or the players as a group are heading down a path not covered in the module, the philosophy of yes says to run with it, not to steer them back to the train tracks.

This is easy enough advice for an experienced DM to give, but someone who has never run a game before can easily feel overwhelmed by suddenly losing the helping hand that a printed adventure provides. I've DMed for many years, and I still sometimes feel very pressured by a sudden dramatic shift away from where the adventure as written takes you.

The philosophy of "yes" says that player creativity and proactive behavior should be encouraged when appropriate, but it doesn't demand that the DM discard his published adventure at the whim of the PCs. The railroad tracks serve an important role in any story-driven game. All too often, railroading seems like the red-headed stepchild of the hardcore D&D community, despite it being a very legitimate, very oft-used playstyle. Certainly, it can be abused to the detriment of the game, but my unfortunate experience on both sides of the screen has been that half the time that happens, it's the fault of a player who simply wanted to test the boundaries of the DM's ability to handle the unexpected.


Scott Betts wrote:
Stedd Grimwold wrote:
Stewart Perkins wrote:
She has the H1-E3 set at her disposal

I would recommend telling her not to worry about being "true" to the module. Beginners often get bogged down in trying to run it "correctly". Tell her the philosophy of "yes". If a player comes up with something, or the players as a group are heading down a path not covered in the module, the philosophy of yes says to run with it, not to steer them back to the train tracks.

This is easy enough advice for an experienced DM to give, but someone who has never run a game before can easily feel overwhelmed by suddenly losing the helping hand that a printed adventure provides. I've DMed for many years, and I still sometimes feel very pressured by a sudden dramatic shift away from where the adventure as written takes you.

The philosophy of "yes" says that player creativity and proactive behavior should be encouraged when appropriate, but it doesn't demand that the DM discard his published adventure at the whim of the PCs. The railroad tracks serve an important role in any story-driven game. All too often, railroading seems like the red-headed stepchild of the hardcore D&D community, despite it being a very legitimate, very oft-used playstyle. Certainly, it can be abused to the detriment of the game, but my unfortunate experience on both sides of the screen has been that half the time that happens, it's the fault of a player who simply wanted to test the boundaries of the DM's ability to handle the unexpected.

That would surprise me. The vast majority of the time when I've seen a player go 'off the beaten path', it is because they didn't know any better - because they are trying something that makes sense to them in-character, without realizing it might not be written into the mod. And while I know it can feel wrong to let them carry things away from what you have planned... forcing things into a single linear path is a dangerous road to go down. Especially since once you get into the habit of doing so, it is hard to get back to the more freeform style of letting the adventure unravel naturally.

I definitely understand where you are coming from, Scott, but I'd really discourage trying to convince a new DM that railroading players into a pre-written plot is where they should start from. Use the pre-written adventure as a tool, but don't let it remove the player's ability to influence the game in the process.


Matthew Koelbl wrote:
I definitely understand where you are coming from, Scott, but I'd really discourage trying to convince a new DM that railroading players into a pre-written plot is where they should start from. Use the pre-written adventure as a tool, but don't let it remove the player's ability to influence the game in the process.

Ideally a given published adventure will allow the PCs some ability to influence the game and its plot without leaving the DM floating abandoned outside the confines of the adventure. While I think it's certainly okay for a DM to give the PCs more freedom than that on their first go, I also think it's completely reasonable for a new DM to request that the PCs try and stick to the adventure at hand for the first few sessions so that the DM can get his feet wet. Few things are liable to kill a first-time DM's buzz like the PCs ignoring every attempt to hook them into participating in the adventure he's been jazzed about running (or even hopping off the "path" for a time).


Scott Betts wrote:
Matthew Koelbl wrote:
I definitely understand where you are coming from, Scott, but I'd really discourage trying to convince a new DM that railroading players into a pre-written plot is where they should start from. Use the pre-written adventure as a tool, but don't let it remove the player's ability to influence the game in the process.
Ideally a given published adventure will allow the PCs some ability to influence the game and its plot without leaving the DM floating abandoned outside the confines of the adventure. While I think it's certainly okay for a DM to give the PCs more freedom than that on their first go, I also think it's completely reasonable for a new DM to request that the PCs try and stick to the adventure at hand for the first few sessions so that the DM can get his feet wet. Few things are liable to kill a first-time DM's buzz like the PCs ignoring every attempt to hook them into participating in the adventure he's been jazzed about running (or even hopping off the "path" for a time).

