Behind the Screen: The Perils of Improper Prep..

2007 September 12
by Dante

As mentioned earlier this week, we have been experimenting with the noble art of co-DMing. I would like to share a cautionary tale of symbiotic preparation gone terribly wrong in the hopes that nobody repeats the errors that troubled us for a brief while.

Let it not be said that I won’t own up to my mistakes!

The Problem – Preparation Gone Wrong

A few sessions into our first experiment into co-DMing, Murphy came to visit and my co-DM was not able to come up with any compelling story advancing elements for the session (which started in an hour and a half). He suggested that we try a module that he had handy. It was a realtively intricate haunted mansion story, however it soon became apparent that there was Too Much Stuff in there for a one-session diversion like we had originally intended.

Using the principles of creating episodic content, we had placed the hook of this module in the adequate hands of the leader of the local thieves guild, who recruited our players at swordpoint to go and rescue his children that had gone missing in the vicinity of the haunted mansion.

Unfortunately, this worked too well… we had crafted a scenario that drove our players into our “prepared” content, however we had not left them with an out that didn’t involve their organs ending up on the black market.

Oh no, whatever did you do?

After two sessions, our group was growing weary of the setting. It was a little advanced for their party level, so they were forced to go through the cycle of fight then go back to town to get healing at least twice. They scarcely made it 1/3 of the way through the floor plan of the haunted mansion after these two sessions so I did what any good self-respecting DM would do: started hacking stuff out of there.

All of a sudden the seven rooms that the players didn’t go into on the main floor became a long wide hallway, which turned a bend to the basement stairs. The basement, which had originally been a giant cavern structure, got boiled out to its component teleportation puzzle that took them to the battle with the Big Bad.

Since they hadn’t made it to these areas yet, it was a pretty easy decision and it led to a pretty spectacular moment for our fighter. The module eventually resolved, and the players appeared satisfied at the result. Due to some unexpectedly acerbic comments by our fighter and cleric, the party still ended up on the bad side of the thieves guild, but that is a story for another time.

The Great Post-Mortem

I would like to be very clear in saying that this was not my co-DM’s fault. I should have opted to take the time to read through the module thoroughly and cut away the parts that were too time consuming ahead of schedule, but I opted to wing it.

As a result it became rather apparent to the players that they were inside of a module, which is something that is usually a pretty major gaffe. While my players generally embraced the hook that I placed before them, it would have been more appropriate if I had given them an out that didn’t place them immediately in mortal peril.

In the world of co-DMing, preparation should be a two-way street. Always (and I mean always) have something prepared if the co-DM gets sick at the last minute, has writers block, or is otherwise incapacitated… it will be better for your players, your game, and your stress level.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. ChattyDM permalink
    September 13, 2007

    I really like how you took a good reading of your player’s enjoyment and decided to put the scalpel in the adventure to salvage it.

    And it had the super extra bonus of making your fighter the star-of-the-day, which usually makes for a ‘high-five’ moment between the player and his DM.

  2. Yax permalink
    September 13, 2007

    I’ve co-dmed a few times at my college RPG convention back in the day.

    I think it at least doubled the quality of my DMing. I was DMing with a close friend and we complemented each other well.

    I also believe that it at least quadruples the prep time!

    That quadrupled prep time can be a lot of fun though since it doubles as hanging out time.

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