What I did wrong at D&D: Family Edition Ep 1

As part of one of those “family bonding” things, I was asked to run a game of D&D for my family. Since I’m a sucker for attention and love a game of D&D, no matter what side of the screen I’m on, I agreed to do the DMing. And, since I’m in noway perfect, I made mistakes. Welcome back to WidWad: What I Did Wrong at D&D (Family Edition).

1. Proper Invitations

My first mistake was assuming everyone was all on the same page in regards to when we started and exactly what we were going to be doing. While it sounds like that’s someone else’s fault, it is an issue for my side of the screen. I should have known my family was a little fuzzy on the exact nature of the session. We were under some odd time constraints. And, since this was supposed to be the start of super special family time, I should have gone the extra mile, advertised for it, and made up personalized invitations. It would have added an extra touch of class/pizzazz, showed how important it was to me, and given all participants a reference to when we had intended to start, as opposed to an hour late.

Starting late didn’t really matter, due to other points below, but it was annoying for me to have the amount of time I had to game cut down due to a late start.

2. Adequate Preparations

So my time before the game was truncated due to GalaxyFest. I had two days where my whole time was dedicated to the Con. And my days right be fore that was dedicated to preparing for the con. So In the week before the game, while I was able to sit down with everyone and make sire we had characters made, there was a lot of preparation I needed to do that didn’t actually happen.

First, I wanted to have the spells printed up for the spell casters.  I had received a set of the official WotC Arcane Spell cards for my birthday (Thanks Jared and Austin!) but unfortunately, about half of the spells needed are probably in the divine set. And, greedy little magpie that I am, I don’t really want the players to always be using my cards. Because they’re special to me and I don’t want to share. So I had intended to print up something similar or at least something of similar utility, so the spell casting players have a valid reference.

Second, we had intended there to be a specific kind of food prepared, food that would work well around the table without interrupting the game. That isn’t what we had and, at the tail end of the game, I had players getting up to start making dinner. Not the ideal playing situation.

So with the game looming for Sunday, I’ve totally done all my prep, right? Lol.

3. Know the Adventure

I’ve fallen into a bit of a trap, the same trap I’ve dealt with before when trying to run premades. Because I don’t have to write it myself, I start to feel like I don’t need to keep studying it again and again. And my lack of preparation shows when I run the game.

The Adventure I’m running is called “Storm King’s Thunder” the most recent of the WotC 5e Adventure (at the time of writing). It’s a large, wander filled adventure , so there is often little advantage to preparing swaths of the adventure. But just because there doesn’t feel like much advantage, doesn’t mean there isn’t an advantage.

If I had to run the first section, Nightstone, again, I would rework all the presentation of the chapter. I’d have an annotated version of the map, so I would know where all the goblins were, what all the buildings were, and, in general, be able to present the town better than having to scan through the notes and determine what was where.

4. Have a Map

I should have prepared a map. As much as theater of the mind is my preferred way of doing battles (unless it’s a big, complicated, tactical battle), with a big , wandering open town to be in, having the map as a reference point would have freed me from having to try and deal with mapping and describing at the same time, I could have focused solely on describing.

Being able to let the party determine where they wanted to go by the visual cues of the map would let me be able to do things like throw goblins at the party if it makes sense based on the party actions. It really would have smoothed things along.

I’m also going to want the map for the next session. …. Not for any… particular reason. *whistles*

5. Know the hooks

The first section of SKT has a few different plots to move the characters from level 2 to level 3. Okay, 2. But as I was trying to run one of them, I realized I didn’t want to. It wouldn’t work well with the party and it had way too many moving pieces for me to be able to handle that night or any other. Maybe if the party explored in a different order, maybe if I had taken the time to know the character well enough to roleplay her, maybe if her story didn’t seem so ridiculous, or went against the believable information the party had already acquired, it’d be okay. But none of those things were true. So I ended the session, thought for a minute or two, then went back and announced that I was retconning the tail end of the session, not that many people were paying attention.

