Session 02 – Awkward conversations with Goblins
As I wake up this morning I find myself concentrating more on what went wrong than on what went right. I suspect this is natural but I do feel that last night’s session was a little less fluid than the previous session and I’m not as happy with the result.
There’s still this awkwardness when the group sits down to play. My normally vibrant group of friends were just sat there almost quietly when I logged on to Zoom, as if they were just sitting there waiting for me to begin. I started off by asking the group to recount the events of the last session and our Sorceror gave us a quick recap. It’s good to hear that his understanding was very close to what I had in mind.
I’d go as far as saying that this is a new tip I’d offer. As the Dungeon Master you have the advantage (or disadvantage) of having read the campaign module. You know what the people and places look like because you’ve read descriptions provided by paragraphs of text and pictures, all created with time by professional writers and illustrators. It’s easy to assume that your party understands all of that too but I guarantee that won’t continue to be the case. Get your party to recount their understanding of what has happened and remember, if their narrative doesn’t agree with yours, theirs is the correct one. You can fill in gaps but do it during the session, in character.
I made some crucial mistakes. For one, my roleplaying as the lead Goblin, Yeemik was not great. I was too nervous and my delivery was poor and stilted. (See Rule 3) This is new to me to so I know I’ll get better but I was disappointed the conversation hadn’t gone as well as I’d rehearsed it in the car.
I also made some poor decisions about rules.
As an example, the party were tasked with bringing back the head of the Bugbear they’d killed the week previous. The group were uncomfortable with the idea of cutting Klarg’s head off and decided to bring the whole body. As they approached the rickety bridge in Cragmaw Hideout, it became clear that they’d not be able to move the corpse much further. I then asked for an attack roll to cut off the head and, in hindsight, this was just pointless. There was no urgency to the work being undertaken and I know now that I should just have said, “It takes you a few swings but you manage to sever Klarg’s head from his body. It rolls across the ground a little before coming to a stop, almost staring at you accusingly”. What actually happened is the fighter had to roll twice before I realised it was stupid and said “You cut off the head” despite him having just rolled his second miss. Bugger.
I did something similar later on when the Cleric asked if they knew who the human captive that Yeemik had thrown onto the floor. I asked for an investigation check which was pointless since the answer was simply “No”. When he rolled an 18, it felt silly and I felt compelled to give him some sort of success.
The fighter got into a punching match with Yeemik and, after debating the rules for what felt like too long for me, we realised that it was going to take 3 rounds of combat for the fighter to knock Yeemik out. In my defence I know my friends – they wanted to understand these rules so I was happy to let them talk it out and, from a roleplay perspective, it was completely in character for our unhinged fighter to trade unnecessary blows with the Goblin in his rage. Again, it just felt too slow.
I think this leads to rule time. Rule 4 – Don’t get caught up in the mechanics. Stop for a second and consider how the action plays out and narratively describe the end result. Yeemik was beaten, he was alone, he was surrounded by a well-armed group of adventurers. The fight was over and I should just have declared “The group looks on, slightly discomforted, as you slowly beat Yeemik into unconsciousness”
Finally, we get into my biggest challenge. When Yeemik and Sildar both came around the group concentrated very heavily on extracting information from Yeemik all but ignoring Sildar who has the majority of the plot information they need. Sildar had to force the plot on to the group rather than it being a natural conversation. All of this will come in time.
Is it all as bad as I’m writing this? Did it spoil the session? Absolutely not. A lot of things went well and we’re all so new to this that it’s bound to be a learning experience. People seemed to enjoy themselves and they’re eager to come back next week. In comparison to last week’s fantastic start though, we got less done, and I just feel I could have done better.
- I have to read up on the rules a bit more. This has been a trying week for me personally and I’ve only just had enough time to catch up on the campaign notes but now is a good time to go back over the rules and see what I’ve missed. It’s easy to forget rules you are just trying to memorize – relating those rules to actual encounters you’ve run sinks in more.
- The session was drawing to a close and I was feeling a little ill at ease at the pacing, so I elected not to have the wolves (who had been bypassed last week) attack the party even though they successfully passed their strength roll to break free of their chains. I should have punished the group for failing to deal with this encounter. This could have been a combat encounter or a puzzle to solve but turned into neither.
- Should I inject a puzzle into next week’s session to remind them that this is about more than just walking, talking and fighting? Need to get the team thinking about creative ways to solve problems.
As you progress and enter more difficult sections, you will likely have more sessions where you’ll think “damn, I could have handled this better”.
I am also a new DM and currently with about 4-8 sessions under my belt I notice that my every single time I run a game there is something I could have done better: consistent music switch, better tracking of monster stats and special abilities, better and more varied skill challenges, more monsters for higher difficulty of the encounter.
I often read up on rules after sessions to check if I ruled things wrong (I definitely did several times). Sometimes I stuck to my earlier ruling, because difference between my ruling & RAW were negligible, so I used what was easier for me to remember.
Thanks for your blog, I find it really interesting to see how other fresh DMs are learning & progressing.
Having the players recap is a great idea. So much of this post is relatable, you’re definitely not alone. And for sure, with practice and time, you’ll get a handle on more aspects of the game and be able to more consistently run it the way you feel you should be. There’s always going to be that odd moment or off session, though.
Your two examples of the players rolling when it wasn’t necessary is what I like to call “rolling at your own risk.” It looks like you’ve already got that figured out from experiencing the awkwardness it can cause.
With a premade module it may feel difficult to adjust it on the fly for the party. In the example of Yeemik and Sildar (which I know nothing about, haven’t run the module) you can always move the goalposts a bit in favor of the party. If they’re focused on Yeemik for a good reason and asking good questions, give one of the plot points to Yeemik if he’d reasonably know it. The players will never know the information should have come from Sildar (unless it made 0 sense for Yeemik).
As a DM you are running an entire world from your brain and interacting with other humans. Hindsight will always come with much more clarity than how you were thinking and feeling mid-session.