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First time DM (Lengthy Post FYI)

   
First time DM (Lengthy Post FYI)

So, I am going through the DM crisis that, from what I hear, everyone has at some point. The "I am in over my head and don't think this is for me" kind of crisis. While most people it seems feel this is from a general lack of game knowledge, party sizes being too large, or just not having enough time to properly build encounters and such, my cause is probably a slightly different experience. Which brings me here to sort of get a general opinion on if this is my fault, or the players, or just a case of personalities not mixing.

Without using names, I will give a brief rundown of the state of affairs. It is a 3.5 campaign, but for some reason (probably part of the problem) I decided I would use warhammer 40K as the setting. Which needless to say causes friction with 3.5 rules. For example, a chain shirt is little defense from a fully automatic 75 caliber grenade launcher (the standard space marine boltgun in 40K). In 40K, they don't have "magic", but instead anyone who can use such powers is called a psyker. From my best understanding, I would compare psykers more to the psion in D&D. However, I have a traditional sorcerer in my party, let's call this player Alpha. This naturally caused me some issues because A. How do I balance the Lore of this giant universe of "psykers" with a magic user from 3.5.

B. And this is where I lean toward my fault as DM and maybe I just shouldn't run games, but personally I loathe casters. I have never played one. I am the barbarian/fighter/tank type player. I have never liked casters in ANY game I have ever played, RPG, videogame or otherwise. So my initial reaction was to try and "limit" her casting power by default. C. In D&D especially, Casters ARE totally absurdly powerful after surviving the early levels. This easily leads to situations where you are helpless. That big nasty great wyrm boss, I use wish to teleport it to another dimension and now we get to loot with no combat. How does ANY DM balance this with a regular melee character. Now, on to the other bits. Long story short, Alpha has repeatedly said "there is no hook" as a complaint. (We have only had 3 sessions so far) I understand Alpha went in knowing nothing about 40K universe, so yes she won't be as invested as me, someone who played warhammer since the 90's. However, again to point my personal experience, I never needed a hook. I am simple minded. Is there A. Women or B. Things to punch. That's where I am going. I generally deferred to the group for decisions because chances are any destination would have both A and B in some regard. So I am clueless as to what she even means by "hook" or why it is such a big deal. Furthermore, Alpha complained about railroading. While I admit the first 2 sessions did have a decent amount of that, I used the NPC to further the plot to get to a point where the players have more direct control.

Another complaint was that "I wasn't giving enough information to the group", such as asking questions that would have directly had spoilers for the campaign. Now, from my side of things, I also have had issues. For one, none of the players seem in any way interested (I know probably my fault) but they even show up in emotional headspaces where I question if we should even be playing at times. They also had NO backstory to work with. When I called out Alpha for this, the excuse was "you gave me no material to craft a back story." Again, as a player this never was an issue. You could tell me "you are in random world, on random mission" and it would be fine because my backstory is going to be "Oh I come from this tribe, I left to go discover stronger opponents for combat" or "I am a former soldier who left because I felt I was being underappreciated and became a mercenary", whatever. Simple, but something to go on.

Meanwhile, this was literally a backstory I got "My dad was a dark elf and my mom was human", "I am following Alpha because we hooked up at a club." I feel the backstories were treated as a joke at best, or insulting at worst. After trying to give the group more options and control (New map with several locations to explore or at least ask questions about) the party was indifferent and said "why would we go over there when we don't have a reason." Um, you are asking why would you go investigate demons....because they are demons? That isn't enough reason?

Anywho, I realize this is 90 percent on me being a terribad DM, but like I said, any comments advice etc would be great Also sorry if for some reason this is not the right forum to post? I was a bit confused as to what section this should go into. Thanks.

First of all - breaking that wall of text into paragraphs would make that so much more readable.

Second - hacking the bloody hell out of D&D3.5 to reproduce 40k would be a nightmare, and it sounds like it's quickly becoming one. While I'm for hacking everything and anything to suit one's needed, there's a limit to it all.

Third - your dislike of spellcasting makes D&D a terrible choice for this in the first place. There's a reason people talk about martial/caster disparity, and there's little you can do about it.

For parts 2 and 3, a completely different system would be the best way to approach this. There are systems just for 40k out there, such as Rogue Trader and Deathwatch. This will help constrain what it is you want out of the campaign, because those systems are better suited to the setting.

Fourth - regarding your player who has no investment of the setting, there are two options. 1) educate - by giving her access to the vast amounts of lore that populates the 40k universe, you may have a convertee. There's a whole wikia page dedicated to 40k somewhere on the internet, and I've lost many hours to it in the past. And then there's option #2) not care about it and just roll with the punches.

Well, there's a third option: scrap the campaign and try something fresh and new. It sounds like your players are not sold on the 40k setting, so trying to push it further is only going to get old fast for you. Talk to your players about what they're interested in, and what excites them. Every person has their own tastes when it comes to RPGs, and different aspects of the hobby are more interesting than others to them - I recommend reading this article by the Angry GM to understand it further.

Second two last - you may want to explore other options out there in the hobby. Figure out what you and your players find interesting, then find something that will fit your needs. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Lastly, don't sell yourself so short. GMing is an art-form, one born of experience. Mistakes are just part of gaining that experience. You tried something a little out of the norm, and found that it's not panning out the way you hoped - this happens to every GM at least once (if not repeatedly). Don't lose hope and keep at it.

Well, these are just some random thoughts, but based on what you've said:

1) Use some line breaks.
Seriously, that's one hell of a wall of text.

2) Don't worry too much.
You're a first time DM so, yes, do try to improve, but don't expect to get everything right first time. First time I ran a game I slightly underestimated how tough my NPC was, made a choice about readying that my players didn't agree with, knocked one of them out, and caused them to ragequit. It wasn't pretty. Just chalk it up to experience.

3) The whole WH40k/D&D/casters thing.
These are definitely things... honestly I would say that the first time you're running a game, especially if you're unsure of yourself, it's better to keep it simple. The setting itself shouldn't matter that much but trying to play a game of D&D when you don't like casters seems a bit absurd (they're an integral part of the system). Trying to play a setting where those types of character basically don't exist (but then allowing one of them) is also kind of tricky.

If you do allow casters, try not to let personal preference get in the way - yes there's a challenge to DMing for them at higher levels but that's probably not an issue right now, and nobody's making you play that character yourself. However a valid option is just to say "these types of character are not allowed in this setting" (though bear in mind that a lot of ills can be covered with some judicious refluffing). That's probably fairer than "allowing" a type of character but giving them a hard time as a result.

4+) The hook/backstory/railroading/info thing.
OK, I think this is the big one.

To reiterate, this is your first time, the players should cut you some slack. However, I think what you need to do is work with them to create a story which interests all of you.

A hook does matter - players need to feel motivated, and they usually want to feel that their characters will be motivated too. This can be as simple as offering them money to do a job - it's a bit shallow, but at the very least it can work as a first step. Perhaps that first job can then result in a feud between them and a recurring villain who can spur on later adventures, but the point is that you've got past the first scene so you've started to develop the characters and the story.

It's good to have options, but you have to realise that if you create an open world, "sandbox"-type game, you can't predict what will attract the players. They're probably right to question why they would go to some random place just because there are demons... why would anyone want to go somewhere where there are demons!? That sounds dangerous! Always ask yourself, why should the characters care? Get them emotionally invested! That ties into the next thing, the creation of the characters themselves.

The backstory thing is also a collaborative one. If the players know nothing about the setting, they may have difficulty creating interesting backstories. They may not feel as though they are able. Not everyone is like that, and maybe you're great at it, but remember that they may need some help. I'd start by asking them for a very rough concept, then perhaps offer some details yourself - try to tie them into the (local) setting and, ideally, the plot.

Frankly, yes, "my dad was a dark elf and my mom was human" is a poor excuse for a character's story. There's no story there at all - it's barely the makings of a family tree. It's hard to tell though whether your players just don't care, or whether they genuinely struggle with this. Try to help them. You could run with that, and ask "OK so how did that affect your character's life? How does that make them feel?" etc. Or, ask something else in an attempt to get more flesh on the bones, e.g. "How did your character become a Sorcerer?" - and try to build up the setting as you go. Maybe there's a small club of Sorcerers who gather to discuss how they're going to take over the world... ask if that would interest that character. And so on.

Honestly, this does not sound like you being a terrible DM, it sounds like them being terrible, but I don't know whether that's because they're genuinely terrible or they've just switched off because they are not invested (playing in a setting you love but they know nothing about probably doesn't help).

Try to figure out what will make them care. You can always throw something at them - perhaps they get mugged in the streets; would that make them want to wreck revenge? Perhaps racists throw them out of a bar because one character is half-dark-elf?

By the way, railroading can be very annoying if it's not what you expect or want, but like I said, they should cut you some slack - feel free to say "yeah, sorry guys, I'm railroading you here, I'm just trying to keep the game moving". But if they accuse you of railroading, maybe that's good - it's a sign of life! Try asking them what they would rather do instead. Once you have a little bit on input from them, it's way easier to keep them engaged.

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Originally Posted by sgill07 View Post
So, I am going through the DM crisis that, from what I hear, everyone has at some point. The "I am in over my head and don't think this is for me" kind of crisis.
I've had something similar. Does that count?

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Which brings me here to sort of get a general opinion on if this is my fault, or the players, or just a case of personalities not mixing.
My first and best GMing advice is: forget about placing blame. If it doesn't work, fix it. It the problem is in a relationship between the players, or players and you, remember that in relationships sometimes/often both parties are right...they just don't want the same thing. (Obviously there are exceptions, but this is a damn game. There's no point getting righteous over it!)
So, see whether you can find a common ground. If you can't, apply the 40k solution!


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Without using names, I will give a brief rundown of the state of affairs. It is a 3.5 campaign, but for some reason (probably part of the problem) I decided I would use warhammer 40K as the setting. Which needless to say causes friction with 3.5 rules. For example, a chain shirt is little defense from a fully automatic 75 caliber grenade launcher (the standard space marine boltgun in 40K). In 40K, they don't have "magic", but instead anyone who can use such powers is called a psyker. From my best understanding, I would compare psykers more to the psion in D&D.
I agree with your analysis.
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However, I have a traditional sorcerer in my party, let's call this player Alpha.
Why in the Screaming Vortex did you allow it?

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This naturally caused me some issues because A. How do I balance the Lore of this giant universe of "psykers" with a magic user from 3.5.
You...don't? As stated above, either say "nothing but Psions exist" and stand by it, use a ruleset that's better suited to 40k (my preferred solution - see my user title) or use 3.5 and have the setting change as a result (least preferred solution).

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B. And this is where I lean toward my fault as DM and maybe I just shouldn't run games, but personally I loathe casters. I have never played one. I am the barbarian/fighter/tank type player. I have never liked casters in ANY game I have ever played, RPG, videogame or otherwise. So my initial reaction was to try and "limit" her casting power by default.
No, you're fine. I don't like "full casters" either, and I'm usually the guy who plays a fencer, wrestler or kung-fu master!

Hasn't stopped me from running games. In fact, I've been doing it soon after I began roleplaying...which was about two decades ago.

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C. In D&D especially, Casters ARE totally absurdly powerful after surviving the early levels. This easily leads to situations where you are helpless. That big nasty great wyrm boss, I use wish to teleport it to another dimension and now we get to loot with no combat. How does ANY DM balance this with a regular melee character.
The ruleset you're using is well-recognised for suffering by Caster Supremacy. Google Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard.

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Now, on to the other bits. Long story short, Alpha has repeatedly said "there is no hook" as a complaint. (We have only had 3 sessions so far) I understand Alpha went in knowing nothing about 40K universe, so yes she won't be as invested as me, someone who played warhammer since the 90's. However, again to point my personal experience, I never needed a hook. I am simple minded. Is there A. Women or B. Things to punch. That's where I am going. I generally deferred to the group for decisions because chances are any destination would have both A and B in some regard. So I am clueless as to what she even means by "hook" or why it is such a big deal.
Hook Request, a.k.a. the "why am I here, Horatio?" problem.
There are basically three solutions to this, IMOE.
1) Tell them they're self-motivating. I.e. the player tells you what the PC is doing there.
2) Tell them to write down goals for their PCs on the character sheet (I prefer a trick from Reign RPG where you have three Passions: A long-term goal, a short-term goal, and a passion you know to be wrong, but have a hard time resisting).
Use "effort and success in chasing those goals" for awarding XP.
And of course, you now know what to dangle under their noses.
3) Tell them to write backstories and look for hooks there. I've used this, but it's not my preferred approach).

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Furthermore, Alpha complained about railroading. While I admit the first 2 sessions did have a decent amount of that, I used the NPC to further the plot to get to a point where the players have more direct control.
Tell them that. In the same words.

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Another complaint was that "I wasn't giving enough information to the group", such as asking questions that would have directly had spoilers for the campaign. Now, from my side of things, I also have had issues. For one, none of the players seem in any way interested (I know probably my fault) but they even show up in emotional headspaces where I question if we should even be playing at times.
Not a good sign. Not necessarily your fault, either. (Also, see "blame" above).

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They also had NO backstory to work with. When I called out Alpha for this, the excuse was "you gave me no material to craft a back story."
Bwuh? The whole of 40k universe isn't enough for this group? Don't they have Internet, or know how to use search engines?
Funny, I've never had a player request hooks without having a backstory. In fact, there's usually a correlation between length of backstory and the likelihood of looking for hooks.
Interesting.

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Again, as a player this never was an issue. You could tell me "you are in random world, on random mission" and it would be fine because my backstory is going to be "Oh I come from this tribe, I left to go discover stronger opponents for combat" or "I am a former soldier who left because I felt I was being underappreciated and became a mercenary", whatever. Simple, but something to go on. Meanwhile, this was literally a backstory I got "My dad was a dark elf and my mom was human", "I am following Alpha because we hooked up at a club." I feel the backstories were treated as a joke at best, or insulting at worst.
OK, first of all: you're not running the game for yourself. People that do that are called "writers"!
Second, talk with them. Tell them their characters don't fit the setting, and ask them to put some more effort explaining you how they fit in the place. (And how in the Screaming Vortex is a half-dark-elf even alive given the Inquisition?)

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After trying to give the group more options and control (New map with several locations to explore or at least ask questions about) the party was indifferent and said "why would we go over there when we don't have a reason." Um, you are asking why would you go investigate demons....because they are demons? That isn't enough reason?
See, not everyone is a self-motivating player...much as I'd like that to be untrue (but that's why I came up with the "goals" trick, which mostly fixes it).
Also, they do have a partial point. Investigating demons is dangerous. Why are they taking the risk?
Hint: ask them this question. See "goals", above.

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Anywho, I realize this is 90 percent on me being a terribad DM, but like I said, any comments advice etc would be great Also sorry if for some reason this is not the right forum to post? I was a bit confused as to what section this should go into. Thanks.
Not a problem. But use line breaks next time! (I pretty much did it for you on this post).

Quote:
Originally Posted by AsenRG View Post
You...don't? As stated above, either say "nothing but Psions exist" and stand by it, use a ruleset that's better suited to 40k (my preferred solution - see my user title) or use 3.5 and have the setting change as a result (least preferred solution).
You could easily meet in the middle and say the Sorcerer is just another type of Psion - refluff! Psionics/Magic Transparency already exists. But if the Sorcerer is in-universe a Sorcerer and very different to a Psion then, yes, you have a character/setting mismatch... which basically makes no sense.
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Originally Posted by AsenRG View Post
The ruleset you're using is well-recognised for suffering by Caster Supremacy. Google Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard.
As a small point of information, it's worth noting that this is a misnomer - the problem is actually "Exponential Fighter, Exponential Wizard", which is possible even worse. The point stands, however.

That said, it doesn't necessarily matter. It's most likely to cause you a problem if you have system-savvy players and an inexperienced DM (not a problem unique to the caster/martial discrepancy, but possible exacerbated by it) and at higher levels (where the gaps are bigger). In a lot of games though it never really shows up, so it can easily be that thing that you spend far too long worrying about but never actually have to deal with. I'd suggest worrying out the player engagement thing first (because without that, you're liable not to have a game at all) and the balance and challenging them later, if and when it becomes a problem.

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Originally Posted by sgill07 View Post
Which brings me here to sort of get a general opinion on if this is my fault, or the players, or just a case of personalities not mixing.
Gonna be honest, man. I think this was your fault:
Using D&D 3.5 to simulate the Warhammer universe was a terrible idea, especially since there's a Warhammer 40K rpg readily available.
If you prefer low-magic/no-magic settings/play, you should never have allowed a 'traditional sorcerer' at the table or explained that's what you wanted to play. You could have limited acceptable classes to partial casters, like the ranger, paladin or bard.
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Originally Posted by sgill07 View Post
How do I balance the Lore of this giant universe of "psykers" with a magic user from 3.5.
It'd probably be easier to just learn the Warhammer RPG.
I don't know if its available to you...
...maybe you could run a low-magic, 3.5 style adventure on an outback world in the 40K universe that has technologically regressed.
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Originally Posted by sgill07 View Post
Long story short, Alpha has repeatedly said "there is no hook" as a complaint.
If you're a first time DM, I suspect you've made the mistake of trying to run your adventure from scratch
You should probably stop and run a published adventure.
If you're determined to play 3.5, run Sunless Citadel.
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Originally Posted by sgill07 View Post
Another complaint was that "I wasn't giving enough information to the group"
"I am following Alpha because we hooked up at a club." I feel the backstories were treated as a joke at best, or insulting at worst.
It also sounds like you're the only one who understands the 40K universe in your group...
...which is almost certainly a bad idea if you haven't provided your players easy access to the world.
In the future, I'm planning on running Rappan Athuk, a mega-dungeon, from a small, third-party publisher, with their own campaign setting. Part of preparing the players, will be making information about the world that Rappan Athuk is in, accessible.
It's possible, you hoped that the players would do their own research (which is fair, Google makes all info readily available) but if nobody knows anything about this universe, they won't have much to go on accept each other's relationships and generic, archtype-based backgrounds.
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Originally Posted by sgill07 View Post
Anywho, I realize this is 90 percent on me being a terribad DM, but like I said, any comments advice etc would be great
Hmmmm.
I actually don't know if we 'know' that you're a terribad DM; you can still turn this around. It's only been three sessions.
If I were you, I would:
  1. If you're the only one in the group who knows 40K, let it go. You can't expect to get your whole group invested in a universe from scratch.
  2. Start over. Dump whatever you made and start fresh.
  3. If you're determined to run 3.5 and want to do low-magic, say so at the outset and only allow low-magic builds.
  4. Go with a published adventure, that has hooks already developed.
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Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
I'd suggest worrying out the player engagement thing first (because without that, you're liable not to have a game at all) and the balance and challenging them later, if and when it becomes a problem.
Second this.

That's why I said it was a "misnomer" - it's a name, but it's not really correct (though it's close enough to make the right point - this is really pedantry ).

It's like... calling a peanut a peanut or a raspberry a raspberry; the name is still the name, it's just misleading.

Thanks everyone. Again, sorry for not breaking the original post. Typing on a PC it didn't look that overwhelming. To address a few points raised:

1. Unfortunately, at this point its live by the sword die by the sword. If I scrapped the campaign totally and started over, I can fairly certainly say that I would lose most of the party.

2. While I was the most knowledgeable about the 40K setting for sure (well, 1 other player and good friend does know a fair bit as well) I did not just "blindly throw them into a setting." I in fact even shared sources for lore etc. Now yes, if someone for example asks "hey what are the dark elder" and I share links to videos etc, I do expect that person to do a bit of their own research with the material provided.

3. Yes, admittedly I probably should not have allowed the sorcerer for the 2 reasons mentioned A. Doesn't exactly fir the setting in general, B. My own personal preferences. However, I was concerned that outright banning casters would turn people away (since they are incredibly popular) and Alpha happens to be my girlfriend's twin. So potential friction.

4. As for "Why 3.5", well short answer: I have a good deal of 3.5 experience as a player (none playing dark heresy or deathwatch, the 40K rpg games), and when no one even knows much about the universe to begin with, that's a much harder sell to the player (in other words, if I said hey lets play a deathwatch campaign they probably would have said no, while they all talked about wanting a D&D session to get going), also I do not have any of the source books for 40K rpg, while I do have access to 3.5 books. So that is the short answer.

5. Thanks to everyone for the advice and words of encouragement.

Also, my plan did at least register with my girlfriend, who is now loving the 40K Ork lore, bought her first models, and reading the first book of the Horus Heresy series. So hey, success on some level lol.







 

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