Dming first time.. Picked ROTL...

Rise of the Runelords

I'm not making a mistake running this as my first ever DM am I? I only have a few games under my belt... roughly 10-20 but there are never any DMs.

I know I'll be reading these forums for tips!

I am running this as my first AP I am onto hook mountain. I find its going really well. I find that it is quite forgiving for any mistakes that might be made and burnt offerings starts you with some quite 'gentle' encounters imo.

Its also great if your group is new as well.

Are your players also new? Do you have a good understanding of how long an Adventure Path campaign can take? How often will your gaming group meet? How many people are in it? A bit more information would help.

That being said, have you considered running something a bit smaller, like a scenario or module? You could run it a pre-RotRL adventure, both to help you get your feet wet with GMing and to help acclimate your group to your game-style and to each other.

I don't have any players yet. I just got the book.

My last group really sucked. I mean a level 3 wizard casting 5+ fireballs an encounter, THF using vorpal +5 swords and a sorcerer who had a DC of 30 on his charm spells.

I don't like games where 1 person can slaughter an entire encounter and that's how the GM ran it. He said "you can do whatever you want, whenever you want"

So I decided to DM myself.

I do have an idea how long it would take and we would be meeting weekly. I'm shooting for 4 people but can always do 3.

My advice:
(1) "NO" is your absolute best friend. Get accustomed to saying it to your players. Often.
(2) Any player whining that he's not at WBL (wealth by level) and thus cannot play effectively should be shot on sight. Yes, the player. Not the PC.
(3) Given (1) and (2), I'd strongly recommend telling your players that RotRL is a campaign written with the core rulebook in mind, so you're only allowing core classes, races, feats, equipment, etc. This massively mitigates the problem you describe with ludicrous, over-the-top-optimized characters running roughshod over your NPCs. (See "druid optimization" for reasons this isn't a 100% solution.) I really like a lot of things that the Advanced Player's Guide does, but introducing Summoners and Slumber Hex witches is not among them.

So more generally, your major issue with GM'ing is that you're going to have players who just want to tell the story (my favorite players), players who just want to get to the next fight (not as fun to GM, but OK, now you're in a tactical war game), and players whose sole goal is to treat the game as a mathematical challenge to create the single-most-overpowered PCs ever seen (the "optimizers", for lack of a better non-derogatory term). If all of your players are in the same category, life is great. If your players are a mix, all that player conflict is going to spill onto you.

It's *MUCH* easier as a newbie GM to limit their options, limit their power, and ensure that their PCs are at about the right power level for an encounter, rather than trying to adjust every encounter to meet their expectations as uber-optimizers. Rise of the Runelords is effective in giving out gold AFTER major dungeon crawls, so the dungeon crawls are actually difficult, dangerous, and dramatic. The GMs who complain how their players are stomping through are the ones who allow all books, all variants, and who treat WBL as a mandate from above.

It's really easy to downplay a goblin: If your characters are having trouble, give the goblin -2 to attack and damage and suddenly the fight evens out. As a GM, you've made the fight 'fair' without having to put any work into it. It's really hard to upplay a goblin to match many of the optimizations posted out there. (I personally love the wastelands barbarian with rich parents who starts the campaign with a masterwork breastplate and masterwork nodachi as exactly the kind of player I avoid like the plague.)
Players complain vehemently that, "It's in the rules, so I should be able to do it!" Then they whine that all of the encounters are too easy, so the AP is badly-written.

I have four players with 15-point builds and core classes (barbarian, bard, sorcerer, paladin). I've allowed two exotic races (drow, kitsune) because their backgrounds were very strong and they roleplay them beautifully. And don't abuse them. They don't optimize, they don't ask me for bizarre stuff, and yet about halfway through book 6 I've only killed 3 PCs (plus a Feeblemind), mainly because the non-optimized PCs have to focus on tactics rather than, "I kick in the front door and kill everything I see."

So there's my excessively-long post on dealing with players. I have to get back to work, but tonight I'll put in an excessively-long post on GM'ing.

3 people marked this as a favorite.

And here's my kinder, gentler notion of GM'ing.