See I think these thoughts apply to both new and old dms. I was running the Savage Tide AP and the opening premise is that a noble hires the pcs to get back her boat from a man who refused to let her have it. She claims to the players that she paid the taxes but the man lied and stated she never did. One of the players decides he doesn't believe her and does some digging before accepting her job offer. Everything points to her telling the truth but he decides it isn't conclusive enough to be fact and declines her offer, meanwhile attempting to gain acceptance into the elite guard of one of the cities nicer districts... This is a point where as a DM I had to kind of go, what are you doing? The adventure is that way, and everyone else is going with it... In the end I made it work and got things back on track, but it wasn't easy nor was it fun as it almost felt like he was intentionally snubbing his nose at the adventure. Honestly this would intimidate me as a new dm and can intimidate me a little after years of playing.


Stewart Perkins wrote:
See I think these thoughts apply to both new and old dms. I was running the Savage Tide AP and the opening premise is that a noble hires the pcs to get back her boat from a man who refused to let her have it. She claims to the players that she paid the taxes but the man lied and stated she never did. One of the players decides he doesn't believe her and does some digging before accepting her job offer. Everything points to her telling the truth but he decides it isn't conclusive enough to be fact and declines her offer, meanwhile attempting to gain acceptance into the elite guard of one of the cities nicer districts... This is a point where as a DM I had to kind of go, what are you doing? The adventure is that way, and everyone else is going with it... In the end I made it work and got things back on track, but it wasn't easy nor was it fun as it almost felt like he was intentionally snubbing his nose at the adventure. Honestly this would intimidate me as a new dm and can intimidate me a little after years of playing.

That's actually one of the reasons I brought it up - I know that when this happens to me, or another DM that I'm playing a game with, despite all our experience with the game it can still make us feel uncomfortable, or caught off-guard. I can only imagine how intimidating this must be to someone who has never encountered a problem like this before. The real kicker is that (in my experience) it often comes from players who are new to the game (and more likely to be playing with a DM who is also new to the game), and haven't yet grasped the concept of meeting the DM halfway in a team-based environment, and thus are very interested in doing their own thing and showing off how unique their character is. While playing up your character shouldn't be discouraged, I think there are plenty of ways to do it that don't put the flow of the game in danger.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

Certainly when I've seen stuff about adventures (like adventure paths) being railroady, the poster is sometimes being a bit hardline about it. All published adventures are railroady, they expect you to go from A to B to C - or at least from A to C and likely via B. Some DMs are comfortable just running with what the PCs want but they are very rare, and anyway most players secretly want to be railroaded - they want direction or often they get bored. The trick (as is often said) is to railroad without being obvious about it - provide decent motivations to get the layers to move betwen the sections. To some extent, this is where the WotC modules lack, because the links to move from section to section (and module to module) are a bit weak, and therefore need work. That's a two-way street with the players to some extent, because the PCs need decent backgrounds to have motivations in the first place.


Scott Betts wrote:
Matthew Koelbl wrote:
I definitely understand where you are coming from, Scott, but I'd really discourage trying to convince a new DM that railroading players into a pre-written plot is where they should start from. Use the pre-written adventure as a tool, but don't let it remove the player's ability to influence the game in the process.
Ideally a given published adventure will allow the PCs some ability to influence the game and its plot without leaving the DM floating abandoned outside the confines of the adventure. While I think it's certainly okay for a DM to give the PCs more freedom than that on their first go, I also think it's completely reasonable for a new DM to request that the PCs try and stick to the adventure at hand for the first few sessions so that the DM can get his feet wet. Few things are liable to kill a first-time DM's buzz like the PCs ignoring every attempt to hook them into participating in the adventure he's been jazzed about running (or even hopping off the "path" for a time).

I certainly know what you're saying about a DM wanting to see the PCs play out 'his story', and not wanting to deal with the difficulty of having to adjust to something unexpected.

But... a player who is new to the game and doesn't realize that they are supposed to follow a pre-written script isn't the enemy. I think that portraying the desire for independant action as acting out, as "playing up your character"... it's a bit off base. I'm not talking about the player who wants his bard to dominate every conversation or force the game to follow his own personal desires. I'm talking about the players who have a reasonable idea to bluff their way past the guards, but get shut down because the adventure only lists one way to get past - via combat.

