Anthony's Advice for the Prospective GM
Part of the goal of the DungeonScape is to train people to GM. For those of you who are interested in RPG Theory and Design, it should come as no surprise that the dungeon crawl format is one of the easiest — and yet most powerful — formats to GM. If you want to become a confident and competent GM, running a couple of dungeon crawls can go a long way towards helping you appreciate the satisfaction of running games.
So let’s get started!
The more familiar you are with Roll20, the smoother your games will go. If you haven’t watched the tutorial video yet, you can do so here. If you have watched it, make sure you actually hop on and play around with it for a few hours beforehand, just so you’re familiar with all the tools a GM has at his or her disposal.
If you need art for your game, you can always ask a more experienced GM to help out. We tend to accrue a large library of tokens after running a few sessions. You can ask for us to e-mail you an art folder, or you could just invite us to your game, promote us to GM status, and have us drag all the art you need to a blank page so you can copy and paste it where you need it. In addition, you can always find your own art using google images and make your own tokens by using the RPTools Token Maker.
Also, don’t forget to ask the other GM’s for tips and tricks. We like to feel important, so we’re always happy to pass on our wisdom to you.
Before you run a dungeon crawl, you need a dungeon! There are a few ways to get one:
1) Steal Shamelessly
There are a wealth of pre-written dungeons on the web, in stores, perhaps even on your games shelf. If you don’t care so much about learning the elements of dungeon design and just want to jump in to running games as soon as possible, this is probably the best way to do it.
2) Generate a Random Dungeon
Donjon’s Dungeon Generator is an excellent resource for the GM pressed for time, but it’s only one of the hundreds of dungeon generators you can find out on the web. If you go this route, I would highly recommend trying several different seeds before choosing the one you like, and then tweaking it a little to fix any glaring problems; It is all too easy to end up with a dungeon that’s boring or difficult to run using the random generation method. Just ask Tehrougefool about the original Cryptening layout and he will be all too happy to tell you what all can go wrong in a randomly generated dungeons.
3) Design your own Dungeon
Writing your own adventures is the surest way to make sure that you will enjoy running them and that the players will have fun crawling through them. Unfortunately, this requires a great deal of effort and time, and there is no way I can cram every piece of advice I have about dungeon design here. If you’re interested in taking this option check out Anthony’s Advice on Dungeon Design.
You don’t necessarily need to prepare for running a game at all, but making things up on the fly can be mentally taxing and — if you are not sufficiently experienced in improvisation — just plain boring. Especially with a virtual table-top like Roll20, I would highly recommend doing as much preparation as you can before the game. It will help the whole session go a whole lot faster and quite a bit smoother.
1) Make the Map
The first step is to get the dungeon transferred to Roll20. Usually, this just involves getting the dungeon into some sort of digital image, which is really easy if you have a PDF of a pre-written adventure or are taking someones dungeon from off the web. If you don’t have a digital copy the best thing to do is to draw it yourself, either in Roll20 using the drawing tool or using an application like Pyromancers.
2) Make Notes
Whether its a dungeon someone else wrote or one that you just designed, you should read through the notes for it carefully. The more familiar you are with the dungeon’s layout and context, the easier it will be to make interesting things happen. Remember, the dungeon isn’t your prison; it’s your toolbox. Knowing the tools you have at your disposal will make it easier to use the right tool for the job once you start running the game. Don’t forget: You can use the GM layer to add personal notes and extra information directly to the map, so you don’t have to do too much tab-switching once you’re in the game.
3) Populate the Dungeon
Once you’re familiar with the map, it’s time to add the characters. If you know who’s going to be playing in the game beforehand, you should create journal entries and tokens for those PCs who will attend. Then, when they show up you can instantly attach the journal entry to the player, giving them the characters voice and control of the token in one fell swoop. As for the dungeon itself, the most important thing to do is get tokens for all of the dungeon’s inhabitants… but I’d also recommend making journal entries for them as well. Journal entries will allow you to speak as a certain character or monster, keep notes on the creatures special abilities, and quickly add pre-edited tokens to the map.
4) Polish the Dungeon
This step is the least important, but it can nonetheless take a ridiculous amount of time. There are simply an infinite number of things you could do to make your dungeon better, and chances are you won’t have time to do all of them. Here’s a handy list of things you might do.
- Add room details and decorations
- Make unique stat blocks for certain encounters
- Make a key of room descriptions which you can copy and paste into DungeonScape
- Make macros for the major monsters.
- Add to your random encounter list.
- Write some pre-scripted dialogue for NPCs
Once you feel like you’re ready to go, you need to schedule a game. If you want to send an open invitation to everyone on the DungeonScape, put your game up on calendar a couple of days in advance. If you want it to be a little more private, get in touch with the people you want to play with and add the game to the calendar after the session is complete. It’s nice if you add the game to the calendar either way so that we can see how many games are being played, and so we can keep the in-game timeline up-to-date.
But other than that, you’re good to go! The best way to learn how to run a game is simply to do it. If you need advice, please feel free to ask for it, but ultimately your GMing style is in your own hands. Good Luck!