In Anticipation of GenCon: Convention Tips 6 for Players, 6 for DMs

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 29, 2011

GenCon, the best four days in gaming, begins on Thursday. With less than a week to go before the annual gaming extravaganza we here at Dungeon’s Master have decided to re-run a few articles from our archive that we felt would appeal to all the gamers heading to Indianapolis next week. Between now and GenCon we’ll continue running new articles but we’ll also be sharing some relevant gems from our archives in anticipation of GenCon. Enjoy.

Originally published separately on February 22 and 23, 2010, and then again with a new introduction and commentary (which I strongly encourage you to check out) on December 26, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents:

6 D&D Convention Tips for Players

D&D is a complicated game. There are the general game rules, the specific rules that apply to player characters and then there’s your character himself. It can be tough just to keep all of that straight, especially if you’re just getting into D&D. After participating in the Spellstorm gaming convention this past weekend in Toronto, I’ve put together a list of things to keep in mind when you’re playing D&D. These tips are applicable to any D&D game, but even more so at a convention where you’re less likely to know all the people at your table.

1) Respect table space

Seven people shouldn’t have too much trouble sitting around a table (1 DM + 6 players). However, every player’s going to have his character sheet, power cards, dice, a pencil and RPGA cards at minimum in front of them. Add to that list a PHB, a beverage, condition markers for minis, and scrap paper for notes and table real estate is suddenly at a premium. Only keep things on the table that absolutely need to be there.

My rule of thumb is to put my PHB and PHB2 side-by-side on the table. Everything else I have out rests atop these books. Anything that doesn’t fit within these confines stays in my bag under the table. If everyone is mindful of their own space everyone should have ample room.

2) Know your PC

We’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again – know your character! Unless you’ve just made your character on the demo of character build at the convention or you’re using a pre-generated PC, there’s no excuse for being lost. You created this PC ahead of time. It’s your responsibility as a player to know what he’s capable of doing. If you don’t understand something, that’s fine. Before play starts ask the DM or one of the other players for guidance. But when the game begins you’re expected to know your character. If you have to look something up every time your turn comes around then you haven’t done your homework. You end up slowing down the entire table and it ruins the flow of the game.

I give brand new players a lot of latitude on this point, but if you’ve played before then you’re just being lazy and inconsiderate when you’re not prepared.

3) Be helpful, but not too helpful

If you need help, ask. Most gamers are very friendly and outgoing. They’re happy to clear up how a power works or what your options are in an unusual situation.

If you’re an experienced player it’s important to ask other players if they want or need your help before offering assistance. If you just assume they need help and keep telling them what’s what you pretty much end up playing their character for them. It also doesn’t give the struggling player a chance to learn whatever it is that he doesn’t understand. By jumping in too quickly or when your help isn’t wanted you run the risk of being the Gaming Jerk and no one wants to be that guy.

4) Act immediately

Most PCs have items or powers that allow them to take immediate actions or immediate reactions. As your PC gains levels you’ll get more and more immediate powers. Since these powers don’t happen on your turn it’s very important that you know what they are, what they do and what triggers them. When you’re ready to use an immediate action announce it to the table clearly and with confidence. Make sure the DM hears you and acknowledges your action before you do anything. If you hum and haw about taking an immediate action then the play will go on you’ll miss your chance. Alternatively if you just say you’re taking an immediate action and start rolling, the DM may ask you to stop, back up and roll again. If you rolled a 20 and are asked to re-roll it you’ll be disappointed with the new result 19 out of 20 times.

5) Plan ahead

Immediate actions aren’t the only reason to pay attention when it’s not your turn. By watching what the other players do you’ll be better prepared to act on your turn. Always try to have your actions ready so that when your turn comes up in the initiative order you can act quickly. State what you’re doing with your standard, move and minor actions before you do them. If you’re going to use an action point, make sure you say that too. When your turn’s over clearly let the table and the DM know.

Planning your actions becomes more important at higher levels. With more options available you need to know which ones you’re most likely going to use and not slow the game down while you flip though all of your cards on your turn. If you’re ready and act quickly on your turn, perhaps the other players will follow suit.

6) Roll your damage first

This applies mostly to controllers. If you’ve got a power that targets multiple creatures, roll the damage along with the first attack or even before the attack roll. This way as you roll to hit your enemies the DM can score the damage as you go. If you roll to attack six targets, hit four and then roll the damage, the DM has to go back at the end of your turn and score the damage. If he knows that each hit does 9 points of fire damage he can score it as you hit or miss your targets. The time saved will really add up over an adventure.

I don’t think any of these tips and reminders will come as a surprise to most experienced gamers, but it never hurts to get a refresher on the basics. If you found these tips helpful I’d also recommend you check out some of the other articles we’re written covering tip, tricks and reminders to speed up play and make your D&D experience more enjoyable.


6 D&D Convention Tips for DMs

Yesterday we shared 6 D&D Convention Tips for Players; today it’s the DMs turn. After running a few Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) adventures at the Spellstorm gaming convention this past weekend in Toronto, I’ve put together a list of things to keep in mind when you’re the DM. These tips are applicable to any D&D game, but even more so at a convention.

1) Expect the unexpected

Just because you’re playing an LFR adventure doesn’t mean that the PC will do exactly what the text expects them to do. In fact, the best games usually deviate from the script a little bit. As the DM you have to be ready and know how to handle the unexpected.

