First Time DM in Need of Some Veteran Advice...

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Hey all you experienced masters out there, I am in need of some serious advice from some vets... I am a new player to DnD and have been playing for about six months now... I have been running a campaign with some friends who had never played before and it is going very well (I have been using the pre written dm kits, we are currently in thunderspire mountain). Everything have been going very great as to how my games have been going and everyone seems to have fun with it. I also play once a week with an experienced group that has been going through a campaign for about two years and I jumped in at level 10, which I enjoy very much since our DM is a lot of fun and I have been learning a lot from him.

There has been talk in the more experienced group for some time about running an evil campaign and we have a dedicated group of five guys who want to be involved. I have been reading the Legend of Drizz't series as well and have picked up a lot of lore and knowledge about the forgotten realms setting, along with reading both dungeon master books 1 and 2, so there is no shortage of resources for me to pull from. Now if any nay sayers out there read this thread and think that I am biting off more than I can chew with the following questions I am going to ask, please don't post on this thread. I am a firm believer that the fastest way to learn is from experience itself and I am also an obsessive compulsive nerd who loves to give it 110%. Now for the meat and potatoes...

I recently picked up the Menzoberrenzan campaign setting book, and that along with the legend of drizzt books, two sting of lolth faction packs and the legend of drizzt board game, plus the drow treachery cards, I have no shortage of stuff to run the campaign. I have been reading the book and talked with the guys and all of them are really pumped to play a campaign as drow with me as DM. I have a pretty great idea for a start to the campaign that involves the guys graduating from their respective schools depending on what class they play and getting into the intrigue and such the drow are so known for... Now for the biggest questions I have...

All the guys that want to play the campaign have decided that they want to be in the same house and work to bring that house to the top of the drow ranks. I also want to run the campaign with the drow worth points and want them to have to work to rise to the respective ranks of their house. Now, if they start in a house that is on the lower ranks of the nobles within menzoberrenzan, it will take less worth for them to get to the positions of power within the house. Now, if they rise to the top ranks right away in the low house, then they move the house ranks up, it will mean that they will come to power way to early and easy, in my opinion. What I am wondering, is how can I balance the rise of their house with the rise of the individuals within the ranks, going from lowly house guard, wizard, or lowest of priestess' to the top without making it to easy on them before the house rises to a rank of worth within the city that will provide them with a better level of difficulty to rise up in the house ranks... for instance, if they start at the lowest, the house power will be about three total... one for military, one for wealth, and one for favor of lolth... being that it is three , then they will only have to gain a worth of 3 to rise to tier 1 within the house... so if they have a lowly house, they can rise to the top ranks fairly quickly compared to the 75 worth you would have to gain to rise form tier 4 to 5 in house baenre (number 1 house). Hope you follow me on this...

The question I am asking, or advice I am seeking, is how could I best balance their rise within the ranks of the house with the rise of the actual rank of the house in the campaign without making it to easy for them to become weapon master or matron mother. I feel it should be a difficult task that could be completed by at least paragon tier or at most level 16...

Also, lets say they do rise to the top of the house ranks earlier than planned and I want to balance it out again, how could I lower the rank they have? I was thinking another house could topple them possibly, or perhaps they have to make an alliance with another house and combine the two, or perhaps a much higher ranking house could absorb the house they are in so they would have to rise again within the ranks to keep it spicy... the problem is that I dont want them to feel to powerless in how fast they rise, but I dont want them to feel like it was too easy either...

Any possible ideas any of you may have on these issues would be greatly appreciated by me... If anyone would like to help me out I am sure I am going to add more questions to this thread as I finger out all the little plots and plans of the overall campaign I want to write... depending on how many responses I get to this thread, if any. Again, thanks for reading my post and hope to hear some advice, good or bad. Thanks.
The ranking of the house and any rewards attached to it are, numbers aside, just a fictional thing. This means it's completely mutable, rising and falling as the ongoing fiction demands. As the house's rank will only be important relatively speaking, you needn't worry about giving it a number or wondering if they'll grow too big for their breeches. All the fiction surrounding the house's power is easily changed to suit.

