Newbie DM. First ever session

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Hello.

Myself and two friends are starting DnD 4e. I have read the rule book and DM's guide. We all play board games but none of us has played DnD before. I am taking on the role of DM. We appreciate that three is not the perfect number and some scaling of monsters/encounters will need to be done.

So - this is where we are at: I have created my character using the red box. I have played the very first simple encounter (four goblins in a cave). I have also played halfway through a solo level one adventure I printed off the internet (Witchlight Fens I think?).


I have given the red box to my friends who have now both created characters. I asked them not to do the first basic encounter for a couple of reasons:




  • When I played it, I had so many questions and did so much rule checking regarding movement that I thought they may quickly lose interest if left to do it on their own with no help.





  • I thought it might be more fun to do the encounter at one of our meetings. This means that I could be DM for the goblins and hopefully make the whole thing clearer, as it can be quite confusing doing it on your own (what is shifting again? What if the goblin is BEHIND the campfire? Does a goblin ever run out of arrows?) etc.



So, at our next meet I have proposed a little introduction session.


After teaching them the very basics, we will do the first little simple encounter which is designed as a solo encounter.

 My first question is:

1.Do you think I should put both their characters into that first encounter and play it as a group? That enables us to talk about flanking/combat advantage etc? Or do you think we should stick to just one character at a time so that they don't HAVE to think about the more advanced stuff yet and just get the hang of dice rolling/damage etc.



2. In the future, would you recommend that I play my character as well as DMing? Three characters would even things up a bit. I realise I would have to take a combat only role with no decision making. Or is that giving myself far to much to think about?
 

3. Any other advice for a first beginners session? The most important thing for me is to keep them interested and fire their imaginations. I don't want to bog them down in rules and boring stuff.

Many thanks for any advice. 
1: D&D is a team game, designed to be played by a team of people.  Play as a team.

2: Running a DMPC is geneally a bad idea.

3: Honestly, i's my suspicion that D&D is probably not the best system for you to use; it's really not designed with small parties in mind.  Try Dungeon World.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
A dm npc CAN work. Just be careful to not outshine the players. Maybe a buffer/healer would be nice.
Also. Talk to the players about the first session/combat and say that it will be alot like a tutorial. I would recommend an approach where all questions are allowed and tips from both you and the other player is allowed.
Also: dont forget the roleplaying aspects. The wisest move for a homocidal barbarian might be to be passive in a situation but its usualy more fun to act out the role and think less about optimal combat and more about "What would Gragnak do?".

Just talk to eachother and try to learn what both you as DM and they as players want to do and wjat you think is most fun.
1: D&D is a team game, designed to be played by a team of people.  Play as a team.

2: Running a DMPC is geneally a bad idea.

3: Honestly, i's my suspicion that D&D is probably not the best system for you to use; it's really not designed with small parties in mind.  Try Dungeon World.


You know, I was going to disagree here, but given the original poster's desire to avoid rules overload, thespaceinvader may be right.

That being said, you are on the D&D forums, looking for advice on how to run a D&D session. So with that in mind, I'll pass on some things I've picked up running for a small party or for the first time:


  1. I'll echo spaceinvader's sentiment regarding DMPCs (Dungeon Master Player Characters): don't do it. Most people will say it is because you will be tempted to pass on information or 'hints' to your players. That isn't my concern at all. It's actually that in 4th Edition D&D, I find there is enough going on for the DM to worry about without adding a PC for you to track. Especially for a new DM.

  2. Familiarize yourself with the rules. Make sure that you have the basics of movement, powers, and skills down pat. Take some notes if you have to. If the PCs have powers that inflict any conditions (Dazed, Slowed, ect.), make a note of how those conditions operate, so you don't have to stop and check.

  3. Scale down encounters to the party. There are good guidelines in the full books, but lacking that, here's a good rule of thumb: a single standard monster, of equal level to the party, is worth one PC. So if you have two level 1 PCs, use two level 1 monsters for an "even" fight. Truth be told, the players shouldn't have much trouble with an "equal" party of monsters. D&D actually uses an experience budget for encounters, so a level 2 monster isn't worth two level 1 monsters; it's more like 1.25 or 1.5. So a level 2 monster and a level 1 monster against two level 1 PCs should be a little challenging, but not overwhelming. You can sort of feel it out from there, until you get the books. Someone else may come along and describe experience budgeting in more detail.

  4. Use minions, if they're available. I can't remember what the resources are in the Red Box, but if they include minion monsters, use them. Minions are a "type" (rank?) of monster; you can usually see the type under the monster's name in the stat block, along with how much experience it's worth and origin information. The others types (ranks?) are: Standard, Elite, and Solo. Four minions can be substituted for a single standard monster, as they are worth one-quarter of an equivalent level Standard Monster. They die in a single hit, so they're good to beef up an encounter. Fighting a single standard monster, posing as the leader, and four minions will often feel more heroic than fighting two standard monsters. Minions also do a flat damage amount on a hit, instead of using a die roll, which can help a new DM keep things moving.

