Silaedriel
 member, 10 posts
Mon 17 Jun 2019
at 20:01
Running a D&D Game - Advice Sought
I'm considering running a Tomb of Annihilation campaign for interested folk. A lot of the games I've played here on RPOL have been free form, however, and there wasn't a scenario book to guide any of us.

I'm looking forward to running D&D, but I'm wondering what makes a good RPOL D&D game? Pacing seems important, for instance, especially when there may be combats or puzzle solving, or things where playing it all out quickly is fun, since you want that sense of urgency.

How do you create an effective fight scene? Does posting really need to be daily to keep everyone interested? If not, what have GMs done in the past to create successful play by forum combat and dungeon crawling?

Are there particular changes that DMs make for forum play that make things better? For instance, I don't think I'd tally experience points, but rather award advancement based on milestones.

Any tips are welcome. I want to make this as good a game from the outset as I can.

Thanks.
gladiusdei
 member, 816 posts
Mon 17 Jun 2019
at 20:06
Running a D&D Game - Advice Sought
I've had a very mixed bag of luck with D&D on rpol.  TO me, it seems like preparation is the biggest key to success.  Preparing maps for fights you have planned ahead of time, in particular.  A lot of players seem to really need the visual map aspect, to help plan moves.

personally I think posting daily or close to it is another key.  D&D fight scenes are post intensive, and the games tend to have a lot of them.  If players have to wait a day or two between each sword swing, it can REALLY hamper enthusiasm.  and keeping enthusiasm and interest high is kind of your number one priority.

it may also be a good idea to plan ahead of time how you will handle players falling away from the game, and being added in.  This is an almost inevitability on RPOL, and depending on your story it can really throw a monkey wrench into your game.  If then ext arc of your story is for the players to travel to see the Duke one of the players is sworn to serve, and he is the lynchpin of the arc, having the knight's player suddenly vanish can make it hard to continue.
engine
 member, 708 posts
 There's a brain alright
 but it's made out of meat
Mon 17 Jun 2019
at 20:47
Re: Running a D&D Game - Advice Sought
Silaedriel:
I'm considering running a Tomb of Annihilation campaign for interested folk. A lot of the games I've played here on RPOL have been free form, however, and there wasn't a scenario book to guide any of us.

I don't personally like overly free freeform, but I don't like "scenario books" either. I think pre-written scenarios are asking for trouble unless everyone is on board with them, and often even then. Unless you're deeply enamored of the scenario, I recommend crafting your own adventure, ideally on the fly.

Silaedriel:
I'm looking forward to running D&D, but I'm wondering what makes a good RPOL D&D game? Pacing seems important, for instance, especially when there may be combats or puzzle solving, or things where playing it all out quickly is fun, since you want that sense of urgency.

I don't think you can rely on quick play for your sense of urgency. Therefore, try to focus more on situations that aren't going to rely on quick play. Fun combat doesn't actually require a lot of speed, as long as there are ways to end it other than bringing one side's HP to zero. A combat in which sides are just trading blows is going to get dull even if it's very fast. Aim for more dynamic scenes, with ways one side or the other can win (or not lose) quickly, even if no side loses all its HP.

Silaedriel:
How do you create an effective fight scene? Does posting really need to be daily to keep everyone interested? If not, what have GMs done in the past to create successful play by forum combat and dungeon crawling?

Make sure it's a fight that your players care about. If it's not, it's not going to be effective because they'll be bored and wish it wasn't happening. For some people, there's a large hump of effort required to log in, read the latests posts, and make their own post, so if it feels like there's no point to it they're going to stop bothering and just disappear.

I recommend asking the players what kinds of situations and stakes they enjoy, and what kinds of things they'd like to have happen. Work with them to arrange things like that and even if it goes slowly they're more likely to be and stay engaged.

Silaedriel:
Are there particular changes that DMs make for forum play that make things better? For instance, I don't think I'd tally experience points, but rather award advancement based on milestones.

Many people do that at their tables too, and lots of table strategies can help make forum play better.

For instance, run a "session zero" to get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations and preferences. This can help raise issues that might cause problems if they were to come up later.

Build trust early and often. DMs like to be cagey and players say they like that too, but if the DM is too secretive, the players will feel like there's nothing they can do that won't be turned against them, and can get trapped into overanalysis or argument. Make sure the players understand that your goal is to make the game fun and make it clear to them what "fun" means to you.
Ski-Bird
 subscriber, 19 posts
Mon 17 Jun 2019
at 21:19
Re: Running a D&D Game - Advice Sought
Silaedriel:
Are there particular changes that DMs make for forum play that make things better?


Maps are cool, and take advantage of the tactical nature of the game, but I would only use them sparingly.  When you do use them though, make it cool.  If everyone is playing on a boring 100' x 100' grid what's the point?  Add in some terrain features, some items that might be worth exploring or avoiding.  Put in some elevation changes, some stuff like pillars and low walls (or trees and bushes) that block lines of sight.  And lastly ... don't be afraid to turn the lights off.  Make those suckers plan ahead with lanterns and torches.  I've been in a few games where it was always assumed that we could all see no matter what (and if we're all special, then no one is ... because it made infravision useless).