I would split up my adventure fronts to fall into one of your categories - military, wealth, and divine favor - and let the players decide which of them they'd most like to pursue at any given time. Assume for planning purposes that the PCs will attain the highest rank the house will ever attain (at least for the purposes of this campaign) by the end of 10th-level. What that looks like and how it matters to the events in Paragon is not the rank per se, but rather the ratio of military, wealth, and divine favor objectives the PCs completed in the Heroic tier. When they've reached the start of Paragon, look at what they've done and this, along with a good discussion with the players about the established fiction, should indicate the direction the campaign takes in Paragon. If they choose to do more "military" adventures, their house may be more militant and warlike, right on the front lines against the threats of the Underdark. More "wealth" adventures could see the PCs embroiled in interplanar trade and politics. And so on.

The theory here is that players instinctively know what's going to be fun for them, so given the choice, they'll choose what's the most fun. Here, you're simply noting the things they are choosing and interpreting (hopefully with significant player input) the way things should go from there.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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Hey all you experienced masters out there, I am in need of some serious advice from some vets... I am a new player to DnD and have been playing for about six months now... I have been running a campaign with some friends who had never played before and it is going very well (I have been using the pre written dm kits, we are currently in thunderspire mountain). Everything have been going very great as to how my games have been going and everyone seems to have fun with it. I also play once a week with an experienced group that has been going through a campaign for about two years and I jumped in at level 10, which I enjoy very much since our DM is a lot of fun and I have been learning a lot from him.

There has been talk in the more experienced group for some time about running an evil campaign and we have a dedicated group of five guys who want to be involved. I have been reading the Legend of Drizz't series as well and have picked up a lot of lore and knowledge about the forgotten realms setting, along with reading both dungeon master books 1 and 2, so there is no shortage of resources for me to pull from. Now if any nay sayers out there read this thread and think that I am biting off more than I can chew with the following questions I am going to ask, please don't post on this thread. I am a firm believer that the fastest way to learn is from experience itself and I am also an obsessive compulsive nerd who loves to give it 110%. Now for the meat and potatoes...

I recently picked up the Menzoberrenzan campaign setting book, and that along with the legend of drizzt books, two sting of lolth faction packs and the legend of drizzt board game, plus the drow treachery cards, I have no shortage of stuff to run the campaign. I have been reading the book and talked with the guys and all of them are really pumped to play a campaign as drow with me as DM. I have a pretty great idea for a start to the campaign that involves the guys graduating from their respective schools depending on what class they play and getting into the intrigue and such the drow are so known for... Now for the biggest questions I have...

All the guys that want to play the campaign have decided that they want to be in the same house and work to bring that house to the top of the drow ranks. I also want to run the campaign with the drow worth points and want them to have to work to rise to the respective ranks of their house. Now, if they start in a house that is on the lower ranks of the nobles within menzoberrenzan, it will take less worth for them to get to the positions of power within the house. Now, if they rise to the top ranks right away in the low house, then they move the house ranks up, it will mean that they will come to power way to early and easy, in my opinion. What I am wondering, is how can I balance the rise of their house with the rise of the individuals within the ranks, going from lowly house guard, wizard, or lowest of priestess' to the top without making it to easy on them before the house rises to a rank of worth within the city that will provide them with a better level of difficulty to rise up in the house ranks... for instance, if they start at the lowest, the house power will be about three total... one for military, one for wealth, and one for favor of lolth... being that it is three , then they will only have to gain a worth of 3 to rise to tier 1 within the house... so if they have a lowly house, they can rise to the top ranks fairly quickly compared to the 75 worth you would have to gain to rise form tier 4 to 5 in house baenre (number 1 house). Hope you follow me on this...

The question I am asking, or advice I am seeking, is how could I best balance their rise within the ranks of the house with the rise of the actual rank of the house in the campaign without making it to easy for them to become weapon master or matron mother. I feel it should be a difficult task that could be completed by at least paragon tier or at most level 16...

Also, lets say they do rise to the top of the house ranks earlier than planned and I want to balance it out again, how could I lower the rank they have? I was thinking another house could topple them possibly, or perhaps they have to make an alliance with another house and combine the two, or perhaps a much higher ranking house could absorb the house they are in so they would have to rise again within the ranks to keep it spicy... the problem is that I dont want them to feel to powerless in how fast they rise, but I dont want them to feel like it was too easy either...

Any possible ideas any of you may have on these issues would be greatly appreciated by me... If anyone would like to help me out I am sure I am going to add more questions to this thread as I finger out all the little plots and plans of the overall campaign I want to write... depending on how many responses I get to this thread, if any. Again, thanks for reading my post and hope to hear some advice, good or bad. Thanks.

You might also look into Oriental Adventures/Rokugan for a way to work up a point system. The Rokugan Honor system could be converted into a Drow House Power system for the purpose.

As Iserith mentioned, the system you use for points is outside the actual fiction itself, but you could also make this an in-game point system by giving them some token jewelry where the head of household rewards them...like a charm bracelet only awesomer. Just a thought.

Maybe, instead of a point-based system, the easiest way to balance it out would be to make sure that whatever challenges you put before them and the necessary accomplishments are level-based. In a smaller, less powerful house, they might have a goal at level 1, a goal at level 2, etc. In a larger, more powerful house, they might have to accomplish longer-term goals to rise in the ranks which might take 3 levels of increasingly difficult missions to accomplish, but have a bigger jump in power once those goals are attained. Goal-based missions might be the key.

Sounds like you have some cool stuff planned out.
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My first thought is that in the first half of the campaign (with the two "halves" not necessarily being equal) the players will be pretty low in rank, so they won't have a whole lot of influence on the standing of the House, which makes it fairly easy to keep that wherever you need it to be.
If I were going to do it, I would have three tiers of houses:

Greater Houses:  The biggest and the baddest.  These are the ones who launch wars, command thousands, and generally are the movers and the shakers.

Lesser Houses: These are a mixed lot.  Some have small specialties, their little niche, some have broad range, but shallow capabilities.  

Minor Houses:  These could be as small as an individual family.  They often marry into the Lesser Houses or join them if they show great capability.  Often they are formed from splinters of Lesser or Greater Houses, and seek to claim some sort of status in Drow society.

I know I'm inventing new fluff, but w/e, the fluff wasn't built specifically for your campaign, and is mutable.

I would start the players off as a Minor House.  Let them put together a reason they're a minor house, some splinter of a Lesser or Greater house, and have them prove their worth in some way.  Find rare reagents, conduct missions, find critical information, etc.  Earn their way into a Lesser House.  That should get them into the swing of things without feeling too weird.  Then have them work their way up through the Lesser House, and work to make their Lesser House a Greater House.

That should let them move up in rank in tangible goals, without being too silly in terms of levels.  For instance.

Levels 1-4: Proving their worth
Levels 4-6: Affiliated with a Lesser House (if they succeed), gaining status
Levels 7-10: Joining the Lesser House and moving through the ranks. 
Levels 11-16: Reaching the highest of ranks and then promoting their house to the forefront of drow society
Levels 17-20: Making Lloth's Plans for the surface come true
Levels 21+: Overthrowing nations, destroying religions, going toe to toe with gods. 
Quite frankly, I think these kind of point systems have no place in a D&D game.

When I started DMing, I had an idea for a situation where there would be various factions, and interacting with a faction could cause the players to gain or lose "diplomacy points" with that faction.  So, helping out the Veiled Alliance might cause the players' "diplomacy score" with them to go up, but it could cause the players to lose points with the Templar, representing a worsening relationship.

Now, I didn't actually implement it because my campaign was cut short, but I'm glad I didn't.  It would have been way too unwieldy, and would have had no benefit to gameplay.

It seems to me like these kinds of point systems are basically copying mechanics that video games use because they don't have a human intelligence who can react in a natural way to everything the players do, and because the one thing they are good at is crunching numbers.  So, they reduce complex relationships to point systems, because it's the only thing they know.  For example, in one of my favourite computer games, relationships between nations are represented by a simple number, ranging from +200 (best buds) to -200 (sworn enemies), and taking specific actions can raise or lower this score and the score might affect things like trading relationships, alliances, etc.  But the only reason why this system exists is because it is impossible for a pre-programmed video game to accurately simulate the complexities of international politics and the actions of the players.

Now, there is no way a DM can crunch numbers as fast as a computer, but we have one thing they don't - our brains.  In an age where computers regularly beat the greatest chess players in the world, our creativity and ability to improvise is pretty much the only thing we have.  Rather than play to our weakness (number-crunching), as DMs we should be letting the roleplaying, the dice and the emergent fiction guide us.  Don't worry about implementing a points system, just roll with the story and see where it takes you.

