Garrett Colon has been playing the Adventurers League since D&D Next. Active in the D&D Adventurers League Dungeon Master community since Season 1, Garrett has helped DMing for and organizing conventions throughout the Northeast and Midwest, volunteered as a local coordinator and then senior local coordinator, and now serves as a writer and the Head of Operations and Marketing for the Role Initiative, a group that organizes D&D for conventions, events, and local game days and creates CCC adventures. (You might also recognize Garrett as one of the Lords Alliance organizers in the Red War!)
With a wealth of experience DMing at conventions, Garrett shared with us his pointers for tailoring DDAL adventures to any group of friends or strangers who sit down at your table.
Talk to Your Table. Before starting a game, Garrett likes to be direct and talk to his players about what they’re expecting. Do they prefer theater of the mind? Do they prefer maps and minis? Do they love roleplay? This gives Garrett an idea of what pillars of play (roleplay, combat, exploration) he should really highlight as they come up. Garrett also asks for information like levels, class, armor class, passive perception, magic items, etc., but he thinks the most important question is, “What’s important about your character?” The way they answer – with a full backstory or a simple “I hit things with my axe” – tells you a lot about how they enjoy playing.
Pay Attention to that First Combat. Garrett says the adventure’s first encounter helps the Dungeon Master gauge the party’s combat capabilities and gives a sense of whether you should adjust the difficulty. Astute Dungeon Masters will notice who are the party’s heavy hitters and who are less combat-optimized or simply a lower level. Make sure the combat-optimized players still feel challenged, perhaps by ensuring the most dangerous creatures focus on them. But also make sure the other characters get a chance to show off their strengths by throwing smaller effects or monsters at the back line.
Keep Adjustments Simple. The APL guidance in AL mods is a good place to start when adjusting difficulty levels. Next, adjusting armor class or hit points are simple adjustments a DM can make; to avoid adjusting the CR of a monster, DMs should adjust hit points within the range of possible numbers rolling for monster hit points. Garrett brings these to life by finding a thematic reason for an adjustment. For example, a rock cave-in from a thunderous spell a character used could cause an enemy to suddenly be weaker. Alternately, if characters easily dispatch of your big bad boss’ minions early in the combat, Garrett recommends adding a second wave in the back of the line. “It doesn’t throw off the theme of the adventure,” Garrett says. “It just shows that an intelligent boss was prepared for you.”
Reward Creativity. Garrett keeps an open mind when players come up with creative solutions. If his table suggests an interesting way to beat an encounter, he never says no if something is in the realm of possibilities (e.g. the module does not call out that a creature fights to the death). He sets a DC, calls for a skill check, and gives them a shot to create a wacky D&D moment.
Be Prepared So You Can Be Fluid. To allow for characters to go off the rails with creative approaches to an encounter, you need to have the adventure prepared, Garrett says. Skim the adventure, and mark the important plot hooks. No matter what the players do, Garrett makes sure to guide them back to these points.
Bring NPCs to Life with Reactive Roleplaying. Garrett’s preferred approach to social interactions in adventures is to be a “reactive roleplayer.” Rather than reading through a bullet point list, Garrett reads the NPC’s bonds, flaws, goals, personality… Then he “sits back smoking their pipe and waits to hear what the players have to ask” allowing them to guide the conversation instead. The exception to this, Garrett adds, is when NPCs are given a specific motive they want or need to push for the story’s plot.
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