After many, many years of trying to force the PCs to follow the path I'd chosen, I watched in wonder as my new GM spun a wondrous world where we could do anything we wanted to, and yet there was always a story to be told, and always something to do. And I realized that I had to take a fundamental paradigm shift in the way I GM'ed.

As a GM, you are the world. You are every person, place, and thing. You are every NPC ally and every vile enemy. And you are NOT STATIC. Everyone and everything in the world reacts to the PCs according to their own goals, desires, and motivations.

So there's another thread about a problem player who came to town and stabbed a Sandpoint guard in the eye for no good reason. The GM wondered what to do about it. It's not the GM's job to decide what to do about it. It's the GM's job to think, "How would all of the townspeople react to this?"

I sit back and I think. "If I were a civilian in a small town and some militant gang came in and started stabbing police officers, what would I do?" Then I work it in. At first, you have the news spread like wildfire. The townsfolk, being timid, avoid the PCs until help arrives. Sheriff Hemlock gets a dozen stout men to come with him to confront the PCs. Either they surrender the assailant, that player's PC is out of the game, and the rest of the players have to re-earn the trust of Sandpoint, or the party fights and they all end up being sent to Magnimar for trial. So much for the AP! You're running a homegrown campaign, or just hand-waving that those PCs are now imprisoned and it's time to roll up new ones.

And that's my great joy and satisfaction in GM'ing. When the group only partially completes a dungeon and then goes off somewhere to rest, I think about who's left in the dungeon. How would they react to finding some of their companions dead? Form a hunting party? Flee? Barricade themselves in and prepare for the next onslaught? And it depends on the NPCs. Goblins are not orcs are not ogres are not giants.

On the other hand, when the party does something fundamentally important to the town, they do not go unrewarded save things explicitly listed in the AP. Father Zantus gives them a few free healing spells a day. Maybe the grocery can sell stuff for reduced price. Nothing game-breaking, but things that let the PCs know that their efforts are appreciated.


When my group brought the impending assault on Sandpoint to the mayor's attention, she deputized them and gave them "loaner" weapons and armor they could use while within Sandpoint's boundaries.

It sounds like very little, but just having people show gratitude and act like real people instead of, "Yes, you just saved my life, and you are buying 1 week of rations. That will be exactly 3.5 gold pieces, please," goes a long way to providing realism to the world.

People you save are grateful, but compared to adventurers have almost no money. (Remember that a well-paid soldier may make 300 gold pieces in a YEAR, and a farmer less than 1/10th that!). So they give little gifts, kind words, and other non-game-changing stuff that allows the players to feel more immersed in the story, rather than pursuing the eternal, "Killed that, what's next?" mindset of so many gaming groups.

It's really hard to put into words how much this has fundamentally changed my gaming style and view on gaming. But now that I run a world instead of a path, I find the whole experience far richer and much more satisfying.

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Yeah what NobodysHome said. I'd also nix any evil alignments and make it a requirement that the majority of PC's be good aligned. This will help you drive the story a bit. Monetary rewards seem to be significantly less than WBL and agreed any player who touts that needs a smack down. I would also second 15 point buy and I limited it Core and APG which seemed to work ok (although I have now opened it up). My group is mostly optimizers with some RP folks. Although I'm an experienced player this is the first time GMing and I personally need to take a page from NobodysHome's second post there...

Oh, thanks heaps, Matthew!

NO EVIL ALIGNMENTS! At least as a new GM, and maybe never.

We've tried multiple times now. It's always ended up a disaster. Our first campaign had almost 50% of all PC deaths due to PvP issues. Council of Thieves had the PCs asking, "Why on Golarion would we help these feebs?" and quitting outright.

We're in Second Darkness with a mix of good and "vicious neutral just don't call me evil" players and we've already had one player quit because the "neutral" players were just too vile, and two more are talking about quitting. When some players just want to tell a cooperative story, and others want to describe in detail to the group exactly how badly they maim and torture the poor pickpocket they saw stealing from someone else, you've got group dynamic issues that are very hard to resolve. (As well as personal psychological issues with people so obsessed with fantasy torture, but I just won't go any farther down that lane.)

I've actually found RotRL to be above WBL once you get past the halfway point of Book 2. And you can make WBL in Book 1 if you're extremely careful, thorough, and ingenious.

