Monday, March 12, 2012

DM Aides: Ideas to Help Run Better Sessions

Have you ever DMed a session and come out of the session absolutely exhausted?  What was the reason for the exhaustion: players questioning every rule, monsters get beaten too easily, or just plain tired from having DMed so long?

For me it is neither of these.  I usually felt this way when I botched encounters, simply because I was overwhelmed with having to remember all sorts of conditions that players had applied to my monsters.

Forgetting conditions on other players was also one of my headaches.  My forgetting conditions such as these often ended what could have been some Epic fights in some sessions.  Whether it is in 3.5e or 4th, I often forgot what went where and how.

Since then, I have learned to organize myself (properly I think and hope), to be able to run session with some form of fluidity and accuracy, to prevent monsters from going down too easily and from forgetting to apply the conditions on the players, giving them a little worry during battles.

I will share with you, some of the tools that I have acquired along the way that have helped me keep myself organized, ready to act and play. Take what you will from it.  I love to share because so many have shared with me.

In 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, conditions are one of the major factors in outcome of an encounter.  For example, a solo monster, who relies on mobility to attack players is pretty much nullified if he is plauged with conditions of the movement category.  Sometimes we get many of these conditions placed upon one monster and without the proper management of the monster, some of these conditions can be forgotten, leading your monster to defeat before its time.

Here are some of the tools I use for my gameplay.

1. Toolbox:

You are looking at a D&D tackle box.  I bought this at Canadian Tire for 4 dollars. The plastic box gives me the flexibility to arrange my stuff the way I want it. If you look at this photo, you can see from left to right the elements of what I consider a good tool box.

The coloured rings on the left are my condition markers. I made them with pipe cleaners.  they are good in any situation.  I can place them on minis, or rest them atop the tokens I place on the map.

I also have my writing instruments: at least 3 pencils, a pencil sharpener and an eraser, as well as a pen for good measure. I also carry  many pieces of green and pink pieces of paper I use for initiative (see further down).

I carry tokens that I received from the D&D Encounters seasons.  They are very handy with some of the large creatures, and medium creatures of varying colour (good for multiple enemies), and a whole whack of minions.  I also carried special mini-counter markers that I received from Stuffer Shack's store.  They are fantastic if you use minis; it keeps you from mistaking similar monsters and their remaining hit points.

I carry this binder with everything I may need for any of my gaming groups.  In this binder I carry DCI membership cards, the pregenerated characters for the season and the adventure itself.  I also carry some blank/scrap pieces of paper to write on for my sessions.  Basically you can put anything you would need to being with you to the session.

This particular zip binder has a built in calculator which I like for XP calculation(especially with my 3.5e group.

2. Playing Space:

It is very straightforward.  I have a DM screen, a pad to roll my dice and room for  me to place some of the important paperwork I may need for the encounter.

I found something that seems to have really helped me a lot in helping me keep track of the monsters I am playing. I don't know if anyone else does this.

I love to stand up when I am DMing.  I am usually standing for the whole session and the clipboard allows me the freedom to walk around the table and help some of the players who are having difficulty during D&D Encounters session.

Standing up also prevents me from bending down to mark hp and conditions off as we go along.  It also afford me the luxury of not having to look over the DM screen to survey the battlefield.

3. Tabletop and Initiative

D&D Encounters provides the table with the maps for the whole season, but unfortunately they are a little flimsy.  I decided to get them laminated for my players.  I find this has a couple of positive spins: maps become durable and flexible and I can use non-permanent markers on them. It is very handy.

I also have an erasable battle map that I purchased at my FLGS.  Good for encounters that I do not have a map for.

I have tried many things for initiative, but I have found that my groups and I love this system(see photo above) the best.  It is extremely easy to setup and to manage.  I have in my toolbox two colours of paper; pink and green. I use the pink for the monsters and the green to write the PCs names.

The pieces I cut are the following dimension.  The pink pieces measure 5cm*11cm and the green pieces measure 4cm*11cm. I then proceed to write the name of the player or the monster on the opposite ends of the paper (see picture).  I then fold the piece of paper in half and hang it on the DM Screen.  A larger piece of paper with an arrow drawn on it pointing it in the direction of initiative.

Delaying and readying actions could not be easier; just move the card where you want to take your action.

Are there other things you would like to add to the list?  Would any of these ideas help you in the future?

Drop me a line.