There are a lot of accusations about 4E being 'videogamey' and the like, usually based on comparisons to WoW and other games. I find those allegations complete nonsense. The only time I truly find a game to be videogamey is when the DM takes away choice, and forces them up against a plot-driven door.

Players that are looking for creative solutions are pretty much at the heart of the game, embracing the roleplaying a way that can be challenging for more experienced players who have become tied to the rules and the usual approach. I don't think the DM needs to give up their fun on behalf of the player, but I think there is plenty of room to keep the story intact while preserving player agency.

And honestly, it should not be about the DM telling a story for his friends, it should be about letting his friends play a game. Removing their control and forcing them to stick to the adventure as written is just a poor approach. I can understand it might be an easier one, but recommending it as the default for a new DM is just teaching bad habits. Sure, if you have a complete adventure on hand, you don't want them to walk off into the woods instead. But you also don't need them to only go through it on one single possible path, with no deviation encouraged or allowed.

I'm not saying a DM needs to cater to every player whim. I'm not saying they need to allow every player idea to work. But the DM should always be ready to consider the idea when the player presents it. And the DM should at least be willing to try to let the player's ideas and choices affect the game - even if you wrote out a cool combat, if the player's have a clever way to get past it, is it really more fun for them to have their plan automatically fail and get shunted into yet another combat anyway?

I don't think so.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

I hear you, Matthew. I think that what is being discussed is something different. I personally consider it bordering on rudeness for a player to effectively junk a scenario because they want to do something else. There are caveats to that, but by and large there is a requirement for the players to play along with the DM, especially if he has invested time in the adventure in question.

For example, consider the opening of AOW, which is basically outside the dungeon. A player could decide he isn't going down the dungeon and wants to explore something else. The adventure doesn't cater to that. It is obvious that what is down the hole is going to be better prepared and more fun than something the DM has to create on the spur of the moment. Some players, however, may decide to be difficult for fun, and use the "no railroading" line as an excuse.

That's not the same as looking for creative ways of getting round a situation, or indeed a player opening up an avenue in the game the DM hadn't necessarily considered, but which makes sense in the context of the game and the PCs. But basically refusing to play what a DM has to offer is destructive play, in my view.


Aubrey the Malformed wrote:

I hear you, Matthew. I think that what is being discussed is something different. I personally consider it bordering on rudeness for a player to effectively junk a scenario because they want to do something else. There are caveats to that, but by and large there is a requirement for the players to play along with the DM, especially if he has invested time in the adventure in question.

For example, consider the opening of AOW, which is basically outside the dungeon. A player could decide he isn't going down the dungeon and wants to explore something else. The adventure doesn't cater to that. It is obvious that what is down the hole is going to be better prepared and more fun than something the DM has to create on the spur of the moment. Some players, however, may decide to be difficult for fun, and use the "no railroading" line as an excuse.

That's not the same as looking for creative ways of getting round a situation, or indeed a player opening up an avenue in the game the DM hadn't necessarily considered, but which makes sense in the context of the game and the PCs. But basically refusing to play what a DM has to offer is destructive play, in my view.

Ok, yeah, it does sound like we're looking at two different scenarios here. And it is a tough question - what do you do when a player says they don't want to go into the dungeon?

Well, the real solution is really what Scott recommends - try to meet the player halfway, generally by saying, "What sort of motivation could we come up with that would encourage the character to go into the dungeon?" See if they can help come up with an answer, and go from there.

The problem is, where do you draw the line? What if the players come up with an alternate approach that bypasses one encounter - do you try to steer them (with their knowledge or not) back to that fight?

I think being willing to say Yes really should be the default to start with. That doesn't mean actually saying Yes to every hair-brained idea the PCs come up with, or strange side-trek they want to embark upon. But I think coming into it with that attitude, and a willingness to consider other approaches they come up with, will serve far better than committing to running everything absolutely by the book.

Because let's be honest - while "ideally a given published adventure will allow the PCs some ability to influence the game and its plot", it doesn't actually always do so. Especially with some of the WotC adventures, as much as I have enjoyed them - they often assume the PCs will operate in a specific fashion, and only account for that approach in the adventure itself.

It is easy to thus take that one approach as the only answer - even if other solutions would both make sense, and work without breaking the adventure. Being aware of that is really all I'm trying to recommend.