For example, I was in a recent game where my character had ambitions of becoming the Oracle of Ribbit of his grippli tribe.  Instead of screwing around with some "prestige points" system where getting so many points by doing quests or whatnot means my character can rise to become the Oracle, we just rolled with the story and let the dice and the emergent fiction take us where it may.  In the end, it led to my character gaining and losing some followers along the way, and a cool confrontation scene where my character challenged the old Oracle's authority, passed a difficult trial, and emerged as the new Oracle.  That was awesome, way more awesome than trying to keep track of points the way we keep track of XP.
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Wow guys... Thanks for the wonderful advice! It has been pretty overwhelming trying to figure out how I could implement this kind of system in the game and keep it balanced for the players... I havent really decided if I am going to try it yet. I wasn't actually trying to write my own system, the Menzoberrenzan book comes with a whole pre-made point system with examples of how someone would gain worth or lose it, but it would be a real headache to implement it and keep track of it all anyways with all the stuff that can happen in one adventure... I think I am going to try it right away and keep it on the dl from the guys so they act naturally within their own personalities... perhaps just make one or two big group decisions that could happen once per milestone that would affect their favor with lolth or with a specific house... and rather than keep a point system, just let them make decisions and drive the story of the campaign along the path they choose with specific houses and the such...

I am really excited to run it nonetheless... Just for an idea of what I am thinking so far to sate anybody's curiosity, I am planning on starting the campaign with each of them graduating from their selected schools, sorcere for the wizard, melee magthere for the warriors, and arach tinilith for the priestess... the graduating stuff is going to involve them going on one last run through the underdark on a specific mission to hunt down some escaped slaves through the underdark as a team... then separating the group into the schools and having an all out duel free for all with the warriors, a skill challenge/ final duel with the wizards mentor, and a skill challenge for the priestess summoning some denizen of the abyss and bending it to her will... It may sound like the wizard and priestess miss out on some of the fun but they are more flavorful players and I think they will really enjoy having a different opening act with less combat as the warriors are all combat centric players in the first place... I am going to try to simplify it enough so they can all play their respective acts at the same time on the board but be in separate game areas for their specific characters... also want to simplify it enough to make it an actual lv 1 to lv 2 opener since most the guys want to start at level 2 for some reason. Nice and easy and full of dark flavor. After that I am thinking they return to their house (which they chose to be X'larraz'et'soj for some god forsaken reason, pretty sure because no one really know how to pronounce the name) and have a meeting with the matron mother either praising them or scolding depending on how they finish the graduation, then the city goes into a celebration for the graduation of a generation of the schools and throw a bunch of flavor and options for some missions to build reporte in the city... introducing the main playing factions who I am planning on being 1st house baenre (biggest rival and hurdle to become no 1), house do'urden (not to be tacky, but keep in mind they are going to change the fate of this house from how the books go depending on how they act), house Xorlarrin (the wizard will get some lucrative offers from these guys for his magic skills), and Bregan D'aerthe (the rogue will also get some specific flavor from this one due to his uncanny theivery skills).... dont worry, not going to leave anybody out with character specific story stuff, but the rogue build and wizard build just fit in really nice for the last two. Of course the priestess is going to get a lot of play due to her "superiority" in drow society... and the fighters wont mind, they just wanna kill stuff all the time. I think that is a really good set up and I am gonna map out a few paths that they can take after they all play out their hands, not being specific, but just giving myself and them options for whatever choices they make and act out when they start up... I am super psyched up, i think it is going to be a lot of fun, and most the guys have read the legend of drizzt series so they are no fools when it comes to how drow society works and how drow act, i think they are gonna have a blast being evil... oh and i plan on throwing in some backstabbing from the npcs right away to so they dont get to comfortable trusting anybody and they get a goooood feel for the evil that they are going to have to take and dish out to make it in the dark city.... muahahahahahahaha! heres hoping (i am getting way to ambitious with this)

Thanks a bunch for all the great posts! If you guys got any evil ideas for me, feel free to throw down! I am open to ideas! Good luck gaming!
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