The DM's Guide to DMing

I found this cool 2D map designer tool called Dungeon Draft that I believe to be a more robust system than Dungeon Scrawl (for those who have dabbled in that program). Check out a video of their current capabilities:

This system does cost $20 though, unlike Dungeon Scrawl which is free.

fenomas wrote:

Hi, has anyone hereabouts DMed Tomb of Annihilation?

If so, any thoughts/advice/etc? I'm running the first session of it this weekend.

Many people recommend using "Cellar of Death" on DM's Guild as your introductory adventure.

I ran it for a group starting at level five, so we skipped a lot of the intro "filler" quests.

Like most (all?) Wizards of the Coast campaigns, it contains a whole lot of material that is meant as a "setting book" to inspire your own adventures, but which can be kind of overwhelming; only around level five does the "real" campaign start. As usual, I think you've got to be really thoughtful at low levels about picking which hooks you want to offer for the overwhelming number of (admittedly mostly filler) sidequests then, at the appropriate level, put up big blinking signs pointing them towards the "real" campaign. (You need to play down the "ticking time bomb" aspect, or always make the players feel like they're making some progress towards finding the source of the death curse, or the players will get very frustrated.)

Personally, I made a little flowchart of a couple of logical paths leading to "THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO GO TO START THE REAL CAMPAIGN." This might drive open world style DMs/players nuts, but, most players prefer having a couple of obvious hooks to follow. It wasn't a total railroad; they basically had a couple clear paths, all of which eventually lead to telling them where to go for chapter 3.

I don't know if you've ever done a hex crawl; but, some people love them, and some find them incredibly tedious. I quickly found me and my group were in the latter camp. You might want to consider handwaving travel away, just putting in a couple of preset "random" encounters between destinations, if your group isn't into it. The "Tomb of Annihilation Companion" by Sean McGovern of Power Score RPG was very inspirational to me; I used little of it directly, but it made me think of alternatives to just doing a bunch of dice rolling over and over.

Running Chapter 3 (and 4, which it blends with a bit), where the "real" campaign begins, might have been my favorite running of D&D ever. It's very cleverly written, and I have a million pieces of advice on it, but I won't get ahead of myself. I ran the antagonists a little unconventionally, trying to make some of them sympathetic, which I feel lead to some very interesting roleplay navigating shifting alliances.

Chapter 5 is really something. You will probably find it overwhelming on initial read. Once you understand how it is structured into "areas," it's easier to follow, though. It feels more deadly than it is, and can be very stressful for players, so finding those places you can add comic relief is important.

If you think you might want to run the campaign into higher levels after finishing the book, look at DDAL07-09 through DDAL-14 on DM's Guild around the time you're getting into chapter 4. They offer a nice story arc you can start foreshadowing.

Great info, Beep.

If I ever run it, I will take all of that to heart and what you say jives with what I remember seeing in the videos I've watched on running the game.

If you're playing live (Ie., not online), and you have a 3D printer, I'm pretty sure Miguel Zavala (mz4250) has modeled most/all of the creatures/npcs that you can download and print.

-BEP

Thanks for the detailed answers Beep! In my case the players are a little sick of L1-2 characters so I'm planning to start directly in the base adventure at L3, and zip relatively quickly up to L5 as we ease in.

Will definitely pop back in here to ask if you have thoughts about this or that section of the adventure. I'm starting it out by-the-book, but in my last campaign (Strahd) I wound up wishing I'd gone off the map more, so will probably meander more as we settle in.

Incidentally I'm running it in roll20, and this will be the first time I work from an official purchased campaign module.

Eldon_of_Azure wrote:

I found this cool 2D map designer tool called Dungeon Draft that I believe to be a more robust system than Dungeon Scrawl (for those who have dabbled in that program). Check out a video of their current capabilities:

This system does cost $20 though, unlike Dungeon Scrawl which is free.

I’ve been using Dungeondraft for a few months, and it’s really growing on me. My maps might not be the most sophisticated things out there, but I can make something quickly that looks pretty good. Additionally, I can import the maps into my VTT (Foundry, but there is support for roll20 and others), and it sets up all the walls for dynamic lighting. Even if they require a few tweaks, it’s still a lot faster than doing it manually (like I was with maps I exported from CC3+).

fenomas wrote:

Thanks for the detailed answers Beep! In my case the players are a little sick of L1-2 characters so I'm planning to start directly in the base adventure at L3, and zip relatively quickly up to L5 as we ease in.

Will definitely pop back in here to ask if you have thoughts about this or that section of the adventure. I'm starting it out by-the-book, but in my last campaign (Strahd) I wound up wishing I'd gone off the map more, so will probably meander more as we settle in.

Hmm. For pacing reasons, once you enter chapter 3 (at about level 5 or 6), I think it's tough to return to the "open world" of chapters 1 & 2 (mostly balanced for around level 3-5). And the "open world" as written is meant to make travel fairly difficult. I think that'll become obvious as you read it, but it's something you'll want to think about.

In case it hasn't been mentioned, I was scrolling through the Shard Tabletop Kickstarter stretch goals and immediately recognized some art of one of our "local" artists at the $35k level.

-BEP

I don't know who you could possibly mean.

Technically though I'm making the tokens on Sven's commission. The fact that it's for the shard Kickstarter is entirely a coincidence

I will be doing searches on the google web machine thing, but would also like any input you guys have based on your experiences. I have a buddy who is not in the best health and loves RPGs. He's almost to the point where he can't leave his house, and isn't these days, anyway. He's a top-notch role-player and not real excited about combat. He'd be fine with an 8-hour D&D session where not a weapon was drawn.

What I would like to do for him is run a game with just him as a player and me as the DM. Since combat isn't his thing, a mystery-type game would be the best. To be clear, he's not against combat, he just prefers the RP side of things.

I thought an old module I had back in 1st Edition, "The Needle", was like this, but looking back, I was wrong. I know there was one that was a mystery for 1 player that I ran way back in the day, but I can't think of it.

The module doesn't _have_ to be just for one character, but 3 would probably be the max. I could run an NPC and I can always modify the social/combat encounters to work with fewer characters if I have to.

Oh, and "The Assassin's Knot" isn't available. When I started up this D&D group back in 2008(?), I inserted TAK into it so it's better to not use that again. It was one of my favorites back in '83/'84.

Me making up a 1-shot (or more) is also out of the question, because I suck at that.

If you have any suggestions on a module that fits the bill, please let me know. I don't care what system, as long as it's fantasy. Probably not WH 40k Fantasy, though, unless it's convertible to D&D on the fly.

-BEP

Hey, bepnewt, maybe check out Ironsworn?

It's not a premade adventure, but a game system. You can check out the PDF for free, which is a nice.

It's kind of a fantasy-norse sort of setting but most importantly it's designed to support solo or co-operative play as well as a traditional GM/player setup. I suspect it would really sing one-on-one, and support someone who is more into getting into character and inventing details about the world. There's a ton of tables to give you ideas for how things play out too. So it won't provide you with a story to run, but you also won't need that (there's tables for things like "what is the problem in this town we just arrived at?" that will provide your story).

By default there's combat and monsters in there, but as it's so much player-driven, you could just avoid that side of the world and focus more on mystery/character interaction.

The Essentials kit pack for d&d introduced some basic rules for solo characters with a sidekick Npc , and the adventure, dragon of icespire peak is written with the idea that you might want to run it that way. With the dndbeyond extension modules that makes up a whole 1-10 campaign.

There are also a bunch of modules on the DMs guild that offer one DM/one player adventures. I'll look some out when I'm up and awake!

Ah here's the one I was thinking of. First Blush is the first part of a three part campaign for one DM and one player. Might be worth a look.
And also Table For Two which is an anthology of 9 one-shot adventures for one on one games.

Has anyone played Waterdeep Heist? I've only read the intro summary, but it sounded like a RP-heavy story with lots of factions, each working at cross-purposes, and the player/s need to figure it all out. But I haven't actually played it or read the real materials.

I have played the first installment of Icespire Peak, and it was... okay? It ran like a very gentle introduction for first-timers - quest board in the town square, explicitly laid out "you will get 50gp if you escort dude A to place B" style quests, etc.

Yep that basically sums up Icespire Peak, it's very much organised like that throughout. Great for an introductory adventure to people new to the game but when I run it I feel the urge to spice things up a bit. It's simple enough that you can expand on it easily though, i've found.

I've not run Dragon Heist but by all accounts it's a bit of a mess (and not really involving a heist). It is very much an RP / faction heavy thing though. I feel like it needs a lot of work to fix a lot of its problems. The Alexandria has a great write up on merging the various 'seasons' into one much more interesting adventure, but it's a fair bit of work.

In remixing Dragon Heist, I have three primary goals.

First, I want to make it a HEIST. Or, more accurately, multiple heists.

Second, I want to eliminate the original “pick a villain” gimmick and instead restructure the campaign to feature ALL OF THE VILLAINS. The goal is to get all of the factions interested in the Vault competing with each other, and then thrust the PCs into the middle of that situation, bouncing around and causing all kinds of chaos.

Third, we’ll be doing a general FIX-UP JOB. This will include an attempt to clean up the broken continuity in the published campaign and also an effort to make the campaign’s scenario structure more robust (by applying the Three Clue Rule, for example).

I meant to mention I am already running Icespire about once a month, and he is part of that group. I agree it would be a good module for it, although it really is sorta combat heavy. I watched Bob's videos on the early encounters when I first bought the Essentials Kit, and listened to the playthrough he did (partially) with his wife as a solo player where they used a sidekick. It worked well for them. I have my thoughts on Icespire as a whole, but I don't want wander too far off subject here.

