Suggestions for a new guy (3.5)

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Me and a group of friends have recently taken up D&D and we're not very experienced yet. We've been switching form DM to DM and we'd like to do more. I'm looking to start my own campaign to take back the throne of a corrupt king and kill some dragons along the way. So any general tips on how to setup the story to describing the setting etc. would be helpful. Thank you!
Me and a group of friends have recently taken up D&D and we're not very experienced yet. We've been switching form DM to DM and we'd like to do more. I'm looking to start my own campaign to take back the throne of a corrupt king and kill some dragons along the way. So any general tips on how to setup the story to describing the setting etc. would be helpful. Thank you!

Bring your players onboard with the creation, not just as players, but as authors of the game they want to play. Engage them in conversation and get everyone on the same page with what the game is going to be about and focus on. They can and should help create the "story," because then they'll be less likely to want to go off and do something else, and will be better able to assist with your improvising if they do anyway.

Spellcasters are very imbalanced in 3.5. Watch out for that, and be prepared to discuss with your players how to handle that inevitable issue.

Welcome aboard and good luck.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Me and a group of friends have recently taken up D&D and we're not very experienced yet. We've been switching form DM to DM and we'd like to do more. I'm looking to start my own campaign to take back the throne of a corrupt king and kill some dragons along the way. So any general tips on how to setup the story to describing the setting etc. would be helpful. Thank you!

Bring your players onboard with the creation, not just as players, but as authors of the game they want to play. Engage them in conversation and get everyone on the same page with what the game is going to be about and focus on. They can and should help create the "story," because then they'll be less likely to want to go off and do something else, and will be better able to assist with your improvising if they do anyway.

Spellcasters are very imbalanced in 3.5. Watch out for that, and be prepared to discuss with your players how to handle that inevitable issue.

Welcome aboard and good luck.

Spellcasters have been a headache trying  to understand. A lot of elements within the game are just like learning another language. Knowing when and when not to perform the various "checks" especially.
Spellcasters have been a headache trying  to understand. A lot of elements within the game are just like learning another language. Knowing when and when not to perform the various "checks" especially.

There will be some of that with any edition, though I found 3.5 to be the worst culprit. Try not to focus on getting the game "right." Trying to follow every rule will bog you down and is definitely not a guarantee of fun. Don't try to figuring things out during play. Start small and simple and handwave stuff early on, and then check to see the actual rule after the game.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

My advice: 

As DM, preparation makes or breaks a game. Plan out your campaign ahead of time, but don't be afraid to adjust to accomodate your player's whimsies. The setting doesn't need to be overly detailed (or else you risk boring your players). Start your campaign with low-CR opponents, of course. Agents of the corrupt king could be harassing the town where your players live, for example. Having heard of the PC's exploits, other communities (human and demi-human) that are being bullied by the king's allies might call for their aid. Perhaps the king is a lich or half-fiend. The players might discover ("along the way") that the corrupt king can only be defeated with certain magical items that are being guarded by dragons.

Make sure you have enough encounters prepared before each game. Since you're not using a module, NPCs should be statted up and maps sketched out ahead of time. Don't worry about "imbalanced" spellcasters. New players generally don't know how to max out cleric and druid PCs anyhow. And, don't sweat the details. If you can't figure out where to find a rule, make one up. Just use common sense, be fair, and be consistent.

Learning to DM a fun game is a rewarding experience. Good luck!

As DM, preparation makes or breaks a game. Plan out your campaign ahead of time, but don't be afraid to adjust to accomodate your player's whimsies.

Agreed. Preparation doesn't have to mean writing things down, or creating anything. Just having heads full of fun ideas and enough trust at the table to be able to suggest them counts as preparation.

Make sure you have enough encounters prepared before each game. Since you're not using a module, NPCs should be statted up and maps sketched out ahead of time.

For this reason, try focus on creatures that don't need to be "built up" individually. In 3.5, an "orc" was basically useless until it had class levels applied, which is tedious. But there are plenty of monsters that work as-is.

You might work up a couple of "all-purpose" creatures that you can reflavor as whatever the PCs are facing.

Don't worry about "imbalanced" spellcasters. New players generally don't know how to max out cleric and druid PCs anyhow.

Who said anything about maxed out spellcasters? Or specifically about clerics and druids? Low-level wizards and sorcerers are vulnerable and can burn through their allotment of spells quickly. Edit: High-level wizards and sorcerers are invulnerable and have essentially limitless spells. There's a sweet spot, but who wants to be stuck there?

  And, don't sweat the details. If you can't figure out where to find a rule, make one up. Just use common sense, be fair, and be consistent.

Err on the side of the players.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Everything Centauri said is great.

As well, check out my signature for link that will help. Pay particular attention to "Prep Tips" which is specifically aimed at newer DMs.

Good luck, and if you have any specific questions about DMing, ask away. 

My advice: 

As DM, preparation makes or breaks a game. Plan out your campaign ahead of time, but don't be afraid to adjust to accomodate your player's whimsies. The setting doesn't need to be overly detailed (or else you risk boring your players). Start your campaign with low-CR opponents, of course. Agents of the corrupt king could be harassing the town where your players live, for example. Having heard of the PC's exploits, other communities (human and demi-human) that are being bullied by the king's allies might call for their aid. Perhaps the king is a lich or half-fiend. The players might discover ("along the way") that the corrupt king can only be defeated with certain magical items that are being guarded by dragons.

Make sure you have enough encounters prepared before each game. Since you're not using a module, NPCs should be statted up and maps sketched out ahead of time. Don't worry about "imbalanced" spellcasters. New players generally don't know how to max out cleric and druid PCs anyhow. And, don't sweat the details. If you can't figure out where to find a rule, make one up. Just use common sense, be fair, and be consistent.

Learning to DM a fun game is a rewarding experience. Good luck!




I disagree.  The problem with preparation - any preparation - is that one of two things WILL happen as a result of players deviating from your prep:

1) you will guide them back onto "the rails" of what you prepared.  If there is player buy-in then this is not a problem, but not all players will buy in all the time.
2) your prep work will get thrown out and you will end up improvising anyway

My current philosophy on prep is:

#1 I make sure I know what has happened in the past, so plot holes do not show up.  It is rare that my players see them but they do happen.

#2 I do not prepare anything more than one session in advance.  That way I can use what was done in the past and where the party left off as a guide.

#3 any encounters I generate ahead of time are generic enough that I can drop them in anywhere I feel it is appropriate and sometimes that means they are not used in the session I prepared them for.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
I disagree.  The problem with preparation - any preparation - is that one of two things WILL happen as a result of players deviating from your prep:

1) you will guide them back onto "the rails" of what you prepared.  If there is player buy-in then this is not a problem, but not all players will buy in all the time.
2) your prep work will get thrown out and you will end up improvising anyway

Prep never needs to be thrown away, and having done it is probably good practice for future improvisation. I agree that number 1 is a problem, though. But as long as a DM enjoys prep for its own sake and is willing to walk away from it when necessary, it's not a bad thing.

#3 any encounters I generate ahead of time are generic enough that I can drop them in anywhere I feel it is appropriate and sometimes that means they are not used in the session I prepared them for.

This is definitely good. Focus on prep that can be used a lot of different ways.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Thank you all for the helpful tips! Hopefully I'll be able to put them to good use. 
My advice is to remember that whatever the players walk in on, is a scene in motion. There shouldn't be a feel of "10 goblins standing still in the distance. They see you. Initiative." Instead, if there are 10 goblins, there might be "two groups of 5 goblins. Each group has a shaman and 4 skirmishers. They seem to have worked together to kill a White Stag, however they are fighting over the spoils."

Let the players make choices. Maybe they want to work with one group over the other, and ask for a share of the hides "for helping you" then make the hides valuable when taken to a merchant. Maybe they want to play one group against the other to beat both groups and take it all. Maybe they want to make it out safely. Perhaps one group is happy about this, not wanting humans involved in their affairs while the other group wants to kill or conscript the party.