I'm not sure there is any "great" module for a first time DM. Caution: I am ancient and have played D&D for a very long time but I'm new to pathfinder (having recently finished a homegrown 3.5 campaign) so I am not at all familiar with their modules. Having said that, I can give some advice about DMing and using RotRL.

First read the posts above, especially those from NobodysHome. You don't have to agree with everything written but you do need to think about each idea and have your own opinion about it. (Though I would in large part suggest those are pretty good starting points. No Evil PC's should be a universal rule. They are fatal to any kind of party cohesion.) Also there are other posts in the RotRL section about DM's working through challenges, read them also.

1b. Party cohesion is very important. Never separate the party should be another universal rule for players and DM's alike. Why? It's really dangerous - SEAL teams travel as a team for safety. And more importantly, it's a ticket to meta-game oblivion. It's very, very difficult to DM two groups simultaneously (even if one group has a membership of 1) and exponentially so for newbie DM's. Someone, maybe many someones, will get real bored, real fast.

Second and this is repeating some of Nobodys' points - make sure you and your players are on the same page in terms of expectations. If one player wants to roleplay how a shoanti barbarian would struggle in even the limited civilization of Sandpoint and the minmax twins are having a competition over who can do the most damage in a round between a half-drow sorceror whose dad was Asmodeus and a half-orc ranger with an orcish double-axe, somebody - most likely, you - is headed for unhappiness.

Third, Burnt Offerings is pretty straight-forward EXCEPT for right after the goblin fights. There is a lot of open-ended, explore the town content that the AP leaves to the DM to schedule in response to player actions. But if the players don't know what to do or aren't that interested in role-playing casual encounters in Sandpoint, there's a good chance someone is going to get bored. And in a majority of cases, whatever a player finds to do to alleviate his boredom will be bad for you. Try to have a couple ideas ready to keep the players focused on a new or old problem whenever you think there might be a lull. It doesn't matter if what they're doing is pointless or not in their best interest or off the original track, as long as they are working on solving a problem, you will be way better off. A party that has come to a complete stop is way harder to get going than it is to re-direct a party already in motion (if I can plagiarize Newton.)

Finally, ignore WBL and all that administrivia, at least until after Book 1 is finished. Give out the experience indicated in the AP including the story awards - but only if they actually did what is required. Everything else will take care of itself. Actually story awards are a good tool to get in your kit - in this AP, story awards are generally awarded when the players "do the right thing." Let them know they get XP for that and you might be surprised at how that helps keep players focused and out of the schmuck zone.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

And you could do a lot worse for yourself than to read NobodysHome's RotRL campaign journal. There's a lot of really good stuff in there. I've got some pretty good folks in my game, but his three are just awesome!

Which leads me to thinking...I really should get off my butt and do a writeup of everything I've done so far. I meant to start doing that once my game began but, well, laziness is an overpowering force. I'm pretty sure that's Krune's influence.

And since you don't have players yet, it's hard to say what you should do to interest them. Ideally, you'll have people that are motivated both by the usual carrots (gold, prestige, killing monsters) as well as motivated by wanting to know more about the story. Before you get too deep into the game, I'd ask them, straight up, what some of their most memorable gaming stories are. That'll give you some insight into what they really find entertaining. Do they love solving mysteries? Do they obsess over character optimization? Do they get into their character's head? Knowing those answers lets you tailor the game to their interests.

And, yes, no evils. I've run countless hours of games, and I still don't think evil characters work too well in games, let alone evil campaigns. Too many players take the Evil alignment as the DM Stamp of Approval to go murder and torture anyone or anything that gets in their way. Better to just remove that possibility.

Thanks guys. So much good information here! Glad I turned to you instead of just "winging" it.

Hi all! I'm chiming in as a noobish GM (running my first campaign, Second Darkness: Side note... don't make an SRD your first... TONS of extra work with the conversions!) and one of NobodysHome's players. One of the best things I can possibly recommend if you're GMing a new group is to do the "Pre-module" character meet session/s. These can be in person or written. The intro sessions that NobodysHome ran really gave the three of us PCs a handle on our characters' motivations and personalities before we had to start responding to the AP, so we really hit the ground running and had a few character connections as well. Sooo much better than the old "You all meet in a tavern... gonna randomly join up?" kind of thing! Additionally, you'll get to see how they respond to things in advance!

