As a follow-up to my blog post last week, I thought it would be fun to give my second impressions on DMing in the new season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters. Be warned that there will be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t played this game yet (which I know is rare, since most places hold the Encounters sessions on Wednesdays). Don’t worry, this probably won’t be a regular weekly thing.
Last week, I had my first experience DMing, which was a bit rocky due to a couple of factors, mostly having to do with the fact that I didn’t have a chance to actually read the module before the game started. While the first time running a game can be a major learning experience, I found the second time to be equally teachable, if not more so.
The chief organizer of the game at my location has done a pretty good job of keeping the tables together, keeping the same players with the same DMs. This helps immensely, especially for the DMs as I figured out that particular players have distinct play styles and keeping them with the same DM makes it more likely that the DM will be able to accommodate such a play style. For example, I’ve got one kid at my table who likes to play rangers, but is also a pyromaniac and likes to use fire at every opportunity. So, I have to know what is in the area ahead of time, particularly what is flammable. I also have another kid at my table who I’ve figured out likes to take everything that is not nailed down if it will have a potential use later. So I have to know what can be taken and if it will pose any difficulty later. Knowing my players this way helps me to prepare much better, and as a result allowed the game to go much smoother.
As for the encounter last night itself, the way it was written was perfect, and I hope that Wizards of the Coast does more encounters of this style, although not all of them as that would get boring very quickly. To recap, this encounter picked up immediately where the previous one left off, with a dragon landing in the town square. The whole encounter was little more that an enormous boss fight. It helped things to go much smoother as there wasn’t as much role-playing to deal with, which is both good and bad, and many of the regular players seemed to like having a slightly simpler session for a change. It was also great using the same map, as the players already knew the area from the previous encounter and had fewer questions. I wouldn’t mind being able to reuse maps in other sessions when appropriate as it made things much easier.
Reading the session beforehand was a huge help, obviously. I read it twice to be sure I had all the details. This helped me get the characterization down and figure out some general mechanics and strategies beforehand, which again made things very quick and made me feel more confident in answering questions, particularly in the psuedo-surprise round that started the encounter as the players tried to figure out what was going on between the dragon and the Lost Heir, and knowing exactly what to tell the playsers. On the other hand, I couldn’t actually tell them all that much because they kept failing their skill checks, except for one player. So, ultimately the “surprise” round was wasted, but it was a nice touch. In fact, the encounter was written very well, with it being mostly a battle, but with a few details scattered around the encounter that were nice touches and gave it some flavor. I’ll admit that I tried to drop some extra hints during the encounter to my players without directly telling them what they would have found out from the skill checks. We’ll find out if they picked up on any of those hints or not. One of them did pick up on a hint that was specific to the encounter last night, that being that the dragon was being hypnotized by the Lost Heir during the start of the encounter.
On the whole, I feel that I learned about as much last night I did during the first session last week. I’m going to see how this holds up as I’m going to be DMing the entire season. The general rule from this point forward is to pay attention to my players and prepare ahead of time for their more unconventional questions and actions. That should add to everyone’s fun, including mine. I haven’t read beyond last night’s encounter in the module yet, so I doubt that the following sessions will be as simple as last night’s, so they are going to take some extra preparation.
As a cool bonus, my girlfriend got me some McDonald’s Happy Meal toys last year from “How to Train Your Dragon,” and I got to use the Nightfury/Toothless toy to represent the dragon on the map. The players and the other DMs seemed to really like the tongue-in-cheek nature of my miniature. I’ll have to think of some clever stuff to use in later sessions.