Last month, we discussed your first DM session for Living Forgotten Realms. The take-your-character-anywhere approach to Living Forgotten Realms often results in play happening outside of a kitchen table -- at a game shop, a library, or at a big convention. This month, we'll talk about preparing to DM a session in a public venue.
You might be asked to volunteer by a friend involved with a public event, or you might take the initiative to volunteer your time to help out a local or national event (such as Worldwide D&D Game Day or Gen Con Indy). Volunteering your time to help run a game for a public event is a great way to meet new gamers, show off your skills as a DM, and learn valuable tips and tricks from people outside of your normal play group. Few gaming experiences are more satisfying for a DM than finishing a session with a group of strangers and getting congratulated on running a great game. The rewards for both new DMs looking to hone their skills and veterans looking to show off their ability to entertain a group are immediate and valuable. So, aside from being out in "the world," what are the considerations you'll need to make to make the leap from home to public?
The most important element in a public play event (RPGA or otherwise) is time. Often, you have to finish an adventure within a certain block of time; at conventions, this is often known as a "slot" of gaming. Most RPGA adventures are written to be playable within about 4 hours from start to finish, including setup and conclusion. You'll need to consider this when preparing your adventure and running it at the table.
During the time when you prepare your adventure before the event, take time to consider the encounters you're going to run and how long you think each one will take. The more enemies present in the encounter or the more complex the skill challenge, the more time you'll want to allot. Most combats in 4th Edition can be finished in about 45 minutes or so; if you have an overly complex combat, it might take an hour. Combats that are straightforward or less challenging than typical for the level of the PCs take about a half an hour. Skill challenges typically take about half the time of a combat; more challenging skill challenges run 20 to 30 minutes, and less challenging ones take only about 10 to 20 minutes. If you have roleplaying scenes with no challenge, time can be highly variable depending on the type of group at your table, so you'll most likely have to make adjustments while the game is in progress. A good guide is to assume about 15 minutes or so for a roleplaying scene.
While you're preparing, you might want to make some adjustments to the adventure's encounters to anticipate variance in character level or player skill. Most RPGA adventures allow the DM to adjust the encounters to the group's experience and level. You might want to make minor modifications to the encounters beforehand (such as leveling up or down an enemy, figuring out where to place an additional enemy, and so on) so that you're prepared to smoothly integrate the adjustments without stopping the game for long periods of time. Adjusting monsters is straightforward in 4th Edition, but if you haven't had a lot of practice with it, it's always a good idea to make some notes.
Lastly, while preparing your adventure, make sure you thoroughly read it through twice, if possible. The first time, just give the adventure a read and make notes on anything that jumps out at you; if you have an idea how to adjust an encounter to make it more fun or if you see a potential place where you'll need to troubleshoot, quickly write a note and keep reading. The second time you read through, stop frequently to think about how you'd like each encounter to develop. While some sections in each encounter's text can aid you, it might be worthwhile to make additional notes on tactics or roleplaying flourishes you can add to the adventure.
After you've prepared your adventure, it's time pack for the event. If you're going to a convention or gameday, make sure you bring all the materials you need to the show. Make sure you print out a copy of your adventure or bring a laptop. Don't forget "the little things" like pens/pencils, paper, the gaming schedule (usually only necessary for bigger shows), and your dice! DMing away from home doesn't mean you need to bring all your books; it's best to only bring your Player's Handbook to keep your load light (RPGA adventures have all the statistics in the text). Players that are using character options from other books need to have the material present, so the burden's not on you to have the appropriate rulebook references. If you're bringing Dungeon Tiles to use for your encounters, it's always a good idea to bring a gridded playmat as a backup, just in case some tiles go missing or your group veers off the beaten path. If you're going to be at the public spot for a while, you might want to pack some snacks and drinks (if the venue allows you to bring such things).
Now that you've prepped your adventure and loaded up for your event, you're ready for showtime. Next month, we'll talk about what to expect while you're at the event. Until then, happy monster slaying!