Adventure prep tips

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Here are a few habits that have been helping me lately. ymmv.

When preparing to run LFR adventures I make a ziplock bag for each encounter containing:
  1. Miniatures and terrain items

  2. Effect/condition markers needed for the encounter. Like many groups, I track effects/conditions using either colored modeling clay (from a craft store) and/or colored hairbands (i.e. small colored bands about 1/2" in size that can often be found in the hair-care aisle... they look like small rubber bands) placed directly on the miniature.

  3. Magic items: printouts can be made via Character Builder of magic items that will be found as treasure after the encounters. Items that are to be handed out at the end of the adventure are placed in the last encounter bag. Note: item card printouts can be made in Character Builder by creating a character with no stats/powers and just printing out the item card page(s). Check the ‘Show Normal Items’ checkbox to show rituals and scrolls.

  4. Monster Stats: I make an an extra printout of the monster stats from the adventure and write-in notes for average damage, pre-rolled initiatives, and (next to each status-effect producing power) what color marker to use. During the game I also use the page to track HP.

  5. Story Reward cards in the last encounter bag. btw: I've seen players write their XP/GP/Magic item for the adventure directly on their story reward card.

  6. Prop cards: for non-combat encounters I often make a card for important NPC’s: cut/pasting the relevant text/rules (rewording it for 1st person dialogue if needed) then finding a suitable picture and pasting it above the text (upside-down, so I can fold it over and hang it from my DM screen)


Do you have any tips of your own to share?
I like those and use most of them.

I have been increasingly trying to bring some sort of 3-D terrain, especially to show height. This can be pillars and boxes, or it can be showing that an altar/dais is raised, or something to use as walls. The key with walls is to do it with larger spaces so players can still easily see and move all miniatures.  A simple paperback novel under a 1" square printout can work wonders to give the encounter better feel. The new tile set is not bad. Adding some crates and pillars can break up a boring room. You just want to be careful that it doesn't change the encounter.

I'm a big fan of initiative tents.

Given time, I like to prep a few deliberate RP expansion points - something that can be grown at the table into some RP situation. Maybe an NPC is supposed to pal up with the PCs, so you add some sort of question he could ask of the PCs to get them talking. Or maybe thinking through fluid ways to release those NPC bullets so they are more interesting. Or, in a skill challenge, breathe some life into the locations in a city challenge. It isn't just a tavern... it is a really interesting tavern, known for...

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I have been increasingly trying to bring some sort of 3-D terrain, especially to show height. This can be pillars and boxes, or it can be showing that an altar/dais is raised, or something to use as walls. The key with walls is to do it with larger spaces so players can still easily see and move all miniatures.  A simple paperback novel under a 1" square printout can work wonders to give the encounter better feel. The new tile set is not bad. Adding some crates and pillars can break up a boring room. You just want to be careful that it doesn't change the encounter.



The really trivial way to add some 3-D texture is 1" wooden blocks -- you can get 'em at craft stores, a few bucks for 20 or so. I got this trick from the Boston Pandemonium crew. They work very well with Dungeon Tiles; you can make balconies, raised areas, use a long tile to make a ramp upwards, etc. 
The really trivial way to add some 3-D texture is 1" wooden blocks -- you can get 'em at craft stores, a few bucks for 20 or so. I got this trick from the Boston Pandemonium crew. They work very well with Dungeon Tiles; you can make balconies, raised areas, use a long tile to make a ramp upwards, etc. 



We certainly have some innovators around here - PMNG represent!

A really useful prep tip that I recommend is to read the module carefully. Smile

Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com

The really trivial way to add some 3-D texture is 1" wooden blocks -- you can get 'em at craft stores, a few bucks for 20 or so. I got this trick from the Boston Pandemonium crew. They work very well with Dungeon Tiles; you can make balconies, raised areas, use a long tile to make a ramp upwards, etc. 



I use those as well. They work well. You can also paint them (surprisingly easy) to look like crates. I keep a pack of the 1" blocks for height, the smaller blocks for crates (painted), and they also have some spools that work as columns (I keep meaning to paint these...). Newbie DM has a nice post and then a video on elevated areas. He has some nice ideas on other tools and approaches as well. There are places you can buy 3D terrain, if you don't mind the paper look. You might want to start with the free WotC stuff and see how it feels for you.

I also use AoE templates, which help resolve questions of what is in and out and are great for zones. I make two of each small AoE, then one of the largest two sizes. I have a tutorial here. It is very low cost. I also have a tutorial on easy basing techniques... basing can be really cool to give a snow or desert adventure a more realistic feel. You can get the basing for an adventure done while watching a TV show. (I am not a great mini painter by any means... basing is much easier).