Matthew Koelbl wrote:


Ok, yeah, it does sound like we're looking at two different scenarios here. And it is a tough question - what do you do when a player says they don't want to go into the dungeon?

Well, the real solution is really what Scott recommends - try to meet the player halfway, generally by saying, "What sort of motivation could we come up with that would encourage the character to go into the dungeon?" See if they can help come up with an answer, and go from there.

The problem is, where do you draw the line? What if the players come up with an alternate approach that bypasses one encounter - do you try to steer them (with their knowledge or not) back to that fight?

I think being willing to say Yes really should be the default to start with. That doesn't mean actually saying Yes to every...

Hope you don't mind me interjecting here (it's a

good topic of conversation going on), but in the
case of the players at the dungeon, I would have
set up a scenario as to why to give them a reason
for being there in the first place, either by
narration or even a quick RP session to flesh out
the scenario.
If a player comes up with an alternate approach that
bypasses one encounter, excellent for the player.
You're working against them, but you should be cheering
for them on the inside. Clever ideas mean they're at
least thinking about your game, and thats a good sign imo.
As far as steering em back into the fight, you could do
that if they have no idea, since it's really about the
illusion of choice/players freedom that really matters to me.
Or you could just whip up a whole different encounter if you
can swing it. I don't think any idea is really bad as long
as you maintain that illusion for them that their actions have
impact (whether they do or don't). If they've bought into that, then
you're golden. Of course I don't mean just constantly railroad
them and make them think they're being clever, but if they manage
to sidestep an encounter, reward their effort, then maybe reschedule
that encounter for another time, changing up the pace or monsters
or something. It's more work, but I've found that when I roll with
the players actions, but still maintain control of the world, I can
get them most of the time on track.


Matthew Koelbl wrote:
Scott Betts wrote:
Matthew Koelbl wrote:
I definitely understand where you are coming from, Scott, but I'd really discourage trying to convince a new DM that railroading players into a pre-written plot is where they should start from. Use the pre-written adventure as a tool, but don't let it remove the player's ability to influence the game in the process.
Ideally a given published adventure will allow the PCs some ability to influence the game and its plot without leaving the DM floating abandoned outside the confines of the adventure. While I think it's certainly okay for a DM to give the PCs more freedom than that on their first go, I also think it's completely reasonable for a new DM to request that the PCs try and stick to the adventure at hand for the first few sessions so that the DM can get his feet wet. Few things are liable to kill a first-time DM's buzz like the PCs ignoring every attempt to hook them into participating in the adventure he's been jazzed about running (or even hopping off the "path" for a time).

I certainly know what you're saying about a DM wanting to see the PCs play out 'his story', and not wanting to deal with the difficulty of having to adjust to something unexpected.

But... a player who is new to the game and doesn't realize that they are supposed to follow a pre-written script isn't the enemy. I think that portraying the desire for independant action as acting out, as "playing up your character"... it's a bit off base. I'm not talking about the player who wants his bard to dominate every conversation or force the game to follow his own personal desires. I'm talking about the players who have a reasonable idea to bluff their way past the guards, but get shut down because the adventure only lists one way to get past - via combat.

Yeah, I definitely get this, and as a player it's a tempting choice when you see the opportunity. I'm not trying to make the player look like the enemy - wanting to play up your character's cool is a very natural desire that doesn't go away with experience, and a brand new player can't be expected to anticipate how his idea will alter the flow of the game. But I know this is a concern that some first-time DMs have when running their game. I can't help but wonder if there's a good set of guidelines floating a round for this sort of thing. A "Managing the Rails" series of articles would make a good addition to Dungeon magazine, I think.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Matthew Koelbl wrote:
what do you do when a player says they don't want to go into the dungeon?

"See you next week."

If it happens again, he's gone. Seriously. I've got a 5 other players at the table and a waiting list of people who want to get into my campaign, I don't need to cater to some guy who wants to hijack the game to stroke his ego.

In all honesty, this almost never happens, though. Players learn pretty quick that the dungeon is where the fun happens. It's only the really juvenile ones who want to go off on their own all the time. Also, my usual group puts a lot effort into creating a good, cohesive group right from the outset. They invest themselves into the plot, rather than wait for the plot to invest itself in them. Those are the players you want. Anyone else, you can boot. There are always players looking for a DM, very seldom do you find a DM looking for players.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Scott Betts wrote:
I can't help but wonder if there's a good set of guidelines floating a round for this sort of thing. A "Managing the Rails" series of articles would make a good addition to Dungeon magazine, I think.

