Last time I simply introduced this series of posts, so now its time to start thinking about the actual game. When starting up a new campaign, there are a number of questions that you have to ask yourself. How many players do I want? Who do I want to invite? What ruleset should I use? How well should I know the rules? Do I make a homebrew campaign or use published adventures (mods)? So lets take a look at these individually.
How many players?
This is largely a matter of personal choice. However, I find that between 4 and 6 players is usually a good number to have in a group for a few reasons. First, it gives you enough players that if somebody can't make a session, you don't need to call off the entire session. Either somebody can run the missing person's character or you can "handwave" it and say that the missing character is tagging along but not doing anything. You'll still have 3 - 5 other players which makes it enough to get a session going fairly well.
Any more than 6 players, I find drags the game out a bit -- particularly in 4th Ed. With five players, you can usually bet that a combat will take 30 - 60 minutes depending on the difficulty. If you find your self with lets say 8 players, you're looking at significantly longer even for an easy encounter. Keep in mind that with 4th Ed. by adding 3 players you are also going to generally add 3 monsters to an encounter (roughly of course).
Finally, four players will be enough to give your party a good mix of the roles and abilities that they will need to thrive. It's not strictly necessary that every role (i.e. leader, striker, defender, controller) be filled given that each class has a secondary role or two that they can help out with in a pinch. Additionally, multiclassing can open up other options as well. However, the fewer the number of players, the harder it will be to cover the needs.
Who to invite?
I already touched on this last time, but I just wanted to take a moment to explain the other option should you not have friends wanting to play. If none of your friends want to play, your next, best option is likely to hit up your FLGS and see if they have any openings for games. The good news here is that you will likely make new friends. The bad news, is that at first, your players may not feel the same sense of loyalty or comradeship toward you if you start out sluggish. All the same, if you can find friends to play, then all the better.
Which Ruleset to Use?
As we all know, there are many editions of D&D out there. Any of them will work just fine, and frankly, if you already have a set of books from one edition, then go with those. If you are undecided; however, I would recommend 4th Ed. Note that this is not simply to start an edition war or flame bait, etc. My only reason for saying this is that 4th Ed. has made the DM's job a lot easier in my opinion. Everything from treasure allocation, to encounter design is quite simply much faster now in my opinion. That being said, I don't really have more fun with 4th Ed. than I did in earlier editions. I simply find it easier to prepare a game session and since the theme of this series is to make things easier for the new or time crunched DM 4th Ed. would be my pick.
How well should I know the Rules?
I plan to go into this in more detail later, but for now, I would absolutely recommend that you read through the combat section of the PHB and get a basic familiarity of the rules. You don't need to memorize them verbatim -- particularly since a lot of them don't come up often -- but you should at least have a basic understanding of them and know where to look should you have questions later. I think it also makes sense to read through the first few levels worth of powers in the assorted PHB classes (at the very least of those classes your players will pick if you know what they are playing). This will just help you better understand what they are doing during the game, and perhaps catch them when they misinterpret a rule or power.
To Homebrew or Not to Homebrew?
That certainly is the question. There are pros and cons to homebrewing and running published mods, but in short, both options can be quite fun.
With homebrews, the biggest pro is that you get to create it yourself. Pretty much all of the pros to homebrewing are derived from this. You can tailor the campaign to fit your players' styles. You can create your own story line and world. You get to make your own villains and dungeons, etc. Quite frankly, one of my greatest joys in DM'ing is seeing something I created work to perfection. Whether its an exciting combat, a notorious villain, or even just a memorable npc or inn. Seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter of the players makes all the hard work worth it in the end.
On the down side, it can be a lot of work to homebrew. Some of this work can be saved by using a published campaign setting (Forgotten Realms, Eberron, etc.), but you are still stuck with having to come up with your own npcs, adventures, encounters, etc. All of that takes time and can conflict with other competing interests.
That being said though, there are some tricks to helping you along. First off, if you've read the dungeoncraft articles, you'll know by now that you should have a campaign outline. This outline doesn't need to be extremely detailed, nor should it be set in stone. However, having a general idea of what your storyline is going to be ahead of time will help focus your creative juices. For one thing, if all of Heroic Tier is going to be spent in the Kingdom of Marvalla, you really don't need to worry about detailing the neighboring kingdom of Hamshire. The outline also lets you see what types of creatures your party will face etc.
Additionally, there is nothing wrong with throwing a published mod into a homebrew campaign. Its usually fairly easy to modify it if necessary (generally just flavor text in conversation needs to be modified). This will again save you a lot of time.
On the other side, you have the published mods for your campaign. The biggest pro here is that you will save a lot of time in designing a world and your adventures. The downside to this is that you lose some of the flexibility that homebrewing gives you. It becomes harder to tailor the campaign to the tastes of your players, etc. That being said, its not impossible to tailor the campaign to your players even when using published mods. It just requires some work ahead of time. If your players don't like skill challenges, you can toss them out and replace them with a combat, etc. Keep in mind though that even if you go the published route, there is still preparation to be done for the session. Most notably, you will need to read the adventure before running it. You need to do this so that you know what the endgame of the adventure is. Maybe that innkeeper that you were planning to gloss over in the beginning because your players are not big roleplayers turns out to be the BBEG. It won't be nearly as enjoyable for your players if they haven't met the innkeeper already for instance.
To help tie these ideas together, I will also let you know how I applied them. As I stated last time, I am currently running two games. One game has 6 players and the other 5 currently. One game consists entirely of friends while the other is a mix of friends and players at the FLGS. Both games are running 4th Ed. I feel as though I have a pretty good grasp of the rules but its not perfect. I make mistakes of course but rarely, if ever, has it disrupted the game. The game with 6 players is an entirely homebrewed game and world. The only exception being that I did run a modified version of a published mod early on. Finally, the other game is an entirely published game -- Scales of War. I had been running my homebrew game for a while when another group of friends wanted to check out 4th Ed. I agreed to DM as I had the most familiarity with the rules. However, by that time I did not have a lot of spare time, so I went with the Scales of War campaign figuring I can always switch out later if it starts to drag. I've made modifications along the way, but not too many. All in all, I think both games are going pretty well at the moment.
Next time I'll talk a bit about Rules Knowledge.