Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preparing an LFR Module for an RPGA Event

Four hours may seem like a long time, but when that's all you have to DM an LFR Module at an RPGA event, you need to make the most of each of the 240 minutes. Being as prepared as possible before you sit down ensures that you and the players are best positioned to get the most out of the adventure; not only do you have a handle on tactics for a particular encounter, you also have an understanding of the flow between encounters and the underlying theme tying the encounters, the back story, and the NPCs together. This means your combats are challenging, your NPCs memorable, and your on-the-fly adjustments fine-tuned. How do you best prepare to run a mod?

Read the Adventure
Read the LFR module cover to cover looking for theme, flavor, and flow; at this point focus on the mood of the adventure (frightening, humorous, etc.), get a sense of mystery, adventure, romance, etc., and see how the different encounters lead to one another and into the story as a whole. This will provide clues regarding narration and basic NPC attitudes.

Read Each Combat Encounter
Lay the encounter out to get a sense of terrain, enemy placement, basic tactics, etc. Look for appropriate interplay between foes’s powers keeping in mind the roles and intelligence of the monsters. Remember that the difficulty of an encounter is based in large part on how well the creatures use their powers. Poor choice of power usage can under power the fight in the PC’s favor, although having a monster change to a suboptimal tactic is a subtle DMing trick to give the players a small break (if necessary). Make notes about the best time to use a foe’s powers and have them be as opportunistic as possible.

Assuming you use index cards to track initiative, make cards for each foe (or group of essentially identical foes) so you can include them in your initiative stack and track HPs, powers, etc. right on the card. Doing this will speed up play and will help you remember tactics, etc. Also, if you prepare the cards for 4, 5, and 6 PCs at both low and high difficulties, it will make the combat process much smoother and maximize playing time.

Read Each Skill Challenge
DMing skill challenges is one of the more challenging aspects to running an LFR Module; nailing this skill set will enhance your games tremendously. Make a list of skills available and determine whether they are primary (i.e. a success counts toward the number of successes necessary to complete the challenge) or secondary (i.e. a success gives a bonus to another PC or removes a previous failure). Mike Mearls has a series of articles in “Dungeon” and “Dragon” magazines that discuss skill challenge design. See if there are any glaring holes in the design (i.e. the primary skills are all specialized into one or two classes, a particular class doesn’t have ANY trained skills from the list, etc.) Most importantly, make sure you have a sense of the time frame each skill challenge encompasses; this will enhance the narration by making sure it covers the elapsing of time during the challenge.

List Each Significant NPC
One criticism of 4E D&D in general, and LFR Modules in particular, is the relative lack of role playing opportunity the modules provide, particularly given the amount of time alloted to a convention session. An easy way to provide some role playing opportunities and enhance the story you and the PCs are telling is by making the NPCs come alive. While there are dozens of techniques available, I’ll suggest three easy ones:
  1. Pick a (somewhat) distinctive voice. It doesn’t have to be flawless, but having the old guy talk with a gravely voice and the service wench talk in a high-pitched voice can make a world of difference. Alternatively, or in addition, come up with a phrase or way of speech unique to the character. Again, it's a little touch here that will make all the difference.
  2. Pick a mannerism. Have him wheeze, sneeze, cough, sniffle, squint, scratch his beard, break wind frequently, whistle, etc. Just make sure he does it enough that the players can associate the mannerism with the NPC.
  3. Pick a goal. It can be simple (He wants to bring the PCs food and get paid for it), or complex (he wants the attractive female pc to become sympathetic to him so he can use her to make the Mayor’s Daughter jealous). Then just have everything the NPC says or does work in some fashion towards that goal. Generally, the smarter the NPC, the more complex the goal CAN be (although it certainly does not have to be that complex).
Make an index card of each NPC with a brief physical description, notes on his voice, mannerism, and goal, and keep that index card by the appropriate encounter(s). Then, pull that card out and run with it during the encounter.

Make Any Narration Notes
The last preparatory step is to make sure you have a grasp on the narration. Be sure to note anything you feel MUST be conveyed. Try to pick a theme for each encounter to make sure your descriptions match the tone and feel of the encounter and the adventure. Also note the passage of time during the narration and that helps keep the story in focus.

The above work takes roughly one hour preparation but the results are worth the effort. Don’t forget that you can complete this work when you first get a module then just keep your notes for repeated running. This can also help continuity when you run multiple modules from an extended story arc.

No comments:

Post a Comment