  5. I would put both PCs in a single encounter at the beginning. If you're worried about the complication, have them enter from opposite sides of the map and fight a monster at either end. Have a third monster in the middle, working on something. Once one of the two outer monsters dies, just have the other outer monster run off toward the middle monster. At that point, explain opportunity attacks and let that player get one if applicable. Explain that the monster could have given up its move to shift, but wouldn't have gone far. Once they meet in the middle, you can explain flanking and let them try it out. None of this applies if one of the characters is ranged only. If that's the case, keep them together. As a side note, if one player wants to play a Rogue and the other wants to play a ranged class, the Rogue may feel underpowered. It's hard to reliably get Combat Advantage without flanking. Without Combat Advantage, the Rogue loses a lot of damage potential. Something to be aware of.

  6. If you design your own encounters, gradually build up complexity. Open terrain is fine at first. Later introduce a little difficult terrain. In another encounter, try out some cover. You can use an encounter to showcase a single concept, whether it be difficult terrain, cover, blocking terrain, or whatever. Be aware of how they might interact: archers, hidden behind cover and beyond a large patch of difficult terrain will prove much more difficult to kill than you might think.


That's all I can think of for now. The big thing is scaling down and using minions. Those are the two things that have helped me most when running games for a small party.
Reading all this with interest so far. Thanks for the very useful replies.

With regards to whether DnD is perhaps not best suited to us - you may well be right but at the moment I am too far invested in DnD to switch. Unfortunately I go all out when discovering something new so I already have the rulebooks, tiles, monster vault etc etc and have spent a good deal of time reading everything.

We will give it a good go at least. We only meet up once a month so it will be a drawn out process!

Keep the advice coming and thanks again. 
My first question is:

1.Do you think I should put both their characters into that first encounter and play it as a group? That enables us to talk about flanking/combat advantage etc? Or do you think we should stick to just one character at a time so that they don't HAVE to think about the more advanced stuff yet and just get the hang of dice rolling/damage etc.


Keep everyone together.


2. In the future, would you recommend that I play my character as well as DMing? Three characters would even things up a bit. I realise I would have to take a combat only role with no decision making. Or is that giving myself far to much to think about?



I recommend against using a DMPC as others have done above. Your concern appears to be one of balance and that's a valid concern. To overcome that issue, just make the encounters about something other than one side killing the other. What are these goblins in the cave trying to do? Before the PCs showed up, they had a plan and a goal. Can they achieve that goal when they're dead? Can they achieve it before the PCs kill or bloody them? Play to find out.
 

3. Any other advice for a first beginners session? The most important thing for me is to keep them interested and fire their imaginations. I don't want to bog them down in rules and boring stuff.



When a player suggests something - a course of action, a detail in the scene, a bit of background fluff - embrace it by saying, "Yes," then add onto it with ideas of your own. Put their ideas into play, immediately if possible. If they say the goblins are purple, then Yes, they're purple, and that's because they hail from the perilous reaches of the Underdark. There must be an entrance somewhere close! Accepting and adding onto player ideas increases engagement and makes for a better game.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

As an aside, and with regard to Dungeon World, if you're going to give that game a try, I recommend you do it before learning D&D. It's not the same game and D&D will teach you a lot of bad habits that will make Dungeon World harder to learn. I know from personal experience and from observing a lot of D&D players try to make the transition.

Also, check out the articles in my signature for great advice for DMs and players both. Good luck.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

. Any other advice for a first beginners session? The most important thing for me is to keep them interested and fire their imaginations. I don't want to bog them down in rules and boring stuff.

Excellent, and I commend you for this priority. That attitude (and the monetary buy-in, which you also exhibit) is key to how the game has managed to endure despite some of the worst rules in the industry.

The best advice 4th Edition has to offer is "Yes, and...." It's presented in the context of players trying to do things outside the rules, but if players are not familiar with the rules everything they want to do is outside the rules. They'll ask questions constantly, and while this is key to learning the game, it will bog things down considerably, and likely be a turn off. I recommend that you tell the players that the answer to any "Can I...?" or "Is it alright if I...?" questions will be "Yes, and..." which means that not only will you answer yes to it, but you will work with it and build off of it, rather than punishing them or playing "gotcha" with it.

I personally like to learn rules and stick with them, rather than trusting any DM to go along with interesting ideas I might have. But when a DM puts the players first, rather than trying to get the rules right, or poke holes in cool ideas, D&D (and really any game) can sing.

So:
Accept and add on to player ideas, even if you're not sure of the applicable rules.
Another way to put that is "err in favor of the players."
Do not look up rules midgame. Rule and go. If a bonus or penalty seems to apply, make it +2 or -2.
Good luck.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy