by Mike Shea on 13 March 2017
This month, on the DM's Deep Dive, I spent an hour devouring the intellect of Teos Abadia. Teos has more than 10,000 hours of time spent running D&D organized play games including games for Living Greyhawk, Ashes of Athas, and now the D&D Adventurer's League. Teos and I have spent years discussing DMing and working on projects together including Vault of the Dracolich with Scott Fitzgerald Gray. You can find Teos's writings on the web at Alphastream.org.
Teos and I discuss what DMs can learn from organized play and what tips organized play DMs can pass along to DMs who primarily run home games.
We started off by discussing Teos's three big takeaways from running organized play over the years. These included:
Running organized play means being able to work with many DMs and many players. We rarely get to see so many DMs running so many different games than we do in organized play.
When DMs work together on an organized play campaign, they can build a really strong community. Teos brings up the Living Greyhawk and Ashes of Athas communities as examples.
Seeing how players can develop a schtick for a character that other players feed off of. One character had a "tiny god" in a bag around his neck that he continually spoke to to make decisions. All of the rest of the party played off of this 13th Age style "one unique thing".
Here are a bunch of other interesting notes from the conversation.
Learning from running multiple iterations of the same adventure is an experience we don't often have at home games. Not only does it refine what we run but the differences between groups can be really interesting. When we have dozens of DMs all running Caves of Chaos, as an example we discuss in the show, different DMs can work together to come up with really interesting ideas that they can implement in the game. In my own experiences, running Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Curse of Strahd, and Storm King's Thunder for multiple groups let me refine it as I ran it.
The shared experience is another big advantage to running published adventures. So many DMs are running these same adventures that, even if you can't discuss it with other DMs directly, we can feed off of the experiences that other DMs have had running these adventures. If we're running Storm King's Thunder for example, we can use both the Power Score Storm King's Thunder guide and Tom Lommell's Storm King's Thunder Disorganized Play video series to see how other games worked out.
Most of the time, our players are happy for anyone to be running the game. As Teos puts it, even if you're a half-warm body who shows up to run the game, people are happy. This was a big takeaway for me from the show, similar to Enrique's big take-away from our last show that no one gives a shit about your big fantastic world. We all want our games to be amazing storytelling experiences but the bar is actually pretty low. Trying to be the best DM we can be is a noble goal but we shouldn't let that desire paralyze us from running a game, organized or not.
If you have the chance to play an adventure before you run it, you can learn a lot about how you would run it. Convention "slot zero" sessions are one such way. If you can't do this, you can watch people play the adventures you're going to run on YouTube. For example, if you're going to run Lost Mines of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set, you can watch Greg Bilsland run it before you run it yourself.
One of the questions we received talks about how to handle situations in which one PC attacks another PC in the same party and what to do with it. Teos mentions the excellent rule from the Adventurer's League that requires that no PC can damage another PC without that player's permission. This is a good rule to keep in mind at a home game as well. You can only drop a fireball on your friends if your friends agree with it.
When conflict between two characters does occur, Teos offers some great suggestions. This includes running the combat off-screen, resolving it with a small number of die rolls, or mentioning to the players involved that the players not involved might not want to spend a lot of time watching two characters fight each other.
Other links from the show:
I want to thank Teos again for spending the time to chat with us and squeeze out his experiences so we can all benefit from the. Stay tuned for future episodes of the DM's Deep Dive on the Don't Split the Podcast Network each month!