1. Acknowledge that there are going to be rails. Tell your group up front, "This campaign is going to be about..." and inform them that you expect them to make appropriate characters. You can be more polite about it, too. Asking, "Hey, how do you guys feel about playing a military themed campaign about fighting off a goblinoid invasion?" will probably get people's creative juices running. It'll also help people design their characters - now a player can come back with: "Yeah, and I joined the army after my dad was killed by a one-eyed hobgoblin shaman." Now you've got a great enemy to use for the game.

2. Group Character Creation. Design your characters as a group, before you begin the campaign. I like to take a whole evening for this, or run a half-session of character design and then let people go home and work out the details. The idea is, the group sits around and brainstorms their character ideas, they work out the general aspects of their backgrounds. They write shared backgrounds for their characters (we're from the same town, we're cousins, we served in the same unit during the War). Every character should be connected to at least one or two other characters right from the start. As the DM, you can take an active role in this by asking questions and giving advice. "Was is a one-eyed hobgoblin shaman that killed your father? OK, and so maybe your father is also this other character's mentor. Wow, that fits together really well." Some players will fight you on group character creation, saying that it's not worth it to show up if they aren't actually going to play D&D. I typically insist, because it's so important for the rest of the campaign.

3. Really brief questionnaires. Some DMs use questionnaires, others don't. I prefer to use really brief ones, like so:
Name of PC
1-2 sentence background of PC
2 positive relationships with other PCs
1 Tension with another PC he has no relationship with
1 Friendly NPC (1 sentence)
1 enemy/rival NPC (1 sentence)
1 Locality the PC is related to
(optional) If someone was going to make a movie from this campaign, who would they cast to play your character?

I find that if you keep it short like this, people are much more willing to participate. Also, having them fill these out during the group character creation works really well, because they're already sitting around the table brainstorming.

Anyone want to add to this list?


Roleplaying Tips has done several articles over the years on Player Surveys. You can search their archive for specific themed issues or look at the weekly tips that are suggested and added to the end of issues.

Here is one themed issue.

Player Surveys

Here is the general archive list.

Roleplaying Tips Archive


Paul Worthen wrote:

.

2. Group Character Creation. Design your characters as a group, before you begin the campaign. I like to take a whole evening for this, or run a half-session of character design and then let people go home and work out the details.

I do something very like this myself. I start the campaign before they have made any characters and do the opening scenes. In my next campaign with my major group (some time off as of yet) I plan to not only do the opening scene but then to follow that up with a scene of a meeting that will take place when the characters are around 6th level because I expect the campaign to take a major turn at that point transiting from a urban campaign about solving mysteries to a wilderness/dungeon campaign about tracking down and killing a big bad that has a plot to conquer the world.

The point is to give them something to work with when they make their characters and to realize up front that they have a specific goal and usually to set the stage with all the players basically knowing each other from the outset. This should avoid the problems with players wandering off to do their own thing from the outset though it does not deal with such issues cropping up later.


Being on rails doesn't mean they cannot make choices. Give the players opportunites to make choices, but they ultimately come to the same endpoint, perhaps with modifiers based upon the path they chose.

I am currently running a long term campaign that is has rails, but I feel as long as the players are given the motivation to continue the story and minor choices along the way it will still be fun. Typical players just want to feel that they are doing something that matters to their character (and some will even help by rationalizing why their characters are continuing), make them hate the BBEG and would want to defeat them.

If you do have a player who is determined to not do what you have planned for the evening and tries other things, make it quick, boring, gloss over what they want to do, "Ok, you get drunk and wake up the next day. Now what do you want to do?", or not possible to continue at this time, "You find a sign on the door, "Due to the plague, The Doubting Dragon will be closed until further notice".


Another thing you can do is follow the advice from Sly Flourish on the 5x5 Method of campaign design.

5x5 Method Podcast

Ideally, you set up five 'themes' or 'goals' related to each of the players. Some of the goals have connections to each other. The ideal is makes sure that each player has room in the campaign to shine and explore goals related to their needs.

The pattern is also good as players feel they have more room to explore and follow their objectives and yet see some benefit from mix and matching.

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