The Gassy Gnoll: On Being Out of Practice… DMing in a Modern Age

This gassy old gnoll has been playing role-playing games for three decades. And in that time, he’s run a lot of games. D&D, Palladium Fantasy (1st Edition), Ninjas and Superspies, James Bond 007, and many others. But do you know what he’s run recently? Nothing.

OK, that’s not exactly true. About a year ago I ran a game of The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men for a large group of kids for my eldest daughter’s birthday party. We had a great time over a couple of hours and I was exhausted at the end. It was a good exhausted, but still…

So tomorrow I’m running a game of D&D 4e for my wife and daughters, my best friend, his fiancee, and three or four of their kids. It’s been a long time since I’ve prepped a game of D&D, but I’ve thrown together some bits and pieces. I thought I’d detail a bit of what I’ve done and then will detail how it went sometime later in the week.

The town of Stonemuren

  • Based on this map of Hillhome that I found while looking for maps (great set of links here at Inkwell Ideas)
  • Small town near a river. Very peaceful. Good place to grow up. The party grew up in town, went off to get their training, and agreed to come back in a year to start adventuring together.
  • Of course, something has to happen to kick start that little “adventuring” process. And with as many as 9 players, it’ll be gang warfare. 🙂

In Search of Adventure

After looking at many options as far as a good 1st level 4e adventure, I eventually settled on one of the six in In Search of Adventure from Goodman Games – “The Forbidden Crypt.” Though I’d have to revamp the introduction slightly to fit a different world, the adventure itself is perfect. It offers a traditional dungeon crawl with some role-playing elements. And nothing too cryptic or scary for the kids I’ll have playing. Eventually I hope to write up a review of this collection of adventures, which are quite good and should be fun to run through.


So once I had the where and the what figured out, I needed to figure out how… The two GMs running games with the group I’m playing with regularly (Jason & Mark) both use Masterplan, so I figured I’d play with it to see how it would work to automate some of the bits and pieces. It turned out to have a bit of a learning curve, but thankfully there are some good tutorials and I knew a couple of folks to ask if I got stuck. 🙂

You can find Masterplan for free here. And you can find the set of five tutorial videos here.

The bit that had me stymied for a while was not realizing that you have to build monsters, traps, etc. from scratch unless you have a D&D Insider account. If you use the D&D Adventure Tools, you can have the ability to check out existing monsters and export them for import into Masterplan or you can copy them, make changes, and then export and import. It’s a bit of a roundabout process, but it’s much easier than rebuilding them by hand. (Thanks Mark for the tip – it saved me a ton of time.)

So with my module from In Search of Adventure and the tools in front of me I blasted through adding things one plot point at a time into a Masterplan campaign.

Even if I don’t use all of the bells and whistles of the tool, I’ll have all the bits and pieces I need to help manage the creature inventory, initiative order, and so on. For free, I can’t beat that.


The game happens tonight, so it’ll be an interesting mix of preparation and winging it – just like old times. I’ll let you know!


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