Sly Flourish has a nice recent blog on making a glowing portal. He has some other really nice posts and his twitter feed is one of the few that is genuinely useful and thought provoking 90% of the time.

The LFR Wiki is really useful as a means to learning more about dieties. Format/size prevents most authors from including a lot of information on deities, locations, and history. A few searches on the wiki can really flesh out an adventure. If you have questions, the Realms Lore forums has some kind and smart folks.

I also tend to consult the region's page in the FRCG and FRPG if I have time. It is amazing how often a player has very little knowledge of a region, especially ones as iconically different as Akanul and East Rift. It is even more amazing that the adventures often fail to describe the region enough to register with the players. If you have the pdfs or a scanner you can print out the page before the game and have it as a handout for players. This is what led me to push for having an appendix on Elturgard for all the SPEC2-1s. (I'm also a fan of printing out my region's page for each of my PCs and having it in my folder for that PC. That way, I always know what I should know if I end up in that region). I have given away my sheets three times when a player with a PC from that region asks for it.

I'm on a roll, so I'll keep spouting off ideas. I've used costumes to good effects. I used to run the Geoff region's dwarven mods a lot and I had three fake beards. I would practically force that any dwarf at the table wear a beard, at least when speaking IC. I would then take any left over (each is a different color) and switch between them when speaking as an NPC. The result is very humorous and memorable. A tiny costume prop, even a hat or a scarf, can really draw players in and help them RP more.

Table tents for players can really help RP. You can bring some card stock and offer them to players. As a DM, I will use your PC's name if it is easily visible on a tent, but probably won't remember it otherwise.

Condition cards are great for new players. They aren't so useful for experts, as they largely know them by heart. You can have a list of the conditions on a single reference sheet and be fine with expert players. Condition cards were a DM reward, but there are many on the net (including on Newbie DM's site... including errata).

I bring extra RPGA reward cards for new H1 players. The H1 mods are pretty challenging these days, so they work fine and get new players interested in being part of the online community. You can print a pdf so that multiple pages are on one page, printing 8 or so cards to a page. I aim for barely legible, as I know the text anyway and the small size slips into my backpack easily.

I imagine this can all sound like a lot of work. As a DM, I try to find an approach that reflects the type of game I want to run and the amount of time I am willing to spend. I then take on periodic small but easy projects to improve that (such as painting up those pillars). Also, when I prep an adventure I try to think through 1-2 things I could do to make the adventure more memorable. Sometimes it is extra time on the combat tactics and making some notes. Sometimes it is fleshing out an NPC or skill challenge. Sometimes it is a terrain idea or prop.

Hats off to Matt, both for starting the thread and his techniques. He has some really cool DM prep techniques. (I need to get out to Rivals and have you as a DM...)

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btw: I've seen players write their XP/GP/Magic item for the adventure directly on their reward card


Me too, often. And I still wonder why this cmapaign has not adapted a Living Greyhawk style adventure record. It was the perfect document and one of LG's strengths and best lessons learned.

-------- Don (Greyson) --------

Non-smoker, White, Non-golfer, U.S.-American

Reward cards (in the last encounter bag). btw: I've seen players write their XP/GP/Magic item for the adventure directly on their reward card.



It sounds like you're actually talking about the "story award" certs.  When I see "reward card", I think "Player Reward card".

To build on some of the excellent suggestions already offered in this thread:

- If I have a chance to, I'll create a separate card or sheet with the treasure summary (XP, GP, and bundles), and make several copies to hand to the players during the wrap-up, so that everyone can clearly see their options. (Stole this one shamelessly from Michael Hebert.)

- Table tents with the names of key NPCs.  I use a DM screen, and hang the tent on the screen while the PCs are speaking with that NPC. It saves me having to spell the NPC's name to those players who take notes.  (Stole this one shamelessly from Suzanne Wills, who's always asking me to spell NPC names anyway!)
"Of course [Richard] has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183, and we're barbarians!" - Eleanor of Aquitaine, "The Lion in Winter"
There are places you can buy 3D terrain

Although I now prefer 2-D maps (for portability) some 3-D terrain I've had luck with includes:
- Worldworks
- Dwarven Forge
- Hirst Arts
- styrofoam
- A huge amount of (all brown) lego-clones purchased on clearance
- Halo board-game sets
- Don't break the ice game

I'm definitely looking forward to using Harrowing Halls. Also, the D&D boxed set coming out later this year is supposed to have a grid on the backside of the box, so that you can use the box itself as an elevated platform.