Figuring out the range and placement of the encounter is definitely a plus, but depending on how much of a stickler you are for story, maps can also drag the game down a bit.  Sometimes, the presence of a battle-map strips away all of the prose that otherwise could have been present.

The posts from your players devolve into variations of: I move to K7 and attack.

^^ That is player-dependent though, and usually you can get ahead of it by outlining what sort of posts you are looking for.

But for as cool as they are, outside of combat ... I would skip a map entirely and just handle that part narratively.

Otherwise you will get the dreaded, "I will move silently forward 10', check for traps, detect noise, look for secret doors, and then hide in shadows ... what do I see?"

Tempo management.  Maintaining an acceptable tempo in any PbP game is essential.  PbP games not unlike sharks need to maintain forward momentum or they die.

Don't be scared to kick the story in the pants once in a while.  Sometimes a group of players in a PbP game will post what they might do, or they will spend a lot of time letting another PC know what should happen.

If I had that situation where all the players have weighed in on what they might do if only such-and-such happened ... then I would move the story forward in some logical way that gives the players something new to react to.

Paralysis by analysis.  Similar to the above, this one basically boils down to player inaction, or saying what you think, but never committing to a course of action.  This usually happens during IC discussions about what to do next.  A lot of talk will occur, but very little in the way of decisions.

It just happened in one of the games I run, let me give you a for instance:

The party had just finished an encounter, two of the members earned enough experience to level up.  The crossroads not a literal crossroads, but a decision point was: do they continue on?  Seek out the next logical part of the adventure?  Or do they retire to the town for a day or so and allow their comrades to advance?  [<-- I am a jerk and am requiring training to occur]

Each character weighed in with what they would prefer to do ... and there the game would have sat ad infinitum.  All of the opinions had been cast ... but no one would have made the call.  In that instance, I took the majority of 'votes' on the matter and the the next scene began.  Players are often far too polite with each other to discuss things like that IC.  No one wants to be the assertive guy telling every other character what to do, I think.  And I guarantee, if you did have a player that bossed other characters around, one of the other players will immediately become a contrary jerk.  Disagreeing with everything that comes his way because 'well, that's what my character would do.'

Just like Sweet Brown said: Ain't nobody got time for that.

^^ Same goes for splitting loot.  Do that in OOC.  If you do that in IC it will likely take a week-and-a-half to figure out who gets the potion and whether or not you are selling the dagger.

And finally, bookkeeping.  Although I will freely admit ... his one is a pet peeve that not many share (as in, it bothers me more than it should).  In games that I play in, I am keenly aware of when folks aren't tracking the stuff they need to be tracking.  A large portion of the game is resource allocation, after all.  Hit points, XP, spells per day, gold coins spent at the inn ... all of that.  If we're not tracking that stuff ... what's the point?  I mean, I guess it's cool if it's a game where no one has to, but if most are, and a few just aren't ... that's when it really bugs me.

In games that I run, I avoid this heartache by simply doing it for the players and then I post the trackable stuff in a separate thread where they can all easily reference the info.  It's a little more work on my end, but it saves me from wondering if each and every sheet has been modified when it was supposed to be.

For all of that though, YMMV.  There are a thousand ways to skin this cat, and my way isn't the only one.
Dgorjones
 member, 69 posts
Mon 17 Jun 2019
at 22:07
Re: Running a D&D Game - Advice Sought
One thing I found helped keep my Castles & Crusades (functionally equivalent to D&D for these purposes) game moving was to designate a rotating party leader.  It helped cut through analysis paralysis and people's unwillingness to be assertive.  The party members would discuss what to do next and the party leader would make the call.  If a player opposed the party leader's decision, we would sort it out (so no one lost agency over their PC).  This process cut down the time spent deciding what to do next enormously.  I don't think we ever had an instance where someone objected to the party leader's decision.  I rotated the party leadership slot every month or so.  Some players opted out of being the party leader which was fine.

Milestone leveling can be problematic depending on the edition of D&D you are running.  Classes in some editions are balanced in part by having different experience point progressions for leveling.  If everyone levels simultaneously, the thief really gets screwed (thieves advance much more quickly in 1E than paladins or magic users, for example).  For editions with different XP progressions, I recommend picking an XP award to give everyone when you reach milestones rather than auto-leveling.  There's no need to actually calculate XP RAW (that's actually a bad idea given the slow pace of play in a PBP).  Just eyeball what you think is appropriate to keep the PCs advancing.  I would typically try to have a standard PC level every 4-6 months of real time game play (by standard, I mean a PC with a middle of the road XP progression).  I also only awarded XP at milestones (basically, when the PCs completed a mission or reached a natural stopping point in the action).  Sometimes PCs went up 2 levels when they reached a milestone after more than 6 months of play or the PC had a fast XP progression.