Greatest Hits 2010: Convention Tips 6 for Players, 6 for DMs

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 26, 2010

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2010. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

When we were deciding which articles would make the cut and be included as our Greatest Hits of 2010 I kept coming back to the 6 Convention Tips for Players and DMs. After rereading them and I realized two important things.

1) Although the lists were inspired by things I witnessed (or regrettably didn’t witness) at a convention last year, most of these tips are applicable at any D&D game.

2) These tips are just as relevant today as they were when we first published them 10 months ago.

Upon making these realizations I knew that I had to include them in our Greatest Hits. But rather than run them as two separate articles I felt they’d pack more of a punch if they were combined into a single Greatest Hits article.

No matter how long you’ve played D&D or how many times you’ve been the DM there’s always room for improvement. Whether you’re playing a public game at your FLGS like LFR or D&D Encounters, or you’re playing a private game at your dining room table, be mindful of the things I’ve mentioned in the article below. If we all follow these simple rules games will run smoother and things will be better all around.

Playing with a tight-knit and experienced group in my regular weekly home game, we adhere to most of these points. However, I have noticed a couple of these things as big issues when I’ve played D&D Encounters on Wednesdays. Specifically #2) know your PC, and #5) plan ahead.

I realize that most of us are still getting used to D&D Essentials so there is going to be a learning curve on how the powers work. But if you’ve created your own character before the game started then it’s your responsibility to learn what all of the powers do and how to use them. Come on people, the PCs are only level 2 you don’t even have that many powers.

After playing a marathon session just this past Wednesday at D&D Encounters I’m also getting really frustrated by players that just don’t pay attention. First they have no idea when they’re going to act in the initiative (even though they always go after the same person). When their turn comes up they haven’t given any thought to which power they’re going to use. When it’s your turn, if you can’t decide what to do in 5-10 seconds then your default action should be basic attack or double move.

Take a look at our 6 tips for players and 6 tips for DMs and let us know of any other tips that you’ve found helpful at your table in the comment below. By sharing these pointers we all work together to make the D&D experiences a better one.

From February 22, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents:
6 D&D Convention Tips for Players

From February 23, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents:
6 D&D Convention Tips for DMs

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

  2. 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.

  3. Know your PC

  4. 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.

  5. Be helpful, but not too helpful

  6. 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.

  7. Act immediately

  8. 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.

  9. Plan ahead

  10. 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.

  11. Roll your damage first

  12. 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.

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

  2. 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.

  3. Bloody hell

  4. 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.

  5. Don’t forget the details

  6. 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.

  7. Give up initiative

  8. 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.

  9. Watch the clock

  10. 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.

  11. Let the PCs be heroic

  12. 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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