For example, in a game I ran this past weekend the PCs needed use a secret passage to enter a warehouse. The only way to access it was through a narrow alley. At the mouth of the alley Halflings playing dice games were paid to keep out uninvited guests. The adventure assumed the PCs would fight the Halflings, and then proceed down the alleyway. However, the PCs learned who had access to the secret entrance and disguised themselves as these people The Halflings had no reason to stop them because the PCs didn’t raise suspicion. Creative thinking allowed the PCs to avoid combat. When combat broke out inside the warehouse I had two of the curious Halflings join the fight after a few rounds, but by then the PCs had things well in hand.

2) Bloody hell

The DM runs everyone who’s not a PC. During combat this is usually a lot of creatures. So sometimes the DM forgets to tell the PCs that one or two of the monsters are bloodied. It’s an understandable oversight, but it needs to be corrected. There are a lot of powers that react differently against bloodied and non-bloodied opponents. PCs will often decide who to attack next based on who looks the healthiest or the most hurt. So DMs, pay attention to those bloodied values (printed clearly in the monster’s stat block) and let the players know who’s down to half health. If you use minis, make sure you mark them accordingly.

Although players are generally much better at denoting when they are bloodied, they do forget from time-to-time. So this reminder applies everyone, DMs and players alike.

3) Don’t forget the details

Most monsters have attacks that are more than just straight-up damage. Whether it’s fire, necrotic, poison or some other damage type be sure to tell the PCs which type of damage just ate away 16 hit points. Many PCs have resistances and may not actually take the full damage. But if you forget to mention that it’s a cold attack they won’t know that their cloak of survival should have softened that last blow by 5.

If the monsters have auras or any other defense or power that the PCs would automatically recognize, be sure to mention it. Don’t wait until they’re standing next to the monster before revealing that it actually has a fire aura 2 and PCs entering this aura take damage and are dazed. If the PC knows about an aura they may decide to attack from range rather than charge in.

4) Give up initiative

When you’re reading the adventure (before the convention) pre-roll initiatives for all the monsters. Even if you don’t expect the PCs to participate in a particular fight, roll it up anyway. It’s an easy thing to do ahead of time and it’s one less thing to do when you’re completely immersed in the game at the Con.

I rarely track initiative myself when I’m the DM. I ask if one of the players will do it for me. I have enough to worry about and handing off initiative lets me focus on all those other things. There’s always one player who is happy to take on the job. When I’m a player I always volunteer to track initiative.

Regardless of who’s tracking initiative, that person should give an “on deck” notice to the next person in the order. This will help keep the game moving.

5) Watch the clock

Most games at a convention are limited to a set time slot. As the DM it’s your job to make sure you give the PCs ample opportunity to complete the adventure. If the game is running slower than you expect and you’re worried about time I’ve come up with two ways to keep things on track.

The easiest way to speed things up during a skill challenge is to determine a challenge breaker (as we discussed in Skill Challenges and Rewarding XP). A challenge breaker is any player action that, if successful, would logically end the challenge immediately. So just because the adventure says that the PCs need 8 successes, I’ll often give the party full XP if the role-playing supports the successful completion of a skill challenge with fewer successful checks.

The easiest way to gain time during combat is knowing when to Call the Fight. When the combat become a war of attrition then it’s time to call it and let the PCs move on.

6) Let the PCs be heroic

This is a mixture of the “say yes” philosophy and the “rule of cool.” If the PC want to try something that’s a little outside of the rules and it makes sense for their character and makes sense for the moment, then I say let them try it.

For example, in a game I ran this past weekend the PCs were fighting on a rooftop. If they fell off they’d take 4d10 falling damage. Needless to say, one of the monsters had a push attack. Two PCs were pushed to the edge but made saves to catch the ledge. The Dwarven Fighter saved and remained on his feet. Next round same thing, two PCs were hit but made their saves to catch the ledge. And again the Dwarf remained on his feet. Third round a PC finally (and unfortunately) failed his save. The Dwarf in the square next to him stood his ground and remained standing. The quick thinking player running the Dwarf asked if he could use his action point to grab his ally as an immediate reaction and catch him before he fell off the roof. I allowed it. Made sense given the circumstances. The next round the pusher was defeated and the combat played out.

Just like the tips for players in yesterday’s article, I’m sure the points I make above are nothing new to most DMs. Some of them may be more relevant during convention play than at a home game, but they’re all good reminders.

If you found these tips helpful I’d also recommend you check out some of the other articles we’re written covering tip, tricks and reminders to improve the way you DM your game.

What other tips should DMs keep in mind when running games at a convention or at the FLGS? Please share your thoughts and ideas. Being a better DM makes everyone’s experience better and more enjoyable.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Skip W July 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Hope to see you guys this year, so I can run another Legendary Encounter.

I dont have the module yet, but I have been promised epic style combats.
-Skip
-Because I can.

2 Ameron July 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm

@Skip W
I’ll be at GenCon again this year and will make a point of saying hello. Assuming I get to play at your table at least once, I’ll be happy if you DM a game that was half as fun as the one from last year. I’m glad you don’t pull punches. We expect nothing less than your best and the monsters’ worst. We still talk about the game you ran us through last year. So much fun!

3 Lahrs July 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm

This will be our first time going to GenCon (wife and self), and I am bouncing off the walls because I am so excited. Not just for going to GenCon, but this will our first vacation without the child in eight years. Thank goodness for grandmas.

As for your tips, pretty standard fare. but player tip #6 is something we have never done at our tables, yet it makes so much sense. Sometimes the obvious flies right over my head.

Unfortunately, Wizards dropped the ball in my opinion. Not only will we have to leave Wednesday to make it to Indianapolis on time meaning we miss the final week of encounters, but we will also miss Game Day. Tons of nice promos and the majority of vets will be gone. It is going to be fairly anemic at our store. Oh well, too much to look forward to to remain sad. (that was a lot of to’s)

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