Maybe when you need 2 ogres, you have 2 ogres searching the wreckage of an airship? The point is, prepare encounters not as "enemies to beat" but as "situations which are happening". Over the course of your session, you can ask your players what they liked, didn't like and what they want to do next game. If none of them "know", then ask them "Should I make a cave behind a waterfall nearby, or throw in a group of slavers for you to bring down? Maybe you want to contact the king to ask for an official title for your good work in the land, or fight a local dragon?" Give them some options, and if they like a few things, roll with it.

Great, the dragon is in the waterfall cave, and the king needs it defeated. When the players arrive, the Dragon has been terrorizing the countryside cattle because it awakened from a slumber and is hungry. If you were a big lizard who woke up after 300 years of sleeping, wouldn't you be hungry? The dragon might be unaware that humans have settled the lands. It might be a wise, friendly dragon who is willing to pay for food from its hoard. It might be willing to accompany you to town, "Hog tie me so when they see me they think me your prisoner and don't come attacking us."  Then when they present the dragon, the king might be torn between killing it out of fear and negotiating peace. The players could influence his decision.


There might also be dragon hunters from a foreign city that heard dragons are waking up, and wants to hunt them. Now, you have an ongoing story! Who are they, and why? Maybe a player has a background which allows a connection to be discovered? Who will the players help, a wise and friendly dragon - or brutish, thug dragon hunters?

With simple encounter ideas; one "threat", one "scene" it happens in. The secret is you don't need all the answers. You can discover them in game with your players! By using just raw elements of stories and designing situations, you give your players and yourself more freedom. Good luck!

Within; Without.

+1 to everything Centauri said.

Especially with relying on your players to help fill in the details of the game world - it's their game world, too, any amount of investment they feel in it will help build their suspension of disbelief and their role as fans of the setting and characters and game, and anything they can do to write their own ideas and characters into it can only work in your favor.

Anytime you find yourself or the party painted into a corner, it's alright to tell the players "I'm stuck, and can't think of what to do next.  Can you see a way out?"  Your players are creative and resourceful storytellers in their own right, and they're bound to think of a bunch of great ideas to get the game started back up again.

Improv is one of your most powerful tools - surprises you could not have prepared for happen all the time and there's nothing you can do to prepare specifically for all, or even most of them.  Specific preparation helps a little, but don't worry too much about planning every little detail out.  You can practice your improv skills (which is one of the best forms of preparation) by leaving occasional things in your early adventures blank, and filling in the details using only your imagination once the players get there (this is best done with room descriptions, monster descriptions, and that sort of thing.)  A small library of generic monster stat blocks on note cards can help out in this respect (for example, you can re-use the Orc stats as a skeleton to hang the description of a bewildering variety of monstrous humanoids onto - ape-men, cannibal hillbillies, human pirates, radioactive mutants, mutant cultists, or anything else you can imagine... and, there's no reason they have to be monstrous humanoids, either - which means you can get a LOT of mileage out of a collection of Orc statistics alone.)  So, when you need to improv a monster, simply grab an appropriate stat block from your stack of note cards, apply a good series of descriptions to what it looks like and how it behaves, and you are set to go!

3rd Edition D&D is a fairly complicated and fiddly set of game mechanics.  I don't think that gets any easier with later editions, either.  Fortunately, it's OK to make things up with the players' cooperation, and look specific rules up between game sessions.

You might already be aware of it, but if you are using 3.5E rules, Paizo has introduced a sort of revival of the spirit of that edition of D&D in the form of the Pathfinder RPG, using more or less the same basic D20 rule set.  How this can help you is that 1) their adventures, rule books, and so on are all still in print; 2) the rules are free online; 3) Pathfinder's writers attempted to balance the game a little better than default 3.5E, by generally strengthening the various classes and removing the more egregious examples of overpowered spellcasting... the results are mixed, but it might help take at least a little of the edge off of the default gulfs between spellcasters and non-spellcasters at the beginning and end of the range of levels; 4) Pathfinder has a "Beginner Box" boxed starter set with a simplified set of rules, a sample beginner adventure, some nice stand-up tokens, a set of dice, some very handy maps, and other goodies in it - this is equivalent to the excellent beginner/starter sets that Wizards of the Coast produced for 3.5E D&D, with the huge advantage that the Pathfinder "Beginner Box" is still in print.

