Archive for May, 2009

Tips For Running One-Shot Games

May 11, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons is a game meant to be played week by week over a long period of time. Sometimes, however, we just want to play some quick D&D with some friends. Maybe we have a group that only gets together once every couple of months. Maybe our regular group could use a side-track for a night or two. Maybe two of your five players aren’t able to show up next time and you don’t want to play your main story without them.

All of this leads to the one-shot game, a game with some pre-generated characters and a one-night adventure.

The Newbie DM recently discussed his challenges running a Paragon-tier one-shot game. Having recently ran my own level 26th pre-gen game, I too saw the difficulties in running a high level game with pre-generated one-shot characters. Today we’ll discuss some tips for making these one-shot games better.

Use Low Level One-Shot Games for New Players

If you have more than one new player at your table, consider running a lower level – even level one – one-shot game instead of a higher level game. As a DM, you may want to experiment at the higher tiers and some of your experienced players may want this as well, but new players will have a hard enough time understanding the mechanics of 4th edition without having to learn about paragon paths, epic destinies, and dozens of powers and feats. The level of your one-shot game should be proportional to the experience level of your players.

Use Known Character Classes for One-Shot Games

Again, playing those new character classes in the Players Handbook 2 may seem like a great way to use a one-shot game, but probably not at higher levels. A good experienced player may be able to understand the mechanics of a higher-level Avenger but only of they took the time to read it through before they show up at the table.

If you’re a DM generating characters for your players, avoid complicated character classes that will not be well understood. Stick to the core classes from the Players Handbook for players who will be seeing their characters for the first time at the table. If a player is interested in running one of the new character types, tell them they can either run that class by building the character themselves or play one of the core classes if they’d rather not.

Select Simple Feats and Powers

If you’re generating pre-gen characters for your players, stick to the most basic and direct powers and feats. Always-on feats like weapon focus, weapon specialization, weapon training, and feats that boost defenses are much easier to manage than feats that require thought to use effectively. Complicated powers may offer some truly outstanding effects at the table but only if well understood. For pre-gen characters, stick to direct and powerful powers that are easy to understand.

Use the Dungeon Delve

The Dungeon Delve sourcebook is quickly becoming my favorite 4th Edition sourcebooks. It has some excellent one-shot adventures that will fill two to four hours and already have the detailed encounter designs needed to run such an adventure. Each of these micro-adventures work very well for one-shot games and, with their extensive use of D&D Dungeon Tiles, they’re easy to set up and run.

House Rule your Monsters

The easiest way to speed up a one-shot game and still make it challenging is to apply some house rules to your monsters. Currently I have three favorite house rules for speeding up combat at Paragon tier and above:

  1. Monsters have 75% of their published hitpoints.
  2. Monsters, including minions, deal +1/2 level in damage.
  3. Solo monsters have the following resistances: Stun removes one standard action; Daze removes one minor action.

These rules will speed up the battles, increase the threat to the players, and ensure that high-level solo monsters aren’t completely incapacitated by stuns and dazes.

Hopefully, with these simple rules, a good DM can build and run fun, fast, and exciting one-shot adventures at any level of D&D 4th Edition.

DM Tips, 1 May-8 May 2009

May 8, 2009

Below is the digest of this week’s Sly Flourish DM Tips published from the SlyFlourish Twitter feed. Follow today!

Have an old villain open an abyssal gate in the sewers of your PCs’ home town with Dungeon Delve 11. #dnd

Download glyphs and runes and sigils from the net as signatures for evil-doer letters and journals. #dnd

Ran Delve 11 with four 13th players using 3/4 hps and +1/2 level damage. Ran great! Fast, dangerous, fun. Don’t take OAs from rogues. #dnd

Betrayal, deception, and paranoia are great for one-shot adventures but can suck for full campaigns. #dnd

Use large 1″ graph paper sheets to pre-draw your battle maps. Great for transportation and quick play on detailed maps. #dnd

Don’t have all your players? Run a one-shot adventure that shows some history or lore or off-screen action. D&D;’s show, don’t tell. #dnd

When tracking hitpoints, add up damage from zero instead of subtracting from full. Adding up is far faster. #dnd

Did a player’s character die or become incapacitated? Let the player play one of the monsters and take out their anger on the party. #dnd

Combat going slow? Let people roll and tally damage before their turn and always let them know who is on deck. #dnd

Keep your old campaign notes, hand-outs, and printed pics from old adventures in file folders. You never know if they’ll come up again. #dnd

Store Dungeon Tiles by set in 1 gallon zip-lock bags with the little plastic zippers in a cardboard “bankers” box from Staples. #dnd

Cut and fold 3X5 cards horizontally for init cards and vertically for status effect cards. #dnd

Don’t take magic items away from players unless you’ve made it clear that you will be doing so – like artifacts. It makes them bitter. #dnd

Keep the background story light at the end of a session. Most folks are ready to go after the last fight. #dnd

Need a quick NPC? Think about a character in a movie you just saw. Use their background, mannerisms, and motivation. #dnd

I’m wrong. The Heroslaying ability of the Heroslayer Hydra eats marking tanks! All solos should be like this. #dnd

MM2 Heroslaying Hydra resist stun and daze, low hp, lots of attacks, still affected by unnerfed Hospitaler’s Blessing #dnd

Kalarel from Keep on the Shadowfell can make a great campaign-wide villain. Plan his level 1-30 story arc. #dnd

Dead or abandoned PCs can make great hooks for future adventures. #dnd

@mikemearls what do you think of the Brutal 4e house rules? Do you think they would totally unbalance the game?