I might have to go back and do the math for the next session, to see if I need to tweak the number of foes and whatnot to make the leveling work like it should. Or, just assume that the numbers don’t make sense for this early level and it’s just there to rush the players to level 3 and the rest of the adventure as quickly as possible.

6. Know the Players

So at the start of the session, I was tried to figure out a hook to bring the players to the town of Nightstone. I wasn’t coming up with much, so we determined it randomly. Then, an hour later, we learned that one member of the party was a noble, which, if I had but known, would have given the party an actual mission and reason to be in the town.

It shouldn’t be an issue in future sessions, as I helped all the other characters be created, but it threw me for a bit of a loop.

7. A Solid Start

One of my personal pet peeves is when there isn’t a solid sign for the game to start. Sessions that sorta kinda meander their way into being, can they really count as sessions? I feel like I have a bit of an excuse, what with this being the first session to a bunch of new/inexperienced players. Future sessions will have the summation of past events that I can start with.  Had I been clever, I would have used some simple party/improv game bits to let the party determine who they were and where they were going.

8. Increase difficulty?

I may have to do research into the adventure, but I’m pretty sure the first session was too easy. The goblins they fought where in such low numbers, it was only bad luck on their part that it became anything related to attrition. Most of the time, they were able to kill the goblins in a single hit. It was enough that, other than the first fight against a pair of Worgs, I don’t think the party feel threatened. Vechs, I believe, was talking in one of his UHC videos and mentioned that there were only 2 types of death in video games, one hit kills and attrition deaths. One hit kills must be avoided at all costs, but attrition damage feels like it can be taken, and slowly, slowly, you see your hit points and other resources whittling away. It’s scarier, but not as quick. One hit kills can be scary, but it it happens to you, then there’s no time for you to be scared.


So those are my thoughts for the first session. I think the next sessions will be better, with more structure, more adventure, and more fun. So that’ll be cool. I’m excited to see where we’ll go from here. I’m sure, no matter where this takes us, I’ll make mistakes to write about.



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    1. It was difficult enough to keep everybody involved. Once all are in the habit of making it a Thing, of knowing how to play, etc, I’ll consider it. But I’ve skyped people into a live game before and it’s not a satisfying interation with that person, for either side of the screen. I’ll reconsider down the line, or, perhaps, run this again with an online group, but I can’t see digitally bringning someone in just yet

  1. When it comes to low-level minions, if they’re fighting fair, they will lose a straight fight. This does not mean giving them magic items or levels to soup them up. Indeed, that would be equivalent to offering dessert.
    #1 Rather, have them fight tactically if appropriate. Make sure they take advantage of choke points, use the terrain and environment to their advantage.

    #2 If appropriate, use poisoned weapons to make them that more dangerous when they make a hit. And if the players attempt to use the poisons they capture, there is always the risk that the players will foul up and poison themselves as they apply it to their own weapons.

    #3 Don’t be afraid to have them retreat. Staying and fighting is for strong parties of heroes.

    #4 Give the minions the defensive advantage. If the players are raiding their home, the minions should know it better than anyone else. Including every trap.

    1. I’m okay with monsters losing a fight. It’s them losing without costing the party any resources that’s the issue. The way the adventure is written has the party encountering two goblins at a time. In some of those encounters, the only reason everyone in the party got a turn was because the people with high initiative rolled crap for their attack. No spells were cast and the only damage the party took the any damage is because the druid walked in between a pair of goblins *that the adventure starts blinded and unawares* and started talking to them. Other than the pair of worgs, a clever player could have soloed the goblins in the town.

      Your points are all valid tho. But had I prepared like I ought to have, I would have noticed that I had 6 players while the adventure is balanced around four and would have added a handful of goblins to the town. I’d have at least made the average goblin count 3, and for the blind man’s bluff goblins would have moved it to 5.

      Ya know, I could just run it for you. I know Josh has been on me for a game sometime. And since I already have to prep it for my family game, there’s no reason why I couldn’t be running it twice.

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