Monday, April 22, 2013

Doing My Homework for DF - GM's lessons

Here are a quick few things I learned from running my DF game.

I've GMed for a long, long time, but my previous campaigns were wide-ranging, story-oriented, wilderness sandboxes. Loot came on a big scale when it came, the PCs got around on horses and by teleporting and by gates. I needed travel distances, availability of potions, wide-area encounters, and motivations and goals and knowledge for the NPCs. We didn't have a lot of bash-the-door, kill-the-monster, take-the-loot.

My current game is totally inverted, even if it's equally a combat-mad group of adventurers rampaging around. The different setting and different goals ("We must stop the evil wizard we accidentally unleashed on the world!" in the past vs. "Make a profit any way we can!" now) make for some different logistical issues as the GM.

Mostly, it's the same - "Do your homework." But different homework.

Know the Cost and Weight - loot is central to the game, and players are likely to regard almost anything as loot. So I need to note the cost and weight. "Mail shirt" isn't enough, it needs to be "Mail shirt, $150, 16 lbs.)" because I'm going to end up having to either look it up or let them look it up. Even if cost never matters, weight matters a lot right the hell now, and I need to know. I can either write it down, or make up a number that could be right or wrong and then stick with it. Yeah, just being right is easier, it just requires doing my homework. So I write it down whenever possible. Especially for things that change the price - magic and quality modifiers.

Know the HP and DR of obstacles - My players will break things that are in their way. Again, it's easier to just have it down on paper when they try. Doors I know, but I need to have an idea on non-standard obstacles like thinner walls, wooden barriers, etc. for when it comes up.

Put the monster stats in a statline. I use one like this. This saves a lot of time and means I only need to keep eyes on one sheet at a time, since the room description has the monster stats on it. Really crazy-detailed monsters can get flipped to in my monster stat binder, but mostly I don't want to have to.

WYSIWIG Weaponry - Especially for Fodder, if you're using minis or cardboard heroes, go WYSIWIG. He's got a sword and a shield?
That's what he's got all right. Make as few changes as possible. My players are more forgiving on armor ("they all have leather") because they know mini-makers don't always armor up all the stuff that would be armored. But weapons, I just use what the mini is holding. It's easier for everyone all around, and since I started doing this it's made for faster mini setup and faster combat.

If they ask too late, say no. - If they don't give me time to do my homework, or don't do it themselves, the answer is no. "Can I buy a suit of fine elven mail?" "Did you figure the cost and weight?" "No." "They don't have one." If you ask me a week out, even a day out, I'll figure it out. But don't make me spent a few minutes at the table doing it when we could be getting underway, because I won't. I'm not being pissy, I'm trying to keep the game fun. Figuring out gear cost and weight isn't group fun.

Now I'm not perfect on these - I'm still combing through statting up stuff I noted too poorly in the past ("a suit of light plate" - gee, that's helpful chief, how much does it cost and weigh?) but at least I know what my homework needs to be now.


  1. I think it's the failure to stress how important this is in most games that leads to the "I don't wanna track encumbrance and ammo..." whine that I hear so very often. Yes, it can be onerous, but it doesn't have to be impossible!

    1. It's not like I'm going to let my players haul off a suit of armor and not make it count against them. ;)

  2. This will be very useful to me, Peter. Thanks :-)

  3. I agree totally on cost and weight; I started out with that as the primary thing that absolutely, completely MUST be done, even more than monster stats.

    I need a better way to get my monsters all on the same page. Part of that is I'm running a module where you're writing your own notes, but I'm still flipping pages too much. I'll try the statline and see if it helps, or helps with some changes.

    How do you do "big boss monsters"? Or spellcasters? (I'm considering just not running spellcasters - do everything as innate attacks and powers.)

    Also, WYSIWYG is an interesting difference. Do you have the Basic Set weapon stats and ST table memorized, or something?

    1. Boss monsters will get their own full writeups, which I often print out and keep stapled together. For example, the Lord of the Maze in my Caves of Chaos got one. So do one or two others, including some spellcasters. I don't write out every spell, just the ones I think that matter. I'll spell out costs and effects if I need to know them.

      For the WYSIWIG weapons, yeah, pretty much, I have a lot memorized. But just as well I have orc stats that say "ST 13 (1/2-1)" so if they've got a sw+4 axe or a sw+1/thr+2 sword, it's simple enough - it's 2+3 for the axe guy and 1+2/2 for the sword guy. For weapons that vary I might stat them out and select for them.

      Orcs are a bad example, though, as I have an entire GW minis case full of only orcs, plus a few warboars and trolls. So it's not like I ever lack for enough with a given weapon. But being able to throw down some unusual ones ("Oooh, that guy's got a morninstar!") spices up otherwise drab fodder fights.

  4. I like the site and I enjoy reading your journals. Keep up the good work.

  5. Peter:
    I make my players be assistant GM's by requiring them to know how something affects another such as spell effects and things like that. We recently had a case of a player using an unusual spell that should have had a Will role to get a reduced affect instead of success/no success and we found out later. The newer player now knows that I will call them on the spell to know the effects of a spell and any de rolls effective for the spell.

    That makes it fun or all and eases the burden of memory on me. I have a good knowledge of the games and a number of cheat sheets that I use but can't have everything and this helps.

    1. That's a great method. I do this, too - I rely on my players to know what their spells do, know how their special attacks work (slam guy really knows the slam rules well), and so on. So guys can often ask Dryst's player about spells, Honus's player about slams, they know which guy knows the Turning rules really well, etc.

      I have a new guy playing for the first time this Sunday, so I'm going to assign a "rules buddy" to him so he's got a player remember things for him, so I don't need to. I highly approve of sharing out the work!


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