These sessions don't have to be long, they can even just be a matter of asking your players for character backgrounds and then weaving them together and sending them back. A little extra work on your part, but worth it IMO!

Expanding on GothBard's comment, and taking advantage of Misroi's shameless plug (the check's in the mail), here's how I started RotRL:

(1) I worked with each player to come up with a character concept that they wanted to play.

(2) I asked each player to give me a short background for their PC. It went from very elaborate (the bard described his childhood, his family, and his reasons for leaving) to very brief (I believe the gnome pyromancer's entire statement was, "I don't know! Make something up!!")

(3) I had two weeks, so I spent hours crafting background stories and scenarios for each PC and sent those out as e-mails. Those e-mails are posted almost verbatim in the aforementioned thread. The first six posts (Shiro 1-6) were all e-mails, as is Hi Ichiban's background. The seventh (Shiro/Raesh crossover) I let the two players roleplay their first meeting.

Once all that was set up, THEN I had a full session of them just arriving in Sandpoint.

It led to an awesome campaign, and I plan on never again relying on, "You all happen to be in the same tavern," trope.

One thing that's really helpful for tying PCs to Sandpoint is to use the Character Traits optional rule and force them to choose a Campaign Trait as one of their two traits. The RotRL-relevant traits are in the Anniversary Edition RotRL Player's Guide (available as a free PDF) and the Advanced Player's Guide (which are in the PRD. Just watch out, some of the APG ones relate to the post-Runelords situation in Sandpoint, so you may need to tweak them somewhat.)

Once the players pick their campaign trait, you can merge it with their character concept to determine why they're in Sandpoint at the start of the AP and possibly tweak some elements of the AP to mesh with that.

For example, the half-orc alchemist (preservationist) took Black Sheep: Bitter Nobleman but we modified it a bit and his background was he was from Magnimar and performed "discrete services" for various nobles in the city using his achemical concoctions. Because of his skill set, he was hired by Aldern Foxglove to assist him in capturing one of the "strange rats" in his manor's basement so Aldern's "wizard friend can study it". Of course, Aldern gets cold feet and decides to go to Sandpoint first and the alchemist got caught up in the Festival and Goblin Raid.

The human fighter took Favored Son: Tavern Owner with idea that he was a low-ranking son in a noble family from Magnimar who summered in Sandpoint and befriended Ameiko and Tsuto growing up.

Dark Archive

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I totally agree with Kalshane. The RotRLAE Campaign Traits are a great way to give the party a tie to Sandpoint. Before I started the game, I sent them both the original Player's Guide as well as the updated one, as both had elements that I really liked. The original one has a lot of introduction to Golarion, which isn't too surprising, as it was the jumping-on point for the entirety of their world. There's some details that got changed later on, but for broad strokes, it's pretty useful. It's also got a goodly amount on Sandpoint itself, which is one of the big reasons I recommend it. The updated one had more info on traits as well as a lot more on Varisia itself, and also has the advantage of being written after several other successful APs. They have the format down at this point, and as a result, the guide is much more focused.

Taking these actually helps you determine what stories your players want to hear. Someone took Family Ties? Sounds like the Sczarni are going to be more involved. Is someone a Student of Faith? Then there should be some plots going on at the Sandpoint Cathedral. (Which reminds me, I've neglected that in my game. Hmmmm...) Someone took Giant Slayer? Then you should probably write up an encounter during Local Heroes for them to fight low-CR giants. (Ogrekin come to mind.) Your players might not come out and say what they want to do, but their choices will speak volumes!

Yes, and yes. Good player backgrounds and the player's guide are great ideas. I would mention though that the AP provides a great alternative to the tavern. The players don't meet at the bar - they meet at a Festival! All you need to do is give them a reason to be in Sandpoint, mix with goblins and Voila! Instant Party.

Another idea: have the players take their starting gold and buy their initial supplies from the various vendors and shops in town.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Path / Rise of the Runelords / Dming first time.. Picked ROTL... All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Rise of the Runelords