Kristen here! This past month I was (finally) the DM for the Questies in one of our one-shots. So far in our D&D adventures everyone has taken a turn in the DM seat so it was my turn up to bat. I was excited but also a little nervous- my Questies have done a great job DMing and there was a lot to live up to!
PLUS, for me this wasn’t just any one-shot. We had invited my little brother to play with us for his birthday and it was going to be his first time every playing D&D! So no pressure- just forming a 14 year old’s opinion of the world of tabletop role playing games forever.
Since we would be playing the module over our beach vacation, I decided to pick a seafaring adventure and chose The Dawn Chasers written by MT Black and Anthony Lesink. Sully has ran some of MT Black’s other modules in our Gnomies campaign and we’ve really enjoyed them.
Creating the Party
Once we got my brother on board with playing, I was so excited that we went ahead and sent him a Player’s Handbook. He already had a good base in board gaming (He has a board game class at school. Where was that when we were growing up??) and online RPGs like Skyrim so I knew the Player’s Handbook wouldn’t scare him off too much.
Once he got it and had time to look over the class and race options, we had a FaceTime session to create his character. He went with a Dragonborn fighter named Balthazar, which I thought was a great choice since 1. Dragonborn are awesome and 2. a fighter is a simpler character for a beginner compared to a wizard, etc. Balthazar is the perfect tank character for a 14 year old boy’s first quest!
We were going all out for this module and painted custom Hero Forge figurines for all of the party characters and the main NPC. Check out our painting tutorial for tips and tricks on painting your own figurines.
You can check out the character bios for the whole Dawn Chasers crew here– we ended up with a wide range of characters and I was so excited to DM for this group!
Props, Props, Props
I always knew that my strength as a DM would be the “extras” involved- maps, painted figurines, handmade objects for the party to find, etc – basically if there is crafting involved, I’m your girl! So I really wanted to play on that for this module and make it a really immersive experience for my group.
With Sammy’s help I painted enough of our figurines from other games to make sure that every figurine I used in battles would be painted… we needed about 20 goblins so this was no easy task. I substituted some wildlings from A Game of Thrones Catan for goblins since they were the about the right proportion to the PC and NPC figurines. For the sailors and zombies, I used painted figurines that we already had from Zombicide.
I got some generic barrels and loot miniatures as well as a 3D printed boat online from OddForge, an Etsy shop that sells 3D printed RPG items.
Yes, I went all out on the props for this one… but who are we kidding, we always spend all our money on our gaming! Totally worth it.
The Mysterious Magical Item
Like in many quests, our crew was set to stumble across a mysterious item of unknown significance during their adventure. I decided to make a physical version of this artifact for the players to hold. All you need is some crafting wire and some sharp scissors or pliers for cutting the wire.
Pro Tip: Don’t just unhook the wire and let it loose. You *may* hit yourself in the eye with it, and even if you don’t you end up with a tangled mess…
Don’t worry, I shielded my eyes in time and was able to untangle the mess enough to make our mysterious magical triangle. The wire was pliable enough I could shape it by hand and by bending it against the table.
Coffee Makes Everything Better
Next up on my list was creating some aged paper for my party’s journey. I found some maps of Waterdeep and the Sword Coast online and used our tutorial for aging paper to give them a more old-world feel. It’s very easy, pretty much all you need is some coffee and an oven. For these I skipped burning the edges of the paper because I was home alone and as anyone that knows me can tell you, me playing with fire unsupervised is a TERRIBLE idea.
I also wrote my own Contract for Hired Swords to use when the party was negotiating their hiring fees, and for them to sign. You can find it below if you would like to use it with your own group! By modifying the names it could fit most seafaring campaigns.
This one can be summed up pretty easily: go check out Dynamic Dungeons on Patreon right now. I’ll wait, trust me it’s worth it and you’ll thank me later. Tamas from Dynamic Dungeons creates beautiful, animated digital maps that are made to be used on a TV screen acting as your tabletop. We have been looking at his maps for a while, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to finally try them out!
I am SO GLAD I did. With his variety of maps I was able to have a map for each portion of the module, using about 8 or 9 different maps in total. We used a 42″ TV laid on it’s side to show the maps which worked perfectly.