Some general forum advice in case it ever comes up:  3.5E and 4E fans generally don't seem to get along, but please don't take the "Edition War" bait over which is better - the truth is, neither is necessarily better, just different.  4th Edition has many fantastic ideas, and even if you prefer 3.5E, there's a lot you can learn from 4E.  I've come to love the idea of 4th Edition's Minions, for example:  monsters that go down on the first hit rather than requiring all their hitpoints to be ground away... less record-keeping, faster combats, and it helps the PCs look like the heroes they should be when they cinematically open a can of Bruce Lee on the generic mooks.  More importantly, the advice you get from 4th Edition DMs here is almost always top-notch - I learn something new and useful every time I see a new thread here, and the best of it applies to any version of D&D, and much of that originated with experience gained from 4th Edition.  (If you can still find the 4th Edition "Red Box" starter set, it's worth the time and money as a new group to try that out, as well... at worst, it has components that can be used in any edition of D&D; at best, you might find you like it just as well or better than 3.5E so that it gets a lot of replay value; in between, you can get some great ideas from it in addition to some handy game accessories.)

Welcome to the forums and to D&D - have fun
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
Me and a group of friends have recently taken up D&D and we're not very experienced yet. We've been switching form DM to DM and we'd like to do more. I'm looking to start my own campaign to take back the throne of a corrupt king and kill some dragons along the way. So any general tips on how to setup the story to describing the setting etc. would be helpful. Thank you!

Don't make assumptions that the players will even WANT to take back the throne or go fight dragons. Instead, set up the world with someone complaining about the corrupt king and/or dragons, or the player characters being affected by the corrupt king and/or dragons.

The corrupt king may very well have some allies. The dragons may have some lesser monsters that bring the dragon tribute to spare them. The seemingly corrupt king may be trying to appease the dragon long enough for 'heroes to arise'.

And NEVER tell a player that his character can't succeed at something because you are afraid that it will change your story/plot/world/campaign/idea/expectations/self-image/etc. Don't punish a clever player for finding an easy solution. Cleverness can be interesting (hopefully not anti-climactic).

---
Magmaald is an awesome character name, btw. I'm currently embroiled in a Norse/Germanic/Viking campaign. Our characters are in a competition with one another for the hand of the princess and keep trying to accumulate the best boasts to bring back to the king... My character, Vangmimnar Odinsonn seems to be winning. He rode an elf-king into battle, won a battle against the elf-king's champion and defeated his two champions and their frost-horse while armed only with a bottle of mulled cider, slept on his throne and in the morning returned it to him, pulled a spear from the jaws of a fish, wrestled with two blizzards, defeated 100 orcs with his left hand, rode across a fjord on the shields of his enemies, traded a block of ice for a frost-giant's sword, drank from the mead-horn of a king and named his foster-brother even after feeding both his sons to a wolf, drank mead with the dead inside a burning mead-hall, single-handedly defeated 4 giants unarmed and naked and made two of them pay me tribute to be allowed to live to tell the tale of the deed... and the greatest boast of all... killed three dragons with one stone and all of these things were done in a single day...

Any of which would NOT have happened if the DM had stopped it by saying "Umm... there's no rule for that so you fail" or "I didn't think that you'd lock the zombies in the meadhall and burn it down" so the wood won't catch fire (no matter how many lanterns you throw at it, how many fire spells the wizard casts at it, no matter how many torches you use, no matter how much wood the ranger throws on the fire" or... the lake is too deep, your summoned creatire can't see because it's too dark and doesn't know what a spear looks like and even if he did, the bottom is muddy and the DC to find a small spear in such a big lack is 100 and I didn't think of your summoning spell, so the bet's off, the king won't part with his magic ring even if you win the bet even if it's probably the only way you'll be able to defeat the monster that I was saving for when you are higher level and I don't want you to get his treasure because then you'll be so rich you might not want to adventure and I don't want to deal with new characters just yet and there is NO WAY, the king is going to let you get on his back and play chicken against his two highest-level warriors while balanced on a block of ice, so the DC will be diplomacy 1000." Even the incident with the 4 giants, unarmed would have EPIC-FAILED if the DM had decided that the giants were suddenly too smart to walk out onto the ice or didn't speak common, or weren't smart enough to understand that they were being taunted by the naked warrior throwing his spear and shield aside and mooning them even as he walked closer and closer to the the thin ice (that they eventually drowned in; Vangmimnar's 'battle' with the king earned him a ring of water-walking so he wasn't actually as foolish as the other players thought.


So don't be afraid to let the players be awesome... it makes for better stories and more fun for everyone, including you. Life is hard enough for adventurers and their lives are dangerous enough... as a DM don't make it worse by feeling the need to fight them every step of the way... but don't make everything so easy that succeeding at these things were as simple as saying 'make it so'.. which would cheapen the victory.

In other words BE AWESOME and all will fall into place.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
So something I've been wondering about is what I should have for my npc's as far as stats and when to use their special abilities. I don't want to just rip open my book and copy down their stats. And I don't want to tear up their pc's with overpowered special abilities. If I'm goving out loot like weapons what's a decent stat boost that won't make my players to op. I'm having trouble balancing them and their enemies. Not to mention It's difficult to get them invested in graph paper maps and I could use some tips for immersion.
...Not to mention It's difficult to get them invested in graph paper maps and I could use some tips for immersion.





There is only so much you will be able to do on your own to immerse your players in your game world. 


You need the players' active help and willing suspension of disbelief to get you any further than that.


The players' imaginations must take over at some point, and do the work on an active, rather than passive, level.


If you can gain the players' buy-in to the game, setting, characters, and scene, their imaginations are more than capable of doing the heavy lifting from there, and can more than handle a cheap graph-paper map, a handful of dollar-store Green Army Men standing in for monsters, a movie featuring a man in a rubber monster suit, and more.


It's basically an extension of the writing priciple of "Show, Don't Tell":  give the players just enough clues to fire up their imaginations by invite them to put it together in their minds, rather than "tell" them by spelling everything out with expensive miniatures and Dwarven Forge dungeon maps and minimal descriptions that engage them on nothing more than the most passive level.  The players remember things they imagine clearly long after they'll remember what that fancy map or miniature looks like; for the purposes of immersion, I would trade thousands of dollars worth of miniatures and elaborate props for the players' active imaginations any day!



You'll get more mileage for your time and effort by simply encouraging the players to become active participants in setting the scene and using their imaginations, than you will without that buy-in, even with all the expensive, high-quality props in the world.  Ways that you can do this include:



  • Invite the players to participate in the world-building, scene-setting, descriptions, and so on.

  • Make things matter.

  • Don't present the players with battles, present them with situations.

  • Give them descriptions rather than conveniently designated stat blocks.


[spoiler Explanations and examples of these techniques]



  • Invite the players to participate in the world-building, scene-setting, descriptions, and so on:  It's one thing if you describe all the shopkeepers, for example... but quite another if the party's Fighter wants to visit a recurring NPC shopkeeper to buy a new sword, and you ask the Fighter's player to tell the group who the shopkeeper is, what the shop looks like, what the sword is like, and what the Fighter thinks about the shopkeeper... if the player is the one actively creating the details, those details are going to be much more vivid to the players those details matter to, than anything you spoon-feed to them....




  • Make things matter.  Players will pay attention to things that matter - things that matter to the character matter to the players, and things that matter to the players will bring them into the game.  Provide the players with meaningful choices, ensure that the PCs' actions have interesting reactions, and make sure that if they players roll dice that it is for a meaningful reason (as heroes, the characters should be able to do ordinary, every-day things easily, so don't have them roll dice for ordinary, every-day things or to kill ordinary, every-day things).




  • Don't present the players with battles, present them with situations:  you could present them with an Orc standing around patiently waiting in a 10'x10' room for the adventurers to open the door, throw dice at it until it dies, and then take its stuff... or, you could present them with an Orc that is doing something interesting in an interesting room, when the adventurers just happen to interrupt it... if the party walks onto a balcony over a dungeon room and sees an Orc with its back turned to them, taking notes on a parchment scroll while studying a stack of books bound in what looks like human skin, the players will be more likely to remember that Orc and that room (if for no other reason than because they had a chance to visualize the cool way they got to jump off the balcony and surprise the Orc with a bonus to defeating it in a fight....)  What happens is that, before it ever becomes a target for rolled dice, that monster and the room around it are information the players can use to make informed decisions, and that engages them on an active level beyond looking at their characters' combat stats and deciding which dice to roll:  "Is direct combat the best way to handle this situation?"  "How can I use the environment and the the circumstances to my advantage?"  "Do I have all the information I need, or do I need to research this more thoroughly, scout this out better, put the puzzle pieces together to understand the bigger picture?"




  • Give them descriptions rather than conveniently designated stat blocks:  you could have them walk into a room full of 8 Ghouls... or, you could have them walk into a room full of strangely mis-shapen people with translucent, maggoty white skin and beady black eyes, and gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, who are interrupted in the middle of a ghastly charnal feast, around a fancy dining table set with dismembered corpses, accompanied by music played on instruments crafted from human bones.  A neatly-drawn box containing a set number of "Ghouls" or "Orcs" or "Beholders" or "Wolves" or whatever just gives the players cheap fodder to throw dice at and forget while moving on to the next box, but a quick, vivid description of a nameless horror tends to get visceral, fight-or-flight reactions from players on the same instinctive, gut level that the characters should react at.  That alone is immersion on some level.  And, as described above, it also gets the players to think about what the clues they are seeing mean, how they can work to their advantage, and what the scene being described means in a bigger context, which is immersion on another level.


[/spoiler]

[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
So something I've been wondering about is what I should have for my npc's as far as stats and when to use their special abilities. I don't want to just rip open my book and copy down their stats. And I don't want to tear up their pc's with overpowered special abilities.

Then don't. Tear up their PCs' plans with overpowered special abilities.

 If I'm goving out loot like weapons what's a decent stat boost that won't make my players to op.

You cannot overpower non-spellcasters, and you cannot keep spellcasters from becoming overpowered.

 I'm having trouble balancing them and their enemies.

You always will, with 3.5. Forget about balance, and just make sure that both victory and failure are interesting.

Not to mention It's difficult to get them invested in graph paper maps and I could use some tips for immersion.

People are most engaged in things they help create. Bring the players into the creation of the game they're playing. Have a discussion about what everyone thinks is cool in fantasy and then use the ideas the players come up with. Don't make them ask if they can do the cool thing they want to do; explain to them that they definitely can do cool things, and they just need to tell you they're doing them. They will get more immersed fast.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

+1 to what Centauri said.

And, on top of that:


  • Be a fan of the PCs (and players should be a fan of the NPCs and the situations they find themselves in).

  • Make the rest of the group look good.

  • Don't "block" the rest of the group.

  • Don't "wimp", keep putting interesting cards on the table.

  • It's OK to fail, as long as you keep the story open, honest and interesting.



I think a lot of your "immersion" will follow simply from everyone at the table being willing to follow some of these basic rules of Improv storytelling:  immersion isn't something you put in a syringe and inject the rest of the group with or take them by the hand and drag them to, it's something you warmly invite them to actively participate in and share with each other as a team.

[spoiler Explanations and examples]


  • Be a fan of the PCs.  Be fans of the PCs' characters, far more so than a fan of your own game setting and NPCs.  That energy and enthusiasm tends to be contagious, and you'll also have a tendency to put characters you are a fan of into exciting, immersive situations.  Your job as DM begins and ends with providing interesting NPCs and situations for heroic PCs to riff off of, and the players' jobs are to provide interesting PCs and situations for each other and the DM to riff off of - it's hard to do that, if you aren't fans of each others' work.




  • Make them look good.  The job of everyone at the table, DM and player alike, is to share the spotlight (by taking that spotlight when it's your turn, and giving it up when your turn is over), and help the other members of the group look good.  When the PCs look good, the players care, and when the players care, they immerse themselves.  And, by playing a good supporting role to help other members of the group look good, you leave them open to help you look good - it all work out all the way around.  When everyone is looking good, they feel confident... when they feel confident, then they are willing to take risks, invest themselves, and buy into things they would never be willing to risk, invest, and buy into if they feel left out, insecure, and unappreciated.