Need ideas for breaking through a paragon party that resists 10 to nearly everything. Resists and surge-less healing are killing me. #dnd

Getting Ideas for D&D

May 4, 2009

In his excellent book, On Writing, Stephen King discusses the most common question he receives when he’s talking to his fans. “How do you get your ideas?” seems a common question given to many fictional writers. Neil Gaiman had one of the best responses: “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis”.

Of course, the real answer is “everywhere”. Creativity comes from every part of our lives, from the strange guy who sold us Starbursts at CVS to the smell of a collapsed and rotting tree.

Like authors, DMs can likewise get their ideas from everywhere. The world is a source of inspiration, all you have to do is recognize it.

That all sounds well and good, but how do you go about doing it? First, recognize it when you see it. Second, record it.

I always carry my trusted Moleskine notebook in my pocket along with my favorite fountain pen. Anytime inspiration strikes, whether it’s for a story or a Twitter DM Tip, I whip out the notebook and record it. Sometimes a song will stir up an idea or a scene for me. Sometimes I’ll remember a favorite scene in a movie. Writing these down and letting them jumble up in your head is how good creative works happen. It’s no different in D&D.

There’s another common understanding among authors. There are few truly original ideas but there’s lots of mashups. D&D is all about taking concepts found elsewhere and wiring them together. Take the story of “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” and set it in a cave you once visited under a resort in Bermuda. Take the main characters from “No Country For Old Men” as your NPCs and villains. My next adventure is going to be based on gangster-house slaughter in the TV show “Rome” and the bride’s bloodbath in House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill 1. Then I mix in just the right amount of Iggy Pop and Supertramp and I have something pretty unique.


Another good idea, if you use the Twyla Tharp campaign box, is to write ideas down on 3×5 notecards and throw them in the box. When it’s time to come up with your adventure or campaign thread, pull out the cards and start putting them together.

Start to think of your dungeon mastering the same way an artist thinks about his or her artwork. This is our medium. We’re part writers, part performance artists, and part battle strategists. We have to combine all of these talents into a single performance of storytelling and game management that others find entertaining. The more we consider the habits of artists, the more creative our games will be.

If you want to read two great non-D&D related books to get you in the right spirit of this, read Stephen King’s On Writing and Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit. Neither one has any direct relation to D&D, but both of them have extremely valuable tips to make your D&D game better.

DM Tips, 22-30 April

May 1, 2009

More DM Tips from the SlyFlourish Twitter feed!

Need a quick attack or defense score? Try level+4 for a base attack and level+14 for a base defense. Use + or – 2 to tailor it. #dnd

Very much liked the idea of chaining multiple short 3/3 skill challenges together into a large meta-challenge. Thanks @mikemearls #dnd

Skill challenges don’t always need to be big deals. Use three-step challenges for quick NPC discussions, traps, or in-battle action. #dnd

Take joy in the success of the characters. Take no sadness in the defeat of your monsters. #dnd

Change the default atk bonus on the front of the Character Builder sheet to your main at will. Makes your main bonus more accessible. #dnd

With each encounter ask yourself “how have I made the room interesting today?”. Walk through the battle in your head to prepare #dnd

@XeroSided Great idea on using cheaper metal tokens instead of minis! I’m surprised I missed this article. It’s great.

Want to play D&D; but only have time for a battle or two? Write a one-page dungeon and use the new DDM cards: #dnd

4e Tip: For quick fights try avg damage rather than dice. For scary swingy fun, max damage! Double damage on crits. #dnd

When using 3×5 cards for init, put the character name, not the player name, to keep people in character. For one-shots write both. #dnd

@Milambus Wow. http://www.hobbiesandgames…. is great! Good prices and I love the sort by price. #dnd

RT @tonym26: “I have found http://www.alterealitygames… to be great for minis, I’ve gotten some as low as 25 cents. (no relation) #dnd”

If you’re trying to buy individual minis, try Auggies: Good service and great prices. I am not affiliated with them. #dnd

The D&D; Character Builder quick-gen is a good way to whip up some default high-level characters. It seems to do a good job. #dnd

@mikemearls layered or phased skill challenges. More skill challenge templates. Quick combat without maps or minis. #dnd

Good use for minions: Aid Another (PHB pg 287). Standard action: basic atk vs AC10; on hit, +2 to allies next attack vs. this target. #dnd

Use the maps in the Dungeon Delve book for all sorts of encounters. Beyond everything else, the Delve is a great sample-map pack. #dnd

Here’s a nice but imperfect list of weapon names to name all of the weapons that you reward. Cool weapons have names. #dnd

Use a token for action points so people have something to throw at you when they want to spend it. Black poker chips perhaps. #dnd