Making the Module My Own
I made some changes to the original module in my prep work. For me this was a fun way to customize it to what I knew my party would enjoy, and make sure I would enjoy DMing it as much as possible.
One of the changes I made was modifying the alignment of the main NPC and crew- in the module they are merchants, but I made them lean more to piracy/privateers. Because who doesn’t want to talk like a pirate all day?
I added in the Kraken encounter and created a modified Kraken monster based off Minotaur stats that wouldn’t immediately cause a TPK for my group of level 3 adventurers. A baby Kraken, if you will. To go along with that I modified one of the other battles in the module so my characters wouldn’t get too beat up all at once.
Since we had some cannons I threw them on the ship too, which the characters loved! Of course they ended up almost blowing up the magical item that was key to the plot with the cannons so that made for some fun on-the-spot maneuvering. And just to make things a little more complicated for my first time running battles, I modified the cannon mechanisms and stats- we’ll have a post soon describing the modified cannons and how they played out in our module.
The enchanted spider monkey NPC became a parrot to make the voice easier- if anyone out there has any ideas of what a spider monkey would sound like please share! I tried and tried to find a good accent for it, but it never felt right or fun. So Pukka the Parrot was it!
I also had a fun item custom-selected for each character that I made sure they had before they set sail. I don’t think I would do this normally, but since it was my brother’s first game and only a one-shot I wanted to make sure he saw a wide range of different item types in use instead of just getting a cool item after the final victory that they wouldn’t have time to use. You can see which item I chose for each character in our character bio post.
To help the players have something to talk about when they first encountered each other, I had each of them write down 3 rumors about their character. The rumors could be either true or false. Then I distributed the rumors to the other players and told them it was something they had heard around town about that person. (Note: This isn’t an original Questies idea, we had seen it somewhere on Instagram but I can’t remember the source. If you know whose it is, please let us know so we can credit them!)
We broke the module up into two playing sessions, which has worked well for us in the past. The first session was focused on the players meeting each other and the main NPC, and setting the stage for the adventure. My plan was to stop there for the night but we ended up going a little longer because everyone wanted to keep playing! Overall the module took us about 6-8 hours to play through- longer than the estimated time, but that is almost always true for our group.
Also, my little brother really enjoyed playing which made me so happy! My fellow Questies were so awesome about making him feel included and helping him with learning how/when to roll, and the flow of the non-battle parts of an adventure. His character always made sure that they were getting paid their hired hand rate and their share of the loot. He got the 5e Starter Set for his birthday so hopefully he can introduce some of his friends to D&D too!
Things I think I did well
- Setting the stage with props- I think the maps, figurines, and other props I used really helped the players visualize the world they were in.
- NPC accents- I’m not saying I did the accents themselves well, but I think the main thing with using an accent is 100% commitment. I put a lot of effort into this even if the results were mixed, and I think the party appreciated it!
- Not clinging too much to the exact storyline of the module- Even before we started playing I made changes to the module to make it more my own, and as always when you throw the PCs into the mix the adventure can really go anywhere. That’s something I really love about D&D, so I was excited for that aspect. I think sometimes it can be difficult for first time DMs to let the adventure go wherever the players take it. My experiences on the player side before this definitely helped me with that.
Things I want to improve on
- Running and coordinating battles- I would say this was my weak point in DMing this time. I used the Encounter+ app to keep track of all of the monsters and whose turn it was, but I should have practiced more with the app ahead of time because I ran into a few technical glitches with it that held up play. Also, because I was modifying a lot of the monsters/battles it was difficult to know how much to throw at the PCs- but I think the main thing that will improve that is just more experience DMing.
- Being able to create NPCs with more personality on the fly- I think this is really important to keep the immersion of the adventure when things go off the main storyline. But it is hard! Sammy is our DM that is best at this, so I’ll have to learn her ways and keep practicing. And coming up with good NPC names- pretty sure I ended up naming one of the sailors Dave, just Dave, because my brain couldn’t think of any other name in that moment.
Overall I really enjoyed my DMing experience and I can’t wait to do it again! I’ll have to find another adventure for these Dawn Chasers to continue on…