How to DM the new D&D

Elsewhere on this site Iíve gone into general Gamemastering tips and tricks that donít really concentrate on any one game system. And thatís great, but thereís something else. This site is for the new D&D game, and Iíve discovered some helpful hints that apply directly to this new amazing game engine and the style of play it brings out.


TREASURE & AWARDS. In the new D&D, many things are different from itís predecessors, specifically how the game runs at the table. Not the least is the careful monitoring that WotC puts into balancing their treasure awarding techniques. Second is the more rapid pace that advancement in levels comes. My advice? Let them come.


> Experience. Characters will gain in levels faster than before. This is okay for most of us. You no longer need to Ďfearí 13th level characters. This is not second edition! The game is balanced on all levels, and the higher levels are just like the lower ones with the exception of more toys and abilities to use. Monsters are made to challenge characters of all levels now, so donít worry about that part. Second, they did this for a reason. They know, as well as we all do, that many campaigns (for a variety of real-world complications) seldom last beyond 6-8 months. Looking at your time table, you can finally play the high powered, balanced characters within that time instead of having two dozen ended campaigns over the past 10 years with characters left off at 4th level or so!


> Magic Items. Every few character levels, consult the DMG NPC charts detailing all the classes from levels 1-20 and the treasure a typical NPC would have at that level compared to your players. Maybe itís time to lay off a bit of the toys. Maybe you need to tack on a few more. Playing in a low magic world is fine and dandy, but remember what happens to the challenge ratings when setting encounters. If your PCís are 10th level but you have a low-magic world, a monster with a CR 10 assumes more magic than youíre giving...carefully weigh these odds! Playing in a higher magic world is okay now, the villain NPCís and monsters have tons of cool things to challenge nearly any character power level. Consult independent D&D published adventures carefully, matching the reward with the challenge if need be.


>Purchasing & Creating. And again, unless you are on a low magic world, help the players explore all of the game. A huge part of the new D&D is the just damn cool way players can upgrade, purchase, and create their own magic items. Depriving them of this is taking away a whole segment that makes the new game so cool, and it all works (especially if you see how it leads to more quests and creative storytelling, not running it like a dime store). Itís very neat to have a 15th level ranger with 8,000,000 gold pieces, but that wonít do him a world of good against the pit fiend armada! And the many item creation feats and game mechanics make creation as much a part of the game as combats and roleplaying for many players.


TRUST THE SYSTEM. The new D&D was written very well. Better than some give it credit for. House rules do not become it. Now, before you scroll down, listen: I mean the house rules that mess with the mechanics for comfort instead of functionality. In other words, changing the rules without thought can cause a trickle of effects that are nothing but problems.


> Good Example. You decide that to stabilize after falling into negative hit points you want the roll to be a Con check against DC 10 instead of the base 10% because you play a much more heroic game. Thatís fine.


>Bad Example. Altering the classes in radical ways without compensation is bad. If you strip a paladin of his mount, give him something else. If you decide that rogues canít use their Search to detect magical traps, give them a little something else to make up for it. Adding perpetual home-made classes, spells and feats instead of slightly altering the ones provided for your campaign is dangerous. The game encourages you to make up your own stuff and customize it, but it also asks you to stay within a framework of rules and spirit without adding and subtracting stuff willy-nilly. Turn on your common sense. Thereís a reason nearly every rule home brewed on the web doesnít work very well :-)


>Prestige Classes (or when not to trust the system). Donít ever let a player write up his own prestige class. :-) I have good players. Nay, very good players. It doesnít matter. They will accidentally write the prestige class in a dangerous way: itís got everything they exactly want at every level. It wonít be focused enough. Unless you are very confident I suggest sticking with trusted sources (at the moment only WotC, Monte Cook, Mongoose Publishing and Alderac Entertainment come to mind) and let the players suck it up. Any prestige class that you read and say ďthe character would be totally stupid NOT to take itĒ then itís probably too good to be true.


WIZARDS OF THE COAST. Trust and have faith in them to do one thing: not make stuff thatíll break your game. WotC game sources can be trusted if used as intended and written (after errata is released, naturally ;-) ).


P.S. If youíre one of those folks who just have to complain about the big monolithic corporation thing, get over it already. Remember that itís really just a tiny department of the guys we all know and like (you know who I mean) making this stuff, not some CEO at Hasbro.


STYLE, NOT RULES. Hereís some basic advice on running things in the new D&D that doesnít directly apply to rules.


> Speed. Keep in mind that your games will run faster. Prepare a little extra more! The new D&D plays nearly 10 times faster than itís predecessors. We sometimes finish in a night what would have taken us 3-4 sessions in the bloated engine 2nd edition had become. Be ready for that! This is a bonus in many ways. If time is a factor (and isnít it usually) then a 3-hour session is perfectly acceptable, and 8-hour sessions can play out whole epics!


> Role-Play. The new D&D has an initial feel of being rules-heavy, bringing out much of the dungeon-crawling style we used to love in the old days as opposed to the ďforced rule roleplayingĒ of second edition. You might even be tempted into a style of power gaming, choosing numbers over character faithfulness. If you look carefully however, you will see that it caters to both styles better than ever before. Sure, WotC says ďback to the dungeonĒ and they do a magnificent job of giving us trusted dungeon crawling fun! But you need only turn to adventures from Kenzer & Company in their Kalamar line to see how utterly well the new D&D caters to the heavy roleplayer in all of us too. With more open rules, you have more freedom and clean slates to create your type of character and campaign...use these tools, embrace them!


IN CLOSING. ďDonít fear the psionic barbarian wraithĒ. This comes about from a monthly lunch with a local group of roleplayers I had recently where I touted the coolness of a combat I ran where the players fought a...well...a psionic barbarian wraith! I realized if I had said that back Ďin the dayí, folks would have thought I was one of those bizarro DMís who allowed illithid bards and giant eagle assassins. Bizarro only because you knew that back then the rules were being tossed to the four winds with nothing as sacred. But now you can do it. You have the freedom to create like never before. Enjoy it!!


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