I'll peep at the Ironsworn. It sounds interesting even if there isn't anything premade for me to run.

After I posted, I started searching and that led me to the First Blush you mentioned above, Pix. I bought it and read through it. It seemed like a good into to D&D in a 1-on-1 setting, but lacked the meat of a RP-ready adventure. I acknowledge that the RP part of a game is on me, the DM, but I really need a decent foundation to start with or I'm doomed to fail.

I'll check out the Table for Two at lunch or after work.

And now comes the part where I feel stupid, in a double-shot way.

Firstly: I bought Dragon Heist quite a while ago and have never cracked it. I will read that write-up linked above on modifying it. A political intrigue game is EXACTLY the kind of stuff he likes, especially if there's some sneaking around involved.

Secondly: How could I not think of this: GWJ Collaborative Fantasy Town? There's enough fleshed out to have a lot of RP backstory right at my fingertips; I would just need to get some sort of "main quest" story going in there. Or even find a on-on-one premade and base it in our town. The First Blush would work starting in there and the way Duane plays, the module part of it may never even happen as he tangents off in some random direction.

Thanks a bunch folks, I really appreciate all of your ideas. I can get started on something, now!

-BEP

bepnewt wrote:

...
Secondly: How could I not think of this: GWJ Collaborative Fantasy Town? There's enough fleshed out to have a lot of RP backstory right at my fingertips; I would just need to get some sort of "main quest" story going in there. Or even find a on-on-one premade and base it in our town. The First Blush would work starting in there and the way Duane plays, the module part of it may never even happen as he tangents off in some random direction.
...

One of the collabators put some history in there about issues with a neighboring town. That could be the overarching story I use. The problem is he (who will play a rogue) will want to infiltrate that town. I'd have to have another fleshed out town by the time he does that. Or find a module that is a town-based game and just use that town.

-BEP

I ran Waterdeep Heist and I and my players loved it, but it's better to think of it as more of a sandbox than a distinct series of events in an adventure. It is RP-heavy, but I found the adventure really sung when I just used it as a framework, and improvised things to let my players have more agency. A lot of the faction stuff was pretty boring, so we just dropped almost all of it, and threw in more hijinks with some of the major NPCs in the game instead. Wouldn't have enjoyed it vaguely as much without the customization, but I think it's the kind of framework of adventure an experienced DM can do a lot with.

I chatted with my buddy who is currently running 6 games a week (as a paid DM) on Shard Tabletop. He just finished one group in Heist and is currently running another through. He has built some of the adventure in Shard and offered to share his book (module) with me.

I took a "smoke break" ( I don't smoke) and looked back on some of the Collaborative Town we are working on. The town is barely populated (compared to the number of buildings) and there's already a lot to use there. What a great group we have on this forum.

I'm leaning towards Heist at the moment but do need to read/skim it to be sure.

-BEP

I recently discovered Tiled for making hex maps. I’d heard of it before for creating tilemaps for game dev, but I hadn’t thought to try it for tabletop maps. I like it more than Hex Kit or Hexographer/Worldographer. The only downside is you need to provide your own tiles.

Hi so , quick question to anyone that's run/played/read my Song of the Mountain adventure - I'm pondering writing a follow up to it under my own steam but i'm not sure which threads to follow.

(I have one idea which is to build a small three part campaign based on one small plot thread, which would be focused on Cosmic Horror, but that's more of a parallel thing rather than an actual sequel using the same characters).

As for a direct follow up - i'm curious to know what people would prefer, is there one of the follow up plot threads provided of more interest than another? Or is there some direction your players specifically would like to have followed up on?

I read through a bit of Heist and also read some of the mods written about on The Alexandrian (thanks, Pix) and concluded I would not be able to run Heist for my buddy. It's just too big and there is too much going on for me to remember, even with the changes suggested on the Alexandrian site.

Buuuuut, I like the _idea_ of Heist, especially if there is a way for the "party" (my buddy) to end up as the one with the loot at the end. So...

... I am going to try to do the same kind of thing that is in Heist but in our collaborative Freeport town instead. It won't need to be a real deep plot so hopefully I can make something work with my pet rock level imagination. Right now, I'm thinking about making it revolve around The Starlight Tavern that I penned. The plot will revolve around folklore that Indigo Chamberlain left some of his money buried somewhere in town before he left and some kid recently found a clue to it. The kid wasn't aware of the rumor so didn't keep it to themself and now the whole town knows about the clue.

Now, I need to come up with a couple things:
- Does the money exist? If so, where?
- Who else is seriously looking for it?
- What is the clue? What are the subsequent clues?
- Does anyone in town know more than the rest of the people in regards to the clues/money?

I have a start! Thanks for getting this guy's melon throwing sparks, folks.

-BEP