After the Battle of Albrdge, the group was ready to tackle the rest of “The Die Is Cast”, the second adventure included in the DM Kit. I was looking forward to concluding the first truly “epic” (for third level anyway) adventure of the campaign. Here’s what I learned after running the adventure.
Say “Yes” to Your Players
It is very easy for DMs to feel as if the campaign belongs to them, not to the players. This is a trap that should be avoided; D&D as an experience should be collaborative in nature, where everyone contributes. Your players are devoting their time and often money to play D&D, and it’s important to make sure they are having a good time. One way to do that is to say “yes” as often as you can.
One incident in the last half of “The Die Is Cast” is a good example. My players decided to infiltrate the Iron Keep by using the classic Star Wars trick of pretending to be soldiers with prisoners (in this case an elf and a dwarf instead of a Wookiee). I was comfortable with this, as it was one of the methods presented in the book already. My players had discussed the plan via email, and I was ready to go, prepared for what might happen next.
As we sat down for the session, the group changed plans. The thief, with his high Bluff and Stealth skills, would go in alone, and report back to the others. My first reaction was negative, and I thought of several reasons why; splitting up the party is bad, if there was a fight he’d probably die, how would he communicate to the other players, etc. I raised all these points with them. Then the dwarf shaman suggested he could use his Nature skill to commune with the wind spirits and ask them to carry their words back and forth to the thief. I gnashed my teeth (on the inside at least) and said I would allow it if he made a Nature check that was high enough.
My intention was the make the DC so high it would never work. But as he rolled, I remembered that the whole point of D&D was having fun. I don’t remember what the shaman rolled, but I allowed the wind spirits to act as a walkie talkie for them that night. I know it was totally breaking the rulebook in half, as well as ignoring what many DM advice blogs would say. But in this case, I felt that rolling with it and saying “yes” was the best course of action. The thief went in alone, but the other players were involved as well. It ended up working quite well, and another benefit was I got some practice with my improv skills.
Make Battle Maps Ahead of Time
The DM Kit is an amazing value, with the guide book, two adventures, lots of tokens, and two poster maps. You can run the adventures using nothing more than what’s in the box… except for the last few encounters in “The Die Is Cast”. I had heard great things about Dungeon Tiles, and the adventure recommended their use, so I ordered the Master Dungeon Set. They showed up in the mail the evening of our session. I opened them, punched out each tile with glee, and tossed them in the box. I was prepared now, so what could go wrong, right?
It turned out, lots could go wrong. I thought I could just grab the appropriate tiles when needed, slap them on the table, and call it good. In reality, it took probably five to ten minutes to set up each battle map. Over the three encounters, this ended up taking almost half an hour out of the session. That was far, far too long. My players took the opportunity to grab a soda or a cookie, use the bathroom, or whatever, but I still felt like I was wasting their time.
It’s extremely important to plan ahead in all aspects of DMing, but perhaps none more than the use of Dungeon Tiles. At the very minimum, you need to get all the tiles you’ll need for one map together in a baggie to pull out at the right moment. You’ll get the best results when you get a foam-core posterboard and some sticky tack to make your layouts ahead of time. This makes your maps more permanent and easily portable, and the tiles won’t get damaged if you are careful. It’s also much less stressful to build a dungeon room while watching TV than it is when five players are breathing down your neck, ready to fight the bad guys.
End on a High Note
My players didn’t enter Iron Keep with guns blazing, instead relying on stealth and speed to get to the inner tower. They stopped for only a few diversions on their way to fight the Iron Circle general, Nazin Redthorn. As a result, there were still a couple encounters worth of enemies in the castle when Redthorn fell. The question then, was, what happens next?
Several options presented themselves. First, I could require the PCs to fight their way out. Second, I could hand-wave some method to let them escape easily, like a secret tunnel or something. Or, I could describe the remaining fights in general terms, since I really wanted to end the adventure after this particular session. Neither was appealing to me.
Thankfully, one of my players had an idea: “What are these lowly soldiers going to do when we walk out of here with Redthorn’s head on a sword?” This was a perfect solution! It was very cinematic, totally believable, and allowed for some interesting roleplaying as the horrified Iron Circle minions fled. The players felt like super heroes at this point, and it was definitely the high point of the adventure for them.
If there’s any way possible, make sure to end each adventure with a similar scene. Players don’t want to fight more goblins after they just took down the dragon boss, so don’t force it on them. Make each adventure like the last scene in an action movie. If at all possible, end each session in a similar way. Leave your players feeling good about themselves and looking forward to the next session.