  • Say "Yes, and...."  Don't block each other, by negating the offers made by other players (or the DM). Instead, make it a habit to say "Yes, and...."  Avoid saying "no", except to those things that block other members of the group (for example, by contradicting established fiction).  Saying "no" tends to bring the action to a grinding, out-of-game, unimmersive halt.  "Yes, and..." tends to put fuel on the fires of the imagination needed to support an immersive gaming experience. 


    • Compare "My PC is a close friend of the King!" with a response of "No, there is no King, and that would be over-powered anyway...", to "Yes, your PC is a close friend of the King... and the King has a drug addiction!", followed by the next player saying "Yes, and..."





  • Shoulder the responsibility of making interesting stuff happen.  Don't "wimp" by dropping that responsibility onto the players' (or DM's) shoulders, for example with open-ended questions like "who are you", "what are you doing", and so on - wimping tends to force members of the group to to step out of their immersion in the game experience to try to grasp for an interesting answer, which grinds everything to a halt, or fall back on convenient stereotype behavior which carries no immersion at all.  Keep presenting the players (and DM) with opportunities to say "Yes, and...." 


    • Compare "You see an Orc in a 10'x10' room.  What do you do?", against "Yes, and you successfully kick the door to splinters, step into the 10'x10' room, and surprise an Orc on a picnic.  He throws his sandwich at you and screams, 'Wak Rathar is crazy!'", followed by the replies "Yes, and my Fighter replies with a dramatic wise-crack, before drawing her sword!" and "my Wizard stops casting her Fireball, and asks, 'Wait, Wak Rathar? Who is Wak Rathar?'", followed by, "Yes, and the Orc, now looking nervous, begins scanning the room for the nearest exit, before backing slowly away and growling in resignation, 'take one step closer, and it will be your last!  I will tell you what I know about Wak Rathar, if you let me go in peace!'"





  • It's OK to fail, as long as it's an interesting failure.  It's also OK for the players to fail, as long as you provide them with interesting failures.  You don't have to be a great entertainer, or an epic storyteller, or a skilled artist, as long as you make sure there are always fresh and interesting cards on the table, and you always have opportunities for the players to contribute their fair share of interesting things.  It's quite possible and common for an audience to immerse themselves into interesting failures, as long as you earn their buy-in by getting their attention, and keeping it with an honest and interesting story. 


    • "My Big Bad Evil Guy is an Always Chaotic Evil killer who will always do nothing but try to kill the PCs on sight!", is not very interesting, and not particularly honest in a human sense... that NPC exists only to block the players if the dice fall the wrong way.  Compare that to "My Big Bad Evil Guy is a serial killer who thinks of himself as a misunderstood artist... he may let the PCs live just a little longer, if he thinks he has a chance to earn their validation as sensitive and intelligent critics with an adventurous and discerning taste for the macabre which only his sinister art can provide... if insulted, he will make his critic's death epic, a thing of legend, perhaps buying the rest of the party time to make an escape and tell the tale to a horrified world...."  You failed to provide a consistent killer, you may have failed to describe him in a way that scared or impressed the players, the PCs failed to defeat him him battle, the players may have failed to think of any funny and clever one-liners to insult the villain with, but you all succeeded in telling a story about honest characters and situations that everyone else could be interested in and a fan of, you succeeded in keeping things open and unblocked as much as you could think of, you succeeded in keeping the players engaged by providing them with interesting cards to play off of. 

    • Compare "Total Party Kill:  Rocks fall, everyone dies!", to "Our characters sacrifice themselves to get the truth out to the public!", followed by "Yes, and the public learns the truth, and remembers!  And, in time, the conspiracy is broken up, and the villains brought to justice with the evidence your characters uncovered, but that is a story for another day....", followed (perhaps) by "Yes, and we will create a new party to tell that story with!"




[/spoiler]

[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri