DMing Your First Game In Public

Posted on August 11, 2010 by


One of the things I was looking forward to doing at Gencon was DMing my first game in public.  You see, I’m not a great public speaker, in fact, I’m pretty terrible.  I don’t do well in public arenas, and I’m very self conscious about my DMing abilities.  Sure, I’ve DMed for some online friends here and there, but it’s not the same as when you are staring at a table of strangers at a convention.  This isn’t Skype, this is face to face.  It makes it a little harder when you’ve got a DMing blog, and perhaps people set their expectations a bit high.  Unfortunate, but true.

So I decided to keep things simple.  I ran a 2nd level Chaos Scar adventure, straight from Dungeon Magazine.  I didn’t tweak it or alter it in any way, I just ran it as is.  If you’re interested, I ran the “‘Lost Library” adventure, as it includes iconic D&D elements like a small dungeon and a dragon.  I felt that it was a good choice.

The Lost Library, with tokens and tiles.

So what did I learn?  Well, these things may help you out as you prep to run your first public game at a con or store somewhere.

  • Have all your player’s contact information.  Seems simple right?  Well, I didn’t have it and it led to a bit of sitting around wasting valuable time.  Make sure everyone has your cell phone number, email, or whatever to reach you at the venue, instead of having to walk around looking for you.
  • Be prepared with supplies.  You are the DM, and unfortunately, makes you a bit responsible for the table.  Like it or not, sometimes our role gravitates that way.  have plenty of pencils and scratch paper and such ready to go.  Also, be ready to provide your players withe counters or minis for the game.  if you don’t, and they don’t bring any either, you’ve made it harder on yourself.
  • Have your maps pre-drawn or assembled.  You’ll be surprised how much time that saves.
  • Read, and re-read the adventure.  Be comfortable with what you are running, even if it’s just a quick delve.  I read that thing like 10 times, finding sports to add to the story a bit.  I made one of the last bosses have a coughing attack every now and then.  Not necessary to the story, but it adds a bit of texture to the guy.  In the beginning, witnesses heard coughing at a murder scene, in the end, the players heard coughing at the last battle.  That sort of thing adds a bit.
  • Manage time expectations.  Delves are meant to be run rather quickly, but be careful what you promise in terms of times.  Our delve ran a bit long, and I’m not sure where that happened.  At cons, players may be scheduled for other events, so be mindful of that as you play.
  • When you wrap it up, gather feedback.  Everyone wants to know how they did, so don’t be afraid to ask.  It’ll only make you a better DM.
  • Try to help as much as possible.  Don’t be frustrated by newbie players, but rather help them out as you play.  That’s part of the role.  Embrace it, or specify when you are setting it up that it is a game for advanced players.
  • Have fun.  Play it up.  Command the attention of the table.  Con gaming rooms can be loud.  You want your players looking at you, paying attention to you, and enjoying what you prepared.  You don’t want them distracted by the table next to yours.  Make the adventure the focus.

I had a great time playing, and if I go back to a con, I’m definitely running something again.  If it’s 4e, it’s going to be in the heroic tier, as I feel it works perfectly for convention play.  Quick, fast, fun, and iconic D&D.  That’s what public gaming in a few hours should be about.

Here are some pics from my game, courtesy of photographer Robert E. Kusiak

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Posted in: 4e D&D, Gaming