I also use AoE templates

Although I lamented the outdating of my Steel Sqwire templates, the blow was softened by the realization that I could make my own now just by bending wire hangers.

glowing portal

Heh. I actually purchased these just for that purpose.

The LFR Wiki is really useful as a means to learning more

Excellent tip!


Although I now prefer 2-D maps (for portability) some 3-D terrain I've previously had luck with includes:
- Worldworks



I like Worldworks stuff a lot. Also of note:


  • Dave Graffam Models (a little small-feeling, more scenery than play space, mostly buildings)

  • Fat Dragon Games (easier to build than the Worldworks stuff, somewhat easier on the toner)

 

Oh, speaking of the LFR wiki -- one DM I know (hi, Peter) likes to show a little map of the region as play starts. This is awesome for giving FR newbies like me a better idea of what's going on, and grounding our characters in the fiction. I keep meaning to do the same thing and perhaps now that I've written it down I won't forget.
It sounds like you're actually talking about the "story award" certs.

Fixed



glowing portal

Heh. I actually purchased these just for that purpose.



Ooh! I want that! Out of stock...

(I had seen them, but failed to realize the capabilities... I do that a lot. Now, how do I use the Tauntaun sleeping bag in a game? It is so awesome.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

For the 3-D Terrain I also like bendy dungeon walls.

www.dark-platypus.com/bendy_dungeon_wall...

 
For the 3-D Terrain I also like bendy dungeon walls.

www.dark-platypus.com/bendy_dungeon_wall...

 


This is some nice looking stuff, thanks for the link!
This is some nice looking stuff, thanks for the link!

User review: I purchased these and found them to break easily (brittle hinges). ymmv

Yeah, their hinges could be a little more robust.

One thing I miss? DMs at conventions using candy as NPCs.

With the prevalence of the plastic minis, I hardly ever see candy monsters anymore.

They had some nice advantages. You can tell who's a PC and who's a monster right off. You don't care if you lose some. And a player that kills a monster gets to eat it.




-karma
LFR Characters: Lady Tiana Elinden Kobori Silverwane - Drow Control Wizard Kro'tak Warscream - Orc Bard Fulcrum of Gond - Warforged Laser Cleric
Candy as minis was never my favorite. It isn't usually healthy, and I would rather see a real mini to have more of a communication of what I am fighting. I do miss seeing a variety of minis and would like to see more metal minis and less of 4x of a mini.

I heard the same thing about the hinges breaking on the bendy walls. A friend of mine ordered some for his gaming store and no longer carries them after being disappointed with them.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

Yeah, their hinges could be a little more robust.

One thing I miss? DMs at conventions using candy as NPCs.

With the prevalence of the plastic minis, I hardly ever see candy monsters anymore.

They had some nice advantages. You can tell who's a PC and who's a monster right off. You don't care if you lose some. And a player that kills a monster gets to eat it.

-karma



I still do this from time to time, especially with mass battles. Hershey's Kisses (in assorted flavors), with bigger monsters being bigger types of candy. It depends upon the group, of course, but usually its a nice change of pace and everyone cheers. It also leads to bizarre behavior sometimes:

(Joe) "I'm charging the orc on the staircase."
(other players) "What? No Joe, charge the evil caster, he's the big danger! We'll get the orc!"
(Joe) "The orc is dark chocolate, and I love dark chocolate."
(other players) "...."
This is a great thread!

So, the past three mods I've run, High Fidelity, Radiant Vessel of Thesk and Dogs of War, I have made some custom maps. With limited software at my disposal and almost no manual artistic skills, I have used Excel to create a 1" gridpaper template, then did fills, basic shapes with textures, lines and occasional Google image searches to create the maps, printed them and used paste sticks to glue them to foamboard.

This has made my life as a DM much easier, as I don't have to muck with the maps nearly as much during the session as I would otherwise. When I do Scouts Honor next month, I'm going to do it again and use some online resources I've recently discovered to improve the visuals.

I love the initiative tents. I have been doing something similar - a row of tents in front of me that shows the initiative order, and as a turn is completed I put the tent to the back of the line.


The biggest thing I need to work on right now is remembering to do things the monsters can do out of turn, like immediates, free actions when bloodied, and auras.

The biggest thing I need to work on right now is remembering to do things the monsters can do out of turn, like immediates, free actions when bloodied, and auras.



 I highlight these lines in the monster stat blocks.  When they get attacked and I glance at their defense, the highlighting reminds me that there's something that may trigger . . .

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director


The biggest thing I need to work on right now is remembering to do things the monsters can do out of turn, like immediates, free actions when bloodied, and auras.



 I highlight these lines in the monster stat blocks.  When they get attacked and I glance at their defense, the highlighting reminds me that there's something that may trigger . . .



I also highlight auras, recharge and encounter keywords, basically anything unusual.

Some of the other things I do
- Add notes to monster's stat blocks.  For example, if a monster does an extra 1d6 damage when they have combat advantage I write in "(+1d6)" in the damage block.  Same for auras that affect other creature's defenses/attacks.
- Write down what attacks a creature will take in what order so that I remember to do power "x" round 1, power "y" round 2, etc.
- Make notes on terrain features that affect combat on the same page as the monster stat blocks along with details that might be appropriate such as the height of the ceiling.
I do miss seeing a variety of minis and would like to see more metal minis and less of 4x of a mini.

I actually like having identical monsters represented by identical minis (lessens confusion for me). Also, the ease of transporting/using plastic minis has been a boon to my games.

However, I do go for variety in pre-painted plastics. DDM has a decent selection, but there's also MageKnight, Horrorclix, Dreamblade, Heroscape, WoW, animal toobs, McFarlane dragons, etc.

Given that I don't have a budget for new supplies pretty much the LFR crew (we're a committee "RPGA Committee of The StoryTellers' Guild *coughs*) we're pretty much limited to what GMs can bring. The best thing is we have a 4-hour reservation in a classroom with a computer and projector so I have been using MapTools for one of the tables (we have been running up to 3 tables at once), usually the one with the toughest maps or whose doing a mod we haven't done before gets dibs, so we have a projected pre-readied map that I just move virtual minis around on. If the map doesn't exist already, I can make it in PyMapper from the picture in the module within 10-15 minutes tops. This way I have the actual map with the actual tiles instead of trying to do it on my own (I can't draw a proper square even on a grid). Aside from that I have been collecting the official tiles (only missing some of the earlier sets) which one table might use and then the tried-and-true method of map and dry/wet erase markers which there are at least half a dozen of them floating around the campus to use. We have plenty of rooms, enough chairs/tables for 20 people easy, so we are often spread out. As a result the table tents wouldn't neccesarily help, depending on the table setup.

The best prep work I might have, since sometimes we're not even sure whose at what table until game time, is just to make sure to have the module printed out. We are constructing a collection of printed out modules now that we have 4-5 Herald GMs in group (I have lost my seniority! *gasps*). Initiatives on the board when using the projector helps since players can just avert their eyes and see the init then back over to the projector screen to see the map. I have also used a spreadsheet on a computer (quick for sorting), just writing it down and index cards in a stack.

I have seen the Bendy ones used in cons, they look really nice but are relatively expensive plus the fact they only really work for dungeons as opposed to towns, plains, etc that many of the modules have.

The thing I'd love for the modules is for someone to make quick guides to them, I.E someone other then the author summarize an encounter and important details a page each, maybe the same for skill challenges, etc. Some fo the encounters can be confusing to those who don't spend a far amount of prep time (been guilty of that myself) and since the rules don't allow existing adventures to be changed, even their wording. This might be a way to address confusing situations, etc and to give DMs (especially newer ones) a quick overview of a given encounter.
Christopher Green RPGA# 5209379759 Aelar Tel'ess'san - Elven Cleric Lvl 4 Veloch Shade - Tiefling Rogue Lvl 4 Adaeth the Mindwalker - Deva Psion Lvl 2 The Story Tellers' Guild The Roleplaying Association of SUNY Oswego http://www.oswego.edu/stg

The biggest thing I need to work on right now is remembering to do things the monsters can do out of turn, like immediates, free actions when bloodied, and auras.



 I highlight these lines in the monster stat blocks.  When they get attacked and I glance at their defense, the highlighting reminds me that there's something that may trigger . . .



I also highlight auras, recharge and encounter keywords, basically anything unusual.

Some of the other things I do
- Add notes to monster's stat blocks.  For example, if a monster does an extra 1d6 damage when they have combat advantage I write in "(+1d6)" in the damage block.  Same for auras that affect other creature's defenses/attacks.
- Write down what attacks a creature will take in what order so that I remember to do power "x" round 1, power "y" round 2, etc.
- Make notes on terrain features that affect combat on the same page as the monster stat blocks along with details that might be appropriate such as the height of the ceiling.



The new monster stat blocks will help with immidiates and such since the actions for a monster will be sorted by action type now.  Recharges I'm not sure if those will be easier to spot as well, the bad part is the existing adventures pdf's won't be updated nor will the compendium at first. 

Blah blah blah